|NOTE: The following are edited versions for emails sent to the players, archived here for reference.|
Amber is based on a series of books by Roger Zelazny, which begins with Nine Princes in Amber. Amber is the name of the one true world, of which all other are but Shadows. Any world you can imagine exists somewhere: crazy anime worlds, worlds full of monsters and vampires, our Earth... The royal family of Amber can walk between these Shadows thanks to their bloodline and the Pattern which clarifies the effects of that bloodline. The royals of Amber live forever unless something kills them, are stronger and more enduring than humans, and they're all mentally acute. Other than that, though, they're quite human, with passions that lead them to do foolish things.
Amber is a game where you have nearly infinite resources, and you can walk away from pretty much anything... So where do you choose to stay? The two constants in your life that you can never quite get away from are your immortal relatives and the land at the center of all roads, Amber, and so those are what you end up basing your life around.
Or we can just fight pirates. Alien pirates! Riding telepathic dragons! It's all good. ;)
The Amber system is the most successful of the diceless systems. In diceless play, things are resolved based on what the GMs and players involved think is reasonable, but it's not completely wavy and up in the air--there are stats. In Amber, the four stats are bought in an auction against all the other players, and the rank you end up with is the most important number on your character sheet. A higher-ranked character will win a contest in that stat against a lower-ranked character, barring outside influences and other stats that can be brought into the contest. The points you paid to get that rank aren't directly important at all; just the end result.
To start an Amber game, you're each given a certain number of character points (I'm thinking 120, it's a number with some stretch to it). There's an auction to buy the four stats (Psyche, Strength, Endurance, Warfare) and then any points you have left are used to buy powers like the ability to move through Shadow, or shapeshifting; and also to buy items and allies. It generally makes sense to rough out what powers you'd like to buy and what you'd like to spend for each stat in the auction, but to be ready change your plan so you can jump on anything that's going cheap. If you go over and spend more points than you have, the debit is converted to Bad Stuff, which is bad luck and bad first impressions. Conversely, if you end up spending less than you have, you can get Good Stuff.
It is possible for people to not bid, and instead secretly "buy up" in ranks later, but it means you're slightly less good... So if Psyche went 1st rank: 23 points, 2nd rank: 15 points, someone could pay 15 points to be ranked 2.5 in Psyche, or 23 points to be ranked 1.5 in Psyche. The first-ranked person is still going to beat someone at 1.5.
The auction serves several purposes aside from getting you guys ranks. The way you spend indicates what you want to see in the game... If everybody's putting points into Strength, I'm going to throw in a lot more bulls to wrestle. It means that stats you don't care about are cheap. How you bid gives suggestions about in-character rivalries: if Bill and Cynthia are fighting Warfare up to 70 and 71 points, it suggests their characters have been focused on outdoing each other in fights or strategy for a long time. It lets everyone know how good they are relative to each other, like you would if you'd all been working together for some time.
So one of the restrictions I'm putting on the possible games is that the player characters have to have some years of experience working together. There are two possible campaigns that fit this bill: the traditional "we are all unknown Amberites from one world, and we discover Amber and get embroiled in it" in which case you might be something like double-0 agents, or a crew of explorers, or whatever made sense based on the world you'd set up together... Or the equally traditional "we're the next generation of the Amber Royal family, and we've known each other in Amber for many years, even though we come from widely varying homelands."
What I'd like to do in the 0th session is for you guys to pick which campaign type you'd prefer, talk rules and such, and then we'd have an auction, and start talking about character ideas, and knitting it all together. If you want to start talking now, feel free.
So, as I've mentioned several times, the four attributes in Amber are Psyche, Strength, Endurance, and Warfare. The one-line sketch of each is
Every character starts at Amber level in the stats. If you don't bid in the auction, you can sell a stat down to "Chaos" level and get 10 points, or "Human" level and get 25 points. Chaos level will make you weaker than nearly all of your relatives in that stat; Human level will make you weak, period.
