Some vague memories of player Amber Diceless Roleplaying

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.

, ,

24 responses to “Some vague memories of player Amber Diceless Roleplaying”

  1. PvP

    My only experience with Amber is the time I accidentally wandered into Amber LARP the first time I went back to a convention in my early 20s. Based on that experience, plus having sort-of glanced in Amber's direction a couple of times I'm not surprised that the PvP centered game worked the best.

    I have always had the impression that Amber was very PvP focused based on the fact that everything is so numerically heirachical.  I know that I can't beat that guy in straight up fight but I know that other guy can.  So what can I offer him in return for championing me in a duel?  And so on.

    • I know what you mean about

      I know what you mean about "impression," because whenever anyone talks about Amber, alleged "PvP" is all that anyone can talk about. However, as I mentioned below, this is an artifact of some odd and specific things that happened with and to the game during the five years after it was published. The text is not more nor less concerned with player-character conflict than any other, procedurally. Whether the content brings it forward, well, sure, but that's the case with a lot of games, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first in line, and I see no default or necessity in doing so in Amber, any more so than for any of those.

      We really ought to talk about that bit of hobby jargon anyway. As with some many other things, has been distorted through the lens of other activities and glued back onto role-playing in limited and weird forms. If we lose the notion of the 'tac-squad or homicide investigation team as default for play, and if we lose the notion that "says" is the overriding factor of any procedures ("GM says," or, no dice means "I get to say"), then conflicts among player-characters are merely more content and no particular topic of interest.

  2. Similar(ish) Experiences

    My experiences with Amber were somewhat similar to your own. 

    Same sort of time period – the fag-end of my university and post-university years. Still living in the university town, some friends still studying, some not. Amusingly, everything about the people and context could have come straight out of Ron’s recently shared work in progress, Shine A Light. In any event, it was definitely a case of “we’re doing this thing, here, with these people”. 

    It was just two players plus me as GM. 
    We’d all read the books, we were all very much into it – enjoying the interactions with the older Amberites, the parents, uncles, aunts, seeing the sights, doing the cool stuff with the powers, visiting the places, all that jazz.

    I could always see from the rules that this was meant to have a current of contention between the players running through everything but that wasn’t how we played it. Possibly due to the small group, or simply preference, the tensions were squarely NPC-based – family shenanigans and betrayals and reversals for sure, but none of it between the players.

    I don’t recall a lot of the play in detail. I’m certain it was highly illusionist and ‘intuitive continuity’-based because that’s what I knew to do back then, although I certainly do remember making notes between sessions about how NPCs would react to what the players had done, without any intention to script outcomes for future play.

    The resolution approach is so completely “the GM decides based on relative stats and ‘logical, common sense’ outcomes” that it’s hard to say if we followed the rules as written or not. 
    I remember a constant triangulation process of “who’s got the higher stat … who’s in a better position or generally or specifically advantaged … who’s got Good Stuff (luck points, things-tend-to-go-well points) … ” and describing the changes in situation beat by beat. I think that’s probably how it was meant to work.

    I know we went by the book on character creation, especially the point buys on items and other Cool Stuff to make and build, although the initial auction for stats was very low key.

    I remember in particular how it felt very sociable and engaging to play. No dice, so we didn’t need a table. We could just sit in the lounge in comfy chairs and kind of extend our imaginations into that space between us. That easy (or intense) conversational quality that our sessions of Amber encouraged was poles apart from previous experiences playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with the same people as part of a larger group of friends.

    The one moment of play that sticks in my mind even now – perhaps because it was what I’d point at as Story Now kind of play these days – was when one character decided, goddammit it, he was going to fight his own father, for real, death or damnation, high on a rope bridge above an abyss (or possibly *The* Abyss), for what was the culmination of a whole parcel of excellent reasons and high family melodrama. (His dad was a dick. That’s probably the short version.) He was skilled but outclassed, naturally, but just didn’t care at that point. The player did all the normal cinematic things you might expect – as the duel devolved he cut bridge, needless to say, and quite right too. The fight climaxed vividly with these two, basically fully armoured knights, hanging from the tatters of the broken bridge, still grimly hacking away at each other. The father (Julian, for anyone keeping score at home) was holding onto the bridge with one hand … the player was gripping Julian’s leg or belt or something, his feet dangling into the void. It was all over. The player had lost. 
    And I remember that he fell silent for a moment. 
    Then declared that he was hacking off his father’s hand so they’d both fall into the abyss.

