Back in the old day when I was playing Amber, I was always kind of wary about just how much “bad stuff” my players could be allowed to take. My feeling was that it might be too easy to abuse this; you could end up with parties full of ‘bad stuff’ people, and it might be very hard to effectively judge the differences between, say -20 and -50 bad stuff.
Over time, however, I started loosening up on that. I took some sage advice from Erick Wujcik: that its always more interesting to let the players hoist themselves on their own petards. And when you consider “stuff” as a “bell curve”, as (just like every other attribute) a COMPARATIVE value, where just how lucky or unlucky a score is depends somewhat on the other players and their scores, it suddenly started to feel a lot easier for me to be able to quickly judge what was really meritorious of misfortune.
With the “luck” ability in Lords of Olympus, these principles are kept in place. Of course, bad luck is always bad, and good luck is always good. It doesn’t matter if everyone else has way more good luck than you, or way less bad luck than you, its still not going to move you to that other shore in terms of actual effect. And likewise, anyone who has more than about +20 luck or worse than -20 luck will still be a very extreme case, even if everyone else in the group is in the same boat.
But aside from those guidelines, what matters after that is how they are in comparison to the overall spread of the group’s luck.
To quote the book:
Rather than placing hard limits on Luck, the gamemaster should inform a character with really bad luck that he can and will make life miserable for him. Likewise, to counter players hoarding Luck, the gamemaster should explain that it is less-influential than powers or abilities.
If you’ve done that, and thus covered your bases, you shouldn’t be afraid of throwing the bad-luck book at a player who has gotten him or herself into serious points-debt. They’re literally asking for it.
And of course, some of the best drama can come out of presenting misfortune in an interesting and clever way; its better to provide bad luck that increases the sense of challenge and difficulty for the player, rather than just screws the player over irreparably.
A lot of the best roleplaying I’ve seen in diceless games has come out of players dealing with their character’s abysmal luck. And this is especially appropriate in Lords of Olympus; they don't call them “Greek Tragedies” for nothing, you know.
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(originally posted February 22, 2013; on the old blog)