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Author Topic: PbeM structure for playing Amber  (Read 2867 times)

Posts: 30

Mark M

« on: April 11, 2006, 05:54:20 PM »

I yearn for a good Amber DRPG Play-by-eMail structure.

What I like about Amber and the Amber DRPG in general:

- Setting and colour. Amber, Shadow, Pattern, Courts of Chaos, all that stuff.

- Machiavellian scheming and the competition between the players/characters. the DRPG does this really well, I think. I like this idea that nothing the characters encounter is any real threat to them, unless another member of the family sticks his finger in their pie.

I also have played Capes a few times and yearn to see it used in an Amber setting. what I like about Capes as it applies to Amber (and in general):

- the way it rewards character failure. It encourages players to take more risks with their characters, and leads to dramatic turnarounds in the storyline. If Carrie states a goal, "Corwin attacks Amber and wins the throne." and fails, she can win a whole bunch of story tokens to stage future attacks.

- the way it forces a player to stake their character's drives and passions in a conflict.

- the way it forces players to make conflicts that interest the other players! Adam might declare events and goals for Arthur, that make Arthur look cool but don't threaten or interest other players and he'll be able to narrate great success for it, but he'll never win the authority to have a great influence on the game--he won't get a lot of inspirations or story tokens.

So I want to seed those things into the structure. At this point, I don't think I have all those things with what I've worked on, but I'm mostly just still brainstorming things.

I've read through several old threads on the Forge about PbeM's, too, so for reference:

Finally, I ended up incorporating a Tarot deck in the structure. I feel like a bit of a chump about it. Another person I play with has made a game involving a Tarot deck so it's on my brain. It's hard to resist doing with Amber, since a Tarot-like deck features so heavily in the text.

So here we go with what I got, standing on the shoulders of giants:

Initial Bidding/Character Generation:
Players have 12 pip cards to bid with numbered 1 to 12, total 78 points. They may only bid in increments of pip cards. They are bidding for "birth order". When the bidding is complete, players may choose their Trump, one per player, from among the face cards of a Tarot Deck. These are chosen in order of the bidding, highest bid first, lowest last. The four suits correspond loosely to the four Amber stats.

* What happens with leftover pip cards? Do players get to keep them? Can they be spent on other things? They should be able to purchase peeks at stations of the Celtic Cross (below).
* Pip cards of various suits feature in the play of the game. How are initial hands allocated?

Idea: When bidding is done and Trumps are allocated, players select any number of cards equalling the value of their Trump. Each of these cards is decribed as an item that is theirs. It appears in their Trump. E.G. Greyswandir, or Julien's armor. These cards may never be lost forever, though they may become reversed. In addition, they get pip cards equalling 12 for each suit to start.

That's about it for chargen. Everything else is just words, words, words. Description of the Trump is a must.

Play setup:
A Celtic Cross (or some such thing) is laid out, face down, using Major Arcana, (but not the face or pip cards?). Each position of the Cross represents some aspect of the Amber Universe, such as Castle Amber, Arden, the Fleets, the Jewel of Judgement, maybe even Oberon and Dworkin. As the game progresses, the cards will be turned over. Players struggle over control of the positions of the spread.

Play goes like this:
A player narrates an action; The character does something. He offers up a card of his choosing face up or face down. This is the stake of the conflict. He also lays down his first bid, face up. The bid may be a pip, his own Trump, or an Arcana he controls. Other players then respond to the bid, narrating complications to the stated conflict and laying down their own bids. All responding bids must stay within the same suit as the initial bid, unless a responding player plays a Trump himself. The responding Trump must meet or exceed the value of any previous Trumps laid.

When everyone has had the opportunity to respond, the initial player may act again.
- If the value of the responding bids do not exceed the value of the initial bid, he wins, and may narrate his succesful venture (taking into account the overcome obstacles in his path) and take control of his stake. His bid is taken by the opposition. All bids, captured or not, are reversed, until such a time as they can be refreshed.
- If the responding bids are greater than his initial bid then he has a choice. He may add to his bid, narrating how the character overcomes the obstacles in his path and makes significant gain toward taking the stake but not yet reaching it. Alternatively, he may abandon his stake. It returns from whence it came and he takes control of all the opposing bids. They come to him reversed, until they can be refreshed.

Bidding continues until the stake is taken, or abandoned.

If Trumps have become involved in the bidding, then resolution is a little bit different in a couple of ways.

First, do pip cards that have been bid become irrelevant to determining success or failure? I don't know but if so, then Bidding becomes entirely Trumps + Major Arcana. I want Major Arcana to react weirdly with Trumps and with each other. One of the things I want the Arcana to represent is secrets the characters have that can be sprung on other characters. A basic mechanic idea is to simply add the values of the cards, but that is too simple for me. I want weird pairings. Inspiration: the card games invented in the Cerebus comic book.

Second, the winning player takes control of the opposing Trump bids. (Pips are still divvied normally.) On the level of narration, the losing character is at the mercy of the winner. The winning player has some choices. He may A) release the character and take pips totalling the value of the Trump, perhaps narrating some kind of humiliation; B) Spend pips equal to the Trump and kill the character; C) Reverse pips equal to the Trump to somehow how incapacitate the the character, perhaps reversing the Trump and returning it to the player.