What does Amber level get you, then? It varies from GM to GM... Wujcik, who wrote the book, considered the Amberites to be alien asskickers. I feel they're much more human... Demigods, perhaps, like Odysseus or Hercules.
Psyche: Amberites are pretty clever. They have great memories: Corwin can remember what color dress Flora was wearing at a ball a hundred years ago. They have great senses. They are, to some faint degree, magical creatures. But in general, when it comes to picking up on things, they're pretty human. They do stupid things all the time, and believe what makes them look good no matter how ridiculous.
Strength: This is one of the areas where Amberites really are different. They can lift a lot more... Corwin easily lifted a 200-pound guy in armour and jogged with him for hours. Now, Corwin wasn't just Amber-ranked, but even an Amber-ranked character would be able to kick down doors and break things without much trouble at all. The Amberites also tend to be fast and graceful, and it takes a lot to make one stop coming at you.
Endurance: This would be the other area where Amberites are natually beyond human. They can regenerate limbs, and heal broken bones in weeks instead of months. An Amber-ranked character could trivially run a half-marathon, or sprint for 5 minutes.
Warfare: This is a learned thing, but Amberites have good basic training. With cleverness to pick a good strategy and a good physique to back it up, even a neophyte can often pull through a fight intact.
People in Shadow may well have better than Amber-level Warfare or Psyche. Creatures like bulls or bears have Amber-level Strength or better. And, of course, getting ganged up on is always dangerous. There is no Amberite, not even Benedict, who couldn't be killed in Shadow if he got cocky.
Psyche: is good for picking up subtle things, weaving them together, and presenting you with the outcome. (The birds stop singing, there are subliminal squishing sounds) something is about to jump out at you duck! Or, (he's looking to the side as he says it, his mother once lied to you with the same expression) he's lying there. It's empathy. When you get into the higher ranks, you may have something almost like sonar. It's very useful for when you have other powers, because it allows you to use them more cleverly.
Psyche also comes up when you're in a mental struggle, which is most likely if someone attacks you over Trump, but could also happen if you ran into an evil sorceror in Shadow. The ADRPG suggests that you can set up a Psyche link/battle by eye contact or touch, but that's BS.
Strength: it can get to be sort of like Chi, from martial arts flicks. High Strength lets you fall like a cat, flow like water, stand like a rock... It lets you better judge the capabilites of other creatures, once you know your own. It gives you the mass and tolerance to keep your wits when you've been grievously hurt. And it's pretty easy, in Amber, to get up to the level of Strength where you can use horses as clubs.
Endurance is a tie-breaker stat. If you can get a fight to last for more than a few minutes, Endurance becomes a larger and larger part of it. It's great combined with Shapeshifting, and useful with Sorcery as well. High Endurance lets you use tactics like "I'll skewer myself on his sword to get at him, and then do the same again tomorrow!"... Because by then you'll be better. You need at least Amber ranked Endurance to walk the Pattern, and if you're only Amber-ranked, you'd better have a good night's sleep and a meal behind you.
Warfare lets you figure out things tactically. A high-Psyche character would get a feeling it would be bad to stand there, a high-Warfare character would notice how easy it would be to drop the balcony onto that spot. Warfare good for figuring out where to put your scouts so they'll be able to give you the best possible information. It's good for collecting a cohesive group, and having them follow your orders. It's is good for aiming. And, of course, it's good for going through a pack of mooks like a whirling ginzu of death.
First off, 1st ranked is going to be somewhat cooler than any other rank. 1st vs 2nd is going to be a more distant fight than 2nd vs 3rd. A bit of that may be ameliorated by buying up to 1.5, but even so, if there's a cool thing to do that seems a bit unlikely, 1st will be able to do it while no one else really can.
Beyond that? I'm going to generally follow the steps laid out by Mike Sullivan in his alternate Amber system here:
A one rank difference (for example, 2 to 3) is considered a slight advantage. The more competent party will, all other things being equal, win a competition, but his victory will be neither quick, easy, nor without cost. Further, it is relatively easy to turn around a one rank advantage with either secondarily important attributes or with situational modifiers. A canonical example of a one rank difference in attributes might be Corwin and Eric's fight in Nine Princes in Amber. While Corwin has an advantage, he feels at one point that he will lose, and eventually, Eric is able to hold him off long enough for the guards to come.
