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Author Topic: Attribute domains and GM bias  (Read 898 times)


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Attribute domains and GM bias
« on: January 11, 2008, 11:58:04 AM »
So many GMs like to 'tweak' what the Attributes are defined as in the rules. We see that on this forum. These GMs also like to support their changes with a whole bunch of 'flavor' or 'personal expertise' banter.

But they don't speak much to actual play or how the game got better because of these changes to what Erick designed.

One thing you will see much of if you are cruising the web: players and GMs love to talk about how Attributes suck.

Endurance is too weak.
Strength is unusable.
Psyche makes puppets of your fellow Players.
Warfare does everything too well.
Stuff is dumb and shouldn't affect PC interpretation by others.

IMC, we've never had such problems—for in fact—the Attributes do not suck. Attributes are glorious and yet sublime. Any simple system can be abused if you don't give a damn about the consequences to narrative.

When the game of Amber is run as a 'zero-sum' exercise, and the GM cannot tell stories about anything but Warfare, then Attributes except Warfare suck.

I almost think it is that simple. Can you weave in an Endurance theme to your campaign? Can your narrative show the awesome power of Strength? Is the only kind of Psyche story about puppeting characters?

Because as I said once on the AmberMailingList:

"Attributes empower the PC's ideas and allow realization of plans. Each Attribute has cunning, dexterity, speed, and a plethora of uses both subtle and brash. While the Psyche monster can set out to threaten other characters, so can the Warfare monster or the Strength monster. Even Ms. Endurance monster can get away with this if that is the nature of the narrative—though imagination is stretched to make this use of the most internal Attribute of all."

I always imagine the five Attributes (including Stuff in this) to be the axis of conflict for the narrative. Dramatic conflict.

In many game systems, warfare is the only conflict and all other things revolve around it. So these are the stories easily told.

The hard part is balancing the stories between the five so that they seem to have meaning that relates to the gaming group. So that the Strength narrative isn't constantly ignored in favor of the Warfare narrative.

What are your actual play experiences?
in the Shadow of Greatness
—sharing on game ideas and Zelazny's Amber


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Attribute domains and GM bias
« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2008, 12:53:53 PM »
I absolutely agree.

I like the attributes and the Stuff.

I have sucessful campaigns, and YES, I create stroy-line archs with these things (based on the other attributes rather than only warfare), I think you're right.
It is up to an experienced, quick & obliquely thinking GM to make the campaign worth while.
It also helps if you have similar player who don't disrupt the gameplay w/BS

MAN! I wanna play a game with Arref, jibbajibba, RPGPundit, Erick, Nihilistic Mind, and Uncle Twitchy, maybe even a few others.
From the Halls of Amber to the Courts of Chaos - and beyond.
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Attribute domains and GM bias
« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2008, 01:49:37 PM »
Never had any problem with the basic attributes, and 1-st ranked players were clever enough to use this to be very dangerous.


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Attribute domains and GM bias
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2008, 03:59:22 PM »
I think what a lot of people forget that the attributes are there as a guideline... at least that's how I see them. Just because someone has an attribute of 2x to someone else's x doesn't mean, in my opinion, that the person is automatically two times better. Just means they /are/ better and that should be reflected in the RP. That is, I use attributes to decide who the 'winner' will be.

Using warfare as an example... two people are in a sword fight. One has 2x, Person A, one has x, Person B. By a straight forward comparison Person A should win.... but... I also take into account endurance and strength. Can Person A hold out as long as B? Is Person B able to swing harder and bring down Person A's Endurance. It's a little more mental match for a GM but I've found it works well for me.


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Attribute domains and GM bias
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2008, 04:55:25 PM »
Well for me its all role play the system is an add on.
So for the vast majority of my games there is no conflict at all. The attributes are rarely used.
Now that is one of the reasons I added a skill system because I needed to have a way in which the characters could compare themselves to others to have some sort of conflict.
A typical peice of play from my games would be like this. The first two lines are mine the rest comes from the players with no need for me to say a word. In the background Serge's sword had detected a source of Chaos on Cailin which was due to a tattoo placed on him by a nation of demons he lived with. This was the first time these 2 characters had met.
Cailin receives the beginning of a trump contact early in the morning following your visit at Admiral TuLoc's. Answering it, he finds:

A man stands in the middle of what looks like a large harbor area. You can see several piers behind him that seem to stretch on for miles. The sun is only a quarter into the sky and morning seems to be in full swing where ever the man is...and it all looks slightly familiar...

