Archive for May 2012

Roll Up a Planet on 2D6   Leave a comment



            When I was younger I had a great love for randomness.  One of the things I loved to do was create charts for the random creation of characters, stories, treasures, and in this case, planets to be used with my Starfaring game.  The following chart is from 1976.  It made perfect sense to me at the time, but may not be quite so coherent now.  This is just the planet creation section of a complete SF Story Writing set of random tables—I’m not giving you the whole chart because I think I’ve lost a good part of it, but all the planetary creation stuff is still here.

Roll 2D6 to create an alien world.  (This chart is not weighted for probability of planets out there—there is a high probability that the majority of planets are gas giants, but we like earth-like worlds a lot better for creating stories.)

Number rolled                       World Type


5-9                                          Earth like (Men can live on it without special gear)

2                                              Venus like  (super hot, high pressure)

3-4                                          Mars like (cold, thin atmosphere, low gravity

10                                           Gas giant (like Jupiter)

11                                           Mercury-Luna like

12                                           Double planet

Type 1 Earth-like planets support life on a roll of 2-11.  12 no life.  Planets aren’t very interesting if they’re completely dead.

Roll 2D6

Number rolled                       Life Status


2-7                                          Intelligent life

Roll 2D6

Number rolled           Quantity

2-3                              More than 1 intelligent race. Roll 2D6.  On 7 let there be an alien race from space on the world in addition to natives.

4-12                            Only 1 intelligent race.

8-12                                        Non-sentient creatures

Roll 2D6 for general geography of planet

Number rolled                       World physiology and climate

2-4                                          Ocean world with islands

5-8                                          Earth normal

9-10                                        Super tropical—water never freezes.  No polar ice caps.

11-12                                     Desert world—water scarce

Roll odd or even

Odd                             World is a hot dry desert

Even                           World is a cold dry desert

Gravity:  Roll 2D6

The world’s gravity compared to Earth is determined by the following formula.  Gravity = .21D – 1/D.  (Thus if D were 8, the gravity would be 1.555 times Earth’s normal gravity which would be equal to  1.000)

Type 2  Venus-like worlds support life on a roll of 2-3.  On 4-12, it is just an inferno hell world.

Roll odd or even

Odd—the world is cloud-covered with atmosphere mostly carbon-dioxide and nitrogen.

Even—the world is covered with  a chlorine—methane atmosphere.

Gravity is determined by the same formula as Earth.  Gravity = .21D – 1/D.

Type 3  Mars-like worlds support life on a roll of 2-5.  If life is present, use the Life chart under earth-like worlds to determine type, frequency, and variety.

Roll 2D6 for general geography of planet

Number rolled                       Geography


5-9                                          Mars normal, cold, cratered, thin atmosphere.

3, 4, 10, 11                             Volcanically active—warm, sulfunous, liquid water

2, 12                                       Very cold, fronzen atmosphere,

Gravity determined by this formula.  Gravity = .063D + 1d*2.  Thus if D were 8, the gravity of this world would be 0.5055 earth normal.

Type 4  Gas giant worlds support life on a roll of 6-8.

Roll 2D6 for general geography of planet

Number rolled                       Geography


7-9                                          Like Jupiter

10-12                                     Like Saturn (spectacular ring system)

2-6                                          Like Uranus (huge dense iceball)

Roll 2D6 for number of moons around the gas giant.  Doubles add and roll over.

Gravity is determined by the formula Gravity = .8D + 6/D.  Thus a roll on 2D6 of 8 would yield a gravity of 7.15 Earth normal gravity.

Type 5  Mercury-Luna planets are small rocky balls with no atmosphere.  If they are close to their star, they are very hot.  If they are distant, they are very cold.  If they are in the Life Zone of the star (defined as a place where liquid water could exist) they are hot on the day side and cold on the night side.

Roll 2D6 for life.  On a roll of 2, there is life, but it is alien life that came to mine or otherwise exploit the planet’s resources.

Gravity is determined by the formula Gravity =  .05D  Thus a roll of 8 would  yield a surface gravity of 0.4 earth normal.

Type 6 worlds are double planet systems.  Earth and its moon, Luna, is a double planet system, but Mars with its moons of Phobos and Deimos is not.

Roll 2D6 to determine the type of double planet.  Determine the likelihood of life on each world by using the formulas above.

Roll 2D6 for general geography of planet

Number rolled                       System Structure


2                                              Type 1 & Type 1  (twin earths)

3                                              Type 1 & Type 2  (Earth and Venus)

4                                              Type 1 & Type 3  (Earth and Mars)

5                                              Type 1 & Type 4  (Earth and Jupiter)

6                                              Type 1 & Type 5  (Earth and Luna)

7                                              Type 2 & Type 2  (twin Venuses)

8                                              Type 2 & Type 3  (Venus and Mars)

9                                              Type 2 & Type 4  (Venus and Jupiter)

10                                           Type 2 & Type 5  (Venus and Luna)

11                                           Type 4 &Types 4 and 5

12                                           Type 5 & Type 5  (two Moon-sized worlds)

Not all combinations have been covered as 11 numbers doesn’t give me enough possibilities, but the most likely are covered.

In retyping this world creation table I see things I originally ignored, such as how many planets are in each star system and what order they are in.  You will have to determine such things for yourself.  Star types based on mass are O, B, A, F, G, K, and M, and a logical way of determining how many planets each type would have is to give the more massive stars more planets.  You could use this chart:

Star Type                               Number of D6 to roll for number of planets

O                                             7

B                                              6

A                                              5

F                                              4

G                                              3

K                                             2

M                                             1

Then for planet types around the star you would roll up each one starting with the closest and working your way out.  Recent discoveries of extra-solar planets have shown that they don’t have to be in any particular sequence of sizes or types.  Gas giants can be in tight orbits.  Small rocky planets can be very distant.  Anything is possible out there in the galaxy.

End of charts.

If you agree with my system of extrasolar planetary creation, leave a comment.  If you think I need a few more semesters of astronomy, you can say that too.  If you have ever created a star system and would like to describe your methods, please chime in.




