RPG First Look: Amber

I’ve had the Amber DRPG in my collection for years. Picked it up occasionally, skimmed it, put it back.

Amber diceless rpg

Recently I got around to reading the Chronicles of Amber, so I picked the game up again. Suddenly all of the references make a lot more sense. Mainly though I gave it a proper read because of my interest in running diceless, low complexity but high drama combat. The books are fight-heavy but (as Erick Wujcik notes) Zelazny skips over large fight scenes with ease when they’re just window dressing, but manages to get to the heart of the drama and give a blow-by-blow account when it’s a pivotal fight.

And of course, the combat section follows this premise. In quite a lot of depth in fact, especially since the resolution mechanic is whoever has the higher rank, wins.

Now I can do the fight narration stuff, but the book still does a really fantastic job of showing the GM where to best place her descriptive efforts. It also gives a lot of nice hints on how a weaker opponent might overcome a strong one (through trickery, outlasting them, etc).

It also does really well with five tiers of “relative competence” between player vs antagonist – from clear superiority to being clearly outmatched. The system also suggests some stances (“furious attack”, “opportunistic stand” or “defensive”) which serve as simple markers for players to use as statement of intent. There are a few more choices for sword-fighting or grappling, but all the options are very clearly expressed.

There’s a lot that can be learned for Everway. In fact, my premise for the Battle of Everway was to form a high drama but low crunch combat system, and Amber has pretty much already done this. On the other hand there are one or two things that I don’t care for in Amber: the point-based character generation and attribute auction make sense where sibling rivalry matters, but won’t work for my game. So I don’t think analysing Everway is effort misspent, more that the two games complement each other.

Amber is available through DTRPG for $12, bargain.

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  • Hi S

    Amber is a game I have been reading and running for years although I see it mainly as a way of running the books rather than a system in its own right as you comment.

    As with most systems it has it’s flaws but I thought you might like to hear my small tweaks.

    Firstly I always ditch the attribute auction – doesn’t make sense to me and seems like a good way of ensuring that no-one gets to play the character they want to play. Which is crap. In fact in all the Amber games I have ever played no-one has ever used the attribute auction.

    Secondly where my pc’s massively outclass mooks in fights/mental battles etc. then when they (inevitably) win. I turn the narration of the scene over to them. This is for a few reasons. Firstly I want to give the players as much opportunity as possible to describe how cool and awesome their characters are. Secondly it means that even when there is no “challenge” it is still interesting for the players. Lastly it is more interesting for me – we all know how the fight is going down but I have the advantage of listening to the players talking in detail about how they perceive their characters (and any PC specific NPCs they have semi-control over). This give me more clues as to what they like so I can build a better game for them.

    I am also seriously considering doing the same for a character losing a battle at least partially. To create a mindset for everyone that the game isn’t about winning a fight but creating an interesting story for their characters and that may come from winning or losing.

    But then I am doing more and more consensus RPing and GMless gaming so YMMV on my hippy approach. I am trying to move to cede more creative control to the players in my gaming generally.

    One more caveat. I run Amber largely one-2-one (I have multiple PCs who might meet every few sessions). I find Amber works a lot better this way than as a traditional party game but that does give me the time to explore this sort of thing without pissing off a room full of bored players.

    Yours
    B

    • Thanks. Letting PCs narrate the fight under those circumstances is a good idea.

      And I can see why you run 1-2-1, since the siblings can’t often stand each other. I guess for a consensus game you could run opposing sibling factions troupe-style as well, if you wanted to keep the same set of players together through each game.

  • Glad you like it.

    There are a lot of reasons I run 1-2-1 but another one which I think is important for the setting is the sense of feeling like a Big Damn Hero. Amberites (by their nature) are special compared to everyone else.

    I really want my players to feel that so instead of putting them in a party game where everyone else in the room is just a special as them I run a lot of 1-2-1 stuff to reinforce the idea that they are specially special. Which makes the rare occasions when the players meet up really cool as everyone feels and behaves like they are the most important person in the room.