Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Bergstrom Method Of Amber Combat

The truth is ugly: the holy grail is just a simple stoneware cup, with three different artist's stamps upon the base.

I found the so-called "Bergstrom Method" and it's only so-so. In some ways it's cooler than the chart, and feels more like an Amber methodology than that did. On the other hand, it's a little hard to read. What I did with Endurance was cool, and I like the way I handled the transition from Amber Rank to 1-point of Warfare, but the formatting needs work. Overall, though, I'm not as impressed with my own greatness as I'd hoped to be.

Most disappointing is the realization that it's heavily based on someone else's concept - probably the original author of that chart. Here I was thinking I'd been all original and cool, when the truth is I was standing on the shoulders of chaos lords. My ego has taken enough kicks in the past few years. I may have been happier while on the grail quest. It's been a really tough week (I got laid off, and I hurt a friend) so it may be that I'm just depressed or self-critical. I'll look at it with fresh eyes sometime when I'm in a better mood.

Oh well, here's the text, plucked from The Way Back Machine. I expect none of the links will work, but I'd rather not take the time to test or neuter them.

Handling Combat in Amber

credit where credit is due

This system (and the Testerman/Trimmer system it is based on) determines the length of a battle by comparing the warfare (or psyche, or strength) of the combatants, factoring in Endurance in longer battles. It is designed with the standard Amber 4 attribute system, but could be easily modified for whatever system you use. It is designed for one-on-one battles, but can also be adapted to armies or group battles.

We need to compare the relevant attribute (psyche for power battles, strength for hand-to-hand, or warfare for weapons) of the two combatants. But we can't compare just the straight points of the attributes, because that would result in a character with a single point of warfare to be infinitely better than someone with Amber Rank(zero points). So, we need to scale the stats just slightly. When we scale, we'll quickly be converting character creation points, and attribute points into something similar, which for lack of a better term we'll call Conflict Points.

Let's consider Human Rank a single "conflict point".
Chaos Rank, being twice as good, will be two conflict points
Amber Rank will be equal to four conflict points.
As far as any "Ranked" attributes are concerned, take the number of points spent on the attribute and add five. This new total is the number of Conflict Points you have in that attribute.

  • This is a bit toned down from Wujcick's explanations in the rulebook. He paints Amber as 8+ times as good as Chaos rank. I see it as around double. Otherwise, armies from chaos need to outnumber Amber forces by huge margins in order to really be a threat, and that's just not how Corwin presents it.
  • This also means that if you spent one point on warfare when creating your character, he has 6 Conflict points in warfare. This gives him roughly 1 and a half times the swordsmanship of Amber Rank, and makes him three times as deadly as a chaosling, or 6 times as dangerous as a normal human.
  • If you have 2 points of warfare you are not twice as good as someone with one point of warfare. Converting the ranked stats into conflict points shows you have 7 to thier 6 conflict points, giving you a Minimal Advantage.

Once you know the conflict points involved in the battle, you may compare them on this chart to determine what Advantage Category the fight falls into:

If the stronger character has:

  1. Four times as many (or more!) conflict points as weaker character (4:1 or more extreme), they have a Murderous Advantage!
  2. At least three times as many conflict points as weaker character (3:1), they have a Superior Advantage!
  3. At least twice as many conflict points as weaker character (2:1), they have a Definite Advantage.
  4. At least one and a half times as many conflict points as weaker character (3:2), they have a Modest Advantage.
  5. More conflict points than weaker character, but less than one and a half times as many (7:6, or 54:47, or any proportionately similar small difference), they have a Minimal Advantage
  6. If both characters have the same number of conflict points, (1:1) they are dead even.
Other factors such as weaponry, tactics, and setting
Just how exhausted you are determines how well and how long you can defend yourself

To the index of all my Amber pages.

Other factors such as weaponry, tactics, and setting...

One of the strengths of this system is that it makes for easy improvising of the results of outside factors. If some factor aides a particular combatant (such as them having a sharper blade or better armor, attacking from ambush, being more familiar with the terrain), swing the Advantage Level one step in their favor.

For example, if Random has sword and dagger while Benedict has only a dagger. Benedict normally has a Superior Advantage over Random, but in this case it�s diminished to a Definite Advantage. If Random had a pistol and sword, plus lightweight bodyarmor, and knew where the boobytraps were, he could be Dead Even with Benedict or even have a Minimal Advantage against him.

If the factor just makes the battle more dangerous (such as both sides having rapid-fire weapons) then instead of changing the category just speed up the battle: allow everyone to die a few exertion categories sooner than normal.

By means of example: Corwin has a Minimal Advantage over Random. They could normally fence until Exhausted or Collapsing. But if both have poisoned blades, they could get knicked and die while just Tired or Strained.
If using machineguns with explosive bullets in a burning skyscraper in a radiation zone while wearing a full body anticontamination suits might result in kills occuring while both were Fresh.

The system also assumes the use of weapons that allow some dodging, parrying, manuevering and/or use of cover; such as swordplay, sorcery, or karate. This, of course, is not allways the situation. In contests of continuous direct conflict such as prolonged wrestling, fighting in a pit or small contained area, or for trump-based psyche duels, assume the kills happen one or two exertion categories sooner than what the advantage level states.

For example, Fiona has just a Minimal Advantage over Brand in Psyche, but in a continuous battle via trump, as soon as he becomes Tired (instead of the normal Exhausted) she can defeat him (and if she became Strained, he'd be able to defeat her).

