IMC :: value: Trump vs Pattern

(updated for formatting)This question has been tossed around online ever since I started playing Amber. It goes something like this:

My Amber games never feel like the canon, the PCs are always hopping about the universe with Trump. Pattern is never used. There is certainly no cool shadow walking. PCs even figure out elaborate combat strategies based on Trump. Trump should cost more than Pattern because it’s lots more useful and a pain for the GM. Maybe even give away Pattern for free.

Since a lot of games go this way, it is tough to argue with the sentiment, and really, you could re-cost all of the powers. There have been suggestions on these lines here and elsewhere.

But rather than just conclude there, I used my pull to get a non-Pattern, non-Trump character to talk to a Trump Artist from my campaign to discuss these issues from inside the game.

I thought that was an overlooked perspective on all the hubbub. What is the in-game perspective of Trump vs Pattern?

JBS: Always great to have an excuse to get together. I could wish that we didn’t live at opposite ends of the universe.

Owen: Things in Thelbane are better, yes?

JBS: (laughs) The latest news is actually disturbing. So let’s talk about the Amber perspective on personal investment in powers instead, shall we? Specifically, as someone with a hand in the two major powers, give me rationale, or a brief on how a young person starting out should look at the two choices.

Owen: I’m a grandmother now, you shouldn’t encourage me to nose into the choices of young people. Be specific, what powers are we talking about?

JBS: Why Pattern and Trump, of course. You’re always going on about how different Trump work is in Amber from what we do in the Courts. And why wouldn’t young royals want to invest in Trump since it does most of what Pattern does and doesn’t kill you if you misstep?

Owen: (silence: studies JBS)

JBS: No secrets, of course, this is an overview for beginners.

Owen: Well. You’re posing a false choice. There isn’t really a good comparison between Trump and Pattern. They are so different and don’t overlap much.

JBS: Really? They’re both transport and defensive powers.

Owen: (waves hand in negation) No. But then no one has quite asked this question as you are asking it.

JBS: Really? No youngsters have ever come to you and try to choose between Trump or Pattern or get a feeling on which is a better investment of their limited resources?

Owen: No. Not even once. The family is much bigger now, but no discussion like that has happened that I know of. Look, you’ve got it wrong. These powers aren’t about transport and defense, those are just techniques that can be handy. (Pauses several seconds) It’s more a perception and how you are going to interact with and give yourself leverage over things. Pattern clarifies everything about self.

JBS: Fine. Then what does a young person need to think about?

Owen: Passion for one thing. What pulls you? What sparks your imagination? What can’t you live without? I don’t recommend Trump for anyone that isn’t already drawn to it. I was sketching with power before I was ever trained, before I realized what it was I was doing. My father recognized I needed a teacher. And then my teacher discouraged me at various points–just to check my determination to do Trump work.
Then there’s talent. Some have an ability or a skill that could be pressed into Trump work, but without a ‘calling’ to Trump, it is usually a mistake to go there.

JBS: Do you turn folks aside then?

Owen: (a beat) I should but I don’t. I try to give them an entry, to understand that they are stepping into a perception where it doesn’t return well on their time if they don’t really have talent, passion, and a determination. I try to let them make the call.

JBS: That sounds a lot like Pattern. If you don’t try your hardest, Pattern kills you. Trump certainly isn’t considered dangerous in the Courts.

Owen: Well, I’m feeling my way along here for what you’re seeking in this chat. A shorter version might be; Trump is an advantage for dealing with the family, while Pattern is an advantage for dealing with the universe. There’s really no comparison when you look at it that way. There are so many practical assets to Pattern that Trump cannot come near to giving you.

Even on a perceptual level, which is most of Trump’s strength.

JBS: That’s exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. You’re saying, Pattern use is very broad; Trump use is limited to a narrow set of values, which includes keeping in touch with family.

Owen: (nods) They compliment more than they compare. Yes, Pattern has transport functions…

JBS: But Trump does it instantly, even with large numbers of people.

Owen: (smiles) Again, at some level perhaps, but you should not compare moving a hundred people with some difficulty, time and danger— with moving a million people easily and finding lodging and food for them all while you’re doing it. You see?

JBS: Ah.

Owen: Simple differences are telling. Pattern works nearly everywhere. Trump often fails because your contact is busy, the environment is wrong, or someone has anticipated you will use Trump. Then there is the fact that even some wizards will listen for Trump energies, or routinely block them.

If I use Trump to arrive somewhere, I arrive as I left, with clothes, baggage, and whatever understanding of what’s on the other end of the Trump. That’s a good example of how narrow Trump really is.

