Q&A with Gary Gygax - Part I - Page 61




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  1. #601
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    Originally posted by JohnRTroy
    In all seriousness, I felt the Multiverse, the Planes and Spheres interpretation by others at TSR after you left, quite frankly, sucked.
    Beware, there are many a Planescape fan around.

 

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    Re: Greatly Exaggerated...

    Originally posted by Col_Pladoh
    Well, while one day the news will be true, whomever posted the tale of my demise was yanking cranks. Another silly buger looking for 15 seconds of fame
    Ridiculous. But such annoyance can easily be thwarted: when you die for real, simply agree to post an official warning on those boards. Problem solved!

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    ROTK

    Originally posted by Col_Pladoh
    I liked the "Harry Potter film a bit better, but not by much, so I have no dispute with those who rate the first of the "Rings Trilogy" movies above it. We are looking forward to seeing the second productions in both series soon now, in fact.
    So?

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    Priceless

    Originally posted by Col_Pladoh
    My belief is that the rules for an RPG should facilitate the enjoyment of the game for all concerned. If they get in the way then they are no good.
    Eh eh. Back to our little diceless discussion, then. (Yeah, I'll kill you with this one.) You may remember that I once said that I thought the diceless system designed by Erick Wujcik was perfect for Amber, if I would not use it for any other universe I can think of. I was not very good at explaining WHY, though, but I've since then discovered that Stefon Mears did it pretty well:



    Why Amber Should be Played Diceless


    A roleplaying game, distilled to its essence, can be divided into two parts: story and mechanics. The story portion includes elements such as background, setting, character personality and so forth. The mechanics element forms the framework needed to make consistent the attributes possessed by the gameworld and its inhabitants and to regulate their interaction.

    It may be a story element that a character is a world-class pool player, but it is the mechanics element that determines exactly how good a pool player he is and how well he plays in any given tournament.

    There is a trend today in gaming to place as much emphasis as possible on the story element at the expense of the mechanics. I suspect that this is in response to an earlier trend to emphasize mechanics over story. I feel that both paths are flawed.

    To emphasize mechanics over story is to lose oneself in a sea of number-crunching and page-turning. Creativity gives way to accountancy and the game becomes stilted and lifeless. After all, no matter how detailed the system, the numbers only ever tell half the story.

    But to engage in the obverse is to invite a host of other problems. A roleplaying game is not a novel, a play or a movie. It has no script. It has no ultimate author. There are those who would say that the Game Master is the ultimate author. If this is true than the players are merely effects and are ultimately only present to write dialog for the Game Master's protagonists and perhaps to appreciate her storytelling skill. If this is what they enjoy, then let them have at it.

    I prefer a game in which the players work with the Game Master to create the story. The Game Master will have her plots, but they are flexible in the face of the actions of the players. For this, or even a semblance of it to be true, the mechanics must be clear to all involved. The mechanics help both the Game Master and the players understand how the world works and the place of the characters in it.

    To continue the example of the pool player, saying that he is "world class" is good. Understanding that in the HERO system he has the skill Professional Skill: Pool Player 17- tells you that indeed, they don't come much better than he is. Knowing that in FUDGE he has the skill Superb Pool Player gives you roughly the same information.

    The Game Master can put this into clearer perspective by providing skill levels of known players. For example, she might arbitrarily declare that the top ten players in the world currently are Superb, while the other tour mainstays are Great. She might even provide an example of greater skill, perhaps saying that Willie Mosconi was Legendary.

    The mechanics work together with the story elements to form a cohesive whole. This is a concept that should be kept in mind in any roleplaying game, but becomes especially important when adapting outside source material, such as that of a series of movies or novels, to a game. Creating the feel of the source material's universe is critical.

    Many people, however, assume that this is handled on the storytelling end and treat the mechanics as an afterthought. This is a mistake. While it is true that the Game Master must use the story elements to create the proper atmosphere, problems with the game mechanics can blow that feel quickly.

    For example, say the Game Master has seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer more than once. She's spent large amounts of time going over her non-player characters, local history, character backgrounds and making all the nuances fit. She may even go so far as to plot her games like episodes from the show, complete with introductions and tags.

