June 11, 2004

Game Wish 100: War Stories

Ginger's very last WISH (weep, wail!)

Tell me your favorite war story. Why is it your favorite? What does it show about your character or the game/campaign you were playing? What does it exemplify about why you like gaming?

So many choices!

I am not going to tell a war story from Wizard in the Attic, since at least one reader of this blog might play in an iteration of it at TBR. And it is difficult to tell war stories for PBEMs because of pacing and so forth.

So I will go with Arref's Amber the Eternal City, as filtered through the Empire of the Gleaming Banner, and my character Archard.

Member of the ruling family of the Empire, Trump Artist in an Empire only beginning to explore its potential. Budding Dreamer. Archard is not as high powered as my Amberite characters but I grew to love him over the sessions he was present at at ACUS, and also at "P-con".

But his crowning glory came at the last EGB session at ACUS. With things going all to hell, The Courts of Chaos were ready to declare war on the Empire because of certain outside manipulating forces. Archard was summoned to the gate to deal with the Chaos emissay who was going to offer the formal declaration.

He took the document from the envoy and looked at it, realizing its import. And what I did was purely instinctual, purely from the character as the best solution to a set of bad choices.

"I do not have the authority to accept this document." is what I as Archard told the envoy and bade them wait. And then retreated to tell of the envoy and his message. Of course, as a high member of the Royal Family, Archard DID have the authority to accept it, which is the irony of the situation.

The upshot was that he managed to keep the lid on that long enough that other problems cropped up--and Chaos never did get that formal declaration of War through.

I consider it a crowning glory for him, just as this last WISH is a crowning glory for 100 interesting gaming thoughts from Ginger Stampley, Immigration Lass, Gamer, and my friend. Thank you!

Posted by Jvstin at 7:30 PM

June 8, 2004

May 29, 2004

Game WISH 98: What's NEW

Ginger's 98th WISH is a simple one:

What are three games or settings that you�ve bought or seen recently (in stores or previews) that you�d really like to try? What interests you about them and why?

I'm going to skip mention, like Arref does, of Nobilis.

The new version of WOD? I'm not enthused.

Paranoia XP. Now that I can get behind! I didn't play Paranoia much, just a couple of times, but I definitely enjoyed it. I've love a chance to play it or run it.

While the core rules of Gurps 4th Edition won't likely swing me over, their Infinite Worlds setting is something that is definitely my cup of tea. I don't think that readers of this blog are unaware of my heavy use of such ideas and importations of such ideas into Amber games. So I will definitely be looking at IW when it comes out.

The Book of the Planes that David mentions on his blog. sounds tres cool. Is it any surprose to anyone that I have the D20 WOC offering? And I even have a copy of the original Manual of the Planes, published way back before Planescape.

I have the core book for Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed. I'd love to get The Diamond Throne and actually try running a set of characters in the world.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:01 PM

May 21, 2004

WISH 97: Bitch Bitch Bitch

Ginger's latest WISH is about bitching...

What�s your take on player bitching/venting: complaints intended to relieve player stress and not to actually change things in the game? When and where and to whom is it appropriate? How should players and GMs handle it?

I admit, right off, that I don't take player bitching in my games very well at all. It is probably no surprise to anyone who reads this Blog that it pushes one of my buttons hard, and I internalize it.

I have a lamentable tendency to take every player venting as a complaint, and a request to change things in the game. It's much like Ginger and Arref have already said. If its a real complaint, that's one thing. But regular venting at me is something I handle badly.

I've had trouble distinguishing when someone is venting and when someone really has a problem. I treat the former as the latter, and, although I know its not always the case, I treat it as my fault and problem to fix.

I take my gaming seriously. I play hard, and when my players are not having fun, I want to see that they do...with a large side order of beating myself up in the process for letting the situation occur in the first place.

Now, as a player, I generally don't like to bitch or vent about a game if at all humanly possible. Again, mainly because I consider many faults or problems ultimately originate with myself. Why would I complain and bitch to Ginger about, say, Bridgette's game, if I think that the problem lies with me in the first place?

As far as my own relations to fellow players bitching about a game, I tend more toward sympathy than solution. A conversation I had with Jim the other night highlighted this...instead of pablum sympathy, I explained to him why I thought he often provoked strong reactions in people.

Maybe I am learning to handle and work it better. But, I have much more to do so.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:07 PM

May 9, 2004

Wish 95: Color

Ginger's latest question is colorful...

How many colors do you like in your gaming? Do you prefer four-color games? Or should game morality be black and white or shades of grey, and if the latter, how many? Are �evil� characters acceptable? Does your preference depend on genre? Do your preferences affect the genres you like?

I've never been in for true "Black and White" morality. Most of the villains in my games are heroes in their own books, even as they do what is to everyone else evil acts. The villains in, say, SB, do what they do not because they relish the idea of doing evil, its because they have goals of their own which are radioactive to everyone else.

With that said, I do prefer to play, and GM, for players who want protagonist roles. Now players might do things that get them in deep water, by accident or by design, but I am much more comfortable GMing for heroes rather than villains. And I don't like playing "Evil universes" either. A world where Brand is King and the PCs are vicious enforces of his regime is not the kind of game I want to play in--or run.

There are no villain PCs in SB--although a couple of figures are ambiguous because of the choices they have made and what they've done in the game-intentionally and otherwise.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:38 PM

April 25, 2004

Game Wish 93: Enough and Too Much

Ginger's WISH this week:

Does joining a game with a lot of background thrill or intimidate you? What do you do to try to learn the background, or to compensate for not having it? If you GM, how do you help newcomers to a background-heavy game? What has worked for you as a player/GM, and what hasn�t?

It really depends on the game.

Arref mentions his experience in joining House of Cards. Readers recall that I, myself, unsuccessfully made an application to join the game. I designed my own character in keeping with Arref's proposal--a character who could organically get up to speed on game events because he had not had the opportunity to experience them or his siblings. I also felt that this was a good method for avoiding the "why didn't anyone check up on Vance" problem that often occurs in long-running games.

But even so, I wouldn't just join any long-running game. I joined Galactic Renaissance as it was relaunching because i had grown to trust the GM during her running of Murder at Christmas. And I trusted Ginger, if I had been chosen to join HOC, in that respect as well.

This brings me to my own experience with Strange Bedfellows. I frankly need more time and space to work on the website and the information therein. I've finally begun to work on the Twiki, on space generously and kindly donated by Ginger.

But how do I introduce new players to an 8 year old PBEM? Easy! Find the unexploited and unexplored niches. Ginger's character Alais is a perfect example of this in action. My relatively unexplored Chaos allowed me to add
characters there, and new prospective players have been intrigued by the possibilities available. I do need to work better on information, and find the time to update matters.

There is a quantum mechanical effect at work. Things, places and areas of my game flourish and become more real with players to witness, interact and influence them. I crave the characters who will fill in the blank spots of my map and continue to enrich my world, while still having ties to other parts, to continue spinning the web that is Strange Bedfellows

Posted by Jvstin at 10:32 AM

March 19, 2004

WISH 89: Character Death

Ginger announces that #100 will be the last WISH, and appropriately, for #89 talks about the end...for player characters.

How do you handle character death, as a player and/or GM? What makes a good death or a bad death? Have you ever had a character die? What happened?

I don't like to kill characters off when I GM.

I am not sure why. Killing off characters, especially permanently, is a singular and often an act that you cannot turn back the clock upon. So I do it with extreme reluctance and prejudice.

I can't say that I've had a PC face a "noble death" in any game that I've run. I imagine that it would be possible in a one-shot game, or a game that was coming to a conclusion. But even then, usually when games end, I like to think that the game might continue in a Heinleinian Number of the Beast sense somewhere.

Now with that said...
The only time I killed off a PC in Strange Bedfellows while they were a PC involves the story of Antar the "crazy chaosian".

Antar was the archetype of the PC who acted foolishly. And an example of how reluctant I am to actually kill off a PC. Antar, in the course of his brief SB existence, managed to do some really stupid things.

Item: In Amber, naively trusting a sorcerer who puts a glamour on him. Upon reaching the Castle, he impulsively acts on this glamour, including a half-baked and half-cocked lunge at Random. He wound up banished out of Amber for that stunt.

Item: In the midst of walking the Logrus, he mouths off to the Serpent. Said Serpent does not kill him, but in an inspired move, strips him of his Logrus and takes an eye. (Symbology!). Said eye will NEVER regenerate back without extreme measures. Thus, Antar decides to visit the best shapeshifters IMC, the infamous Lessimans.

Item: After making nice with the Lessimans and becoming an agent for them, he decides to return to the Courts (against all advice). Against all advice, he proceeds to infiltrate SuhuyWays.

In the words of Gimli "And after that, it gets even better!". He decides to disguise himself...as Suhuy himself. This does not go over well when the real Suhuy shows up. He is captured and imprisoned and by this time I had enough.

So he was given to the Serpent and destroyed. I explained to the player that Antar had crossed too many lines and acted far too idiotically to merit survival. And that was the end of him.


As far as a PC of my own, the most notable death I've suffered as a PC was one which infuriated me. In a game whose GM doesn't seem to be on the Net anymore, I played a version of Hadrian, my Prince of DuMarque, Trump Artist. Much of his development came from this game, both he, his bonded Wyvernet Dora and his shadow.

The GM at one point decided to end the game. Or possibly continue it in a sequel. So, suddenly, the universe began to disintegrate around Hadrian.

I did not post a response quickly, and was admonished that he "might have survived" if I had done so. Hadrian had been, in effect, erased from existence and from possibility of survival.

From what I understand the sequel never really got off the ground. But this arbitrary sudden destruction of the universe infuriated me. I liked Hadrian, a lot. I didn't like the way his story ended.

At this time, about a year and change into Strange Bedfellows, a gentleman by the name of Arref was coming into the game with a new PC by the name of Bhangbadea. And then it occurred to me I could have my cake and eat it too, and solve the question of how best to introduce her to the game.

So, I imported Hadrian, Dora and DuMarque into SB, lock, stock and barrel. I put him unsure about his Amber heritage, yet still a Trump Artist with a taste for shadow travel, fun and adventure. And interoduced him on camera as having come to Ersia to seek aid from the sorceress...

Hadrian has had an interesting NPC career in SB since, with an unexpected revelation as to his parentage and other fun. The bad taste of his death is completely washed away.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:19 AM

March 9, 2004

Game WISH 87: Recommended Web Sites

Ginger asks:
What are three or more web sites you�ve used recently as a player or GM? Why do you use them? What do you get from them?

A lot of my choices have been taken, and I dislike a me too approach. So I will offer three original ones:

Because we gamers do shop and gain ideas from books, movies and the like. And there are few better ways to keep on top of what's coming out. Amazon is not ideal for buying RPG books, because of ordering and shipping glitches. But I don't know what I did before Amazon for buying other media.

Monte Cook is one of my favorite game designers. His site has previews and free outtakes and add-ons from his products, essays and thoughts on gaming, and other good stuff. Of course you can buy stuff he has done and has been done under his imprint. Sure, its D20, but the ideas, like any good ideas, are platform independent.

Patricia Wrede's Worldbuilder's Questions

A set of guidelines useful in creating worlds and shadows.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:41 AM

March 4, 2004

Game Wish 86: Midwifing Characters

Ginger asks this week:
What can the GM or other players do to help �midwife� the character creation process?

Ginger quite rightly plugs the Q&A give and take of Everway as an example of character creation done in an interactive fashion.

Arref mentions that in Strange Bedfellows, I took great pains to encourage inter-PC links.

Its harder in a mature game, though, to link new characters to old.

The way I like to help midwife the character creation process is to provide room. I am a believer in what players and their characters bring to my universe. I give them room, so that if they are "up front" or "develop in play", they have the time and space to find their character's voice, personality and niche.

Ginger's character Alais, for instance, is a prime example of this at work. Together we have been fleshing out things in posts, and getting to know both her and her environment. I am enjoying it and I think Ginger is as well.

On the other hand, to name a counterexample, a failed player in SB, in addition to have ungrammatical posts, had a style which did not encourage character or environmental development. Her world was cardboard, every attempt of mine to help give it depth ignored. And none given by her. I was more than happy to unhappen the existence of her and her character.

As for me as a player, I'm used to a little structure when it comes to character creation. I don't mind world-building, in fact I enjoy it--since that is part of my "GM genes". Giving me guidelines on how far to take such building are good, and giving input is what makes me excel as a player. It is when I am not sure where there are guidelines and boundaries that I have to avoid the temptation to embellish too much.

As an example, the re-launch of Galactic Renaissance. I happen to play a currently central character, one of the two potential heirs to an assassinated Duke. Its a complex universe with a lot of backstory and history, and yet there is always room for more. My character has been asked about his travels off-world and I've been hesitant to embroider and embellish them, since I was unsure what I could and couldn't do.