    At that point I didn’t care what the points said, he was definitely going to be succeeding and we all lost our minds at how perfect and awesome it was. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, hell yes, it was everything all balled up in there and we loved it.

    We may have played on after that but I don’t think we ever topped what remains one of my fondest gaming memories.

    So Amber lives in a very warm place in my heart. 
    It was the game of a very particular place and time of my life (what, more than 30 years ago, now? Surely not. Yesterday. It was just yesterday.)

    I still have the rule book and the supplement on a shelf upstairs – and a collection Amberzines, for that matter – even though I’m not sure I’ve cracked any of the covers since we played it last. 

    Typing this, I’m now curious to wonder if I’d play it again.
    Mayyyybe …?
    It would be interesting, perhaps, to experience it with different people, with me being a different person, decades of gaming and life in general behind me now.

    Is it a good game? Of course I have no idea and I’m not actually that sure I want to find out.
    It was *our* game, you know? And it worked for us, for all the values of ‘worked’ that mattered at the time.

  3. Story based works as well

    I recently ran an Amber Campaign for my small group of friends (just 3 of us now). It had its rough spots as both players are die hard dice rolling fans, but they gave it try.

    With just 2 players and a host of NPCs (all who were children of the Elder Amberites), doing a PvP setting would not have worked as one player would've dominated the other player.

    Using the suggestion mentioned in the Amber Rule book, I made sure both players took the Pattern ability for 50 points and had the NPCs do the same thing. I let them come up with backgrounds for their characters and then chose a parent for each of them based on their back-story. I then ran them through about 3 main story lines before the game finally died out.

    One player flurished as he was able to fall in love with his character. He took every obsticle that I threw at him as a challenge for his character to overcome. His character always stayed true to himself, but learned there was a time to change and accepted those times.

    The other player remained a one trick pony and never could get over the no dice involved concept. He reacted in ways that were not logical for his character and it became increasingly hard to involve him into the story. 

    Still, it was  a good time and I finally got to see Amber in action for an extended period of time.

    Side note as I am sure everyone has a different view on some of the rules. I never felt it made sense (at least of younger Amberites) to be "the best" at anything base on relatively low Attributes over all. Say for example 2 players are close in strength. The player with the higher starting strength enjoys living a life of luxury and lounges around for years. The player right behind him, constantly works out and even trains with Gerard for the same amount of years. It would only make sense that the 2nd player would overtake his sibling in the Strength category. But this is just my opinion.

    All of that said, I would love to be a player in an Amber game (I fell in love with one of my NPCs and would love to play him someday), but have no idea where to look for finding a game.

    • Hi! I’m glad you commented,

      Hi! I'm glad you commented, because I didn't get my thoughts together, or in sync with motivation, enough to contribute earlier. You mentioned a few things which helped my thinking click, and I'm interested in how they might apply to your experience.

      One of the core points of play – as I see it – is that "dice!!!" as a concept doesn't break into a major dichotomy between using them vs. not using them. I can see why the role-playing culture seized on this concept in the 1980s, i.e., conceiving play as defined by this dichotomy ("roll vs. role"), but I think it was a bad road. 

      For example, regarding Amber and any other game which uses no physical instruments, the questions are:

      • How do we know we've reached a point of uncertainty (knowledge, danger, whatever), then …
      • What shift in procedures do we undertake for at least some things to become certain (realizations/failure, safety/harm, etc), then …
      • What "new now" is the case, in the wake of the outcomes?

      You may notice something: that these are the same questions for a game which does use physical instruments – dice, whatever. Any of these bullets may or may not utilize them, per given design/title. 

      Therefore the issue is much more important than "dice or not." It is whether whatever procedures we use accomplish those necessary things in some way. For the record, my experiences with Amber suggest that the text romanticizes the lack of dice at the expense of necessary how-to, but not fatally so. A group can decide what to do, and if they want, to try to read between the lines a little.