Beyond the Tunnels   9 comments

People ask me what I’m doing now that I’m retired.  Usually I tell them that I’m writing, and that usually means blogging.  I am writing some new material, but a lot of what I’m doing is rescuing old material.  People have asked me why I don’t simply donate my papers to a college somewhere.  I think that would be a great idea, but there are problems with it.  The biggest problem is that in this new electronic world, who gives a damn about some forgotten old papers?  Few enough cared before computers dominated everything.  The other problem is one that I know about from being on the other side.  Such donations are always “no strings attached” which means that if the receiver decides the gift is trash, that’s where it goes, into the trash.  That’s bad enough if the gift is simply a book or magazine–those things existed in hundreds or thousands of copies.  If a librarian throws away a copy of National Geographic from 1961, nothing but paper is really lost.  Other copies of that magazine exist.  On the other hands, there is only 1 copy of my papers, especially the stuff that was never published.  If it gets thrown away, it’s gone forever.  The world might say “no loss” and 9999 out of 10,000 might agree.  It would be a loss to me.  Therefore, I am amusing myself by translating this stuff–my notes, my papers, my rough drafts and such–into electronic format and putting some of it here in my blogs.  A few people will see it.

The following essay dates back to  1976 or 77.  I seem to remember publishing it in an early edition of T & T, but maybe not.  It is not present in the 4th or 5th edition, although something similar is in the 5th.  The insights offered below are nothing new or radical here in 2012, but this was the cutting edge of roleplaying in 1976–at least I think it was.

Original document with bordered paper by Denise Burgess. I don’t remember her.


Beyond the Tunnels


What to do with a 10th level wizard

By Ken St. Andre

            There will come a time when the basic concept of going down into dark tunnels to meet monsters and search for treasure will start to seem stifling.  Underground, limited by space, there are many neat and fantastic things that just can’t very easily be done, such as an aerial battle with a squadron of dragons, or the siege of a castle, or the exploration of an enchanted forest.  Even the best designed of tunnel complexes or dungeons can be fully explored and its novelty used up, but what if you had a whole continent or better yet a whole world to go adventuring in?

You can have it.  There is no good reason for limiting one’s exploits to subsurface  realms.  With a few minor modifications one can turn one’s dungeon-designing ability into world-designing.  I did it first when I invented the whole city of Khosht to give monsters something to attack on the surface.  (Eventually, the monsters did a number on that city that involved major carnage in three quarters and a fire that razed half the town.  Khosht then acquired a new governor and was largely rebuilt across the river, where it thrives and flourishes today.)

Once your characters begin to take on a life of their own (and they will if they survive more than a few trips), you will find that they need a world of their own to flesh out the background of their lives.  In Phoenix such world-building started with the creation of Khosht, and now includes at least two other full-sized cities, and all the land in between, plus several pocket universes (small, independent worlds with some of the same natural laws and some different).  The creation of your own pocket universe is really what this article is about, and in doing so you get a chance to vary some of the original T & T principles (such as how magic works, or the strength of gravity, or the prevalent form of intelligent life, etc.)

One of the minor weaknesses of this game has proven to be the fact that upper level magic-users gain truly god-like powers.  You are being attacked by a giant dragon when Tumuch the sorcerer (10th level) throws an 8th level Take-that-you-fiend! And scores 4264 hits on the poor dragon which is instantly reduced to a fine red powder.  It feels tremendous the first time you do that, but it gets old after a while.  Not much can worry a magician with that kind of power in his fingertips.  The situation then evolves to where the D.M. is designing monsters with a rating of 10000 or more, just to give them an even chance against high-level magic-users.  Of course, no ordinary character even has a chance against such a foe.

Here is where designing a new pocket universe can be most fascinating.  By changing some of the basic laws of nature, you can make high level wizards more nearly equal to other characters and thus put more suspense and fun back into the game.  With this in mind, let us design a place called Warriorworld—a place where warriors and rogues have a chance and wizards don’t have a pushover.

First we want to spell out some of the basic rules that govern Warriorworld.  (1) The laws of nature and magic are the same as for the T & T universe with the following exceptions.  (2) the cost of magic in strength units is four times as much as it is in the T & T world.  (3) The force of gravity is twice as strong (which means that strength, constitution, and probably dexterity would be reduced by half.  Also that missile weapons would not be effective beyond close range).  (3) No elves, dwarves, fairies, or hobbits are native to this world.  These few basic changes will completely alter the powers of your T & T characters, and consequently their behavior.

[Note the mistake in the paragraph above where I count: 1, 2, 3, 3.  I am reproducing this manuscript exactly as the rough draft shows it, and not in the finished form that appeared in the 4th edition of T & T, I think.]

Now we’re ready to move on to the geography of Warriorworld.  Let us assume that both geography and climate are earth-like, but a bit harsher.  The typical landscape is not the sylvan greenery of New England or Europe, but the harsher dryer world of the western desert.  Average daily temperature is 100 degrees F.  Cactus are commoner than trees.  Water is hard to find.  The uplands and high hills are covered with evergreen pine forests.  In the lowlands, active volcanoes are common.  Cities are few, small, and near water.

With this much information postulated, we let our imagination loose and draw up a map.  Every little detail does not need to be filled in.  Later, with characters playing the game and exploring certain locales, we can drw more detailed diagrams to show, say, the vicinity of Kharrgh at the foot of the J’nuurH mountain of fire.  This imaginative work will be done by the Game Master while the game is being played.  (A good technique is to enlist the imaginations of your players in describing the place, by asking what they see, but retaining the veto power so as to maintain the general mood desired.)  If possible, before bringing player characters to places where your characters might go, who and what they will find there, and what kind of actions are likely to occurr.

Now that the world is beginning to take shape, you are ready to populate it, just as you would populate a dungeon. Human beings exist on Warriorworld, but they are a slave race to a non-human race of Demons. No humans here have ever been allowed to develop any magical powers. On the other hand, the Demons have both magical and military abilities, but only up through the 5th level spells in the T & T rulebook. Demons are comparatively rare, however, being only 1% of the total population. (Demons need not be the villains (a loaded and unpleasant word) in this world, but I have deliberately set them up to be first-class adversaries.)

