What do folks mean when they talk about "canon" or "first series purist" when talking about the Amber game? Well, "canon" in this sense has one 'n' and refers to the rule of orthodoxy established by the book material. The original basis of the material. What do the books by Roger Zelazny actually show us about Corwin's Amber, as opposed to any conjecture or wishful thinking by characters in the stories.
Or despite the way your last GM ran things.
A "first series purist" is someone who feels the first five books set the tone for Amber, and that Merlin's chronicle alters that tone in significant ways. A "first series purist" does not reference the latter five books for tone, nor the five short stories that follow.
Sol Foster posted the below material as a summary of things often discussed on the Amber Mailing List. I found it useful, so I share it here for those who don't have access to the List. What follows is close to a "campaign setting guide" for my own games. I'll let Sol speak first, my comments/tweaks are highlighted.
I thank Sol for his permission to use this material. Please understand that this does not mean Sol Foster is/is not a "first series purist". This material is used for clarification.
Subject: AMBER Making the Game Model the Books
From: Sol Foster
Date: Thu, 10 May 2001 09:07:53 -0400
[Note that this is heavily biased toward the early books, and does its best to pretend the last few books never happened. Think of it as Corwin Chronicles plus Trumps of Doom.]
[Also note this isn't intended to be the final word in how to do this --just a good start.]
1. Throw out Shadowknight. (Laugh heartily at the notion of a Rebma rulebook.)
Demon and Construct creation rules are way too complex for little value added to the game. So I use the Item rules instead, they work just fine.
2. Throw out all Advanced Powers. Give the characters the flexibility to only partially buy into the Powers that remain if they desire.
I approve of the notion that powers aren't as easy to come by as the rules suggest, but I'll admit that Advanced and Exalted powers are possible in small increments as your character develops. Every power requires a back story as to who taught it to you. Additionally, it never hurts to hold some points "banked" in reserve if you think a power initiation might come up in a storyline.
3. Throw out any Item ability that costs more than 4 points. It probably makes sense to throw out many of the 4 point ones as well. (Require items to have a history, while you're at it. You might want to throw out the item rules altogether and simply focus on the history.)
I throw away the names for the various ranks of Item Qualities & Powers. Items are intrinsic to the story and legend of an Amberite. They are ranked in relation to expertise, effect, and Amber years of effort relative to the setting. Each point of cost may represent an aggragate "back story" and the cumulative effect of many legends intersecting a character. Campaign setting will determine what level of ranking is available to starting characters and others.
4. You should probably completely rewrite the small-scale magic powers as well, but I haven't given much thought to details.
Magic should be clunky and hard to use. Characters in the books rarely solve any problem with magic. Magic only works well in a shadow where the user has studied the shadow's structure. Magic doesn't cross shadow veils (you cannot summon lava from another shadow with magic, though you can summon lava from the shadow you are already in.) Magic doesn't work in opposition to Pattern or Logrus. Sorcerors do not teleport about the Golden Circle. Conjuration does not deliver working firearms to your hands within Castle Amber. It's virtually unknown to knock big holes in your cousin with magic.
[The rest fall into the category of paying attention to what actually happens in the books' story, rather than taking all of Corwin's boasting claims at face value. How Corwin does stuff and reacts to events tells you a lot more about the world.]
5. Amberites are not gods. They're just tough people. (Scale back top attribute power-levels accordingly.)
Laugh heartily at the notion that Benedict can slap bullets out of the air with his sword or that Gerard can out-muscle a bulldozer or that Fiona can out-psyche an alien hive mind of a thousand sentients.
The ADRPG puts Amberites about five times tougher than Chaosians, who are about five times tougher than humans. Not! It just isn't supported in the books. In my games, these relationships are cut down a lot. See my Attributes essay.
6. Amberites are not exactly masters of scheming. They function on a moderately clever pulp novel level at best. (Don't treat the Elders as omnipotent and omniscient just because a cheesy deus-ex-machina will get you out of a hole you've dug yourself without requiring you to actually think.)
They outwit each other. They outwit themselves. They get fooled by humans. They overlook things and have very emotional reactions. That's part of their appeal!
7. Shadow people count for something. They are capable of competing at the Amberites' level. (The best Shadows should be well above Amber rank at their forte.)
I've built games around Shadow empires. Shadow folks teach Oberon and Corwin plenty of things in the course of the stories. See my Attributes essay for comparisons of ability. See the Empire of the Gleaming Banner for a Shadow that competes with Chaos and Amber.
8. Shadow is more than some cheesy virtual reality you can effortlessly search, control, or rewrite. (Just because you can travel from one world to another, and beat up most of the people you find in each, doesn't mean the fabric of those worlds is so thin you can play with it at will.)
All those tricks take time and expertise. More time than most young amberites are going to invest. More expertise than basic levels of the powers.
(this comment appended by Sara Bear)
9. Amberites go out of their way to avoid killing family or losing face to each other.
Why? It's the best game in the universe. It's the only game that really counts. If you flaunt the rules, everyone else in the family will think you are a Dalt, er, dolt. Amberites also don't kill regular folks on a whim, they don't bully shopkeepers or mind-rape servants. They maintain certain protocols and style.
Style counts. No immortal wants to be lame.