“Amber was the greatest city which had ever existed or ever would exist. Amber had always been and always would be, and every other city, everywhere every other city that existed was but a reflection of a shadow of some phase of Amber. Amber, Amber, Amber … I remember thee. I shall never forget thee again.”Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber
For the inaugural post on this blog, I thought I’d try and answer: Why? Why Amber? Why diceless? And why this blog?
While there are criticisms that can be laid upon the source material, the concept as a whole offers a lot of room: a group of people with the ability to freely travel through a near infinite series of alternate universes. Within those infinite universes, you have a lot of freedom in terms of setting options, able to blend together characters from different genres.
The concept of alternate worlds is hardly unique in either roleplaying games or fiction. Zelazny cribbed from multiple sources for his world-building in the Amber universe. There have been multiple games that have used alternate worlds in their cosmology, both before and after Amber Diceless was released.
But many of these hinge on some constraint on the travel between worlds: gates or stairs or doors. In Amber, you have freedom to just walk (or sometimes teleport) anywhere you want. I’ve had games veer from high fantasy to modern day to space opera all in a single session.
And while it’s highly subjective, I just find the kingdom of Amber and its royal family to be iconic. The canon characters live on in my heart in a way that few fictional characters do. I’ve been playing around with the setting for 25+ years and it’s pretty ingrained into my psyche. There’s something that calls me back to it time and again.
Simple but robust rules
The rules are dead simple. Character creation can mostly be verbally explained. Once characters are created, players don’t even need to look at character sheets. The GM is expected to track attributes and relative ability to adjudicate the result of conflicts. It makes the game very approachable for players who are uncomfortable with the convoluted rules you might find in other roleplaying games.
And, because the rules are so simple, it’s very easy to tinker with the rules. In the nearly 30 years the game has been available, players have created more attributes, fewer attributes, different attributes, new powers, altered powers, reimagined powers, added in skill systems, or figured out how to run the game without stats at all.
The game emphasizes getting into the head of your character. Because they don’t need to worry about their character sheet as much, players can focus on character interaction.
Mechanically this is supported by rewarding players for contributions to the game, particularly character diaries. The idea is that by writing from your character’s point of view, you better get into their mental space and develop their voice better.
Though I have conflicted feelings about the attribute auction, it does have the potential to build that sense of competition between the characters, simulating the dynamic of growing up together and having years (perhaps centuries) or interpersonal conflict.
So why a blog?
In the nearly 30 years that the game has been around, there’s been a lot of discussion about the game. But over 30 years, a lot of that discussion has faded away as well. Web sites have gone offline, mailing list emails go unarchived and the list itself goes fallow, dedicated forums disappear.
My hope is that this platform will stick around for a while, that we can re-collect some of the content that has disappeared, and start new conversations. And, if we happen to woo more people into enjoying Amber Diceless or other diceless games, all the better.