Thursday 26 July 2018

OSR Witchfinder



Seriously, please comment and please comment with actual comprehensible situations describes in natural language and without use of game theory jargon. Brendan, you can say 'orthogonal' once, because I know you need that.

And me calling myself a Witchfinder is me being ironic and edgy, the fact that I have to explicitly say this is slowly killing me inside. Please do not actually witch-hunt anyone.


Scrap ran this thread about assumed OSR game elements and that, along with Ben Miltons discussion of the new 40k game a bunch of other things, made me start, or continue, to think about Storygames and what they are.

Everyone has a good idea about what storygames are and none of those ideas are the same ideas.

So here are my thoughts. If you add your thoughts then we can start to agree about what we disagree about.

(Clearly, as I read back through this, I am describing a pattern of thought and a culture that goes way beyond just 'story games' and also clearly I can't defend most of this on rational grounds. This is not me making an argument that all of these things are story gaming but describing the idea cluster in my head that comes up in relation to that phrase.)


If it has has narrative control elements where, to paraphrase Zedeck, 'you play as a screenwriter writing your character, instead of as your character', then that's a story game.

In D&D my OSR witch-finder brain will allow this only through occasional magical effects, only in an alienating and slightly upsetting fashion and only in an irregular and unpredictable way.

Anything where this kind of thing is regularised is storygamey to me.

Apocalypse World, in my mind, must absolutely be a storygame, and if it is, then is seems impossible that anything drawn from its engine might not be.


If a game outright says that a *primary* purpose is to produce a story then that increases the storygameness.

However, a lot of modern D&D language, especially post critical-roll (role?), is about adventures as a 'story' and that the purpose is 'storytelling'. But under the hood it is very much the same old structure with a complex arrangement of character, challenge based, narrative and other elements all jammed together and which you can play in a variety of ways.

So perhaps the gaming 'culture' is storygamy but the actual system, and much of the play, is not.

I would say self-declared statements in the game text about being a story-generation machine are not themselves enough.


You begin the game caring a lot about your character in a very particular way. Identification is immediate, or quick. They are special now. They have a role and a meaning in the 'story'.

Their emotions matter directly now and very often their emotions are directly mirrored or described or measured in the ruleset.


They tend to be good at, and focused on, modelling complex person-to-person interactions. More so than modelling peson-to-space or person-to-world reactions.

If a game has a large cast of PC's largely interacting with each other more than with the world around them and if it has rules governing those interactions, then I am likely to think 'storygame'.


The players have to be protected from power abuses and that protection must come though explicit rules that make it almost impossible for the GM to be 'abusive' (however the designer defines that) if they are running by the written rules.

The benefits from strong protective rules are considered much more imporant than the possible benefits of unpredictable, and potentially unproductive chaos.

This can be extended into the political/social realm as well. That Baker-influenced lego robots game has, I think, a bit that explicitly tells you not to play if you are Fascist. Since everything is political, and since Fascists might like the game, then failing to explicitly tell them not to play is the same as writing a potentially Fascist game.


So far as I know there is absolutely no-one associated with storygames in any way who could be described as 'conservative' or right wing in their political leanings.

Conversely the OSR has a wide range from lefty nutters to right-wing whackjobs to whatever the fuck Pundit is.

So this entirely left/liberal and usually metropolitan play culture is something else I associate with something being 'storygamy'.


'Because I want you to feel successful'

You might not be able to absolutely win, but you can lose. You can die. You be unable to solve a problem. Not every problem exists 'to be solved. If you fail to solve something then the world doesn't necessarily push back, morph to provide another option or to provoke a response.

All of these are strong suggestions to me of 'not a storygame'.

Storygames to me are anxious that nothing too bad can happen to your character or you. [EDIT - see comments below & on G+ for view on how storygames actually really like some 'bad' things.] Challenges will almost always be solvable or something you can go around. You will be given many chances.


I imagine OSR-iy games to minimise the extent to which things are moved around 'behind the scenes' and, though they both use complex and somewhat flowing world-generation techniques, I think of storygames and being bent *towards* a flowing or shifting world behind the scenes more than OSR-ish games.


I barely ever got through a thread on there because it was written in Crazy but something being from the Forge, or a designer being from there or someone referencing the Forge, always makes me think of storygameishness.


So, from Wikipedia; "Agreeableness is a personality trait manifesting itself in individual behavioural characteristics that are perceived as kind, sympathetic, cooperative, warm and considerate."


"The lower level traits, or facets, grouped under agreeableness are: trust, strightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness."

To me this fits almost exactly the personality type I personally most associate with the cluster of ideas around 'Storygames'. Except for trust, because they seem to prefer strong rules to interpersonal power arrangements, and for strightforwardness, because they tend to back away from and skirt around arguments.