    If this Game Master, who has worked so lovingly to craft her game, then runs it using the Storyteller system it will crash and burn. Why? The mechanics of the system will not properly represent the world as represented in the series. The werewolves won't work: Buffyverse werewolves are aggressive animals in wolf form with no apparent intelligence or personality, not fierce warrior-shamans with multiple forms and various tribal and lunar affiliations. Vampires won't work for similar reasons. Can they be made to work? Probably, if sufficient effort is put into the mechanics to iron out the differences. This would require a number of modifications before you could begin to have a good translation though.

    It is this reflection of the setting in the game mechanics that makes Amber a difficult setting to run. Almost any world you can name is in shadow, and most if not all the PCs will have power over shadow. This, however, can be addressed by sufficiently raising the power level of the chosen system.

    The real problem with running Amber is a subtle one, but one that is reflected completely throughout all ten books, plus at least four of the short stories (as of this writing there are two I have not read). Those with power over shadow, and in this I include both Amberites and Chaosites, are immune to the vagaries of random chance. In general they have the power to cause chance to favor them, but even without active effort they succeed or fail based entirely on ability combined with planning (their own and that of others).

    Consider the following examples:

    Bleys fights his way up Kolvir. He seems to have been caught accidentally and pulled over the side. It is later stated that Bleys was escaping, abandoning Corwin to Eric's wrath. The implication there is that Bleys had a means of escape even without Corwin's trumps. This makes sense, since we know that at the very least, Bleys had a set of his own. Of course, Bleys is a sorcerer and Corwin didn't understand why he threw Bleys his trumps Ś it is not unreasonable to suppose that Bleys had lain a spell on Corwin that was triggered by his "accident."

    Corwin fights a tremendous pitched battle at sea and later fighting his way up Kolvir. He takes wounds, but no one scores a critical hit.

    There are plenty more such examples scattered throughout the series. Now the argument can be made that these were plot devices, the same as are used in all novels. In Amber, though, there is a difference. In Amber, nothing happens at random. From Corwin's coming across the wounded Lance in a shadow like his Avalon to Merlin's being "rescued" by Vinta Bayle, Zelazny seemed to go out of his way to insure that everything that just looked like random chance was in fact connected back to someone's plans. In battle, no one ever lands a lucky shot - their strategy, ability and pure force of will either prove to be enough or they don't.

    In a game with dice, eventually, someone will succeed or fail purely on the basis of a particularly good or bad roll. For most games that's fine; for Amber that's just the sort of thing that can lead to ruining the feel of the game. Imagine a training session in Castle Amber. A young Amberite is fencing with Benedict. A good roll for the player and a bad roll for the game master and the young Amberite scores a hit. On Benedict. Let me repeat that: one good roll for the player and one bad roll for the game master and the young Amberite scores a hit on Benedict.

    Now most people would not make you roll for a training-session duel. So, worse, let us assume that was an actual, formal duel. Now, instead of a lucky hit in a training session, functionally impossible to begin with, we now have a young Amberite scoring a hit on Benedict when it means something. This is not Benedict's fight with Corwin by the Black Road, where Corwin, "the second-best swordsman around," got the edge on Benedict only by having and using well his superior knowledge of the terrain to pull a trick. This is a formal duel in Castle Amber, where the terrain is neutral and both combatants are rested and ready. In other words, these are ideal circumstances, yet the dice still provide the chance that the young Amberite might have a prayer of harming Benedict.

    Now consider that the dice provide that chance to some duelist out of shadow who is not even the equal of our young Amberite. This would blow the feel of the game faster than almost anything else that can happen.

    But that holds true for the elder Amberites, who in almost all cases would be NPCs. They can, of course, be handled by GM fiat and thus remove the possibility of anyone disturbing the flow of the game that way. What about the younger Amberites, the main characters of Merlin's Saga: Merlin, Luke, Jurt, Martin, Coral and so forth? They are of the same age, roughly, that player characters would be, and are thus on about the same scale. They are also every bit as immune as their predecessors to the random factors that influence the lives of those who are native to shadow.

    Jurt fails at many things not because he is unlucky but because he is clumsy and does not plan. Whether he is attempting to kill Merlin, crossing an icy plateau, shadowmastering a way in his closet or stealing a sword, he does not consider the ramifications of his actions, only the prospect of immediate gratification.

    Luke plans, trains and studies to excess and succeeds at practically everything he tries. He even manages to kill Caine, an elder Amberite. The only person who continually gets the better of him is his mother, an adept schemer herself who has been tampering with his life so long that she is sure to know where his blind spots are.

