C-ADRPG: Amber Diceless as rules engine for cyberpunk: version 2

(c) 92 Ken Alves, from Amberzine 2


My last blog post tried to interpret the Amber Diceless rules as written, so they could work as rules for a cyberpunk game. Today’s post is the result of further tests. I think C-ADRPG works smoother now.

Attributes:

  • Warfare, Strength and Endurance are self-explanatory and stay. Psyche is psychic resilience. [Human] level is really, really weak, [Chaos] level is the standard of your faceless mooks, and [Amber] and Ranked levels are professional level attributes.

Powers:

  • MOVER (Pattern Imprint) [50]: your connections, getting things done, I know a guy who knows a guy, fast travel capacity and resources. 
  • ADVANCED MOVER (Advanced Pattern Imprint) [75]: knowing a few really, really big names in the biz 
  • AUGMENTATION (Logrus Mastery) [45]: your cyberware, bioware, nanoware, you name it. With the full 45-point package, you’re stuffed with ware, and you have to specify what chrome you’re wearing. 
  • FULL AUGMENTATION (Advanced Logrus Mastery) [70]: a full cyborg-body mod, or packed to the eyelids with cyberware.
  • PARTIAL AUGMENTATION (Fixed Logrus Mastery) [25]: like Full Augmentation, but you have way less ware in your body. Tell the GM what you have. Be reasonable.
  • NETRUNNING AUG (Trump Artistry) [40]: your skill, instincts and augmentations that enable you to hack, extract data, and do stuff script kiddies can only dream of. 
  • ADVANCED NETRUNNING (Advanced Trump Artistry) [60]: If you’re chipped to the hilt, stuffed with biosofts and brain-enhancement nanotech so you can be the fastest man in the matrix, I guess that would count as Advanced Trump Artistry.
  • DELIVERY PRIME ACCOUNT (Conjuration) [20]: expedite drone delivery of stuff you order; small items like ammo clips or burners will arrive pretty fast, bigger/heavier stuff requires a heavier and slower drone. Really big and heavy items can take several days or weeks – if they’re available. Your GM knows. Thanks to zircher from therpgsite for this cool idea.
  • ARTEFACTS will be toned down and grittier in scope, no Transfer costs.
  • SHADOWS become residences, apartments, houses.
  • .
  • .
  • Outlier I: Shapeshifting is not used for pure cyberpunk games, but could be extremely useful when playing Shadowrun – it then becomes PHYSICAL ADEPT [35]. The more advanced and powerful version would be ADVANCED PHYSICAL ADEPT (Advanced Shapeshifting) [65].
  • Outlier 2: SORCERY [15] would also be used for Shadowrun games, and not even the name would change. But only when you’re using ADVANCED SORCERY [45], your spells are as quick as you wish they were, and if you want to throw your Hellblasts real good, you better get EXALTED SORCERY [70].
  • Outlier 3: POWER WORDS [10] are exactly that, little, small-scale spells in Shadowrun.


I might also NOT use Partial Augmentation and grant a character one or two enhancements for free.

So there you have it, my C-ADRPG in a nutshell. More to come, for sure.

An example Cyberpunk character:

__________________________________________________________
Cybersoldier

Warfare 10
Strength 5
Endurance: 5
Psyche 5

FULL AUGMENTATION [70]: full-body kevlar-reinforced plating, titanium brain shielding, industrial-strength muscle grafts, tac-implants, hydraulic legs, titanium-reinforced bone structure.

Safehouse in the abandoned barracks (5 pts)

  • personal shadow 1 pt
  • guarded 4 pts

__________________________________________________________

Diceless and randomless cyberpunk – with Amber Diceless RPG

Michael Kucharski, ADRPG page 87

After a loooooong foray into OD&D and some of its precursors, we’ve returned to our roots: diceless roleplaying and freeform gaming. After many, many years, we’re playing diceless again. And it already feels exciting!

We’re playing hard Cyberpunk, with a dash of magic (don’t ask, my players want it). My first reaction was: OK, I’m going to write a few quick rules for that (usually a haphazard job of slapping Theatrix flowcharts and Everway attributes together). But then, my love for Amber kicked in. I thought: Why not use Amber to power our game? And my second thought was: Why not use the rules as written, as much as possible?


