Amber Diceless RPG: Characteristic Scales

   Ever played the Amber Diceless RPG? If you have, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a basic division between Amber: The Game and Amber: The Novels – and it leads to a certain amount of conflict.

   In Amber, it’s a fairly basic premise that the characters can reach any realm that they can clearly envision, and that true Amberites – and, to a lesser extent, Lords of Chaos – are the most powerful people in all the realms of shadow. There are references to characters warping or destroying entire dimensions, to simply gathering up an army if you want one, and even to them controlling vast sources of mystical power. A basic, zero-point, “amber” level attribute is superior to any normal shadow-dweller. Amberites are powerful, often capable of defeating a small army – although truly talented shadow-dwellers may give them a run for their money.

   Now that general description says very different things to different people. To people who’ve read the books and taken their assumptions at face value, the observation that “Gerard is the strongest man in the universe” means “Gerard is the strongest and toughest unenhanced fellow who’s abilities reliably translate across shadow within a rather narrow range of universes – those with essentially identical physics, basically humanlike species, and no really exotic biological adaptions”.

   To quite a few other gamers, that means that “Gerard is stronger and tougher than Superman – or any RPG character they’ve ever played, no matter what the game system” – since almost all of those RPG universes are dimensions which can be consistently described, envisioned, and presumably reached with ease by an Amber character. That isn’t something that Zelazny – who, as the author, had complete control over his characters – ever had to deal with.

   For example, we had one character who – upon noticing that he was being followed across shadow – took a ten-minute “shortcut” across a realm he described in detail on a note: a planet orbiting near a pulsar that picked up a thin but breathable atmosphere from the gases thrown off by another nearby dying star, and cooled to comfortably livable levels between it’s every-few-hundred-years interception of the radiation beam from the pulsar – which was going to happen on rather precise timing. In other words, a second or so after he left, pretty much the entire planet would be hit by a radiation beam more intense than a fusion bomb, and would remain incandescent and radioactive enough to kill in a fraction of a second for the next few years. And that was just his first attempt to discourage people from following him.

   Another character took a dodge through a dark alley where some muggers were about to arrive, then jumped aboard a departing ferry at the last moment, and called it enough.

   Neither one is “wrong”, but there’s a certain difference in the scale of their thinking.

   Now, we always tended towards the “superhero” end – it meant that, while the conservative players didn’t have to do anything absurd if they felt it was out of character, they wouldn’t necessarily be reduced to floating wisps of vapor when someone sprang something like pulsar scenario #1 on them. It didn’t quite match the novels, but it didn’t make a lot of difference in a game mostly based on intrigue, social manipulation, and personal duels anyway – and it made it a lot easier to play and run.

   As another example, here we have a relatively minor character from one of the old Amber games – a young woman named Amanda Rose. It’s kind of amusing to consider the distinction between the two extreme interpretations – the slightly-above-human heroine and the city-destroying celestial avatar.

Amanda Rose, Of Amber

  • Attributes: Psyche (15), Warfare (Amber), Strength (5), and Endurance (4).
  • Amber Court Devotee (6)
  • Basic Shape Shifting (35)
  • Good Stuff (6)
  • Deorthain the Dragon (21)
  • Tekumel: Personal Shadow (1) with Control of Time Flow (2)
  • Hummingbirds Wing: Double Damage (2) Katana
  • The Eye Of Rassilon (Enchanted Ring): Mold Shadow Stuff (1) with Drastic Effects (+1), Basic Intelligence (1) and Danger Sense (2).
  • Clothing: Resistant to Normal Weapons (1)
  • Power Words (12): Abyssal Disruption, Beastmaster, Combat Intuition, Logrus Negation, Photon Conversions Photon Transformation, Spirit Summoning (Nature Spirits).
  • GM Bonus (-5)
  • Character Diary (-10)

   Amanda is about five feet tall and weighs about 120 pounds. She has violet-purple hair and white eyes, and a soft blue-white bioluminescent aura. She has soft features, often slightly blurred by her luminous aura. By “human” standards she is strikingly beautiful, if a bit ethereal looking. By amber time she is only about six years old, however she has spent most of that time in a fast-time shadow near the courts of chaos, giving her an actual age of about 16.