The man is standing in the shadow of several crates, but as you turn your attention to him, his features begin to clear. He wears dark blue slacks with high leather boots, slightly worn but recently well polished. He has a well made silk shirt that he keeps buttoned all the way up; slightly ruffled at the collar and the cuffs; all covered by a long blue overcoat more suited to keep off rain than keep off a chill. His clothes are simple and nondescript; fashionable enough for court, simple enough for a bar. He's tall and muscular with far too proud of a stance; his face is serious and solemn, the only apparent emotion is a cynical looking twist at the corner of his mouth. His hair looks nearly white; perhaps it is blond and has seen too much sun, but the shadow made it hard to tell. But his eyes aren't hidden by the shade at all, they are a deep blue-gray, the same color as storm clouds and seemingly just as dark.

It was the eyes that gave him away, you've seen them too many times on portraits in Amber. This man is Serge...your brother, but long lost.

As he turns and steps out of the shadows of the crates, you realized where he was - he is on the docks in Thassa. In fact, it looks like he is standing outside of your flag ship.

"If you don't mind, can you have these guards move?" Serge asked as soon as contact is made, not waiting for any response, "We really need to talk."

Serge seemed break into a slight smile while he waited for Cailin's response.

Placing his pen down on the desk, Cailin regarded the morning sunlight shimmering on the water as the image of his brother stepping out onto the pier became clear in his mind. “Shiver me timbers,” Cailin said, slowly, with a touch of playful sarcasm. It had already been a strange day, and it was barely past three bells of the morning watch. First a breathless page bearing a friendly letter of suggestion from Lysander, had roused him. Now, to top off his morning, a long-dead brother suddenly reveals himself. Truth be told, he wasn’t exactly surprised by the fact that rumours of Serge’s death seemed to have been greatly exaggerated. He never counted on his brothers for anything, least of all staying banished, lost or dead. The same went for his sisters for that matter.

“I suppose if I value their lives, I should remove them.” Cailin said absently, all Prince of Amber now, he feigned his family’s typical indifference to the lives of Shadow dwellers. “I’ll make my way down.” He added folding Lysander’s letter and putting it in his pocket.

Stepping onto the deck, Cailin made his way over to the gangway and down to the pier. “Just death, kind umpire of men's miseries, With epochs passed doth release thee hence.” Cailin said, misquoting and extending his hand in greeting.

September 4th:

As Cailin strolled down the gangway, Serge emerged from the shade and made his way over to greet his brother. When Serge walked past the guards he stepped quickly, keeping his back to them and not talking to them was obvious to you he was trying to be unobtrusive and forgettable when possible. And despite his friendly smile as he reached Cailin, Serge's gray eyes constantly darted to the left and right - his whole posture seemed to indicate a strong wariness, in fact - but directed externally, not at family.

"And you know," Serge said in response to Cailin's quote, "I'm not even convinced about the death part either." Serge took Cailin's hand in a firm grasp and brought his other arm around in a warm, welcoming embrace; greeting Cailin more like a long lost friend than a brother he had never had never met.

"I tried not to come too early, I know it was a late night for many," Serge added with a little laugh, as he stepped back, "But apparently other business woke you earlier anyway. I apologize, I know you must be very tired." Serge turned his head slightly to get a better look at the ships behind Cailin. He was stalling and stared at Amber's legendary fleet; it seemed he was searching for a way to begin..this might be awkward he realized.

“No apologies necessary,” Cailin said meaning it, “Besides, I doubt any would accuse you of arriving too early.” He added with a wry smile, turning his brother’s apology into something of a caution. He had always admired the legend and myth of Serge, now Cailin also found that he instantly liked the man. Perhaps he had found a true kindred spirit among his brethren; though he knew his other brothers would regard Serge's sudden return with the usual suspicion and distrust.

"I see you've been put to work finally; doing some of the chores it takes to keep Amber running?" he adds finally, before turning back from the ships to look at Cailin.

Shrugging, the buccaneer Prince said only: “I suppose I seemed a reasonable choice for the job.” Hoping to draw out the reason for his long-lost brother’s unexpected visit, yet not wishing to draw further attention to Serge’s restlessness, Cailin remarked: “The repairs on The Locksley are progressing quite nicely if you’d like to watch.” Steering his brother astern toward the secluded quarterdeck, Cailin politely offered a strong cup of coffee from the galley brazier, then leaned casually on the railing sipping his coffee. After a moment’s silence, he produced an odd little cigarette case, finely carved of some smooth blue-green coral. Lighting a cigarette, he offered the case to serge and asked “What errand brings you here this fine morning? Certainly I’m glad of the company, but I feel as though some matter more important than familial goodwill has brought you here…”

"No, not entirely goodwill," Serge remarked quickly while picking a cigarette out of the case and deftly lighting it from matches in his own pocket. He took two slow draws before turning to look at Cailin; his face and his voice had taken on a much more serious tone. "I am fairly certain that our Father is in grave danger...if it is not already too late."