      In your case, three storylines is substantial, certainly enough to think about what you collectively did so those bullets happened. I'd like to know more about that.

      Regarding "between the lines," I knew Erick only briefly but I think I got some idea from him about that perspective, and where I might like to go with it. I really wish we'd had a chance to play together, not just Amber but Champions and Sorcerer too.

      However, the real problem is what the play-culture afterwards did with it, shifting into LARP, which is much more of a director-controlled theatrical experience, and then retconning the RPG into LARPing sitting down. The obsession with "PvP" comes from there, for example, not from anything intrinsic to the game and its textual procedures.

      [Endnote for people who've taken the Numeracy course: also, dice or not, Amber is chock-full of math, worth reviewing and assessing.]

    • Hi Ron. I wasn’t expecting a

      Hi Ron. I wasn't expecting a response this soon. I am new to this site so I hope I am doing this right (by hitting reply to my original post and hoping it puts this response below your reply to me).

      My campaign began about 50 years after the Amber Books ended and were based on my interpretation on how the books had progressed and also consider that I read the books about 30 years ago so I might have forgetten a few things. Example would be that in the Corwin Saga there was a lot of back-stabbing and plotting by the family members against other family members until the Unicorn laid the Jewel of Judgement at Random's feet making him king. I do seem to remember that in the Merlin Saga that the family accepted (or the majority of them did) Random's rule and that he was actually a very good king. So in those 50 years, the family was slowly coming more together, but doesn't mean they didn't have their issues. A number of the family had children. Mostly from flings in different shadows, but some actually did fall in love (similar to Random and his wife). 

      I used the player's background (and the NPCs backgrounds to assign parents who would most likley fit those backgrounds best). Some of the children loved their parents, one of the players at the start didn't know who his parent was and some grew distant from their parents (the other player included) and one NPC downright hated his parents.

      The campaign began when the players were informed that the Elders have disappeared to foul play. Most were out in shadow, but 1 was abducted from the Forrest of Arden (Julian) and 2 from Castle Amber (Gerard & Caine who happened to be the 2 player's parents). The children assembled at the Castle and had to decide on number of things. Who abducted the Elders (and where at), how to find the Elders (if they were still alive) and who was going to be the acting King/Queen until the Elders were found.

      Some of the bullets you meantioned were discovering the return of the Black Road (or the Tar road in my campaign–close but not exactly the same), traveling to Chaos to investigate (since Amber and Chaos had a truce in effect), finding out that one of the NPC children was behind the whole series of events (but he was under mind control by Brand who was brought back to life), being captured and held prisoner by that NPC (with the other NPC children, The Elders and the rightful Queen of Chaos with her #1 general of Chaos), escaping the prison, reclaiming Chaos for the rightful Queen, battling Brand and the forces of evil that he had assembled and then wrapping it all up where the children who were not on best of terms with their parents got to heal some old wounds.

      Through the above adventure, that is where I found out which player was in love with his character and which one wasn't. Throughout the rest of the other 2 adventures I ran, I found it harder and harder to involve the character who wasn't in love with his character and his character didn't grow nearly as much as the one who loved his character. Or put in another way, I had 2 players who are "dice must be rolled", 1 put effort in learning the diceless game and the other hung onto the "dice must be rolled philosophy". 

      There were many highlights of the 1st storyline (mostly involving the player who loved his character), but my favorite was when the player who loved his character (and had grown distant from his Father (Caine, who was captain of the armed forces of Amber/Chaos during the battle against Brand and his army) came back together. It was after a military ceremony cebebrating the victory and honoring those whose heroism went far and above the call of duty. As it was disbanding, Caine called his son's name and said "I have one more order for you before you are dismissed". The player who always hated his dad's military demeanor was like "What?"…Caine continued "Give your old man a hug". — There in the courtyard, the hardened military commander and the player (whose background was all about him learning to control his emotions and being able to focus his rage into performing great feats), hugged it out, tears flowing and not caring that there were many people still around to witness the event. 

