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Topics - Panjumanju

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From what I hear, "The Mountain Witch" RPG is a game where you play samurai who don't know each other, and don't trust each other, trying to get up a mountain to kill a witch. That sounds fun.

I came upon it in a Mythcriants podcast I was listening to today. (For reference: The Mythcriants made it sound like an exciting game, so I tried to hunt it down, but it's only available from Indie Press Revolution as a pdf.

Then I found a failed Kickstarter for a second edition, last updated in August of 2018. although there are people up to a few days ago making comments on how the fellow bamboozled them.

The Kickstarter asked for $10k, and got nearly $70k, and the fellow - Timothy Kleinert - appears to have taken the money and ran.

You'd think that if you already did a first edition on your own it wouldn't take much to clean it up into a second, especially when he claims it was already written and the art was done. My suspicion is that he did the math too late and it dawned on him that a rulebook and 18 cards with a case and shipping would to cost more than what he asked the backers to pay, he'd lose money, so he just didn't do it. And felt sad about it, I guess.

Does anyone have any idea what happened?


At the height of my passion for Amber Diceless Roleplaying I signed up at my local RPG convention to run several Amber games. Now, I've had a lot of success at this convention - "Phantasm", in Peterborough, Ontario. It has been running almost 25 years. I've been going for about 15. I've won Gamemaster of the Year 3 times, and Player of the Year (somehow) once. Amber, however, was an unwieldy beast, and although it is my favourite roleplaying game system, I will never run it at a convention again. Why?

5 Reasons I Will Not Run Amber Diceless at a Convention

This is in roughly "not as big of a deal" to "deal-breaker" order:

1. SPACE IS AN ISSUE: In Amber, as much happens away from the table as at the table. Notes, notes, notes. When you're in someone's house and you can basically take over the living room and the kitchen separately - and occasionally have to hide in a closet with someone to have a secret meeting - this isn't a problem. At a Con, you take up not just your table, but the back corner, the front desk, all the territory where people should be LARPing, and you end up having important pivotal character conflicts in the bathroom.

2. IT'S EXHAUSTING: Without dice, players don't need you to form cabals, have secret meetings, and make plans. They just need you for when they set those plans into motion, to know what happens. Exciting? Yes. Also exhausting! Everyone wants a piece of you.

3. CHARACTER CREATION: How are you supposed to care about your character unless you make it, and experience the auction? Pre-generated characters do not have the motivation that you have if some jerk across the table from you just outbid you for 1st place in Strength.
There just isn't enough on a character sheet (four stats and powers) for a new player to look at it and understand what they're supposed to be playing, no matter how big of a backstory you write in; the auction does that so much better. However, if you do run the auction, it takes up half the session.

4. LEARNING CURVE STEEPER THAN MOUNT KOLVIR: It happened a few times that I had groups that were a pretty even split between players who had played before (and so couldn't help themselves signing up even though I could have run it for them any time) and people who were new, curious, and probably wanted their friends who played before to shut up about the game already.

The problem was, Amber Diceless expects a huge amount of self-determination and initiative. Players who have played before, in the vanilla setting, are roughly familiar with the geography and what it can do (even if you fiddle with the details as a GM) whereas new players need to ask that many more questions ("So, if you get to the centre of the Pattern, you can go anywhere?") in order to catch up.

The more experienced players - like race horses out of the gate - corralled, manipulated, or murdered all the noobs within the first hour of play. It was clever, and brutal. It was like watching a few Bruce Lees enter a few Japanese Dojos. In the end, the new players were left with their heads spinning, no matter how much I tried to help them.

5. PLAYERS OVER INVEST: The only time I've had a player openly weep, in the middle of a convention, was over Amber Diceless. It wasn't other players being mean to him that caused tears. His character was the Warden of Arden once Julien absconded. Through a series of circumstances, mostly involving agents from the Courts of Chaos, a big chunk of the forest of Arden burned. I don't know if I narrated the action too effectively, but...well, it was too much for this guy.

I think part of the problem is, without the buffer of a character sheet and dice and other separating gimmicks, people play their character in Amber much closer to the chest. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. But - while a wild story - it's not really something I want to deal with in public.

I think I won the GM of the Year prize that year, and I think Amber was to thank, but I came out of the weekend with as many confused players as zealots. I also think I aged a year. So, I decided I'd much rather run Amber privately, maybe with passwords and secret handshakes.

I don't know how the AmberCons ever functioned - maybe they were all players who played before? Who knows. I would love to hear about other people's experience with Amber at cons.


I've now read one too many posts that say some variation of the idea that Amber Diceless as a system is entirely based on GM faint. (First of all, the word is "fiat", or even - in the context of exchanging blows - "feint", but anyway...) This is nothing but a popular RPG myth.

The conflict resolution steps in the game are very simple:

Step 1. The highest rank wins
Step 2. The GM is in charge of interpreting that win

Are there exceptions to this? Yes. Just like everything else in roleplaying games, it depends on context. Amber Diceless is not more arbitrary than throwing down dice to determine who wins, and then still having the GM narrate the outcome. Yet, people seem to believe that you can bluff or charm the GM more effectively in Amber Diceless than in any other RPG. Bluffing, feint, and hand-waving are not system-dependent.

