Game Mastering a Diceless System: Lords of Gossamer and Shadow

At the time of writing this blog I have run two games of Lords of Gossamer and Shadow.  It is a system that uses no dice (it uses the Amber rules) and it is a different game to games master (GM).  I had not thought too much about the differences going into the game but they hit me pretty hard.  In the first game I was a little overawed by things and got a little lost in my responsibilities and in the second I had some moments of panic.  Let me see if I can enlighten you on why this occurred!

OK, I fibbed, this will be the last post for a while!

The first game I had prepared well for the game.  I had read the book several times, made countless NPC’s and had a solid idea on where and what I wanted the game to go and do.  It came time for the game (I run it via hangout with three American players and an Australian) and set the scene of the group dynamics with each of the group having been mentored (a little) by Turadok of Tomheer.  The group was eating a meal at the Agora (large marketplace) when they met with Bekka of Wilforn who had with her a golden egg that she wanted to show Turadok.  The egg, I had determined, would be a dragon egg from one of the players original Gossamer Worlds to give a personal feel to the game and a blatant hook in.

I had never played with the three American’s in this group and soon the group was off talking about the egg.  The player whose world it had come from filled in a distinct air of fear into the group and the play went on as a big discussion around the table.  I became thoroughly absorbed by the dialogue and inventiveness of the players that I simply forgot my role.  I should have wound the talk up, or at least shaped it to stay a little more on topic than I did but I just got so interested in the interaction that was occurring that I forgot my role!

This game is a truly inventive one.  Character creation is quick to create stats and the character but the players tend to take their time building up an elaborate history of their character and the world that they come from.  This game really relies on character and the players in this group are by no means short of that.  They were literally showing off their creations through their characters and I was just blown away.  Normally I need to tie a Tim Tam (chocolate biscuit from Australia) under a piece of perspex that lifts after a player has typed out a paragraph of their back story.  In this game I get reams of information and the players refer to it after the game starts.

So, because of how brilliant the players were in the conversation it took me until close to the end to actually motivate the group to get past that initial discussion phase.  By that time the game was pretty much over so we agreed to meet a fortnight from then and I told myself that I would be more alert and active in my GMing responsibilities and get some action involved in the game!

The next game dawned and again I had done the preparation.  I was ready for the thick coating of characterisation I was going to be subjected to and I had my plan set for the game.  I had pacing worked out and my chart of attribute rankings laid out.  Note paper and pen at the ready and the hard copy of the rules by my side for the first time (normally it is the iPad but my books came).  We launched into the game and things were going nicely.  Pacing targets were being met and there was a nice flow happening as the players ventured into Ilma’s Gossamer World of Underth.  A veritable mega dungeon world of trials and hidden treasures where the players went in search of an area that they could release the dragon.

Get into this game NOW!

I had planned certain bottlenecks which would give the player a chance to use their powers (Umbra, Wrighting, Invocation, Warden of the Stair) and I was actively looking forward to these moments.  As the players hit them though, the reality hit me that I had no dice!  NO DICE!  What on Earth was I thinking!  I was the arbiter of the result of their action and there were no dice.  I realised then that dice offer a form of armour to the GM.  The GM can say, yes, that sucks but you were unlucky on the day!  Even though there was nothing too strenuous involved for this game each time I came to a point that I would normally resolve with dice, I had a little panic attack.  I looked around for something to roll and realised it was all down to me.

Afterwards I sat back about this and had a chuckle to myself.  It was funny in the big scheme of things.  I knew that everything would be resolved by me as the arbiter in consultation with the ranking table.  I had just never, ever, in all my 28 years of gaming ever been an arbiter of a decision without the aid of some kind of random device!  The panic attack I was feeling was my brain retraining itself to accept this into its remembered patterns of behaviour!  I handled all the decisions without a problem and I am fairly certain that my outside demeanour did not give away to the players the distress I was feeling at the time so I think, all in all, the game went off pretty well!

I am looking forward to the next game (although it will not be until mid to late January 2014) although I know that I am still going to face some of these issues as I play the game!  That is of course fine though.  If you think of it, playing a dice-less system is a big step from the standard style of RPG.  It does take a little while to get your head around the idea.  Next game I am likely to run a combat in the session and I fully envisage myself squirming at being the referee on those decisions.  But does this discomfort mean that I am unhappy with the game?  Far from it.  Change is something that makes everyone squirm from time to time.  I can see that the game is eliciting a fantastic response from the players and this game is offering more role playing bang for the buck that I ever thought possible.

In fact I strongly suggest you all give this game a go at least once or twice just to see what it is like.  get involved in the character, the worlds, the setting.  Let the mechanics happen, all you really need to know is what you can do with the powers you have and roughly how good you are compared to everyone else.  So get out there and try it!  OK, so now I really am taking a break…  Honest.  Keep rolling!

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