So when I meet people like this, I think 'storygames', and when I think 'storygames', I imagine people like this.

And this personality cluster is very different from the people I tend to be drawn towards, get along with and who's work I am interested in, who very often are difficult, spiky, awkward, disagreeable, antisocial, strange and very straightforward with it.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

A Review of The Gardens of Ynn by Emmy Allen

 Click to buy, its literally three bucks.

By Emmy Allen
Her blog, Cavegirls Game Stuff is on the right.
Click through image to buy.

Ynn is a Tea-box, a name I just made up. A sandbox or procedurally generated setting in which you are equally likely to be offered tea as to be attacked. I was also going to call it a Civil-box or Mannerbox.

So instead of it being Points of Light where civilisation is encroaching on, or receding from, the wilderness, its a world where the products and structures of high civilisation exist in a degraded, twisted or transformed state. You might have a fight, you might have a polite conversation.

The only other things like this (that I know of) are R&PL and the garden bits of MotBM, though they are a lot like this. If you liked those elements of those books then you will certainly like this. 'Scary, Alienated, Dangerous Fairytale with weird fiction elements'.

There are lots and lots and lots of event and encounter-linked subsystems for specific strange effects. The balance of mutation, alteration and effect-acting-as-strange-boon is pretty much what you would expect from the OSR/Artpunk scene. Expect to go mad and get mutated and leave with a freaky treasure that might be worth something and does one highly-contextually useful thing in a session in someone else's game in a years time.

We have tables at the end for mutations, treasure, searching bodies and flowerbeds, food stored and found, rumours, dreams and portents and a Ynnian changeling class.

I did enjoy the fact that the Puddings in the game were actual puddings. As in different physical natures, tactics and demeanours for trifles, Black Forest Geteaux and huge Brownies etc.

By the powers invested in my by a bunch of Sycophants and HATERS, I hereby call time on the Gygaxian Pudding. It was dull. All pudding will now be actual animated giant predatory confectionery Ynnian Puddings. Let the message be passed.

Ynn is easy to enter, and easy to leave if you do so quickly. If you stay too long, you are trapped and the only way back out is to go Heart of Leafy Darkness and get deep to find the door.

It would be simplicity itself to drop into any OSR/Artpunk game. So long as gardens exist somewhere in the world, or even if they used to exist.

There's no hard quest or central prompt to force you in. I doubt that would be a problem for 90% of purchasers as we are either integrating it into ongoing worlds, have curious, treasure-obsessed players and PCs or are used to adventuring settings, and making settings adventures. But if you are not of that ilk, then no, there is no big story and no big quest and so, perhaps, for you, no point.


Its serviceable. For the value, its good. The art choices are all public domain and are well made, with more depth of knowledge than I would have. The layout is functional and effective.

There are lots of very low-level errors like spelling mistakes and strange rule artefacts that refer to other minor rules that aren't there, art is slightly dulled and pixelated by the Lighscource process and there are other little dabs of layout error or imperfection. None of this is the kind of stuff that should prevent anyone who commonly reads this blog from using it in any way.


The generation system is based around a d20+ roll in which you generate places, circumstances, threats and opportunities based roughly on how deeply you have gone into the dimension of Ynn.

Without any deep at-table testing, taken purely as information, this seems like it would work well. 35 places, 35 details and 35 living encounters means a nice mixture of randomness (I think 42,875 possible combinations?) and a sense of growing strangeness, alienation and danger which increases the deeper you go.

The structuring of the world-generating information, the use of the d20 and its relation to the fluctuating, unreal and sometimes repetitive nature of Ynn is very elegant. This is another world which has been made alien in precisely the way it would be required to be generated by a die roll, a good fitting between dice generation, world-concept and game-ability.

(The basic format could easily be stolen and adapted, but most places made would have to be unstable 'perpendicular worlds' like Ynn I think. Probably there are a shitload of those unstable maze-dimensions hanging about.)

I *think*, the only set doorway out is at detail 34, so you need to go at least 14 levels deep to get out if you get trapped but lucky rolls and secret ways might shorten that distance. Conversely, if you go deep enough and spend enough time wandering around its almost inevitable that you will *eventually* find the way out.

So in conception and execution its elegant.


I have not tested this in play but *for my preferred cognitive load* the book is in an awkward spot between something you could easily and quickly use at the table and something you would generate ahead of time.

A challenge there is that the book concept is one where you are meant to be generating at the table and where the structure of the imagined world and some elements of the process of play assume this.

First a d20 roll for a location, then a d20 roll for details to apply to that location. That's two flips. Many of the location and detail entries are simple enough that I could combine them quickly on the fly but some are complex enough to require sub-tables or complex information or aesthetic relations. In those cases we might be more into 'wait for a few bites of food' time.

These also have to be recorded, so that would take a moment for me as well.