My thoughts:

  • Warfare, Strength and Endurance are self-explanatory and stay. Psyche is resilience (OR, if my players insist on playing a dark Shadowrun-type of game, it stays what it is). [Human] level is really, really weak, [Chaos] level is the standard of your faceless mooks, and [Amber] and Ranked levels are professional level attributes.
  • PATTERN are your connections, getting things done, I know a guy who knows a guy, fast travel capacity and resources. For Shadowrun, it’s also your ability to defend against psychic attacks.
  • LOGRUS becomes hacking, data extraction, everything related to the matrix
  • TRUMP is the ability to reach anyone by means of communication. Your buddy is in the middle of the desert, without electronics and no cyberware in his skull? No worries, you satellite tight-beam an information bit directly into his cortex.
  • SORCERY and CONJURATION are self-explanatory.
  • ARTEFACTS will also include cyberware, with the qualities toned down to a gritty level.
  • SHADOWS become residences, apartments, houses.


I think this will work pretty well. 

An example character:

__________________________________________________________
Cybersoldier

Warfare 10
Strength 5
Endurance: 5
Psyche 5

Pattern 50

Industrial Strength Muscle Implants (9 pts)

  • immense vitality 4 points
  • resistant to normale weapons 1 pt
  • deadly damage 4 pts
  • (I don’t use the Transferal costs)

Tactical Implant (10 pts)

  • Combat Mastery 4 pts
  • resistant to firearms 2 pts
  • speak in tongues + voices 4 pts

Safehouse (6 pts)

  • personal shadow 1 pt
  • guarded 4 pts
  • control of contents 1 pt

__________________________________________________________

How Erick Wujcik gamemastered Amber

I am particularly grateful to Erick Wujcik for three things.

First, for writing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (among so many other books). I grew up with the real Turtles comics, not the child-oriented, pizza-eating funny green turtlemen on television. The game gave me so many ideas. Thanks for that.

And second, I’m grateful for Amber Diceless. This game has influenced me like no other. This game brought me to free-form role playing. This game, in its more than 250 pages (almost all of them with tips for gamemasters), introduced me to Amber – I discovered the books after the game, in 1991.

In a rather interesting discussion on an Amber Diceless forum I asked the question how gamemasters use the rules in-play. While I either play it by the book or totally freeform, the question came up how Erick actually played Amber.

Finarvyn, an Amber Diceless (and OD&D) veteran who often played with Erick, responded (emphasis added by me):

Well, in my experience Erick didn’t ever look at a rulebook. Heck, he hardly ever looked at our character sheets. 

I think he built a general “character concept” in his head – this guy is good here but bad there, that kind of thing – and then just let us play. It seemed like he would simply decide based on if we tried clever things or not when we had the chance to act out our actions. When I talked to him about rules I got the impression that he bent or broke them on a whim if it made the storyline progress better and made the game more fun. He always seemed to put the story above the mechanics.

All the more reason why I feel so connected to him.

minimalAmber: playing Amber Diceless WITH DICE (ha!)

minimalAmber
Norbert G. Matausch

1. Creating characters
1.1Choose your character class. The number in parentheses is the number of specials you may pick. Then, determine your Attributes.
Prince of Amber(2): walked the Pattern, I understand Shadow Technology, have Shadow Resources, I have a Sword that never gets lost


Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Strong as an ox; 2 Tough as nails; 3 Master of Warfare; 4 Psychic Bulwark
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)
________________________________________________________________________________


Wizard of Amber(2): I walked the Pattern, I can cast Spells, have Shadow Resources, I have a Sword that never gets lost

Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Strong as an ox; 2 Tough as nails; 3 Master of Warfare; 4 Psychic Bulwark
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)
________________________________________________________________________________

Chaos Knight(3): I survived the Logrus, have Shadow Resources, I’m a Shapeshifter

Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Strong as an ox; 2 Tough as nails; 3 Master of Warfare; 4 Psychic Bulwark
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick two or roll 1dtwice: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)
________________________________________________________________________________

Trump Artist of Amber(2): I walked the Pattern, I can create Trumps

Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Strong as an ox; 2 Tough as nails; 3 Master of Warfare; 4 Psychic Bulwark
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick two or roll 1dtwice: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)
________________________________________________________________________________

Chaos Mage(3): survived the Logrus, can cast Spells, I’m a Shapeshifter
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick two or roll 1dtwice: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)
________________________________________________________________________________

Chaos Artist (3):survived the Logrus, I can create Trumps, I’m a Shapeshifter
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick three or roll 1dthree times: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)
________________________________________________________________________________


