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Review: Lords of Gossamer and Shadow

Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is a roleplaying game by Jason Durall, using the diceless system developed by Erick Wujcik for the Amber Diceless RPG. In fact, one could say that LoGaS is a direct descendant of the ADRPG. I'll be reviewing the PDF.

If you are familiar with the ADRPG, you will almost immediately feel at home in the game. There are many, many parallels between the two games. It is as if someone's variant campaign was expanded into a full RPG in its own right. (But not just anyone: Jason Durall was going to write the ill-fated Rebma sourcebook, so his ADRPG credits are beyond dispute.) But even if you have never read the ADRPG, this book will introduce you to the setting, the rules, the powers and the way to play the game without any prior knowledge necessary.

The first chapter details the setting -- where LoGaS diverges the most from Amber. The setting posits 'Doors', that lead onto the Grand Stair. Doors leading off from the Stair connect to different worlds. The characters can travel through these Doors and visit these different worlds. The worlds are made of 'gossamer', and are malleable to a degree with the right power. Everything that can be imagined can be found on a Gossamer World somewhere -- but you would need to find the right Door leading to that world first!
Most of the people (using the term loosely) that can travel the Stair have organised themselves in a loose alliance called the "Lords of Gossamer and Shadow". Even though there is no strict hierarchy, there are some top figures who are the movers and shakers. There are few rules that a member of the alliance have to adhere to: the alliance merely exists to counter the threat of the Dwimmerlaik, a race of powerful beings who dwell in Shadow, the stuff between the Gossamer Worlds. The Dwimmerlaik seek to dominate all the Worlds, and the Lords (and Ladies!) are there to stop them from succeeding.

Chapters 2 to 7 describe the rules for character creation and the various options available to the player.
Characters are built with points, which are used to bid in the Attribute Auctions for Psyche, Warfare, Endurance and Strength -- the same as in the ADRPG. Points can also be used to buy a very wide array of powers, most of which are familiar. New are the Eidolon (the power of the ideal form -- basically Pattern with the numbers filed off), the Umbra (the power of constant change -- basically Logrus) and Invocation (which uses the True Names of things and beings to control them). Wrighting replaces Trump, but only allows for communication and not transportation.
And of course, there is also the basic and advanced form of the power that allows mastery over the Doors.
The last three chapters of this part detail the construction (and point cost) of items, allies and the personal Gossamer Worlds that your character may have. All this is familiar to the player of ADRPG, including the point costs!

Chapter 8 has some pages of advice for players: how to get 'into' your character, including a huge 'character quiz' that helps you determine your character's personality.
Chapter 9 talks about advancement and has some tips on how to spend your points to take your characters in a direction that interests you.

Chapter 10 is all about the rules, and how action resolution works in a diceless game. For the three main types of conflict (armed, unarmed, psychic) we get a lot of descriptive pointers on how to run them, as well as tactics (feinting, full attacks, etcetera). It is almost as if there is a formal system for conflict resolution, along with damage types. Almost.

(As a personal aside, one of the things that kind-of bothered me when playing diceless is that the player who can describe what their character does in greater detail, is far more effective than one would expect when looking at their attribute values. If your character is middle-of-the-road in Warfare, but you yourself can describe their swordplay blow-by-blow, including feints and ripostes, then gamemasters are likely to allow you to get away with more than if you simply state that your character fights in a defensive way.
This is nothing new, of course: the well-known issue of social skills versus player eloquence exists in almost every game. What is different in diceless play is that this issue is more apparent if there are fewer objective rules. I think this chapter tried to give some objective rules, but simply didn't follow through.
And I think that is because of a flaw in the system itself. The system states that the higher Attribute value always wins -- but then sort-of backpedals by giving advice on what to do when two characters are 'closely matched'. That's a contradiction: how close is close? If rank 1 is 100, and rank 2 is 45, are they 'closely matched'? And so this hole gets plugged by using more and more descriptive prose from the players to convince the gamemaster that their character is actually pretty decent at what they are currently doing.)