    Merlin's entire life is an excellent example of how plot and counter-plot can appear random. Was his birth the natural conclusion of the blossoming affection of Dara for Corwin? No, it was a calculated (on her part) breeding project to produce a fit king of Chaos. Merlin assumed that his April 30th assassin was a random shadow psychopath, but the whole series of attempts was part of an intricate vengeance plot. Were they foiled by random good luck as he suspected of more than one occurrence? No, they were foiled either by his best friend or his guardian demon, as appropriate. The list just goes on from there. In fact, Zelazny uses Merlin's assumption of luck and accident at times to demonstrate his na´vetÚ.

    To use mechanics for an Amber game that rely on a random factor like dice is to damage the feel of the setting and thus make for an inferior gaming experience.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I'm aware, however, that there are those who feel more comfortable having some sort of random factor involved in their games. For those of you unwilling or unable to attempt it, or who find that diceless simply doesn't work well with your group, I will soon present a few alternatives.

    Those of you who wish to share their views on the subject, of course, may contact me.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    http://home.earthlink.net/~fintach/Amber.html

  • #605
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    Re: Priceless

    Originally posted by PA


    Eh eh. Back to our little diceless discussion, then. (Yeah, I'll kill you with this one.) You may remember that I once said that I thought the diceless system designed by Erick Wujcik was perfect for Amber, if I would not use it for any other universe I can think of. I was not very good at explaining WHY, though, but I've since then discovered that Stefon Mears did it pretty well:

    That's an interesting essay, but it simply shows the total subjectivity of reading. Basically, that essay could apply to just about any work of fiction one could imagine being used as the basis for a RPG - with a bit of adjustment, given all the specific examples from the Amber series.

    Many readers will simply be unable to countenance the possibility that any of the major characters in their beloved books can be beaten - Conan is an example for me. The idea that any character in a RPG, PC or NPC, would have the chance to even come close to killing Conan seems ridiculous to me. However, a way to look at it is like this - the campaign is the PCs' "novel." They are the protagonists. Every other character, no matter who it is, is of secondary importance, at best, to the PCs. Thus, the invulnerable sheen of characters from books is lost while they are in the campaign. Oh, it's still gonna be mighty unlikely that anyone is gonna get a killing crit in on Conan, but the possibility is there. If I'm DMing, and I bring in a literary character as a NPC, even Conan, I'm not going to make him simply invulnerable. If I did, then it would feel too much like I was railroading the plot along, and the PCs were just along to sightsee through my campaign. I know that, as a player, I'd get frustrated if I found out that there were NPCs - or even PCs - that simply couldn't be touched, not just by me, but by anyone/thing else. A good chunk of the fun of RPGing is the possibility that my PC can get killed. Finding out that other PCs or NPCs can't be beaten takes away from that for me.

    I understand that much of the essay concerns how the Amber diceless game is devised so that the major characters from the books aren't gonna get beat at whatever it is they're the best at. I understand that reasoning, and that's why the Amber RPG is still an interesting experiment in the RPG industry. I can totally understand why people like to play it. But, I always assumed that whoever it was that was best at, say, sword-fighting (it's been years since I last read the books), got that good by way of risking his life time after time, and by the time we see him in the books, he's already spent maybe millennia perfecting his art. He's not invulnerable, but he seems like it to the ordinary - and not-so-ordinary - person.

    I guess another example is the characters from H.P. Lovecraft's books. They are pretty much the opposite of the Amber characters - they die pretty easily. That's why many think that stats for Cthulhu (for example) are ridiculous - he would be impossible to kill. I never saw it like that. Lovecraft's protagonists were almost painfully ordinary. Maybe a bit more courage in some cases. So the big baddies would seem totally unknowable and invincible to them. But to a RPG PC, that may not be the case. Sure, Cthulhu is still gonna kill just about any PC, but there is a chance - because the campaign is the PCs' story, and RPG PCs aren't the ordinary humans Lovecraft used as protagonists. The same reasoning goes for Amber.