Animal life in Warriorworld is surprisingly plentiful (People who live in the western deserts know that there is a good deal of wildlife who live well in harsh country.) Much of it is reptilian, either poisonous or of respectable size, ranging right up to full-grown dragons, which are not the intelligent variety we know and love from European folklore. There are plenty of snakes. There are strange and unusual insects. There are even some kinds of mammals, but most of them are domesticated species.

We begin to have a pretty good idea of what to expect in Warriorworld. To add a little more interest, let us have a mutated, four-armed variety of Trolls living in the wilderness in small nomadic bandit communities.

The next thing you need for this game to work is a purpose. Purposes may vary as much as your imagination can make them. A simple one could be just to survive for a given period of time and find the way back to the T & T world. This would involve, at the least, a journey under unfavorable circumstances. Another purpose could be a quest of some kind–to bring back a pre-determined gem, mineral, substance, person, book, etc. A different goal might be to lead a group of humans in revolt against their Demon master. The possibilities are endless. A good G.M. should be able to keep things happening for his players.

A few points of practical play need to be mentioned here–how to handle time and movement. The G.M. will need to keep track separately of how much time has gone by. A game turn may be as short as a minute or as long as a day. Certain activities may take hours to perform. There is no point in breaking them up into 10 minute segments. The only time it is really necessary to count time is when strength has been lost, (like in working magic) and it is necessary to recuperate it. Since the gravity is twice as strong in Warriorworld, you can invoke the inverse square law which would cause people to regenerate 1 strength unit every 4 game turns (or 40 minutes). As for movement, it is no longer necessary to put an arbitrary rate on it. Most of us could probably walk 500 meters in 10 minutes and run 100 meters in 20 seconds without undue effort. For long overland trips it is more sensible to measure speed in miles per hour. We could walk 3 m.p.h. without much difficulty for several hours. Pushing it, we could do 5 or 6 m.p.h. In rough terrain we might be reduced to 1 m.p.h. On horseback, if a horse could negotiate the terrain, we would probably be five times as fast. For an adventure that takes days instead of hours, food would be important, and should be considered.

One thing that makes play in such a vaguely-defined world easier is a greater use of dice to randomly determine terrain features, sudden appearance of buildings and how many people (or other creatures) occupy them, appearance of monsters, etc. This will require that the G.M. take some forethought ahead of time and draw up a few lists or charts of possibilities, but it will greatly speed up the play of the game.

I hope I have shown you how relatively easy, and at the same time how much fun it can be, to expand the fantasy concepts of T & T beyond the limits of the subterranean. Pocket-universes can be great fun. Or, if you wanted an enchanted forest similar to Tolkien’s Mirkwood as a stronghold for Elves and other strange creatures, you could sit down and design it right there on the surface of your own T & T world. For that matter, it is a blast to design medievalistic cities, castles, etc. and then use them for surface adventures or as targets for monsters’ retaliatory expeditions. Just remember to consider geography, demography, and economics and you will be well on your way beyond the tunnels.


If you have ever created your own city or world for roleplaying, why not leave a comment?  Or you could tell me whether you’d be willing to go adventuring in Warriorworld or not.

Life Is More Fun In A Crowded Universe.   3 comments

This blog is all about things that entertain me.  One of the things that entertains me right now is digging through my old books and papers that I wrote years ago, and putting them up on the internet.  Here’s one that I found this afternoon (May 20).

This is another essay from the vaults, something I wrote 36 years ago, and then just put away.  I found it in an envelope which contains pages and pages of random sci-fi environment creating rules for use with my Starfaring game.  I may post some of that here, too.  I don’t know why I wrote this–certainly there is nothing at all revolutionary or original in my contention that the galaxy is full of all kinds of alien life and intelligence.  Still, it shows where my head was at back in 1976.  To some degree, my head is still in the same optimistic place.  While writers like Von Daniken and Temple have been thoroughly disproved by later, more skeptical analysis, one should remember that they presented their own theories.  Imaginative people form wild theories from the evidence they see.  Wild theories are usually, but not always, wrong.  People like to simplify things, but the truth is, things are more complicated than they seem.  And I like to be hopeful about such things.

Wikipedia tells me that there are at least 104 known star systems with associated planets.  One sunlike star, HD10180, has been shown to have at least 7 planets.  While most of the extrasolar planets found so far have been giants the size of Jupiter or larger, several earthlike planets have been found, including one only 6 times as large as the earth and with a lot of water in the atmosphere.  Considering that no extrasolar planets had actually been found in 1976 when I wrote this essay, I’d say that young Ken was remarkably prescient in his claims.  🙂


The front cover for my second game design. Starfaring was heavily influenced by Star Trek, but it contained most of my personal beliefs about alien life in the galaxy.

The joy of science fiction is that one can ask what if? and  then set the parameters for oneself.  This explains how and why so many different interstellar wargames have sprung up in the last three years.  Having just tried my own hand in thet particular area (Starfaring–Flying Buffalo–$6.00) I felt it might be interesting for both players and posibly other game designers if I could briefly go over some basic ideas that I would like to see hold true in astronomy.

For several years there has been a lot of excitement in scientific circles about the possibilities of life elsewhere in the galaxy.  Carl Sagan has been the leading scientific proponent of extra-terrestrial intelligent life, and Erich von Daniken has been the leading  non-scientific supporter.  Whether one believes in ancient astronauts or not, there is a good deal of evidence that the Earth has been visited by star-traveling races in the past. (See Robert Temple’s scholarly book THE SIRIUS MYSTERY.)  And, though Project Ozma is a thing of the past, radio astronomers all over the world are still quietly listening for that first signal that will tell us we are not alone.

Sagan was famous for mixing hard science with sense of wonder imagination.

However, everyone is much too pessimistic and narrow-minded about things just at present.  Now that we know that stars and planets are formed by the same process of gravity condensation, it seems just too faint-hearted to assume that solar systems are galactic rarities. Nor does it seem entirely reasonable to limit them to Sol-type stars.  From blue giants to red dwarves, all stars should be expected to be companioned by planetary systems.  Though about half the stars in our galaxy are multiple star systems–binaries, trinaries, and perhaps even more, even they should not be absolutely ruled out as settings for solar systems.  After all, Pioneer X, on its pass by Jupiter, proved that what we thought was a very large planet may actually be a very small, cool sun.

