Diceless Dungeons: wild, wild combat

Diceless Dungeons is a gem. Way too few people know this roleplaying game, written by my friend James George. One of the reasons why people might not want to try it is because it’s… diceless. But it’s one of the most elegant and STILL old school-ish games I know.

And this is how it works:

I’m creating an adventurer. Every adventurer starts with ten health points and three talents. I pick Cunning (detect some vital clue once a day), Healthy (heals double wounds when resting) and Stealthy (hide from and sneak past enemies).

I could have also picked the sorcerer’s apprentice. And while in the basic rules, the apprentice is all you get if you want to play a magically-inclined character, it’s simple to change this class into a full-blown sorcerer. Casting spells is draining, and the character loses 1 health point when doing so.

Then, pick some equipment and you’re good to go.

But how does combat work?

Combat is divided into one-minute rounds. Depending on the strength and number of the enemy, it lasts shorter or longer. Fighting weak enemies takes 1 to 2 rounds, average enemies 3 to 5, and strong enemies 6 or more.

The DD rules state a very important rule then: “Thus, victory in battle becomes a matter of surviving to the end of the fight. But this is not without risk, because for every round spent in combat, the party takes one wound to be assigned to whatever character the players choose”. 

Ooooh!

The players describe what their characters are doing, the referee describes combat and wounds and injuries and blood and gore, and after the monsters have inflicted their total damage, the fight is over, and any player character who still has health left survives. Dead simple, but very, very elegant.

Every monster comes with a Damage Bonus that’s added to the base 1 damage it inflicts each round. A skeleton, for instance, has 3 Damage Bonus. That means it adds a total of 3 wounds to the number of wounds/rounds. Weak skeletons die after 1 or 2 rounds, and inflict a total of 1 or 2 wounds — but the Damage Bonus buffs this up to a total of 4 or 5 wounds.

The elegance of DD’s combat rules really shines when you take the “Pacing Encounters” rule on board: The referee can add rounds with zero damage to combat encounters. This breaks the pattern and destroys predictability of combats.

Let’s stay with the Weak Skeleton. It dies after 4 or 5 rounds. Let’s say 4. Without the “Pacing Encounters” rule, the players might figure out at some point that a Weak Skeleton dies after 4 rounds and will therefore inflict a total of 4 wounds. WITH the Pacing rule… the damage “profile” of the Weak Skeleton might look like “0-0-1-0-3”.

And NOW the secret: You don’t really need to PLAN zero wound rounds. All you need to do is this: Adjust the wounds inflicted by the monster to the narration of the players. Feel free to even increase total damage if they describe stupid actions. Feel free to decrease total damage for really smart decicisons. That’s all. All you need is the total number of wounds a monster will dish out. Everything else depends on the description.

Let’s do this.

I’m creating a Shadowrun character, and I’m translating the skills on the fly. I pick Smart (detect some vital clue once a day), Healthy (heals double wounds when resting) and Stealthy (hide from and sneak past enemies). 9mm Glock, a kevlar vest. 10 wounds.

My buddy is creating another adventurer. Acrobatic, Hardened (survive three rounds after death), Nocturnal (operate in total darkness). He is obviously some sort of Shadowrun physical adept. Ares Predator I. 10 wounds.

The referee sends a Strong Corp Security Team to kick our asses. It will inflict a total of 15 wounds if we go all in, exchanging bullets, maybe even 20 if we’re stupid enough.

If my buddy and me are acting smarter, ducking and weaving, shooting behind cover, the Corp Team might only do 10 wounds on us. 

The rest is all narration and narrative positioning.

Diceless and randomless combat: Theatrix

(this is, essentially, a repost, but hopefully a better illustrated one)

Theatrix has, besides Amber and Everway, the most comprehensive tips for a diceless game.  One of the ingenious innovations of Theatrix were flowcharts, with which the (beginner) referee could quickly and reliably determine whether actions of player characters succeed or fail.  A while ago I extended this flow chart by the aspect of RANDOMNESS, in case the referee wants to include dice or cards (Everway) in his decision.  

Let’s get started!

The situation:

The player character is in Venice, Italy. It’s lunchtime, the sun is burning from the sky, and people are gathering in the cool shadows, enjoying their coffee. Fruit dealers have put out their small stands, tourists are buzzing around.

The player character turns the corner, overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, and suddenly a huge guy in a dark suit and sunglasses is standing in front of him, with clearly hostile intent.  The character turns around and wants to run away, but behind him: a broad-shouldered man with sunglasses, as well.

The player character is ex-special forces. He has no tools (not even a car key) with him that he could use to his advantage. 

The two gangsters represent a roughly equal threat to our character.  They are a clear challenge.  A direct attack against them would not end well for our ex-special forces guy.

I now take a look at the flowchart.

No, I didn’t plan anything like that.

No, I do not want to use random generators for this conflict.

I can now decide whether to treat the conflict as a single, entire scene (and therefore use the flowchart only once), or whether I judge each individual action of the character.  I go for the second variant.

I’m asking my player: So the two guys are in front and behind you.  The whole alley is full of people, all close together.  What are you doing?

Player character (player clutches his heart, gasps, mumbles, laughs, grins, acts all out weird:)  I stagger like this towards one of the thugs.

I notice that my player is roleplaying really well  – that’s one of the criteria in the decision making process:  How well does the player act?  If he acts badly by his own standards, his character’s action is considered a failure.  But with this rule, I have seen many a player transform from wallflower to “amateur actor”.  

This is what  I tell my player: The guy takes a step back, irritated, and perhaps a little disgusted.

Player: Cool!  When I am very close…

Me: Yes, now you are very close to him.

