A brief description of character generation in Amber diceless and some commentary on how it went. See the previous blog post for an introduction.
Characters start with 100 points. These are used to buy the following: Attributes, powers and items. The balance remains as good or bad stuff, essentially karma. Powers are expensive: Pattern, the fundamental and very useful power, is described as a bargain for 50 points. Attributes have the following scale: Attribute may be human level (which gives 25 points and is very much discouraged), chaos rank (gives 10 points) which stands for peak human ability, amber level (0 points, default) which is a major improvement over chaos rank. Further, each attribute is auctioned and bids buy ranks. Whoever has the first rank is significantly and permanently better than the other player characters. Only the ranks matter, points spent do not. In theory. In practice, NPCs (of which there are several in default cases) have point values, so ranking player characters with them goes by points. After auction, players can buy up the attributes of their characters so as to provide hidden information and uncertainty.
There is also player contributions: Diary, game reports and drawing trump (tarot) cards of the player characters and other major characters all give 10 character points per commitment. I add: Bringing munchies gives 5.
There are four attributes – Strength, warfare, psyche and endurance. The first three are used directly in conflicts, while endurance breaks ties and works as a sort of battery for powers. Of the attributes strength and sometimes endurance are judged weak, while psyche and warfare are strong. This is not a problem, since the auction nicely balances this. We had the first rank in psyche with 30 points, while first rank in strength was mere 11 points, so it was quite a bargain in comparison.
I set one limit: Everyone is to have at least amber rank endurance. That way they can regrow lost body parts and recover from other injuries in reasonable time and can acquire the pattern power. I did not force them to take pattern to start with and only one character has it (as public knowledge). I did emphasise that it is a good power and highly recommended. I suppose the other powers looked more interesting. Pattern allows one to shift from shadow (reality) to another, to manipulate probabilities, and gives certain other benefits.
Right now one of the characters has frequently used pattern to move from a reality to another, one draws trump cards, which are sort of cell phone-teleporters with extra risk of mental assault when used and allow travel to known locations and to familiar people, though they are slow to use. One has a pollaxe that allow to seek objects in shadow, but which is limited when compared to pattern. One has not demonstrated any significant ability shift through shadows. The trumps have been rarely useful (though there is a reason for this that is not related to their usefulness), pollaxe sometimes and pattern frequently.
So, of four characters, one is shadow-crippled and two have problems. One is as capable as one would assume an amberite to be. Give the players enough rope to hang themselves…
As it happens, the character without ability to travel shadow is separated from the others, in an unknown reality, and with no good means of escaping. There is one risky way, though, and more might be found – but they’ll have a price.
I’ve been playing in several fairly short games with the Monday rpg group, but now I have again managed to start running a game, or maybe even a campaign, with some energy to it. We’ve played five sessions thus far. The players are Aleksi, Henrik, Mikko and one who on the internet goes by the name of Thalin.
Amber diceless is based on the Amber books by Roger Zelazny that seem to be quite obscure hereabouts, which is sort of pity. I read the roleplaying game first, then at some point (it has been more than five years, I suppose) read the books when Gastogh bought them, and then reread the rpg. Recently Thalin gave the rpg to me, or, rather, I saved it from an unknown destiny when Thalin moved.
Some mild spoilers about the books follow.
The cosmology of Amber is vast. There is a central pole, the city of Amber itself, which (simplifying and lying a bit) represents order. On the far edges of the multiverse there are the Courts of Chaos and behind them there is the Abyss, vast nothingness. Between these are innumerable shadows (of Amber), each of which is a world or a universe in and of itself. Our world, the shadow Earth, is one of them. The entire setting of Planescape presumably is one of them. Amberites can walk from shadow to shadow – they can, for example, find a shadow of their desire by starting anywhere and shifting between shadows until they get there. So, the multiverse or the cosmology or whatever is, well, quite large. There are philosophical issues and details that I choose to omit, as they are not really relevant until someone starts seriously playing around with the Pattern, i.e. the power of walking between shadows.
More accurately, almost all Amberites can walk through shadows. Of the four characters, one has in public admitted to having the power. This is somewhat due to the peculiar character creation rules and certain psychological factors, I presume, but more on those later.
Amber diceless is actually a diceless rpg. It does not use any other randomiser or bidding system or other complicated resolution system, either. Characters have attributes and they are compared. In a fair fight, the higher attribute wins. In practice, what the play is about is not having a fair fight. This can be accomplished by manipulating the fiction and using certain mechanical powers, more on which later.
For reference: The game was published in 1991 and was designed by Erick Wujcik. One interested in its design philosophy could do worse than read Wujcik’s article on diceless roleplaying. The articles is short and though it is hosted on the Forge, there’s never any GNS mentioned. Really.
I do also intend this article to mark the rebirth of my humble blog. Let us see how it goes.
Briefly: Use the same short description over and over again to describe something that is or will be significant.
This is a trick learned from Ludosofy‘s Runequest game. There was a shaman in his hut. Our characters knocked on the door, the shaman (eventually) opened it, checked who was intruding, turned and walked inside, leaving the door open. This happened whenever our characters met the shaman. The phrase Ludosofy used to describe the event were almost the same, or maybe even exactly the same.
The descriptive trick creates an expectation and catches attention. Attention is naturally powerful – this trick can be used to create a clear vision of some place or character. Acting contrary to expectations is an effective way of creating a sense of foreboding – the shaman greeting us and not going inside in silence would have had us assuming a ploy of some kind. Creating a pattern and breaking it could be used to evoke the elusive beast that is horror.
Using the same short description over and over again to describe something that is or will be significant also enhances the potential of it being turned into an inside joke or story. Such inside jokes are can strengthen one’s role as a member of a group or clique, which might or might not be desirable.
Do remember to keep the description short, and don’t do it with everything.
I have up to this point game mastered three, I think, sessions proper of Dogs (hereafter DitV) plus one character generation session. There is a pool of six players (plus me as the GM) and we handwave why the cast of characters changes between sessions.
- DitV is actually well-designed. Both the rules and the setting are. The writing is very conversational, which I occasionally find demanding to interpret, but most of the time the text is clear and entertaining enough.
- Dogs is a game about religion. It is not a game that defends or attacks religion. This I find both rare and refreshing.
- Dogs works well with three or four players. I think I actually prefer three. No testing with two or merely one player. (Plus the GM.)
- The town creation rules work. Following them is recommended.
- The game works best when one is trying to play it honestly – don’t create a tricky character to begin with (that will come with play), don’t create a caricature, but do try to honestly fix the towns and their problems. Playing inquisition is trivial.
- DitV is difficult to game master. One should be able to play generally more than four actually different characters and make them somewhat compelling and sympathetic. This is beyond my skills, but one learns by doing.
- Do call player characters by name. Always. All the time. It helps to establish the characters. Also, non-player characters. Don’t be ashamed of the names you or others come up with – just use them.
Here’s something I’m planning to do. There are six players total. After each session there is a moment for reflection. Here’s my plan: an entire session for reflection, socialisation between the players and free roleplay. Some possibilities within the fiction: A city where everything is okay. Return to Bridal Falls (where everything is okay). Number of players would be up to six. Probably no or very few dice used. Players sitting in a circle or semicircle rather than around a table other obstacle. Maybe even players freely roaming about.
My modest apartment is too small for this, I fear, but maybe sometimes, somewhere.