      One thing that did work was making everyone take pattern. That gave them limited points towards stats/items/companions and kept things a bit more balanced. I didn't run the auction because with only 2 people, it would not have accomplished much. After my 2 players built their characters, I assigned points to their other siblings (my NPCs). Since one of the players was focused on hand to hand combat (strength), I made sure he started in the top rank of that as not to step on his toes.

      I hope this is the information you were after and that I answered all of your questions. If not, let me know. 

      Also, it would be nice to be able to play the game not as GM. Thankfully, due to computers and certain cam programs (like Skype, Zoom, etc), location of the players is not as important as it was 30 years ago.  Finding folks interested would still be an issue though as I am not sure how big the Amber community still is.


    • Hi Chris! Glad to see you

      Hi Chris! Glad to see you commenting. 


      • How do we know we've reached a point of uncertainty (knowledge, danger, whatever), then …
      • What shift in procedures do we undertake for at least some things to become certain (realizations/failure, safety/harm, etc), then …
      • What "new now" is the case, in the wake of the outcomes?

      I won't presume to explain what Ron means, I'll let him do that. But here's what would help me out. Basically, you know how you come across a situation in playing a game like D&D where either the GM or somebody else says, "ok, time to make a <insert type> roll." We do this because there's some uncertainty – is the thief gonna pick the lock? Is the fighter gonna hit the troll with the sword? and rolling the dice helps us decide what happens. After that, the situation has changed, at least a little. 

      So when you were playing Amber, what did you do in that sort of situation? Can you think back to, say, a specific combat in the game, or maybe a tense verbal confrontation, where you started out not knowing what was going to happen? Then you and the players did stuff, and things changed- one character won the fight, or one character was persuaded to do something. Can you describe what you and your players did? Going through a specific example or examples would be awesome and really helpful. 

  4. Hi Dreamofpeace.

    Hi Dreamofpeace.

    Of course, you know in Amber that the players are usually more powerful than their non-Aberite foes, but there are times to insert foes who are the exception to the rule (whether it is a single foe or just the sheer number of foes to try to overwhelm the Amberite. 

    A few examples of how my players effected changes in the game:

    Near the start of my campaign, the childern of the Elder had to pick an acting king til they knew one way or another if the Elders were still alive. I figured at least one of them would vie for that spot, but neither did (even though the player who loved his character would've been good in that position, his background stated he really hated all of the royal politics stuff). So I figured, o.k. that didn't work, I'll have the NPC who was being mind controlled be king, but the player who hated a different NPC figured that person should be acting king (just to keep him out of his hair) In the end, it worked out because the mind controlled NPC ended up taking over as acting captain of the guard. I had not planned on any of the above happening when I started my game.

    However, when it was time to send an emissary to Chaos to try to find out information on the Tar Road, he volunteered for the task and took the other player with him. The NPC children who I was planning on sending for that might have recognized the Queen of Chaos was an imposter as a few of them had met the real Queen, neither of the players had been to Chaos before. This also worked out in the long run as the player became really close to the captain of the guard of Chaos in their short stay in Chaos and he became a regular NPC throughout the rest of the game. Something I had not planned on as well.

    As for combat, I'd say the main example would have been during the Amber/Chaos vs Army of Brand war. The player who loved his character was resuming his part in the battle after a brief rest period. 3 of the elite forces of Brand could take on any Amberite (save perhaps Gerard) in a Hand-to-Hand or Warfare fight. The player spotted 10 of these creatures sneaking out of a cave after King Random and his personal guard have passed the cave (Naturally the King's position was not at the front of the line and Random was not a main combatant). The player had a choice. Either let Random get killed or risk his own life (and that of his Animal Companion) intercepting the 10 creatures. Even though it meant almost certain death, the player and his companion charged the 10 creatures. They killed 6 of them, buying Random's guards the time to respond to finish off the remaining 4. The player and his companion took some severe damage but they saved the King. To be fair, I had the feeling my player would choose to save the king, but had he not, it would've proved interesting to say the least. LOL.