1.2 Starting Level
You start on Level 2.


1.3Scope of Powers: what might be possible 
Pattern
  • move through shadows: 
    • Shadow Walking (change one detail after another)
    • Royal Path (only travel through shadowsyou like)
    • Hell Ride (the shortest path through shadow = greatest danger)
  • Shadow portal: lead others through the shadows
  • Pattern as shield against attacks (logrus, magic) 
  • Finding things, beings and situations in the shadows
  • Shadow time: slow and fast shadows
  • Manipulate shadows (you have to move)
  • Make probabilities occur and/or influence
  • Blood curse (“By the Pattern of Amber, I curse…”)
  • Changing the laws of nature/magic laws of a shadow
  • Recognize disturbances in the shadow (e.g. when a real being is pulled through)

Logrus
  • Requirement: strong will and 100 percent chaos blood
  • Logrus tendrils are always clearly visible (black)
  • recover from mental stress
  • Hang up/save spells on logrus tendrils
  • Manifest and control Logrus tendrils
  • Use Logrus tendrils as mental weapon/tool (influencing creatures and shadow material)
  • Use Logrus as shield
  • travel through the shadows: “very difficult” (Merlin); one forcibly makes one’s way through the shadows, whereby one must mostly follow the local topographical conditions –> slowly and laboriously; therefore mostly winged beings are used as messengers
  • Pattern contact: extremely painful for logrus users
Magic
  • difficult to use, when used against patterns or logrus, it is only one third as strong
  • Magic is bound to the respective shadow and is very difficult to access from one shadow to another.
  • short one-word spells (Power Words)
  • the more variables in a spell, the longer it will take for it to be deployed
Trump
  • Painting, drawing, making trump cards
  • on any reasonable surface
  • one-time (quick sketches) or permanent (family trumps)
  • trumps of persons or landscapes
Shapeshifting
  • Pick two basic body shapes
  • Close wounds, assume further body shapes
  • Primary form: Survival form of the shape-shifter (“demonic” looking), best form for survival
  • Transforming body parts
  • Create a blood creature: from your own blood; the creature has a small spark of the creator’s power. 
  • transform your own aura/change your personality
  • maybe even shape other beings?


2. Playing the game
All characters can use Trumps.

2.1 Players
Describe what your character is doing. Roll 2d6. A 5 or 6=successful. +1d6 for advantage of any kind (item, high attribute, superior tactics etc). -1d6 for disadvantage of any kind (low attribute, hinderance). Do NOT ADD dice results. Simply look for Fives and Sixes. Never roll more than 3d6. Never roll less than 1d6. Roll when you try to hit, to evade, to do stuff, to save your ass. The DM will tell you when and why.

2.2 DMs
Play the world and everything in it. Roll for it, if necessary. Success in combat=reduce health by 1 point or narrate what happens (high health=they can take a good amount of damage, low health=weak). Major successes are possible (you decide when it happens and what happens). Likely success: don’t roll dice, it happens. Unlikely success: roll dice. Impossible: don’t roll dice, tell the players what happens. Skills are likely, except when impossible. All rolls change the situation.

2.3 Non player characters
DM, if it’s required, create specials for your npcs (just like character classes). If not, wing it.

2.4 Leveling Up
When it‘s dramatically appropriate, a character reaches a new experience level. They may then pick another special from their own list (or, with your OK, from another), or the DM creates a new one for them.

(…)

2.8 Optional rule: Dilemma Die
Recommended for action adventure games. Introduce an additional die, the Dilemma Die. That’s a d6 with one side marked with a flash symbol. Roll the Dilemma Die with your other dice. If you roll a flash, something negative happens in addition to what’s going on, and it doesn’t matter if the other dice show a success or not.
2.9 Optional rule: Mass Combat
Against a superior opponent (in numbers or in ability): disadvantage
Against a vastly superior opponent (in numbers of ability): impossible
Against an inferior opponent (in numbers or in ability): advantage
Against a vastly inferior opponent (in numbers or in ability): likely

Playing Amber Diceless… with dice.

We started our new Amber campaign a few weeks ago. The first couple of sessions went well, as expected – to me, as GM, they also felt… a bit boring. Instantly, I felt teleported back to a time more than two decades ago, when we played our last Amber game. Some sessions were outstanding, while others felt pretty average, nothing to write home about.

