You Should Be Playing…
Lords of Gossamer and Shadow
Torchlight flickers but never truly fades in this stretch of the Grand Stair, and the sounds of footfall on the tiled floor echo in the distance. The names of the subway stations have long since faded away, if they were ever written to begin with. Just another echo of a gossamer world, stretching out like a thread through the darkness of shadow, and the hounds are in hot pursuit. You pass by closed doors, similar but different in ways the uninitiated cannot quite smell, looking for the right one. You bend your will to push your pursuers away while propelling yourself forward in a run. Your legs are strong, but on the Grand Stair, it is not your muscles which will give out first.
You find the door marked with the scent of lilacs and licorice, skidding to a halt outside of it. You remove the key from your pocket as the footfalls grow louder, and it slides into the lock with a satisfying click. You knock three times, turn the key and put your shoulder into the Door as it swings open. There is only darkness on the other side, refusing stubbornly to be lightened by the ghost of torchlight from the subway tunnel beyond. It was not supposed to be dark, but it is too late to second guess. The Hounds are near enough that the smell between sulfur and turpentine has wormed its way into your nostrils, and you are not in a place to stand and fight. The only way out is through. You step over the threshold and into whatever danger the next world holds.
Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is a high fantasy game of multiple worlds, questionable allegiances, and personal danger. Written by Jason Durall and released in 2013 by Rite Publishing, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is the spiritual successor the award-winning Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game, using most of the same system in a nearly compatible setting to Amber’s sweeping multiverse.
Lords of Gossamer and Shadow was originally one of Rite Publishing’s Patronage products, allowing interested gamers to invest in a product and participate in its design process. In many ways, Rite Publishing’s Patronage system served as a predecessor to crowdfunding methods, and Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is one of Rite Publishing’s truly successful games using that model. The core book is currently available in PDF and Print on Demand at DriveThruRPG, with several PDF supplements having already been released or in development.
Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is also a full rebuild of the Diceless Role-Playing System with recognition of a modern gaming aesthetic. Splitting from Amber DRPG’s license, Gossamer presents a new fantasy game married to an intricate and expansive setting nearly unlike any other currently available. In many ways, it has taken everything good about the Amber DRPG and removed much of the baggage weighing it down. Taking the root of Amber’s narrative interaction system of resolution, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow has placed restrictions and definitions where it was needed while removing them from where they were not. The result is a superior game to Amber in nearly every aspect, taking a much loved game that had begun to show its age, tuning it up and making it appealing to new audiences. Lords of Gossamer and Shadow has made high fantasy intrigue and strangeness sexy again, and it has redefined the world of diceless roleplaying in the process.
In Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, players take on the role of the titular sovereigns of Gossamer in a vast multiverse containing uncountable worlds of possibility. Having originated from one of these worlds, you play a person who found their way onto the Grand Stair that stretches between them through the void of Shadow. Passing through a Door onto the Grand Stair has changed the character, empowering them and making them capable of shaping Gossamer through their will. They are stronger, faster, and all around more important than when they left. Thrust into the mysteries of the Gossamer worlds, they are free to seek their own destiny across possibility, with only their fellow Lord and Ladies of Gossamer as their competition. The worlds of Gossamer are far from safe, however, and there are many threats lurking in the depths of Shadow and the Grand Stair.
Similar to Amber Diceless, players construct their characters by spending points on Attributes, Powers, Extras and Stuff. Each player has the same total starting pool of points to spend, which is set by the Game Master. More points may be acquired by agreeing to Contribution, with possible suggestions such as an In-Character Journal, a Game Log and Quote Sheet, and providing Artwork for the game. The use of Contribution encourages players to invest further in the game, and like its predecessor, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow can quickly become a highly rewarding game for the invested.
Just as in Amber, Attributes are measures of your character’s inherent capacities. The standard four of Psyche, Strength, Endurance and Warfare remain, as does the Attribute Ranking System. Unlike Amber, however, each level of Attribute is clearly defined in relation to a normal human. Average is equivalent to a normal human and is a severe weakness. Superior is half again as power as a normal human, and Paragon is equivalent to twice as powerful as a human. Spending no points on an Attribute gives you a Paragon rank, but the lower ranks give points to be spent. Spending at least one such point gives a character a Ranked Attribute, which is equivalent to four times human average. Dominant is best of the Ranked Attributes. Only one character can have a Dominant Rank in an Attribute, however, and that can only be earned through the Attribute Auction.
The Attribute Auction survives untouched from Amber DRPG, and it continues to set the tone of inter-character conflict from the very get-go. Players participate in a public bidding competition with their character’s points to be the best at an Attribute among the Player Characters and the primary NPCs of the game. Winning an Auction gives a character the Dominant Rank in that Attribute. This caps how many points can be spent in that Attribute and sets a bar that cannot be surpassed. For instance, the character with the Dominant Rank of Strength will win all armwrestling competitions, and Dominant Rank of Warfare will win at chess.