    Any tense verbal conversations usually occured when either player were initially dealing with their dads. One player and his dad didn't see eye to eye and the player hated the way his dad always treated him like he was a soldier in the military after the player's mom (dads wife) died. His dad was one of the few Amberites who actually loved his wife and her death kind of sent him off of the deep end which drove the wedge between the player and his dad (background story). I never knew how that would turn out until after the "hug & tears in the courtyard" mentioned above in my reply to Ron. The other player's dad had an illicit affair and eventually the player was raised in an orphanage with only the dad and Fiona knowing the whole story/truth. None of the other siblings or even Elders knew the player even existed pre-game. The player and his dad both worried if the other one would accept them after all of the events that happened. This is the one time where the player who didn't love his character actually showed a little intrest and it could've gone either way.

    The rule book provides a good example of a group trying to pick a lock. In my game, if the players didn't have the skill to do something (one player didn't know how to use a computer on shadow Earth), either the other player knew how or they could find a sibling who did. They were not afraid to ask for help. Also in Amber, skills cost no points. If it makes sense for the character to know it through their background or through the gaming sessions, they have the skill. And if they don't know a skill that they want, if they have time, they can travel to a shadow that moves faster than Amber time (I made Amber time and shadow Earth time the same for easier reference) and learn that skill. Example from the actual books and also the Rule Book is that all of the Elders are skilled physicians. 

    So different than rolling dice like in D&D, but a lot the same as well. Whether or not the character succeeds or even decides to try something is going to have an effect on the world or the situation. The only problem I have with dice is not the using it to see if you hit something or do a difficult task right, its when you have to roll to do something that is so mundane that even the player himself could do it in real life and the character easily do it. Like tying my brother (in game) shoes together while he was sleeping as a joke. I could see rolling if I was able to sneak up on him or not wake him, but not for rolling to see if I tied the shoes together. Which I rolled a nat 20 on and lead to some comedic events, but still, you know what I mean. My char had a 16 Dex (where in RL I have about a 3 Dex, but could still tie someone's shoes together without thinking twice).

    I hope this is what you were after and I gave at least 1 example that helps. Pardon the typos and grammar errors. hehe.

    • So with regard to

      So with regard to

      The player had a choice. Either let Random get killed or risk his own life (and that of his Animal Companion) intercepting the 10 creatures. Even though it meant almost certain death, the player and his companion charged the 10 creatures. They killed 6 of them, buying Random's guards the time to respond to finish off the remaining 4. The player and his companion took some severe damage but they saved the King.

      I'm interested in the details of how this happened. What did you and the players do that led to this outcome? In D&D, we would have rolled initiative, made attack and damage rolls, etc. and based on how those turned out we would determine who was hurt and who was dead. What did you folks do, in this case? 

    • The situation was after 3

      The situation was after 3 days of non-stop fighting the forces of Amber/Chaos had push the final remaining forces of Brand's Army into a large valley.  As the Amber/Chaos forces were moving in, 10 of the Monsters (best describes the beasts that 3 were more than the equal than most Amberites) were hiding out in a cave. As the King's group moved past, the monsters came out of the cave and were planning their ambush. – Side note is that each of the monsters had a breath weapon that was like acid and were planning on spraying the King and his group. (and yes, the players knew of this ability). That is when the player spotted the monsters.

      Naturally in D&D there would have been a Hide Roll for the monsters and then a Move Silently Roll, the King's group would have each made a spot check and a listen check, the player would have needed to make a spot check and after all of this, an Initiative Roll. All this going on while all around this area fighting was going on (so any allies in the area would have also had to make a spot check).

      Any game is definitely centered around the player, so for this (and in an Amber game) the GM sets the scene. The King's group passes this area and a group of 10 monsters sneak out from a cave behind them and looks like they are about to launch their breath weapon attack (all 10 of them which would definitely kill the King and many of his group) and the player spots this.

      The player doesn't have time to think. Its charge in and interrupt the monsters even though it may cost him is life or let the King and many of his group die.

      Since a single Amberite is generally better than a single monster the player got to make the next move and it lets the player makes the choice on what to do–if the monsters just were able to go first, there would be no choice for the player to make, the King would be dead. So once again, it is a GM decission to help move the story along and give the player a chance to shine.

      Next for the battle. The player (and his companion) had a slight element of surprise. As stated above, 3 monsters were more than a match for the player and the player's companion was a beast as well so I used the same number 3 monsters were more than a match for it.