The categories also assume an opportunistic battle plan. Going full Offensive speeds up the time to a kill by an exertion level(for both sides), going full defensive shifts the advantage category two steps in your favor.

Examples: Corwin can play pure defensive and tire out Eric, who has both higher psyche and warfare, but rather lower endurance than Corwin. The psyche duel took less time than the sword battle to determine a victor, because it's a more direct and continuous means of combat.

what the Advantage Categories mean in terms of storyline:

Definitions of terms such as: Exertion, Fresh, Tired, Strained, Exhausted, and Collapsing If the stronger character has at least four times as many conflict points as the weaker, they have an Deadly Advantage. Anytime there's this much of a difference, the weaker character dies in well under a minute, and little can save them. "One hit = one kill" is often the rule in these cases. It all happens too fast for Endurance to make a difference. If you are this much better than your opponent, it is nearly impossible for them to kill you. Even if you are at Collapsing exertion, they will at best manage a single wound on you simultaneous to their death. If you are less exerted, they will be unable to harm you at all

If the stronger character has at least three times, but less than four times, as many conflict points as the weaker, they have an Superior Advantage. The victim should die within a few minutes, regardless of what endurance level they are at. Good stuff, nearby benefactors, or other factors might be able to save them, but they'll take crippling wounds long before endurance becomes a factor. The better warrior won�t perish unless they are at Collapsing level less than five minutes into the duel.

If the stronger character has at least twice , but less than thrice the conflict points of the weaker, they have an Definite Advantage. It takes very small slip-ups to recieve fatal wounds against someone this far better than yourself, and so the first signs of fatigue will do in the weaker fighter. The stronger fighter won�t perish till they reach Collapsing level, but the weaker will die if/when they reach Tired.

If the stronger character has at least one and a half, but less than twice as many conflict points of the weaker, they have a Modest Advantage. At this point, the battles start to draw out, and Endurance really begins to play a part. The stronger fighter won�t die until they reach Collapsing exertion level. The weaker will make a fatal mistake and die within a few minutes of reaching Strained level.

If the stronger character has more conflict points of the weaker, but less than one and a half times as many, they have an Minimal Advantage. These battles draw out really long, possibly taking days to determine a victor. Endurance is the real determination in who wins and how long it takes to do so. The stronger fighter will only perish in this situation if/when they proceed to Collapsing level of exertion. The weaker character if/when they reach Exhausted level.

If both Characters have the same number of conflict points, they are Dead Even. In this case, the only deciding factors are endurance and "stuff". The first character to reach Collapsing level dies. The other lives, but with several nasty wounds.


there are 5 levels of exertion. They are entitled Fresh, Tired, Strained, Exhausted, and Collapsing.

Fresh is the default starting level. Anyone who is rested and ready begins at Fresh. If you�re at fresh, you can handle (or at least delay) anyone who�s not at least twice the fighter you are.

Tired is the starting level if you�re the least bit sleepy or unrested. Also, a person progresses from Fresh to Tired after a several minutes of exertion. How long this takes depends upon Endurance. Figure approximately 1 minute per Endurance Conflict Point. At tired you begin to slow down, but are still only vulnerable if your opponent is significantly better than you.

As your exert yourself further you pass from Tired to Strained. At Human Rank, this happens after 10 minutes, and Chaos Rank after 20 minutes. At Amber Rank or better, it happens after a time equal to the Endurance Conflict Points times 15 minutes. At Strained, the first real mistakes begin to show up, and a better warrior will take advantage of them to wound or even kill you in short order.

Continuing to be active can move you from strained to exhausted. At Human Rank this happens 15 minutes after you begin to exert yourself, at Chaos Rank 45 minutes after you start. At Amber Rank and above, at 45 minutes times your endurance conflict points. Exhausted level is dangerous. Even if your opponent is just a little bit better or faster than you, s/he will be able to capitalize on your numerous mistakes at this point. Death could soon be in your future.

The final stage is collapsing. Humans suffer this after so minutes of hard exertion, and standard Chaosites after an hour. At Amber Rank and above, it sets in following their endurance conflict points, expressed in hours. At collapsing, you become nearly incapable of defending yourself. Mistakes abound, and your energy level and speed take a nosedive. As such, even those whom you greatly outclass in skill stand a good chance of ending your life.

Corwin was approaching the Exhausted/Collapsing end of things when he arrived in the courts of chaos, that's why he chose to trick Duke Borel instead of waging a duel.

To the index of all my Amber pages.

Credit where credit is due: Recently, I discovered a webpage maintained by Doyce Testerman that includes an excellent Holistic stat system, as well as a way of determining the victor and speed of victory in Amber battles. This system, originated by Randy Trimmer, is an great crib notes for Amber gamemasters, making the refereeing of battles simpler.

However, their system does not however really factor in Endurance, and is somewhat less balanced in the lower point value rankings for attributes. I have attempted to patch these flaws and expand upon the system, my results are above. Their system is less number-intensive than mine, but also less detailed. It's a trade-off (elegance or completeness), and you might like their system more than mine, so check it out!

� 1998-1999 by Rolfe Bergstrom, developed upon the work of Doyce Testerman and Randy Trimmer, and of course the game system by Erick Wujcick and the novels by Roger Zelazny.
At some point, I'll probably revise this with an eye towards making it easier to understand and implement.

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