You can pause there for a little period of game time and introduce the area but in most circumstances you will be rolling for an event, even a quick one, or one provoked by searching, relatively quickly.

The events range from environmental effects, unexpected and possibly advantageous links between places and living things. The demeanour and relation of the living thing is set by the event, which saves a reaction roll and gives a more specific and organic range of postures for living or active beings to be encountered.

Then if you get a living being, you will know some of what it's up to from the Events chart, you then roll another d20 on either the night or day encounter charts.

- So its d20+ and d20+ (combine results and relate)
- Also note down.
- Either immediately or soon, d12 or d20 for event.
- From event roll d20+ for encounter.
- Numerous sub-rolls on many results.

By the time you get deep into Ynn I would be throwing a few cans of beer on the table and saying 'down that, be back in 15'.

I asked online how people who *have* used Ynn at the table got on and results were largely positive.

Solutions varied. Some people generated at the table in exactly the way the book advises, with no real problems. Some pre-generated some results and then did others at the table, some pre-generated a lot and Peter Webb did an actual online generator.

So possibly I am just stupid and maybe you get better at combining stuff as you get familiar with the book, which is a problem that solves itself in some ways.

Ynn would do very well as an App, for a phone. The short text elements, the numerous sub-tables and the fact that most end-results can be presented as about three shortish paragraphs (one all the results have been created) would make it perfect for some kind of fancy digital generation tool. The tool could also keep the changing 'map' of Ynn in digital space quite easily. You could swipe laterally for the elements of the place where you are and swipe up and down to go in and out.

You could also do an A4 "Ynn2" with original art and results linked by page to produce less diversity of result than the sequetial process but much greater ease of combination and relation, if you wanted to go for the high-status Ennie-Bait route.

And if you cut it down and re layed it out, you could bring it down to about Into the Odd size, a stapled A5 book, and sell it at Cons and via mail of you wanted that route.


There's some kind of equation where you take into account the resources that were dedicated towards a piece and its price and assign it a value relative to those two things. Gardens of Ynn is in the zone of 'Max effort for one person with no extra resources using PoD printing'.

Metzgers the Nightmares Underneath is a similar product with somewhat higher production values, it also costs a shitload more and, like I said, Ynn is $3.00, and for the information contained within, if you are of its taste, a very high-yield book.

Thursday 12 July 2018

I Interview Ben L of Mazirians Garden

I found this one really interesting.

The game with Sebastian - the Dreamlands and I story D&D, Escapism and our Hobby Ben on the City Bens Old School Manifesto Playing Online

Some of Bens after-interview comments from the original Hangouts thread;

Hey, I realized after the interview was over that you were asking me for recommendations for current OSR artists that maybe people didn't know. I talked about Tumblr instead.

Here's some stuff I'm currently digging:
Definitely Dirk Detweiler Leichty whom you mentioned, he's just amazing.

Also Jonathan Newell's illustrations of his mad city are very cool.

Thomas Novasel was also doing neat city stuff not too long ago, in the kind of John Blanche mode. A lot of crazy towers.

Evlyn M is well known but does wonderful things utterly in her own style.

Probably the one person who people don't know, because he's not on G+ and may or may not speak English, is Huargo whom you can find on Facebook under "Huargo Illustrador". He did absolutely amazing illustrations for the Japanese version of Tunnels & Trolls.

These are all Huargo


I like Hot Springs Island, Rey & Kiel are good people, I listen to Jason Hobb's podcast and Fear of a Black Dragon. If you read or played or listened to anything on here and you liked it then vote for it.

Tuesday 10 July 2018

The Wodlands 8 - The Necropolis of Glass

1. The Plains of Aesthetic Fire.
2. The Antigoblin Empire.
3. The Whetstone Ridge
4 The Painted Plane
5 The Vermillion Sea
6 The Large Goblin Collider
7 The Wodlands

North of the Wodlands, between the Drops of Ink and the Whetstone Ridge, is a city of silent tombs, glass pyramids and sheer mountains of artificial crystal. The streets are clear, clean boulevards of pure white sand and smooth glass grains. Dawn rises each day on a city swept precisely neat. Hidden in the crystal hills are mirrored labyrinths, antiseptic mazes full of reflected shadows wrapped around the hidden Krystaphagi of the Illusory Lords whose tombs these are.

In daylight, from mid-day to eve, a Grand Goblin Market fills the streets. The enormous, perhaps incalculable danger of the Illusory Lords makes the Necropolis a near crime-free and neutral trading place. The horror and certainly terminal death of leaving as much as a handprint or stain on the surface of a Pyramid, equalises all. The stalls are set well back from the glass walls, narrowing the walkable space between. No-one litters, out of fear. Trading opens at noon (on bright days) and as the evening begins to fall, stalls shutter, traders flee and the Necropolis empties once more. By night the place is dead.


