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This, the first 'universe book' for Amazing Engine should be used in conjunction with the System Guide, the combination making a complete game.
It opens by describing the alternate history of the setting, a Victorian England where the fey do not only exist, they have seats in Parliament and are invited to all the best parties. This all dates back to Roman times if not before, but at that time the dark powers of the Unseelie Court were defeated in a great battle, and from then faerie blood has mixed with that of human beings throughout the history of Britain. Needless to say, the Unseelies haven't gone away, they've just gone underground, and still cause problems upon occasion although due to their appearance they have to recruit and operate through human allies and agents.
History has taken a largely similar track to the real world, although a descendant of Napoleon rules in France, a foil to Bismarck in Germany, and the big surprise, America is still a colony of Britain having been defeated in 1812 after their brief flirtation with independence. Fey live openly in Ireland, having an enclave named Tir Nan Og that operates as a separate country - or is that countries, as each sidh or barrow has its own British Embassy! Many challenges face the British Empire at this time. This opening portion, The State of England, is presented as a report suggesting the provision of 'special agents' to troubleshoot any problems... and this is where the player characters come in.
The role of both player characters and the GM are briefly touched upon and then the matter of creating player characters based on the existing player core (as detailed in the System Guide) is dealt with in detail. The first thing you have to determine is whether or not your character has fey blood - there's quite a high chance of having at least some, although full-blooded fey are quite rare. There are usually some visible hints of fey blood such as a greenish tint to the skin, pointy ears - or maybe hooves instead of feet. The more fey blood the character has, the more noticeable it is. Apart from full-blooded faeries, you next need to choose nationality. This determines where you come from and the language(s) you speak - apparently everyone from Wales speaks Welsh, which certainly wasn't the case in real Victorian England (in fact, the Welsh language was discouraged!). Next up in social class and occupation. These choices lead to background and to the skills available to that character. Naturally there is plenty of information to aid an informed decision. Much is (mostly) historically accurate, but magic exists and so sorcerer is an established profession.
Setting-specific notes on awards and experience follow material on wealth and resources. Many genuine Britsh awards and medals are listed here. Next up is magic. In this setting, magic works rather like a recipe, with a magic formular being constructed like a sentence including the action, the target, special conditions and so on. Each part has a range of options, this results in every spell cast having the potential, indeed likelihood, of being unique. The best spells are researched in advance, but they can be created on the fly although the chances of success are lower. A skill check is necessary every time a spell is cast, and it takes a physical toll on the caster. There are guidelines and examples aplenty, but spell-casting is something that the player will have to work at, there's no handy spell list to pick a spell from and just cast it as needed.
The next section, By All That is Holy, deals with religion. Faeries are pagan, it's somehow so deeply embedded in their being that they cannot embrace any other religion. There are various Christian denominations - based on real ones although with different names - and it is in their clergy that divine power is concentrated, although they do not cast spells as such but have certain powers that they can wield. No other faiths are mentioned, not is there any detail on what being a pagan entails.
This is followed by a section on Combat. Here we read about violence and the law, along with a note that combat is by and large deadly and ought to be avoided whenever possible. Much fighting is little more than brawling - mostly fistfights, perhaps a knife. Gun crime is rare, although a prudent fellow may take a pistol when entering a situation about which he is nervous. There's plenty of detail on both firearms and melee weapons.
We then turn to details about the fey, presented as Peak-Martin's Index of Faerie, a series of lectures to the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1877. It makes for fascinating reading, categorising the different varieties of fey folk and classifying them... and providing game statistics so that they can be used as opposition! For those who want to know more about the geography of the setting, there is also Crompton's Illustrated Tourbook of Great Britain, a quite comprehensive gazetteer. Back to everyday life, The Glorious British Life provides ample detail on what it's like to live in this setting: time, money, incomes, city and country life... and even how much you ought to be paying your servants! Modern conveniences, or the lack thereof, are discussed, along with price lists for the things characters may require and details of transportation - rail between towns, carriages or horseback within them, or out in the country once you have alighted from your train. The current state of knowledge and the policical scene are also covered, along with foreign relations and law enforcement. Much of this is historically-accurate, but with a distinctive spin on things to reflect the differences between this setting and historical Victorian England.
There's a rather entertaining guide on How to Speak Proper, which seems to be mainly aimed at Americans. This covers not just "the Queen's English" but Scottish and Irish dialects and a somewhat bizarre attempt at Welsh (which, it must be said, is my native tongue), claiming that Welsh words are unpronouncable... Best to move on to the underworld slang section. There's also a note about the role of women in Victorian times: strange to modern attitudes but historically accurate. Likewise, provision for the poor and disabled - mostly woefully inadequate by modern standards - charities and leisure pursuits are also covered. Various leading Victorians are introduced, perhaps the party will bump into them, or they will at least know about them.
The setting, then, is well presented with as much historical accuracy as the introduction of the faerie folk permits. Character creation is a bit clunky, but once you have built the characters and formed the party there's an impressive amount of background to set the scene in which they will operate. The GM, however, is left to come up with adventures. Some of the background might suggest ideas, but nothing is provided in the way of suggestion or plot idea, although the setting is good.
Recently a gamer friend sent me a message asking for my perspective about a situation that unfolded at a game table where they were a player. In the situation, some players and the game master were directing a player on how to spend her turn. Shortly afterwards, an article began circulating on social media that covered an extreme case of the same topic, titled “Honey, Let the Real Gamers Play.” The confluence of these two events inspired me to share my perspective on what can generously be referred to as providing unsolicited advice but can be more directly referred to as taking away a player’s agency.
