Amber :: high school age startup

A question was posed (anonymous, but not too hard to figure out):

So if running a game for high-school kids would be good fun and introduce them to a great writer (Roger Zelazny), then how should I go about making the best of the startup?

This bit of GM thought is for the 31 days effort posted elsewhere.
This advice applies specifically to Amber DRPG, and the question above, but might apply to a lot of startups where you don’t know the play group, but have been asked to take on the GMly duties to ‘get something going’.

The things that immediately came to mind. The background is quite wonderful for a foundation to all kinds of legends and mythic literature, so let the PCs explore that.

  1. Give the kids complete control of their background. Don’t do the GMly switcheroo. Or at least not until the game is running a good long time. Let each of them create a part of the inifinity of shadow, where they bring the ‘earthcentric’ or fantasy or SF backgrounds that they care about to the game.
  2. Use the Gerard Regency, the blank period in the books where seven years passes in Amber while waiting the results of the Chaos attack. Gerard gathers the kids from shadow to watch the home front. This gives you seven plus years to run a game before major NPCs arrive. It gives you fiddle room and preserves a whalloping good vista for later.
  3. But let them know ahead of time that the above is backstory–not where the story is going but where they come from. Take care with the angsty parental relationship, don’t let a backstory consume the story that the group is going to get to share. So watch out for abandoned kids, orphans, or kids being pulled away from the only parents they’ve known and love. Don’t tread heavily on the backstory. Don’t set up grim loners by your initial moves.
    As far as above goes, Gerard could bring foster parents along, or other elements of the backstory world to Amber to help with transition

  4. Let the kids pick ages, but don’t go outside of about 12 to 30. They are all newbies. They are all likely to make a contribution. With seven years of Regency, you might want to tighten the age range to 15 to 25. It sorta depends on how you are going to deal with Pattern walks and age. Don’t steer away from “coming of age” stories. Go ahead and deal with the tensions of maturity, or lack thereof.
  5. There are bad guys out there. Disorganized remnants of Chaos attackers. Reinforcements showing up late. Gerard has a full 360 degree seige to deal with. He becomes the encyclopedia of family and “how did we get in this mess”
  6. The kids can read all five books and still not know how the story ends. There is a nice balance to this. And if they learn about a parent from Corwin’s eyes in the Zelazny style, it could be exciting for them to compare the spare portraits from the author with the fleshed out NPCs you bring to the game.
  7. PCs so young? I have watched young kids groove on the empowerment of the competancy involved in playing something closer to their own age–who is also soon to be a legend. In theory, there is nothing too outre about a 16 year old amberite leading rangers in battle. IMC, a lot of the physical prowess is already inherent to younger scions.
    Things get a bit weird about a 12 year old in deadly danger, but I’ve done some interesting games with younger amberites mixed into the NPCs and such. YMMV. Just run with a light hand over disturbing images and content. Hollywood gets away with it all the time.
  8. The arcane powers of Amber are important flavor bits that often don’t work in Amber. Should such young startup PCs have powers? Well, that gets into genre expectations.
    If someone picks a SF background, then powers that work in Amber would be unlikely. So most shadows, to be fair, would also have unlikely craft backgrounds that translate. Or to put it another way, skills and powers translate loosely.
    Since ‘pattern skills’ could be marginal in a Regency game, you could offer 15 pts of “special powers” resulting in weak magic, weak shaping, weak trump, etc, etc. Developing the PCs ‘in game’ along the lines of this could be fun.
    You could just hand out the first Patternwalk for free. Or even ask PCs to be built for 50 pts.
    More important to this point is flexibility for later choices. Handing out a “key to perception” is a weaker version of handing out a power. What I mean here is you can channel power info without actually handing over expertise to the young PCs.
    Y’know. GM: “Hey, Syd, your Pattern-sense is tingling again.”
    “Damn, I wish I knew what that meant. Everybody get ready and Sam, you hide behind the bookshelves.”
    To someone who has already made the choice about what powers they want, the above might seem like no big deal. But to a PC in the game in a new world who is hoping for each scrap of extra info, this could be pretty exciting. It demonstrates all over again that the PC gets ‘feelings’ and info that nobles, townsmen, and other castle folk don’t get.

Even so, you can ‘steer’ this stuff for each PC as they gravitate to story lines. Change it later or offer something else. Give those points towards a choice later.
Stay sharp. Those kids will surprise you.



  1. Excellent post, Arref. Based on my limited experience with Amber (I’ve read all the books, and played a few times), I think you’ve nailed down some very good ideas with this list.
    I can also see how they would translate to other games with a new group, as you suggested — with one exception. How would you handle #4 with non-high-schoolers?

  2. I have a few prior posts about the ‘startup topic’ but none really directly address the question of age.
    Traditional Startup
    Patternwalk ages
    In the past with non-high schoolers, I’ve let the Player choose age as I would let them choose the backstory they prefer. But the truth is that a lot of Players don’t really immerse in their PC from word one, don’t know much about their backstory, and don’t know what would be good or bad about certain ages.
    In brief, I would suggest to startup Players that they choose a ‘modest age’ with an eye towards not knowing all and allowing for changes and growth. Practical side, if you pick a very young PC, then they are quick to pick things up; if you choose an old man then they are rather narrow in their experience.
    Anything else, has a tendancy to step upon other PCs’ niches of common knowledge and common sense.
    IOW, don’t turn your characters age into a lever to “get over” on other characters.

Comments are closed.