Points that remain after the Auction can be spent on the Powers, Extras and Stuff, with many of the Powers and Extras being familiar to veterans of Amber. Sorcery remains a complicated, if cheap power. Cantrips provide the brief boosts of power formerly called Power Words. There is also a the new Trump, with much of the stranger aspects stripped away and focused instead on psychic communication across worlds. Much of the stranger Trump powers are covered by Invocation, including using the power of True Names to dominate and summon people.
The concept of Pattern has been replaced by Eidolon, representing aligning a Lord of Gossamer’s essence to the platonic ideals of existence. Eidolon Mastery gives a character the power to shape Gossamer worlds to their will, immortality, and the ability to withstand massive punishment. Opposite Eidolon is the Umbra, representing the inherent entropy and chaos of life in existence. Mastering the Umbra gives a character the ability to tear down the fabric of Gossamer, grants the master the ability to change their own shape, and regenerate from even the most deadly of wounds. Mastering either precludes mastering the opposite, as they stand as literally the two poles of Gossamer, with all worlds caught in a balance point between the two of them.
Lords of Gossamer also provides power over the Grand Stair itself, at both the introductory Warden level and the Master level. As a Warden, a character can flawlessly navigate Gossamer worlds, open Doors, and do various other useful knacks. As a Master, a character delves into the more esoteric mysteries of the Grand Stair, even being able to find Gossamer worlds that are reflections of their own minds in the depths of the Labyrinth in the heart of the Grand Stair.
Extras provide a character with Artifacts and Creatures, Allies, and Domains. Artifacts and Creatures are iconic servants and tools to your character, such as your personal sword, your faithful butler, or your demon skateboard. Allies represent other beings of significance who are favorably disposed towards your character, ranging in power from a simple denizen of a Gossamer world to a fellow Lord of Gossamer. Domains are personal Gossamer worlds, often discovered by Masters of the Grand Stair, which become iconic to a character. It is the world where they have the most power, serving as a welcome respite from the rigors of travel.
Finally, Stuff is a reflection of how lucky and well-liked the character is. Stuff comes in two simple varieties: Good and Bad. Good Stuff characters are slightly more fortunate but have not spent their full allotment of points during character creation. Bad Stuff characters are unlucky or sinister but have spent more points than their full allotment. Characters who have spent their exact number of points are considered No Stuff characters, and fall firmly in the middle of the luck scale.
Gameplay in Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is fast-paced and narratively focused. Characters describe their actions, and the GM narrates the results. Opposition generally comes down to who has the edge (either through Attributes or proper planning), and if a character is caught in a losing situation, they are encouraged to try to turn the tables of the conflict to something they have a better shot at. Barring that, escape is a solid plan.
Conflict between players is encouraged from the very start, with a sense of competition being as important to the game as it was in Amber. Unlike its predecessor, however, it is no longer the focus of the game. By providing clear definitions of Attributes, as well as a robust collection of various dangerous, non-Gossamer Lord threats in their main book, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow does not fall into the trap of Amber’s ceaseless player versus player scenarios. Instead, Lords of Gossamer encourages more of a sense of rivalry between its players. Divorcing the game from the setting of a feuding deific family helps it immensely in achieving this.
Endless Is Just The Beginning
Finally, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is gorgeously illustrated. Most of the artwork was funded by the Kickstarter, and furnished by Jason Rainville. Rite Publishing got their money’s worth in the artwork for this publication. Every character is recognizable and interesting, every setting is evocative and complex, and even the layout gels the feelings of high fantasy and adventure. Characters blend advanced technology with magic and offer an amazing palette of character types. Women are depicted in sensible clothing and as active players in their fate, and men are shown in various body types aside from the heroic ideal. What’s more, the Lords of Gossamer come from all ethnicities and backgrounds. As is evident through the artwork, there are no limits in Gossamer, and possibilities fill its pictures in ways no amount of text can truly do justice.
Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is a bold new product for Rite Publishing, and it’s far more than simply a worthy successor for Amber Diceless Role-Playing Game. Inside its pages, the possibilities are as endless as the steps on the Grand Stair and as varied as the Gossamer Worlds it connects. It brings a new vision of fantasy roleplaying informed by the archetypes of old, and peopled with the new passions that have made urban fantasy and fantastic realism the successful genres they are today.
It has been two decades since Amber entered the market, and it has been five years since Lords of Gossamer and Shadow was first announced. It took a very long time to come to fruition. As someone who has been following this product since its inception, let me assure you, it was worth the wait. Lords of Gossamer and Shadow beckons from the open Door, promising it’s a hell of a universe just through the archway. Taking its hand, you may never quite be able to come home again, but it’s worth the trip.
And that is why you should be playing Lords of Gossamer and Shadow
David Gordon is a regular contributor to the site. A storyteller by trade and avowed tabletop veteran, he is always on the lookout for creative tabletop games. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo Credits: Gossamer cover by Rite Publishing via Jason Rainville; Psychic Battle, Advanced PC, and Lords & Ladies Group by Jason Rainville; Lady Eldritch by Keith Seymour; Jessamyn by Gordon Napier.