Amber Diceless RPG
|RPG published by
Phage Press 1991
Diceless By Design ?2009?
Amber Diceless Roleplaying is considered the granddaddy of diceless RPGs, even if it wasn't the first, and even if the mechanics are mostly reused in games directly attempting to clone it for different settings. Really, I don't know why people think of Amber first when they think diceless; must be a marketing thing.
The book is page after page about character generation, a chapter about setting, and like three sentences on conflict resolution.
It's all based on Roger Zelazny's "Chronicles of Amber," where everyone is immortal and have reality-hoppng solipsist powers like the Post Bros. Everyone is also related to each other; your worst enemies are probably your aunts, uncles and parents, or maybe it only LOOKS like they're trying to kill you so that they can secretly help you when your REAL enemy tries to take you out... but that's just what they WANT you to think! The Amber family makes Eldrad and Creed look like amateurs because those guys have only had a single lifetime to learn how to be total dicks.
No one actually runs the game as described in the book, but it has good GM advice, and the rules are often used as a foundation, to be tinkered with. If you ever get into a game, expect many houserules. And, happily for those unfamiliar with the novels, the rulebook contains a useful summary of their events, though only as described in the novels because the narrator is not necessarily infallible and most GMs also tinker with the setting to their- look, basically, expect a lot of variety between Amber experiences. Some games focus very heavily on player-vs.-player competition, others on the "youngers" being rounded up and thrown at a problem by their lazy and busy parents.
Characters have four stats:
- Psyche for telepathy and magic (EVERYBODY uses magic and has psionics, so it's the most important)
- Strength for lifting carrying, and hand-to-hand (this is what makes fights deadly, so it's the most important)
- Endurance for how long you can last (and this fuels any other endeavor, so it's the most important)
- Warfare for any kind of fighting, whether it be swords or guns or army tactics (and since this is used when you get into fights, this stat is the most important)
- Yes, I see what I did there, but that's the way it's described in the book. I'm not kidding.
Going through each stat, the players bid points to auction who will be the best in that category. This is important because if another player has a better Warfare/Strength/Psyche, they will always win against you in a fair fight, doesn't matter if she bid just one point more. Any points left over can be spent on getting powers like Pattern (hopping to different universes or bending existing ones to your will), Logrus (like Pattern, but you pull bits of other universes to you), Shape-shifting (including mind-shifting and many freaky powers, look out for chaos cancer), Trump Artistry (magic tarot/cell phone cards with many useful apps locked behind microtransactions), Conjuration (which is creating things out of nothing and/or out of existing nearby things, which is usually more efficient), and Sorcery (which can do just about anything at the price of taking fucking forever if you don't have a pre-prepared one ready to go), all in a few different forms, with most having associated "basic" and "advanced" packages. The latter three work best when "backed" by other power sources, so they work anywhere rather than just in a few universes with similar laws of magic and physics. They are all fairly powerful and fucking expensive, so it's a good idea to try to have enough points left over after the auction to actually buy them, usually by getting some prices worked out so you can get a budget together ahead of time.
For any of these stats, you can get more points to spend later by taking a less-than-immortal rank in them, but that guarantees that you are completely fucked because people will pick on that stat every goddamn time. Some groups solve this with "silent auctions," where who bid what where isn't revealed, only your comparative rank.
Equipment: Anything. If you have Pattern, you just go to a universe that has what you want, and take/buy/earn/build it. If you have Logrus, you just send out a tendril and pull it back to you. If you have Conjuration, it doesn't take too long to whip up whatever you need on the go as long as it's not too complicated or powerful. The universe you're in may have different laws of physics (ie.: gunpowder doesn't work the way you expect at Castle Amber, which is why everyone learns swords). There are powerful Artifacts you can spend points on, but the game designer was actively apathetic to anti-pathetic to them, so their rules suck and the books repeatedly tells the GM to rip them out of players' hands after they buy them, so this is one area of the game that is commonly subjected to houserules.
Skills: Anything. You're immortal, so it's nothing to hop to a universe of slow-time and spend 15 years to get a Ph.D. Every one in the Amber family is a surgeon by this method because it's too useful not to. The only limit is how bored your character would get studying.
Note that the book recommends an extremely adversarial GM/player posture that includes that bit about actively misleading your players during the auction. Most GMs running the system don't do that kind of thing, but... it's there, and it's baked into the game in a few ways.
Always comes down to comparing one stat against another. If you have the higher stat, you will win; maybe not quickly, but eventually. That's the diceless part -- thanks for showing up. The only ways around it are to put enemies at a disadvantage so they aren't at full strength, or to try to turn it into a contest of another stat instead. Which is why some claim the system is always going to be radically imbalanced in favor of the silver-tongued player who is best at arguing their points to the GM, or, potentially, the players the GM likes most and is more inclined to let them get away with more.
If you're dealing with one of the older NPC Amberites, like the characters from the actual novels, you can pretty much assume they are better than you at everything. This is why it's very important for player characters to make sure they never get into fair fights.