    I'm not really disagreeing with anything, not in vehement way. I understand what was discussed in the essay. I just thought I'd address it from a different perspective. If you want to game diceless, that's cool. For me, personally, Amber's system doesn't quite work, for the reasons I detail above.
    Last edited by ColonelHardisson; Sunday, 22nd December, 2002 at 02:06 AM.
    "Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph Stilwell

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    Re: Re: Priceless

    Originally posted by ColonelHardisson
    I understand that much of the essay concerns how the Amber diceless game is devised so that the major characters from the books aren't gonna get beat at whatever it is they're the best at.
    Er, no. That's not the point. Read the example about Corwin beating Benedict, who is a better swordsman. The point is about chance happenings having little to do with the Amberite universe: everything seems planed, and even winning a single duel is more a matter of wits (or, as one would put it, treachery) than chance. The point is that, at their level, Amberites don't let much room to chance. If you want to consider them under the d20 system, then think of very high level characters: if your BAB is 40, the chance factor represented by rolling a d20 is much less much significant (+50% max) than than for a newbie with a BAB of 1 (between 100% and 2000%).

    When Corwin faces Benedict, he knows he cannot win if he fights fair. When he fights Eric and begins to beat him, he doesn't think "hey, I'm lucky today!" but realizes that either Eric has grown complacent, or himself has improved more than he thought, or even just more confident (more Good Stuff, in Amber DRPG terms, which also determines "luck").

    [edit "in Amber DRPG terms" and not "in Amber terms."
    Last edited by PA; Sunday, 22nd December, 2002 at 02:27 AM.

  • #607
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    Re: Re: Re: Priceless

    Originally posted by PA


    Er, no. That's not the point. Read the example about Corwin beating Benedict, who is a better swordsman. The point is about chance happenings having little to do with the Amberite universe: everything seems planed, and even winning a single duel is more a matter of wits (or, as one would put it, treachery) than chance. The point is that, at their level, Amberites don't let much room to chance. If you want to consider them under the d20 system, then think of very high level characters: if your BAB is 40, the chance factor represented by rolling a d20 is much less much significant (+50% max) than than for a newbie with a BAB of 1 (between 100% and 2000%).

    When Corwin faces Benedict, he knows he cannot win if he fights fair. When he fights Eric and begins to beat him, he doesn't think "hey, I'm lucky today!" but realizes that either Eric has grown complacent, or himself has improved more than he thought, or even just more confident (more Good Stuff, in Amber DRPG terms, which also determines "luck").

    [edit "in Amber DRPG terms" and not "in Amber terms."
    I'm not sure I see the difference.

    From the essay:

    In a game with dice, eventually, someone will succeed or fail purely on the basis of a particularly good or bad roll. For most games that's fine; for Amber that's just the sort of thing that can lead to ruining the feel of the game. Imagine a training session in Castle Amber. A young Amberite is fencing with Benedict. A good roll for the player and a bad roll for the game master and the young Amberite scores a hit. On Benedict. Let me repeat that: one good roll for the player and one bad roll for the game master and the young Amberite scores a hit on Benedict.

    Now most people would not make you roll for a training-session duel. So, worse, let us assume that was an actual, formal duel. Now, instead of a lucky hit in a training session, functionally impossible to begin with, we now have a young Amberite scoring a hit on Benedict when it means something. This is not Benedict's fight with Corwin by the Black Road, where Corwin, "the second-best swordsman around," got the edge on Benedict only by having and using well his superior knowledge of the terrain to pull a trick. This is a formal duel in Castle Amber, where the terrain is neutral and both combatants are rested and ready. In other words, these are ideal circumstances, yet the dice still provide the chance that the young Amberite might have a prayer of harming Benedict.

    Now consider that the dice provide that chance to some duelist out of shadow who is not even the equal of our young Amberite. This would blow the feel of the game faster than almost anything else that can happen.
    That seems to strongly imply that the Amberites aren't gonna get beat at what they're best at. That says, to me, that there is no chance of beating them at what they're best at, except by way of using skills and abilities that they aren't best at.
    "Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph Stilwell

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: Priceless

    Originally posted by ColonelHardisson
    That seems to strongly imply that the Amberites aren't gonna get beat at what they're best at. That says, to me, that there is no chance of beating them at what they're best at, except by way of using skills and abilities that they aren't best at.
    There are two main differences:

    1) A player character can be better than a feature character. Thus, the system does not especially protect feature characters. In most campaigns, many a PC can beat Merlin in all the four attributes, because Merlin if of the same generation as they and has his points invested elsewhere (in numerous different powers: Pattern, Logrus, Trump, Sorcery...). Yet Merlin is the main character of the second saga.

    2) In the example you quote, Corwin is not as good as Benedict with a sword (in Amber DRPG terms, in Warfare), yet he beats him. Why? Not a lucky dice roll but a clever use of the situation: Corwin knew the terrain better (tentacle-like plants nearby) and he assessed that Benedict was too blinded by wrath to be his usual careful self--two facts he used to beat this superior opponent.