Player: …then I grab his balls and squeeze with all my strength.  (gestures) My other hand grabs his throat and squeezes.

Definitely.  The character is experienced in combat.  Dirty tricks are part of his standard repertoire.

I choose “more tension”.  The corresponding box says

So the victory is not yet in the bag – the other gangster is still around.

I’m acting out the futile resistance of the gangster against the player character’s attack, gasping for air, flailing around with his arms, and finally collapsing onto the ground. 

Then, I tell the player: The guy collapses lifelessly in your arms.  You hear some terrified screams from bystanders.  The other thug is leaping at you.

Player: Oh! Oh! I push the one I just KOed into him, with full force! Let’s get out of here!

Is the player character capable of the action?  Any normal-built adult can shove another normal-built adult anywhere. So, yes. 

Again, I decide to let the player sweat a little more.

Now I could, for instance, add a wild chase through the city, if I wanted to. 

But regardless: our character will be successful because that has already been established. 

Diceless combat, in five easy steps

Over on our FKR Discord server, we’re talking about “initiative” in FKR games, or more specifically: diceless FKR games.

In 1991, Amber Diceless was the game that got my group and me playing diceless rpgs and settings exclusively, till about five years ago or so. We then got into freeform OSR gaming with occasional dice rolling. Now, we’ve come full circle, and we’re (finally!) playing without randomizers again. (Correction: I still use dice, but for random tables, not to determine the outcome of any character’s actions).

One of the major milestones in diceless rpg design is Theatrix, written by Dave Berkman, and published in 1995. It still has a huge impact on me and my style of refereeing games.

My third big influence is Everway, an rpg written by Jon Tweet, also published in 1995. It DID have a random element if you decided to use it: the so-called “fortune cards”. Those were tarot-like cards, with a “good” side and a “bad” side, and the referee was invited to interpret in-game actions with their help. The Everway fortune cards will be a topic for one of my later posts on diceless gaming.

Let’s get back on track: initiative and diceless combat.

Here are my five steps to create exciting and suspenseful combat scenes in diceless games.

1) Always work with mental images. Never stay on the abstract level of words.  Be IN the scene, don’t just describe it. 

 

2) If combat ensues, gather information from your players, clarify intentions, and always address them with the names of their characters: 

Ref: “So, Morthorr, what are you doing?”

Steve (playing Morthorr): “I point the tip of my sword at his face and wait till he leaps forward to attack me.”

Ref: So you’re waiting?

Morthorr: Yes. I’m patient, and I think I can take him.

Ref: Okay. Hamzun, what are you doing?

Mike (playing Hamzun): Is that guy moving already?

Ref: You mean Morthorr’s opponent? Not yet…

Hamzun: I wait for him to m…

Ref (pounding on the table): NOW! He’s running towards Morthorr!

Hamzun: I slide in, low, with my ax swinging!

Ref: You wanna hit him in the knees?

Hamzun: Damn right I wanna hit him in the knees! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Ref: He’s fast, really fast! But you manage to get that hit in. With a sickening crunch, your ax buries itself in his left knee. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH he’s screaming, AAAAAAAAHHHHHH, down on his knees, holding his knee. Blood everywhere, but he tries to g…

Morthorr: Diiiiiiie! DIIIIIIEEEE! I shove my sword in his face, with all I’ve got! DIIIIEEEE!

Ref: You… impale his face on your sword. It feels like you cut the strings on a puppet: He goes limp, and he is suddenly very heavy. Then, he sighs: “Hah”, and closes his eyes. His face looks peaceful now. 

3) Initiative: We all grew up with books, comic books, movies and audio plays. We know, instinctively, how combat, dramatic or not, looks like. Evoke the spirit of those media. Build a mental movie with your players’ descriptions. 

Take into account the capabilities of their characters. Does it make sense that Hamzun, in the example above, hits the opponent, even though he’s “really fast”? Yes, it does: His attention is on Morthorr. Hamzun’s attack comes out of the blue, it surprises him. And Hamzun is not a bad fighter, either.

Does it make sense that Morthorr is able to kill the opponent? Absolutely: He’s severely wounded, can’t walk, is on his knees, probably overwhelmed by pain.

4) Don’t be afraid to make hard decisions. Diceless gaming forces decisions on you, decisions that, in other play styles, you conveniently shift on the dice. You already have a general impression of what the characters involved in the game are capable of. An author writing an action scene does not need to roll dice, and you don’t need to, either. Picture the scene. Use the power of imagination. See the fight happening. The order of events flows naturally from there. Trust your instincts.

5) Play without dice often. Practice makes perfect.

Have fun!

How don’t I roll?: The heart of FKR

 In my opinion, the Landshut Rules capture my way of refereeing games perfectly: 

Most of the times, I don’t roll dice. Diceless gaming has been around since the beginning of our hobby. Gary Gygax said (purportedly):

I don’t know if that’s true, but after all I heard in my chats with the grognards who played with Gary and the Daves, I feel comfortable he really said this.

Readers ask me if there is a rhyme and reason to this process: When do I roll the dice? When do I determine the outcome without rolling them?

The answer is: No, there is no method I’m following. I roll the dice for and/or against my players when I feel like it. It all depends on the mood at the table: my mood. The players’ mood. There is no method, no single true way. It truly is as wishy-washy as it sounds.

And it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes, I’ll draw tarot cards, or the Everway fortune cards. Sometimes, it’ll be something like “try to hit that die over there with your die to succeed”. Sometimes, it’s play-acting with minis or action figures. It’s all spur-of-the-moment, going with flow.