From the Wodlands come criminal Goblins trading sticks, tricks and lockpicks. From the Ridge come pigs and uncomfortable Pig Knights. AntiGoblins from their Empire, in glass howdahs or containment chairs. Bedouin from the Anaesthetic Plains. From the Vermilion Sea come Invisibeetles, PenumBeetles from the Umber Woods, Painted People from the Painted Plane and others from the Reach and the Imaginary City. And of course, more Goblins. Goblins everywhere.

  1. Sticks, tricks and lockpicks - a common Goblin Stall.
  2. Goblin offering to Swap Crimes (with a Goblin Handshake).
  3. Goblin Lie Exchange.
  4. Goblin selling rusty knives & broken daggers, claims all are murder weapons.
  5. Goblin selling Goblin Weed.
  6. Goblin selling Poisons.
  7. Whetstone Ridge Pig Merchant keeping small Bristly Pigs under control.
  8. Uncomfortable Pig Knight.
  9. Manticore Bard claims to have trapped Manticore in inner song & has access to powers.
  10. Cryomaniacal Mercenary offers Cold Fusion trade.
  11. Secretive Apple dealer.
  12. Proud Waxer.
  13. Spy for a Crazed Theign on cryptic mission which can be neither explained or fulfilled.
  14. AntiGoblin in glass containment chair, guarded by firm mercenaries, hawking anti-gravity juice.
  15. AntiGoblin hawking strange equations.
  16. AntiGoblin selling topiary art.
  17. Masked Bedouin, armed with Goblin Gun, leads Xanthic Clinkerskipper laden with eggs.
  18. Sketchy Goblins claim to have boxed Anaesthetic fire - but say its too dangerous to open and check.
  19. Goblins trade red-sun opium from Vermillion Sea poppies.
  20. Vermillion Sea Goblins trade wild blue sugar cane.
  21. Goblins trading Dolphin meat.
  22. Goblin offers baby Technicolour hippo in trade.
  23. Disgraced but still proud Invisibeetle offers services as a duellist or bodyguard.
  24. Goblins trade copper scrap from old submarines.
  25. Goblin Scientists trade amber batteries full of P.I.G.G.Y energy.
  26. Illegal Peach Merchants.
  27. Wasp Egg sellers - highly perverse.
  28. Clam-Asbestos sellers from the Eastern Reach - sought by Bedouin. 
  29. Goblin Gun merchants.
  30. Magnesium merchant.
  31. Dealer in Amphetamine Cat glands.
  32. Painted People sell painted tools and weapons, foldable houses and small scenes.
  33. Painted Inquisitor seeking political radicals.
  34. Goblins trade Pigment itself, from the Pigment river.
  35. Hunters offer Captured Digital Effects.
  36. The Meta Fox.


Who lies within the mirror'd tombs and fills the Krystaphagi? Who requires such monuments and provokes such fear.

The Imaginary City, far to the south, past the Wodlands, can be governed only by Illusory Lords. Pinned in place by feigned constructed tyrants, unreal kings. Also named, in common parlance, the Conspiracy Kings.

Exact details of the Imaginary City are for a later record. Know that it is a place where nothing is ever happening *now*. Politically, there is no now. Things have happened, they will happen, are expected to happen, but there is no moment where they *are* happening.

Things begin as the forces of the old regime begin to spiral out of control. Denunciations, corruption, beheadings and tabloid journalism proliferate. Slowly things become intolerable.

The concept of the revolutionary leader must emerge, and be emergent. It cannot be centralised or planned, must come from the people, from rumour and myth.

At first, actions and qualities are assigned to them. They are intelligent, reclusive, with radical new  ideas. They are fearless, neurasthenic, perhaps they like oranges. They are a revolutionary, or a counter-revolutionary. They head a minority faction, they act from the shadows, they have a plan. But at first, nothing is found. Then, evidence come to light. They are placeless. The forces of the old regime seek them, but they cannot be found. No-one has seen them directly but there are distant reports. Then third-hand accounts -  a friend of a friend saw them in a public place. They were here yesterday. They are in the next street, in the next building. You hear them moving in the next room. The door moves.

But now, a now that is no now, it is already too late, the revolution took place yesterday, or the day before. There was chaos in the street There is a new regime now, they make laws, their face is on coins, stamps and post-boxes. The old regime must be deposed of, secured, kept safely away. Taken to the necropolis and buried, non-existent, but alive.

The old Illusory lords are very difficult to kill (being unreal), Tyrannical, powerful, and  hard to keep dead. In fact you need to build a giant glass pyramid full of mirror mazes and light, shining cubist reflections wreathed in diamonds, chained in diadems of diadems just to keep them slumberous and sleeping through the days they don't exist in. Then when it's dark & shadowy, or just very overcast - they can get wakeful again and wander around.

