in the Shadow of Greatness


January 8, 2006

Amber DRPG :: revised expansion :: 17 canon attributes

*drawn from ideas started on the Amber Mailing List 2006 and inspired by any number of Amber community members over time. Thanks to J.Z. for asking the questions to begin with. Thanks to G.S. and M.C. for the excellent 'House of Cards' game.

My excitement and appreciation of the Amber DRPG is the spin of actually playing within such a modest game framework with good players. I have to admit my practice for years has been towards "elegant and simple" when folks talk about expanding the PC attributes, I've never been thrilled by the prospect.

Those conversations often show someone wants to expand the stats we already have, like Warfare being a combination of 'tactical' and 'strategic' in order to have great swordsmen who may not be great generals.

That doesn't appeal to me. As mortals, we can never really appreciate the immortal accumulation of skills and power the Amberites enjoy. Getting more specific about it is the wrong direction.

Of late, I'm more convinced that Zelazny's story is so much bigger than the first two books that describe a 'throne war' environ. The game as written does a great job of providing that 'contentious throne war' flavor where the princesses are neither "interested nor fit".

Hardly surprising that Florimel is so hard to fit into the game for some GMs.

Unfortunately, the game system does not do as well at showing the following eight books and five short stories where the family is working more closely towards a complex set of goals. And if your campaign has a 'peacetime' setting, you don't have attributes that support that at all.

What's more Zelazny liked to reveal secret powers and insights that Amber did not know about as the 'campaign' rolled on. A GM trying to 'cost' new stuff on the old game system has a few hoops to jump through. In the same way that the game-start auction does not make it easy to add PCs to the roster later in the campaign.

Here are thoughts I've had on expanding the Amber DRPG:

1. I would definitely use an 'Everyway' attribute scale as per 'House of Cards'. PCs would probably have 20 points to start. Each point of attribute is twice the effect. Six to eight points in an attribute would make your ability exalted.

2. Elders would get about 33 pts.

3. Dworkin and Oberon might get about 44 pts.

4. Youngers (PCs) would get experience points for Victories over Real Threats. A single experience point doubles the attribute you add it to. Impressive gains are quick.

5. Elders would get experience points for Defeats by Real Threats. An aged immortal learns something from his Defeats, as Zelazny shows us with Benedict searching shadow for challenge. Elders are hard to defeat and their experience hard to get. Players would decide with the GM when their PC had effectively gone from being a Younger to an Elder with regards to experience. Obviously, the GM could enforce the switch when the PC attained a point total that matched the lowest Elder point total.

6. Players may create new attributes if the GM agrees that the power or niche does not emulate an existing attribute or is essential to the PC concept. Each game has its own collective vision of what the conflicts should be and one group of gamers might want a 'fancy dress' or 'card shark' attribute. Some games will do away with Logrus. Some games will add a Tech attribute so that PCs can create and repair Technology, not just use it.

7. You may wish to search for the 'Gulick Scale' notes online for how power and time effect results. There is also the Magic Formula of House of Cards, or go with a crude ladder as below. I have set the ladder ranks to 2.

impact 2
PC attribute

8. There would be 'contribution' points for game additions. These would have to be closely monitored, as a single point represents a great effect on the game.

Tuning the 'PC points' and 'Elder points' takes your campaign up or down with regard to whether state troopers can beat up Brand or PCs are quite close to Elders. Likewise, saying a shadow has 'rank 1' magic tells you immediately how powerful spells are when multiplied by PC expertise. Amber might have 'rank 0' magic while Chaos has 'rank 100'.

In this expansion, all powers are attribute skill sets and less dependant on other attributes. Attributes include, opportunity, skill, strategy, and expertise required to get best use. This general rule means rocks thrown by Strength do not require Warfare to target. Psyche opportunity activates attributes that require being turned on or summoned.

Original 5 attributes:


Original 10 powers:

Power Words
Jewel Attunement


In addition the powers of Broken Pattern, demons, constructs, compelling are added to the second rpg book, ShadowKnight. That's 19 abilities in total and GMs create others, too.

I propose 17 canon attributes and leave the 'custom added attributes' up to specific gaming groups.

Here are the expanded canon attributes:

Warfare: your expertise with tool driven conflict of sentients and arms and the analysis thereof. Benedict is ranked.

Strength: your expertise with body driven conflict of contact and natural arms and the analysis thereof. Gerard is ranked.

Psyche: your expertise with mind driven conflict of perception and intangible senses and the analysis thereof. Brand is ranked.

Endurance: your expertise with health driven conflict of stamina and survival and the analysis thereof. Corwin is ranked.

Karma (formerly Stuff): your relationship with the vagaries of the universe. Random is ranked. Note that 'Everway' and/or your game may substitute a deck of cards for this attribute.

Shadows (formerly personal shadows): your expertise in the infinite contents and topography of shadow. This does not provide an innate connection to shadow and does not give sensory data. Julian is ranked.

Secrets: your expertise of the workings and mysteries of Real Things and keeping them hidden. Oberon is ranked.

Discovery: your expertise in the relationships of Real Things to each other and revealing them. Caine is ranked.