This, really, is the heart of Free Kriegsspiel Revolution for me: playing like we did as kids, but with a more mature mindset. At least, most of the times 🙂

Blast from the past: My first diceless roleplaying game: "Heritage" (1999, long post)

Wow!
I just found this… and it’s still as relevant now as it was 21 years ago. Let’s do this!

Heritage is the Matush Manhunt core rules system as of August 8, 1999. All future roleplaying supplements, online or on paper, will use the Heritage system. 

First of all, Heritage is not written for unexperienced or immature players. The mechanics presented herein require a good portion of roleplaying, and suspension of disbelief – not rules lawyering. 

The history of Heritage: 

I began roleplaying in 1983/1984. After playing 30+ systems, I accidently stumbled across diceless roleplaying (in form of the Amber: Diceless Roleplaying system). This was the moment when I was really hooked. A few years ago, I wrote No Points Heroes, a optional diceless/dice-using rpg, heavily based on storytelling principles. Then, I read Theatrix, which lighted another fire in me.

Not to be forgotten is the superb SLUG system by Steffan O’Sullivan. It inspired me a lot.

I didn’t take long, and I had finished Above Average, a superhero storytelling system. Still, I was looking for an even simpler game, for a storytelling system that could stand up to all requirements of a mature, earnest roleplaying game – but still be very simple, very easy to master. 

Heritage is such a system. It’s the essence of my 16 years of roleplaying experience.  

Our ancestors used to tell each other stories to entertain themselves. Later came books, later came movies. And then, roleplaying was (re-)invented. It began with easy rules, and, given 20 years, it grew complicated. More and more rules tried to simulate instead of tell a story. Heritage belongs into the second category: it wants to help players tell a story.  

Rule One: Get Involved!  

What makes a roleplaying game a roleplaying game? You can play a character and bring him/her to life. Most often, this character is able to do things which the player is not able to do, though this is not a necessary precondition. This character is thrown into adventures – which usually are not your everyday, off-the-shelf experiences.  

To make a long story short: a roleplaying game offers you the great opportunity to play another role.  

Roleplaying games and movies have much in common: they tell stories about persons; these persons may be fictional, but they need not necessarily be.  

Let’s stay a while at the movies: why do we like a film? What reasons are there that we don’t like a movie? The main reason is that we like or don’t like the Plot, the story that is told. Another reason is that we like or don’t like the impersonation, the way the characters are played by the actors.  

With roleplaying characters, it’s just the same.  

Let’s assume that the story that is told is a good one. What makes a roleplaying session a good one, then? Right: the impersonation, the way the characters are played.  

A good character roleplaying game is not a good character roleplaying game because of its power lists and tables and modifiers and rules for everything and anything, but it is a good one because the background and the stories are told well. The rules, the modifiers, the tables and the power lists are decoration, frills, not more. If character characters are played flatly, even the best story is flat.  

So the first step towards a storytelling character game is: drop the rules. I know, some readers will switch off their computers now. But please be patient, and I guarantee that you will make a radically new roleplaying experience.  

Drop the rules. Drop the numbers and power lists. Free yourself from everything that limits your imagination. Keep your focus on how your character character can become alive. You are the character. So think like your character, act like your character, feel like your character, talk like your character, laugh like your character … be your character while you are playing him.  

No, I don’t say that this is easy. It is not easy. But once you are familiar with your roleplaying character, you will add a whole new dimension to your roleplaying sessions.  

Playing your character means being him. This has nothing to do with playing effectively. Effective roleplayers are persons who roleplay to win. But roleplaying games are made to play roles, not to win. Wanna win the game? Go and play chess, or any other wargame.  

   

Rule 2: Characters are what you want them to be  

You have read correctly. We don’t need dice or tables or any other crutches to set our creative potential free. But first let’s define what “diceless” means. “Diceless” means a complete lack of random generators.  

Random generators are not only dice (like 99 percent of all roleplaying games), but also drawing cards (like, for instance, TSR’s SAGA™ system), throwing bones or any other methods of generating a random result.  

A roleplaying character is the sum of his experiences. He has lived a life before the player got to know him. We will try to filter out the essence of his life. We will pick out the most important stations in his life. This way of filtering biographical information is called “character description”.  

A character description in Heritage includes the following information:  

In-depth Character Background and History: this is the player character’s lifepath, a story of his life before the player met him.

Good Things and Bad Things. These are all those things that are either positive for your character, or harmful. Good Things and bad Things are the main concept of Heritage, so please hang on, I’ll explain them in a minute.

Wealth: Heritage has very easy rules for a character’s wealth. This is, how rich he is.

It is best if you grab a pencil and a sheet of paper now, and create a character with me. Take a short break. Fire up your imagination.  

Ready?  

Your character is Good Things & Bad Things

Heritage characters are described by two categories: Good Things, and Bad Things. These categories cover    e v e r y t h i n g.

Good Things are all those abilities, skills, and historical data that are positive for your character, or that your character is good at.

Thus, Good Things can be good skills, abilities, personality traits, quirks, and bits of his life. A good Driving skill belongs to Good Things. Your character can toss magical spells quite well? Good Thing. A happy partnership is a Good Thing. Your character may act really heroic when the going gets tough. This is a Good Thing. Or he may own a large library with books from all over the world. This is also a Good Thing. Perhaps he has connections to a CIA agent who provides him with information. This is a Good Thing. Maybe your character is described as being “filthy rich”. A Good Thing, I’d say, except if you’re a Communist 😉

On the other hand, there is the downside of life.

