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Game Nerd: Ye Fantastique Authority

Some of you may have noticed that I lj cut a lot of my posts. This is my alternative to opt-in filters; categories are clearly labelled, so if you're not interested, don't open the cut.

I'm going to try to formalise this a bit more so that I can filter old posts when I go through the archives.

So, one of my categories will be "Game Nerd" to talk about role-playing theory.

Ye Fantastique Authority

I had an idea for a fantasy game this morning. It was, in part, inspired by Amber, and in part by Warren Ellis' Authority.

The basic idea is that the PCs are super-powered people in a generally low-powered fantasy setting. They're not level 1 mages in a a world where the city guard captains are all level 10 fighters or similar. The PCs are the greatest wizard of the age, or Greco-Roman style demi-gods. There's no Elders to keep the PCs in line, and no limits on what they can do to the world. Except each other, and perhaps a small handful of NPCs of similar power level.

Where this departs from the Amber style is that the PCs aren't necessarily family, or even aware of each other at first. My idea is to have all the PCs powerful, but just starting out, having only recently attained their present level. Think Hercules before he performed his Labours, or Arthur right after pulling the sword from the stone. Power, but generally no reputation or ingrained pattern of power-using behaviour.


For a game system, I find diceless better for the high-powered PC driven conflict (as in Amber). On the other hand, Amber's not really flexible enough, IME, to handle a really wide range of powers; it works better with a small pre-defined set. So what I'm leaning towards is a modified diceless TriStat system; characters built with their system, with a few corners cut off, and a diceless conflict resolution system. For actual powers, I'd strongly encourage players to take Dynamic Powers, so instead of 20 different powers, the Hercules character might just have [superstrength, armour, Dynamic Powers (Strength)] where the last power represents things like moving rivers, or causing earthquakes with foot stomps. That gives the PCs quite a bit of flexibility in what they can do. Put the PCs somewhere in the 250-350 point range to leave room to grow.

Sample concepts

The Paladin (Lancelot)

A noble knight with extremely high combat skills; so good he blocks strikes most people don't even see, and anticipates invisible opponents. Think The Authority's Midnighter, but with a different personality. Add on to that a healthy dose of gadgets to cover armour, horse, etc, maybe a magic sword, and drop the rest into something like Dynamic Powers (Divine Favour) to cover the occasional miracle by his patron deity. For extra fun, start this guy out as subservient to a king or high priest NPC who, naturally, isn't as powerful as he. Maybe a Lancelot setup. Does the guy hold to his vows and do what he's told, or does he decide that he's a better person to be calling the shots?

The Wizard (Gandalf/Merlin)

This one is a gimme; the classic greatest wizard of his age. Start him off after finishing his apprenticeship, or when his power awakens or something similar. Spend a handful of points on some heightened perceptions, then dump the rest into Dynamic Powers (High Sorcery). Maybe this guy is socially inept, your classic geek. Maybe she's wise beyond her years. What has he/she had to sacrifice to get all this power?

The Artificer (Girl Genius)

This guy/girl pushes the setting closer to the Renaissance, which still works for me. Supreme inventor/mad scientist. See the Girl Genius comic if you haven't yet. I'm imagining someone working for someone else, perhaps voluntarily at first, then, later, because of blackmail or something else. Some tyrant's war machine maker. I figure him having Gadgeteer, a lot of skills, and maybe a couple permanent Items of Power. On top of that, Dynamic Power (Weird Gadgets) to cover pulling strange things out of nowhere, and a hefty dose of points in Sidekick to give him a mechanised autonomous buddy. The Tyrant sends the Sidekick out to break sieges, etc. Periodically, someone gets lucky and knocks one off the cliff, and the Artificer makes another one. How much does the Artificer let him/herself get pushed around? Is he an agent for social change? Is he a one man Industrial Revolution?

The Strong Man (Hercules)

The classic strong man. A demi-god, mighty from birth, to be sure, but just coming into his full adult strength. Superstrength and Armour along with a hefty Dynamic Powers (Feats of Strength). He's a wanderer and a wild card. He helps the nice people and thrashes the mean people. He shows up, moves a river to wash some stables, or throws a castle into a lake because the owner pissed him off. Until he crosses one of the other few people with power...

