Edumacate me on this Amber Diceless Roleplaying game

AJFixer

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#1
I have friends that swear by this Amber game, yet I've never been exposed to it. What is it like? Is it in print? Where can I get a copy?

One element that I keep hearing about is the bidding mechanic. What is bid on? What is bid? Who does the bidding?
 

Garlick

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#2
I've never read Zelazny's books, so it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Non-Zelazny fans need not apply, it seemed.

From what I understood, most resolutions are based on comparing rankings in different core attributes, like Endurance or whatever, and then arbitrated by the GM. Each player has a set number of points at chargen. They bid these points, in an auction at the beginning of play, on the different attributes that interest them. The winner of the auction would have the character who was the smartest, strongest or whatever, and would always prevail in tests of that attribute.
 

eXyse

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#3
Huh. I just dropped out of an Amber game I played in for six months. My wife is, in fact, playing in it right now. A large number of my friends swear by this Amber game. They will play practically nothing else. I cannot, for the life of me, understand this.

But I dropped from the game because I wasn't having any fun. I dislike amber for the following reasons:

I dislike the setting. The Zelazny novels were pretty meh to begin with. The universe was not only not designed for roleplaying in mind, it is a universe antithetical to roleplaying. The only places that matter in this universe are the cardinal points of Amber and the Courts of Chaos. The only characters who matter in the setting at all are Zelazny's elders. The setting combines the very worst aspects of metaplot railroading and uberpowerful GMPCs. Every time you play it, the setting is exactly the same. Not even the NPCs change. It baffles me that there are people who can play this game more than once before getting bored with it and moving onto settings designed to facilitate rp.

(The kicker for me was when the GM announced a "sidegame", which turned out to be a very interesting scifi type game... and then in the end he revealed that it all took place in the amberverse, and we wer playing amnesiac elders, and we left that universe behind to play kings and queens of Amber again. Hahaha! Everyone loved it! Whee, the Amber GM was sooo clever. Gak, choke. Bait and switch? "Fuck you clown." was my reaction.)

Second, I dislike the Amber system. Excuse me, lack of system. Aka "GM Fiat". My character had a few points in fighting, which I thought represented the fact that he had been in a few scrapes. But because there was no way to actually influence the outcome of any event, my character lost every single fight he was involved in. Oh, yeah, also, I dumped most of my points into intelligence (or whatever it was called). Highest intelligence in the group. My only mental contest with other characters? Oh, I lost that too. Yeah, that's a great system.

So, in summary: avoid like plague. Play Nobilis instead if you want a diceless roleplaying game where you play a god.
 

AJFixer

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#4
Garlick said:
I've never read Zelazny's books, so it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Non-Zelazny fans need not apply, it seemed.
Yes, I got that impression, too. I read the first Amber book, but it just didn't click with me, so the game never appealed to me. But I'm thinking of incorporating some bid mechanics into one of my campaigns, and I had heard that Amber has some very good bid mechanics.

From what I understood, most resolutions are based on comparing rankings in different core attributes, like Endurance or whatever, and then arbitrated by the GM. Each player has a set number of points at chargen. They bid these points, in an auction at the beginning of play, on the different attributes that interest them. The winner of the auction would have the character who was the smartest, strongest or whatever, and would always prevail in tests of that attribute.
Interesting. How many attributes are there? What if you have more players than attributes? That would mean that at least one PC wouldn't be the best at anything. Would this cause problems?
 

Vessiel

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#5
Would always prevail in straight forward contests of that nature. As the rulebook says, the best chess player will still lose to a merely decent player (but maybe not the worst) if, say, someone is whispering death threats in his ear the whole game. Or he has a pair of twin stripper dancing in his lap.

Amber is pretty close to a freeform game, with a ranking system to make the default results of conflicts clear. Roleplaying and GM calls explicitely have a vast effect on the actual outcomes, however, at least as big as the actual stats in my experience.
 