But I am adapting and learning, as always. And learning to be a better GM for working with character creation in the process.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:07 PM

February 26, 2004

Game WISH 85: Character Inspirations

Ginger asks us a juicy question that I've given a lot of thought:

What inspires you to create characters? Do you have partially-developed characters in mind for use when you get into a new campaign? Do you shop characters around, or do you come up with new characters when you get into a campaign? Why? If you GM, are you bothered by receiving a solicitation for a �generic� character, or does it enthuse you to get a solid proposal even if it�s not closely tailored to your game?

Oh boy, where to start?

I've said repeatedly that I am a GM more than I am a player, and so I usually create characters from that perspective. Characters come with backgrounds, ideas, concepts and other XML-like objects along with them. Vance (my HOC proposal) came hand in hand with the ideas of bobbles and temporal dislocation. Gaius came with dreams of Venice and Italianate realms. Cadmus entered ROP with the idea of the Local Group.

In a couple of cases, though, I have plugged in characters from my stable into a campaign. I don't do that often, I am far more liable to do that for ACUS games. (The obvious notable exceptions are Marcus, in AOR, and Tynan in Bete Noire).

So where does Gaius, Cadmus and their ilk come from? What inspires their creation?

Media. Usually, books. Sometimes movies, too. With my steady diet of F & SF, I am always coming across ideas to inspire. Characters gain inspiration as much as campaign ideas, since the ideas come together.

Gaius' inspiration came from SHADOW OF THE LION and its magical, alternate Venice. Vance came mainly from Vernor Vinge's "The Peace War" and "Marooned in Realtime", although I've played with the idea of slow time fields for quite a while. Cadmus' playground was inspired by Lawrence Watt-Evans trilogy now collected as "Worlds in Shadow"--the idea of a set of universes ranging from the magical to science fiction, with Earth in between.

It is these sorts of ideas that lurk in the borders of my waking mind, awaiting use in a campaign, or in a game of my own. After reading Sean Russell's THE ONE KINGDOM, I was taken by the milieu and the three antagonists that I turned it into a ACUS 2003 game, Ghosts of the Past. I understand that many of my characters in my stable are not suitable for milieus, even though I love them dearly. I never considered using Hadrian for House of Cards, even as a son of Caine he would have filled that niche nicely. I've done the revamping thing enough and prefer not to do it in a long-term game. This way, instead of always playing the same character, I grow and develop more. I work on, as Deb calls them, the Voices in my Head.

After all, that's how my stable gets to become productive. One day at ACUS I will happily use characters like Gaius in one-shots, or as NPCs in my own ACUS games.

Now, as a GM, I pride myself on flexibility in character concepts. If a player truly wants to import a PC from elsewhere, and it can be worked into the SB universe, I say, in the words of our President "Bring it on". Beastie is an example of this. On the other hand, I *do* personally prefer the character created for my world and my milieu. I want to provide the soil for characters to grow and develop. Characters created for my game usually flourish better, but I think we, the GM and the player can provide a good experience even if "Emaris" has been in previous games.

It tickled me pink last ACUS that Bridgette liked Priya (her secondary SB character) enough to use her in a ACUS con game. I consider that a high compliment. It's proof that Priya has truly become part of Bridgette's mental cast of characters. And that I am doing my part to provide a world for her, enough that Priya has a strong, independent existence. The Olsons, in particular, often talk about their previous characters with strong recollection and thought. Characters which feel and are very much real to them.

That's my wish for every character in SB and other games that I run.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:15 PM

February 13, 2004

Game Wish 84: Five Games

Ginger Asks:

What five games would you love to run/play if you had a willing group and a weekly time slot?

A relatively simple WISH this week. But sometimes K.I.S.S. does work, even for memes and their answers.

And the five games for me?

Nobilis, for all of the reasons Ginger gives. I think I was born
to run a mythopoetic game like this.

Exalted: Sure, its WOD, but its not as barnacled as modern WOD games. I like the Exalted universe.

Traveller (either via GURPS or D20): Because I haven't played or run a true SF game in a long while. And I have endless ideas...I read enough SF and space opera to last a lifetime.

Hero Quest: I might not set the game in Glorantha, though. I might just steal the rules and set it in a fantasy universe of my own choosing. Besides I'd want to tie in other things from the myriad books I have.

Castle Falkenstein: Because, as Ginger says, Steampunk Victorian Gaming is lots of fun.

I didn't include Amber because I am in an FTF game (and play in several online). And there are plenty of other games that could take one of the five spots. Adventure! and Continuum just to name two.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:44 AM

February 7, 2004

Wish 83: Character Mottos

Similar to the previous WISH, the latest WISH deals with Characters rather than campaigns.

What are your characters� mottoes, in ten words or less? Quotes and formal mottoes encouraged.

Scipio (no fixed game): My tongue is my best weapon

Marcus(AOR): Jack of all Trades, Master of Many

Cadmus(ROP): Strength and Fidelity of Purpose

Iolaus(GA): For my Polis

Delwin: I am the Night

Tynan(BN): The flow of information is the flow of power

Peter John Ulrich(LE): I will sail across the stars

Lorius(no fixed game): The spell is mightier than the sword

Hadrian (no fixed game) My art gives me freedom

Posted by Jvstin at 11:22 AM

Wish 83: Character Mottos

Similar to the previous WISH, the latest WISH deals with Characters rather than campaigns.

What are your characters� mottoes, in ten words or less? Quotes and formal mottoes encouraged.

Scipio (no fixed game): My tongue is my best weapon

Marcus(AOR): Jack of all Trades, Master of Many

Cadmus(ROP): Strength and Fidelity of Purpose

Iolaus(GA): For my Polis

Delwin: I am the Night

Tynan(BN): The flow of information is the flow of power

Peter John Ulrich(LE): I will sail across the stars

Lorius(no fixed game): The spell is mightier than the sword

Hadrian (no fixed game) My art gives me freedom

Posted by Jvstin at 11:22 AM

January 23, 2004

Game Wish 82: Three Word Summary

Ginger asks:

Sum up one or more games that you GM or play in 10 words or less. (Three is best, but not everybody is that pithy.) Don�t restrict yourself to current games if you have great ones in the past.

The first and easiest one is easy because Arref coined it years ago--and I even "have the shirt"

Strange Bedfellows (GM):
Mystery, Dreams, Mayhem

Empire of the Gleaming Banner
Shadow also Counts

Bete Noire
No one is Innocent

Ad Amber per Astra(GM)
Lost Amberites Return

Rites of Passage
Coming of Age

Uncle Brand's Mansion
The Wonder Years

Age of Retribution
Patternfall was only the beginning

Grand Affair
Prurient Interests...and other agendas

Murder at Christmas
Get ready for...Murder

Lunar Ellipse
The Race is On!

Posted by Jvstin at 11:47 AM

January 21, 2004

Game Wish 81: My Favorite System

Ginger asks:

What�s your favorite game system, and why? What things don�t you like about it? How much do you have to �jigger� it from published rules and why?

I'm with Arref, but I think you all knew that...

How can I improve on Arref's answer of the good points of ADRPG?

I can't, really, he puts it well, quite well.

I do have to jigger some things from the rules, though. Just to name two:


--I don't, period. Ranks go by the wayside, too. They do not contribute, IMO to the game more than they detract.

The Poles-bias in Powers and Rules

Shadow people are important, too! Ask Archard, or Iolaus, to name two of my own. The rules of ADRPG are biased toward Amberites and Chaosians. I've tried to make it, by means of new powers and my own interpretations, that extraordinary shadow people can meet the scions of the two realms on something like a fair footing.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:27 PM

January 9, 2004

WISH 80: Finding a New Group

Ginger asks:

How do you go about finding a new gaming group?

Networking. It's the only way I've been successful in my own gaming group adventures, here in Minnesota and back in NY.

After all, one of my SB players is now my GM in a FTF game. It's a hike up to get there but I manage it.

Of course if you know no one, that makes it much harder to do. Daunting and intimidating, even, for the somewhat less than complete social gamer.

The bulletin board route has not worked for me. I tried putting up a couple of flyers in NY, to no avail, and the gaming groups I tried to get into didn't pan out for me (with the exception of the group at Brooklyn College).

Oh, and Ginger...in the NYC area I can think of several gamers right off the top of my head who would love to meet you and Michael. And Deb knows a couple of more...and then there are the Philadelphia contingent...

You will be in a target rich environment.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:31 AM

January 6, 2004

Game WISH:

Ginger asks:
What do you think is the best cast size for the games you�ve played? What are the factors that go into your answer: genre, play group, gaming system, etc.?

Smaller is usually better but let me clarify it in a more mathematical equation.

Your cast size should be proportional to the milieu's population of NPCs, be they created by yourself or your players. It's much alike the idea of "faculty to student ratios" in schools and campuses. The more faculty there is per student, usually the more attention the student receives, and usually, on average, the better the student performs, all other things being equal.

RPGs work the same way. Having a target rich environment is crucial to games which go beyond a simple hack and slash. Players interact with each other, but they need a world to relate to as well. It makes what they do matter if they have people to share it with, or help them with it, or even oppose their goals.

Thus, SB, with its large cast of PCs, has an even larger set of Non Player Characters that for some players *make* the game. Jayson would not be Jayson without the triangle of Cyllene, Dulcinea, and Syanda. Lots of people play off of other characters, and there can be a sense of a struggle sometimes when there aren't enough in a particular area to go around. And I think that I personally have trouble sometimes when there isn't a large cast of NPCs available to toss toward a PC.

With all of that said, my con games usually average around 4-6 people. I have gone larger, and smaller, but that's the size that hits my GM sweet spot comfort level. Logistics can get hairy with larger ones. One needs a truly epic cast to deal with a large game, unless the PCs are in of themselves just going to be interacting with each other and no one else.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:23 AM

December 26, 2003

Wish 78: Two Characters, One Player

Ginger asks:

Do you think allowing one player to play more than one character in a game is a good or bad idea? Does the style of the game make any difference? What about the format (FTF, PBeM, etc.)?

In a PBEM format, I don't have any problems with multiple characters in a game, if the milieu and game call for it.

In Ars Magica, for example, players are expected to play a troupe of characters at different social levels, it is an integral part of the game by design.

In other games, I am relatively new to the idea. In actuality, its only been a few years that I've allowed a few players in SB to take on second characters, and I've had some guidelines for doing so

The major one is to try and avoid entangling two characters together. Having a player with two characters in a scene can be a logistical problem, as other players can feel overwhelmed with a player with two outputs. Although it is a game, and a collaborative one at that, it can be daunting to deal with an active, aggressive player who has an extra set of hands in a scene, be it political, social ,or a combat.

Thus, to give some examples from the game on how I've managed that:

Bridgette's main character is Brieanne, daughter of Julian. A creature of the forest, she rarely leaves it further than to Amber. Her second character is Priya, who is a Rebman. It is more than passing unlikely her characters will ever meet or have cause to do so.

A retired/inactive player, Nicole, also had two characters. Dagny was Luke's daughter, and hung mainly around Amber as she learned about her crazy, mixed up family until it got to be too much and she went into shadow. Her second character was T'Gana, a retired General from House Hendrake, in the Courts of Chaos. Again, unlikely to meet.

Finally, there is Mike Levay. His primary character is Toireasa, Daughter of Gerard. Agent of the Unicorn, Toireasa has gone around quite a bit in the game universe and done quite a bit of things. Rhionde, on the other hand, is an isolated character, somewhat limited, and definitely insular. They are unlikely to meet either.

I also like secondary characters to be different souls than the first one, so that we can explore more themes and styles. To use GA as this example, I have two characters, Delwin and Iolaus Diotrephes.

Delwin is Sand's twin brother, and plays off of that dynamic. A definite sensual dominant, he might not make the switches in a room switch to subs upon seeing him, but he does like to impress himself upon submissives, given the chance, especially natural ones. Most of his sex play revolves around that.

Iolaus is an outsider to Amber, but his dynamic is much more neutral. Much more playful, he plays at dominance, submission, and just plain sex. Already having engaged as a "tutor" in one scene, Iolaus is my most adaptable and flexible character, and can fit many more holes than my Lord of the Night.

Maybe that is part of his appeal to other characters for threads. And thus Delwin and Iolaus aren't remotely in the same ecological niche. It makes it easier to play both roles, and well.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:36 PM

December 21, 2003

WISH 77: Contributions and Influence

Ginger's WISH this week:

This week, we�re talking about contributions again, but from a balance perspective.

What do you think the value of contributions to a game is? Do you think it�s fair for the GM to give out experience or character points for contributions? If so, what qualifies? What about the informal value of contributions? Do they balance or unbalance a game?

I've had several changes of heart over the years of SB in doing contributions, a constantly evolving attempt to balance matters.

In the beginning, I was relatively stingy with contribution points, diaries and things like that getting a flat rate of points, and thus little incentive when a player decided to stop doing them.