Then there is the matter of a sun’s habitable zone.  Regardless of size and temperature, there will be some orbital distance where a planet of the right size could maintain an atmosphere suitable for the evolution of life–that is, life as we know it, carbon-based, DNA-RNA replicating molecules.  Nor should we exclude the possibility of life based on a different element or combination of elements.  Silicon, methane, chlorine, all are possible life bases.  I don’t think I’m being very original in proposing a law of organic optimism.  “If life can arise, it will.”  Some of the latest studies of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, suggest that organic life may be in its earliest stages of evolution there.  Certainly, plenty of organic molecules have been detected from space, even up to ethyl alcohol in free-floating clouds.

So that leaves us with a universe teeming with planets and crawling with life.  What about intelligence? It abounds.  On  Earth alone we are now learning that Man has been sharing the planet with several other intelligent life forms–not very graciously–since the beginning.  Bees, ants, termites, etc. show every evidence of hive mentalities maintaining stable cultures indefinitely, with elaborate architecture, social customs, and specialization of labor.  Dolphins and whales of all species have larger and more convoluted brains than we do.  They have given evidence of being able to learn our speech, and of having a distinct language of their own.  Chimpanzees and gorillas have been taught a human-designed sign language that allows and facilitates simple conversations between men and apes.  The grizzly bear has been seen to have even more problem-solving ability than do apes.  I could go on with examples for quite a while.  But despite our burgeoning knowledge of animal intelligence, we haven’t really succeeded in communicating effectively with any of the other intelligent life forms here on our own planet.

Man is set apart from other intelligence on this planet by his application of technology.  For at least the past 12000 years, it has shaped  us into what we are today.  Give a culture of grizzly bears or raccoons adequate food, planetary dominance, and 12000 years to mess with technology, and you’d be surprised at what develops.

With so many different kinds and levels of intelligence here on one planet, just imagine how much there must be o ut there in the stars.  A lot of it is going to  be so alien we may never recognize it, may never be able to communicate with it, but some of it is going to be shaped by the law which states that similar caouse produce similar effects into alien races that we can relate to.

So, that is why the table on page 51 of Starfaring is havily weighted in favor of life, even of intelligent life.  Logic demands that the universe be aswarm with every imaginable (and some that aren’t) form of life, and the sooner we get out to the stars, the sooner we’ll meet them.  The point is:  Designers of interstellar games are going to have to incorporate a lot of sheer alien strangeness in, if they hope to have any realism.

P.S.  With the Viking lander sitting on Mars testing for micro-organisms, with more and more evidence coming to light from both science and mythology that Earth has been visited–possibly seeded–by alien intelligences, with never-ending u.f.o. reports steadily accumulating, it is unreasonable to assume human pre-eminence in the galaxy–either now or in the future.  Star traveling races may be rare, but you can count on them being a lot more common than either Carl Sagan or The Good Doctor (i.e. Asimov) would admit.  I regret that the tone of this article has been so wild and exuberant, but every statement I have made can be backed up by articles or programs in the everyday media of books and television.  I should have footnoted all my claims, but I didn’t make a list of bibliographic entries as I was picking up this information piece by piece.  I throw myself on the mercy and general informedness of all those likely to see this piece to compensate for my lack of rigor in presentation.

———Ken St. Andre

———Aug. 29, 1976

If you’re a fan of alien life, or if you’ve actually met aliens, please leave a comment.

Ken St. Andre–Fantasy Cartographer   8 comments

The map is truncated by the size of my scanner, so you don’t sea the far east or south parts.

Back in the day (the mid seventies) I used to draw maps for all the fantasy stories and games I made up. The Dragon continent of Ralf was originally created by James “Bear” Peters. When I started talking to him about the geography of places in Trollworld, he decided his Dragon continent map would be the perfect place to locate cities like Khazan and Khosht. Well, he made his map, and I made mine, and they only had a few things in common other than the general shape of the landmass. The numbers on the map correspond to the locations of various dungeons talked about in Flying Buffalo T & T products, but I couldn’t tell you which ones now. Liz Danforth modified the map again when I asked her to do an illustration for an article I wrote called Ten Days in the Arena of Khazan. Her map became the basis for the map inserted into the Crusaders of Khazan computer game, originally programmed in Japan, and then converted and released in the U.S. by New World Computing.

It’s kind of amazing how a creator’s original versions and visions of things can be modified almost beyond recognition by others who have to deal with the material later, and with a different point of view.

Look how much fancier the map got when the professionals got hold of it.

The computer game map is so large that to scan it all would require me folding it into sixths. Until Mike Stackpole invented the island city of Gull for his City of Terrors solitaire, the two most important parts of the empire were Khazan and Khosht. Here’s the computer game version of Khosht.

Khosht was meant to be the largest human city in this part of the continent. It was the scene of the first T & T adventures I ever played/invented/designed.

Oh well, this whole blog came into being because I somehow was not able to upload these maps to the Trollhalla wordpress page, which was very frustrating for me. I had some frustration creating this one also, but here it is–online where people can see it, and that’s all that matters.

If you ever drew your own map of imaginary lands, why not leave a comment and tell us about it?


The Game of Amber, c1984 by Ken St. Andre   8 comments

Amber, the true foundation of Reality, lost its way when King Oberon disappeared into Shadow.

Being a game designer is a lot like being a writer.  It’s not so much that you want to invent new games, just like writers don’t necessarily want to write.  You can’t help it.  You can’t stop.  Game designers design games because they can’t NOT DESIGN GAMES.  Writers write because they can’t not write.

For every game that gets made and becomes a success, who know how many there were that never got made, never got played, and were only a flash of ideas?  Below the line of stars begins the actual rules that I typed up in 1984.


The card game for Amber was conceived during the seventies when I was GMing a vast play-by-mail simulation of the Amber novels.  At the time I thought this would make a good science fiction game, but couldn’t rouse much enthusiasm among muy circle of friends.  They weren’t much into card games.  The outline for the rules has languished in a desk drawer for several years.  I’m going to write it  out now so I can throw my notes away, and possibly get this game published somewhere.  I believe it deserves to see print.  (Comment from 2012:  never happened.  I typed up what follows, and it went in a box, only to be rediscovered after I moved and started going through all my old stuff.  I wonder if I should throw these pages away, or offer them up for auction somewhere, or donate to a university.  Why would any university care?)