The rest of the book is aimed at gamemasters, and there is even a warning for players to stop reading. I'm not sure why that is, there is very little in the way of 'secret' information contained in the gamemaster section -- with of course the exception of the included scenario, but that's a given.
Chapter 11 gives advice to the gamemaster as to how to moderate the game. It starts off generic, and gives solid advice on how to be a good and impartial GM. The rest of the chapter gives system- and setting-specific advice on how to handle the specifics of the game.
Chapter 12 has some great pointers on how to design adventures. Since the characters are already quite powerful and (theoretically) can find anything in the Gossamer Worlds, the characters are not motivated by treasure or glory. The GM needs to have something else to lure the characters (and the players!) into his plots, and some examples are given. An idealised structure for an adventure is given, as well as advice on themes, threats and character hooks. I also liked the advice on designing adventures for different lengths: A one-shot con game has different requirements than an extended campaign!

From then on, it's more setting information for the Gamemaster. Chapter 13 gives us a description of two of the most important Gossamer Worlds as inspiration to design your own. The Grand Stair and the Doors are described, along with some key locations such as a big indoor market which is actually on the Grand Stair itself! At the end of the chapter, the influence of the Eidolon and the Umbra on the different Gossamer Worlds is discussed. This interested me: here it shows that the Eidolon is the equivalent of the Pattern, and the Umbra is the equivalent of the Logrus.
Chapter 14 describes some key Lords and Ladies of Gossamer and Shadow. Their full character sheet is given, as well as a really nice portrait highlighting their appearance and their artefacts. These NPCs can serve as Allies to the characters -- even parents! Since these Lords and Ladies are so powerful, they fill the same role as the elders did in the ADRPG. However, because of their character sheets being given, they might not be completely out of the character's league in the long run. That could become interesting, if the GM decides to take their campaign in that direction.
Chapter 15 details the Dwimmerlaik, giving a who's who of the upper echelon of Dwimmerlaik society. The next chapter details other threats, but these are more mundane monsters -- though some can traverse the Stair as well!

Chapter 17 is an adventure that can either be an interesting introduction to the setting (featuring some of the key points of life as a Lord of Gossamer and Shadow), a one-shot or even the starting point for a grand campaign. There are also three 'adventure seeds' that serve as inspiration for the GM.
Then it's the afterword, reference tables, two pages of index and blank sheets for character design.

I like the game a lot. The setting has many, many parallels with the ADRPG to make it easy for veteran players to slip into. But it's also fresh and well-described, so new players can get into it without too much trouble. There's tons of little details for the GMs to set their scenes with.
Having the setting so well-defined is both a blessing and a (mild) curse. It is good because it is richly described, and all players will know roughly what to expect. That makes it much easier to start a game with new players! On the other hand, the 'fuzziness' of the Amber novels meant that we got a really wide array of settings and cosmologies to play around in, which made it an attractive game because you could do almost everything you pleased. We lose something in that regard, but it is by no means a big loss if it means that we get a richer, supported(!) setting back for it.
Having a ton of different Powers allows for the creation of wildly different types of characters, which is always good. And the most important Power, the one that allows traversal of the Grand Stair, is relatively cheap! In ADRPG, you'd lose at least half of your points to Pattern, severely limiting your choices. This is no more the case, and a starting character with multiple Powers and good Attribute scores is no longer impossible.
The advice for GMs is good as well, and it really gives you a good start. Still, I don't think this is the best game for starting GMs, because of the inherent issues with the system. The players have to trust the GM, and the GM has to be experienced with making impartial rulings for that to work. That's a skill that needs to be acquired, and while the GM advice points in that direction, I would have liked a few more examples of play highlighting specific issues.

The PDF document is fully text-searchable, and has chapter indexes. Most of the art is quite detailed character art, which showcases the wide array of characters to be found on the Grand Stair. There was not one piece of art I did not like. However, I would have liked to see some more art -- especially showcasing some of the Gossamer Worlds! I did not care that much for the decorative borders around the text, but they do give the document a distinctive feel.

If you miss the good old days of playing the ADRPG, then this is for you. It will feel like coming home, like slipping into a forgotten old pair of jeans that are so comfortable. If you want to try your hand at a game with a grand scope, then this is for you. If you want to play focussed on characters instead of game mechanics, then this is for you. If you're an experienced GM and you are curious about the original diceless system, then this is for you.
There's even a free preview available, containing setting information and everything you need to create a character!
Tags: rpg

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