Turning contributions onto a per-diem basis has had its own problems, with a few players trying to get greedy on points by producing lots and lots of contributions, sometimes of marginal value to the game. My former girlfriend was infamous for this tactic.

And so the wheel has turned again. I'm more flexible at the beginning of a player's start as far as giving points for up front contributions. Ginger's photo trumps of Alais and Lorraine are well and good and useful to the game, and thus rewarded.

And that is the key. If the contribution enriches the game universe, by means of locations, NPCs and the like that the GM can play off of (as Ginger explains in the answer to her own WISH), those are the contributions that are going to get my interest and better renumeration. Help create and expand my universe, and reward shall follow. With that said, burying me in contributions is a tactic that isn't going to work. There has to be balance.

And if you ask me this WISH in a couple of years, likely my viewpoint will have continued to evolve.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:11 AM

December 15, 2003

Wish 76: Player Role

Ginger asks:

A lot is made of the role of the GM in a game, but what is the role of the player?

Arref and Ginger, to just name two, have given great answers on this topic. But I will try to fashion a a passable one.

Players make the game.

Without players, the game is useless, devolving to a (pardon the language) masturbatory exercise that is far less pleasurable than the act of creation with others.

To quote from my infamous "GM review":

Paul appreciates and responds to players who know what they want and can write about it. He will "hand hold" but as an introduction, not as a running style. One line responses are not what he is looking for from his players.

In the same way, he is not telling you his story, he is providing a setting and canvas for players to react to Amber and events unfolding. There is no "plot train" that will run you over.

That's what I think players should do. Take the game by the horns, and respond and respond well to what is happening in the game. *Make* things happen. Help bring my world even more alive.

With that said, the Golden Rule, although not stated that way in Ginger's blog, applies. Treat the other players and the GM the way you yourself want to be treated in the game. There's plenty of room for everyone.

Over hogging of storylines and threads, expecting the GM to devote an unfair proportion of resources to you and your thread, playing politics with players. All of that is against what a player should do.

Help me tell the stories of this world. Help me make my world come alive. Enjoy and find pleasure and joy in answering my turns. That is what I ask of my players. Its a thrill when I get OOC email from players (or IMs) about game events. Showing that you care is important.

I admit freely that I am not as good an Amber player as I am as a GM. Partly polish, partly temperment, partly personality. I've gotten better. It's not that I am a ball hog or play politics or treat people badly, but my shyness and reticence have been downfalls for me as a player, especially in FTF games at cons.

Liz and many others can attest to what I was like at my first Ambercon. (Or first several, to be even more broad). But I am learning.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:11 PM

December 10, 2003

Game WISH 75 Religion and Controversy

Ginger asks:

A lot of neogamers I play with are uncomfortable with taking real religions and putting them into play. With all the "Satanist" backlash against D&D that there's been, do you feel comfortable having any religion in your games? Do you scrub it of anything controversial?

Like Arrefs game, religion varies from game to game, but I will stick to my own current campaign, SB, for concrete examples.

There hasn't been much focus on religion in SB. A PC priest-like character, played by Karen, didn't work out for various reasons. There are people that I don't seem to GM well, Scott and Karen are two of them.

I'm wondering if there isn't another to add to that list, my recent troubles with him are known to those of you I've griped about online.

The Church of the Unicorn hasn't seen any gametime use. A lot of things in SB haven't, due to time frame and focus as well as anything else. I have hopes and plans for much more varied plotlines in the day after the Ball, with new locations and characters (tag: Ginger's Alais!) to expand and color my world. I don't shy away from religion in my games, although talk about "Satanism" just makes me angry, rather than anything else.

The Church of the Serpent, however, has had a little more historical role in the game. It's been established that its a church in decline, having lost influence over the centuries, especially after the Lessiman Secession (tag: Meera!). The Church is still fighting what seems to current be a losing battle, losing its influence in Chaosian society drop by drop. Of course, given the time scales in Chaos, it will probably take centuries if not longer for a truly precipitous fall.

Chaos has lasted millenia and despite its recent troubles, will last millenia more.

Posted by Jvstin at 1:44 PM

November 28, 2003

Wish 74: Supplements you would like to see

Ginger asks:

Name three or more supplements (or core books, for that matter) for existing game systems that you�d like to see. Why? What inspires your interest in these supplement? What existing supplements or materials are you using instead?

I agree with Ginger, Rebma is right out.
(Although Arref and Theresa--I've love to see the stuff you are doing for Rebma in GA. Any chance of a webpage of stuff, or to forward it to me?)

1. More Nobilis stuff

Yeah, I don't have the book yet. And there is one supplement, but its a game that can benefit, if not sorely use, some more. After all, Amber is intimidating but at least there are the novels to work with. Nobilis doesn't quite have that, just the GWB (Great White Book) and the one supplement which, I understand, deals with LARP rules for the game.

2. More GURPS Castle Falkenstein stuff

It's an intriguing and fun-filled world, and the two books already out there don't nearly cover enough of it.

3. Reprint/extend Nexus

Nexus is a fun world, where a bunch of pieces of different worlds jam together, all of different levels of magic and technology. Not quite as chaotic, then, as Cynosure, but you could go from the High technology "Angel City" and walk into a world where that technology is junk and magic rules.

It's out of print, sadly. It could use getting back into print, and detailing some more of those worlds.

Interestingly enough, my conceptual model of how pieces of Ways shift in Chaos Houses, pieces I call "Terrenes" (as Deb should remember), is derived partially from Nexus.

I could go endlessly on, listing various possible GURPS modules, but I figure that would be cheating, a bit, since I have no idea on if they would do a sourcebook on a particular world, topic, or literary universe. Besides, that would be stunningly close to a WISH we've already covered, I think, even if iti s for a "existing game system"

Posted by Jvstin at 11:36 AM

November 24, 2003

WISH 73: Player Driven Shifts

Ginger asks:

What�s the biggest PC-driven shift you�ve ever experienced in a campaign? If you were a player, what made you feel like you could successfully change the GM�s world? If you were a GM, was this planned or something the PCs surprised you with?

I'll go with Jim Groves, and Jayson. I am sure I mentioned this before, on Wish 66.

Very early on, Jayson changed a significant feature of the plot of my game, at least as I had mapped it out in my mind. And added a whole new strain in the process.

On his way to Amber, from his mother (Sand)'s shadow, Jayson got an unexpected trump call, a desperate one, from Deirdre. Contact brief, mysterious, fraught with peril and the mystery.

Now instead of rehashing what did happen, since I've mentioned it before, I am going to tell you what I thought would happen.

Jayson goes to Amber, and parlays the information. In the meantime, Deirdre and Brand wind up in the void between universes, and, eventually, way down the line, they finally escape, but not without cost to either of them. (I was musing which one of them to kill off, or to have the PCs find both bodies...)

I didn't intend Brand to be a subplot for years in the game, and Jayson shifted that. As a result, the whole Apollo subplot came into focus, and the foiled attempt by Brand to take the Fount (Bhangbadea and company staving off Brand in a dramatic battle!)

As a player, I could be wrong, but I don't think I've really shifted a GM's world that strongly. It also hurts that I've rarely had characters around long enough to really do that, over time. In fact, until GA, the only active characters I had, period, were Marcus and Cadmus.

It does explain why I don't think I'm that good of a player. I simply don't have the "chops" most of the people in my circle have.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:19 PM

November 20, 2003

Game WISH 71: NPCS Unwritten

Ginger asks: (taking up the one that Arref posted during Ginger's break):

For GMs : when you plan or play your NPCs, do you intentionally leave out some of the story for each? Do you hold something back and let the Players imagine the rest or do you present NPCs from the core of who they are? Is time a factor�a short game or one-shot not allowing much character depth? Does NPC expertise shine through? Or are there character foibles that cloud the better qualities of the NPC? Are there short-cuts to get this across?
For Players : Do you rely on the NPC as presented, or are you usually looking �between the lines� to figure the elements that are hold-backs? Do you care that the NPCs might have as many conflicted qualities as the PCs? Should a game really revolve around the PCs in every respect, including a certain �artificial� quality to the secondary cast? Or are you happier if the NPCs are �sticky�?

Gming first.

I am of several minds about NPCs. I love to have realized, fully imagined NPCs, with story and goals of their own, sometimes not even what I quite imagine. And I love it when a player picks up on things and adds to the NPC's story. "Oh, yes, Noys and I went to such and such a shadow once."

On the other hand, however, I have a rule. "When in doubt, let the PC do it."

With my penchant for NPCs being as fully functional as they are, there is a temptation, a danger, in having them do TOO much. To be too ubiquituous, too useful, to the deteriment of the PCs.

This is NOT fun. No one wants a game where they watch NPCs do everything. Sure, NPCs will be a part of the major threads, but I don't want them to dominate them completely. Especially when it comes to those NPCs who are "larger than life"...like, say, Lorius. He loves being a center of attention, almost too much.

And I purposefully stopped a major plot thread in Rebma dead in its tracks until I could have someone create a Rebman PC to interact and be part of it. Similarly, some other threads outside of Amber and Chaos are awaiting the spotlight of a PC or three to make them fully functional and known, and real.

The Players make this game, and I will, if I have to, somewhat mute the NPCs if they dominate the game too much.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:28 PM

Wish 72: Character Interruptus

And we get back into WISH mode. I'll tackle this one from Ginger, first:

Talk about a few characters you had to stop playing before their stories felt finished. Where do you think they would have gone?

Well, given my penchant for reimaging, reforging and recasting characters, a question like this is usually campaign-dependent, and work with how the character's stories interact with the campaign themes.

Take Marcus, for example. Although he is in AOR currently, his original incarnation, incomplete, was in Rob Bergeron's Shadow War. There, he was Deirdre's son, the game set after an alternate Guns of Avalon where Eric didn't die there. Throw in getting sucked into the Jewel of Judgement, Rob dredging up one line of backstory to give him a prior relationship with a (now revealed) Chaosian, and best of all, Marcus getting a jeweled arm (analogous to the one Benedict gets, although this one was even more directly tied to the Jewel)

Where those plotlines might have brought him, I don't know. By the time the game went into stasis, Marcus had already decided to fight for Siobhan and to find her once again, once he got out of the Jewel. I don't know how the jeweled arm would have figured into that.

Archard, from EGB, is an active character in my head, and I suspect that Arref knows precisely what he is up to, since EGB is part of his Amber: The Eternal City World. Me, I think he might try and establish an embassy in the scholarly city of Glantri, continue to forge the delicate links he has to a couple of those strange and unusual Amberites, and support his family through difficult and tumultous times.

His sister Rakhi might yet become Heir, after all.

And, of course, oh yes, continue to explore his mysterious abilities, especially now with Delwin back in the Empire.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:19 AM

October 25, 2003

Wish 70: Games that Challenge You

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 70: Games That Challenge You

Ginger's WISH:
Have you ever played in a game that has challenged you in some way? What was the challenge? Do you think you lived up to it? How did it affect other games you play/have played?

I am going to steal a march from Ginger and mention my own GMing experience first.

Strange Bedfellows has challenged me. I am still, to this day, learning and growing as a roleplayer and as a person from my experience with the game. Handling a large cast of PCs, NPCs, multitudinous plots, byzantine plans and other miscellany has been a wild ride. I think I have been living up to it, since for those who give me the effort, SB is a very good place to play these days. I've learned, or adapted, to giving more to those who have given ME more, and there is a feedback loop.

That feedback loop I learned first in GA. GA is teaching me the dynamics of a troupe game, where the GM is much less in a hierarchial station than other games, where cooperation, character building and such are King. It's not just about the prurient interests.

The other game that I've played in that really challenged me is/was the Empire of the Gleaming Banner, Archard's home? How so? Well, although Arref began with a wonderful world, it was up to the early players working together to help bring it to life, before the con games in 1999 and 2000. It was a rich, new milieu, and I learned about handling a non-Amberite character, the value of extending and giving the GM ideas and toys to play with (I even developed a shadow for the Empire in that vein).

It's sad to think on such things now, but I think my relationship with Bonnie fired up and did well thanks to the crucible of the creation of EGB. We worked very well together in coming up with a brother and sister team of Rakhi and Archard.

But, really, every game has a challenging lesson, if you but open your eyes and ears. Amberman's infamous AOL game taught me that a bad GM could truly be horrific, and it gave me a negative example to avoid when I began Gming my own. Karen's TKC sessions taught me that pushing buttons need not be a bad thing in a live game, as I felt the surge when she pushed Laertes' buttons hard. And I could go on ad infinitum, but I won't. You get the point.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:53 AM

October 19, 2003

Wish 69: Non-RPG Games for Gamers

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 69: Non-RPG Games for Gamers

Despite the "numerical significance of the WISH, it has nothing to do with *that*.

Ginger asks:
Recommend three non-RPG games for RPGers. Why do you recommend these three?

Hmm, I know a couple of my choices here have been anticipated elsewhere, but here I go anyway.