Meanwhile, in the Imaginary City, slowly, the new Illusory Lord goes insane, making ever more incoherent demands, acting as a tyrant. And in the shadows, whispers come of a new king who will depose them for their crimes.

All the Illusory Lords are revolutionaries from conspiracies of 1.

Some names of recent, now-entombed, rulers;

  1. Madame Lottery
  2. The Tribune of Reason
  3. The Unspeakable Crown
  4. The Restorer of Rights
  5. Breaks Twenty-Two
  6. The Avenging Applicant
  7. Scalpel of the Horde
  8. Judge Fragmentation Round
  9. South-barking Dog
  10. Prince of Knives
  11. Dark Arcturus
  12. Emergent One
  13. Thin-Skin-Hidden
  14. Lord Unlikely
  15. Prior of the Choir
  16. Queen Sigma Pi
  17. Dame Pain
  18. First Cuttlefish
  19. The Prime Remover
  20. The Optimising Eye


Diamonds usually, legends say some floors are carpeted with them. There are also rare resins, sunstones, fragments of eternal and un-meltable Ice, glass fountains spewing bubbling pools of clear magical water, rare jellyfish, cellophane, calcite crystals, occult lenses, bountiful hordes of magical mirrors of every kind and the regalia of the illusory lord in life.

There are also legal documents, seals and manifestos. Adventurers might be asked to risk the tomb simply to confirm a will or bequest, end a long-running court case, clear an inheritance or even free someone from prison.

Many of these quest-givers are thieves trapped in well-guarded mirrors. Over time the crime lords of the Imaginary city have come to be made up almost entirely of these trapped adventurers.

All of them were trapped in the mirrors after failed expeditions into the Necropolis. (Of course entering a Pyramid is insanely illegal in every place, especially the Imaginary City.)  They were carried out by friends or allies and snuck back into the Wodlands or the Imaginary City itself.

They say it is pretty freaky in the mirror verse and they want out. Things are ok near the event surface but increasingly weird and troubling the further from it you get (like a boring but distressing parallel world).

Finding themselves in a precarious, delicate position, and unable to turn to the law, these resourceful individuals always end up turning to crime. Eventually, over time, their alienation from three-dimensional mankind, and their enormous vulnerability to being shattered, turns them into wrathful and dangerous killers, exterminating any even slightly potential threat before it has a chance to harm their mirror.

One of the only ways to escape the mirror might be to have someone attempt the same expedition that trapped them, avoid the traps, survive the pyramid, discover the secret to releasing them from the mirror-verse, and return it to them.

But few would willingly undertake such a mission, and so manipulations are engaged in. The mirror-men are not always behind every attempt to penetrate a Pyramid, but if one is organised, they will soon infiltrate it.


Silhouette Machines - These can tear an individual apart or make their existence dependant on a strong light and  flat nearby surface.

Shattertraps - The commonest trap in the Pyramids. These stick you in a mirror which then tips over and breaks apart. Many individuals are caught by the trap, but the mirror saved from breaking by their friends. Whether this is a mercy on their part can be debated.

Saline Golems - Huge, smooth, slow, salty and non-infectious, the Saline Golems may be what carefully clean the streets of the Necropolis in the night. Their shape is tubular, humanoid and whacky, but difficult to spot, except for their fingers which are blunt trapezoid blocks which flash like prisms. Moderate contact with a Saline Golem can help cleanse wounds. On extended contact they fill the bodies ventricles and blow them open like bad pneumatics.

The Spritzenmann - Maybe the most awful and frightening creatures who guard the pyramids. These are silver needle automata, whose limbs and bodies are needles as fine as a hair. They stride, plinking along and jab frantically at anyone who breaks the rules.

Fighting them is terrifying as they can hardly be seen and extremely deep, microscopically narrow puncture wounds appear on the body with startling rapidity. The Spritzenmann themselves little but a hard to define blur of lines in the air. Grabbing them is like grabbing a long steel needle that hates you and lives. Their mass is so slight that blows only knock them away. If bent they scream and freak out.

They seem to both hate and fear living things and the staccato, spastic flailing of their raging and frightened needle limbs only adds to the terror.

Snakes in the Glass - Simply large glass snakes, that live in glass as if it were grass. Some of these may not even be aggressive but since they are almost impossible to see, one can step upon their hiding place and disturb them without realising. Then a huge anaconda like a mad chandelier bursts out of the smooth wall as if it were water and takes you down.

Guillotine Guys - Men made of eternally falling heavy glass blades. Like doorways torn into a dimension of transparent cleavers. Whether they mean to harm is not known. Touching one is disaster, embracing one is certain death.

