Amber: Diceless Roleplaying

[Note:  I wanted to look at an older game that I really enjoy playing and running. It’s not for everyone, but eh. It’s still one of my favorites.]

I’m a gamer.

I don’t mean that I play video games. I mean I play roleplaying games. To me, that’s what being a gamer is. Someone who sits down, breaks out the dice, and gets into character. AD&D, Rifts, Vampire… yeah, the people who play those, to me, are gamers. Some may disagree with me. That’s cool. I won’t hold anyone against it.

AD Amber RPG

There’s a game that I fell in love with all the way back in 1996 called Amber. You see, it’s based off of the ten book series by Roger Zelazny called ‘The Nine Princes of Amber.’ The first five books of the series focused on the protagonist Corwin Barimen and were unofficially called by the fans ‘The Corwin Chronicles.’ The second five books of the series focused on Corwin’s son, Merlin, and were  unofficially called by the fans ‘The Merlin Chronicles.’ Veteran game developer, Erick Wujcik, created the game all the way back in the late 1980s – early 1990s. Believe it or not, it is still around. It’s not the most popular game out there, but it still has a very strong fan following. Plus, I run it once a month… a campaign that’s been going on since 1997.  Dear god… my campaign’s 16 years old.. it could legally drive….

Corwin Barimen

Corwin Barimen

The idea of diceless roleplaying intrigued me. Most RPGs that I know of involve dice. The dice are used to determine outcomes of battles and sometimes interactions. It’s meant to be a fair arbitrator to make everything still have an element of chance/doubt. I couldn’t understand how an RPG could work without dice. The only real way to understand how is by playing the game. It’s really all about the roleplaying.


I have to say, it worked out very well.

There are four stats in the game: Psyche, Strength, Endurance, and Warfare. Psyche powers the minor and major Powers. Strength is  exactly what it sounds like. Endurance deals with healing and how long you can do stuff. And Warfare deals with strategy and combat. There are four Major Powers and three Minor Powers. Pattern (controlling Order), Logrus (imposing Chaos), Trump (Tarot and communication), and Shape Shifting are the Major Powers. Sorcery, Conjuration, and Power Words are the Minor Powers.

The game is political in nature, where the PCs must work against each other while working with each other at the same time. This doesn’t mean they actively try to kill each other. Rather, the PCs are selfish and look out for their own self-interests first and foremost. But in order to achieve their own goals, they must find a way to work with each other. Just like politics in real life! Yay.

An Amberite gracing the cover of a magazine

An Amberite gracing the cover of a magazine

The character creation process is one of the most unique I’ve seen and helps set the tone of the game. It’s a bidding war. Each PC is given 100 points to compete for first place on one (or more) four stats. First place will give the PC an automatic advantage over everyone else, as someone who has first place in a stat isn’t just the best in that stat, they are superior to everyone else. For example, the PC that has first place in Warfare will dominate everyone else, no matter how close the second place is. If PC 1 wins Warfare with 25 points and PC 2 has second place with 24 points, PC 1 will destroy PC 2 every time they duel (assuming no RPing is involved). The Powers all cost point as well, and fortunately do not have to be bid on.

You see, the character creation process does not happen in a vacuum like in most other games. The characters are created at the same time, against each other. This is part of the fun of the game! The character probably will not follow the original plan the player had for the character, and that’s a great thing. That means the character was already shaped by the rivalries within the bidding war! I’ve seen players refuse to participate and create their characters exactly how they wanted to and dear lord, those were boring characters. The best ones were the ones who bid aggressively for a stat.

Fiona Barimen. Arguably the most powerful sorceress alive.

Fiona Barimen. Arguably the most powerful sorceress alive.

What’s it like to play Amber? Well, it’s  a different experience than most other games. It really is. You start off as, more or less, a god. But you’re in a realm where all your power means nothing, as there are gods far more powerful than you. Each has their own agenda. The culture and background of the setting (Amber city and Amber castle) ranges from medieval Europe through  Renaissance Europe. There’s no guns and very little modern technology (if any at all).

The game was in trouble for a few years. You see, it was originally published by Phage Press. Phage went out of business after Erick Wujcik had to tend to other business ventures. Heck, Erick was sitting on his third sourcebook (called Rebma) for over 10 years because he was waiting for the art to be finished (asked him about it back in 2000 at GenCon). Unfortunately, Erick passed away. Many Amber fans assumed that it was all over.

Erick Wujcik, RIP

Erick Wujcik, RIP

As far as I know, there have been two attempts to revive the game. The first one was made soon after Wujcik passed on. I think they were called Champions of Order…  I think.. I’m trying to get that confirmed. They went nowhere quickly and faded away. Next came Diceless By Design. Them, I’m not sure about either. They haven’t seem to have done much at all. And now, we have a couple of new games that are based on Wujcik’s system: Lords of Gossamer and Shadow and Champions of Olympus.


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