1. Diplomacy
Really its a slam-dunk. Its one of those games where you need as many players as possible to make it more fun. Where backstabbing, duplicity, politics and in a sense role-play make the game. It's probably the perfect game for, say, Amber players. I've not done well in the game as I might because, well, I am not as amoral as the game really demands in order to win. But its fun nevertheless

2. Cribbage
Not so much as for the mechanics of the game itself, but the antiqueness of the game. After all, what other card game has such distinctive props as a cribbage board and pegs. A vocabulary of its own to rival poker and bridge (which would be a good alternate for this slot). There is something genteel about Cribbage.

3. Chess
An obvious choice, one that I am surprised that no one has mentioned yet. Why Chess? Well, its more accessible than other games of its stripe (eg Go), and its well known to just about everyone. And it lends itself to all sorts of styles of play, if you want to get into a roleplaying aspect. To stay within the Amber canon, consider how Corwin might play Chess, versus, say, Julian.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:35 AM

October 10, 2003

Game Wish 68: Multiple Person GMS

Ginger's Wish this week:
Have you ever played in or GMed a game with more than one GM? What was your experience with it? What were the strengths and weaknesses of having multiple GMs? Was it positive or negative? Would you do it again? If you�ve never tried it as a GM or player, would you like to? Why or why not?

I've not been in many multiple-person GM games, actually. Oh, there has been things like Faces of a Stranger at ACUS, and there was a game that died before it really got off the ground that created the seed for my character Tynan, but until GA, I'd never really been in an email game with more than one GM.

With the shoe on the other foot, though, I've had a mixed bag with multiple person GMing. At ACUS, I've done well with it. I ran Dreams Made Flesh with Felicia Olson, since she had played a demo version of it and knew what I was trying to do. That worked very well, we GM as a team pretty well together. There was also It's a Mad Mad Mad Amber, with Felicia and also Karen Groves as my partners, and that was a LOT of fun. I mostly RPed NPCs, but I was certainly no third wheel to the other two. I also ran STORM CHASERS with Nicole at the first ACUS that I ran a con game, and we did very well as a team.

In email, however, I've had mostly bad luck with the concept. A game Felicia and I tried to run called OATHS OF THE UNICORN did not, in the end work well. We wrote ourselves into a bit of a corner, and we didn't have the time to really dedicate to the game. I didn't realize it then, but just because there are two GMs does not necessarily mean there is half the work.

The same thing happened with When it Rains it Pours. In this case, Bonnie (yes that one) and I came up with some neat ideas to run a game...but once again, time was not a friend to either of us. We had a clear division of labor, though, Bonnie handled a lot more of the creativity side, and I handled administration, since that was not her strong suit.

I suppose it was the stress and the impossibility on my part on running two games at the same time. SB fills up my GMing quota quite completely, and pushing that usually leads to grief. Gwyddbwyll didn't, but that was a small game, with a few trusted players. The email edition of Storm Chasers was mainly Nicole's baby, I was merely a senior adviser and did a few NPCs here and there.

I wouldn't mind doing another co-GM stint at a con, though. I could handle that.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:24 PM

October 6, 2003

Game Wish 67: Storytelling

Ginger's WISH this week:

How do you tell stories in your games? Are there character stories, overarching stories, and/or other kinds of stories? Could you tell a coherent story from games you�ve GMed or played in? Does it matter to you? Why or why not?

Robert Heinlein said that while we all know what the "oldest profession" is, the "second oldest profession" is the teller of tales.

I don't think I fall into the GNS format very well, or at least I can't speak intelligently to it. But are there stories in my games? You betcha!

On one level, and slicing the multi-layered (multidimensional!) Strange Bedfellows is the story of Valerian, and his struggles to stop the Omphalos from doing to the Amber universe what happened to his own of Crimson. Although this was and is the major overarching story of the game, it is far from the only one.

More of a theme than anything, but lost, missing and new scions of Amber returning to the fold is another major story. This covers people few knew before was an Amberite, like Bhangbadea or Jayson, people like Krysta, who have left long ago and only now came back, and others. This is much more the personal stories of these characters, as they interact with Amber, and vice versa.

And that is to say nothing of the stories of Chaosians and Chaos, and the effects of the personal stories that characters have had on the game at large. SB would definitely be a long novel or a "fat fantasy series" if it was all written out that way.

It was mentioned on that infamous GM review that I am character oriented, sometimes to a fault. I *want* characters to tell their stories, to learn and grow, and interact with a complex universe.

As far as my own characters, they have stories to tell, too. Marcus' story seems to revolve around his growth and change in Amber now that he and the rest of his kin have returned after the War. While, of course, Bridgette's metaplot plays out as a foil. Cadmus is searching for who he is...from where he really came from, as a guide as to where to go, what to see.

And then there are my most recent creations, Iolaus and Delwin from A Grand Affair. Yes, its a game by design focused on, um, prurient interests, but my character design is primary, and such considerations are secondary. I told Ginger flat out that Iolaus doesn't seem well designed to be "picked up" so to speak. And that's all right, if Iolaus is the only celibate character for the duration of the Affair, that's fine as long as he feels he is making progress on his own goals and plans.

Now, Delwin is a slightly different fish, but he and Sand have their own plans and goals which I am not going to reveal here. But like Iolaus, he has his own personal story thread to play out against the background, and in the warp and weft of TGA.

So, in summary I do like to provide stories and space for stories on the part of my players, and my characters usually have a personal story of their own that I am exploring through, in contrast to, and in harmony with the game and milieu in which they find themselves.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:37 PM

September 26, 2003

Wish 66: Left Turn at Albuquerque

"I knew that I should have made a left turn at Albuquerque"--Bugs Bunny

Ginger asks this week:
GMs can spend hours designing an adventure and have their players take off in an entirely unexpected direction. How does a GM handle this�try and steer the players back to the designed plot, or hang back and see where the adventure goes? How does a player handle this? Stay on target or go with the flow?

Hang on for dear life and work on the fly, if everything else fails.

Sure, I have overarching plots in my game, in my campaign and also one-shots for cons. To paraphrase Clausewitz: "No Gm plot survives contact with the Player Characters"

And, really, it shouldn't. Choice and degrees of freedom, as discussed in earlier posts are important to me. So, if players decide to strike off from the main trail...I am going to manage things as well as I can, even to the point of extemperaneous stuff being whipped up.

SB, for example, got an early dose of this. Early on, I had a weak, static-filled trump call be taken by Jayson from an imprisoned Deirdre. My expectation was that Jayson would use or bargain this information in Amber, since he was headed there. I did not expect him to wind up going personally to Corwin's Pattern and subsequently tangling with Brand on the demiplane. Brand was a card I was expecting to play later in the game. And of course Jayson's early action lead to the entire Apollo subplot.

I feel that, within reason, allowing the players to bring elements to the game can be a good thing, so long as its not done to the deteriment of other's enjoyment. I wouldn't want SB to be "just" about one character's subplot that they whipped up as a detour.

On the one shot front, for example, I did not expect Alice to be such a focal character in the latest incarnation of Wizard in the Attic. Her pell-mell chase through the Mirror Realm was not something I anticipated, but lots of fun nevertheless.

As a player, I usually don't intentionally derail Gm plots. I usually color between the lines, although they can surprise me sometimes. Archard managed to dodge taking a declaration of War from the Courts of Chaos in EGB, for example. I don't think Arref saw that coming, and truthfully neither did I. On the other hand, since I don't crave the limelight, I usually don't wind up changing the plot of the entire game, just my little thread.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:50 AM

September 19, 2003

WISH 65: That's My Job

Ginger asks us:

Does what you do for a living have any impact on your gaming? Have you had occupational details intrude on your descriptions of how something works? Have you ever dared a player to go �Hotwire a car, then, if that�s how you think it�s done?�

Well, considering the variety of things that I have done which have nothing to do with my degree, I really haven't put those talents to true use, and thus my jobs haven't really influenced my gaming.

My education/training however, has. With a Biology degree under my belt, with some other sciences thrown in, my scientific frameset has definitely influenced my gaming. I've used Quantum Mechanics, for example, in my cosmology (and I've not seen anyone else go there, although I've seen some mathematical descriptions of the infinities of shadows)

My descriptions of shadows include things like Biomes. I've borrowed extinct animals for shadows, especially my beloved Ammonites. Most of my magic-wielding character's approaches to sorcery are very much by the scientific method, especially Marcus and Cadmus.

The funniest ancedote I have about an intrusion into gaming doesn't involve me personally, although I was there. In Tony Pi's Silver Sails game, Rob "Xagnut" Bergeron started throwing detailed stuff about ships and sailing at Tony, much to his constertation, especially because it was derailing an important plot point that Tony wanted to have happen--namely, the boat sink.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:23 PM

September 12, 2003

Wish 64: Deities and Demigods

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 64: Deities and Demigods

Ginger asks us to Give us that old time religion when she asks:

Name three gods or religions that have appeared in games you�ve played in. Were they good, bad, or indifferent? What made them so?

The funny thing is, I could answer this question and stay completely within Strange Bedfellows.
Old Gods, long asleep and dreaming have played a role in several character's plotlines.

The biggest one, however, by far was Apollo. And he will represent Amber in the WISH answer.

The plotline originated in an idea of the character's, early on in the game when his character had literally gotten out of the universe in a bold and daring attempt to rescue Deirdre. In a battle with Brand, he called out for help, and found it. Sleeping for a very long time, Apollo was able to touch Jayson, outside of the protection of Pattern and Logrus, and infused him with the power to battle Brand to a standstill.

Apollo, however, was not content with just a taste of his former glory and began working to use Jayson as a conduit to increase his power within the universe. Matters recently came to a head when Jayson entered the Logrus in a bold stroke to try and remove the taint of Apollo from him. Pattern was already regarded as useless, since Apollo had been able to work upon Corwin's Pattern.

The aftermath of that exorcism is still playing out, but it is this that caused the "Shockwave" that has rippled throughout the game. And thus characters as diverse as Leigh, Beastie, Rhionde, and Amberites alike have been affected by it.

In a AD&D game I ran a long time ago, the Player Characters wound up helping Keldor Hearthflame in his attempt to move up the deital ladder. He wasn't an actual participant in anything the PCs did, but he was more or less the patron of the PCs efforts to elevate him (then a demigod) up to lesser god status. It was a nice epic arc, and in the end the PCs did wind up getting enough of the right major artifacts in place to give Keldor his ritual a chance of success.

Of course I thought that while cliche, the big battle that the PCs had to fight to keep the enemies (a motley mix of strange bedfellows to be sure, from CG Valkyries to two demons) at bay long enough for Keldor to get his ritual done.

I never did get the PCs to go for demigod status themselves, they had had enough of meddling in deital affairs by that point.

The third instance of Gods and religions was a game that I didn't play in, so much as witness, at Ambercon. (I was feeling awful and so just watched). It's Rachel Holmberg's Of Light and Darkness game.

Basically, the PCs create Deities as player characters, and through the GM, work out their own creation, and the creation of the world. It's a cerebral game, and very different than the typical game at ACUS. It's myth-creation of a type that reminds me of Pegana more than anything else.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:54 PM

September 6, 2003

Game WISH 63: Contributions

Ginger asks:

What kinds of game-related things do you do when you�re not gaming? Do you write journals or fiction, create web-pages, make character images, or indulge in other outside game-related business? If you game regularly face-to-face, do you play by email or chat outside the game? Does your GM give you experience or character rewards for your efforts? And if you don�t do any of these things, what are your reasons for not doing them (disinterest, insufficient time, etc.)?

I love to Contribute to games that I am in, as well as receive them. As almost all of my gaming is email these days, that means game-related things which are NOT email. And there is never enough time to do all the Contribution-related stuff that I would like.

First, let me talk about what I do as a player, and then spotlight my players in my RPGs (primarily, of course, Strange Bedfellows).

Webpages and items which can be put on the web are the primary focus of my energies as a player in terms of contributions to a game. I've done webpages for characters for quite some time, and have a page on my site which links to all of those. I always of course do a webpage for the game that I run, and Strange Bedfellows' rather labyrinthine site needs no further mention.

I also do some game fiction. This is harder, since I need my Muse as well as time to inspire me. But there are always backstories lurking in my character's personae. To point out one example for you, I wrote a story about Archard, my Empire of the Gleaming Banner character called Point of Divergence. For quite some time now, I've been working on a story for Marcus for Bridgette's Age of Retribution. Other characters, like Iolaus, and Cadmus have ideas lurking back there, but nothing has come through as yet.

I am not very good, however, at creating Phototrumps. I have only a unsupported Adobe program in which to work rather than Photoshop, and my efforts pale against the real artistes of the Amber community. In fact, most of the "trumps" I've done are what I like to call word-trumps, a written description of what the trump card actually looks like. In point of fact, it was not long ago that I finally began "casting" my PCs in terms of actors. I find it difficult now to go back and assign actors and actresses to portray my PCs and NPCs, a fact which has hobbled my own attempts to emulate Casting Calls such as that at House of Cards or Eternal City.