To play the Game of Amber you will need a complete Tarot deck, paper, and writing implements.  You should have at least 4 players, and the game is better if there are 9 or more.

Set Up.

Divide the tarot deck into 3 sets of cards: the Chaos deck consists of the 22 numbered Major Arcana; the Encounter deck consists of the 16 Court cards; and the Shadow deck consists of all the numbered Suit cards.  Shuffle the Shadow deck and the Chaos deck and set them aside.  Spread out the Court cards.  Each player should choose one card to represent him or herself.  You may use either names from the Amber books, or make up your own names.  Supplement One matches the Court cards with the major characters of the Amber novels.  After each player has taken a Court card, the rest are shuffled and placed face down.  Before starting to play, deal each player 2 cards from the Shadow deck, face down to represent their unknown resources in Shadow, and one card face up to represent their known powers.  Set the unused part of the deck to one side.


Oberon, immortal founder of Amber and its true ruler, has vanished, leaving no designated heir to the throne.  All of his offspring believe themselves to be worthy, and each is maneuvering to gain the support of enough of the others to take the crown and hold it.  In game terms, anyone who can take the throne and successfully hold it for 3 turns will be the winner, and perpetual ruler in Amber. While this internecine strife engulfs Amber and the Shadow worlds, Chaos is also making its move to destroy Amber and the Pattern so that chaos may rule supreme.


Before beginning to play the tabletop is designated as the City of Amber (assuming now that the players are seated around a table in order to play a card game), and the center of the table is the Throne.  The Chaos deck is shuffled, and one card is placed face down on the Throne which is known as the Siege Perilous. (The Thorne has that name, not the card.)  The first player to actually place his card on the Throne turns over the Chaos card and must take the consequences of the card. (See Chaos table in Supplement Two for meaning of the Chaos cards.)

All players start in Amber with their Court card and one Shadow card face up on the table.  They also have 2 cards face down.  There is a 5 minute Diplomacy round in which players may seek alliances among themselves.  During this time they may show their face down card t the other players or not, as they choose.

At the end of the Diplomacy turn, each player must take a slip of paper and secretly declare an option.  All options are revealed simultaneously.  There are 4 options possible:  1. wait in Amber (this is neutral and makes no move), 2. seize the Throne (If only one Player seizes the Throne, he/she gets it and we move to phase 2.  If two or more Players try to seize the Throne, there is Civil War, and the game moves to phase 3.  If no one seizes the Throne, the game remains in phase 1.), 3. attack another Player.  (See attack and defense rules below), 4. move into Shadow (or if in Shadow, return to Amber)  Before any player moves into Shadow, all remaining Chaos, Court, and Shadow cards are shuffled together into one deck and placed face down on the Table.  Each time a Player moves from Amber into Shadow, he must take the top card off the combined new Shadow deck.  If it is a Chaos card, he must play it face up and take the consequences (usually that will indicate some sort of Chaotic move against Amber which would jump the game into phase 4 (Attack on Amber).  If it is a Court or Shadow card, he may conceal it.  The Player then surrenders his own Court card which is placed on the bottom of the Shadow deck.  Each other Player then cuts the Shadow deck once without looking at the result, effecting a new shuffle of the deck.  From this time on, whenever a card is played, it will go into a discard pile which will be cut back into the Shadow deck after each round of play as was just described. Players may only take one Shadow card for each trip into Shadow, and must return to Amber before they can move back into Shadow and take another card.

Phase 3: Civil War

Whenever there is more than one claimant for the Throne, there will be Civil War.  Civil wars are fought by playing Shadow cards against the other players.  Each suit has a special meaning and may only be played to accomplish a particular thing.  Swords are the cards of Attack, and may only be used to attack and capture the other Player.  Wands are the cards of Defense, and may only be used to defend against a Sword attack.  (If a higher numbered Wand is used against a lower numbered Sword, it is a counter attack, and the defensive Player may capture or defeat the offensive Player.)  Cups are a suit of Compulsion and may be used to force an alliance.  They are useless against Swords, however.  Pentacles (Coins) are the suit of economic strength and may be used to block compulsion by Cups.  In addition, there are several special cards with specific meanings and powers that will be described below.  No matter who wins a Civil War, no Player will succeed in taking the Throne of Amber on that turn.

Combat occurs by playing one card against another until one Player is unable to continue.  Cards are played face down and simultaneously–then revealed to see what the results are.  Any one card of Wands can counter any Sword attack excpt the Ten of Swords (see special cards).  Any Pentacle can counter any Cup.  In the event of mutual attacks with no defense, the stronger attack will win.  The loser in such a conflict, unless slain with the Ten of Swords, is banished into Shadow for the number of turns that represents the difference in the combat (i.e. 9 of Swords vs. 5 of Swords sends the Loser into Shadow for 4 turns) without being able to make any play or draw any Shadow cards until he has come back to Amber for at least one turn.  If the battle is in compulsion and not force, the Loser becomes the vassal of the Winner, and forfeits one Shadow card up to his entire stock for each point by which he was beaten.  Each card played in a Civil War is placed face down in the discard deck, shuffled with all other discards at the end of the turn, and cut back into the Shadow deck at the end of the turn.  Players may play any number of cards in the course of a Civil War, up to everything they have.

Phase 2:  Seizing the Throne

Eventually someone will seize the Throne without a Civil War.  That Player must then turn over the Chaos card that has lain there face down and accept the consequences for either good or evil.  The Player who occupies the Throne has great resources to draw upon and may draw two cards from the top of the Shadow deck each turn, but must leave them face up in front of him in Amber so that everyone can see them.  If he holds the Throne for 3 complete turns after taking it, the game is over and he has won.  After phase 2, move to phase 4.  A player who is on the Throne may not initiate a Sword attack against any other player, though he may use Cup (compulsion) attacks if he wishes.  He may use Swords if he is attacked by a Rebel.