Vessiel

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#6
AJFixer said:
Yes, I got that impression, too. I read the first Amber book, but it just didn't click with me, so the game never appealed to me. But I'm thinking of incorporating some bid mechanics into one of my campaigns, and I had heard that Amber has some very good bid mechanics.

Interesting. How many attributes are there? What if you have more players than attributes? That would mean that at least one PC wouldn't be the best at anything. Would this cause problems?
That guy is likely to be nearly best at two of something and attributes can be easily used to support each other, so that's not really much of a problem. Also, there are other things like followers and powers to buy if you don't want to bid much in the auction. These powers are probably the weakest part of the game, they aren't really well set out or designed.

Besides, your parents are always scarier than you are, so being "best" only really applies to conflicts within your own generation. Benedict will still hand you your ass. And if you are playing after the second series, Merlin, that obnoxious powergaming little twit, will still be indiscriminately throwing around obscene levels of raw sorcerous power - even for the gods that are the Court of Amber.
 

AJFixer

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#7
Vessiel said:
That guy is likely to be nearly best at two of something and attributes can be easily used to support each other, so that's not really much of a problem. Also, there are other things like followers and powers to buy if you don't want to bid much in the auction. These powers are probably the weakest part of the game, they aren't really well set out or designed.
Gotcha. That's a good start, and ideas are now percolating. Thanks!
 

Garlick

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#8
AJFixer said:
But I'm thinking of incorporating some bid mechanics into one of my campaigns, and I had heard that Amber has some very good bid mechanics.
That would be news to me. Listen to Tanuki.
 

Epoch

aka Mike Sullivan
Validated User
#9
Garlick said:
I've never read Zelazny's books, so it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Non-Zelazny fans need not apply, it seemed.
My current group -- playing an Amber game -- is 7 players and the GM. Of them, I think that 5 had read the novels before starting the game, and I'm pretty sure that my roommate, at least, never finished the first series of novels.

It's entirely possible to play Amber in a way that's welcoming to non-fans -- on many levels, the setting is more approachable/simpler than the World of Darkness or the Forgotten Realms. Naturally, it's also very possible for a group of dedicated fans to make no effort to make the world approachable to a less clued-in gamer, and so leave the newcomer out in the cold.

Tanuki said:
I dislike the <b>setting</b>. The Zelazny novels were pretty meh to begin with. The universe was not only not designed for roleplaying in mind, it is a universe antithetical to roleplaying.
It is <i>certainly</i> true that the universe was not designed with roleplaying in mind. This is true of every licensed property out there, and there are unique challenges in making any existing world gameable, be it Star Wars, Buffy, or Amber.

I don't think that Amber is particularly more difficult to game in than most other licensed worlds.

Tanuki said:
The only places that matter in this universe are the cardinal points of Amber and the Courts of Chaos.
This isn't particularly true in a universal sense (the Keep of Four Worlds "matters," for example, in the Merlin series. Avalon "matters" in the Corwin series). There certainly are games which focus on just Amber and the Courts (or, for that matter, just Amber or just the Courts).

I'm confused as to how you see this as somehow antithetical to roleplaying, however. Lots of very succesful games focus on geographically small areas -- a typical World of Darkness game will often stay entirely within a largish town's city limits.

Tanuki said:
The only characters who matter in the setting at all are Zelazny's elders. The setting combines the very worst aspects of metaplot railroading and uberpowerful GMPCs.
I think you're confusing a flaw in the game with a flaw in the setting. The Amber DRPG presents, as its default option, Elder Amberites/canonical NPC's who vastly outstrip the recommended starting point for PC power. This was fairly typical early 90's game design (the same era in which the Antedeluvians in Vampire were brought into the world, and when the Forgotten Realms experienced a gigantic balloon in ultra-high-level NPC's. Or, in the licensed world, when WEG put out stats for Luke, whiny farmboy of Star Wars ep IV, at well past the experience level of what you'd get in years of dedicated play of their game). The industry as a whole has backed away from that style of design (correctly, I believe!) but Amber has never had a second edition.

Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix. Put the PC's in the same general power level as the NPC's.

Both the canonical NPC's and, presumeably, the PC's are ultra-competent by the standards of "real people," but that's a feature of any number of succesful games -- any super-hero game you care to mention, Exalted, and Ars Magica, just to smatter a few examples about. It's certainly not "antithetical to roleplaying."

As with any licensed game, the GM should exercise restraint in presentation of canonical NPC's, remembering that ultimately the PC's should be the most important people in any RPG. If he's loathe to do that, I suggest a game in which the PC's are the canonical characters.

Tanuki said:
Every time you play it, the setting is exactly the same. Not even the NPCs change.
Well, the canon is exactly the same. In my experience, no two games are even remotely the same. Now, personally, I readily break canon whenever I think it'll make for a good game, and that can be quite a lot of breakage indeed. But even for those who like to aim for a more canonical feel, the holes in the setting are many and wide. You can fill them in a different way each time you play the game (and they can be VERY different), and end up with enough different Amber games to satisfy you for life.

The extremely fannish about a series often wed themselves closely to a particular interpretation of their source material, but, looked at with an objective eye, we can usually see that any presentation of a character, setting element, or plot point has room for a dozen interpretations. I think it's essential for the GM of any licensed material to understand his wriggle-room options, and to, to a certain extent, be willing to divorce his game from his preferred reading of the source material. Canon should be a foundation to work off of, not a straightjacket to limit play.

Tanuki said:
Second, I dislike the Amber <b>system</b>. Excuse me, lack of system. Aka "GM Fiat".
The game has plenty of system. It also, I think unfortunately, encourages the GM to play mindgames with the players and to very much frustrate them in play. I'm told that this is Erick Wujcik's preferred style of play, and also that he's skilled enough at it that he can make it fun. I don't know, I've never met the man, much less gamed with him. I feel I can say that for most people, encouraging adversarial or mind-trick-y play is detrimental to play.

Amber also requires a certain courage of play. If you're going to use the system as written, you, as the GM, have to be willing to stat some of your big adversaries in such a way that they can just flat out LOSE, no die rolls, nothing much they can do about it, to certain types of threats. That's a tough row to hoe for GM's who are trying to deliver a satisfying rise and fall of conflict to the players, and it can lead to fudging in such a way as to disempower the players. That's unfortunate.

I can't speak to Tanuki's exact experiences, of course, but I am the <b>first</b> person to acknowledge that the Amber DRPG has plentiful weaknesses. If anyone's interested, I can discourse at great length about things you can do to tighten the system up -- again, remember that the game has never had a second edition. Remember what D&D or Vampire were like in their first iterations? Lots of pretty wacky rules got in there. Many modern games have been ruthlessly refined over four or more editions. Amber hasn't on any official basis, and it shows very clearly.

But Amber's reputation for pulling in a devoted core of gamers isn't the stuff of smoke and mirrors. It's rough. It needs work. But the transparency of the gaming system can, when you work around its rough parts, deliver an awesome intensity of play which has made a convert of many a gamer.

No system is all things to all people, and there are always going to be plenty of people out there who just can't get into Amber. <i>De gustibus non est disputandum</i>. But if you're someone who likes the ideas but was put off by the execution, it's entirely possible that I or other veterans of the game can help.
 

SweeneyTodd

New member
Banned
#10
I think Amber can be a great setting for roleplaying. We've started a campaign recently that's going great. We're using a homebrew that's similar to Primetime Adventures, though; I don't like the ADRPG system.

The ADRPG book definately has problems. The system easily reduces to GM fiat, and Wujick pushes hard for invincible NPCs and railroading in how he talks about the setting and how to play there. (I didn't get that vibe at all from the novels themselves, which I really like.) I agree that Nobilis would work well, and in fact there's a Nobilis Amber conversion out there on the web.
 
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