Pattern can deliver me somewhere with the right clothes, baggage, accessories, and local cues to help me complete my trip, mission, or desire. And there are factors already considered that I don’t see but can count on, such as locals that aren’t immediately hostile, or relative anonymity to check things out at my destination.

These are subtle but broad effects; part of shadow lying for you. You get none of that from Trump.

Whereas Trump might give me insights, based on portraits, that Pattern would never allow.

JBS: Ah. Apples and oranges?

Owen: Pardon?

JBS: Shadow expression. You’re stating that they aren’t comparable. Fine. But let’s compare them in ways a youngster would. Shallow comparison.

Pattern takes days to travel into shadow. Trump takes minutes.

Owen: But only if you have a relative in a place you want to go. There are a range of wonderful places and only so much family. Pattern gives you independence, security, and privacy.

JBS: Ah, I like those qualities. It always seems the benefits are defensive but those seem proactive. But there are ‘place’ Trumps. I’ve seen you use them.

Owen: Place Trumps are extremely difficult to do. The place has no power to ‘meet you halfway’ as a person does. In fact, if the place has no deep personal association for me, I can’t make a Trump for it.

Setting aside elaborate and tedious examples, both these powers are defensive. Trump offering narrow benefits and Pattern managing broader and consistent advantages. Yet, real understanding of a thing’s nature can make a ‘cheese grater’ dangerous.

JBS: (laughs) How true! That’s one of your father’s sayings, isn’t it?

Owen: Almost. His guiding perspective applies here though: ‘It’s not important how strong the other guy is, it’s only important you know exactly how strong you are.’ That’s his shorthand bit about passion, practicality, and patience applied to things you want to be good at.

Frankly, Pattern is much, much stronger and more effective than Trump. It would be a serious omission to not take the ritual once ready. As much as I love Trump, and spend more time on it than anything else I do, I consider Pattern more useful and necessary, if only for the broad application and independance it gives you.

To be only a Trump Artist, even a gifted one? (shakes head) Not a good survival plan. I’m sure that’s partly why the Courts dismiss Trump as a minor art. I disagree with that dismissal, but even so it quite makes the point.

Practical powers full of gimmicks and tools are more properly minor arts like sorcery. If you want tool or combat powers, you will be disappointed by Pattern and Trump because they both take time and attention to produce subtle results.

JBS: So many in Chaos consider sorcery a required necessity. I think we both understand the cultural psychology behind that.

Owen: (smiles, pretends she has no answer)

JBS: Right. So Pattern is first choice. Why does someone like you spend so much time on Trump? You’ve just made the case of how narrow the benefits.

Owen: The answer isn’t practical. I noted earlier that I was into Trump before getting a teacher. Getting trained was just good sense. Having the talent and not being trained can produce some unpleasant accidents.

I’ve spoken to Merlin often about his training in the Courts. The process is reduced to an improvident response to talent and produces Trump Artists that aren’t looking for the ‘why’ and passion of what they’re doing. It’s very similar to the training for sorcery, and produces Artists that can kick out Trumps without intuition of their subjects. That’s desirable in the Courts. In the Courts, Trump is not considered creative, it is a tool. You could say they are throwing away more than half of what Trump is.

That’s not how it’s taught in Amber.

Let me put it this way: the Pattern is someone else’s creation. Trump is my creative outlet. No one does Trump exactly the way I do and while I can copy another Artist’s work, that does not give me that Artist’s perception of the subject. I might get hints from meditation upon another Artist’s work, but with my own work, I really see.

JBS: So you get an edge, an intuition, on anyone that gets a Trump portrait from you?

Owen: (shrugs) Of course, if you want to put it that way. That’s very Chaosian of you.

JBS: And f**k you, too. (they both laugh)

:record ends here

Consider these points:
1. Shadow walking is as valuable as shadow is. Make shadow as valuable as possible to ‘now’ and ‘future’ context. Information is power. Skipping shadows in favor of instant Trump mobility gives you no new information. No new advantages. No independence.
2. Map out the Attributes for focus and impact on play. These are niches with rank and investment. Don’t set up a power (such as sorcery, the biggest offender) as a substitute for Attribute skill. Think of Attributes as powers and don’t duplicate their impact with other powers.
3. Opportunity of use is a threshold to respect. Attributes are generally faster than Powers. Why? It works well, and you have to flex your Psyche to get a power running. That’s a two step process.

Starting a two step process in combat can get you killed when everyone else chooses a one step process.
4. The most useful (costly) powers are safe and consistent. Pattern should be safe and consistent. Even errors in Pattern should not rebound on user. Power cost should be an indication of how many ‘break downs’, busts, time requirement and puzzles crop up when the power is taxed.

