Patrick Stuart's False Machine review of Amber: Diceless Role-Playing brought up a lot of great memories. I haven't played Amber since High School in the early 90's, and haven't read the core rulebook in over a decade, yet Wujcik's wisdom seems burned into my psyche.
I just re-read his review, and while I can't pinpoint the exact sentence getting to the heart of this blog post, it's in there somewhere. Allow me to plunge my warlock hands into the primordial soup and see what I can yank out...
As a designer of RPGs myself, my foundation seems to be context. In any interaction, there are a number of variables, each having their own weight, pushing and pulling the odds of success, failure, or something in-between hither and yon.
For me personally, needing to hit a target number of 14, rolling a 15, and saying, "Yeah, you hit," or rolling a 13 and saying, "Nope, you miss," just doesn't satisfy me like it did when I started out playing Basic D&D in grade school.
After years of gaming, I realized how much I preferred subtlety, nuance, interpretation, the dice as oracle and I, Game Master, as the one who speaks for them. I want the dice to give me a range, a degree of good, bad, and ugly where I'm able to refine the raw material... shades of gray, rather than just rolling to see if the outcome is either black or white.
Where Amber expects the GM to do all the factoring in his head, the RPGs of Kort'thalis Publishing (Alpha Blue, Crimson Dragon Slayer, The Outer Presence, and Blood Dark Thirst) provide tools cutting out much of the guesswork.
The GM as final arbiter; rules merely a framework for GM and players to immerse themselves in virtual reality - is the very definition of old school. That's why I believe both Amber: Diceless and my own RPGs are essentially OSR.