A two rank advantage (for example, 2 to 4) is much more clear cut. While the two contestents are in the same general league, one has a serious advantage on the other, and will, if given some time and a relatively even playing field, probably win the contest handily and at little cost. However, it is certainly possible to turn around a two rank advantage, and the more competent contestent might even do himself in if he underestimates his opponent, by, for example, pressing an attack too hard, too early. A canonical example of a two rank difference might be Corwin and Benedict's fight in The Guns of Avalon. Corwin is able to ward off Benedict's attacks, and even wound Benedict slightly, but has to fight almost entirely defensively and would have eventually lost if he hadn't tricked Benedict with the black grass.
A three rank difference (for example, 2 to 5) is pretty much decisive. Victory will be relatively quick and simple, and only the most herculean efforts will turn around the advantage. A canonical example might be Corwin and Strygalldwir's fight in The Guns of Avalon. Corwin handily wounds Strygalldwir several times, and then, even after suffering a reversal and being disarmed when he goes for a death blow that isn't mortal to Strygalldwir's anatomy, he's able to handily win the fight without notable injury.
So! What about everything that doesn't fall under one of the stats? Sailing? Writing sonnets? Picking locks? That all depends on your background. Immortal Amberites have a lot of time to get to be competent at a lot of things, but not everyone is interested in everything. If you grew up a street rat and then went to med school, probably not so much with the sailing and sonnets. Though if you have a case for it, feel free...
There are five basic powers in Amber, but don't feel constrained if there's something you want that's not on the list. Like items, just give me an idea of what it is, and we'll work out a point cost.
The powers are Pattern, Trump, Shapeshifting, Logrus, and Magic. Pattern is the main source of the power of the royal family of Amber; it lets them walk through the Shadows and know them, and it protects them as they go. Trump is an odd duck, perhaps a blend of Pattern and magic: it lets you draw cards through which you can contact people mentally and go to them, or teleport to places. Shapeshifting allows you to change yourself into random people or animals, or sometimes into a magic thing. Logrus is the counterpart to Pattern, which is possibly Logrus 2.0. Logrus lets you seek out and grab things in Shadow and pull them to you or you to them. Magic refers to the stuff that has some basis in reality, so it works in many different Shadows.
Per the ADRPG, the costs are:
Pattern 50 --Advanced Pattern 25 Shapeshifting 35 --Advanced Shapeshifting 30 Logrus 45 (requires Shapeshifting) --Advanced Logrus 25 Trump 40 --Advanced Trump 20 Magic (broken into three parts) 45
However, those huge chunks can be a real drag, and doesn't allow for so much customization of characters. Also, parts of the power system, like Sorcery and Advance Pattern/Trump, are broken as heck. So here's a partial power system. The more points you have in a power, the faster you can do it, and the better you are all all parts of it.
