in the Shadow of Greatness


February 14, 2002

Tone, Texture, and Trust

Amber DRPG
Tone and Texture and Trust
Believe it or not, an Amber campaign can be a wide range of Tones and Textures without murdering Zelazny's concept or the original canon. I've seen/heard of many folks taking a "pass" on Amber DRPG because it is that 'backstabbing game'.

This subject also came up when I first proposed starting my campaign with friends.

Specifically, upon reading the rulebook:

"I have a bad feeling about this family. I'd be playing a character that has to relate to them somehow, or worse yet, is a child of one of them. I can't find any of them that I even like let alone would spend time with."

This from one of my friends who is a published author. If a storyteller can't figure an "approach" to a character, how might a casual gamer do so? IOW, as the rule book portrays the Elders, they are a bunch of scary bastards.

Is that the canon? Is that the main line of the game?

Yes and No.

In my case, the group that I was 'pitching' the game to more or less sided completely with the sentiment articulated above. And the game was set aside. Six months or so later, as folks were going through game-withdrawal, I pitched the same thing again. And watched everyone's face fall. The second pitch, it turned out, was also going against the fact that some of the players had picked up the Zelazny books—- and been unable to get past the first few chapters. The rule books had basically poisoned the appreciation of the novel.

They saw Corwin's opening chapters as confirmation of what they had seen in the rules.

To be fair, I think the rules do a fantastic job of portraying the novels— even to the point of inventive excess. The Wuj really knows his stuff, and is willing to explore lots of avenues, and present those avenues for consideration. And the "alternate Elders" are all pretty creepy power-grubbing bastards. That's the way that the Wuj sees the material. And that's the way most prospective gaming people will see the material.

Amber is about other things too.

It's about pride, loyalty, and the threads that tie us together as family. Blood is thicker than water. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. It's also about privilege and poverty (that last is not economic poverty), about ego and memory, and the story never strays far from Wonder. In the immediate sense, it is very much about Adventure within Infinite Imagination.

So I sat my gaming pals down and made a promise. In effect, though I didn't know that I was doing it, I was giving them a "gaming contract". In the years since then, I've seen more of these on the web and it's a very good idea. Players get a standard to strive for, GM's give a standard they plan to hold, and people commit to something that they have some faith in. They invest because they have a plan of trust.

I started this ramble with, "an Amber campaign can be a wide range of Tones and Textures without murdering Zelazny's concept". Here's what I did. I told them this game was going to be about Adventure. I explained that the Eternal City was a greater wonder than the very human foibles of the Royal Family. That my plan was to do "Nine Princes in Amber" as if it was the greatest swashbuckler of all time, the Swashbuckler of Which All Others are but Shadows. I told them I wanted them to be the characters that every other fictional character might have to measure themselves against. I wanted Eternal City to be wide-screen, one billion colors, cinemascope. I promised that my Amber would not be dark and treacherous as much as it would also be heroic and inspiring. They bought it. We started. And by golly, I came close.

Is it a good game? Damn right. Is it Amber? I think so. Would Zelazny have recognized it? Maybe.

Because my Amberites are complex like the people you know but more so. They are tough to figure, but always themselves. An Amberite is both hero and clown. Both champion and arrogant bastard. They will laugh when faced by a hundred opponents, but weep if a favorite rug is defaced. They might steal your wife for a lusty picnic, but save your ass from a fate worse than death. They come from a long line of bastards and villains. They fight to preserve the Eternal Realm. They bow to none and worship nothing. They admit no betters.

My advice if you want to start a game? Don't let your players read the rules. Just talk them through character startup. Trust me.

Filed under : Amber at 14.02.2002