The Bad Things. These are all these things that your character is bad in, or that are negative for him. Maybe he is not very quick on the uptake. Bad Thing. Or, he lives on the streets, has no money. Bad Thing. Maybe he is driven by hatred because something truly bad happened in the past. Bad Thing.

Very important are also your character’s flaws. Flaws are problems that are personal to your hero and that occur again and again during the roleplaying sessions. Flaws can describe physical impairments or pyschological problems, like “Has only one leg”, or “Loses his powers when bathed in green radiation” (cited from Theatrix, page 45). Needless to say, Flaws are Bad Things. It’s simply not interesting if a character has no weakness at all. Each session a player introduces his character’s flaw into the story and makes it a major complication for the character, he receives one Plot Point. Keep this in mind when later I’ll explain the concept of “Plot Points”.  

 

Forget the tables and priorities and lists for character creation. Forget that they have existed. You only need one thing: your imagination. Imagine your character. Describe his personal history. Where was he born? How are his parents? Does he have brothers or sisters? What childhood experiences died he make? What does he like and dislike? Have there been any situations that have an influence on his life now? 

Describe your character any way you want. That means, use numbers if you like numbers, use symbols if you like symbols, use plain sentences if you like plain sentences. The only thing that’s important here is: the GM must be able to understand what you mean.

This way, you can describe your character’s strength as:

“Brawnman was sweating. The barbell seemed endlessly heavy when he tried to bench press it for the seventh time. It felt like pushing against a wall. Sweat was pouring all over his face. One inch left. Pain flashed through his pectoral muscles. Brawnman could hear his own heart hammering. Boom. Boom. Boom. One more inch. Pain. Up. Push it up. Knives skewered his arms. Up! Up! An infernal scream, then he had pushed up the 70-pound barbell.” 

You don’t like writing that much? Then what about this description:

“Brawnman’s Strength: 20 (of 20)”

Doesn’t suit your tastes, either? What about this:

“Brawnman’s Strength: * * * * *”

or

“Brawnman’s Strength: Superb”

or

“Brawnman is the strongest m**********r I can imagine outside a superhero universe.”

Create your character the way you really like him. Don’t let the usual tables and creation points come into your way. You want to play a character whose everyday identity is a renowned art dealer, and who earns 500,000 bucks a month? (“What! Only one hundred thousand for this Picasso? Wrap it up!”)  

So do it!  

You want to play a cyborg character with artificial muscles so big that he doesn’t fit through small doorframes?  

So do it!  

You want to play a top-notch hacker who creates his character gadgets in his secret lab?  

So do it!  

You have the opportunity to create the roleplaying character you always wanted to play! Do it!  

Do it now!  

Some of you will say, “Hey, this is a paradise for munchkins!”. Not really. The whole roleplaying party (ie., players and game master) have the last say. So, if a player has created a character who is able to do everything, the group has the right to say “STOP! Change your character, or he won’t join our party.”  

If in doubt whether your character is too super, ask your fellow players. No other rules here. Create a hero you really ache to play. And, please don’t forget, describe him with full English sentences. No numbers allowed.  

Don’t forget the details: What clothes does he wear? Does he have family? What about his past? Lovers? Your character is no sterile clone fresh from the tank, he had a life before you met him. Try to find out as much as possible about this life. The more you know about your character, the “rounder”, the more believable he gets. The more you know about your character, the realer he gets.  

 

Mighty Character = Complex Background  

There’s one rule of thumb: the more powerful and mightier a character is, the more complex and detailed must be his background story.  

For instance: if you play a strongman, a guy whose main characteristic is “Mighty Strong: can lift trucks”, your background requires a two-page story about how he acquired this power.  

On the other hand, if you play a character who is stronger than the strongest character, who is faster than the fastest character and who is no slouch in the mental department also (compared to 10 Cray supercomputers), you better come up with a paperback novel that tells your hero’s story.  

To help you determine how complex a background you need to have, take a look at your hero’s attributes, skills, abilities and powers. Then, estimate how powerful he is. If in doubt, ask your fellow players or your GM.  

  • You’ll need a simple background (no major complications) if he is an “average” character.
  • You’ll need a complex background (major complications) if he is better than average.
  • You’ll need a twisted background (many complications that threaten your character’s life) if he is by far the most powerful character in your campaign.

Please don’t forget your character’s motivation. There are many motivations, and the following list by no means complete:  

Revenge: the hero seeks revenge for a crime that has been committed in the past. This crime can be everything from stealing the family jewels to murdering the hero’s parents.

Love/Hate: the character is driven by a strong like/dislike for a person or group of persons. He will not rest till he has made love/peace/war with them.

Altruism: the hero wants to help people, plain and simple. Often, this motivation has a religious background (for instance: the peaceful monk who helps people and defeats enemies with defensive powers)

The world is a playground: the character is the fun-loving type. All he really wants is to have fun, playing around with his powers, and maybe even entertaining the crowd.

 This is your character, and you, only you, decide how he looks and what he is able to do. If you overdo it, your fellow players will tell you.  

How Rich Your Character Is  

You will have noticed that we don’t mention detailed sums of money here. This is because the wealth rules work without dollar currency.  

If you want to buy something, the Gamemaster determines if you can buy it. This will take the number-crunching and calculating out of the game. If you don’t agree with the GM, try to find a compromise.  

