A Letter to a Young Amber Player
I’d like to start by saying that I truly appreciate you playing in my game. You seem to be having fun, you are a nice person (a quality surprisingly important to point out in some groups), and I think you are happy to be there every week. These are good things. On the other hand, I’m not sure that you are getting as much out of the experience as you could. At times you seem frustrated – maybe a little stymied – and I want to try and help you get more out of each game experience because your enjoyment of the game is quite important to me. In fact, as the GM – my enjoyment of the game is almost directly dependent on how much my players are enjoying themselves. In that spirit, I want to offer the best advice I can, in my rambling fashion, about how to get the most out of our Amber game. As an aside, while this advice might be applicable to many games, most of it is pointedly directed at the experience that is a diceless, freeform, ridiculously open-ended, game such as Amber tends to be.
The first thing it is important to point out is the source material. Amber is a rich world in the novels full of interesting characters – and it has a tone. I’m not going to dwell on this too much here, just suffice it to say that playing Amber without knowing the source material is a little like playing in a Star Wars rpg having only seen the prequels… (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). I realize that you have a life outside of game and that maybe committing yourself to a 10 novel arc right now is not in the cards – that’s perfectly fine – but when you approach each session, remember that the others in the group have all read the novels and have certain expectations, certain ideas already shaped in their minds as they play. Since you might be out of tune with those expectations, it might sometimes be frustrating. I would encourage you to borrow the Amber game book from one of your fellow players and just read some of the source material sections. The Amber game book is one of the finest gaming tomes you’ll ever get your hands on. Take an hour, read the quotes about the characters, read the glossary in the front, read the Guide to Roleplaying starting on p.76. I actually read the Amber RPG book before I read the novels when I started with this game and I found a world I fell in love with. I also found a style of play that nearly ruined me for all other games.
And that is a great place to move on to my second point. Amber – well – it’s just not like other games. I know that you also play Pathfinder and World of Darkness games. These are both fantastic games and I enjoy both of them as well. I’d encourage you to not approach Amber as you would either of those games (well, maybe, maybe some WoD experience is a little relevant). Ultimately though, it’s a matter of scale. With Amber, you can have “phenomenal cosmic power” but you are also limited in surprising ways as well. Amber is full of immense powers that are very, very cool – but have very odd rules and nuances to them that require getting used to. It’s a learning process and I am respectful and mindful of your efforts in this area. This is another area where the source material comes in handy, but you can get by without it. A very good place to begin explaining this difference in scope is the Attributes.
You are the party leader in Warfare. We’ve discussed what that means but I really don’t think you can (yet) see the whole picture of what it means. You are Batman, James Bond, Sun Tzu, Patton & Rommel, Musashi, and Hawkeye… actually, no, wait, you’re better than all of them combined. You are quicker, more instinctual, more capable than almost anyone else in all of Creation. You can do things that other characters only dream of. Situations that move way too fast for others to comprehend – you see right through. You see traps before they happen, you smell ambushes like a pile of stinky garbage, you can read the body language and combat capabilities of others just by watching them move or hold a weapon… you have an intuitive grasp of strategy and tactics which could boggle the minds of lesser beings. You are just that good.
And here’s the thing… you as a player… you aren’t that good. Don’t take that personally. No one is that good. Not a single player sitting around the table is even close to that good. I’ll never be one tenth of one percent that good. So, it’s not just you. But that’s where the weeks between sessions come in. Have an idle five minutes waiting for class to start? Think up what your character would do in three or four situations you’ve come across in game that might come up again. Have a lonely car ride home or you’re stuck on the bus? Get cozy in your character’s skin and start taking stock of how she’ll respond to threats and situations you are anticipating in game. That way, when you are facing off against a new situation, you’ll be completely on top of it. I’m going to cut you a lot of slack because of your nature as an Amberite and your abilities… so if you get put on the spot and don’t like it – tell me to move on to another player for a few minutes and plot your response, or solicit advice from some of the experienced players – they all like you so they’ll be happy to help – and then you tell me when you are ready to get back to your scene. I’m down with that – heck, I’d prefer it.
And that brings up a really, really good point that I’d like to make and then I’ll wrap this letter up. In Amber, it is vital to know your character. I’ve met players in D&D style games who barely are willing to name their characters before third level… I know a lot of players who never see their characters as anything more than the numbers on their sheets. This does not work in Amber. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you are doing these things and I don’t think you don’t like/know who your character is but I want you to get really cozy with your character. Just crawl right up inside your PC’s brain and get to know her. Really thinking about how she fits in to this insane extended family you’ve suddenly found yourself thrust into is a good first step. What does she want? What does she value? What is she willing to compromise to succeed? Really knowing her is a great way to prepare yourself for challenges that crop up in game. I joke often that I don’t prepare for Amber each week. I’m telling you right now – that’s a lie. I do prepare. I may not sit down and make stat-blocks or write down 25 pages of plans, but I always have a back-burner of my brain stewing something. I’m always considering the implications of the group’s actions in the previous session. And I’ve been running/playing Amber for a long time so I have a strong grasp of the concepts and the feel and the pace of an Amber game. Your group is different – very different – than any group I’ve run before, and it’s awesome. You guys, all of you, are fantastic and I am enjoying this game so much that I love thinking about it. And that’s the point. I know this experience is newer for you – that Amber takes some adjustment – but starting with just taking the time to really think about your PC and who they are and what they do and why you love playing them? That will go a long way toward making the game come to you instead of forcing you to go to it.
In closing, please understand that I really do intend this to be a helpful piece of writing. You are not doing anything “wrong” and I absolutely don’t want you to take it that way… My aim is to help you have the most fun you can as a part of this game. Talk to the others. Talk to me. I’m the GM and that’s part of my job – I’m here to help. If something is confusing or not working for you – I’m all in to help. My goals? I want you to love your character and the experience of being a part of this game as much as everyone in the group. And I want you to do that in a way that is comfortable for you.
Again, thank you for being a part of this Amber game – I’m looking forward to many more sessions of serious fun.