Fate Core Thought of the Day - Fate and Amber Diceless

It's fairly well-known that Fred is a big Amber fan. And I think it's safe to say that Amber Diceless is a huge influence on Fate.

Every Fate GM should pick up a copy and at least read through it. No, really, go buy the pdf here and read it: I'll wait.


So, great. Amber's a nifty system, and is really interesting for Fate GMs since it's not really fiction-first. It's more accurately fiction-only. There are rules, sure, but the rules basically boil down to this:

"In any given conflict, all other things being equal, the character with the higher relevant stat will eventually win."

Yup, that's it. No, really, that's pretty much the game. And in that simple elegance lies a world of complexity. While not immediately apparent, that complexity lies in the phrases "the higher relevant stat" and "_all other things being equal_"

So, gameplay in Amber revolves, really, around a few things.

1) Setting up the scenario to benefit you, win or lose.

2) Setting up the situation so that the stat that's being used is the one you're superior in

3) Making all other things decidedly UNequal

Here's what Erick Wujick says you should do if playing a grandmaster at chess, with the world on the line:

What do you think, should you play fair?

We'll call your opponent Kumenkov, one of the Russian's top chess guns. Flat out, the best there is.

Here's what you might do.

First, you make a few arrangements. Like learning the game, but also getting a team of the finest chess coaches money can buy, and a little microphone so you can hear their advice.

Then, you set up the room where the game is going to take place. Figure out everything Kurmenkov hates, heat, loud colors, rock music, whatever. Give him the works, but only at critical moments, on and off.
And if that isn't enough?

Then you go for some real equalizers. Have his wife call, mid-game, threatening divorce, madness, and/or suicide. Then a high-ranking Russian officer, informing Kurmenkov that if he has been accused of anti-state activities, and his victory in the game will be sufficient proof to warrant his arrest and/or execution.

Still not enough?

When his back is turned, steal pieces from the board. Drug him, and move twice for every move he makes. At least once, during some critical move, just as Kurmenkov reached for a piece, have someone put a gun to his head and offer to blow his brains out if he makes that particular move.

Now could you win?

Sound familiar? Does each one of those things sound like something in a Fate game? Like... Create Advantage?

Of course it does! And that's one of the basics of Fate conflicts - if your opponent outmatches you, even the odds. Don't play fair!

Here's another example. In this case, the PC played by Peggy has a terrible Warfare rating, but is quite Strong.

GM: There's a big thump, and it sounds like it came from behind you.

PEGGY I whirl around, what do I see?

GM: There's something moving right at you, something hard to see.

PEGGY I back away quickly!

GM Yes, it seems to be some kind of ape, it's fur is a mottled brown and green, making it hard to see against the backdrop of jungle. It's on it's hind legs and attacking with swinging arms.

PEGGY: I'll go on the defensive.

GM: With swinging arms it's better than you.

PEGGY: I'll go for Strength. I want to grab it.

GM: You move in, getting scratched by it's claws, but you grab it. You seem stronger. What are you doing?

PEGGY: I want to break its neck!

GM Okay, it dies.

(Note that this is for a low-detail version of combat, more like an Overcome than a Conflict)

So, what's going on here? Peggy knows that her character will flat-out lose in a fighting contest, because her fighting rank is terrible. So she narrates her character doing things that turn it into a strength contest instead, where she wins. And then in what is basically a by-the-book Fate move, she dictates what Taken Out means in this case.

The entire book is filled with examples like this. While some of the things (descriptions of particular Amberite powers and magic) may not be useful, every single bit of GM advice is Fate GOLD.

I really don't think that it's inaccurate to say that Fate is, in many ways, Amber but only with some randomization added to the result, and a bit more codified way of handling the various advantages and maneuvers that characters might try to pull off.

If you're having trouble grokking Fate, read Amber Diceless. It can only make you a better Fate GM.