I'd argue a game with near-universally applicable advantages like Fate are far more susceptible to buttering up the GM to get an advantage to apply that should not. When you have only 4 attributes, as in Amber, everything you could do has to fall under those 4, anyway.

5 Ways I Imagine This Myth Started

1. People reading the game, not playing the game, and feeling entitled to make a call on how they think it plays. Or,

2. They had a bad hand-waving bullshit GM once (hey, can't that happen in any game?) and now they've written it off. Or,

3. Amber just doesn't have the paper-trail to decision making that many games have, and so causes insecurity among players who think it must all then be hand-waving and bullshit. Or,

4. The player, for some stupid reason, sees a GM as the person who's out to get them, and not as someone generous enough with their time to run a game for fun.

5. Just hearing about it on the Internet

I call for an end to the myth. Play the game. It's fun, I swear.


Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / The Best Cortex?
« on: December 08, 2018, 11:59:04 AM »
Years ago I got the Cortex Marvel Superheroes Heroic game when it first came out. I was excited about it, but after running about a 14 sessions I found the whole thing just fell apart. I had problems with it like:

* Characters with multiple powers that weren't mutually elusive outright trounced characters with single powers.
* It was difficult to force-feed character advancement milestones when they didn't suit what was going on in the game.
* The level of abstraction inherent in such big dice pools versus the Doom Pool made players feel like anything they suggested turned into a big mess of dice. As a result, they stopped caring.
* Players were encouraged to "me too" all of their abilities just to get extra dice. You couldn't just dive to rescue a child, you had to somehow work your super-shield in there, and somehow your laser eyes, or else (the impression was) you wouldn't have enough dice to accomplish the task. Rather than making people creatively, it encouraged players to argue disassociated aspects of their character to bare on the situation in really garbage ways. As a GM I found myself saying "no" more than any other system. That's not a great theme at the table.

I don't think I was running it incorrectly; I was running it RAW, and after more than a dozen sessions I think I had a pretty good handle on the rules. I'm not saying that every RPG needs to be perfectly balanced, but this just seemed too full of holes.

This play experience conflicts with praise I've heard about other Cortex systems, like Smallville. I have no idea what the differences are between the different Cortex systems, and Cortex+. The system did a lot of good, too, and I'd really like it if it could clean up its act, so to speak.

Can anyone tell me if there is another version of Cortex that, perhaps, holds together a little better?


I feel like when someone asks: "So, what's Amber about?" I have to smile, take a deep breath, tell them to sit down, get them a cup of tea, ask them if they have any upcoming obligations later in the week, and then reenact a three-act play.

I'm not being overly verbose; I've got it down to a concise lecture at this point, all things considered, but the fact remains: in order for the player to be informed enough to make a compelling character, they need to understand the setting, and in order to do that they need a lot of information. Amber. Shadows. Oberon. Oberon's kids, in brief. Pattern walking. Courts of Chaos, in brief. What Amber level is in powers, versus Chaos and Human. The list goes on.

You can loop-hole out of that with amnesia (as Zelazny did) or having characters not know their heritage...but that has limited use.

How do you avoid The Great Amber Info Dump?


I visited a friend in another city recently and he bemoaned that he couldn't get anyone to play anything other than Dungeons & Dragons with him. When he suggested they play something other than D&D, the common response was "What, like Pathfinder?"

This hasn't been my gaming experience. Most everyone I've ever played with have been game for anything. Pretty sure if I said to my gaming group: "Today, we're playing potato chips trying to escape the chip bag before being eaten. I've made up a crunchy system for us to use", they'd say "Okay!"

But, this is not the first time I've heard from someone else they can't get players to broaden system perspective.

What are your experiences?


Hi folks,

I'm considering running an online play-by-post game of a He-Man system I wrote:  Masters of the Universe RPG: I think it may be well suited for play-by-post, but I haven't tried yet.

Trigger warning: It has narrative mechanics, and the conflict resolution does not use dice.

(Why the hell would you do that? you ask) There are many roleplaying games with barbarians wielding blasters, so this does not try to be one of them. Instead you get chocolate-dipped in nostalgia as you play a kid playing with a toy recreating an episode of the TV show, complete with ending PSA ("And what's why you don't do drugs, kids...")

This is a very different kind or roleplaying game; it's not for everyone, but it can be a lot of fun for the right taste.

Check the rules out, anyway. Let me know if you have any interest.


Hey gamers - I just got an email from James Raggi of "Lamentations of the Flame Princess". It seems OneBookShelf (parent company of RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, etc.) just put out an "Offensive Content Policy". Users can now flag products they consider offensive. So, if people complain (don't like) something, it can be removed toot-sweet.

James Raggi was concerned because he thinks all his books will be banned.

I don't know about you, but these sites are my main source of roleplaying material outside of my FLGS and if they are putting up such an obvious policy of mob-rule censorship, I might miss-out on some pretty good, weird games.

