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December 4, 2009 / jadettman

Long Amber Serials

One of the problems of running an Amber serial¹  is the need for escalation and ongoing adversity. This is a problem because Amberites are powerful bad-asses who will, eventually, deal with whatever you throw at them and because as soon as Amber/The Multiverse is no longer in jeopardy there really isn’t much reason for the PCs to continue to cooperate on a regular basis.

Usually, I come to a game with a focus, a theme or villain idea that the game is about. This forms the initial threat that the players have to band together to deal with. For example, one of the games I ran in Ithaca was called Hard Lessons. Its focus was relatively simple: I wanted to see what happened when you introduced PCs into the scenario presented in the Corwin book-cycle. So, that game started right around the time that Corwin wakes up with amnesia in the hospital² and played out from there. Oh, and the Courts of Chaos were way f-in’ scarier than Zelazny’s version, too (IMHO).

I was quite happy with the way Hard Lessons turned out. It was definitely one of my better threat-escalation games and probably could have continued from where we left off but I think, in the end, the players were suffering from threat-fatigue.

So, infrequently, I toy with solutions to the threat-escalation and threat-fatigue in serial RPGs, and specifically Amber because the characters are theoretically immortal so the game could take place over a much longer time-period than other serials.

My latest fix idea is to use a modified version of Ben Robbins’ Microscope game to create non-threat downtime, essentially mapping out what happens during the periods of relative peace between character sessions. This would allow players to operate on larger time-scales between threat times and pursue different agendas as well as avoid the threat escalation and threat-fatigue problems.

The idea isn’t quite fully realized in my head but I think it has some interesting potential and it will give me something to play with today. I’ll let you know if it comes to anything.


¹ Lately, I’ve wanted a new word for long games to use instead of campaign. I’ve been using series or serial but neither of them feel right just yet.

² For those who haven’t read the books: this isn’t much of a spoiler since it’s the first thing that happens in Nine Princes in Amber.



Leave a Comment
  1. Tim Jensen / Dec 4 2009 10:31 am

    1: Saga? Epic? Soap Opera?

  2. J.A. Dettman / Dec 6 2009 10:14 pm

    I definitely wouldn’t go with Soap Opera, Tim. Saga maybe, but it still doesn’t have the connotations I’m looking for.

    I’ll probably stick with Serial or Series until something better comes along. 🙂

  3. Britt / Dec 7 2009 4:36 pm

    Ooooh, that sounds like a nifty idea, and a very noble application of Microscope.

    What do you think is the major cause of threat fatige: the unrelentingness of threats, or the escalation of threats?

  4. J.A. Dettman / Dec 9 2009 11:04 am

    I think the primary cause of threat fatigue is non-stop threat action. The players just never get a moments breathing space because they constantly have to deal with some new opponent. They also never get to enjoy the peaceful fruit of their labors.

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