Psyche is my Bane

Bit of Amber/LoGaS nerding – I don’t like Psyche. This is separate from some of the normal confusion and issues that come from having four really broad stats and dealing with edge cases, but rather is very specific to the stat.

In the Amber DRPG, it is possible to establish mental contact with people via physical contact or eye contact. This in turn lets you engage in mental struggles, plant suggestions and compulsions and generally dink around with people’s heads. I dislike it for a bunch of reasons.

  • Aside from a battle of wills via trump contact (which is a special case) this is not something in the source material and is, in fact, really very tonally at odds with the source material.[1]
  • It makes for bad play, specifically player-abusive play. Not just antagonistic GM stuff – that’s part and parcel of Amber – but full on fun sucking cheese.
  • Worse, it effectively makes it a trump. Interpreted liberally enough (as it often is, because some people REALLY LIKE THIS) it ends up completely overwhelming strength because you can establish a psychic link while someone is beating the crap out of you, because it’s skin to skin contact.
  • On a meta level, it brings out the worst in gamers. It is the ultimate triumph of the nerd over the jock given form, and it tends to bring along that baggage.

LoGaS brings froward Psyche from Amber, and while it’s absolved of the first bullet point, the others still stand. This does not make it a bad game, and in fact, it makes it a better one in some ways, because the setting can be predicated on the idea of psyche effectively being psychic prowess. And if people want that, it’s awesome, but it’s not something that I keep at my table.

I’ve done a couple of fixes over the years. Simplest is, of course, to just keep Psyche but say that the psychic stuff is off the table. This actually works very well, especially for con games, and since I feel it’s a best practice to be clear what falls under what stat[2], it gives an opportunity to call out the other things psyche is useful for, notably perception and cunning.[3]. I’ve even taken it a bit further to simply rename the stat (usually to “Craft”, which only makes sense to Talisman players).

This is freshly on my mind due to my itch to run some Lords of Gossamer & Shadow or similar, so I am now working through some other possible approaches.


  1. To say nothing of the fact that it makes many of the actions in the book become nonsensical  ↩

  2. This is a whole other topic in and of itself.  ↩

  3. This anecdote may make no sense if you haven’t played the game, but one of my favorite tricks was this: In a large game (18ish people), I told the person in first place “You are first. Here is who is second and third”. I told the person in second place, “You are in second place. You know that SOMEBODY is in first place, but you don’t know who.”. I told the person in third place “You’re in first place.”  ↩

4 thoughts on “Psyche is my Bane

  1. David Rourke

    Wujcik wrote a game that was groundbreaking and compelling, but his view of Amber was very different than what everyone else saw when they, you know, read the books. When I ran the game I pretty much limited Psyche contests to Trump contact.

    The trick with telling people who was in which place was awesome (and certainly in keeping with Wujcik’s play style). Thanks for that.

    Reply
  2. Jason

    I completely agree that Psyche is a serious trouble spot in Amber Diceless. I typically limit psychic shenanigans to Trump contacts so that people don’t use Trumps like cellphones.

    Reply
  3. Mark Richardson

    I like Psyche battle via Trump Contacts as it brings out an acceptable level of paranoia to accepting a “call”. But I’m with you on the physical contact element. In my experience, I think we generally regarded Psyche as requiring both a sustained connection and concentration which is difficult when Gerrard is beating your head in.

    Reply
  4. Michael S. Miller

    I always saw the Amber setting as saying “all of reality is based on this seriously dysfunctional family” and all of ADRP modeling that by creating dysfunction between the players (eg, attribute auction, points for sticking up to the GM).

    Reply

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