   Deorthain The Dragon: Psyche/Chaos (2), Strength/Chaos (2), Warfare/Chaos (2), Endurance/Amber (4). Alternate Form/Human (1), Shadow Seek (4), Teleportation within Shadows (4), Mold Shadow Stuff/Elemental Magic with Drastic Effects (2).

   In Dragonform Deorthain has Resistance to Firearms, Double Speed (Flight), Ranked Strength (10), and Double Damage (claws, breath, and bite) due to his size and form. As these are natural abilities, and don’t “carry over” into human form, they do not cost points – while those attributes which are above normal human level in human form do. Similarly, his high-human level intelligence is natural to both forms, and hence free. In human form, Deorthain usually wears, or creates when needed, armor Resistant to Normal Weapons, and a weapon charged with elemental energy so as to do Double Damage. In either form he retains his talent for Elemental Magic. Due to his association with Amanda, he has learned to use his power to enable him to transverse shadow and to teleport from place to place within a shadow. Oddly, it is much harder for him to teleport in human form, so he rarely does so. He has been Amandas constant companion / pet since she was just under six years old. In his natural form he is serpentine, scaled, multicolored, and quite large. While he is somewhat older then Amanda, he is a long way from being an adult. Despite his youth, he is already better at magic then most Averos Windserpents.

   The Eye Of Rassilon is a quasi-independent device that usually acts to protect its user and enhance her powers, although it will perform minor “shadow-molding” tricks if not otherwise engaged. This 2-point “pool” is often used to; boost her armor to Resistant To Firearms (1), create an Environmental Field (1), energize her katana to do Deadly Damage (2), dampen assaults using any one Principle or Tertiary Force (1), distort Her “Personal Timerate” (in shadow only, 1-2), manipulate the Forces Of Nature (1-2), or energize “Psychic Constructs” into semi-material things (1). Of these, the first five are used at the discretion of the ring, the latter two are directed by the user. The rings/eyes defenses normally extend to her personal (paid for) companions, and can be extended to cover a modest radius if she so desires.

   The ring is less useful in amber or the courts, but always tries to keep up a “reserve” of shadow energies for emergency use. While this “charge” is limited, it can be lifesaving in a pinch. The eye may also be able to store “charged” constructs – but Amanda has not yet learned to tap this (2 point) ability.

Unusual Power Words:

  • Abyssal Disruption; This dangerous power word does not attempt to nullify abyssal forces, instead it disrupts the wielders control over them. Usually this lets them dissipate via annihilating chunks of the surroundings, but skillful timing can backlash them upon their user. With poor timing, the power words user may still be in the area affected – although the results are rarely as bad as being hit with a properly focused attack.
  • Beastmastery; The Beastmasters Word projects the users psychic power in a field tuned to the minds of animals and animalistic beings, either in a radius or directed against an individual target. This automatically sets up a mindlink with the target creature(s) and allows the user to deal with a group en mass and with individuals at a substantial bonus (around +10 psyche). Creatures owned by other lords cannot usually be turned on their masters, but can be dismissed or made to “sit it out”.
  • Combat Intuition; This curious psychic discipline puts the user “in tune” with the immediate environment – an effect allowing him to react without conscious thought to any attack or threat. In effect it boosts the users Warfare attribute to equal his psyche, if that happens to be higher. Sadly, this can only be maintained for a few seconds, so the users timing must be good to avoid having a skilled opponent simply fall back before this surge of effort.
  • Photon Conversion; Allows a shapechanger with “photon transformation” to shift part of his mass into energy, using shapechanging to keep it under control as it is, at least until released, still a part of him.
  • Spirit Summoning; This useful word enables the user to call forth the “spirits” (if any) of an area – and ask them to perform some simple task. The problem is that some places don’t have any spirits and those that do are not necessarily cooperative. Some, say the spirits of a haunted graveyard, may be downright hostile. In any case, the user is relying on charisma/luck to get them to serve, hence “good stuff” is very helpful. The user will normally be most comfortable with some particular type of spirit, choosing a speciality when he acquires this word. Related words allow the user to extend this power to major or distant spirits, compel reluctant or hostile ones, dismiss them, and to feed them the power to produce major effects. Alternatively, the user can simply draw on his own spiritual energies, temporarily reducing his reserve of “good stuff” or increasing his level of “bad stuff” to achieve similar results.
  • Photon Transformation; Allows a shapechanger to change his body into a field of electromagnetic energy, which can then be manipulated via “shapechanging”. The user can return to material form at any time, although this form can be maintained indefinitely. Like other power words, the effect can be extended to anything the user has paid for with points.

