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
  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

2d6 OSR games: Make monsters special

Brian Harbron wrote a very good and inspiring blog post yesterday. His goal is to make Into the Odd monsters, even the average, familiar and boring ones as memorable as possible. His solution is elegant, and it helps all you referees out there even when you’re tired: Use critical damage to make your critters memorable.

In other words: Whenever your monster rolls a crit, have it do something to the player character that’s gruesome, feral, disgusting, and (fill in your word here). One word of caution, though: A critical hit in Into the Odd means that a character has lost all of his hp, and damage has eaten directly into his STR, and now he’s failed a roll-on-or-under save against his STR and loses consciousness.

In games like Blood of Pangea, Barons of Braunstein and Pits&Perils, there is no such critical hit. But in my Tatzelwurm game (a variant of Blood of Pangea), I included it. Take a look.

So, in a nutshell:
When you, the referee, roll a 12, roll 2d6 again. When you score exactly 9, your monster has landed a critical hit and DOES SOMETHING TO THE PLAYER CHARACTER THAT’S MEMORABLE. When you roll any other number, the monster does 5 points of damage.

Your landshark rolled a crit? It might swallow the player character.
Your giant octopus rolled a crit? It might pull the player character to the deepest depths of the ocean.
Your air elemental rolled a crit? It might turn into a tornado, stripping the player character off of everything he’s wearing and carrying.
Your ghoul rolled a crit? He rips off the player character’s arm and feasts on it.

From OD&D to Pre-D&D: Short play report

(liberated from my G+ feed)

The adventure:

So my players and their characters (3rd level) continued their misadventures in Yoon-Suin. After helping a village fight orc hordes (beautiful battle, using our simplified Chainmail-ish system), they found out that they had been caught in a full-sensory illusion the entire time. After the sorcerer had tried a sleep spell against the mayor of the village and failed, and after the “thief” had experienced curious perception shifts after a couple of strong schnappses (the beautiful little homlet looking rotten, devastated and foul), they managed to break the spell and kill the being that was responsible for it. Oh yes, and they found good loot in a small dungeon hidden behind a subterranean temple room.

The rules:  

We started out with OD&D, the first three books. A couple of house rules, nothing major. After the battle, the first thing I tried was dropping the to-hit numbers. I replaced them with impromptu numbers, going with what felt right (“Your opponent is pretty close to you, not very experienced in melee, you have a dagger, but are no fighter, so give me a 12 or more”).

I kept d6 damage for the first fight, but dropped that also later. I replaced all saves and tests with 2d6, roll 7+ for simple stuff, roll 9+ for demanding or difficult tasks, or even higher, adding +1 or +2 when a character had some sort of expertise or advantage. 

Even later in the game, I replaced the d20 for to-hit rolls with 2d6, using the target numbers above. Combat went lightning fast, and we had a lot of fun 🙂  The numbers I used are familiar to all those of you who play Barons of Braunstein, Blood of Pangea or Pits&Perils.

What’s next:

I might keep OD&D hp, but maybe I’ll replace them with something simpler (lower hp overall, roll average and do 1 pt of damage, roll really high and do 2+ pts of damage). For now, I’ll keep the spells and Vancian magic, but I can see them leaving, as well.