Alternative Auctions

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 Amberish, indeed.

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.

Auction types

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.

Blind Bids

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.

Blind Lots

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 be.

Packaged Lots

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.

Multiple Auctions

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 possibilities.

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 example:

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 auctions.

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.

Other Considerations

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 larger ones.

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 character.

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 players.

See Also: Integrated Auction