      However, due to the surprise the player and his companion were able to slay 3 monsters each (leaving just 4), but they were so outnumbered, that the player and his companion took some serious damage as well. But their act of bravery gave the King's group the time to spot the monsters and they were more than a match for the remaining 4 monsters.

      Since there was a full blown war going on, this was just a little highlight that got special attention. To describe every single battle the players fought for 3 days would have taken forever. However, in a one on one battle, most combat in Amber is decided on one of the attributes. Either Warfare, Psych, Strength, Endurance. A human would lose badly to a minion of Chaos, A minion of Chaos is weaker than a normal Amberite. A normal Amberite is weaker than a member of the Royal Family of Amber (and that is what the players are).

      So say 2 members of the Royal Family are fighting hand to hand. In most situations the player with the higher strength would win. If the strengths are fairly close, the one with the most strength would still win under most circumstances, however, if the one with the lower strength had a higher endurance, he could fight defensively to try to tire out and wear down the one with the higher strength. One on one battles can be described with a little more detail depending on what the players choose to do.

      Hope this helps out.

  5. What was the procedure? 

    What was the procedure? 

    Hi Chris, I'm having a hard time understanding how key moments in play were decided. Let me focus on one single decision that affected play.

    "That is when the player spotted the monsters."

    How was that decided? What procedure was followed to decide that the players spotted the monsters at this point? Did you compare stats? Did it depend on what the players said they were doing? Did the GM simple decide this was what happened without reference to player action or game stats?

    • I’m stepping in to emphasize

      I'm stepping in to emphasize to Chris that this degree of examination is voluntary. A lot of us here are used to it and have developed a vocabulary, but it's not an interrogation and you don't have to prove or justify anything.

    • Hi Alan.

      Hi Alan.

      It was mainly part of the storyline that gave the character a chance to shine. But the choice of how to or even to engage the monsters was up the player.

      I guess stats could've played a part in it since it had been mentioned before that members of the Royal Family of Amber are far superior to most other denizens of the universe. 

      But at the time of the spotting the player battling small pockets of the remaining enemy forces (less powerful than the monsters that were going to attack the king) that got caught behind the lines of the Amber/Chaos forces.

      I am guessing the situation would be the same in D&D (which I do play). Sure, the DM would have the players roll a spot, listen and/or search check if it was just a band of orcs trying to ambush the party. The results of those check would give an edge to one side or another at the start of combat. However, for something as important as "A group of orcs sneaking up on the King (or other important being that is vital for the campaign's storyline)" no roll would be made to spot them. 

      Hope this clarifies things.

  6. Thank you, Ron.

    I am actually enjoying answering the questions since there is a big difference between dice games and diceless games. 

    Dice games depend on a random oddly shaped piece of plastic with numbers on it to resolve virtually everything.

    Diceless games depend more on the GM's interpretation of how events flow depending on the players actions.

    Both are fun and have their merits.

    Both have their flaws as well.

    Dice games can become "Roll-playing games" instead of a Role-playing game.

    Diceless games can depend too much on GM interpretations.

    I enjoy both (new D&D campaign with my group starting next Thursday and I can't wait). However, now that I've ran a diceless game, I would love to be able to play in one and see how a different GM handles it. I am sure I made a ton of mistakes since I was doing something completely new for me.

  7. As GM I enjoy not always

    As GM I enjoy not always knowing how player actions are going to turn out. My memory of the Amber rules puts the GM in the position of making all decisions about outcomes. What stops the GM from just making events go the way he wants them to?

    • Good question. I did mention

      Good question. I did mention that one of the flaws in a diceless game is that everything decided is an interpretation of GM (based on attritbutes (stats), player's backstories, player's actions and storylines). However, "what stops of GM from just making events go the way he wants them to?" is pretty much the same way in any game. The players are very unpredictable. There were many times in the game I ran that the players had different ideas than I thought they would. No player (only 2 of them) wanted to be king. Choosing a different NPC sibling to be king than I planned for after that. The players volunteering to be the emisary to Chaos instead of the NPCs I had chosen for the task (I only did that because the players didn't seem to be interested in that type of thing from their backstories and previous gaming sessions).The latter really caught me off guard and I ended up having to create the whole trip to chaos.