Other Notes :

   Psychic Constructs: In its simplest form, a “psychic construct” is nothing but a visualized image, the more detailed the better. The stronger the mind behind the image, the more detailed the image and the more energy it carries. Psychic constructs are a major “weapon” in psychic combat, manifest as competing monstrous beings or weapons. Charging them with physical energies makes them dangerous on a physical level as well, capable of affecting the body as well as the mind. While they are usually too insubstantial to affect by simple physical means they can be stopped by many of the principles or pure psychic force. This does have the advantage that it takes a lot more psychic force to stop them, giving the user a substantial advantage in psychic combat. A few devices can store such psychic constructs, this is treated like the ability to store conventional spells, and is as handy in a psychic conflict as stored spells are in a magical one.

A Condensed Extract From Arvons Diary:

   Being woken by the servants because a dragon has taken over the back yard is not a good way to start the day. At least it would be small, the adults have settled on territories already. Installing a set of “good dragon” compulsions was easy, getting rid of it was a pain. I finally unloaded it on Amanda – she never could resist a stray. A week or so later pops called. He wanted me to attend a birthday party for Amanda. OK, so I found a present and trumped off to amber. How often do you get to see any young and innocent relatives around here? Make it one less, it seems she needed a birthday party because she’d been visiting some fast-time shadow near the courts. The winsome six-year old was now sixteen, accompanied by a great, bloody, enormous dragon. What a difference a week can make. Quite a reunion really, I might have expected that Gerard would have more kids then any of the others. I managed to duck out for long enough to head home, swap the miniature castle for the Eye Of Rassilon, and trump back before they missed me. I wonder what it does? I didn’t have much time to sort through the magic ring collection. I hope it’s useful, or at least in good taste.

7 Responses

  1. Heh, wow, a post on Amber DRPG in 2009!

    I love the game… wish I could find people to run it for. Anyway. Enjoyed your post! :)

  2. […] Amber Diceless – This was the original diceless roleplaying game, and when people talk about “diceless”, they’re usually still talking about Amber Diceless. […]

  3. This post has clearly been around forever, but there are distinct differences in the two events.

    The latter event is a manipulation of probability, and (perhaps) minor shifting around nearby, nearly identical shadows. It is the sort of thing that — in both the books and the game rules — ought to be available to a character at a moment’s notice.

    The former event is quite different, however. It involves finding a Universe with a precise, rare set of circumstances, and reaching it at a precise time.

    Said universe might take a while to reach — one does not just magically appear in that universe immediately — and even then, you might not reach that EXACT universe until you pass through the one where that radiation beam was passing through slightly earlier.

    It would seem very fortuitous, indeed, if that universe were available in a ten-minute sidetrack, and the character did not have something foul happen to them in getting there.

    In the books, Corwin never has so easy a time crossing Shadow, or finding the right one. Heck, he had difficulty getting to Avalon. The more particulars you add to a universe, the harder it is to get it just right.

    Were a player of mine to try this with me as the GM, it would either take them days to approach it cautiously (hence making it useless for escape purposes, unless very carefully laid as a trap), or the path to that Universe would be very, very dangerous and difficult.

    But maybe that’s just me.

    • I suspect it’s just you – and neatly illustrates the point; you’re applying the rules as a representation of what’s in the books. To someone who’s approaching the game by reading the rules, what’s in the books is quite irrelevant; it’s the game rules which are important – and the game rules do not really represent the universe of the books very well. There’s a big difference between “any possible universe you can imagine” and “a diverse, but actually quite limited set of universes” such as the author presented. Remember “the” Crystal Cave, and “the” Keep of Four Worlds? In the books, they were both significant places. In the game, any character can visit an unlimited number of variants of those places, and the ONLY important places are the two unique ones – Amber and the Courts of Chaos.

