in the Shadow of Greatness


December 13, 2004

Axis of Conflict

Drama involves some sort of conflict. Things change. Choices must be made—even if delaying a choice is the decision.

Some rpgs provide 'color' attributes which do not directly impact an axis of conflict. A game where your PC has charisma, but there are no rules for a contest regarding charisma is such a case. An attribute for wealth might help sketch your PC but only indirectly impact a contest for some other attribute.

One of the clean design elements of Amber DRPG is that you can develop story and conflict for each Attribute. Not only can you mix and match levels of competancy, but you can directly associate 'spotlight' time and PC niches with axis of conflict, which by nature of the ADRPG takes you quickly to an attribute which decides an all-things-being-equal contest.

You can almost render the narrative reflexively. Very fast and smooth.

There are a range of benefits to this sort of thinking. For instance, you can quickly get rid of certain kinds of story by modifying, or jettisoning the Attribute. Don't like the drama in 'mind control' then decrease the power of Psyche or toss the attribute. Don't like the drama of wounds and injuries slowing down your PCs? Increase the power of Endurance. Sorry not to see more romantic parties or diplomatic missions or social intrigues, then add an attribute that provides the axis by which to measure the conflict.

The expectations of Players and the trust in a common expectation is facilitated by this. This is very valuable.

Many rpgs allow one to three types of conflict and so stories revolve around those premises. Almost all rpgs start with battle attributes and the capacity to hurt the other PCs and NPCs. Control by doing damage. This tends to color how rpgs are seen. Many rpgs have no defensive uses of their battle attributes. Parries are not described. Escaping a conflict often carries penalties to the escapee.

Battle, information, and resources are the three common conflict axis I think of right away in most games. Weapons, magic, or tech skills that allow attack/defense. Then computers, scrying, or secret skills that allow gathering perspective/understanding. Then wealth, position, or allies that allow assistance/prevention of the first two.

Lately, rpgs are branching out into other types of conflict.

You need to trust your GM. First, because you should pick your games based on what the GM tells you the attributes are going to mean. Those attributes are going to be your choices, your input on the way the drama moves along.

If your PC is hauntingly handsome, you may think it means something to your control of play, or you may realize right from start that it probably means nothing to have points there except 'color' of describing your character. The GM should explain how she/he sees the rules.

In that sense, Amber is a tough game for Players, because even though there is a clean rule set—every Amber GM is playing a slightly different interpretation of the rules. In a game where simplicity of the rules is a feature, many Amber GMs tweak their vision of the rules to get a game they enjoy more.

Some call this 'canon Zelazny'. Some use other reasons. And the rule set encourages such alterations. This also encourages debate and confusion, which isn't always bad until you have to gather a group and play.

Based on the conflict axis described by Roger Zelazny, through his biased narrator Corwin, you could have completely different attributes than the defaults of Amber DRPG. The first three are tangible, the second three are intangible.

  1. warfare
    any contest period. naming a specialty where you are the best allows 'upgrades' which might mean stalemates or surprise wins.

  2. endurance
    every sort of resistance. also name a specialty where you are best.

  3. age
    born when? extra specialties you get. resources you may have in shadow. what cool things do you know that others don't? the order the GM will allow PCs to name specialties.

  4. pattern
    the family inheritance. and a specialty of course

  5. trump
    the cards. a specialty or trick. a secret. making more.

  6. eerie
    anything powerful enough to affect the Real, but unexplained. one signature specialty: sorcery. conjuration. demonology. shadowstorms. magnificent horses. interesting rings.

In this manner, there are no items, allies, or secondary systems. There are no petty magics. Shape shifting is just a form of Eerie. Logrus is a trade for Pattern. If Merlin has Pattern and Logrus, he splits his points between them, probably based on time. If Merlin works shaping and sorcery, he splits his points between those.

Why is strength gone? Because the Zelazny characters know it doesn't matter unless it is a specialty of warfare. Only Gerard is dangerous enough that "even Corwin's blade might not protect him." Only Caine is a knife fighter that others fear.

Why is psyche gone? Because the intangible attributes describe power by how much you put in them. Five points in Trump doesn't allow you to call the Courts of Chaos. Twenty points of Pattern ranks you immediately with your family. A strong shaper (named specialty) still might have sorcery at some lesser point rank, again a choice by the player about time spent on each.

And just for luck, let's keep Stuff.

A GM will hold the 'map' of specialties such that they are never duplicated between the NPCs and PCs (though one option would be to not duplicate in the same generation.) Age becomes a determinant for choosing specialties—and this can be a shared knowledge.

Filed under : Amber at 13.12.2004