Note that this article is not about the intention of the people offering unsolicited advice. This is about catching people, including yourself, on the edge of overwhelming another players agency and how to move forward in game.The Situation Here’s one of the golden rules in role playing: Let the other players do their thing.
In the aforementioned article, the writer shares a situation in which the GM and other players take away the writer’s sense of control by taking her turns for her. In the ultimate denial of agency, she was not allowed to select her own actions or even roll dice to determine the outcome. In my friend’s situation, the game master and several players at the table “helped” the player (playing a caster with some healing capabilities) to choose how to play her character by collectively suggesting what action she take or what spell she cast. By the end of the game the player called out the other participants for effectively taking over her turns.My Perspective
It sucks to be the player on the receiving end of unsolicited advice. It makes assumptions both about the character’s personality and the player’s ability to bring that character to life. Unsolicited advice tells a player in not so many words that their fellow players – often their friends – think they are better at playing the character than the player herself.
It can feel like bullying to be on the receiving end of even well-intentioned, excited, or enthusiastic suggestions. A player may feel like they are disappointing a friend or the team if they don’t use the idea, and that’s basically the best outcome. Bottom line: It is not fun.
Here’s one of the golden rules in role playing: Let the other players do their thing.Transforming Unsolicited Advice into Help If a player seems to be floundering but remains silent, go ahead and ask, “Do you want a suggestion?” Full Stop. Wait for consent before offering advice, that’s the magic that transforms the unsolicited advice into help.
Don’t get me wrong, cooperation is great – this is a team game after all. But that has to be a two way conversation. A person’s control over their character’s decisions is absolute – otherwise it’s not truly their character.
If a player is stumped and needs ideas or rules clarification I hope that player speaks up and asks for help. But silence doesn’t always mean someone needs or wants help. They may just be trying to decide their reaction to the prior player’s actions. That’s part of the collaborative nature of RPGs, the story evolves as we play – contemplation is part of responding effectively.
If a player seems to be floundering but remains silent, go ahead and ask, “Do you want a suggestion?” Full Stop. Wait for consent before offering advice, that’s the magic that transforms the unsolicited advice into help.Why shouldn’t I freely voice my awesome ideas? Part of being an all-star player is passing the spotlight to your fellow players and helping everyone to have fun.
I’ve done this. I’ve got a big personality and when I have ideas bubble up I want to share them with the world. But when I realized how much I hate it when people tell me how to play my character, I started making a conscious effort to rein myself in. Part of being an all-star player is passing the spotlight to your fellow players and helping everyone to have fun.
Tables where everyone feels like their ideas are enthusiastically encouraged are where players thrive and surprise us with their ingenuity. It is the starting place for games that are pure magic. It would be absolutely boring to play an RPG with a table full of people who think exactly the same way as each other. No one would ever be able to surprise anyone. That’s the beauty of role playing, the story unfolds in unexpected ways for the players and facilitator alike.How can I help tamp down on unsolicited advice at the game table?
As the player offering unsolicited advice:
- Always get permission from a player to give them advice before doing so. If they do not want your advice, do not voice it. Kick some ass on your turn.
- Charge yourself an in game resource to give advice. Spend your action role playing to persuade your counterpart to take an action. Spend a Benny or a Fate Chip to offer advice. In essence you are potentially getting a second turn, so yes it should cost you enough that you consider whether it’s worth doing.
As the Game Master at a table where unsolicited advice is flying:
- Take control of the situation and shut down people who are overwhelming another player. Part of the role of game facilitator is to create a space where everyone shares in having fun. If players don’t feel in control of their own character they are not going to have fun.
- Regardless of if the player takes the suggested action, charge the player(s) giving the unsolicited advice an in-game resource: an action, a Benny, an Advantage, or something else. Make the cost matter.
- Ask the player directly “What do you want to do?” Make eye contact and use other body language to make it clear you are giving the spotlight to the current player.
As the player on the receiving end of unsolicited and unwanted advice:
- If you are comfortable being assertive, tell the other player(s) “I’ve got this.”
- Ask if they are spending their action trying to persuade you in character.
- If not, tell them if they aren’t keeping it in game your character would have no idea what they want and move forward with your turn.
- If so, have them role play it. Accept the suggestion or not as best suits you and your character.
- Above all, remember: you are playing pretend. Your ideas are equally as right as anyone else’s, and you are always right when it comes to your own character. If anyone takes away your sense of agency in the game, don’t play with that person anymore.
Power dynamics come into play when offering advice. Before voicing advice, consider if the person you are advising may see themselves as having a different status within the gaming community. If so, you may unintentionally be creating a situation in which it is hard for them to say no.
- are a more vocal player
- are a more experienced player
- know other participants in the group better
- have a different gender identity, cultural heritage, age, etc.
- are a gaming celebrity, game master, game event staff, or otherwise well-known member of the gaming community
Then you may have a perceived higher status, and you should be especially careful about offering unsolicited advice. This is tough because it means flipping a switch in your own mind to try see how other people may view you as having higher status even when you like to think “I’m just a regular person.”
Whatever the situation may be: always assume the other person is equally as adept at playing pretend as you are and act accordingly.Final Thought
As either a player or the game facilitator, make a conscious decision to support and encourage all of the players at your table. Challenge yourself to build off of other players’ ideas by employing the improvisational technique of “Yes, and…!” Your enthusiasm for what someone else brings to the table will help them to feel valued and your own role playing ability will grow.
Here’s my wish for everyone at the game table: assume you and all your companions have an equal level of creativity. Then together, play a game that surprises everyone.
Have you received unsolicited advice at the game table? How did you deal with it? As a game master how do you support and uplift the ideas of players who seem unsure or hesitant? What are some other ideas for how to rein yourself in or others who are offering unsolicited advice?