Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Review: Lords of Gossamer and Shadow

Illustration by Jason Rainville

I backed the kickstarter for Lords of Gossamer and Shadow and I received the download link for the PDF on Monday. I've had the chance to review it, and here are my initial thoughts.

I'll start with the campaign to fund it. It's been my experience as a backer that I tend to notice bad kickstarters, but not the good ones. For them, the campaign just disappears into the background. That wasn't the case for Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. It ranks among the very best of all the crowdfunding campaigns I've ever seen. Regular updates, constant communication, it was extremely professional at every point of contact. The bulk of the work was done by the time they began the campaign. The funding goals were well-planned. Too many kickstarters give away too much or too little, but this campaign offered value at every level. They even released on time! If they made any missteps at all at any point in the process, they weren't visible to me as a backer.

I was on the fence about funding it in the beginning. It seemed like Amber Diceless without the Amber part. I wrote as much on my blog, prompting one of the principals behind the project to answer my concerns. I figured I'd kick in fifteen dollars for it.

The PDF is gorgeous. Full color pictures all over the place, bookmarked, cleanly laid out. Again, no complaints about the presentation. As a supplement to the ADRPG, it's a wonderful product. Ambiguous rules are clarified, more options are outlined for psyche and strength contests, powers have been refined.

As a stand-alone product, I'm less enthusiastic. The system for Amber Diceless was developed in the 1980s and released in the 1990s. It revolutionary when it was introduced, and has held up fairly well in the years since then. While there were elements that were genuinely innovative, such as the Attribute Auction, I never felt it was the best system for Diceless role-playing (I happen to think Nobilis does diceless better), but rather the system we wound up with. It was neither good nor bad. I never felt it got in the way, and while the rules allowed you to play the game, they never drove the game like the rules in certain systems do.

The setting for the original game is what sold me and I'm probably not alone.

I don't like the setting of G&S. This is something entirely subjective, so your mileage may vary.  I'll admit, I'm judging it against the original, one of my very favorite fantasy worlds, so almost anything is going to come up short. It reminds me of the "let me tell you about my campaign" short stories from Amberzine (which isn't necessarily a dig, because I still like Carolan's Diary). They were generally good, and sometimes even great, but they were always eclipsed by the source material.

Again, the creators were very candid about this. I can't complain that the I didn't know I was backing what amounted to ADRPG without the A. They told me that in the pitch, and it's right there in the introduction. You can play Amber and you can play MORE than Amber.

I think I'm happy that they designed their own characters and didn't give us "Not-Eric" and "Not-Benedict" to go with the "Not-Pattern" and "Not-Logrus", (and the powers aren't simple one-to-one analogues to Pattern and Logrus, but I'm exaggerating a broad similarity to make a joke). They're not as deep or as interesting as the Elder Amberites, but that's not a fair comparison, as the ADRPG didn't create Brand or Corwin or Oberon. They were able to draw on existing characters who had been developed over the course of many years and thousands of words. There's just no way a character sketched out over a couple paragraphs can compare.

I don't think I'd ever play a game of G&S on its own. I don't think it's a bad game. In fact, I think it's a pretty great one. As I read and assimilate the rules in the book, I'll probably incorporate them into the Amber rules. I haven't read them in depth at all, but even a glance shows them refined and improved. As I said above, I like it a lot as Amber 1.5. Rite Publishing has been scrupulously professional, and they've turned out a very polished product, about which they are extremely, and rightly, enthusiastic. It's not the game for me. If I want to play Amber, I still have ADRPG. And now, thanks to Rite Publishing, I have a better version of Amber.


  1. Thanks for taking the time to do a review

    Steve Russell
    Rite Publishing

  2. Oh Josh,

    Would you mind crediting the image "Illustration by Jason Rainville"

  3. Hey josh would you consider posting your review up on the Retail sales page? http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/119779&affiliate_id=203141&src=RitePubbanner

    1. Absolutely. Give me a short amount of time to expand it, as these were my initial impressions, and I don't want to say "I haven't had time to read it", when it's been out for two months now.