My revised reading challenge for 2017 is to focus upon what a GM can take from the books I read. I lift out characters, events, creatures, plots or themes from each book. As a GM, you still need to read the book to gain the most benefit, but each review brings a few ideas for the GM.
My latest book to review is Dawn of Amber, by John Gregory Betancourt. The full title is Roger Zelazny’s The Dawn of Amber (The Chronicles of Amber #12), showing this book to be a sequel to the classic Amber novels, only with a new author. This book is published by IBooks. The Good Reads website describes it as follows:
In Roger Zelazny’s Amber universe, there is only one true world, of which all others are but Shadows. In the ten-book saga that he created, it is learned that Amber was not the first true world; rather, it was The Courts of Chaos. The saga chronicled the adventures of the royal family of Amber, culminating with a worlds-shaking battle between champions from Amber and from Chaos.
Zelazny did not have the chance to create the origin of Amber and its royal family, or reveal other key information that is only alluded to, before he died. The Dawn of Amber trilogy will expand the “Amber” universe and answer the important questions left open, including how Amber was created, by whom, and why. The events in the trilogy will precede those in the existing novels, but follow some of the same, immortal characters.
I had not read an Amber book before, so this might seem like a strange place to start. However, I picked up several ebooks in a bundle, and this was one of them. I wanted to read something new, as it is all too easy to stick in a rut, only reading books I know I like.
Dawn of Amber started poorly, with a prologue designed to set the stage for later events. However, as a new reader, I was not drawn into the characters or situation I did not know. At this point, I nearly gave up on the book. I persevered, and once we met the main characters, the book improved. I enjoyed the characters, and I was drawn into their conflicts. I look forward to reading the next in the series.
For the GM
I have several tips for GMs based upon my reading of Dawn of Amber. Firstly, there is the contrast between the prologue and the first chapter of the book. A campaign, or even just a major plot thread, can open in many ways. The dry prologue, before the characters or setting is known to the Players, may not be the best approach. An initial info-dump, especially without context, may not work. For all the omens and portents wrapped up in the prologue, if the Players cannot relate to the situation, then they will probably just switch off.
In contrast, a more dynamic opening to the plot is likely to grab the Players’ attention. Chapter 1 of Dawn of Amber presented a dramatic fight in a besieged city. The explanation followed later, presented in smaller chunks. I found this far more interesting to read, and seems a better model to follow in an RPG.
One interesting foe in Dawn of Amber featured cavalry riding fire-breathing horses. This dual-threat combatant is a great way to challenge the Heroes. The combination of a mundane rider on an exotic mount creates an interesting combat encounter. Imagine goblins on giant beetles, or kobolds riding giant spiders to create a challenging scene.
Finally, many of the characters in Dawn of Amber used a tarot-like deck for magic. Each deck was custom-made, composed of hand-painted cards depicting people and locations. One character used this deck for the standard divination. Other uses included communication with the individual pictured, or as a way to travel to the location shown on the card. There is a lot of potential in this style of magic.
- The previous GM Reads was Monasteriales Indicia, edited by Debby Banham.
- The next GM Reads was Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn edited by Robert Asprin