* Who narrates the outcome of a failure? The GM? An opposing player (My preference, but in

cases of multiple opponents, which opposing player? The highest bidder?)
* In cases of multiple opponents, how are captured bids split up?
* I'm not too happy with simply laying down another Trump to change suits.
* Where do stakes come from in the first place?! Positions on the Cross are available as stakes, for one, but I also want to have a pool of Major Arcana available. I want the Arcana hidden in the Cross to act as a kind of weakness or secret of the position--if the player controls the Arcana that matches the one hidden in the position, the character has some knowledge that somehow compromises it. Perhaps a player who wins control of a position on the Cross gets a choice: he can take control of the position, or of the card that it hides. Perhaps he could also place a new card of his choosing under it? Also, I want players to be able to attempt theft of Arcana from each other. Clearly, more consideration of the issue is required.
* What does it mean for cards to be reversed? Just that they can't be used until refreshed?

How do they get refreshed? What does it mean if a player's Trump is reversed? On a narration level, I'm thinking like Benedict's arm, or Corwin being blinded and imprisoned.

Idea: I want some mechanic to simulate the literary Trump usage with the cards within conflicts, to call on support, or escape consequences.

Structure of Narration:
Every bid must be accompanied by narration. Pips involve the character acting indirectly--doing things that do not risk him personally, just his resources. Trumps represent direct character action, and personal risk. Major Arcana represent special items, secrets, shadows that give a significant edge to the character, e.g. gunpowder that works in Amber, a magical arm, knowing how to destroy the Pattern. Narration must match the suit being played i.e. the Amber stats--Warfare, Psyche, Strength, Endurance.

* Is this even necessary?
* I need to define indirect usage/stat resources! Some are easier than others, but indirect usage of Strength? Non-personal Strength resources? Some general redefinition of the stats may be necessary.

Things missing:
* Pattern! It's such a huge thing in the books. I want some mechanic to simulate it.
* One of the great things about the books is the way past events kept being re-interpreted in new lights, each time showing more stuff going on behind the scenes. One of the great things about PbeM is the way you can archive old stuff and recall it exactly. I need to make a mechanic to recall an old event/conflict, and lay a new conflict on top of it.
* Lots more, I'm sure!

Posts: 3702

« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2006, 07:21:05 PM »

I yearn for a good Amber DRPG Play-by-eMail structure.

I read that first line and had a full-body shudder of horror and sympathy and yearning, all at once.  Why you do these things to me?  I'm a serious, big-time Amber PBeM addict from way back.  I finally kicked it, finally, and you want to make a more refined, more pleasurable version of that drug?  Yeah.  You and me both.  And then you tie in Diamondback, the incredibly obscure card game that I got really, really good at in high school and I wonder whether you're trying to break me.  In a good way, of course.

So what angle do you want to tackle it from?  Amber, the fiction, is about so many things ... and then the Amber DRPG genre is about a whole different, sometimes intersecting, set of things.  What's the core of this, for you?  Is it the believably familial nature of the backstabbing dynamics, so familiar to us from the treacheries of our own siblings, the blindness of our own parents?  The personal nature of resources, that makes armies just as much a fit to their leaders as a sword to its wielder's hand?  The emblematic nature of the protagonists, tied unknowing to forces beyond their ken, both masters and slaves of the turning wheel of destiny?

Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

Posts: 30

Mark M

« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2006, 08:44:55 AM »

you want to make a more refined, more pleasurable version of that drug?

Well whether that can be accomplished remains to be seen. I am going to make the attempt, though.

There's a lot of things in the books and in the game that I like but I'm not specifically trying to capture. To use Forge-speak, I have a very simulationist agenda in mind. There are specific notes in the novels that I want the structure to hit.

Colour: I love the setting and I want that to feature prominently in play. The Cross is a stab at that, both in that it simulates the Trump game played in the novels, and in that setting elements are inherent in it. Included in this is the iconic nature of the characters, the near-mythic resonance of them, despite (or perhaps because of) their idiosyncrasies. "The emblematic nature of the protagonists, tied unknowing to forces beyond their ken, both masters and slaves of the turning wheel of destiny." I like that.

Plottiness: I loaned the books to my brother and he didn't care much for them. He said too much stuff just happened. But that's what I want. I want lots of stuff to happen. I want the players/characters to do lots of stuff, interact heavily with each other. I also want a structure that will generate a layering of events; there are things happening that aren't immediately explained, or new actions occur that force a re-definition of previous events. Tied with this is a pitfall I have found with email games; they can get caught up in small details, or a series of single moves, small events, or conversation. I want to avoid that.

As for the Diamondback thing, I may have been misguided. I had this idea that there were strange combinations of cards, not strictly in line with a simple statistical measuring of their odds. Taking a closer look at it, I may have been mistaken. The Priestess game may be more what I'm looking for. Or maybe adding the cards with a modulo arithmetic. I don't know.
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