Phase 4:  Encounters in Shadow

If a Player is banished into Shadow as a result of losing a Swords combat, he gets no turn until the time limit expires.  He may still condust Diplomacy with other Players during the next Diplomacy round.  After his time limit expires, he may take one Shadow card and return to Amber if he wishes.

If a Player has gone into Shadow voluntarily, he surrenders his Court card and takes one Shadow card in its place.  There are then 3 possibilities.  If he draws a Chaos card he looks at Supplement Two, the Chaos table, and follows instructions for the cards there.  This must be done openly so that all Players can see.  If he draws a Court card, he may either conceal it for a while, or give it back to its Player.  If he keeps it, nothing happens, but if he returns it, he may either use the return to initiate combat, which moves the game into phase 3, Civil War, or demand a ransom of one other card face down in its place from that Player.  If the Court card does not represent an active Player, then the Player ma ally with it by playing it face up in Amber in front of him.  He will then draw 2 cards from the Shadow deck face down to represent the strength of the alliance, and that Court card will be taken out of play for the remainder of the game.  There is one other thing that can be done with a Court card.  If it has not been revealed or played, and the Player who holds it is in Amber, it may be used to summon that other Player back to Amber and force him to reveal all his Shadow cards face up for all to see.

If phase 4 ends without reverting to Civil War, then one complete turn is over, and the Players begin the next turn with phase 1 where each Player selects anoption and reveals it simultaneously after no more than 5 minutes of Diplomacy.

Special Cards

There are 5 special Shadow cards with only one meaning.  They must be used for their special meanings and not for the general purposes of Attack, Defense, Compulsion, or Protection.

They are:

Nine of Cups–the Wish card.  Whoever it is played on (and you may play it on yourself or another Player if you wish) automatically gains the Throne of Amber.  The former occupant, if there was one, forfeits all the strength of the Throne, and goes back into the general population of Amber.

Seven of Cups–Betrayal.  Whoever it is played on loses all alliances, and must forfeit 1/2 of his Shadow cards to person who played the card on him.

Ten of Swords–Death.  Whoever it is played on, unless protected by the Ace of Wands, dies.  His Player card is removed from the game for the remainder and all of his Shadow cards go back into the discard pile.  The “dead” Player is out of the game.

Two of Pentacles–Defeat.  Whoever this card is played upon, even if it is the King of Amber, loses all Shadow cards to the discard pile immediately.

Ace of Wands–Protection.  This card when played, protects the Player on whom it is played from Death by the Ten of Swords.  It will not protect against death at the hands of the Forces of Chaos.


Combat is always conducted by using the Shadow cards.  Each card represents a source of power that is effective against two of the other sources and ineffective against one of the other sources.

Swords:  physical force on the attack.

Cups:  magical compulsion.

Pentacles (Coins):  financial strength (suitable for hiring either mercenaries or magicians)

Wands:  Defensive strength (fortifications and the support of the common people)

Swords may attack Cups and Pentacles but will be beaten if a higher numbered card is played.  Any Wand played against a Sword negates the attack.

Cups may be played against Pentacles and Wands and will be beaten if a higher numbered card is played.  Any Sword played against it will negate the attack.

Pentacles may be played against Wands and Swords.  Any Cup played against a Pentacle negates the attack.

Wands are strictly a defensive card.  They can do damage in a counter attack when attacked by Cups or Pentacles, but you cannot initiate an attack with a Wands card.

Combat is always conducted with one Attacker and one Defender.  In the option phase or during the Shadows phase one player will initiate combat by declaring his intention to attack another.  Multiple players may attack the same person if they wish, but only one at a time.  In the event of more than one Player initiating an attack, they can flip a coin or roll a die to decide who gets to attack first.

Other Players may not help an Attacker with his attack.  However, when all Players concerned are in Amber, they may choose to help a Defender with some of their own Shadow cards if they wish.

In combat the Attacker plays a card first.  The defender must then respond with a card, or give up.  Attacks are decided by the numerical value of the cards, high value winning except where the defensive card just nullified the attack (such as a Wand against a Sword or a Sword against a Cup).

An attack with Swords always causes physical defeat and retreat so that the losing player cannot move for the number of turns by which he was beaten.  In the event of ties, Players may either break off the attack in a stalemate or continue by playing a second attacing card.  If a player cannot respond to an attack he must surrender and acknowledge defeat.

An attack with Cups always reduces the loser to the state of vassal to the winner.  The loser must give the winner Shadow cards equal to the number he was beaten by, or all of his cards, whichever is the greater number.

An attack by Pentacles may be either one or the other as specified by the Winner.

A counter attack with Wands against Cups and Pentacles has the same effect on the loser as an attack would have had.  If the counterattack succeeds, the attacker must either retreat out of play into Shadow or give up cards.

Defensive plays when successful inoutpointing attacking plays cause the combat to end for that turn, but leave both players where they are.  Most attacks will only last one turn., but may go on for any number of rounds (1 round equals 1 card from both attacker and defender) as long as both players have cards.  (Example:  Eric attacks Corwin with the 8 of Swords. Corwin replies with the 2 of Wands, negating the attack.  Eric comes back with the 6 of Pentacles.  Corwin plays the 7 of Wands, defeating Eric on the counterattack by 1 point.  Corwin wins.  Seeing that Eric has one card left, and not having any himself, Corwin (the Winner) declares Eric must be his vassal and give him one card.  Eric reluctantly hands over his last Shadow card and the combat is over.)

After combat is over, it then moves to the next Player who has an attack chosen as his option.  If, in the example above, Corwin had chosen to attack Fiona, he would then initiate his attack.  Since he has only the 3 of Cups that he just took from eric, he would use that to attack her.

These are the Rider-Waite Court cards, but any deck except possibly the Amber itself or Lovecraft tarot decks would work.

