There's a thread going on right now on RPG.net about the Amber Diceless RPG. In it, a number of whiny bitches are misleading some poor guy (a certain AJFixer) who asked what was great about the RPG. They are responding by talking all kinds of shit about the game, MY game, probably the best RPG of all time.
There is a word for these people: Swine.
But there is also another word, and that word is "Losers". Not in the general sense, but in the very specific sense that I figure most of those writing on that thread are people who have LOST at the game of Amber, which is different than most RPGs in the sense that there are very clear winners and losers, and that the players compete to win and lose.
This is one of the brilliant things about that RPG, it creates a competitive atmosphere of paranoia that, well, puts a game like Paranoia to shame. It creates epic combat that makes Exalted seem like the cheap Dragon Ball Z knockoff that it is. It deals with archetypal themes and epic myth without having even a drop of pretentiousness (unlike say Nobilis, which attempts to do the same and instead ends up with something closer to a Dawson's Creek fan club than Mount Olympus).
And finally, it does scheming and plotting in a way that makes Vampire look like a kid's game.
Ah yes. This fact hit home to me a year ago, when I actually participated in a Vampire LARP. Yes, me, in a vampire LARP. I did it mostly because some friends of mine were doing it, and I was only in it for a few months.
In any case, I hadn't played Vampire in years; and here I went in, and in my first session with hardly a drop of effort I had engineered a plot where I ended up (through a series of double-feints) taking the position of Seneschal, without ever having publicly postulated for it. Within a couple of months, I had overthrown the prince, and even though my plot was found out I was untouchable because of the contacts I'd carefully established with the elders. All this in a game I am well known to despise and without really giving a shit; in other words, without even really trying.
So basically I, of all people, pwned about 30 vampire players at playing Vampire.
How did I do this? Simple. Years of playing Amber. These guys' plots were infantile compared to what the Elder Amberites (or any PC Amberite worth his salt) do on a regular basis in any decent Amber campaign. Manipulating them all was unbelievably easy, when one was used to trying to manipulate generally far smarter Amber players.
And that's what pisses the Losers off more than anything. I would wager that most of them came from a few (or a great many) campaigns of Vampire: The Masquerade, where they pranced about in full pretentiousness and engaged in very "clever" conspiracies to replace the Prince's blood with beet juice or to make the Toreador have a slightly embarrassing incident at the art gallery. They came into Amber convinced that they would have no problem with the scheming, plotting, manipulating nature of the game.
The problem is, sending vampies into an Amber game is a bit like taking people who've been trained in scheming through the inter-office politics of their Ladies' Club, and putting them into the court of the Borgias in the Italian city states. They might think they're hot shit, but they're actually children, and the Borgia will eat them alive.
So all these stupid "dark" motherfuckers think they're going to play a gracious and oh-so witty game of showing up their fellow Amberites, and in the first five minutes of the game they end up with 23 stab wounds in their back and groin and find themselves being thrown into the "inescapable" abyss while being courteously told that all the people they've ever cared about will be systematically assassinated one at a time by a strange faceless rubbery demon. (this is a fairly survivable and rectifiable situation in Amber, in case you didn't know)
(and quick, kiddies, just from my description, guess which elder Amberite I was thinking of as the mastermind of that plot?)
So of course, the vampire-swine who thought he would be king of the castle ends up getting his pseudo-intellectual ass handed to him on a platter, and notices that there's very little preening in amber, and hardly any prancing or flouncing (except maybe for Julian, when no one is looking), and decide that Amber must be a "bad game".
Right... its the game that's at fault.
Not your inability to actually play it well.
You stupid gang of shitheads.
"wahh waahh the ranks are bad, first place always wins". Wrong again, shithead. I've beaten more first ranks (and seen more first-ranks beaten) than I could shake a stick at. In my Amber campaigns there have been countless occasions where the guy who was 1st in warfare, or strength, or psyche, got his testicles caved in by PCs who didn't have a single 1st place rank, even by PCs who were drastically underpowered.
The point is, Amber forces you to actually think and work out environmental or conditional differences that take away the first-ranked player's advantage.
"wahh waahhh its all DM-fiat"
What? Don't you lily-livered narrativists LIKE DM-fiat? Aren't you always playing "experimental" Forge games that are all about the "narrative" and containing much flimsier excuses for systems than Amber's system, which is actually complete and well defined?
Oh, I see. You like that, IN THEORY.
Like communism works, IN THEORY.
The problem is in your theory, the DM fiat was made so that you in particular would get to show off your own special snowflake rainbow-wonderfulness, not so that you would get your spleen chopped into little bits by the much smarter Amber player to your left.
In reality, the DM has no more "fiat" in Amber than in any other game. Often, I've found he has less. Amber is like Chess. There's not a lot of "fiat" in Chess. You make your moves, the opponent makes his, and there are some very set results. There's little objectivity necessary once you qualify different attacks into grades, and compare them to the difference in ranks between the two fighters' attributes.
Yes, Amber does require a GOOD GM to be run well. Its not for beginners to DM (though a beginner certainly can play). But that's nothing to do with any question of fiat.
"waah waaahh in Amber the player who is most social or smart irl will win!!"
Damn right they will. So what? The fact that there's an RPG out there that actually is set up so that social or mental defectives need not apply is to me a source of constant comfort. Yes, the way Amber is set up, you as a player have to be smart IRL (that's "In Real Life"). And you have to have social skills.
Isn't Vampire all about social skills?
Oh, wait. Guess not. Its actually about simulating social skills with d10 rolls. How very "sophisticated".
So basically, Amber does what a game like Vampire only ever claimed to do. It's truly smart. Truly Machiavellian. Truly based on social interaction. Truly innovative as an RPG, too.
Vampire, for all its blowing of its own horn, had nothing particularly innovative about it. The essential system, of rolls and checks, was the same at the skeletal level as D&D or any other RPG. Most RPGs are basically the same, rolling dice to add/subtract/compare to statistics.
Amber is one of only a very tiny handful of RPGs that can claim true innovation on the level of system. None of the Forge games that I've seen can, neither can any of the White Wolf games. And this just kills the Swine.
But what REALLY kills them is that Amber is not pretentious in the least. It doesn't proclaim itself art, it doesn't put down other RPGs, it doesn't wrap itself in the bad misquotes from goth-favoured poets. It just does the fucking job.
If Swinedom is the disease, then Amber is the cure. Its no surprise that many of the people behind D20 are fans of the game. Here's hoping that Guardians of Order, who have just about built their company around the love of the Amber game, will be able to get over their financial issues and release a 2nd edition of Amber, unsullied by the massive efforts of the swine to subvert it (and believe me, on the old GoO boards, they have made every effort). And meanwhile lets hope Mr. AJFixer and curious people like him look elsewhere than Swine central for an honest opinion of what Amber is all about.
(Originally posted August 27 2005)