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Priceless

    Originally posted by PA


    There are two main differences:

    1) A player character can be better than a feature character. Thus, the system does not especially protect feature characters. In most campaigns, many a PC can beat Merlin in all the four attributes, because Merlin if of the same generation as they and has his points invested elsewhere (in numerous different powers: Pattern, Logrus, Trump, Sorcery...). Yet Merlin is the main character of the second saga.

    2) In the example you quote, Corwin is not as good as Benedict with a sword (in Amber DRPG terms, in Warfare), yet he beats him. Why? Not a lucky dice roll but a clever use of the situation: Corwin knew the terrain better (tentacle-like plants nearby) and he assessed that Benedict was too blinded by wrath to be his usual careful self--two facts he used to beat this superior opponent.
    1) I see your point on that. I don't think it necessarily negates what I was getting at in general, but I see what you mean. I have the game, but I don't have it handy. As I recall, everyone bids on certain levels of expertise in different areas during PC generation; whoever has the highest level can't be beaten, at least by the other PCs.

    2) The example is really not much different than similar situations in many other books. In all the years of playing D&D that I have, I always assumed this was all figured into the game. That is, I, as well as everyone I ever gamed with, never assumed that fighting, as modelled by the D&D rules, was just a matter of standing toe-to-toe and thumping on each other until somebody died. We described how one guy maybe looked tired, or scared, or whatever, and we took into account the use of terrain and other hazards nearby - "I'll rush him and try to push him into the pit" or "I'll make a lot of noise and wake up the roper that is right behind him so it'll grab him." I guess what I'm getting at is that the Amber books don't strike me as being any more or less suited to diceless gaming as any other setting. Or, maybe a better way to put it is that I can see just about any other setting as fitting the rationale for why diceless gaming is better for that particular setting.

    Like I said, I don't really see it as a big sticking point. I was just commenting. The books are cool - I need to reread them for the, uhh, let's see, third time (I think), and the game is actually an interesting read. Even if I don't actually play the game as written, it's a great sourcebook.
    "Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph Stilwell

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Priceless

    Originally posted by ColonelHardisson
    1) I see your point on that. I don't think it necessarily negates what I was getting at in general, but I see what you mean. I have the game, but I don't have it handy. As I recall, everyone bids on certain levels of expertise in different areas during PC generation; whoever has the highest level can't be beaten, at least by the other PCs.
    That's right. Unless said PCs dont fight fair. But who would dare do that in the Amber universe?? :rolleyes:


    Originally posted by ColonelHardisson
    2) The example is really not much different than similar situations in many other books. In all the years of playing D&D that I have, I always assumed this was all figured into the game. That is, I, as well as everyone I ever gamed with, never assumed that fighting, as modelled by the D&D rules, was just a matter of standing toe-to-toe and thumping on each other until somebody died. We described how one guy maybe looked tired, or scared, or whatever, and we took into account the use of terrain and other hazards nearby - "I'll rush him and try to push him into the pit" or "I'll make a lot of noise and wake up the roper that is right behind him so it'll grab him." I guess what I'm getting at is that the Amber books don't strike me as being any more or less suited to diceless gaming as any other setting. Or, maybe a better way to put it is that I can see just about any other setting as fitting the rationale for why diceless gaming is better for that particular setting.
    The point is that Amberites are so good at what they're doing that the chance factor becomes nearly irrelevant (what's left of it falls under the Good/Bad Stuff part of the rules). When I went to competition, I happened to slip a few times or to lose balance without being pushed or anything. I'm human. Amberites are not.

    And as an aside, regarding d20: even human as I am, if I am facing a yellow belt, I don't see myself losing as frequently as even a 5th level fighter would (according to the dice) against a commoner. And I am certainly not a 5th level fighter, even if I did win matches against competitors from the army.


    Originally posted by ColonelHardisson
    Like I said, I don't really see it as a big sticking point. I was just commenting. The books are cool - I need to reread them for the, uhh, let's see, third time (I think), and the game is actually an interesting read. Even if I don't actually play the game as written, it's a great sourcebook.
    I'm also just commenting... on your comments. Neither of us is going to start a flame war. (OK, my record on those boards is not completely clean, may Kevin and Gary forgive me, but more because of my bad taste in jokes than because of an attitude problem.)

    BTW, did you know that Zelazny actually played (and enjoyed) the game?

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