Coup (formerly allies/devotees): your expertise in known prestige, face, and politics and the analysis thereof. Because this is a public attribute it may be fluxed by events the GM arbitrates. Example: horrible defeats in other attribute conflicts may decrease Coup. Eric is ranked.

The following attributes (which might be termed powers) involve special training and require the Player narrate to GM (who may veto elements) how they acquired the skill set:

Pattern: mastery of intangibles called Order. Benedict is ranked.

Logrus: mastery of intangibles called Tendril. Suhuy is ranked.

Trump: mastery of memory association called Real. Brand is ranked.

Shaping: mastery of Lifeform. Dara is ranked.

Sorcery (formerly conjuration, sorcery, power words): mastery of Magic. Fiona is ranked.

Mirror: mastery of Image and Dimension. Llewella is ranked.

Binding (formerly items/creatures): mastery of Crafting. Julian is ranked.

Jewel of Judgment: mastery of Inspiration. Dworkin is ranked.

That's pretty much it.

added 1-9-2006
Note that there are a few elegant options here with zero attributes. You can assume that protagonists and Family have feeble skills in many attributes they have no points in. Or you can look at their karma or pull a card to see if needed information is part of the feeble skills they have passing familiarity with. This cuts down on the trivial notes.

So Florimel might have no Tech attribute but be able to hotwire a car or reset the gravimeter on an airsled.

added 6-1-2006

I think it should also be noted that Powers require training as part of backstory and also some Attribute use. Attributes do not require other Attributes or Powers.

Filed under : 17 canon attrib, Aha!, Amber, Muse, amber.revised at 08.01.2006
Toddk says...

I have a few questions to bounce off of you.

When speaking of Shadow, my reading of that is it implies an increased facility for moving through and finding things in shadow. Is this true or a misconception on my part?

Secrets and Discovery seem to overlap with the definition relying on Real Things. My impression is that Discovery has more to do with interpersonal relationships, but I think I may be reading into that. Could you provide clarifying examples of the two to help differentiate Discovery from Secrets? Or, is the real difference between the two the latter parts of the description: keeping things hidden and revealing things and the earlier parts of the statement are more flavor/prose in nature and not definitive?

Posted January 9, 2006 11:14 AM
Arref says...

Thanks for the questions.

Shadow. Yes, topography, analysis and interaction; also an increased history with Shadow to include specifically useful locations, things, creatures and people.

Binding compliments Shadow in many ways, being able to lend more Real to Shadow things.

Secrets and Discovery are the 'tough nuts' and do need examples.

Older characters are more likely to have good Secrets stats. Secrets should be given up as a last resort. Secrets are also 'game setting' elements to partner with the GM. Secrets can get you out of a conflict in another attribute. Example: PC needs to move through the castle avoiding Warfare conflict and opts to use Secrets to use the hidden passages.

Secrets conflicts may reveal a secret but this is undesirable. Revealing Secrets does not mean you will "run out" of them. The universe is huge.

Discovery does indicate interpersonal ability and other resources. High Discovery with positive Karma might mean that folks will generally help you find answers because they know you will help them later. High Discovery with negative Karma might mean that you rely on a spy network or threats. Discovery may be used as a 'detective' asset for 'Holmesian' investigations.

Discovery may allow you to pry into a Family affair and not get caught. It might combine in interesting ways with other Attributes to get you data that leverages the PC as more effective than opponents expect. Discovery might reveal false clues or provide a history that two cousins have with each other.

Posted January 9, 2006 12:32 PM
Toddk says...

Thanks, your response helped clarify some things for me. The clarification leads to a followup question on Pattern. Shadow (and Binding) partially subsume abilities often described as Pattern. Does Pattern play a role in shadow travel or is that wholly a function of Shadow (I assume the same answer holds true for Logrus)? What abilities do fall under Pattern? Probability manipulation (or would this fall under Shadow as well)? Pattern defense? Other esoteric abilities such as a Pattern lens?

Posted January 9, 2006 2:50 PM
Arref says...

Pattern is definitely a huge amplifier of shadow travel. Per canon, the Amber family have shadow travel ability before walking the Pattern. That said, Shadow as an attribute is a poor substitute for Pattern / Logrus.

Shadows is about analysis, topography and expertise. There is not an innate connection. Shadows could pinpoint where natural paths or veils might be found (and this would be an aid in getting around.) Shadows attribute might make a Sorceror with Broken Pattern (a negative Pattern attribute) more canny. Travel through shadow without a complimenting power would be very difficult. I'm going to edit some poor word choices in my earlier comment.

Pattern has the 'usual' assets we associate from the orig Amber DRPG, except I prefer not to elaborate 'advanced powers' and let the PC do that.

So Pattern gives the initiate a sensory connection to shadow and the ability to make changes.

Posted January 9, 2006 3:51 PM
Toddk says...

Thank you again for the clarification. No followups this time. :) I enjoy reading about alternate systems and have tried some out with players on occasion.

Posted January 10, 2006 9:23 AM
Arref says...

Thanks for taking time to look it over and quiz me.

Posted January 10, 2006 12:16 PM
Arref says...

JP is tweaking and thinking of implementing this system for an Amber game.

Brannan.JP » Blog Archive » Wrestling with Attributes and Powers

"Iím wrestling with the mechanics for Infinite Amber."

Posted June 1, 2006 9:16 AM