The (fallen?) Angel

Another semi-divine creature. Possibly immortal, or ageless. Definitely winged, at least some times. The range of possible powers is pretty wide, depending on the player's take on it. Flight, sure, but the rest is up for grabs. Is the Angel someone sent from Above to accomplish something here? Or was the Angel kicked out? Did he/she/it just get up and leave one day? What does the Angel want to accomplish on the material world? Perhaps the Angel is supposed to deliver God's Judgement in the form of a Creeping Death, or flatten another Gamorrah. Does the Angel decide to do it? The key to playing this character would be ensuring that the Angel had Free Will, and no longer had to answer to God. By which I mean, if the Angel doesn't kill the first born sons of the Pharaoh’s people, God isn't going to show up and kick the Angel into Hell or something. Not to say that there isn't consequences, just that there's no Imminent Overpowering Smackdown about to be delivered if the Angel steps out of line.

The Green Man

The Spirit of the Forest. The Green Knight, Jack o' the Shadows, the Old Man of the Woods. Humanity is moving into His Woods, cutting and burning. People are turning from the Old Gods. Give him high regeneration, some superstrength and reincarnation tied to the seasons, and Dynamic Powers (Green Magic) or (Spirits of the Forest) or similar. Is this guy a vengeful Luddite, out to smash mills and foundries? Or is he more the type to try to persuade people to live things his way? Does he use his powers to drop forests into the middle of cleared farmland, or to give his hard-working buddies a fantastic harvest this year? Does he get along with society at all, or is he a hermit type?

Ozymandias, the King of Kings

The great political power. The Emperor to be. System-wise, drop most of his points into allies, sidekicks and contacts. Throw in some features (appearance) and a heap of wealth. This PC either doesn't need Dynamic Power, or just give him Dynamic Power (King of Kings) and use that for most of the situations where you want to pull as-yet-unmentioned political connection out of his (presumably impressive) hat. He doesn't need to have a fabulous personal power - no need for invulnerability or even mind control. He's just managed to set himself up that well, so that the entire world owes him a favour or three. Put him just having become king of his first kingdom, with plans to conquer the rest of the world.

I could probably think of more (a dragon? Or a dragon master...), but I think you get the idea. One of the reasons I like this idea is that, as a GM, I want to be a player. In this setup, the players have to drive the plot. They make the story. The GM can't push them anywhere they don't want to go, because they've got the power to plow over anything they want, except each other. Even if the GM has a couple of NPCs of similar power level, it's just a question of figuring out how to deal with the opponent instead of having to band together to deal with a common thing. This is he part I pulled from Amber, though its taken further here than the classic Amber game does.

So.... any thoughts? Questions? Criticisms?



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 10th, 2004 05:18 pm (UTC)
One of the interesting ideas I've seen which might work very well for this sort of campaign is to allow players limited authorial privilege in areas of their expertise.  For instance, the Green Man could simply notice that "hey, this is a newly cut door, and the wood is still green and partially alive", if he needed so still-green wood.  Or, when the characters walk into town, one of them can say "Let's stop at that Inn we passed on the way into town, the little shady looking place on the left near the main gate", regardless of whether such a place had been mentioned.  Allowing a little bit of authorial power in this way allows players to interact with the world in a more complete manner, and suits itself well to the loose distinction between DM and players.  It does require fairly sophisticated players who aren't going to abuse the privilege, and it's generally a good idea for players to OOC state what they want to do before they do it IC, so the DM has a chance to register objections first (if, for instance, the road goes through the very upper class district next to the cathedral right when it enters the town, and there couldn't possibly be a shady in there, as opposed to over near the docks at the end of the block...).
Dec. 10th, 2004 09:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, we tend to bring that sort of thing in a fair bit when we're playing Amber, even before you bring Pattern into it... It comes back to what I was shooting for with higher player involvement. It only works when the group trusts each other to work together as Players (as opposed to Characters) to make a better story, but this sort of game demands that of the Players anyway.
Dec. 10th, 2004 10:38 pm (UTC)
One other thing I keep thinking about; I have been considering giving players "Story points" that they can use, among other things, for stuff like this.

More generally, the idea is that, by spending a story point, the player can shift the current situation into his/her story, so "Fortunately the boncer in this bar played soccer with me in high school", or "According to that mark on the blade, your favourite sword was made by my father... based on the age, it may have been the last sword he made before he died!".

In the second example, where one PCs story point is affecting another's, the other PC would get the story point; any time your story is shifted by something else outside the player's control, he/she gets a point.If player B doesn't like the shift, he/she can just outbid Player A and say "no, you're wrong; see, those dots on the side mean its from the wrong country. Not your dad's.", and the points are lost instead.

