The idea of an auction is very Amberish in nature. People spending their
power (be it in terms of points, time, influence, whatever) to try
and gain more power. Sometimes they get things of value, sometimes others
spend more of their power and outfox them, sometimes they get something for
a minimal expenditure that they value but isn't valuable to others. Very
Possible Auction Items
So instead of attributes, auction off bits of power in all sorts of forms.
The suggestions for throne wars in the ADRPG are a good start. Here's some
options (copied from the NAGS system which stole from other places
too), but what's listed is certainly not exhaustive.
- Stuff - Possessions, inheritances, objects of quests
- Quality Items - The sorts of things you prize and treasure
- Fancy weapons and Armor - Magical, historical, or just plain well built
- Special Shadows - Places when unique qualities, or convenient locations
- Creatures - Morgenstern, for example, or Julian's hellhounds
- Unique Items - Those you just can't get any other way
- Spikards - Every sorceror's wet dream
- Patternblades - Superior quality swords, plus they light Choasians on fire
- Jewel of Judgement - Draw your own Pattern
- Succession Order - Where you fall in line for the throne of Amber, or maybe the Chaos throne.
- Social Ranking - Not everyone is in favor with the masses or the courts. This could be support of the noble houses, the friendships you have in the royal courts, or just the fact that it's not a party unless you're there with a drink in hand.
- Military Rank - Be a General of the Amber Army, Admiral of the Amber Navy, or just a lowly Corporal in the City Guards.
- Offices - Official or otherwise. Protector of Arden, Keeper of the Castle Keys, Head of the Guard, Quartermaster General, Head of the Diplomatic Corps. In a bureaucracy, official positions can be a source of vast and subtle power.
- Favorite - Of some Elder, like Dworkin or Benendict or Fiona, or a perhaps a group with power, like a Merchant Cartel, a noble house, a House of Chaos, or any number of other powerful and influential sorts. The amount of influence can range from small to significant.
- Favor - Less than favorite, but they have some reason to like or help.
- Allies - Not necessarily favor, but a political alliance, or one of necessity, or maybe just business arrangements.
- Information - Ranging from mundane to arcane, simple secrets to powerful blackmail material, knowledge of lost treasures to secrets shortcuts through the castle.
- Training - Someone is willing to train you in something. Perhaps Dworkin chooses you for advanced Trump training, or Fiona shares her Pattern secrets with you, or maybe Julian just uses you as a training dummy. May include a discount on the powers or skills involved.
- Optional Rules - Not all campaigns allow all the powers straight off so this may represent the only way to start with certain abilities.
- Build a Construct - Your very own Ghostwheel.
- Walk the Logrus - If all the players are Ambeierites, this could be quite unusual.
- Special Powers - Abyss, Balance, Dream Trumps, Exhalted powers, whatever the GM can come up with.
- Meta-Game - These are things that aren't necessarily IC, but affect the game anyway.
- The right Choose a parent - Normally the GM gets to decide, taking the character and the player's input into consideration. Win this, and the player can decide with certainty who at least one parent is.
- A chance to ask questions
- Types of Questions
- True or False - 20 question style, the player can ask a certain number of questions the GM will answer honestly yes or no.
- Prophetic - The sort of questions and responses you'd expect from a magic 8-ball. 'Can I rescue Prince Corwin?' 'Outlook uncertain'.
- Direct - Straightforward questions the GM will answer as correctly as possible.
- Number of Questions - In general, the more useful the questions, the less there will be.
Not all auctions are run the same way. Aside from the realtively important
difference in what's availalbe, the methods involved in auctioning
something off can vary widly. Here are some ideas for different ways to
run an auction.
In the most classic form of auction, everyone bids for one item, raising
their bid as necessary, and the person who bids the most wins. Simple and
straightforward. Also known as a Standard auction. If there are multiple
items, the top several bidders all win at their level (what some people
incorrectly call a Yankee auction).