While 28 years ago, playing Amber Diceless with dice was preposterous (and author Erick Wujick told everyone just how stupid the mere idea was), some things have changed over the years. I have come to like, even love, the randomness of dice in roleplaying games. I welcome their unpredictable results with open arms. There’s nothing more boring, more stale, than NOT rolling dice in rpgs. The OSR has done this to me, and I’ll be eternally grateful for this.

There are a few things in Amber Diceless I just can’t stand any more:

  • Being ranked first in an attribute guarantees you’ll always be the best in this stat. Fucking boring.
  • Walking The Pattern was described as enormously dangerous and potentially fatal in the novels. This inherent threat was completely neutralized in Amber Diceless. All you need is Endurance of at least Amber rank, and you’re safe. At least, no diceless GM worth their salt would even think about killing your princeling for walking The Pattern. Fucking Boring.
  • As someone who has been practicing and teaching reality-based self-protection and military combatives for more than 30 years, I know that randomness is a factor in combat. In a diceless (and even more, randomless) game like Amber, this is simply swept under the rug. Fucking boring.
  • Intrigues and cabals and conspiracies in the novels were on medium pulp level at best. The meat of the stories lies in the adventures and heroic deeds of Corwin and Merlin, the protagonists. Amber Diceless glorified the intrigue part, while every single Amber player I know liked the adventure part at least a bit more than the backstabbing. Adventure rpgs without random generators are Fucking Boring.  
So, I’ll play Amber With Dice. This is the rough version of the rules I’ll be using:
  1. Create characters as usual.
  2. Convert the Amber stats to Olde House Rules’ brilliant Blood of Pangea format. In a nutshell, the most important rule is this:
  3. Warfare/Psyche:
    In combat, roll 2d6 (as per the Blood of Pangea rules) and add a combat bonus:
    Human: +0
    Chaos: +1
    Amber: +2
    10: +2, one free reroll
    20 +3
    30: +3, one free reroll
    40: +3, two free rerolls
    50: +3, three free rerolls
    60: +3, four free rerolls
    70: +3, five free rerolls
    80: +3, six free rerolls
    90: +3, seven free rerolls
    100+ 3, eight free rerolls
    etc
  4. Strength:
    Human: Might 1-2
    Chaos: Might 3-4
    Amber: Might 8
    ranked: Might = 8+(STR/4)
  5. Damage
  6. Better Damage
    2-6: 0
    7-9: 1
    10: 2 (maximum damage possible for non-fighters)
    11: 3
    12: 4

Our new Amber campaign: the checklist

Canon
Canon
This game corresponds/inspired by Zelazny’s elements from:
First Series___Second Series___5 Short Stories___
ADRPG version___Own version___Other___
All Zelazny Writings   ‘Purist’ approach for above source___

Elders
In this game, Elders relate to Characters & Their Children:
Distant___Guarded   Neutral___Mixed Reactions   
Determined by Points spent___Dangerous___
Distant Affection___Benevolent___Other___

Attributes
Attributes are compared by:
Ranks___Points   Equal___Other___
Attributes are ranked at a base:
Human 1.0 Chaos_2_ Amber_4_ Amber Ranked +6
listed in order of opportunity for initiative and Attribute speed

Endurance: regeneration, stamina, and raw power
contests of life and existence by method:
Persist___Drain___Other___All   

Psyche: arcane senses, mental strength, and intangibles
contests of will and magic by method:
Eye___Nerve___Magic___Trump___Other___All   

Strength: senses, hand-to-hand, and physical
contests of matter and form by method:
Body Art___Mass___Other___All   

Warfare: planning, artifice interactions, and counters
contests of strategy and manipulation by method:
Plan___Weapon___Other___All   

Stuff: reactions, cues, and drama
contests of destiny and harmony by method:
Reaction___Luck___Other___All   

Powers
Powers are compared by:
Ranks___Points    Equal___Psyche___Other___
Partial powers are allowed for:
Base Powers___Advanced Powers___Other___None___All   
Advanced Powers are allowed for:
Base Powers___GM created___Other___None___All   
power, game cost, requirements, availability in game universe

Pattern
50 note: amber blood, minimum Endurance 0, unique
Broken Pat
25 note: includes 5 pt Bad Stuff, rare

Logrus
45 note: requires shaping, very rare
Mad Logrus
23 note: not trans-shadow, includes 5 pt Bad Stuff, rare