This part, I stole from Baron Munchausen.
Dec. 10th, 2004 11:23 pm (UTC)
I'm actually using something very like this in the system I'm working on, although without quite that level of player-authoring.  I'm aiming for a system which plays from a relatively simulationist perspective, until you throw PCs into it — as the Heros, they (and their nemises) are Special, and the rules and the world around them bend into a narativist form.  As it stands a character has a number of stories that they're part of, each one with a point value, a name, and a short description.  The system as a whole is a dice pool one, and story points yield bonus dice directly to all actions critical to that story.  When a story is finished, the story points convert into an equivalent value of character points, that can be used to buy up skills, get rid of flaws, change backgrounds, etc. (with time spent in-game as needed).  Characters can chose a few stories when they create their characters; this is a metagame contract with the DM to play those stories out, as best they can — some negotiation is obviously needed there, to make sure the stories are playable, but those stories are ultimately chose by the player (not suggested by the player and approved by the DM).  On the other hand, the DM can also gift characters with story points — here, the players have some input, but the authorial power comes from the DM.  The combination of stories gives the basis for the narrative arc, and following that arc will be easier (supported by the system) than moving against it.

I've got another mechanic for tweaking the world in the favor of the players, this one less story specific.  Each player has four specific pools called grace points, namely Luck, Willpower, Destiny, and Style. Each works slightly differently; all add to dice pools, but under different circumstances and with different ways of refreshing.  Most characters will have points in only one or two of them, and one must be primary.  Again, these define to a certain extent the character's approach to the world.

I like the idea of allowing a character to use story points to make occurrences relevant to a story, or to use other points to make things go their way without a skill check — a lucky character checks his luck to see if they happened to put a spare dagger in their bag, a destined character checks to see if that beggar is really a beggar, what have you.  I'll have to think about how that fits into my system.
Dec. 11th, 2004 07:48 am (UTC)
An excellent idea, and it sounds like something I would play and could love.

There is, however, one huge problem: The group.

Amber is notoriously annoying to play because it's hard to keep all the characters on track together. Everyone's so powerful and so free to move around that it requires an extraordinary amount of push and pull from the GM to keep the group as a unit, rather than as (say) six individuals (which leaves five people sitting and reading comic books most of the game).

With this concept, you have the whole thing magnified. Now you don't have everyone as family (Amberites) or loose-knitted-back-stabbing-allies (Amberites or Chaosians) or part of two warring powers (Amberites and Chaosians) possibly with a few folks stuck in the middle. You have people who don't know each other -- and likely even themselves -- which only leads to more splitting up, headaches for the GM, and bored players.

That said -- a well-crafted game (very well-crafted. Powerful PCs can often break plots more easily. Particularly if they're clever and/or crazy) or one with only a couple of players could be very, very fun.

If you decide to run a game like this, I'd be willing to play.
Dec. 11th, 2004 08:29 am (UTC)
A big part of thr peoblem in Amber, though, is that the PCs spend a lot of time out manuevering with Elders and Plot-laden NPCs. The trick to getting this to work, I think, would be to make the other PCs the Plot-laden ones.

Another idea that Dymaxion got me going with above is that, if all PCs had "story points" that they could use to influence things going on (like in Baron Munchausen, but not as adversarial), it might be worthwhile to listen to the other PCs sets because one can always jump in and say "right, and that milk maid was my mother!" or something like that, which provides more places for the PCs to entangle thier stories together.

For this to work, I think we would need to have a higher level of player involvement in creating plot; even if there were, say 3 NPCs of a similar power level, the GM's role for them would be to do the same kind of things the PCs are doing, but with the solo bits off-stage. So the plot would be created entirely by interaction, and by how entangled the PCs' stories become with each other, and that requires more work from the players.

If the PCs spend a lot of time pursuing their own stories, and not interacting with anyone else, then the game would likely get boring, especially since the PC on his/her own isn't going to have much in the way of serious conflict. That's where I'd hope the story points would come into play - the other PCs can sit and throw monkey wrenches into their schemes and bring the wayward PC back into interaction with the rest of the gang.
Dec. 11th, 2004 12:40 pm (UTC)
To some extent, you have to rely on the players to bring the game to a place where their characters will want to work with the others. The GM can't do it alone.
Dec. 11th, 2004 12:38 pm (UTC)
Basically, you design a character, assigning points based on how important that attribute/power is.

Sounds about right to me, as far as mechanics goes. Maybe a little randomness thrown in there to keep people's interest, but power vs power should ALWAYS be role-played, as far as I'm concerned.

And the evolving story, points to keep track so one player doesn't dominate, is a step in the co-GMing direction I continually foster.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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