I've done a few other things, too, but they usually are in the literary sense. For example, I created and detailed a shadow for Arref's Empire of the Gleaming Banner. It was a natural idea, considering my modestly famous Shadowwalker's Guide to the Golden Circle. Is it any wonder that, given a chance, I created an entirely new shadow for my secondary character in A Grand Affair?

As a GM, I've received a lot of contributions over the years, of various types and media. Much of what I've received is at the SB Contribution Page.

I've received diary entries, stories, word-trumps, character profiles of other characters and NPCs, drawings, graphical works, and character-created webpages. One PC has a blog up for her character.

I'm very lucky, as a GM.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:40 PM

August 30, 2003

Game WISH 62

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 62: My Favorite Villains

Ginger asks:
Describe three of your favorite villains from campaigns you�ve played in or GMed. What makes them good villains? Why are they your favorites?

A good villain can make or break a RPG game. Sure, the PCs are (usually) the heroes...but its the mustache twirling villain (or if you prefer, the Lady DeWinter) who brings them back again and again and again.

And considering the wide range of games I've run and been in...its tough to pick three, but I will give it a stab.

Dara, from Dreams Made Flesh..
In this con game I ran back at ACUS 2001, Dara had warped time and space to her own ends, using Tir as a means to do it. The Player Characters found themselves with unexpected mates, and Dara on the Throne of Amber.

Oh, but it was such fun! Far from being a stereotypical villainess, Dara was genuinely concerned for the well-being of her modified realm...those mates being a means to unite Chaos and Amber (since they were all Chaosians). Little details, too, like having poor Corwin on a leash behind the throne were just too rich to ignore. Until Ad Astra came along, it was the only ACUS game that the players expressed any interest in a sequel (although, sadly, its not likely to happen...but I might re-run it one day).

Umbrood, from Empire of the Gleaming Banner.

Okay, so its not a villain in the singular sense. But as an adversary...anything which can give me nightmares months later is a visceral opponent to face. Inhuman, alien, almost Borg-like in its desire to consume and assimilate all opposition, the Umbrood forever marked Archard when he encountered them. I also like to think his skills and abilities in Dreaming received a boost by the desperation engendered in trying to discern and foil their plots, as they were far more visible in that realm, than in the waking world.

Omphalos, from Strange Bedfellows

Yes, here I toot my own horn again, but I like to think that I've created a memorable Villain in the universe-spanning conquerors known as the Omphalos.

Multifaceted, long-term planning, antagonistic, and extremely skilled, the Omphalos have ranged across the entire map of my game, and remain as an omnipresent threat. I gleefully tied in a backstory by a character who mentioned she had been hounded by a NPC for a long time...and made him into an Omphalos forward scout. And the encounters with them, in their world and without, have been dramatic. Forest fires in Arden...swordplay and derring-do in the Black Zone...illusion and mysticism in an encounter with a Chaosian...and of course the Omphalos world itself, an amalgam of magic and technology in uneasy co-existence.

The name, though, is perhaps not my best choice, since many players...and even at least one player character, has referred to them as the "Oompa Loompas".

But SB would not be SB without them. And the PCs haven't even really met the *real* Omphalos heavy hitters...yet.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:29 PM

August 26, 2003

Fox News gives up the lawsuit

Proving that satire can win out over inchoate bullying, Fox News has given up the lawsuit against Al Franken.

So, the "Fair and Balanced" is gone from the Blog title; further twitting of Fox News, while always a pleasure, is not really needed at this time. I think the sight of Al Franken at the top of the Amazon bestseller list (as of 11:50 CDT today) is enough to make O'Reilly and his friends full of apoplexy.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:49 AM

August 23, 2003

Wish 61: Characters for Other People

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 61: Characters for Other People
Ginger asks:
Come up with a character concept for one to three other gamers you know. System, genre, stats (if you even bother with stats) up to you. How did the gamer(s) influence the concept(s) you came up with? Would you play the character(s) you came up with yourself?


I usually don't even make pre-generated characters at con games, so this question has thrown me a bit for a loop. I don't usually design characters for people. I like, in any game I run, give players the maximum possible flexibility in character creation. That's why I wound up with a character who could walk into mirrors in the 2003 version of Wizard in the Attic...and two Rebman twins with unusual abilities in the first version. And SB is no exception to that rule, either.

But, a question is a question. And I decided to limit myself this time around to people who haven't actually played for me as yet.

Okay, first, I'd love to have Meera do a Lessiman for me. She and the Lintking created the Lessimans, and even though I took them, made them my own and evolved them independently, she knows more about them than anyone I know. She'd be very good at such a position and would help bring the mysterious shapeshifters to life in a way I can think no one else can exceed.

Second, I'd want Ginger to play a crown princess of some sort, but with Amber ties or bloodline. If I was talking about existing NPCs...I think Ginger could take the ball and run with Dulcinea from SB. Or, in more general terms, someone in the same ecological niche. (Character flexibility, after all) Based on seeing Lalage in Bete Noire, and her playing of Martin in Grand Affair, I think Ginger would throw herself into the role, especially given some crossed loyalties and secrets of her own to keep.

Third, I'd like the ever-adpatable Liz to take a role in my game. Based on her incredible creativity in Grand Affair doing Sand and my passing knowledge of her other characters, Liz's research skills are a GM's dream. And since she usually plays "good" characters, I'd like her to take one of the older "cousins" in a game of mine and run with the ball. Someone the King actually trusts to help keep her younger counterparts in line, and get whatever needs doing, done. Martially focused, perhaps, but complicated.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:59 AM

August 15, 2003

Wish 60: Frames of Reference

Ginger (via Claire's thread on Shadows of Amber)asks this week:
How do you use different frames of reference or mindsets in your games? In what ways do your characters or NPCs in games you GM think differently from the people around you? What sorts of things make them different (societal, mental, physical, etc.)? Do you feel that you�re successful in incorporating and showing the differences?

Basically, as some of the posters to the WISH have pointed out, this boils down to preventing your games from being "20th century people in costume". How do you work a game universe that *feels* like it is set in the time-period (or technological level) that it is ostensibly set in?

It's not easy sometimes, and I think, personally, that I've done it best when I've actually had characters from more modern milieus show up in, say, Amber. The culture clash and the difference in outlook is much easier to present when I have a contrast with which to work. Dagny Thorsonne, for example, was a great example of a PC who was surprised by the medieval outlook of the citizenry of Amber.

The acceptance of the royals as betters is the classic example. I did little things, like how the patronage of a restaurant by members of the Royal Family was enough for the proprietor of a restaurant. The acquiescence of servants to the needs and requests of Family. Clarissa, daughter of Mirelle, had a much more confrontational set of events, in the same vein. A third example is Krysta, who was shocked that after being away from Amber for so long and finally returned, was officially made a princess by Random. She never really thought of herself in those terms since, as established in her backstories, she was never treated as such in her maturing years.

But things like the superiority of nobility, the Divine right of the King (ie, from the Unicorn), the relatively muted place of women and so forth are the ways that I try and show that Amber is not "surfer kids in costume."

Posted by Jvstin at 4:20 PM

August 9, 2003

Wish 59: Games for Non-Gamers

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 59: Games for Non-Gamers

Ginger Asks this week:
Name three games you might use to get someone who has never roleplayed before into roleplaying.

Well, this has turned out to be a quickly answered WISH, and my answers are going to sound a lot like other fine people's ideas, because, well, they are true. I can only speak from experience of games that I have actually played, or at least for which I have a rulebook.

Newbie would-be gamers are, I don't feel, very suited to a lot of the games on the market. Most of the White Wolf stuff is too complex, even if "once you understand one, you understand them all". Amber? Well, if done carefully, perhaps, but not my first choice again either.

Hong-Kong Martial Arts Action! Lots of fun, relatively simple, character templates which makes it easy (albeit limited) character creation, mechanics which encourage cinematic, fun roleplaying. By this point, Jackie Chan is a household name--who wouldn't want to be him? And things like the "mook rules" help avoid the "one hit and the PC goes down" problems that playing, say, a mage in D20 might have. The game is designed for the PCs to duke and shoot it out, and newbies can be hooked with that.

I had a lot of fun with this the couple of times I played it, long ago. And there were, as I recall, a couple of gaming newbies at the session at the college, too. Keep the dark humor up, and the newbie will eat it all up, even when her clone is sent to be terminated. The Computer IS your friend!

Star Wars D20
Yes, I know I am advocating the sometimes dreaded D20 here, but let's face it. Everyone knows Star Wars. There is a concept in the universe for just about anyone...and who hasn't imagined being one (or more) of the characters in one of the movies? And isn't that is part of what roleplaying is? A good GM can design a simple, straightforward scenario to hook the newbie and their character, and show them what an RPG game is all about.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:08 PM

July 25, 2003

Wish 57: System, Setting Style

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 57: System, Setting, Style, and Play

Ginger asks this week:
Do you find that you play differently when you play in different game systems?

Usually, no, I tend to play the same spectrum of characters (with some exceptions), and that tends to be game-independent. Be it Phocas, my illusionist in D&D, Marcus and Lorius in Amber, Dr. Denton in COC, most of my characters are more men of thought than action. Not an absolute, of course...Arkantos from last ACUS was much more of a martial sort of guy.

Now, admittedly, some systems have influenced my characters away from my usual baseline. VTM characters, Werewolf characters, the last superhero (not really set on any rules) that I did...the games style and genre lend themselves toward different kinds of characters.

And yet, especially when rules are out of the window (Bete Noire), I usually fall back to a stratum, a cake layer of character types. But not always. I once did a version of Scipio who was quite at odds with his usual style--and to this day, Scott calls Scipio "The Evil One", since his only exposure to my character was in that context as a villain.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:09 PM

July 12, 2003

WISH 55: What's in a Name?

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 55: What's In A Name?

Ginger asks:
How do you choose character names? What makes a good or bad name for a character? What are three examples of really good (or really bad) character names, and why are they so good or bad?

I've taken names from everywhere and everything. Names that I find in my reading sometimes wind up as character names (I am being broad and adding NPCs to the mix, since I do GM much more than play).

For example, Noys, my Eric's daughter in Strange Bedfellows, got her name from a science fiction short story. Khouri, an antagonist that one of the PCs is dealing with right now, similarly got her name from REVELATION SPACE.
The three antagonists in Ghosts of the Past had their names lifted directly from the book I was basing some of the plot upon (THE ONE KINGDOM).

As far as my own characters, I have an innate bias toward Greco-Roman names (with a minor in Celtic). If I am going to join an Amber game, for instance, I am more likely to look along those lines, unless the milieu precludes it.

Thus as examples: Scipio, Tynan, Hadrian, Lorius, and Marcus. Marcus was unusual in that, long after I gave him a first name, his middle name came to me in a flash (its Julius).

Also, from SB, NPCs include Asteria, Castor and Pollux, Percy and Dulcinea.

I like to think that I keep within that "theme", that its a signature of the characters that I create.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:05 AM

June 21, 2003

Game WISH 52: Your Robin Laws Type

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 52: Your Robin Laws Type

Robin Laws identifies several types of gamer in his book of GM tips: The Power Gamer, the Butt-Kicker, the Tactician, the Specialist (plays one type only), the Method Actor, the Storyteller (plot and pacing fan), and the Casual Gamer. Which of these types do you think you are, and why? Most people aren�t pure types, so multiple choices are OK.

I've not read Mr. Laws' book (and I should, I suppose) so I am a bit hazy on the different types and what they do and do not represent.

Like many things in life, I will muddle through. (Thanks to Arref to pointing out a shorthand guide to the archetypes)

I guess its true that I am a GM first and a player second, these days and most days. It was certainly circumstance more than anything, once I started playing role playing games with someone other than my older brother, I soon wound up taking the role of the DM/GM. Amber soon proved to be no exception when I started SB.

But looking at my playing style as objectively as I can, it seems that my GM urge to be a storyteller comes through first and foremost. Why else would Laertes fool around with a clearly dangerous artifact and wind up walking the Pattern in TKC? Or Marcus in AOR, why would he do things ranging from throwing his sister at Brand (not *that* way!), to getting immersed in a rather strange sorcerous experience that he is from which only now recovering. Or Arkantos in Chris Kindred's Weirmonken game inventing "Tactical Dancing".

There are elements of other types in my play. I do like to play "intelligent" characters, so the Tactician sneaks his head there. I'd like to be more of a method actor (after seeing some very good ones), but I don't feel that I do it well.

Power-Gamer? Naaah. Butt-kicking? Not usually, no, most of my characters don't go that way. And I am not a Casual Gamer by any stretch of the definition, even if I am but a shadow of a true gamer like, say, Arref.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:41 AM

June 13, 2003

Game Wish 51: New Genres

Game Wish 51

What are three genres that you�ve had limited exposure to as a gamer that you�d like to try or play more of?