      However, in any game certain things do have to happen (or the GM will have to throw in a new encounter to get the players back on track) or the story doesn't continue. An example would be the D&D campaign that my group is about to start. 3 series of adventures that are geared for levels 4 – 17. After the DM gets us to level 4 we enter the adventure he has from a set of books. If our actions and/or the results from any failed dice rolls deviate from the goals set in the book the game hits a roadblock or even could end all together unless the DM does something to correct the deviation. Even the most well thought out and planned module can't cover a contingency plan for every possible action the players might take or even cover everything that the dice results might produce.


    • Hi Chris, thanks for replying

      Hi Chris, thanks for replying and having patience with all our questions, I appreciate it. 


      However, "what stops of GM from just making events go the way he wants them to?" is pretty much the same way in any game.

      Well, I think there are some differences. First, let's look at the  scale of resolving a particular action. If we're playing, say, The Pool, and we want to know whether your character jumps from one rooftop to another, you roll some dice. Now from the moment you pick up the dice and until they stop rolling, no one knows what the outcome will be; no one person controls it. And after the dice stop rolling, in the Pool there's a mechanism whereby the player can narrate the outcome instead of the GM in some cases. The distribution of authorities looks different in Amber, where one person has the authority for determining the outcome, and narrating it. 


    • Now let’s look at the larger

      Now let's look at the larger scale of "the story." You mentioned:

      However, in any game certain things do have to happen (or the GM will have to throw in a new encounter to get the players back on track) or the story doesn't continue.

      Now, this is also what I used to think. One of the biggest lessons I've learned by participating at Adeptplay, is that this is not the only way to run games, and in fact it isn't the way I find most enjoyable. 

      Let me be clear that I'm not criticizing you; the way you describe a GM running a module and so on is how I used to do things, and it's the standard way GMing is discussed in most places, or at least more often than not. Your fun is not wrong! 

      I just want to mention there's another way of doing things, where nothing ever "has to happen for the story to continue." Some of us here refer to this alternative as Story Now. For me, it's made GMing so much more fun and relaxing, I feel like I'm really playing a game instead of managing people. Anyway, if you're interested in this topic – and there's no reason you have to be – you might want to search this site for "Story Now" and "intuitive continuity". I'm sure we'll be happy to discuss this more if it catches your interest. 

    • Hey Dreamofpeace!

      Hey Dreamofpeace!

      Very good points. I am not sure if I mentioned before that in Amber, pretty much in most situations, that if an Amberite has a skill he/she will succeed on performing that skill (unless there is something in the setting that would make it more difficult). Like in the case of jumping from rooftop to rooftop the players can easily do it. Add perhaps, an icy patch on one of the rooftops depending on the character's luck (which I didn't delve too much into in my game) the chance of success might decrease.

      Amberites are extremely physically gifted as well. A normal amberite can throw a small car across the street. A member of the Royal Family even further or a large car. Gerard (NPC elder) has the highest strength by far and could probably toss a semi-truck across the street if not even further.

      They also live an incredibly long time. But it doesn't mean they can't be challenged or that they are invulnerable. Bullets can still kill them as can falling large distances. They can be poisoned (this is how I captured the Elders at the start of my campaign by poisoning them in various ways whether it was in their drinks, their smokes, their food, a dart). They can get drunk. Drugs can effect them. Also, they don't know every skill. One of my players couldn't drive a car or even use a computer due to his background story. LOL, one player had to describe what a movie was to him and he never seen a T.V. set.

    • As for your “Story Now” post.

      As for your "Story Now" post. That does sound interesting.

      I know in my campaign, I kind of tried the "Story Now" idea during the downtime between any major events. I actually gave my players a chance to do whatever they wanted. Since Amberites can travel basically to anywhere through shadow (including shadow Earth) they could have picked anywhere from tech as low as the stone age to Star Wars tech. Note this is not time travel (like Dr. Who). Just different shadows that are in differents stages of technology. Sadly, this was a concept beyond the players abilities or at least one of the players as he was used to the more stable way of playing through Modules. The other player, who took the time to read through the Amber Chronicles to help him understand the world more (plus, he just can't put down a book til he is done reading it), in character went back to his life on Shadow Earth which he was Head Master of a martial arts school in a valley hidden in the mountains of China. He knew eventually that he could not do that forever, but for the time being, that is what his character was interested in.

