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May 11, 2009 / jadettman

Native Language

Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language? Odds are your answer is ‘yes’ so, hopefully, you’ll follow what I’m saying here.

Amber (as in Amber Diceless Roleplaying) is my native game-language. It is the game that I instinctively think in and compare other games to when I’m thinking about game design. The D20 System is an extremely close second here, but Amber is definitely at the top of the list. For me, the simplicity of the game allows a level of integration with, and immersion in, the setting that no other game has yet to equal.

When I’m thinking about running a game, whether it’s Amber or something else, I tend to think in terms of situation and motivation, which is something I talked about last year but feel compelled to return to.

In addition, I also spend a lot of time thinking about the feel I want a game to have. Not so much the genre of the thing, though that does play a part, but the themes that inform what I want to bring to the game.

In my Amber campaign, Masks, Lies, & Deceptions, I really wanted to instill a sense of paranoia into the game along with the idea that everyone has different faces that they show to different people. In another Amber campaign, Hard Lessons, I wanted to get away from what I saw as the usual setup for such things (slowly escalating threats that scale with the power level of the PCs) and really hit the game hard with a bad-ass, scary version of the Courts of Chaos. The point was to emphasize the creepiness and horror aspects of the setting.

In both of those cases, the themes kept the game consistent. Whenever I faltered or felt like I had run out of juice, I returned to my themes, looked at the game again, and was able to keep going. Part of that, I think, is the nature of Amber as a game. There aren’t all of the mechanics of something like the D20 System cluttering up my brain so I’m able to devote more time to the game’s essence.

This brings us to Brave New World, the M&M game that I’m currently running. I don’t have a firm feeling of what the game is about and it’s really beginning to bother me. The superhero/comic-book genre is such a mish-mash of fantasy, pulp, and SF material that it’s no small matter trying to pick out, specifically, which threads are important to the game that I want to run.

I’ve been trying to narrow things down by going back to my sources and reading the comic books and graphic novels that I’ve really enjoyed and which have influenced my feelings in this area but I haven’t had a lot of success.

I do know that mystery and investigation are important. Beyond that, I’m still looking for a good place to put my feet.



Leave a Comment
  1. Tim Jensen / May 12 2009 8:23 pm

    If you’re looking for an answer to averting GM burnout, I would say: Talk to your players.

    Ask them what comics and graphic novels they’ve enjoyed and have influenced their feelings in this area. Mix their collaboration in with your source material. Let the players push you a little bit outside your box, a little bit beyond your comfort zone.

    You can also mine other superhero games for inspiration. Truth and Justice by Chad Underkoffler tackles thematic inspiration with player-authored sources. Mutant City Blues by Robin Laws is based on the Gumshoe System, approaching mystery and investigation in a unique way.

  2. J.A. Dettman / May 14 2009 8:33 pm

    Good advice, Tim.

    I don’t think I’m suffering from burnout so much as a serious need to sit down and have a hard think about the direction of the game. Up to this point I’ve mostly been introducing folks to the universe and my GMing style.

    If anything, I think I’m suffering a little from atrophied GMing muscles. It’s been a while since I seriously ran a game with prep and everything.

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