A copy of the new policy is here:

It sounds reasonable, certainly. They are only making done by a button what was previously done via email. However, I'd point out that our hobby is unusually probe to bandwagons of alternating "irrational support no matter what" and "I kinda heard something from someone outrage". I'm certainly not saying "rah rah free market", but I'm wary when people unfamiliar with a product can oust it from the marketplace entirely, because OneBookShelf has a monopoly of sorts - not a sinister one, just one by extension of the fact that the hobby is only so large. I'd much rather something is just not bought on an individual scale than be more-or-less prevented from being sold.

On the other hand, people have suggested to me, this could be leaps-and-bounds a superiour step for social justice in roleplaying games, a system of accountability in action. You may agree. Or, like me you may be concerned. If this is an issue that's important to you, I suggest you email OneBookShelf here: custserv (at)



I'm thinking of using Greg Stafford's King Arthur Pendradon 5th Edition for a historically-accurate unfantastic game of Scottish noble clan stryfe, culminating in the 1745 Jacobite uprising.

For the history buffs, what things do you think I should seek to emphasize?

For those more versed with both the system and the setting than I, what changes do you think would be necessary?

Any help is appreciated.


I'm running an Amber Diceless game right now. We're in our fourth week of regular play. The group is 6 players, 3 of whom have experience playing Amber, 2 of whom are entirely new to roleplaying that isn't Dungeons & Dragons, and one of whom only played Amber once at a con.

Every one of them has been entirely sneaky about their powers, making sure other players don't know what they have. I'm wondering how common this is in an Amber game.

This game's premise is: You are all cousins living now and here on Earth, and are all perfectly normal. Except, each summer your parent (you only have one) takes you to Lake Amber, a retreat in the woods owned by your Aunt Flora. There your parents meet and bicker behind closed doors while you play in the woods. You are 16 when they gather you together and reveal your heritage - you are Amberites, and part of a pact that this generation would be raised ignorant of Amber, free of the in-fighting of older generations, wiping the slate clean. You are being told now, because King Random has been assassinated, and you are to go to Amber, for the first time, for his funeral and to embrace your heritage.

The setup has the advantage of:
* The PCs know each other as family.
* They therefore still have a sense of each other's "ranks" for Attributes.
* They don't know what powers their cousins have, because nobody is supposed to have any.
* If a PCs has a power, it means their parent broke the pact and told them about their heritage, and snuck them away to walk the Pattern early to give them an advantage. This may be the case for *every* character. In each case, it is now up to the child to keep their parent's secret.

It just strikes me as interesting that even among players entirely new to Amber, they still want to keep everything close to the chest. The trump artist is keeping all the trumps to himself, only one of the pattern walkers has volunteered that they are capable (and only then after walking the pattern a second time, pretending it was their first) and the logrus master is only using his powers when alone.

This is usually how Amber players play in my games - at least early on, but it makes me wonder... is this the way people play in your games?


I'm reading the Amber Diceless rules again getting refreshed for a campaign that starts Wednesday. What really stuck out for me this time was Conjuration - I've never had a player who used it (or used it properly), but it seems like if you have sufficient time, you can just conjure up any Artifact or Creature you could want without spending the points on it. Is that the case? Am I missing something here?

(I was negligent in naming this thread - I meant stuff as in "Things", not as in good/bad.)


Players of Amber Diceless sign up for any silly contribution they can to come up with those extra points at character creation, and for me running the game this has been some of the most fun. Some of my favourites have been:

* Trumps drawn by my unemployed animator friends.
* Journals of poetry, with the poem reflecting each session.
* Some guy volunteered to bring pop to each session. (He realised later it was going to start adding up, and we all chipped in.)

What are some interesting player contributions you've seen?


There has been some talk that GMs who run Amber are more mature in their gaming skills as a result. I think the main evidence to support this would be the notion that there is simply a lack of support in the Amber Diceless roleplaying system for anything else. The game gets run well, or it is a terrible game.

For some GMs this is not an issue, but many see the lack of 'safety net' in the rules as a gaping flaw in the system. At best I think it's a double-edged sword.



So, it *was* a rule, in older editions, that when a magic user is K.O.'d he or she loses all memorised spells for the day. Is it *still* a rule in 5th edition?

I've had this come up - because the sorcerer in the game I'm running drops nearly every combat - and can't find anything in the 5e core book or DMG to back me up on it.

The writers go out of their way several times in the text to say that cantrips are "so practiced" that they can be done no matter what, therefore I've so far been ruling that if K.O.'d the cantrips stay but the spells are lost until the appropriate rest to gain some back (which varies from class to class).

Even if this isn't rule, I am probably going to still stick to my guns on this, because after 14 weekly sessions I am concluding that magic is tremendously more powerful than not having magic, and I really wish it were less reliable. I'm still irritated that the rules have codified the notion that spellcasters just pick their spells as they like. But I'd like to know where I stand with spell memorisation upon K.O.

Any help?


During the character creation auction I find certain players favour specific Attributes. What do you go after in a character auction of the Amber Diceless roleplaying game? Explain your choice below.


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