- The top bids for a Spikard are 8, 9, and 10. The highest bidder, who offered 10, pays their bid and gets the Jewel. If there had been 2 Spikards, the person who bid 9 would pay 9 and get a Spikard as well.
This is the style of auction the ADRPG uses for Attributes. There is a
winner, but everyone pays the amount of their own highest bid, whether they
won or not. This sort of auction can be used anyplace relative rankings
are imporant, such as succession order, political or social status, or the
degree to which some ally likes all the bidders.
- Bidding for the favor of Corwin, the bids are 1, 4, 8, 9 and 10. Corwin likes the person who bid 10 the most, the one who bid 9 next, and so on down to 1 who he likes only a little better than those who didn't bid anything at all.
Also known as a sealed bid auction. Everyone issues one and only one
bid, and the highest bid wins. There is no bidding up except in the case
of a tie, then only those tied issue one more bid. (Some people
incorrectly call a multiple item Standard auction a Yankee auction.) All
bids in a Yankee auction are always secret, making it a good sort for
certain sorts of positions and for allies.
- Flora's loyalty is up for auction, Yankee style. Everyone submits their bids, and the person who bid 14 wins. No one knows what any other bid but their own was.
Used for auctions where there are multiple items in the lot. All the
winners get the item at the cost of the *lowest* winner. Some people
incorrectly call this a Dutch auction. Vickery auctions are good for
multiple physical items, and also for positions where more than one person
could hold them, such as an ambassador's appointment.
- Two appointments to the Diplomatic Corps are offered in a Dutch Auction, and the top bids are 8, 9 and 10. The top two bidders both pay 9 for their appointment, as 9 is the highest bid that actually won.
In a proper Dutch auction, the person running the auction opens with a very
high bid, and then works down until someone accepts the bid. This is also
sometimes known as a Reverse auction. This is a great sort of auction for
very valuable items, and there's a very strong playing-chicken aspect,
where the winner gets the lot, but loses by paying the most for it. If
there are multiple items in the lot, the bid continues down until all the
items are gone.
- Acutioning of the Jewel of Judgement, the GM starts the bidding at 200, and begins to drop the price little by little. Finally at 17, someone can't resist, and accepts the bid, paying 17 and gaining the Jewel.
Also known as an Ante or Poker auction. Everyone is allowed to make an
initial bid, at which point the highest bid is taken and each bidder is
given, in turn, the chance to match or raise the bid. Once someone fails
to match or raise the bid, they're out of the auction and may not re-enter.
You cannot match your own bid, so once everyone else has matched, you must
raise the bid or drop out. For a true Poker style auction, any points you
commit are spent, even when you drop out and don't win. Like Dutch
auctions, Japanese auctions are excellent for very valuable auction lots.
They work particularly well with story-form auctions, where the bids
represent the various actions on the part of the bidders.
- The chance to have a new secret power is auctioned off Japanese style. After the intial round of bids, the highest is 10. Several drop out, but two people match the bid. The person who initial bid 10 now must raise the bid or drop out, and decides to raise to 11. One of the two others drops out, but the second raises to 12. The first matches, the second raises to 13, the first matches again, and the second drops out, leaving the first person, who had the initial bid 10, to win at 13.
Not a specific auction type, but the more general case of a Yankee auction.
Each bid is anonymous, and only the high bid is announced. This can be
used with most of the above types of auctions. This is most appropriate
when knowing who won an auction would diminish the value of winning it,
such as a position as a Secret Agent, or information that could be used to
blackmail certain people.
In most auctions the players will know what they're bidding on, more or
less precisely. However it's possible to have auctions where the lots
aren't fully described, or indeed described at all. This can range from
auctioning a "magic sword", without describing what makes the sword
special, all the way to "what's in the box", where the lot could be
literally anything. Blind lots are often also Blind bid, but don't need
Usually lots consist of a single prize to be won, but they may come in
packages, for example, Corwin's Favorite might include his favor, plus a
chance to use or borrow Greyswandir, his Pattern sword. It's also possible
that the additional aspects of the lot are treated like a blind lot; for
example, the person who wins Corwin's Favorite discovers after the auction,
that it also includes the chance to walk Corwin's Pattern.
