Amber was mentioned on the Discord today.
I played a lot of Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game (1991) right after it was released. It was our favorite and most played game for two years, and even after that we would look back to those sessions as the high points of our gaming from this era (our group started playing in the late 1980s and continued through 1999; we didn’t play anything again until Champions Now in 2020).
At 30 years removed, the details of our play are pretty cloudy. I also haven’t looked closely at the text in years, so am not sure how much of it we tried to follow and how much of it we ignored. Here are some general impressions:
We played two campaigns (as we called them) during consecutive summer vacations. I was Game Master for both campaigns. At the beginning of our play, I was the only one who had read any of the Amber novels at that time, though I had encountered them only recently before the game had been published. I think some of the other people in the group ended up reading a couple later on after being inspired by the game. Partly because of this, we had no particular interest in the canonical characters from a fandom-like perspective and so they and their activities from the novels did not play much of a role in our game.
I recall the first campaign being a lot of fun for me as a GM. We ran it very much in a player-versus-player style (which is also how we played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, for what that is worth), with me acting as a Diplomacy-style referee. Looking back on it now, I think a lot of our play had genuine bounce, which was provided by the players scheming and then having to announce actions without having complete information about the entire situation.
For the second campaign, I remember having more literary ambitions for the game. This was less player-versus-player and more me leading them through a pre-planned story. I had an outline of where I wanted things to go, and it was during these games that I really fell into the habit of making use of improvised continuity. This was much more work for me and was less fun. I remember feeling let down that what we achieved didn’t match my pre-planned goals in terms of literary quality. However, the people I was playing with loved it and said they thought it was better than the first campaign. (They still mention it to this day).
The habits I developed playing Amber affected all of my play from then until 1999, when I officially gave up on role-playing (which lasted until finding the Forge a few years later). Amber was definitely a turning point for me in my participation in the activity, and mostly not a positive one. Having said that, I do think there were good things in the system and if we had stuck to the player-versus-player elements and I hadn’t let my ambition to Game Master us into a fantasy novel overtake our gaming we all could have enjoyed playing it for longer.