Example:  

Rick plays a superhero called Plasmadart, a young man in his twenties who accidently fell into lava during a hiking trip. Plasmadart (real life name Stephen Dubois) works as an engineer for International Chemical Trust, Inc., a corporation that specializes in pharmaceuticals. A secret spin-off of Stephen’s work at ICT is a pill that helps him keep his Plasma Power under control. Stephen has a Good Thing described as “He earns pretty much and is surely better off than average Joe Sixpack”, and thus is indeed better off than someone belonging to the middle class. However, in Plasmadart‘s background story, Rick writes that Stephen must spend most of his money for the chemicals required for his Anti-Internal-Combustion pill. One day, Stephen decides to buy a sports car, something like a Porsche. His GM takes a look a Plasmadart’s wealth level. Then, he decides that Stephen has not enough money to buy it yet. If Stephen saves virtually every single penny for at least twelve months, he will be able to buy the car.   

This is the way your character is created in Heritage.  

Don’t be afraid. If you feel exhausted after all this, take a little time-out. It’s no problem to further describe your character while playing. Experience has shown that most players modify their heroes’ descriptions during the sessions. No problem.  

This is your hero. This is your game.  

   

 Rule 3: Action is drama 

I’m glad that you have decided to read on. The general part is over. Now come the rules that make Heritage a real storytelling game. Critics often say that they’re missing the element of chance in diceless roleplaying. Well, a good die roll may be nice, but please read the following example:  

Let’s assume you are playing a character roleplaying game that uses dice. It is the third session. A group of characters has made it into the headquarters of the supervillain clan boss, Baron Ludwig von Bluthausen. And, let’s assume that Ludwig von Bluthausen is at home, suprised by the heroes. The characters try to capture him, but von Bluthausen casts very evil rune spells against them, killing Flygyrl, the youngest woman of the group, only 12 years old. The other team members strike back, using their various powers.    

A lucky die roll by a player kills von Bluthausen.    

The problem is that Ludwig von Bluthausen was the GM’s main opponent. The GM’s plan was to make von Bluthausen the meanest badass supervillain the players could imagine. All his plans were shattered by one single lucky die roll. What does the GM do?    

Experienced GMs always have a trick or two up their sleeve: von Bluthausen was wearing full body armor, or he was wearing a talisman, maybe the deadly energy bolt was deflected by von Bluthausen’s silver cigar box. There are gazillions of other possible solutions here. According to the unwritten rule that a character should not die when somebody has rolled very luckily, the GM will find ways to not kill von Bluthausen. The GM does nothing else than breaking the rules, in order to continue a good story. So, when most GMs will break the rules in such an important situation, why should we roll dice in situations that are much less important?  

What is it really about when the GM ignores the lucky roll? He wants to tell a story. He wants to tell it with the active help of the players. At the beginning of this text, we noticed that roleplaying and movies bear much in common. Let’s take another look at the movies:  

You all know James Bond. He’s standing on top of a skyscraper while a terrorist helicopter is taking off. On board of the helicopter: blueprints of an atomic bomb. What is Bond, James Bond, going to do?  

Of course, he leaps into the air and grabs the skids of the helicopter. This makes sense, because it fits into the genre and the character traits. What would you say if James bond slipped and fell? Fell one hundred yards and hit the skyscraper roof? What would you say if James Bond was killed by this fall?  

Not really appropriate. It does not fit into the genre. You know what I want to say.  

How does diceless, how does storytelling work, then? How does Heritage work?  

Roleplaying means actions and reactions. In most roleplaying games, you roll dice to find out if something was successful or not. A GM usually bends or breaks the rules when a player rolls so well that it would ruin the Plot. A GM wants to tell a good story. Die rolls that spoil the story are usually ignored.  

So, the essence of roleplaying is to focus on dramatic moments and weave them into a good story.  

This is perfectly true for roleplaying, storytelling style. The only difference is that success and failure are determined without relying on die rolls.  

   

Rule 4: Success And Failure: Importance over skill 

Success and failure go by the Plot. Abilities or skills or attributes or powers mentioned in the character’s background and history only determine the magnitude of failure or success. Every action that must be successful will be successful. If the plotline needs a character to be successful, he will be successful, regardless of how good he is at a given task. If a player forgets to really play out his character, every action will be close but no cigar. Storytelling is roleplaying, not the simulation of real life. You play roleplaying games to escape from reality, I heard;)  

The better your hero is at any given task, the more distinct will be success or failure.  

When the plotline demands that a certain action is a failure, your hero’s abilities will determine how bad this failure is – but it will be a failure.  

One critic says, “Where is the element of chance, here? Where is the surprise?” Oh, wait a minute. First, you don’t need dice to suprise your players (nor do they;)). Second, rolling dice is very comfortable, but it also destroys this special mood created by the moment.  

Rolling dice is very comfortable, because the GM and the players can let the dice decide instead of thinking of possible results.  

It’s possible then, that a player says: “I attack. [rolls dice] Wow! I scored a critical hit!”  

Is this atmospheric roleplaying? Compare this with the following description:  

“I wait for him to throw thje next haymaker. When he does, I make a step towards him. My left fist land into his face, while I use the other hand to block his haymaker.”  

What a difference! This is roleplaying!  

Storytelling (playing diceless) needs no dice. It forces the players to use their imagination. The more 

imagination is involved, the more exciting the roleplaying experience.  

To guarantee a mood-laden, atmospheric roleplaying experience, some of the characters’ actions have to be successful, while others must not be not successful. As I have mentioned above, the attributes or skills or abilities determine the range of the success or failure. This may sound complicated. Here an example for clarification:  

Imagine a seedy bar somewhere in a fantasy town. Lightwing the elf is surrounded by five thugs. Four of the henchmen hold spiked clubs in their hands, their leader is drawing a crossbow. Looks as if Lightwing has to rely on his very own reflexes. Lightwing has a Good Thing called “Knife-throwing, lightfooted Wood Elf”.   

