Keeping Records

September 23, 2010

This came to me in the shower this morning.

When you GM Ghost Opera, your role is primarily that of a record keeper. You consult the fiction and tell the players what is happening, beyond what their characters do. As in AW, you do this by doing what your prep and the fiction demands, but also by being true to the records kept — both descriptive and karmic — from previous play.

However, you keep and recite records in Ghost Opera at several different levels. The GM’s role is not singular but plural, acting as several different record keepers with different priorities.

The primary and starting GM role is that of the immediate Ancestors of the family, who track all the internal squabbles and issues between kinfolk. If you do not listen to your mother or try to bully your older sibling, the Ancestors are the ones who track such things and recite the troubles that inevitably result.

All problem are local and, consequently, the second level at which record keeping occurs is that of the Shaman, the locus of political and spiritual power at the village or town level. If you are digging a copper mine and angering local spirits or if you attempt to marry someone from the same village, the Shaman tracks the karmic processes that result in eventually restoring balance.

The next level up is that of the Official (need better term), who in Shang times is really a military governor and also a shaman in their own right. Fu Hao is really my model of a shaman-warrior-official, though she’s clear a standout badass. Officials oversee a number of villages and towns and if your group of bandits is terrorizing the countryside or if a local problem gets bumped up to a higher level, they are the ones who record the events and make the appropriate response.

Higher than all the officials is, of course, the Royal Court, including the Shaman-King of the Shang as well as his family and the entire entourage of royal diviners. They record anything that happens that rises to the attention of those in the capital and note the resulting actions that occur.

And above the Royal Court are the Royal Ancestors, including the Ten Suns and, ultimately, the Lord On High, who tracks everything in the mortal world that rises to his attention, which — considering he has the earthly bureaucracy to deal with most things, isn’t actually all that much. But if things are rotten in the court or the king is incapable of making the lower levels of the bureaucracy function properly, the Royal Ancestors made due note of that and record, as well, the karmic retribution that results.

Generally, when GMing, you start at the lowest level possible when recording events. However, if a problem bumps up from one level to the next, at the end of the scene, you switch hats and record events at the next level up. So if you have a scene with a local bandit raid while recording at the village (Shaman) level, after that you should have a scene at the regional (Official) level, showing the ramifications of banditry throughout the region. The players can have multiple characters that operate on different levels or, more likely, a character that crosses levels, since every person is a member of a family, from a village, dwells in a region, the subject of the king, and lives and dies under the Ten Suns.

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