Drowning Rooms - Tall rooms with invisible ceilings, or false ones, filled with utterly clear, utterly still water. The walls and door are glass. If the door is opened, the clear water flows out into the clear glass corridor and drowns anyone there. Trying to work out if an unopened room is actually huge and full of clear, still water, is a serious challenge in the Pyramids. The Sprtizenmann love these rooms.

Wednesday 4 July 2018

Review of Amber Diceless

Amber Diceless is one of the most interesting games I've read. It has a highly original and distinct self and a powerful, coherent and forcefully presented point of view on what a game is and should be.

I had an equally powerful reaction to it. I was deeply impressed by large parts and almost revolted by others.

It is a very primal game. I'm not deeply read enough in RPG history to say this with absolute conviction, but, based on what I do know, Amber seems unlike anything that came before it and seems to have had a huge influence on many strands of thinking that came afterwards.

A big fat game from the 90's golden age of big fat original ideas, it stumbles into our Age of Rust like a charismatic megafauna into a rotting theme park.


Nothing is ever simple.

Amber has 4 stats, 3 kinds of universal magic power, no dice and it takes 250+ pages of US Letter Size to tell you what to do with them.

One of interesting the ways it does this is with an extensive range of typed 'actual play' dialogue segments. I have never seen them used with such frequency in anything else. Few pages go by without a living example of the rules in the text. I think some elements of the rules might show up *only* in these actual plays. This this continual flow of imagined social interaction becomes something like a rules-chourus textual system. Like a proto-Youtube, text mimicking neo-orality.

(Like almost all examples of this kind, these sections are not actual actual play, but imagined actual play. Though likely based on situations the creator encountered in playtesting.)

There are few diagrams, simple layout, some images, but usually general idea-pool intensifiers, rarely examples.

The playtest and development environment for Amber (from what I can infer) also comes from that misty golden age of no internet, stable social networks, long, looooong persistent play groups and educated people having plenty of free time.

Development seems to have taken about 5 years (!), with Wujicik saying he read the full Amber series about 40 times, and ran multi-hour sessions weekly with a stable coterie of players for all of that time.

I'll start by talking about two of the harder elements, the opening Auction and the Combat, and how they interrelate with and express the games general conception.


So far as I know no-one has used the attribute auction system before Amber and no-one has used it since. (Corrections in the comments as usual please.)

There are four Attributes which decide conflicts between players and between players and NPC's;

Psyche - Brain Stuff and SUPER MAGIC.
Strength - Strength.
Endurance - Keeping going.
Warfare - All Fights Ever.

Each player starts with a character concept, which the rules tell them to work out in detail and picture clearly before starting, and 100 points to fulfil it.

Points can be spent on various powers, objects and pocket realities, but the main thing they buy are those four Attributes.

If two players come into conflict with each other, depending on its nature the conflict will be based on one of those attributes. Whoever has the higher attribute wins.

(It's more complex than that but we will get into that in the combat system below.)

So Attributes, particularly having a higher attribute than another player, particularly having the highest attribute of all players, is vitally important. To a large degree it lets you decide how the game goes.

Players can get more than 100 points by 'selling down' Attributes below zero, but I think once you do that spending those points in the same attribute you just sold down is pointless so its effectively a transfer system of a kind.

The Auction starts with a written bid from each player. Then open bidding. Then finally it closes.

Notable things about the Auction in play;

- It creates PvP conflict right from character generation. Everyone has a character concept which they are meant to have worked out in advance, and which is VERY IMPORTANT since, as the game repeats many, many times, your Character is more important than the rules.

So probably no-one will get exactly their desired character and probably this will be because they got into a conflict with another player.

- The bitterness of this is deepened as points can't be taken back. So if you get into a bidding war with someone and both of you break away from the herd, and the other person wins, that makes you permanent Second Best at that particular thing and you arguably 'wasted' all those points.

- A BEST PERSON is always produced and whoever is best at a particular attribute is clear, known to all and cannot be subverted by any means. So everyone knows who is the strongest or the best fighter or whatever. This sets up known unbeatable situations.

- The hierarchy below this is occluded. Everyone can see what everyone else bid, but after the bidding is done players can use remaining points to secretly buy their way up the ladder. The only rule is that a player can't become the BEST via this process.

So everyone *thinks* they know where they are relative to everyone else but no-one can be absolutely sure, other than they know for certain who is the best.

- Those who are willing to take risks in bidding and *roll deep* show up right away, conversely so are those who plan carefully and delegate resources conservatively. (Patricks and Brendans)

- The main SUPERMAGICS that PCs use to navigate around the multiverse which makes up the play space are very powerful, available from the start and cost a LOT. Pattern Imprint is the standard power and costs 50 points. Logrus is a secondary power and can't be used without Shape Shifting, together these cost 80 points.