This is the situation presented to the players. Now, let’s take four different looks at the situation. The first two examples describe what could happen if Lightwing was very good at shooting, while the last two examples describe what could happen if Lightwing was a bad gunner.  

   

  • Example #1: SUCCESS, Lightwing is very good at throwing knives 
    The guy is coming closer, but you are faster. Your knife zips through his right hand, and he drops the club. In his face, you can see the pain.”  

  • Example #2: FAILURE, Lightwing is very good at throwing knives 
    You see him coming closer, but you are faster. At the same moment, you feel a strong pain in your back. Two of his henchmen have hit you with their clubs.”  

  • Example #3: SUCCESS, Lightwing has no skill in throwing knives 
    Gee. You try to step back from your opponent’s vicious attack, but to no avail. While you try to keep balanced, your opponent swing his club at you. You stumble over a chair, and the thug impales himself onto your knife. With a very surprised look in his face he drops to the floor.  
  •  Example #4: FAILURE, Lightwing has no skill in throwing knives 
    These thugs are surely a pain in the butt, and you surely don’t know what to do here. You try to aim at on of the guys. But before you throw this damn knife, you notice a burning sensation in your left shoulder. Seconds later, you can see blood – your blood –  pouring down your chest.   

Some critics say that when playing storytelling (diceless) games, the players are at the GM’s mercy. But let me tell you, arbitrariness can also be found in diceful games. Many GMs roll their dice behind those infamous GM screens (thus giving them the opportunity to ignore die rolls that don’t fit into the Plot). Arbitrariness can be found in every kind of roleplaying game, but you should try to avoid it.  

So, we have explained the Heritage concept of Plot and necessary successes and failures.  

 

But what about those actions that are not important to the Plot?  

This is easy. Compare the description of the action (plus the character’s Good and Bad Things and his personal history) to the difficulty of the situation. Think about the success chances. Then, derive the results.  

There are five different levels of Difficulty:  

  • Easy: this is something you can do anytime. You have to be under severe stress to blow this.
  • Normal: this is something you can most likely do, given enough time and equipment.
  • Difficult: this is a task you could fail, even given enough time and equipment.
  • Extraordinary: you most likely fail this task.
  • Impossible: there’s hardly a chance for you to be successful here.

Example:  

Kid Kinetic holds a dime in his hand. Fifty yards away from him a security guard is standing before Roger G. Bingle’s villa. Kid knows that a big time drug deal is in progress somewhere in the villa, behind closed doors.     

Kid’s background mentions “Even as a young boy, I could take a dime or a nickel and propel it far away, using my magnetic powers. I once hit my grandaddy’s old Buick with a dime, it was about 200 yards away. When I looked at the car, the coin had zipped right through the door. I also could take called shots, and I almost always hit bull’s eye.”   

Let’s compare the difficulty of the situation with the description of Kid Kinetic’s ability: a man is standing in the open, without visual barriers. It’s clear that Kid will hit the security guard.  

Of course, the GM has the last say. Here’s a checklist of those questions that help when determining results of actions that are not important for the Plot:  

 

  • Line 1: Is the attribute/skill/ability and roleplay good enough to be successful? If yes, goto 2. If no, goto 3.
  • Line 2: Decide if you want to have more tension or not. If you want to increase the tension, describe the result of the action in a way that gives them reason to doubt. The victory is not certain. If you want to end the tension, describe the result positively, or present the players a new problem (e.g. “The security guard is hit in the head by your coin. He drops to the floor. Suddenly, you hear the barking of guard dogs. The dogs must have heard you.”)
  • Line 3: Decide if you want to keep up the tension or not. If you want to keep it up, give the player false hope, don’t tell him that his action was not successful. If you want to release the tension, you have to decide if you want to inflict real damage or if you want them to know that they were lucky. If you want to inflict damage, try to be fair.

These methods help you to cover most situations that occur during a roleplaying session. Please describe only what the characters’ senses can really grasp. Do not offer the players interpretations.  

Never say:  “Your bullet hits the Terroryzer hard. He screams in agony, hands pressed against his temples. Then he becomes silent, and falls onto the floor. He’s dying. In about a minute he’ll be history.”  

Instead, try something like this:  

“Your bullet hits the Terroryzer hard. He screams in agony, hands pressed against his temples. Then he becomes silent, and the only sound that of his -lifeless body bumping onto the floor. He lies there, without any motion.”  

The second version gives the players a description, but no interpretation.  

   

Rule 5: Combat if dramatically appropriate 

Of course, combat belongs to Heritage like to every other roleplaying game. This chapter gives you all the details you need to run fantastic, action-packed fights. You have the opportunity to play characteric fights exactly the way you like them. And, best of all: no dice! This means no distraction (because you have to roll and interpret the roll), this means pure roleplaying, pure fun, pure action.  

If you want to know how to determine combat results in Heritage, please re-read the previous chapter. 

  

When should a fight take place?  

Remember that fights are important elements in a story. This is not to say that a story without a fight is boring. However: a fight should have a dramatical reason. Take a look at books or movies: a character fights when the fight is important to the story, not because he feels like doing so at the moment. Unnecessary fights are pointless.  

Remember that characters can be wounded or worse, killed. Such wounds are Plot turns. They serve as a major obstacle for the character in the future. Wounds are a GM’s tool for telling the player that his character has done something wrong or stupid. But don’t overdo it: killing a character is a very harsh thing to do. It’s better to let the character have a very hard time and to throw lots of obstacles in his way. Again, take a look at books or movies: characters don’t die easily.  

