I started an Amber game. One of the players was okay with playing but not too enthusiastic, one was very enthusiastic, and three others something in between. One of them was going too leave at some point.
One of the players, the enthusiastic one, wanted a political game with secret actions, players against each other and also against environment. Why not, for does not the rulebook also suggest that? He suggested playing between games by email, and so I implemented that. To make things even more interesting, I decided to recruit some background players who would play non-player characters of their choosing or design. This would also happen between sessions.
It turned out that not one of the players actually contributed substantially between games, in any way, not even the one who had suggested this. The organisation of the game was geared towards making this kind of game happen, and it became quite cumbersome and unmotivating when the players were not engaging with the game between sessions.
The background players did their jobs better than I could have hoped, and they did contribute. For a game of political scheming and plotting I will in the future consider similar implementations. I could have tied them more closely to the player characters and each other.
Also, in retrospect it is easy to see that the players, though enthusiastic at the table, were not generally very comfortable with using email for long messages, or responding promptly. Maybe some other players in some distant future will show more interest towards this kind of play.
There is Amber, the only real place, of which other worlds are but shadows. There are also the courts of Chaos, ever changing, easily molded. Then there is Abyss, from which (almost) nothing has ever returned.
One way to think about it would be to take Pattern as the center of order and stability and lack of change, while have Logrus represent change and instability. But Abyss clearly is emptiness, which is totally unchanging, and still Abyss lies close to the Courts, which seems suspicious.
So I would have Abyss be emptiness while Logrus is everything. They are very close to each other, since neither can separate things from each other: None lie in Abyss, while all of them are in Logrus. Pattern, then, is structure – very far from nothing and everything. This is how an Amberite might see the situation.
But what of the Chaosite perspective? Certainly nothing is the ultimate in structure, for it (vacuously) has all the structure imaginable, and so Abyss must lie somewhere behind Pattern and Amber, if looked at from Chaos.
What of the Abyssian point of view? Well, it is empty, so there must be nobody looking, and so the issue is moot.
And what of Corwin’s pattern? Suppose it is another center of order. Is it compatible with the pattern of Amber, or do they simply not interact at all, or are their conceptions of order constantly struggling? And how does all of that look from whichever perspective one takes?
This all reflects on the use of powers when moving through Shadow. By Pattern-walking both Abyss and Logrus are distant from Amber, but maybe for the Chaosites, however they move, both Pattern and Abyss are distant places. Or do some Chaosites wield the powers of Abyss, or do some other entities? Then, for them, both Logrus and Pattern would be far, however they move.
Yet, as a further complication, it is tedious to shift Shadow near Amber. What of the other powers, and how well does Pattern work near the other centers of power? What of Corwin’s pattern, and initiates to it?
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.