In the realm of curious coincidence, my ramblings about not-amber coincide with someone else’s much more focused thoughts about the same. The ever talented Jason Durall made his contribution numbers to create Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, using the Erick Wujcik’s Diceless Roleplaying system. For amber fans, this is pretty fascinating in more than a few ways. So far as I understand, EWDRP is basically the system from the ADRPG with all references to Amber and Zelazny copyrights removed. So bear that in mind and realize that if you know the ADRPG, you probably know Jason Durall’s name as a luminary strong associated with the previous game. The man is clever as hell, and the quality of his AmberCon Northwest games (which I never had the pleasure to play, but heard about unendingly from those who did) was one of the things that set the bar high for Evil Hat when we ran ours.
So with that in mind, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow looks like his not-amber, and I am excited to see this product when it comes out, and regret I missed the window to contribute some money to the project (though I’m told they nailed their numbers early). I’m avoiding looking at it during development because I’ve got my own not-amber to work through, but rite publishing has forums where I suspect the curious can find out more.
So, back to my own not-Amber.
One of the most powerful things in Amber are trumps. I don’t speak in terms of in-game power (though in some games that’s true) but in terms of gameplay, they’re a perfect tool. When you have strongly empowered characters who are capable of haring off in different directions at a moment’s notice, you absolutely want them to have an easy way to communicate and get back together. In Amber, that role is filled by trumps; tarot-like cards with the images of people one them which, if focused on, allow you to communicate with, travel to, summon or attack the person depicted. Zelazny had originally conceived them as portraits, but ended up liking the card idea better, which is good because it’s cooler and much more gameable.
The thing about this idea is it works best when it feels meaningful. Cards tap into tarot imagery, and while I want something that serves a similar role in my game, I don’t want to just lift trumps wholesale. The problem lies in finding something that could equally feasibly be used for communication that also carried a fair amount of meaning, in the way cards do. I found it in an unlikely corner.
When I was originally pondering this problem, I was listening to the audiobook of David Shenks’ The Immortal Game, a history of chess, and I was struck by an image of someone playing on half a board, and using that as a means of communication. Thus, in Argent, every member of the royal family has several king chess pieces (sometimes called keystones) which are identical, though each set is uniquely reflective of the subject. They gift them to family members and they can be used to initiate communication over a chessboard, by setting up the board, using you and your target’s king pieces. The subject knows the game has started and can set up the pieces on their end, at which point they may see and speak to each other over their halves of the chessboard.
I love this image, and it opens up the setting to the use of chess imagery which is, I think, underused outside of Wonderland. I’m still undecided on movement. Stylistically the thing to do is say if both sides have both kingspieces, then the players may castle (switch spots) but that’s inconvenient for play, since you want to bring people together. Instead, I’m tempted to say loser gets pulled to the winner (“captured”) unless both opt to pause or end the game, since that adds back in a certain element of risk.
In the grand scheme of things it’s a very small matter, but I think it’s one of those small matters with large repercussions for playability.
1 – I could swear there had been a page with just the rules somewhere, but I can no longer find it.
2 – That last added an element of risk to trump use, which was nice, but it also opened the door to most of the really stupid mind-warfare stuff in the DRPG.
3 – While not quite as cool as describing your trump image, describing the design, style, color and material of your keystone is still kind of a fun thing.