      I, on the other hand, would be interested in reading more on the Story Now subject as I kind of a believe in the Story is more important than just the combat parts. That goes for either dice games or diceless games.

    • Hi Chris, I like all the

      Hi Chris, I like all the details you describe, it sounds like y'all had a lot of fun with that Amber game. 

      Now as for Story Now, I feel it would be presumptuous of me to say what it is, and I'll leave that to Ron. Do you have his game Trollbabe? That and the Annotated Sorcerer are good references. For now, I'll just say what I'd been doing lately that seems to have been working for me, in case it might be of interest.

      So to prep for a game, I never plan any events, except perhaps for the initial introduction. What I do first is figure out a core conflict that I find interesting, that I think the players would want to get involved in. There might be an innocent in trouble, for example, or valuable treasures available that several parties are interested in, and so on. For example, in my latest Tunnels & Trolls adventure, I had people being abducted by evil elven forces, to be drained of their life force for nefarious purposes, and some coveted magical items.

      Next, I create two or more factions of NPCs, with understandable (possibly evil, possibly not) motives, that are in conflict; I flesh out a few of these NPCs with more details, enough for me to play them fully as characters. Their conflict will be related to (or at least influence) the central conflict I mentioned earlier. In the T&T game, the elves are being challenged by the indigenous mycosapiens (mushroom people) of the mountain, and there are NPCs with differing motives among both the elves and the mycosapiens.

      Then I create some locations, where these conflicts are taking place. The locations should have features that lend themselves to play, that suggest action, strategies, dangers, and so on. In my Tunnels & Trolls game, these locations are, as you might expect, levels of a dungeon. In a sci-fi game, these could be space stations, ships, areas on a planet, etc.

      Finally, I come up with an introductory scene, that will inform the players about the core conflict. In my recent T&T session, this was a tearful girl who had escaped the dungeon, telling the PCs about what she’d seen inside (people being drained of blood, and glowing magical crystals).

      And that’s it. My prep is done. I now have all the tools I need to run the game, and other than the introduction, I haven’t planned a single event. Nothing needs to happen for the game to proceed – I ask the players what they do, play the NPCs like my own characters as they react to the PCs, call for rolls when appropriate, and proceed from there. The next scene proceeds logically from what happens in the current one, given my knowledge of the situation, including the motives of the NPCs and what they’re aware of.

      For example, in my T&T game, the PCs just ran into an Orc slave patrol; they defeated the orcs and freed the slaves, but one of the orcs escaped. Naturally, the orc will report the intruders, and the elven commanders will issue certain orders. Where will the players go next? How much time will they take to do so? What the next scene will be is determined by a confluence of all these factors – not because I need or want the PCs to experience a certain specific encounter.

      Does that make sense? Hope you found it useful or at least interesting.

    • I also want to say there’s a

      I also want to say there's a lot of other techniques out there that I didn't mention, like tripwires (basically reminders that if X happens then Y happens), Bangs (incidents the players can't ignore), and related topics like Ron's analysis of Situation and backstory. But I hope this is a good place to start…

    • Hey Dreamofpeace!

      Hey Dreamofpeace!

      I really enjoyed going over some of the things that happened in my attempt to run the Amber game and answering the questions.

      As for Trollbane or any other games that are listed on this site, I never heard of them before. I have a lot of reading to catch up on.

      I am new to the site. To be honest, I found this site while looking online to see if anyone still played Amber and stumbled across it when I typo'd "How do I meat (yes, it should have been meet-face palm-lol) people who play Amber the diceless role-playing game" and the initial post on Amber popped up in my search. I really wasn't expecting a reply at all and definitely not as fast as I got one when I made my first comment.

      I would like to thank you, Ron & Alan for making me feel welcomed and for the questions on Amber.

Leave a Reply