Supplement 1: The Court Cards

You may either play Zelazny’s characters or make up your own names.  If using Zelazny’s characters, these names are associated with the following cards:

King of Swords:  Benedict

Queen of Swords:  Fiona

Knight of Swords:  Corwin

Page of Swords:  Brand

King of Cups:  Julian

Queen of Cups:  Deirdre

Knight of Cups:  Blaise

Page of Cups:  Merlin

King of Wands:  Gerard

Queen of Wands:  Flora

Knight of Wands:  Caine

Page of Wands:  Martin

King of Pentacles:  Eric

Queen of Pentacles:  Llewella

Knight of Pentacles:  Random

Page of Pentacles:  Moire

Supplement 2:  The Chaos Cards

0.  The Fool:  Chaotic Forces intervene.  You lose all Shadow cards (to the discard pile).

1.  The Magician:  Mastery of Chaos.  You may hold this card and play it at any time to gain any object except the slaying of another player.  (Example:  You may use this card to negate another Player’s attack, or change the outcome of an Attack.  You may play the card to force another Player to give you a Shadow card.  You may play the card to save the life of a player attacked and killed with the Ten of Wands.  When playing this card, you are the Master of Chaos for one brief moment.)

2.  The High Priestess:  Mystic forces attack Amber.  Draw 10 cards from Shadow deck without looking at them.  Play them to attack Amber.  All Players in Amber must defend against this attack.  If Amber falls, the High Priestess takes the Throne.  If she holds it for 3 turns then all players lose.  While she is on the throne treat Her as rules of Amber with all rights and priveleges and powers of the ruler, including the right to replenish her forces from the Chaos deck.

3.  The Empress:  The Player marries (a princess of Chaos) and gains strength.  Draw one Shadow card face up on each return to Amber from Shadow.

4.  The Emperor:  You have encountered Oberon in Shadow.  Draw 3 extra Shadow cards to represent his support.  If the card starts on the Throne, everyone wins except the Player who turned it over.

5.  The Hierophant:  Mystic forces attack Amber.  Same as for the High Priestess but Chaos only gets 6 cards.

6.  The Lovers:  Player is distracted by Love.  Lose 2 turns (no actions except Diplomacy permitted) and return to Amber.

7.  The Chariot:  Armies of Chaos attack Amber.  All Players in Shadow return to help defend the City.  Chaotic armies back off, but each Player must discard 1 Shadow card.

8.  Strength:  You have found an unexpected ally in Shadow.  Take one extra Shadow card.

9.  The Hermit:  You have encountered Dworkin.  He’s crazy and no help to you.  You may declare him as a Scion of Amber when returning to Amber and play him face up to gain two allied Shadow cards.

10.  The Wheel of Fortune:  Discard all your Shadow cards.  Draw the same number from the Shadow deck to replace them, all face down.

11.  Justice:  When this card is played, it forces the abdication of any Player who has the Throne if that Player has ever attacked another Player.  Otherwise, no effect.

12.  The Hanged Man:  Misfortune.  Lose 1 turn and 1 Shadow card.

13.  Death: Forces of Chaos have intervened and slain your Player.  There is no defense and the card may not be played on another Player.

14.  Temperance:  You gain two Shadow cards in exchange for this, but you may make no other play this turn.

15.  The Devil:  Chaos makea a total attack on Amber.  All Players gain  2 Shadow cards and return to the City to help defend it.  Chaos gets whatever is left in the Shadow deck, shuffles it, and then attacks randomly by laying down the top card of the Shadow deck.  If all attacks are not turned back then Chaos takes the City and wins.

16.  The Tower:  You have been captured and imprisoned by forces of Chaos.  If your Court card is not already in the Shadow deck, put it there.  You remain helpless there until some other Player draws your card and uses it to summon you back to Amber.

17.  The Star:  This card may be held.  A Player may use it to bring some other Player (not himself) back from the dead, or to stop and cancel any Chaotic attack on Amber. (Example: The Devil has been played.  Chaos is making an all out attempt on Amber.  A player holds the Star card.  That player may stop the Chaotic attack and end the turn and the battle at any time by playing The Star. When the Star is played, every card that has been played goes into the discard pile and gets reshuffled back into the Shadow deck.

18.  The Moon:  Demonic forces attack Amber.  They are weak and get only 3 Shadow cards, but only Players currently in the City may defend against them.

19.  The Sun:  Your character gains in popularity.  You may name any other Player in the game as your vassal to help out during a combat phase (except the Player attacking you)

20.  Judgment:  Forces of Chaos attack Amber with the first two Swords cards turned over out of the Shadow deck.  Only the King on the Throne may defend.  If there is no King, all players are banished to Shadow for one turn, and the Throne remains empty.

21.  The World:  You have walked the Pattern and gained control.  You may replace the current ruler in Amber and add his forces to yours while he is exiled to Shadow for 2 turns.

Attack on Amber

There are several times in the game when the Forces of Chaos may attack Amber.  Forces of Chaos may be played by a dead player or a non-player.  They draw the specified number of Shadow cards to use as weapons.  Any further Chaos cards drawn or turned over during an attack are discarded without being used.  When Chaos is attacking, all 4 suits count as Swords only.  The Ten of Swords, if played by Chaos, will slay whoever holds the Throne at the time.  If played against Chaos, it ends the attack instantly and Chaos is defeated.  If Chaos wins the attack, any Players still in Amber will be slain and removed from the game, unless the attack was solely against the King.  If only the King was attacked, and he is beaten, then he dies, and the Forces of Chaos leave other Amberites unharmed and the Throne empty.

After an attack on Amber the game always reverts to phase 1, Diplomacy and option selection.

The End


During the retyping of these rules this morning, I did not copy the exact words I used in 1984.  It is 99% the same, but I couldn’t resist adding a few clarifications and improvements.

I believe the game as explained above is both deep and playable, and that it would be better with more players instead of fewer.  I’d like to actually try it some time, so I guess playtesters are wanted.

If you are now or ever were a fan of Roger Zelazny’s epic fantasy Amber series, feel free to leave a comment.

