system does matter

Well, I haven’t spent a lot of time talking to the issue and perhaps I won’t go further than this entry.
Amber DRPG:

  • has a system which is misleading and does not work.
  • has GMs that ask you to assign attribute strengths and then ‘pretend’ to use them to decide conflict.
  • has conflict resolution that is meaningless but for social manipulation of the GM.
  • as written is a disaster of a rpg.

The above anecdotal experiences are not single occurrence or limited to one GM or group. They are comments that gamers and GMs continue to make about Amber DRPG in looking for something that does Zelazny’s work better.

Let me confess that I don’t play the rules as written. For one thing, I care to understand objective criteria for injuries and such; for multiple attackers against single targets, etc. This is where something like Everway helps the Amber genre.
However, to get back to what is in the rulebook:
it is implicit in the rules that Players take turns, add their roleplay to the conflict attributes and move on once the GM has reported the results. As written, the rules are merciless in this regard.

GM reports environ
what are Player conflict choices?
which conflict resolves first?
what are Player attempts (roleplay) to modify consequence of result?
result modified for Stuff?
GM reports result (sometimes called GM Fiat)
In my experience (and as I read the rules as written) there is nothing in the rules that says the Players can keep the GM indefinitely engaged in the roleplay step like an infinite “redo” loop. Each Player gets his “say” and then a ruling is made. The roleplay is a modifier of an outcome determined by the previous steps.
But I get the fact that some GMs read the tone of the rules and decide to elevate the roleplay above the attribute conflict. The game writer encourages drift of his system. His author’s remarks encourage user interpretation (even exaggeration!)
In a sense, that allows some GMs to claim to be running the game as written, even as they inject more GM fiat.
I prefer to think of the roleplay step as altering consequences of the outcome rather than altering the winner of the attribute conflict. However, I agree with something J Kim wrote elsewhere on livejournal:

“Within RPGs, many mechanics serve the function of smoothing or speeding along play rather than being intrinsically interesting in themselves.”

And in Amber DRPG, the attributes define the four types of conflict and ‘flag’ that these are areas of trust, competency and predictable results. The interesting bits are how you deal with the things your Player Character is not competant in.
If the GM takes away your niche/competency by letting roleplay arbitrarily overrule predictable attribute conflict, that does break the game as written.
Apparently this is common enough that Amber DRPG is avoided by many bitter rpgers.
Of value perhaps, J Henley’s livejournal comment about this:

rules texts for such games could usefully advise users how to set the boundaries of fiat and circumspection at the (formal) social contract stage and how players and GMs could send and recognize signals during play (including distress signals).

In the sense of actual expectations of play, it is not a good thing to devise a system of play, and then advise the reader/GM to toss the system if they like. I could hope a second edition of Amber DRPG is much clearer on what the boundaries of fiat should be or how a game group might agree to the level of trust expected.



  1. I think that having a rules reference should be especially helpful when you’re trying to scale a game up, or if you’re adding players to an existing game.

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