      Of course, you’re also assuming that the character hadn’t made any preparations and hadn’t simply spent a few points on a personal shadow with either control of it’s contents or – say – a billion year old civilization existing throughout it’s 18-billion light year hubble volume, which would make selecting such a situation a trivial task.

      Both styles of play are equally valid – but if you’re going to base your game on the books instead of on the rules, you need to explain that, and the differences, to the players before you start.

      Now, if you want to talk about probabilities and universes…

      Lets take a simple calculation of universes (If you’d like an introductory explanation of this sort of thing, there’s a good one over here; ).

      One minimal step through shadow from earth offers access to roughly ten to the tenth to the one-hundred-and fifteenth power universes which differ from earth’s universe by one subatomic particle or photon somewhere in the observable universe. A universe where the only difference is in the shade of a particular flower will involve many billions of differing subatomic particles – and thus will raise that number, which is already too big to actually contain in the universe if you wrote it out, by another power of several billion.

      Now we can throw in the universes which differ by slight variations in the constants of physics or entirely different physical laws – an even larger number, each with it’s own similar set of variants. All one minimal possible step through shadow away.

      If you want to bring in “probabilities”, then what the rules are telling us is that an Amberite taking a single step across shadow is gathering and sorting information, and manipulating probability, on a scale that would make totally reshaping a universe like earths a task far more trivial for one of them than pushing aside an air molecule is to you.

      The playable compromise, of course, is that only the universes that Amberites focus on, and spend time and effort on, acquire any kind of substantial existence – that a character moving across shadow to a realm of his or her desire is effectively calling it into existence, which may indeed require a good deal of work and effort.

  4. I have always tended more toward the former play style than the latter, at least superficially. But in reality the former trick would take a long time to set up and could still be fairly easily dealt with by some persuers. Any follower with shadow shifting ability would simply not shift shadow into the path of destruction, either following a paralel path through a nearby shadow, or altering the nature of the shadow in question so as to change the timing of the pulsar. Creatures that merely have shadow seek to use to chase through shadow would fall prey to the trap unless they had some level of psychic sense to warn them, in which case they, too, would seek out a shdow path that took them safely toward their prey. The ferry trick works much more quickly and dependably, but would be very unlikely to have any greater effect than buying a few minutes or hours. Much like Random’s flight from Brand’s prison to Flora’s place.

    • Oh both styles work just fine – you just need to let the players know what you’re expecting in advance.

      And it’s certainly easy enough for characters with the proper abilities to bypass either trap – most simply, by having some method of surviving it. It doesn’t necessarily take much time to set up either trap though; it all depends on whether or not the would-be trapper has invested in the appropriate abilities or resources. I’ve seen quite a few characters – for example, some with extensive control of a limited group of shadows but a poor ability to move through or manipulate shadow locally – who would have an easier time setting up the pulsar stunt than they would have finding a local reality with a set of thugs and a ferry handy.

      Creatures with independent shadow shifting abilities do not necessarily have to follow you to find you in shadow – but there are a lot of would-be trackers out there who have no such ability. Secondarily, you may not see a danger if you’re not looking for it. As shown in the novels – for example, Benedict – even elders of amber can stumble into simple traps.

      Now, anyone “who alters the nature of the shadow” has either (a) stepped into another, nearby, shadow, or (b) spent the time and effort to use a power capable of restructuring shadow. In either case, they have now lost the immediate trail, whether due to leaving it or due to both delaying and changing it – and our trapper has accomplished his goal for the moment.

      Shadow Seek, of course, does not include safety – merely the ability to move through shadow, and with no particular speed or directness either. If a shadow seeker loses the trail of someone who is actively moving through shadow – even if they’re only using shadow seek, rather than using a superior power – it’s quite possible that they may never catch up. shadow seek is not safe.

      Still, while the in-game difficulty of any given action depends on the characters in question, the pulsar stunt does take a good deal more work from the player.

  5. […] There’s an earlier article on the distinction between the implied rules of the source material and the actual rules of the game over HERE. […]

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