And Wujcik turns up, in a special little box, to say this -

So you can have any character you want but in fact the system is carefully weighted towards a certain kind of character.

- Wujcik also advises the DM to tell first time players that each power they bid on is the most important, without reference to the others. I have no idea if this is intended to be taken seriously but if it is its Gygaxian Riddlemaster bullshit to a high degree.

- You can get points for doing session reports in character (I bribe my players with XP for this).

- You can also get points for taking 'Bad Stuff', which is luck, or fortune, or randomness. The results of potentially random situations are essentially a resource in the game, which you can pay for. 'Good Stuff' makes you perennially perma-lucky.

The DM is advised that the amount of Bad or Good stuff directly effects the way in which the world is described to the *player*. It effects the emotional tonality of what they see, the general heuristics of what they expect to happen or intuit from NPC's, it puts the DM in a slightly, but fundamentally different relation with the player.

This is only one of a wide range of ways that Wujcik puts the DM in a *very* complex relationship with the player and PC. Many of the other elements of the game are based around the DM carefully allowing and expressing some things while almost hiding others, and this shifts according to circumstance and event.

All this while also telling them - page 229, Rules of Engagement, Rule *1* - "Senses and memory must be truthful."

- There is also a bunch of other crap you can get, most of it relatively cheap compared to other games. A basic Amberite with Pattern but with no bids on any Attribute is essentially a god or demigod compared to any normal human.


There are some powerful polarities or paradoxes here that show up throughout the book. It is in some ways a very 'soft' game. Its about Character and expression and the char gen is literally an adversarial competition.

Two Wujciks collaborated to make this game. Original Wujcick was kinda crafty and dirty and into numbers and systems and being clever, and he did a lot of the original work on the bones of the game and put in a lot of the cheeky, slightly nasty and manipulative stuff. Ascended Wujcik, after he has played for several years, is way past anything to do with competition and will directly tell you through the book that Amber isn't a game, its a tool for producing story and embodying Characters, which is the real, most important thing about it, the 'game' part of RPG can just be thrown out. They made Amber together, collaborating across time, and neither of them could have made it alone.

An aside - PvP

The characters are expected to be much more powerful than the worlds in which they adventure. Only a handful of super special NPCs can really threaten their lives. And family members and, of course, other PCs.

Is Amber, in some way descended from a PvP mindset? Like a dark distant ancestor whose bones are in the attic that no-one talks about directly?


Few things could be more elegant than Ambers combat system, but it only works because it is a vehicle for defeat rather than death, and for story rather than.. whatever the 'other' or opposite to story is. It is entirely a matter of description and 'fictional positioning' (not a fan of that phrase) mediated by the DM.

Victory is certain from the first contact, if things proceed, and the DM knows at all times who will win in any particular circumstance

So what is fighting in Amber?

- An experiment or game, or bluff, to find out how good someone really is.
- A trick, a PC intends to set up the use of some other element, either prepared or improvised.
- A Drama engine - all deaths have consequence, usually social consequence.
- Possibly a contest of thought and invention - if both have a complex mixture of close qualities.
- A testing of the wills of the PC (are they willing to get hurt?) and the players (are they willing to get their PC hurt?)

This means each duel or fight is like a complex game of exchanged description in which people likely approach each other slowly, aiming to find out as much as they can before they put themselves in danger, and usually pretending that they are more or less powerful, are another identity, have other motives or something else. Paradoxically, it has a *sense* of lethality and real danger. If someone has a higher attribute than you, they can simply kill you.

This is compared to D&D's actual, real unpredictable danger where a Goblin can maybe knife you at level one but which often feels like knockabout fun.

So people in Amber duels, which are often non-lethal, act a lot like people in real duels, feinting, shifting, being conservative, while people in D&D, which can kill you, act like mad tank people (sometimes).

And again, this puts the GM in a highly complex perceptual and moral position in relation to both the players and the PC's. The GM could be trying to accurately represent someone who is very effectively lying and bending the PCs perception based in their levels of Good or Bad stuff and doing all of this while trying to make sure that senses and memory are accurate and true.

So everything is thrown onto description and 'fictional positioning', in this its a lot like some OSR-esque rulesets like Into the Odd where much of the complexity is meant to come from placing yourself in the world.

The combat rules are 20 pages long, describing likely manoeuvres, tactics, common fencing or duelling ploys, as well as contextual elements like the meaning and results of any combat in the wider game. I would recommend that any game designer read it.

And all this delicate, precise fluidity is born of the absence of death.

Well, you *can* die, it's hard to. Even though Amber doesn't have hit points it does effectively have a wound system - being of a certain kind gives you what are essentially chances not to die

Amber rank is 3
Chaos Rank is 2
Human is 1, or zero

So the scum still die just not the reals. Should a Goblin have a chance to kill you? - is a question we all have to answer in our own way.