Trump
40 note: rare
Static Trump
20 note: uncommon, common in Chaos

Items & smArtifacts
(varies) note: must include backstory legend, item ranks are used, GM must be consulted, rare 

Shaping
35 note: minimum Endurance Chaos
Sorcery
Use the rules from the old Trump Call zine 

Conjuration
20 note: SLOW, not trans-shadow, common

Power Words
use Sorcery instead

Other Items
Trump use with Family is?
Dangerous___Guarded   Common___Trivial___
Place Trumps?
Rare   Uncommon___Common___
Normal Trump connection is?
Mental___Visible/Audible   Physical___All____ 

Deadly Force expected most often at level?
Mooks   NPCs___Walk-ons___
Canon Cameos___Elders___PCs___

Axis of Conflict expected to be?
Characters___Enemies    Powers___Puzzles___Crisis___
Hidden___Comedy___Horror___Other___None___

Pathological methods and means by characters expected?
Villains___Monsters   Characters___
Family___None___

Shocking, offensive narrative expected?
Rare    Uncommon___Common___
Genre    None___

GM’s role planned as?
 Helper Resource___Neutral Narrator___Entertainer___
 Storyteller___Equal Partner    Minimal___

Extra Creations
by the GM for the game

Pre-Gen Characters
Etc

Non-canon Elders
none so far

Unusual Powers

(Thank you to Arref Mak for providing this handy checklist)

Amber Diceless: nope, no Everway rules

Character sheet I whipped up for the Amber 17
Canon Attribute system. 600 dpi, A4 format.

So the Everway rules for Amber turned out to be not quite what I was looking for. I wanted to stick with the old Amber Diceless attributes, but I wanted a system that treated the Amber Diceless powers more like attributes. The solution is Aref Mak’s super-elegant and deep Amber 17 Canon Attributes system. Those rules treat powers as attributes, as well. Very freeform, and at the same time, really perfect to play characters that stay close to Roger Zelazny’s description in the books.

Don’t get me wrong: Amber Diceless had Mr. Zelazny’s blessing, so there for sure is no reason to say it’s badwrong fun. But what you can say is that introducing more attributes and simplifying existing rules will work at least as well as Amber Diceless.

The day is today. In a little less than 10 hours, we’re playing Amber again. At last. It already feels like coming home.

Amber Diceless: our new campaign – played with Everway rules

We’re starting our new “Amber Diceless” campaign on Monday. After a 20-year hiatus, we’re finally playing Amber again. But not with the Amber Diceless rules. This time around, I’ll be using the Everway rpg rules.

Everway has been a reliable source of fun for us for a very long time. Ever since the game was published (1995), we’ve been using it (on and off) for a lot of different genres: Hong Kong action, Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, heroic fantasy, horror.

“Patterntech” is the name of the campaign, and it starts the player characters on Shadow Earth, set a hundred thousand years from now. Cross-shadow movement exists, but to the characters, it’s hyperspace travel. Magic has made a frightening comeback, and there are old gods that have awakened from their dreams.

The player characters all start in one of the many Houses of Nobility. They have no clue what Amber is, what the Courts of Chaos are, what Pattern is, what the Logrus means, and so on. These are secrets that will be discovered in due time. For now, all they know is, they’re living in Terra City, on planet Earth, with a dozen different routes into hyperspace (=adjacent Shadows).

We’re using the Everway rules, with a few tweaks. The biggest and most important rule change is the Attribute Auction, or better: Element Auction. 100 points, just like in the Amber Diceless rules. When the bidding war is over, I divide the scores by 5 to get down to Everway level. With the rest of their points (20-sum), they’re going to by their Powers, artifacts and creatures.

Everway, and Amber as well (when played like Erick advised) is essentially a freeform game. And that’s right up our alley. I’m stoked!

Here’s the audio teaser I made for the game. It’s in German, but I think it sounds pretty cool.


****** EDIT

Well well well… change is the only constant, they say, and they’re right (whoever they may be). Something about the rules did not feel right, so I tweaked and tweaked… and, finally, dropped them altogether.

What I’m using now is Arref Mak’s super-tight 17 Canon Attribute system, an elegant and genius twist of regular Amber Diceless. It rolls attributes, powers, artifacts, sorcery and all the other subsystems of ADRPG into 17 attributes. You can model the books really well with it, way better than the original four attributes plus powers. I had Aref’s system sitting on my harddrive for, what, 12 years. And today, I finally remembered them. Perfect, and they go well with the Everway Fortune deck.