Trump use should have oddities and dangers when non-trivial uses crop up, like Endurance drains, like ‘place Trumps’ being extremely personal and hard to accomplish.

Shaping should have more dangers when non-trivial uses crop up.
Conjuration many dangers etc.
Sorcery plenty of dangers etc.

Broken Powers should always provide slightly weird results that have some connection to desire.
5. Provide some in-game advice to older PCs and startup PCs from the Elder crowd about blocking Trump, fooling Logrus, detecting Shapers, confounding conjurers, and slapping sorcerers around. That’s a three fold benefit: it sets genre tone, and heads off breakage of ‘common imagination space’ of the immersive game, and it defines some family bonds which the genre needs.

And thoughts here: Sticky Trump



  1. Great post, Arref.
    I think I’m going to amplify my comment from the sticky trump post. The problem with the Pattern versus Trump relationship is that (generalizing wildly!) Amber games tend to run in a fashion which makes shadow walking drastically less useful than it probably should be.
    I think in-game it’s mostly a matter of speed. Given the rate of shadow travel from the novels and the speed of play in virtually every game I’ve ever been in, if you do a decent length shadow walk, you are putting yourself basically out of action for the entire session — or worse, in a PBeM, probably months of real world time. (This might not be so bad if you enjoyed the details of shadow walking, but my impression is that I’m in a distinct minority in thinking that sounds fun.)
    It occurs to me now that there is an out-of-game problem as well. Things the GM creates “ahead of time” do not fit in that well with a player wandering out into universes that, for all intents and purposes, they create on the fly. So wandering out into unknown realms of shadow is likely to mean wandering away from the plot. I think I’m a GM good at improvising, but I don’t think it’s very often that something the players come up with on the fly gets integrated into my games as well as the stuff I’ve had weeks and months to prepare.

  2. On further thought, I think my problem with your point 4 given above is (IMO) you’re correcting for the weakness of Pattern I mention above by weakening Trump. It seems like a better solution would be to strengthen Pattern.
    I admit I only have the fuzziest ideas of how to do so, my you….

  3. Shadowshifting in the books doesn’t take all that long. Earth to Amber by weird and ineffecient ways took maybe a day. Merlin takes Julia on a wild trip to fantastically different locales in perhaps an hour. From Benedict’s Avalon to Diamond Beach took hours. Amber to the Courts takes quite a while, perhaps several days to a couple of weeks doing it the hard way.
    In PBEM time, yeah, that’s ages but it isn’t bad in a ftf game.

  4. Most GMs I’ve known, including me, take the Earth to Amber is a day thing as the standard. You can argue they went out of their way, but you can also argue that Random takes some very impressive shortcuts on that trip, too. (And is that Earth to Amber or Earth to Arden, and Arden itself spans another half day or so of shadow? It’s been a long time since I’ve gone over that section with a fine-toothed comb.)
    Even if you took six hours Earth to Amber as your standard, that’s still going to be the bulk of a FtF session any time the action is heated. Or even if it’s not — it’s certainly my experience in FtF games that if the GM says, that’s going to take six hours, what are the rest of you doing, as often as not somebody is going to come up with something that takes hours of real time to do.

  5. Few more thoughts:
    Random and Corwin take less than a day to get to Arden. Flora tries the trip in the space of a day and returns unsuccessful (maybe).
    But it does take another day to pass through Arden and Garnath. In some situations (trying to hide from rangers), that could take two days.
    The RFL and I were talking about some of this last night. Yes, F2F game times allow for this ‘texture’ and fun, while PBEM and Convention games always seem to skip it. You could sit down and write a ‘quest’ type Convention game that was something like a jewel heist thriller or such for getting some shadow venue as focus for a con game. YMMV.
    As to weakening Trump, that’s a fair impression, but what I’ve actually tried to do is strengthen Pattern a bit, by giving the blood line of Dworkin lots of small talents that Pattern brings out.
    Then I give Trump some oddities and ‘bridges’ to other perceptions and functions that the books don’t go into. Some of those bridges do provide for narrative flaws and ‘busts’ to the Trump power. I feel this narrative technique makes Trump more interesting than it already is, provides for certain interesting uncertainties that can be explored in game, and also powers it down just a tad from the uber-Trump that tends to taint the fun of games where Trump Artists are so popular.
    I will admit that I’ve flawed most powers to make them less uber and more interesting and more dependant on shadow conditions, just as tech is more dependant on shadow conditions. Just asking for Powers to be turned on by a Psyche action is a big start on cutting abuses against Warfare and Strength off at the knees.
    I feel that gives me more First-Series simulation.

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