But in Amber I think you can push so much of the context for what happens in a fight onto the DM because it is not a field of lethal competition. D&D has hard, obvious rules because you can die.

".. there is a drawback to a purely just game. It tends to kill characters.


"That kind of mortality, where Amberites rarely die, should be true in role-playing Amber as well. The players investment in their Amber characters is just too great for them to die easily. It just doesn't make any sense for someone to put in two or three (or eight, or eighty) hours into a character, and have it wasted on a whim.


"As a Game Master you will sometimes be faced with a choice. Whether to run things justly, or whether to warp things to allow players to survive. Stick on the side of mercy, and, just to keep things "fair" give the same mercy to the non-player characters."

Combat as war.

Combat as sport.

Combat as story.


While I think that Amber is absolutely a brilliantly made and groundbreaking work, fully deserving of being included in the RPG hall of fame (despite not being a 'game'), I also dislike large parts of it.

I'll start with the first, most reasonable dislikes and then move onto to the formless Reaction.


Wujcik has a bad habit of manipulating people through play, this comes out worst in page 230 "Create Good Role-Players".

The way you 'create' them is to put them in holodeck episodes that teach handy little moral lessons.

Monster Bashers are to be tricked into killing innocents through limiting description of the event.

Rules Lawyers - "its important to side-step their rules and concerns", and in the example given, this isn't done through an out of game conversation but by literally shifting the reality of the game away from a testy but reasonable rules question.

"Why didn't my psychic cat notice this threat?"

Honest answer - "That's actually my fault, I forgot about the cat, we can rewind if you like or I can improv something from this point."

Wujciks answer -"It did! You just didn't *notice* it noticing!

Indifferent Players - Let them role play through ordinary shit to form an emotional connection and then the rush of power helps them get attached?

Ok, that might not be terrible but it is odd.

There is also one element of the book where Wujcik comes up with a bit of time-bending player dickery to nerf the power of the Trump deck because it makes players too powerful. Yes, an unstated in-world piece of manipulation to limit the power of a rule he himself created.

I think I can argue robustly that this is Bad Stuff regardless of where you stand on role playing.

We will now move on to...


This is stuff I just strongly dislike but I don't have a deep intellectual reason I can give for hating it so stop reading now if you like.


Stuff about playing in Character, i.e. not 'hearing' stuff if your PC hasn't heard it is ok. Stuff about 'Live your character' - "Don't be afraid of your characters emotions" - ok, not my cup of tea but I can deal.

"Love Your Character


Loving your character is really the main point of Amber, both the books and the role-playing.

Making a character come alive is an act of faith..

Waling down Baker Street in London with a thirteen year-old, we noticed a memorial placard. Like thousands of others scattered all over the historical city, it announced the famous former resident of the building. "Sherlock Holmes, Private Investigator," it said.

"Sherlock Holmes isn't real!" said my thriteen-year-old friend, "is he?"

"He's real to me," I said. "I believe he's real."

We had quite an argument my friend and I." - END QUOTE

You didn't need to bother, the kid was right.

There is also stuff after this about stuff that modern storygamers would call 'bleed', which I also generally don't like.


Yes the purpose of Amber is to MAKE A STORY.

Did you know that stories have beginnings, middles and ends? That the end of a story should be foreshadowed by its beginning? Why not retrofit world elements to make a better story?


So you are meant to REALLY INVEST in your dude in Amber. And killing them would be unpleasant. So instead they suffer. Recommendations are Imprisoment & Torture, Destruction of Trust, Death of Comrades and Friends, Hatred, Fear and Loathing and Guilt.

All for this person where you are meant to be really FEELING what they FEEL.

I don't like this, it seems decadent and wrong to me.


"Ultimately. I hope you can toss this book.

The best kind of role-playing is pure role-playing. No rules, no points, and no mechanics.

If there is such a thing as an 'improved' version of Amber, its something that goes straight for the story-telling."

This is the later Ascended Wujcik speaking at the back of the book. What follows are suggestions for dumping, respectively, the Character Generation, the Points, the Magic System, the Rule and the Games Master.

So at this point you are larping, except larps actually have rules.


Alright, that's all I got and its getting dark. Despite me kicking off on it at the end its still something you should read if you are deep into RPG's. It's an excellent book despite it being essentially the Liber Chaotica of all the things I hate about storygames.

Tuesday 3 July 2018

I interview Bryce Lynch

I promise I will get back to writing stuff on here, just gotta paint this Space Marine assault squad first.

This is the Unbalanced Dice page Who are they? We don't yet know. Shams Grog n' Blog referred to in the video. If anyone can find the mapping post that Bryce is talking about then let me know and I will put it in here. The original Bryce Interview (I can never interview anyone but Bryce.)