In most cases, each auction is run one at a time, sequentially. However,
it's also possible to run multiple auctions in parallel, upto having all
auctions run simultaneously. While this doesn't change how each individual
auction is run, it can drastically change the strategies of those bidding.
With multiple auctions running at once, there's the ability to decide to
give up on one item if another starts to escalate, or the reverse, to give
up a contested item in favor of sneaking in a win on a less desirable item.
Reserves and Buyouts
For most items, the highest bid, no matter how low, will win the auction.
But for certain lots, it makes sense to have a Reserve, a price below which
the item just won't be won. This is particularly true of powerful
artifacts, such as the Jewel of Judgement or a Patternblade; if the players
won't expend the effort to buy it, some NPC Elder almost certainly will.
Similarly, there are items for which it just doesn't make sense to buy
above a certain cost. A non-unique magical sword, for example, may have a
buyout price of the cost it would take to build such an item using the
normal Item Quality and Powers rules; anyone willing to pay that much can
acquire one. Similarly, some lots will have a cap for other reasons: if
someone bids that amount straight out, they win before anyone else gets a
chance to bid up. This could represent story factors, such as the personal
loyalty of someone for having done them a single very large favor.
The more general case of a Japanese auction. Applicable to any English or
Vickery style auction, a freezeout means that you must bid in the initial
round if you wish to bid at all. If you fail to bid, you may not enter the
auction later on. Unlike a strict Japanese auction, however, you do not
necessarily need to bid every round in order to stay in.
Running Auctions from an IC Perspective
Justifying Auctions and Their Results
At first glance auctions don't seem to be a very in-character sort of
thing, but really they're very in-character. The life of an Amberite is
often filled with quiet struggles for power and position among their peers
and relatives. They play incredibly subtle games that last decades,
centuries, even millenia, and might result in miniscule changes in power or
utter reversal of fortunes. But even an immortal with god-like powers over
the fabric of reality only has so much time in the day for scheming and so
much energy for hoarding more power. Those are the points you design your
character with. If you spend them on Attributes, they represent extensive
training and practice in those areas, spent on powers they're time
researching and practicing arcane arts, and spent on auctions, they're the
subtle maneuverings to grab items of power, forge alliances, uncover
secrets, gain the trust of those above you, or any number of other
As a Player
Instead of looking at auctions as mechanical exercises in accumulating
'stuff', as a player, consider them from a more organic standpoint. This
can be a great way to come up with some history and backstory for your
character. Consider all the things where points can be spent or gained in
an Amber game, including attributes, skills, powers, allies, items,
shadows, and enemies, just to name the a few. On top of that, there are
some other things that you can't buy directly, but which have currency in
Amber, in particular time and knowledge. So every point you spend on an
auction item represents some other opportunity you traded away.
It's not spending 10 points to make Fiona your ally, it's spending 20 years
doing small favors and being polite to her, so that when the time comes,
she's willing to throw in with you. It's spending 10 hours a week in the
library for 2 years, piecing together clues that let you discover where the
missing patternblade is. Take a wound that reduces your Strength or
Stamina, encounter a fright that shakes your mental confidence. Expend
personal resources and calling in favors to beat everyone else to the
spikard spoken of in prophecy.
Charlie spends 24 points win the auction for the knowledge on how to create
a Patternblade, then thinks about what those points represent. 10 of it
represented the most treasured magical sword he had, broken off at the hilt
which was the catalyst for his desire to build his own patternblade, 4 was
using a friend to discover the location of the knowledge and having them
feel betrayed, 8 represents missing an opportunity to spend quality time
with Bleys, who could have taught him more of the Art of War, and the final
2 are the time it took to learn the secrets of the temple to unlock the
vault containing the treatise on forging weapons of power. With a little
thought, those 24 points have now become a basis for some of Charlie's
backstory and personality traits.
