construct-ing the role :: ZDIW tips

Elsewhere I was reading a thread ‘roleplaying architecture’. The basic question of the thread was “where can you bring all your gaming interests together online and keep it as an archive that others can build on?”
Nowhere, that I know of.
One waggish comment, however, was ‘you want to play a building?’

Well, that is a neat idea. Perhaps. Within the Amber genre, the GM often plays constructs or artificial intelligences. Certainly in my own campaign, Castle Amber has proven to have a life of its own. There is even the tension inherent of wondering if you really want the castle to wake up and change everything you think the setting might be.
At Ambercon, I was talking to KK about a pbem, ‘Age of Retribution’, where I am on extended hiatus. One comment I tossed out was, “I would not accept my character into my own campaign because of how bizarre the PC is on paper. One look and I would say, ‘no’.”
Setting aside the ‘front loaded’ PC design as opposed to ‘design in play’, I think Amber is a genre where you can easily trespass right out of bounds of the comfort zone. In my time associated with the online Amber community, I’ve heard the various Player creations of transgendered, bent-dynamic, incestuous, anime-inspired, favorite TV character heroes and royals that could easily make a GM’s hair turn white.
From Epoch’s Amber Tips:

What’s the first thing you need to do to make a character in Amber? Listen to your GM. Regardless of how familiar you are with the books, regardless of how many times you’ve played the game before, your GM may well have a bunch of new takes on the system. So, before you even start to come up with character ideas, check out what restrictions and additions your GM is making.
Second? Make sure that you’ve got a handle on the game. If you don’t know what half of the powers are, sit down and read about them. If they’re still confusing, ask your GM. If you do this right, you’ll be boring your friends with stories about this character for the next twenty years, but if you do it wrong, you’ll hate the whole game. It’s essential to get a character you want to play, and if you realize halfway through the game that you didn’t want to play a Chaosite after all, you’re throwing away a golden opportunity. Whenever you’re in doubt, ask your GM. I can’t emphasize that enough.

And if your GM seems reluctant with your concept, or says there will be unusual restrictions on your PC‚you better write stuff down after you listen. You better weigh your cool concept against what you can introduce in play, what you can show as opposed to what you can tell, what the other PCs can credit, as opposed to the hidden narrative in your mind.
You cannot ‘up’ your PC’s coolness by asking other PCs to make it so—you need to do the heavy lifting yourself. Neither can you expect them to support your design if that isn’t where the tone of their interest lies.
For wild and crazy PC ideas agreed to by the GM, be prepared to have your PC broken again and again over the societal expectations of what they ought to be instead of what you have designed. Amber society must support the genre and canon and be credible to decisions that have held for local centuries.
A safeguard process to check yourself might look something like this:

  1. Did Zelazny mention it the way you are thinking about it?
  2. How does your concept support other canon concepts?
  3. Is this idea stranger than a hunchback reproducing with a magic horse?
  4. Would Oberon like it as you are going to present it?
  5. How is your parent going to support your PC concept?
  6. How often are ordinary town people going to recoil or stare at your PC?
  7. How many sticky bits to your PC that might make other PCs seem more awesome?
  8. Is there a range of emotions possible? Or is this a ‘one note’ PC design?

If you didn’t get far down this list, you haven’t respected the base premise of the Amber genre. This might be fine with your GM (who likes to stretch too), or it might be a burden for every other Player to accept and carry your PC concept.
Zero dice, Infinite Worlds.
Rebman princess wears nothing when in Amber.
Martin wears a mohawk and has a plug in his neck.
Young royal slaps dance partner at ball.
Amber prince breaks word and leaves fiance at church altar.
Young royal dyes hair blue.
Chaosi shape shifter usually enters castle through sewage system.
Princess wrenches secrets from mind of castle upstairs maid.
Royal stages midnight terror visit to merchant’s bedroom to check investments.
Young royal raised by apes in jungle refuses to wear clothes in Amber.
Young royal calls king a ‘fink’ in public.
Royal brings horde of flying monkeys into Arden.
Young royal parks starship in orbit about Amber.
Royal drinks blood, turns into bat.
Young royal tells the Serpent to ‘piss off’.
Royal marries a wolf, thereafter has litter of young wolves.
Young royal has jewels embedded in body.
Young royal is never humanoid (no hands!) due to parent.
Each of these above is similar to, or an incident I’ve seen in Amber play. Any of them could work in a game, but many of them won’t work without great GM support and a willing cast.
Given the infinite premise, it seems a shame not to try some of the wild stuff with PCs. Just remember, you need cooperation from your whole group to make it awesome.


  1. One of the fantastic bits about the ‘pre-world’ of [erg… that game… help me out here with the name…] was that there were no preconceptions, parental or otherwise.
    You want to play a volcano-walking child of the river goddess and Oberon? That looks like a lizard? Sure.
    Yazi hisses and nods.
    [that game: ‘The Bloody Grievance’]

  2. Sure!
    I mean one of these is Zelazny’s! I threw it in just for irony.
    ‘Bloody Grievance’ required the scions to be only partially humanoid, but we did get a good mix of ‘otherness’. All that added to the atmosphere of the game.
    Several of those above happened in my F-2-F game. One odd notion comes from the original playtest of the Amber Diceless rules.
    As with my PC in ‘Age of Retribution’, as long as the GM and cast are supportive, you can do an amazing range of characters with Amber. You can also make an ass of yourself by going eccentric with no support or concept of Amber’s style.

  3. As a GM, I myself have run into trouble when I’ve allowed people to bring anime-based characters into a game, without me really understanding the full anime reference. So the “listen” theme definitely finds resonance with my experience. For what it’s worth, I recognize a number of the examples from different games than the ones cited, so I suspect this is not an uncommon phenomenon.

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