Only three? Well, I will try to limit myself.

First up is Science Fiction. Yes, I played some Traveller when I was younger and the world was new...but recently? Zippo. I don't quite mean Star Wars, but something like Traveller, or perhaps Blue Planet, or the like. Li's Lunar Ellipse fits that niche, too. Space Opera, like something in the worlds of Peter F. Hamilton would be super. Also, "Sword and Planet" in the style of De Camp or Jack Vance would be fun.

Second? Action/Adventure from the 20's, as exemplified in the WW game Adventure!, and in Arref's own Argent Rose. . I've never been to Ambercon North, but I know I would (try) to sign up for his game if I did.

Sometimes you want to play the hero, after all.

Third? Something fantasy-mythic based. This is a rather broad category, since it includes both Nobilis AND Hero Wars. Fantasy, but not the usual D20 stuff, and something non-Amberish for a change of pace. Something intelligent, with interesting tropes, a rich milieu, characters, world. After all, almost all of my gaming right now is Amber or Amberish.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:18 PM

June 7, 2003

Game WISH 50

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 50: Going Pro

Have you ever considered trying to publish something professionally in the gaming industry? Why or why not? What are the good points and bad points of being in the industry?


I am not ambitious enough to think that my creations would be worth money. Ideas? I sometimes think I get too many ideas and don't focus enough on a few of them. But I don't think I could stomach the backbiting, the loss-leader, editorial disagreements, or anything else.

I simply ask for credit where possible when people use my creations. Heck, if I could get a copy of adobe acrobat, I could PDF a lot of my stuff and make it downloadable and even easier to share.

But charge for those PDF's? Naaah.

Posted by Jvstin at 12:03 PM

May 30, 2003

WISH 49: Winning

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 49: Winning

Is there a way to win or lose in a roleplaying game? Are you in competition with other players, NPCs, or the GM? What are the rewards for winning or the penalties for losing? Do you feel like your characters have to �win� to enjoy a game?

It depends on the game, but in a very real sense, the trite and hoary cliche of "Having fun is winning" is true for me.

Am I enjoying the roleplaying? Do I feel like I am an active member of the troupe, or, more commonly from a GM standpoint, is the troupe having fun? Then I consider that a victory and winning, first and foremost.

That said, however, a tangible goal achieved, or in a literal sense a "win" helps reach that sort of fun level. Slay the dragon, find the princess, stop the returned Elders from using that weird River against Amber, achieving goals both personal and private help contribute to a "win".

I hate hopeless situations and games. Give me a chance to go for the gold, even if it is something just for my character, and I am happy. Or, if my players as a GM are having fun and enjoyed my scenario or campaign, then I as the GM have "won".

Posted by Jvstin at 6:04 PM

May 25, 2003

WISH 48: Money, Money, Money

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 48: Money, Money, Money

The price and availability of miniatures goes up as more companies leave the market. Wood costs lead to extended paper costs, and supplements and gaming systems are becoming a serious financial investment. Is this affecting your gaming any?

Yes, it is slowing my rate of buying and trying new products. The fact that I am currently unemployed is the bottom line. I would like to buy a host of things, but budgeting and finances, and the general expense of game books these days means that I have to choose and pick my battles carefully.

So it has slowed me down considerably, yes. I was tempted, for instance, by a copy of Nobilis that I saw in The Source (a local gaming store) not long ago. Under better financial circumstances, I would not have hesitated to purchase a book that I've salivated about for quite a while.

And there are plenty of other books somewhat on hold for that reason--Exalted Abyssal, The Dying Earth RPG, and others.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:13 AM

May 17, 2003

Game WISH 47

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 47: Learning Your Lesson

Name one lesson you learned in gaming that you will (hopefully) never have to learn again.

It's a harsh one, and it still rankles me a bit, but I am learning to accept my lesson:

Not everyone, even people who like you and you like, will enjoy your game.

It's not something I like to think about, a sort of risk avoidance strategy if you want to be psychological. But, SB has had players enter the game that didn't work out.

For the longest time, and to an extent I still blame myself for their incompatibility with my game and my universe. It's part of a overrriding belief that because I like person X, person X should be happy in my game.

"It aint necessarily so"

I don't want to name names, that would not be fair. But more than one gamer in our community has entered into my game and found it not to their liking. It pains me, but I have learned a harsh lesson from this--its not guaranteed that someone will be happy in your game. You can try your best, you can work with the player, but something its not meant to be.

It's a damn shame, too, because the aforementioned gamers would have, had things worked out, only enriched the flavorful soup that is Strange Bedfellows.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:54 AM

May 9, 2003

Wish 46: Plot

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 46: Plot, Plot, Plot

Ginger's WISH this week is a technical question:

How do you define the word �plot� in a roleplaying game? What is plot and how does it come about? What is the GM�s role in developing plot? What is the players� role? Are the answers different for different genres?

Plot is one of those words of which you can find twenty definitions outside an English Department, and I imagine an order of magnitude more of them within such confines.

Plot, to me is a sequence of events that makes a meaningful story or interconnected series of stories revolving around common milieus, characters and situations. This definition works for RPGs as well as contemporary fiction. Of course much experimental fiction does not fit within these confines, but the typical RPG game does so.

Plot arises in a well-formed RPG from the GM and the players. The skeleton of the story provided by the GM, fleshed out, extended, and altered by the actions of the player characters. Thus, the GM's role is to provide, mostly in terms of a metaplot, to provide the framework for which the players to inhabit and work with (and sometimes change) that framework.

However, in the case of individual or character driven plots, the roles are different--the GM is often relegated to a referee when a character or set of characters set off on plots of their own devising.

The answers are not different in the case of different genres, but in a more general sense, in the case of different types of games.

A dungeon crawl, for example, has very strictly defined roles for the GM and the player characters. The GM provides the opposition and the milieu, the players provide the protagonists...and that it.

On the other hand, a character-driven milieu often will have characters coming up with their own plots, or bringing plots to the attention of the GM. This is not to say that there will not also be overarching metaplots provided by the GM, but there are other plots not conceived by the GM in the first place.

To use Strange Bedfellows as an example...I have many simultaneous plots, not all of my own devising. The Omphalos are certainly my own creation, the major plot of the game...but then there are the individual stories of the player characters as well. These stories, like good stories, often burst their boundaries and involve others. Jayson's story and his struggles...the enemies of Bhangbadea, and the coming to Amber of many new relations all are stories which have wrapped up and involved others in their tales. It forms a tapestry, a web of stories and plots coming together. Or to use a musical metaphor...all of these plots are voices in a symphony, creating a singular whole greater than the parts.

There are games, however, which lack even a metaplot, and are fully in the hands of players and their self-created plots. In these cases, the GM is much more just a referee, or a source of NPCs, than providing storylines.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:46 AM

May 2, 2003

WISH 45: Accolades and Warm Fuzzies

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 45: Accolades and Warm Fuzzies

Ginger asks a "nice" question this time around:

Who are some gamers you admire and appreciate? Name three (or as many as you like) gamers you admire and/or appreciate right now, and explain why.

NB: My apologies to the party whom wrote me about inaccuracies and mistakes in this entry. I have corrected them and I am sorry.

This is a tough question for me to answer because it embarasses me that anyone would have chosen me on their lists at all. Or maybe that's just a lack of self-confidence talking.

Okay, in no particular order...

Arref Mak
Arref was introduced to me via Jim Groves, seeking to join SB not too long after its inception. Consequently, our friendship and partnership on a few things have blossomed. We've bounced many ideas off of each other. The first ACUS I attended included a road trip from NJ to the land of three rivers so that my companions (Bridgette and Xagnut) and I could join him and his RFL for the final leg. Arref was in my first ever ACUS con game (The original Wizard in the Attic edition). The first multi-con "campaign" at ACUS that i joined, consequently, was his own EGB. Arref was also the person who got me into blogging. I love the man's work, I think that's obvious.

MaBarry is the uncrowned Queen of Amber links. I have harvested and adapted some of her freely available ideas for my own, putting my spins on them. I've found other ideas to use thanks to her comprehensive survey of things Amber. Without her, my game universes would not include things like, say, Lessima.

Bridgette, also known as Egwenna is my other partner in crime. After all, we've taken a domain name together, for openers. One of my earliest character creations was a son of Flora named Scipio who had two sisters, one played by Xagnut, and the other, a rebellious hellion played by Bridgette. We've cross-fertilized ideas on things like Dragons, the Dreamlands, Rebma and much more. She was the first of the Amber roleplayers I could put a face to, because she wanted to meet me in person. And she was one of the original people that invited when I decided to start Strange Bedfellows.

I know others have done it, but I will include Liz Trumitch for the same reasons. Ambercons will not be the same without her running and keeping them on the ground. Even if sometimes she confused my appearance with Mike Levay, this time around I think she figured out who I really am. Running a con must be several factors of magnitude worse than running a game, or even several games. I would never have the nerve.

Last, I'll throw in the previously mentioned Xagnut. I got introduced to Xagnut at about the same time as Egwenna, and like her, he and I have been in several games together. Only time and circumstance prevented him from being a charter member of SB.
Although the execution of his games has not always gone according to plan, I have been in two of his attempted campaigns, and I am in awe of his questioning of assumptions, and his inventiveness. The original version of Marcus was in his Shadow War game, and I developed Tynan MacCarter (now seen in Bete Noire) for his Doom of Trumps.

Posted by Jvstin at 1:37 PM

April 25, 2003

Game WISH 44: Picking Games

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 44: Picking Games

Ginger asks:
How do you choose games to join or to run? What factors influence you: timing, people, system, genre, etc.? Do you weigh different factors for different kinds of games, e.g., online vs. tabletop vs. LARP? Is it a group decision or a decision you make on your own?

Time and Commitment have been noted by Ginger and others is the primary thing. If I can't give of myself well to the game, I won't run it.

Case in point: I have mentioned in a previous Game WISH entry back on the old blog that I have several more games that, if I had time, I WOULD run. But I know I could not make the commitment to run two PBEMs. It just wouldn't work out for the new game or for SB.

My second factor is thus the spark...from either end. This is much more of a primary concern when I am picking things to run at ACUS, for instance. Do I have a spark of an idea, a overarching plan to run the characters through. Or, conversely, can I bring someone to person X's game. I joined Chris' Kindred's game among other reasons because I wanted to roll out two new characters for it. I already have a couple of possible sparks for next ACUS...and that doesn't even include the continuation of AAPA.

The next factor is people. Face it, I am a person of comforts, and I am most comfortable when I do have people I know, or want to know, in the same milieu. This goes for games FTF or PBEM. In point of fact, i am going to join a new game because, well, I was invited by a good friend, and the rest of the cast are people I want to play with (and in some cases already do).

I balanced out my time, saw a spark of a character I want to bring to it, and the people in the game I want to collaborate with to bring a new world to life.

Game system? That goes under "spark". There are game systems I really want to try, and that factors into the whole "inspiration bit". I think I could enjoy Nobilis, for instance.

But basically it is Commitment, Spark, and People. And its not that big of a gradient between Spark and People, they are very much co-equal as factors. I will try harder to come up with a spark if I have the people, and if the spark is there, I will try to bring it to the people.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:30 PM

April 24, 2003

Game WISH 43

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 43: In Character Rewards

Somewhat late comes the answer to the latest Game WISH from Ginger:

What was the best in-character reward one of your characters ever got? Why was it so good?

Hmm. There are many possibilities on this one. I'm almost torn between some of the best ones. Of course, some of the best have dual edge or multi-edge aspects. That's just part of the game. I could even go with Arref and pick out Laertes' story in TKC. But I will go with another game, for variance.

Note there is a bit of adult stuff in this, so I have moved it to the extended entry.

I'll bite the bullet and just pick one of my favorites and talk a bit about Marcus v 1.0, as he appeared in Xagnut's Shadow War.

Marcus is the son of Deirdre, a elder of the cousins sort of Amberite (in fact, he's managed to snag that in Bridgette's game too--there is something about him which suits it). He's a jack of all trades, having learned magic from the redheads and a bit of the blade as well. To say nothing of his personal artifact, the shapeshifting, spell-holding object he calls the Myriad.

The juicy bit involved Rob's reworking of a background story I did to explain how Marcus wound up with Myriad. I mentioned he had travelled deep into shadow, and had met a young lady whom, and I quote myself "pumped her for information".

At the time I wasn't going there, but Rob offered me a chance to change the backstory so that they had a fling of sorts, turning my words into a allusion to it. I accepted it. So far, so good.