If your GM is using auction stories, help him out, and occasionally suggest
what you're using your points to do. Not only does it help him, but it
helps you get a feel for what sort of actions your character might take.
As a GM
When setting them up, consider giving each auction a more dramatic name and
maybe a couple lines of prose describing the sorts of trials and
tribulations the bidders would go through. Then, like with the Attribute
auctions, have some flavor text to throw in to keep the bidding going. For
- "Next up, we've got The Quest For The Spikard. A few years back, a scholar discovered an ancient scroll which, when decoded, proved to be directions for locating a Spikard hidden by Dworkin shortly after the formation of the Pattern. Through various means, you've all become aware of it. So who's going to be the first to expend some effort to recover it?"
- "Jill takes an early lead, bribing the scholar's wife to get the scroll!"
- "Come on, come on, Joe is beating you all to the punch. If you don't try harder, he'll get their first, diffuse the traps and win the spikard!"
- "Ah, Jill calls in some favors and gets reinforcements!"
- "But Charlie has found a shortcut that'll get him there faster!"
- "Joe, the wily devil, has some of his personal troops interfere with Charlie and Jill!"
And so forth and so on. This takes some imagination and forethought, but
can help set the tone for a game very early on.
Setting up the Auctions from an OOC Perspective
Points to keep in mind for the GM, as they're setting up their game's
Making Sure There's Something for Everyone
One trick to setting up auctions is that not everyone will want the same
thing. Some characters will be fighters, others lovers, scholars, or
diplomats. Experience can range from forgotten Elders to those barely old
enough to be on their own. Some designs will be built around one specific
power, others around a stat like Warfare or Strength, and still others will
be generalists, with a little of everything.
Given this fact, consider what various characters are going to be
interested in. A Warfare-based character might to be interested in a nice
weapon, some allies, maybe a shadow to act as a recruiting base or
fortress. A character who is going to be an ambassador from a Golden
Circle Shadow is going to want allies, information, favors from influential
people, and other things that might make their job easier.
- Appeal to those with differing skill sets
- Stats (Warfare/Psyche?/etc)
- Differing Powers (Pattern/Logrus?/Trump?/etc)
- Appeal to differing social groups
- Amber Regulars (Elders, children of Elders who grew up there)
- Relative newcomers to Amber
- Chaosians or Shadowdewllers
As a whole, it's better to keep auctions relatively balanced. There will
obviously be some that are more powerful than others, but at the same time,
if there are lots of large and important auctions, the unimportant ones
will be ignored. Consider doubling up smaller auctions, or trying to split
Also, too many blind or semi-blind lots tend to make players feel that
who gets a good character is a matter of luck, not skill. If by some quirk
of the bidding, Joe ends up paying 20 points each for several blind
auctions and doesn't get anything he wants, while Charlie bids 5 on a lark
in another and gets something Joe was very interested in, that's a recipie
for player friction.
There's also the temptation to use blind or semi-blind lots to vary the
results based on the characters who end up winning the auctions. If done
well, this can make all the player happy with what they got. If not done
will, no one is happy. Speaking from experience, it's often better to just
plan each auction fully in advance. Sometimes an unexpected auction win
can crystalize a player's ideas, producing an interesting and unique
Consider what happens if your players aren't sufficiently competitive, or
are willing to actively conspire with each other in order to keep the price
of the wining bids down. In general, this won't be a problem, even in the
best case, most people will want to spend plenty of points on other things,
like stats, items, and powers. But if you anticipate your players spending
say 50-75 points each, and instead they spend 20-30, remember that you'll
want to compensate when designing your NPCs and other challanges for the
See Also: Integrated Auction