The stage plays also an important role in a combat scenario. What does the scenario look like? Where does the fight take place? In a crowded alley with lots of shoppers? In a run-down block with police far, far away? The stage is important. Hundreds of different props are lying around and wait for the characters to pick them up. Imagine a fight scene in a library. The characters could break shelves, or try to hide between them. 

Single books are very good throwing objects. Imagine the chaos and mayhem when something explodes in there …  

Damage Types  

Next, you as a GM must determine what type of damage occurs in a fight. There are different damage types:  

  • Blunt Damage: this damage does not penetrate the skin. For example, you are hit by a club, or a fist.
  • Edged Damage: this damage is designed to cut. Good examples are sword cuts, or a glass smashed in someone’s face. Lots of blood. Cuts can re-open when the skin is stressed too much.
  • Burn Damage: this damage is the result of exposure to fire or extreme cold.  Burn wounds are extremely painful for a long time. The scars can be humiliating.
  • Fall/Blast Damage: this damage occurs when your body is injured by a blunt attack that covers more than half of your body. This can be the result of a fall or an explosion. Most often, bones are broken, and the body has multiple concussions.
  • Penetrating Damage: this damage is designed to cause very deep wounds. Examples for Penetrating attacks are bullets, arrows, or laser sabres.

   

Injury Types   

In Heritage, we use a storytelling injury system. This system is based heavily on description. We advise you to describe the wounds very graphically. Injuries come in different levels.  

  • Non-impact Hits And Near Misses: these are hits that connect with the character, but do no harm to him, though their clothes may be cut to pieces. Non-imact hits tell the players “Hey! Careful!”
  • Scratches And Bruises: these are unimportant injuries. They don’t impair the character, and are harmless enough to not worry much about.
  • Serious Blood Loss Wounds: these wounds bleed very much. Without medical or megical aid, the character will die due to blood loss. Someone who has lost very much blood has a good chance to become unconscious, to drop things he is holding in his hands, to forget most things that are told him. Very probably he is in shock. Physical activities tend to knock him out and increase the blood loss.
  • Maiming Wounds: these injuries mean that a part of the character’s body is cut off or put out permanently (not the head, this woud be a Death Blow). Maiming Wounds have the same side effects as Serious Blood Wounds.
  • Deadly Wounds: these injuries are so critical, they kill an average human being within a few minutes. It’s possible that someone who has received a lethal hit will be conscious till he dies.
  • Death Blows: this wound creates a wound shock that is enough to kill the character almost instantly. Of course, in Heritage, there’s  always time for a last word or two.

 

Rule 6: Improvise! 

Improvisation is one of the most important aspects in roleplaying. You as a GM have to improvise a lot. But you are not the only one. Give your players the chance to tell a story – their story – with you. Allow them to create plotlines of their own. These plotlines are called subplots and are told (aka, played) by the players. Give your players lots of freedom, they’ll respond very positively. Subplots make a roleplaying session more  believable. There’s no need to come up with extraordinary ideas, a subplot often tells an everyday story.  

Examples for subplots are:  

  • Kid Kinetic loses his well-paid job as a CEO at Universal Business Machines Corp. and has problems finding a new one.
  • Stefan Becker falls in love with the woman next door, unable to think about anything else.
  • One member of the character team notices a very powerful enemy is looking for them.

Notice that Subplots are introduced by the players, not by the GM. Very often, subplots don’t need a GM; the players are GMing themselves. As an Heritage GM, be open-minded. Give these storytelling styles a try, if they work for your group, keep them, if not: try a second time, then decide whether to keep them or kick them.  

   

Rule 7: Storytelling Techniques Do Help You!  

Heritage is a storytelling game of heroic adventure. Roleplaying is like a movie without a script. So, to make your roleplaying sessions truly exciting, you can use these storytelling techniques:  

  • Movies and comic-books often use the technique of the Voice-Over. Voice-Overs mean that the character talks to himself, disclosing his innermost thoughts only to the audience (aka, the fellow players) and not to the other characters. In the comic-book, a Voice-Over is usually written in a text  box with a fuzzy border, or in the thought bubbles.  This is a great opportunity for roleplaying, so use it.
  • Use Cut-Scenes. Imagine your roleplaying adventure is a movie. When it feels appropriate, sqeeze in a Cut-Scene. These scenes can be used to describe what the heroes’ enemy is up to, or to describe scenes from the past (for instance, when a hero remembers somebody, or  when he recalls a childhood memory), or to describe dreams. It’s very exciting to actually roleplay these Cut-Scenes.
  • And: don’t forget the Sounds! Comic-books and movies have lots of fancy sounds (“THA-WACK! KAZONNNG! THUDDDDD!”). These sounds are vital for your roleplaying experience. Don’t underestimate them. Use them often.
  • And: don’t forget the Music! Music is a very good tool to enhance the atrmosphere. As a GM, have some CDs at handy, with different styles of music for different moods. Major enemies have their own trademark music.

Good storytelling also means that your characters change. Take a look at your favorite books and movies: the characters are believable because they change. This change is not only physical, it affects the psychological make-up of your hero, too. If you take this kind of character development into account, your characters are truly alive. Characters who don’t change are boring.  

The stimulus for character development need not be a world-shaking event. On the contrary; most of these changes involve your every-day little problems. How about playing a character who has family? Or playing a very young hero? A kid? Play around with the possibilities, it’s definitely worth it.  

   

Rule 8. The Plot Points: All Power To The Players!   

You will have noticed that Heritage, being a diceless character system, offers a very large bandwidth of roleplaying opportunities,compared to many other, “diceful”, games. But that’s not all: Heritage utilizes the concept of Plot Points (first introduced by the Theatrix roleplaying game).  