Who You Gonna Call?   3 comments

Last night I finally got to see the Avengers, my most hotly anticipated film since Conan.  I enjoyed it.  The action scenes and the special effects were outstanding–Academy Award outstanding.  The acting was superb.  The scriptwriters and director gave good lines and plenty of screen time to all the major characters.  I suppose I should stop and give a well done bit of applause to all the members of the cast.  Here’s a few of them as listed at

Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Downey Jr. Robert Downey Jr.
Chris Evans Chris Evans
Mark Ruffalo Mark Ruffalo
Chris Hemsworth Chris Hemsworth
Scarlett Johansson Scarlett Johansson
Jeremy Renner Jeremy Renner
Tom Hiddleston Tom Hiddleston
Clark Gregg Clark Gregg
Cobie Smulders Cobie Smulders
Stellan Skarsgård Stellan Skarsgård
Samuel L. Jackson Samuel L. Jackson
Gwyneth Paltrow Gwyneth Paltrow

I am not a Hollywood groupie, and I don’t keep track of movie stars in my daily life.  I have seen Robert Downey and Gwynneth Paltrow enough in other films to recognize their names.  I still remember the terrific performances turned in by Chris Evans as Captain America and Chris Helmsworth as Thor, but if you had asked me last night before the film who played Cap and Thor in those movies, I couldn’t have told you.  Of course everyone in America knows Samuel Jackson from lots of different films–he does the Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. routine.  However, I thought the actors were very good, even the ones in throwaway bit parts.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki really carried the movie.  Super heroes require super villains, and he was great, combining arrogance, cunning, and sheer mad egotism in a bravura performance.  I think there is a tendency to overlook the bad guys in hero action films, but we members of the audience should give those actors more credit.  Without them the heroes have no reason to exist, and nothing to emote against.  Think about it.  There was one real bad guy in the film–Loki.  He took on Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, and Nick Fury and gave them all they could handle.  One vs. seven. I’m not giving away any secrets if I tell you they beat him in the end, but think of the odds.  Hero stories are usually stacked the other way–more bad guys than good guys, and in a sense this was since Loki had an army of formidable aliens to back him up, but they were just extras.  Loki, and for 2/3 of the movie, Hawkeye who had been mind-controlled by Loki, were the only real bad guys.

The plot can be summarized easily enough.  Loki and his army of alien monsters decide to conquer the Earth.  Loki’s main problem is in bringing his troops to Earth from their outer space/other dimesnional homeworld.  Nick Fury and his agents of SHIELD, including the group he pulls together as the Avengers have to stop him.  Lots of combat and property destruction ensue.  Much of the conflict occurs on a personal level.  Marvel characters are all people first, heroes second.  They have their own motivations and lives, and often resent being forced to protect the world from one threat or another, but because they are good guys at heart–at least most of them are–they get over their greivances and cooperate to save the day.  Take out all the character vs. character petty antagonisms and the movie is half as long.

I don’t know why the publicity departments for these films always choose the least interesting photos.

The movie really starts with the theft of the Tesseract (also known as the Cosmic Cube in the comics) from a SHIELD base somewhere.  Loki takes on the whole base, beats it, and gets away with the maguffin.  But it only gets interesting when we switch to the Black Widow, in her crimson underwear, tied to a chair, and being interrogated by an evil Russian general arms dealer.  She gets a call from SHIELD saying they need her to “come in” and this leads to an escape featuring the most incredible display of chair fu ever filmed.  Jackie Chan would be so proud.  That’s the scene I want a picture of, not her in a black rubber suit pointing a pistol.

The two Chrisses. Blondes rule when it comes to street-fighting in New York.

Thor and Captain America, although no dummies, spend most of their time kicking butt and looking hunky.  I suppose the beefcake is for the ladies in the audience, but there is a lot of barely concealed homoeroticism in superhero comics.  These guys are just so damn pretty.  I like it better when they’re kicking butt.

Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, is a hands-on kind of guy. He does his own dirty jobs, and butt-kicking. Does he look like a mastermind to you? He doesn’t to me, but appearances can be deceiving. You can never trust a cyclops.

In the course of the film we learn that SHIELD is really run by a secret cabal who are utterly ruthless.  I guess having it just be an arm of the United Nations or the U.S. government isn’t enough any more.  We need conspiracies.  And the government looks evil enough to the American public without the movies making it worse.  Far better to have secret leaders who can’t be traced back to the Republicans or the Democrats or the Communists pulling the strings.  Fury is shown to be a devious bastard, but still a man with heart who does his best to protect people.

Alpha-males never get along when they meet each other. Give them a common foe, and they can certainly cooperate, but social situations are just plain nasty.

Thor and Iron Man go head to head in combat about half way through the movie.  I didn’t buy it.  No matter how good Stark’s technology is, Thor’s hammer should have blasted through it like it was tissue paper.  He’s a god.  So, suspend your disbelief for this part and just enjoy the smashing and bashing.

Loki has the best costumes, the best lines, and the best smile in the movie.

Remember that building in the background from the Ghostbusters? When there’s someting bad in the neighborhood, who you gonna call? Bad doesn’t come much worse than Loki on a power trip.

Who ya gonna call? Iron Man, I guess. I like Iron Man–he’s witty, smart, courageous, lecherous, and rich–just like me. Heh. Well, I can match him in one of those characteristics, and it isn’t the rich one.

The movie ends in an epic battle scene.  All of our Avenging heroes fight like heroes.  Hulk and Thor do the heavy hitting.  The rest take on the alien storm troopers who are quite bad enough to give any normal human being fits.  This is the part of the movie I liked best.  Bring it on!  Take out one gigantic space dragon.  Not bad.  Here’s ten more of them.  Now what are you gonna do, Hulk?

I liked the Avengers and give it 4 stars out of 5. ****  If you like superheroes at all, don’t miss it.

One more thing:  my personal rant–People are so hypercritical of the movies these days.  The Avengers is an amazing achievement as a movie.  Can you nitpick it?  Yes you could.  I’m not going to.  Try to see the terrific acting, the great storyline, the amazing special effects (even if it was all done with computer animation), and skip over the implausibilities and impossibilities that glare out of the movie at you.  It’s a comic book world, bearing a heavy resemblance to our world, but it isn’t our world.  It’s a wilder place than our own universe, and wilder things happen.  Accept them!  Enjoy them!

Biggest surprise for me: Joss Whedon had his name all over the credits.  Wow!  He must be on top of the world right now.  He is, imnsho, the best storyteller in Hollywood, perhaps in the world.  Didn’t know he was a Marvel fan, but I stand in awe of his achievements.


If you have anything to say about the Avengers, the Ghostbusters, or Joss Whedon, please leave a comment.