Serge took another pause and his cold stare moved over Cailin's person, obviously measuring him up. "I need your help..." he admitted finally, then "But before that I think you need to explain why I feel this sense of ... ?Chaos? upon you." Serge shook his head slowly, almost as if apologizing for his caution and it's necessity.

Cailin: Sept 28th

Cailin regarded Serge ruefully, not at all amused by his brother's presumption; not that he hadn't already experienced the same standoffishness from others in the family since returning home. Regardless, Cailin didn't like the thought that he'd been sized up through whatever lens Serge had used to detect his conflicting patterns. Since his return from the far edge of shadow, he was all too aware of that he bore some mark of chaos - it had boiled within him ever since he had ventured so far a field and spent so long away from order. Slowly exhaling a lungful of smoke, he flicked the dying ember of the cigarette over the rail into the harbour. "We all have our demons," he finally replied, "and given our family dynamic, naturally I prefer to keep my secrets just that. As a largely unknown commodity, I'm sure you understand." His mind wandered for a moment, thinking of what Royce would do with this kind of information - that long smoldering feud leaping to his mind.

"I can assure you that in these dark times, I have nothing but the best interests of Amber in mind." he continued, "I have always been of the opinion that the survival of our family depends on the stability of Amber. I see little reason to upset the balance of things by inviting war to our doorstep or allowing our homeland to be squabbled over as jackals squabble over scraps of carrion. You say our father is in grave danger and I have little reason to doubt this, but if you seek my help in this matter, you'll have to trust me and I you; in as much as we can ever trust one another. For what it's worth, I give you my word as a Prince of Amber that I seek neither power or influence in Amber, only the stability and security that will see to it that our misbegotten line continues."

Serge exhaled slowly, a cloud of cigarette smoke rising in the chilled morning air. "That was a nice little speech," he finally responded, "Not very forthcoming, but nice," he added with an unveiled note of sarcasm. "I had always wondered which tavern maid had besotted him so...I never could get him to reveal that secret. It makes much more sense now," his voice became much more serious as he continued. "But bewared, you radiate Chaos inherently; I felt it the moment I laid eyes on you, with no effort on my part. Others will feel it as well... But all it does it complicate what I need you to help me with."

Serge finally flipped his cigarette over the edge of the ship and sighed with a heavy sense of finality. "I'm going to have to trust someone...I'm going to have to trust you. But I'll use you as a living masthead for a hundred years before I rip you apart if you ever betray Amber," he cursed. Then suddenly he laughed and gave Cailin an endearing wink. Serge leaned forward and slapped his arm on Cailin bicep and taking his hand; it was a friendly and opening embrace between brothers. Serge hoped it would be enough to save what he cared so much for.

He stepped back and leaned against the rail. "So... have you ever met a Chaos Lord by the name of Honshu?" he asks nonchalantly. "I hear he also calls him the oh-so-scary name Demonseed," he added with smile.

Cailin: 5 November

Cailin kept his countenance stony through Serge’s monologue, choosing to ignore his brother’s threat rather than delve into a game of one up manship. At the mention of far flung Chaos and the Lord called Honshu, Cailin’s stone gaze remained.

“I’ve heard the name,” Cailin replied, ignoring the little voice inside his head; fleeting suspicions bred in the bone along with the thought that it might be foolish to give any information at all. “A minor player in the Courts as I understand it; far less interested in Courtly affairs than his other kin and kind. Those in the know say he’s a powerful magician or blood conjurer who cavorts with demons. In some circles it is also said that he raised a host of the creatures from shadowstuff and primordial goo. I suppose that’s how he earned the moniker Demonseed.”

Fixing his gaze on The Locksley as the crew worked a small crane affixed to a series of pulleys that began to raise the new mainmast into place, Cailin finished his coffee and asked: “How did you come by the name of this Lord of Chaos? Do you think he somehow involved in Dad’s disappearance?”
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Nihilistic Mind

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Attribute domains and GM bias
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2008, 06:03:24 PM »
I usually give my players a general theme or location for the campaign start, then we go through the auction/character creation. Then I actually focus the campaign based on what a character has spent most points on.

For example, in the first arc of my current campaign, players spent more points in artifacts than attributes, including a shared construct. That became the focus of the campaign. After that, I involve the other attributes in some way based on the story I had cooked up and what players wanted to see.

As another example, during the second arc, advanced shapeshifting and high endurance became the focus of the campaign, so I got the opportunity to beat the crap out of the PCs... Bad stuff was also a focus here, one PC with 10 pts bad stuff, another with a whopping 50... They of course still had their fair share of swordfighting, mind-altering headaches, etc... I deliver based on the theme of the campaign (GM choice) and the focus of the PCs (Player's choice). It's always been entertaining for everyone.

I'm looking forward to starting the next story arc. :D
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