And then comes the really juicy bit. While Eric started dying with the JOJ around his neck (This was set after Guns of Avalon, but Eric survived in this universe), Marcus managed to be drawn into the very JOJ and had to get his way out. He met an eidolon of Siobhan, the lady bard, and it turned out she was part of Oberon's long term plans.
Marcus had to fight her sibling, whom he fought a weaker version in the backstory. And when all of that was done and he walked the Pattern in the Jewel to get out, when he emerged from what everyone else saw as unconsciousness, his arm wound up being replaced with a jeweled arm that was attuned to the JOJ.
Not quite the same as Benedict's arm, and I never got to see what would have happened, the game ended not long thereafter. But from a single line in a simple backstory, Rob wove a whole host of things, a juicy plot, a love interest, and an artifact arm.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:35 AM

April 12, 2003

Game WISH 42

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 42: Reusing Characters

Do you ever reuse characters from game to game? When you reuse characters, what do you bring from game to game: a name and a personality, stats, or more? What kinds of characters do you reuse and why? If you GM, do you like to have players bring in existing characters? Why?

Yes, I do reuse characters and always have.

It's a familiarity thing. Its often easier for me to get into the head of one of my characters than to create a brand new one out of the blue. I'm trying to limit myself from doing that these days, though...Arkantos is a branching out from my usual set of characters that I employed successfully in Chris Kindred's Weirmonken game last con.

One of the primary motivations for me to import characters is the fact that a lot of games die, a lot of games never get off the ground, and I feel sometimes that the character has gotten short shrift, and so he "deserves" another chance somewhere.

Lorius, now an NPC in Strange Bedfellows, started in a game that did not last very long, one involving Random and Vialle announcing an heir, and Martin showing up with a chaosian girlfriend (played by Rob "Xagnut"). That game died quickly, poor Lorius left underdeveloped. So I've used him at cons, and popped him into SB as a NPC.

Likewise Scipio and Hadrian also came from games that died or strangled or were killed off improperly. Although Scipio is not in SB, he does make turns in just about every con game I run.

Even Tynan from Bete Noire was originally for a game that never got off the ground.

What I usually import is the look, the personality, oftentimes the parentage of a character. But the thing that justifies it to me is that my characters grow and develop through these games. Tynan in BN is certainly a different breed than I envisioned him in his original setting.

Marcus, in Bridgette's Age of Retribution , has grown and developed from the original game that he starred in. (Xagnut's Shadow War game)

As far as on the other side...no, I don't mind at all that players might want to import existing characters. It's possible that I know of the character already (eg. Priya, Bridgette's PC in Ghosts of the Past, is actually in SB). Of course the PC might not have all the hooks, or in different forms, but I've never minded importations and variations (eg. Jenn's character for AAPA based off one of her own old ones). It can often bring a different set of spices to the "dish", and can help change the game for the better.

It's good to know, though, with my successful debut of two new characters, that my skills at creation of characters is not diminished by a penchant for reusing Pcs. Cadmus, in Deb's Rites of Passage, is developing nicely in his second year of existence, and he was most definitely sui generis.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:11 AM

April 7, 2003

Game WISH 40

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 40: Preferred Style

(Going backwards a bit since I missed this one during my move, and ACUS)

What style of game do you prefer to play in? Style here does not mean genre, although certain styles work better under some genres than others. Style is more about the elements that predominate in a game: combat, politics, mysteries/puzzles, romance/interpersonal relations, etc. What three adjectives best describe your favorite game style? Does this style lend itself to particular genres or games?

Well now, not a simple question by any means this time, oh no. I had to think about this a bit.

Well, my interests are varied although my tastes fairly hew to relatively standard set of values and concepts. And I DO run games, as a rule, that I want to play in myself, so there is a good indication of what types of games I like to play.

Elements? Well, considering my characters and the games I choose--I do like mysteries/puzzles a lot. Nearly every game that I have ever run, with the aside of some very old D&D games, has had mystery or mysteries at the center. Who are the Omphalos and why are they invading? What are Osric and Asharia up to? What in the world caused a River to appear in Amber? What happened to kindly Uncle Brand? Why is Dara now on the throne, and I have a demon as a boyfriend/girlfriend? I love this sort of thing, most and foremost. I don't necessarily make the puzzles brain busters, but I try to evoke the aura of mystery...I want the player characters to feel important by them being the ones to solve the problem, discover the hidden secret.

A second theme for me is (usually) the cooperative venture. I do not thrive well in situations where my character is not only at the normal sort of odds with others, but is actively opposed to them. Gwyddbwyll was and is the exception, its about the only Throne War-ish game I have ever run, and I still have not the temerity to run it at a con...but maybe next year is the year. I want to try new things. I like the characters to be somewhat on the same team, at least in a general sense. I find myself somewhat adrift otherwise...its a confidence thing, I still think of myself as a "lightweight amongst heavyweights" that way. So, my games generally don't feature overt and unavoidable conflict.

The last thing I want is a touch of adventure. Oh, Scipio does well with politics and maneuvers, but my characters are usually happier doing things, than more political games. After all, at ACUS, Arkantos helped invent Tactical Dancing in the ballroom, since he couldn't do much more given the diplomatic situation.

So, the three words? Mystery, Cooperation, Adventure.
One can find many games that allow for this sort of thing, from (done right) D20 D&D to of course Amber.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:05 AM

Game WISH 41: Coherence

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 41: Coherence

How coherent do you expect a game world to be? Is a game world merely a stage for the characters, or does it have a life of its own? How deep does it need to be to satisfy you? How do you contribute as a player or GM to making the game world more coherent, if you do?

I am a purist when it comes to such matters...I dislike inconsistencies with a fervor and a passion that I was frankly surprised that other people reached as well.

My worlds always make sense, at least to the GM in full, if not completely to the players in parts. I strive hard and always have had, to come up with as complete a milieu as possible. I work to make inconsistencies and contradictions more a matter of incomplete information, than a glitch in the game world.

This is mainly the present and the past of the game world, mind you. Players can very definitely in my games affect the present and the future. I've had ideas of what was and is going to happen in games before the players touch it. The sort of "If this goes on" theory of gaming--but the players can certainly change their fate, change what will be if they did nothing. But the backstory, ladies and gentlemen, is where I want consistency and completeness.

Sure, the player might think a particular thread is dangling or incomplete, but, usually, I have a strong sense of what has come before, and why, and how it all fits. And I am a sucker for detail and keeping the milieu as "real" as I can possibly make it. In one of my D&D campaigns, I had detailed the entire royal family of the kingdom right up to the Dowager Queen...even though the characters had small chance of ever meeting her. (They were low level types).

So much for me as a GM. As a player, I assume, somehow, that the GMs I am playing for have thought about a lot of this, and it has taken a lot for me to realize that not everyone is a detail freak...and that, yes, Marcus' observations about the Weirmonken might be useful in detailing a world. Or a mention of an Egpytian themed shadow that the GM didn't think to add to the Golden Circle...Bete Noire has been useful in helping me add to a world from a player point of view, rather than a GM.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:45 AM

March 23, 2003

Game WISH 39

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 39: Cheating

Have you ever played with someone who cheated? (Fudging dice rolls or implying greater powers than they really had, or some other abuse of in-game trust�) How did you handle it? How would you recommend it be handled?

There is definitely a line between bluffing what your character can do, and outright cheating and trying to gimmick a system against the other players (or the GM)

I've not had too many bad experiences with players in my games trying to "cheat". I guess that I feel blessed that most of my players have been far above this.

I have had experiences in the past, though, in games like D&D, where players have tried to bluff the spells they have left, or the like, in order to try and gain advantage. I soon learned and still do like to have double entry bookkeeping, but that unpleasantness has proved to be the exception, not the rule.

And in PBEMs, its very hard to cheat an alert GM

Posted by Jvstin at 4:54 PM

March 15, 2003

WISH 38: Favoritism

WISH 38: Favoritism

Do you (or your GM) �play favourites?� Do you feel you have to justify your answer? Do you have a horror story to share?

Impartiality in anything is a myth. Bias is a fact of our lives, because we are only human. It is a matter of minimizing it, or keeping things fair, that is important.

But are their players whose turns I like a lot more? Well, yes. To an extent I work harder for players who give me more, that help to develop my universes. I will go an extra mile for a Jim, an Arref and a Bridgette because they are the heavyweights of my world. It's not a matter of age and longevity, its a matter of the quality that I get.

To use a negative example, and I will change names to protect the innocent, there is a character named "Urania" played by "Jane". I regret taking the player and character on but I don't have any real "reason" to terminate either.

This is a recent post from the character.

I head down to one of the ways out trying to see if I
can help a few get to safty. I then head back to Odin
and ask him if he can walk with my help telling him we
need to leave here and get to safty. and to find
Father. or someone to see what happened.

I admit that I spend less work on this player and her character than someone who writes better, longer and more competently. I try hard to be fair as far as plots and such, but I am human and such...discordant work sets my teeth on edge. I am not a "grammar and spelling nazi" in any sense of the word, but there is just something about this player's continued and incessant poor grammar that rubs me the wrong way. The shallowness of thought in the player's spelling is, unfortunately, often (but not always) reflected in the turns as a whole as well.

So...I do play favorites. But if Urania and another PC were to come into conflict, I would not penalize Jane for that. And I certainly do not skip or avoid doing her turn, I take her when it comes to her time in the "queue".

Posted by Jvstin at 6:32 PM

March 1, 2003

Game Wish 36: Supplements Today's

Game Wish 36: Supplements

Today's WISH is not about game systems, but about supplements:
What do you think about supplements to game systems? Do you like the additional material, or are you just annoyed about spending the money for the additional rules? Name up to three supplements you've really enjoyed, and describe why you liked them.

Unlike, say, Arref, I do have to say that I AM a supplement junkie. I love to browse them, read them for the pleasure of it, and mine them for content for games, sometimes far removed from the game that the supplement is actually for. I consider it a purchase on the level and expense of a trade paperback book...I don't feel compelled to get the supplement, but I like to do it on my own terms.

GURPS is the King of Supplements, their books are almost explicitly designed for importing into other games. I feel disappointed that the one Arref highlighted in his own missive, Places of Mystery, is now out of print. But I have a nice selection of them, as well as supplements for other games.

Three that have been useful and I have particularly enjoyed?

1. Spherewalker, for Everway.
It's an encyclopedia, a concordance of people, places and things in the Everway universe and I recommended it to a couple of people before it sank out of sight with the Everway game. The entries are in themselves often short vignettes, the thing reads a lot like The Dictionary of the Khazars than an RPG supplement. There are powers, NPCs, artifacts and locations to be mined from it, one noteworthy instance is that I developed Unity Sorcery from the entry of the same name.

2. In Nomine: Revelations III: The Marches
A supplement for In Nomine, I've stolen ideas from this book for ideas on how to handle the Dreamlands in Strange Bedfellows. For this same reason, I am very interested in the recently released Ethereal Player's Guide. My Dreamlands have a lot of sui generis landmarks and ideas, but given their nature and their capacity for eclecticism, books like this are good for nuggets of information for me.

3. GURPS Atlantis
One of the best GURPS books I have read, the book takes a long look at Atlantis, providing a variety of takes and methods to insert Atlantis into a game, ranging from secret cabal descendants to high fantasy Bronze Age Athens-Atlantis wars. Its enormously entertaining, and its informed some of my vision of Rebmans and "Thera" in Strange Bedfellows.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:56 PM

February 2, 2003

WISH #32: House Rules

WISH #32: House Rules

To what extent do you or your gaming peers use and develop house rules? Are you the kind of player who builds a system from the ground up, the kind of player who endlessly tweaks an existing game system to improve its performance, or the kind of player who uses a system out of the box? How does it affect your playing style? How does it affect the balance between rules mechanics and �pure� role-playing?

I'm with my good buddy Arref on this. I play around with systems, like a mad Dr. Frankenstein. I like to fiddle with what I am given, import ideas from other games, see what I can add or change to the basic set, which is probably why I love add-on books so much.

Amber doesn't have many rules but I tweak Amber endlessly. Chucking the auction, trying new paradigms and ideas for Sorcery, new powers, new facets of existing powers, different venues, new Elders. Its setting, but its also system in a sense, the character map of the Elders is part of that system.

I've never built a system from the ground up and I am not sure I'd have the nerve to do it. I much prefer to take things already made and work with them. Back when I played D&D I created new classes and races. I've never actually really played GURPS the game much but I've fiddled with their setting books and put them into other worlds (just as they intend). I've never played Everway although my box set is in New York. I heartily admire the Amberway projects extant, like House of Cards.

And I want to try out Nobilis so bad that I can taste it. I am waiting for the Guardians of Order re-printing. And its dollars to donuts that I will be modifying and playing with that system, too, once I learn it.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:21 PM

January 17, 2003

Ginger's WISH #30 Is

Ginger's WISH #30

Is PBEM Roleplaying? Are PBeM (Play-by-email) games actually roleplaying? Why or why not? How does PBeM differ from or approximate roleplaying face-to-face, or other activities that you feel it is similar to?

Yes, it is, without question, although it is a different kettle of fish from FTF gaming, certainly.

