in the Shadow of Greatness


March 28, 2007

Amber DRPG :: revised :: 17 canon attributes playtested

Thoughts acquired by running my 'revised ADRPG' at the con:

  • it seemed to work as well as the base version
  • it seemed the Players understood the attributes (the questions were the expected, mirror, binding, secrets, discovery and other.)
  • it seemed the PCs tried new competent acts based on the attributes
The last being perhaps the most significant. If Players have a gut reaction to advantage and use, then I've done the right thing.

Here's the card the 'Stairway Perilous!' game used:
The canon elder pictured on the front of each card had 'five legend words' and a picture. I noticed that after 15 to 30 minutes of play, no one really had to consult their character card.

The GM had a master sheet of values and I needed to check it several times during events. This all worked well for me.

I broke up the first card design based on visual cues, trying to highlight the 'new' stuff. I also wanted to put attributes that would usually be blank on the right side of the card where they were visually out of the way. Jewel attunement doesn't come up often. Logrus is rare in most games, etc.

Now here's the card I think improves the above:
First advantage, powers are capitalized and pushed to the bottom of the card. 'Other' has been renamed 'Primal' which should be a bit more helpful. Powers that are independent of the stuff covered in canon tend to be 'ancient primal' such as spikards and secrets of shadow. I could also use the word 'arcane' here, but I think it is confused with 'sorcery' and 'primal' is much more colorful than 'other'.

This card design has other improvements:

  • attributes are arranged by speed, with fastest opportunity near the top of the card, karma, endurance, psyche, etc. The newer attributes are generally slower than the 'classic attributes'. Discovery takes time that combat conflicts do not.
  • powers are arranged by speed, with fastest opportunity near the top. This is a huge advantage given close calls in powers conflict and I'm surprised I've never thought about it. (I have, but I've never formalized the notion that Logrus is always faster than Pattern.) Psyche turns a lot of these powers on but the powers have inherent speed opportunities in the canon. Sorcery is fast and combat worthy, while Pattern is much less so.
  • left aligned powers have association with the ordered end of the universe (Primal, Mirror, Pattern and Binding appear more useful to Amber)
  • right aligned powers have association with the chaos end of the universe (Trump, Sorcery and Logrus are inventions of the Courts)
  • the above two notes might make more sense in the future, right now it's just a notion of importance I think the canon highlights

Now this arrangement gives me a jump on questions that might surface later. How long to walk the Pattern? How long to pull up Pattern defense? Shaping is faster than most Pattern events. Logrus is faster than Shaping. Sorcery is faster than Logrus. This seems so simple and yet is really helpful for rules light play that backs up the canon.

In this, there is a big question to Trump. No, calls do not take more than five minutes or so (though routinely IMC, I play that concentration takes a few minutes to contact.) But making a Trump takes hours or days depending. So it is slower than Pattern.

Binding reality into shadow stuff takes weeks (as did Conjuring in the original system.) It is slower than Trump.

I think it is a plus to scrap the original visual separations of attributes in favor of speed.

Discovery, Coup, Shadows and Secrets
These attributes might alter combat but are not speedy combat traits. Making them slower has a logic. They alter macro more than micro.

Finding an escape from a room or trap could take hours (Discovery), while talking your way out of a prison cell might take days (Coup). Finding an army in Shadow might take weeks, while protecting a Secret might involve months or years of effort. Guarding a Secret might also involve a two minute conversation or a three word sentence, but that gets into Player choices.

As a rough guide, this steers Players expectations too, just as the arrangement of the 'classic conflict' attributes does above. Protecting Secrets is a slower investment of Player time overall.


Player choices become more important than ever. 'Ties' are more likely in this system, so 'calling the time and place' for conflicts more clearly means advantage. Endurance becomes more important as a tie-breaker when 'ties' are more likely. Endurance remains the fastest PC choice.

Karma helps affect the 'fallout' of win or loss. Karma is judged the fastest opportunity because it is 'present before' PC choice. Karma is a Player meta choice.

Playtest: Stairway Perilous!

The game was a ticking clock of needed actions. Rebma was about to die. Oberon called his scions to help save the undersea realm.

However, diplomacy was a great part of what was happening.
Hidden things needed to be revealed.
Shadow resources needed to be brought to bear if possible.
Endurance and Coup were immediately more useful than Warfare and Secrets.

It seemed a fair test of the 17 attributes. Indeed, PCs seemed to focus more on personality plus competence than normal. Even considering this, royals not as suited played spotlight roles in moving the story along.

No one selected Elders that the GM might expect: Llewella, Fiona, Eric and Corwin were not played. Any of these PCs might have been seen to have advantage in social position or information. This made the game more unpredictable, but I enjoy that. It also tested the roles and personalities more than the system, I think.

More thoughts later.

Filed under : 17 canon attrib, Amber, amber.revised at 28.03.2007
Jason says...

Interesting thoughts on the character card design. I really like the ordering of things by speed.


1> Were the Elders played pregenerated?

2> How many points were the characters created with?

3> How many points would you give players in a youngers game using this system?

Posted March 29, 2007 9:14 AM
Arref says...

Yes, 'Stairway Perilous!' had all pre-generated Elders based on my own canon mapping to this system. The Players used a "legend calling" system I devised to improve each other's attributes on the fly just before play. 'Legend calling' would replace the auction for generating sticky relationships between PCs.

The Elders were designed to all have 30 points. This created royals who were not significantly stronger than competent mortals in some areas. As I've said elsewhere, to me the mechanical system difference between Elders and Youngers is that Elders gather experience/power from defeats (canon example: Benedict scouring shadow for battle permutations, Elders have "seen it all" and defeats represent dearly bought surprise info) while Youngers learn from victories.

Youngers in this system would get 20 to 22 points putting their power nearer to Elder level (than typical of Amber Diceless) and allowing elder-level attributes if desired. Contributions would be allowed for one or two points. Youngers would get experience while Elders stayed more static within a campaign. Whenever a younger reached 30 points, they would switch to the Elder experience system.

Shadowfolk may have scores of 2 to 10 in this system.

Posted March 29, 2007 11:00 AM
Jason says...

Thank you for the link and the further explanation. I remembered the vague outline of the system but not the specifics.

I'd be interested to see how it works in play.
Oh, have you described 'Legend calling' somewhere?

Posted March 29, 2007 8:58 PM
JP says...

Interesting. I would place Coup as faster than discovery, because in some ways your social presence/likability can act without you necessarily trying. Then again, I would probably have guessed that Secrets is faster than Discovery, because learning how things really work can take longer than covering that up. But I see your logic and now must go think....

Posted March 31, 2007 10:49 PM
Arref says...

I appreciate the input as these new ideas need balance and need canon support.

Your Coup is more social resources than likability. Likability still tends to be karma and "what have you done for me lately" in canon. Coup provides prestige (Eric had plenty) but you can still act the jerk.

There is something to be said for Coup being faster (always on) than Discovery. Hmmm.

I am sure that Discovery is faster than Secrets in a similar fashion to Warfare being the slowest 'classic attribute'. Secrets is the default intangible. If I can protect this Secret well, it doesn't matter how fast you are at Discovery.

Plus, I have a gut reaction that Discovery should be 'nearly' at combat speed, right behind Warfare. So that a couple of rounds of Warfare might go by with some important Discovery being made.

Posted April 1, 2007 5:19 PM