Let’s  recap the creation process: we describe our character’s background and history, his Good and Bad Things. These very powerful tools are enhanced by the Plot Points.  

Usually, every hero starts with two to three Plot Points. 

What can the players do with them?  

Remember: roleplaying is telling a good story. A good story requires dramatic moments. Dramatic moments are moments that are important for the further development of the story, and they involve a confrontation of some sort. This confrontation is not necessarily a fight, it can be a struggle with psychological or romantic entanglements, too.  

 Now, every Plot Point spent by the player can turn an action that involves a Good Thing into a success.

For instance: your character just has to hack into the main computer of that allmighty corporation. Spend a Plot Point, and he will succeed.

Another example: The hero team is standing in an eon-old temple of a foreign goddess. While they were searching the temple, an automatic countdown has begun: in ten seconds, two nuclear bombs the size of a truck will blow them to bits.  The only way to escape is to stop the countdown. To do this, they have to enter the password. The screen says “Who is the Indian goddess of prosperity in the month of July: ?” None of the heroes knows the name, but Chris has a Good Thing called “She owns one of the largest computer databases containing all major religious articles and books written between 1500 and 1999.” Her player spends a Plot Point and thus turns her action (that involves the Good Thing) into a success: Chris searches her databases. After three seonds, she has found the right name (“I got it! Sranyam! Her name is Sranyam!”) and hacks it into the computer. The countdown to death is halted.

Every Plot Point spent by the player can turn an action that involves a Bad Thing into a success.

For instance: my dear, your character is the last man standing, and he’s such a bad fighter, and, worst of all, he is  facing an opponent that’s simply too powerful for him too handle. But he must make his way out of the dungeon and call for help, or the party is history. Spend a Plot Point, and he makes it through.

Another example: The hero team is caught in Doctor Killdeer’s airplane. Doc Killdeer has been knocked out by a mighty blow – and he has lost control over the airplane. It begins spiralling downwards, ever faster. Chris, the team’s engineer, has a Bad Thing that is described as: “Chris tends to panick when cornered in seemingly helpless situations.” As the airplane is only a few  hundred meters away from the ground, still falling, Chris’s player spends a Plot Point and begins to roleplay his panic and fear: she cries, moans and screams, pounding her fists onto the control panel of the airplane. As Chris’s player has spent a Plot Poin, the action that involves the Bad Thing (in our case, the pounding onto the control panel) is an  automatic success. Seconds later, the GM declares: “Chris, you hit on any button you can find, and suddenly – TSSSSSHHHHHHH – the airplanes emergeny exit door opens!”

Plot Points have even more power. Every Plot Point spent by the player transforms a character’s remark into a fact. This remark musn’t contradict the facts that are already known. If two or more players make a remark regarding the same thing, the player’s remark becomes a fact whose knowledge or competence in the specific question is best. In such a case, the other players’ Plot Points are restored.  For instance:The heroes find a dead body. The man was a police officer. His heart has been cut out of his chest. Two of the heroes search the body, but find no evidence that could lead to the murderer. Heather’s player says: “The way the murderer has used his knife reminds me of Carl Crimson, the mass murderer who escaped prison last year!” But Michael Wong’s player thinks different: “No … wait a second … [uses his PSI Powers] … I see a man … he’s wearing a robe … some kind of tunic … a white robe. He’s … about 60, maybe older. Looks like a priest!”. Michael’s becomes a fact, because he is more competent (after all, he has PSI powers, while Heather doesn’t). Michael’s player has spent a Plot Point and turned his character’s remark into a solid fact.

   

Wait a second, I can hear some GMs ask: “But what about my Plot! These Plot Points are turning player characters’ remarks into hard facts! They are destroying my Plot! If players have so much power over their heroes, how can I plan my Plot?”  

Indeed, I can understand your question. Plot Points require lots of improvisational talent. There is no hard and fast rule how to handle them. My advice is to keep trying. The Plot Point system is a great tool for everybody involved in the game to tell a good story – together. As a GM, you know there are many ways to skin a cat, so it should work best if you prepared several ways how the players can accomplish an adventure.  

If you feel slightly uncomfortable with the Plot Points, allow only one Plot Point per character at the beginning. The more often you play, the  more comfortable they get.  

   

Rule 9. Experience is dramatic  

After each roleplaying session, players earn 1 to 3 Plot Points. One point is a very simple story without much thrill. A 3-point story is an exciting evening of roleplay, filled with blood, sweat and tears, that kept you and your players on the edge of your seats. You as the GM should rate these factors and then come up with the appropriate number of Plot Points:  

  • The Overall Difficulty of the session: how difficult was it to obtain a solution? Did it present only minor obstacles, or was it a tale of action, paranoia and fear?
  • The Overall Danger of the session: how likely was it that a failure would lead to disaster? Did the session place the heroes in grave danger, or  was it a “walk-through”?
  • The Overall Depth of the session: how good was the roleplaying of the group? Were they believable? Or were they boring?
  • The Overall Technique of the session: what storytelling techniques did players use, and how often? When they used the techniques, could an unknowing bystander imagine their tale as a film? In other words: was it a good movie?
  •  Plot Points in Heritage are used for turning actions that involve Good or Bad Things into a success, or to make remarks become true.  

You’ll want to know how players can improve their characters.  

This is easy. Remember that characters in movies and theater plays improve when it’s dramatically appropriate, not when they’ve earned enough experience points or Plot Points. When you and the players feel it’s a good time that a hero changes or  improves a skill or an ability or a power or any other Good Thing or Bad Thing, then do so. When you think it’ does not feel right, don’t allow them to improve or change their hero.  

This is the end of the Heritage storytelling rules. 

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