PBEM is roleplaying in a literary vein. Arref does have a good point, the storysetting is harder to get across in words sometimes than in gestures and actions in a FTF role. I will give my over-the-top depiction of the death of King Oberon in IT's A Mad Mad Mad Amber as an example--I could not have done that in a PBEM. PBEM sensibilities are filtered through words and only occassionally images and other media.

It is roleplaying though...since I consider letter games such as De Profundis to be roleplaying, or things like the quiescent Bete Noire. Granted, it takes players and GMs who can write and like to write. There is nothing more frustrating for me than a GM to get a one word or one line answer from a PC...it kills my roleplaying mood like almost nothing else. On the other hand a lack of time can halt a PBEM game in its tracks. There is almost a presumption of flow in a PBEM, when it is violated by the GM or the player, the "shared space" of the game disintegrates. I try hard on turn turn-around and when players drop off, my interest in their part of the constellation of my game fades, too.

I do love and will steal Arref's definition of RP:
Roleplaying is a parlor game where Players choose Characters that will react to the presentation of a Storysetting by a Gamesmaster. The improvisation of the Characters (and Gamesmaster) determines the outcome of conflict and events.

I would amend and extend it as follows:
That form of the parlor game can take in a variety of "parlors" and media, ranging from Live Action Role playing, through face-to-face "tabletop" roleplaying, to PBEM games, to "letter" games, in which the latter have a virtual rather than an actual shared space, and the values shade from the Acting of LARP over to the Literary.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:40 PM

January 3, 2003

Wish 28: Movies for Gamers

Wish 28: Movies for Gamers

Ginger comes up with another goodie: What are three movies that have inspired you as a gamer? Would you recommend them to other gamers, and if so, what would you tell them to look for and/or hope for them to get?

Lots of great choices and movies have already been mentioned, in passing as well as developed by the WISH group, that I am going to go a little afield for my choices. I don't want to repeat anyone else's ideas, but I'm getting plenty of inspiration of movie rentals, my friends! Thanks!

1. eXistenZ, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law.
In the "year of the Matrix" two other movies which explored levels of reality and the relationships between them came out, to far less acclaim and fanfare. The other was the Thirteenth Floor. eXistenZ is a very typical Cronenberg movie, strange visuals, odd characters, and a distinctive style. Its not for everyone. On the other hand, though, the movie explores the interface between game reality (virtual reality in this context) and real reality, and the relationships between players and their characters. Plus, I think it would make a pretty wild Over the Edge game.

2.Looking for Richard, by Al Pacino
A small independent documentary film financied and starring Pacino himself, the movie explores Shakespeare, most especially Richard III. Pacino visits Shakespeare's house in Avon, stages various scenes from Richard III in the Cloisters and talks about the character at great length. It's perfect for gamers who want to understand Shakespeare better, and a character like Richard III in particular. Plus Pacino's use of the Cloisters is an inspiration to LARPers.

3. The Three Musketeers
Various versions exist, I understand the 70's version is a classic but its been filmed many times. Even Disney took a crack at it, with a weird casting of Tim Curry as Cardinal Richieleu. But for pure swashbuckling action, to inspire your gamers and get them into the mood to cross swords with their foe, there are few better pure vehicles for such entertainment. Companions, adventure, swordplay, villains you love to hate. All fodder for gamers.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:49 PM

December 30, 2002

Game Wish 27 Ginger's latest

Game Wish 27

Ginger's latest WISH:
The RPG market is dominated by fantasy (with horror coming in second). Why have most attempts at creating a science fiction RPG failed (commercially or artistically), and what would a hypothetical SFRPG need to catch on the way fantasy has?

The reason, I think, for SFRPG's doing much less well than Fantasy and Horror RPGs is simply a reflection of the market of fantastic literature. Fantasy and Horror sell much more briskly than SF.

Looking at Amazon's bestseller list of SF/F, out of the top 25, 2 (3 if you count Michael Crichton, who writes more in a thriller vein than pure SF) are SF and the rest are Fantasy or Horror. Fantasy sells, and sells much more than SF has, probably since the early 80's. Once the "phat fantasy" and series fantasies really got cranking...Eddings, and Kerr, and Brooks, and Jordan...SF fell into an eclipse and hasn't recovered since.

Some of the points from my fellow bloggers dovetail into this. Fantasy is far easier, I think, to make into a game, than SF. Whip up a world, a magic system, new races and creatures, and you have a fantasy novel...or at least that is the perception. Writing SF involves a lot more variables, and providing an SF universe is likewise much larger for a GM to deal with. I think, thus, that since there are more fantasy readers, or more fantasy is read, the creative efforts at RPGs naturally head to fantasy rather than Science Fiction

Worse, one of the only current good examples of an "SF" RPG, Star Wars, is based on a franchise which George Lucas has admitted has as much or more roots in fantasy and myth as it does in Science Fiction. Traveller is around in a couple of forms, now in a D20 format (and I wants the precious. :grin: Traveller was the second RPG I ever played, after D&D)

What you need, I think for a good SFRPG is a setting that both invokes the sense of wonder that SF allows for the variety and experience of an SF universe, while being manageable by the GM. I am interested in the new and improved Blue Planet setting, for example, and I think it might meet those requirements--but, then, people not interested in an aquatic, exotic, world are out of luck. Traveller is around in a few forms, as is Fading Suns. I can hope that Traveller T20 helps invoke interest in SFRPGs. I'd love to try my hand at it.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:21 PM

December 22, 2002

Game Wish 26 Ginger's Wish

Game Wish 26

Ginger's Wish this week:
What three fantasy books/series would you recommend to other gamers? Why? What particularly makes them suitable for gamers to read? Would they be particularly good for novices or better for experienced gamers?

Lots and lots of possibilities and choices. I will exclude the obvious ones, Ginger already noted them anyway (although, Ginger, I don't think The Black Company is obvious, I only came across them a couple of years ago myself, but then the balance of my fictional reading skews more toward SF than Fantasy than many of our coterie (that in itself could be a blog entry for me to talk about)). I will also restrict myself to ones in print, stuff that you, the readers can pick up in a store today, or grab on amazon right now.

1. The Dying Earth, by Jack Vance
Before the Lord of the Rings, nearly before The Hobbit, certainly before fantasy was cool, there was Jack Vance. One of the first F/SF books to be published in hardcover, it has become a seminal work of the genre, and only in the last couple of years been in print again, so newer readers disinclined to the library might not have read it and might not have a copy.
Get it as soon as you can. If not for The Dying Earth, there might not be fantasy gaming, or at least not as we know it, Gary Gygax took much from Vance in his creation of D&D. The magic system, especially, but colorful characters, quests, adventures, Vance was as much an influence on Dungeons and Dragons as Tolkien was. Gamers will find ideas for spells, personalities for characters, and the belief that their creations can reach for lofty goals. The characters in the Dying Earth range in power levels, something reflected in the new Dying Earth RPG, and thus it shows that characters need not be static, and can grow and evolve in ability. For GMs, the Dying Earth is a baroque, ornate universe that they can mine for ideas for their own.

2.The Vlad Taltos Novels by Steven Brust
If a nonsensical and impossible statement as "The Heir to Zelazny" can be made, Steven Brust might be that Heir (although Steve better look at his rear view mirror, Gaiman's been doing great work in Zelazny's vein too lately). Draegera started its life as a role playing universe, so with that in mind, gamers especially fall in love with Brust's universe and characters. Mobsters! Poisonous Jhereg! Sorcerers and Swashbucklers! Between the 17 Great Houses, the Easterners and others, Brust shows how a myriad templates of characters can get along and exist together, and work together, and scheme against each other. Gms can mine ideas for byzantine plots and twists and turns, too. There isn't an official RPG per se, but there are Mushes and PBEMS based on this work, and rightly so. And the writing is just damn entertaining.

3.Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin
Sorry Jordan fans, but the best Epic fantasy series being done today, in my opinion, is George R.R. Martin's series, now up to its third volume with the fourth due in April. Loosely based on a world reminiscent of the Wars of the Roses, the series revolves around that chestnut of many Amber games, a Throne War. Several scheming families and individuals try and take advantage of the power vacumn, with pyrotechnic results. There are even villains that, if you don't actually like, you can sort of root for, their motivations and internal thoughts give them sympathy and character. (Tyrion Lannister, to name just one). And that is perhaps the greatest strength, and what gamers should look for--characters to care about. The idea that a "villain is a hero in his own mind" comes true here, everyone has shades of grey, and the villains themselves do things with the best of (their) intentions. There is not much magic about, by the standards of the genre anyway, and I even with disgust read a review which scolded Martin for using a fantasy universe rather than the "real thing". Ignore that, and enjoy some of the best writing in the genre today. (The third book in the series was nominated for a Hugo, considering how rarely fantasy novels are nominated for the award, that is high praise indeed from the fans).

Posted by Jvstin at 4:51 PM

December 17, 2002

Game WISH 25 How do

Game WISH 25

How do you introduce a new PC to an existing group? Is it best if the GM takes special measures of some kind to integrate the new and existing characters, or should the GM just allow them to meet and let the players put it all together? Does it matter whether the game is oriented towards character cooperation or character competition?

I have had a lot of experience with dealing with new PCs into existing groups, since in the six years of Strange Bedfellows, I have added quite a number of characters (not all of which sadly have remained). I prefer to allow the new PC to be drawn into the fabric of what other players are doing (or more specifically the poles of existence) in a gradual and slow fashion. Let the character start at a distance, and be drawn into what is happening by degrees. This allows the new player and PC to get acclimated to the pace of my game and the cadence of how I do turns, so when they go live and meet other players, they are already up to speed on how I handle matters. Also, sometimes, its very hard to retcon old relatioships into an old and established set of Player characters. Its easy to do in the early stages of a game where the relationships are fluid, but if, say, Jenn or Ginger were to want to join SB, I would start them at a distance.

I could cite numerous examples from SB. Nicole, playing in a PBEM for the first time, had her PC Dagny start in her home shadow (which was basically Earth) and was drawn into the web of things by her hitherto unknown father, Luke. Via Luke, Dagny got to meet Malachi, went to Amber and met many more PCs. A much more recent example is Deb's PC Leigh. She has been doing her own thing, only recently coming to the Courts from her own shadow...and in the last couple of turns, she has met the signature NPC of Strange Bedfellows, Valerian, and I suspect that meeting some PCs will be forthcoming after that.

I also admit that starting new PCs a little apart from everyone else allows me, the GM to get to know the player and what they like to do with their characters. To cite one more example, I learned of Rob's penchant for dialogue and active minor NPCs when I started William in a shadow that he had been ensconced in for some time. But he, too, eventually ran into other PCs, even though he was out of shadow. A PC practically handed me the tools to send him to where William was, and I took advantage to introduce them together.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:53 PM

December 9, 2002

Game Wish 24

Game Wish

Game Wish #24: Retcons

Do you think that retroactive continuity is a good or bad thing in games? Is it a valuable GM/player tool or a cheat? Are there appropriate places for using it? Inappropriate places? How have you successfully used it or seen it used in a game? How about unsuccessfully?

The question of retcons comes back to an idea of mine. The idea that, if a player does not witness or gain direct knowledge of an event in the game, that makes it a little less real, a little more malleable, a little more open to revision on my part. Consequently, I prefer to have PCs be involved in big events, to influence them, to put their imprimatur upon them, even if it is indirectly, by design of second-order actions. It makes the game more real for me. If I wanted a bunch of events that the players didn't influence, I'd be writing a novel.

So I do retcon, carefully but willingly, especially when it won't crimp another player's story. I absolutely refuse to invalidate what the players have done by retroactively changing what happened. I'm not talking about an immediate change, in say, a face to face game where heated tempers can lead to actions that are immediately "taken back". That's more GM adjundication than retconing.

Let me give you an example of how I retconned in Strange Bedfellows. When Jayson met the NPC Cyllene in Strange Bedfellows, I got one of those feelings as soon as they met. I think the GMs know what i mean when I had the sudden inspiration...the sudden realization that these characters have and must have met before. So, I decided that they had and developed a backstory in order to establish just where and when Jayson and Cyllene had met. The upshot was that the PC suddenly had a new link to a NPC, and aspects of other NPCs--mainly Jayson's mother Sand and her brother Delwin, came into focus, as I thought about and decided just how they had reacted to the first meeting. So I managed to enrich the game universe by a judicious change in the past of a NPC.

I admit, though, that I had been taking a page from retconning that a GM did to me. Marcus, back when he was in Rob Bergeron's Shadow War, wound up getting mixed up in a plot thanks to the GM retconning a short story I had written explaining how he had gotten his shapeshifting weapon. He did it with my approval, saying that Marcus had really had a relationship with a woman who later turned out (in the present) to be a Chaosian and a would-be pawn of Oberon. I didn't mind the retconning of Marcus' history, since it wound up making an even richer present, in effect.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:34 PM