Pattern 50 Have walked Pattern: Free, gives you specific Blood Curse Move to normal Shadows: 10 --Move to Shadows with different time flow, different physical laws, etc: 5 ----Hellride: 15 --Notice tracks and waverings in Shadow: 5 ----Create blocks and channels in Shadow: 10 Pattern Defense: 5 Advanced Pattern 25 Recognize Pattern in things 5 View things using Pattern 5 Tunnel through Shadow 5 Alter the rules of a Shadow 5 --Erase a Shadow 5 (There are many more possible here, or with the rest of the powers... Once you're this good, you can just start riffing, and we'll work out point costs.) Shapeshifting 35 One form you're really good at (be a were-something!): 10 --Two iconic forms that may have some magical aspects: 5* --12 forms of animals or random humans: 10 ----Ability to shift into any animal or human form 5** Automatic (minimum required for Logrus): 5 Advanced Shapeshifting 30 **Add animal abilities piecemeal: 10 --Rearrange internal structures: 5 ----Imitate specific people: 5 --*Add magical aspects (adamantium claws, hair of flame): 5 ----Shapeshift others: 5 Logrus 45 (Requires Automatic Shapeshifting) Have survived Logrus: Free, gives you Logrus doodad (pay item points if said doodad is particularly useful) Summoning: 15 --Find a specific thing: 5 --Travel: 10 ----Go to a specific place: 5 ----Black ribbon: 5 Logrus Defense: 5 Advanced Logrus 25 Corrupt Shadow rules to your liking/Black Roads: 10 Summon Primal Chaos: 5 --Summon and bind demons: 5 ----Make Logrus tendril servants: 5 Trump 40 Draw Trumps of people: 20 --Draw Trumps of places: 10 ----Draw one-use quick sketches: 5 --Caller ID: 5 Advanced Trump 20 Spy on conversations: 5 --Spy on surface throughts: 10 Easily duplicate Trumps: 5 Magic 45 Two power words/cantrips: 5 --Three more cantrips: 5 --Conjure normal things: 15 ----Conjure things with magical aspects: 5 ------Create spells as per the ADRPG: 15
For finishing up your "Shadows of a Doubt" Amber character, these are the last bits you may want to consider. As I mentioned, you can buy up to a higher stat and have it at "rank.5". At the bottom of this message I've included a list of all the stat point values for both PCs and NPCs.
As mentioned, you guys will get 5 points at the end of each session in advancement, whether you were there or not. The NPCs will also get advancement, but only 1-2 points per session. Most the NPCs are built on 150 points, though younger generation ones are quite a bit less, and the oldest ones are a bit more.
Want more points? There are points for each contribution you turn in. This is how I'm planning to value those (if this seems unfair, let me know):
3: Inked Trumps (of the PCs, or the NPCs--drawings as you'd find on their Trump card) 1: for coloring the Trump (I love Trumps, I don't mind if we get 5 different Trumps of each PC, and I don't mind if you can't draw well. It's the thought that counts.) 2: for sending out a summary of each session in advance of the next session 2: for taking quotes of funny or striking things said during the session and sending them out. (These are both probably jobs for one person to claim each session) 1: for each in-character diary of a session, or a story from the character's past
Other things you can buy with those shiny shiny points include...
As I mentioned at the last session, bought items are iconic to you. As you guys start getting shadow-travelling powers, you'll find that anyone can have a magic sword, but a magic sword that you can call to you with just a bit of a walk in Shadow is something else again. Points mean that I give some real story weight to your item's effects.
Most items are cheap... A sword that leaves cuts that don't close, or a horn that calls the fog, are both 2 points. A brilliant horse that can't be shot would be 3. A motile invisible intelligent strangling cord is 4. Just make sure your item is kindof cool, the sort of thing that's definitely going on your Trump with you.
1: an important human in Amber / demon in Chaos likes you. People like the butler, the ambassador, etc. 2: one of the royal family of Amber or Chaos likes you. You may not ever find out who, though you can choose Amber or Chaos. 3: you have the support of a house of Chaos or noble family of Amber. If you visit, you will be their honored guest. 4: one of the royal family of Chaos loves you like a parent. You may not ever find out who. 6: one of the royal family of Amber loves you like a parent. You may not ever find out who.
Shadows are also cheap. You can design them however you like.
1 point = a Shadow that slowly shapes itself to your will, and that your family knows not to mess with. --1 point = the Shadow is close enough to Amber to trade with it, and feel real-ish. --1 point = you are like a god of that Shadow, and can remake it drastically if you like.
As I mentioned before, bad stuff is bad luck and bad first impressions. Your fuse burns too fast. Your building is randomly shelled. You remind people of their ex. You can take bad stuff to subtract from your point total if it goes too high.
Good stuff is good luck and good first impressions. People are in a good mood the day you meet them. When you bet your stash on black, it comes up black.
None of the NPCs went over 5 in either direction. Anything over 10 is doomed in my game. :)