:: Zelazny :: [polish] :: sparks that fly from the ironsmith's hammer ::
::. Friday, February 15 .::
Unicorns, True and shadow.
One droll moment in my campaign was a conversation between Cassandra, young amberite princess NOT raised in Amber, and DeWinter, old amberite scion NOT acknowledged by Oberon. Cassandra was trying to save DeWinter's life in a very special shadow called Glantri. The poison killing him was within an hour of sending him into the beyond, but the Healers of Glantri had explained there was no cure.
But an exception might be the touch from a living Unicorn.
Long story short, she called on some cousins, they explained the Unicorn of Amber did NOT put in guest appearances for anyone, let alone outlawed bastards of Amber. Cassandra thought that was really stupid. So she did proceed to summon a unicorn.
A shadow-unicorn. With some further complications-- matters were resolved well, DeWinter lived. Upon waking, he asked how he had been saved, and direct-minded Cassandra explained she had called a unicorn. He heard, "called The Unicorn." Much paleness of face, much stuttering, much impressiveness accrued to Cassandra.
The Unicorn of Amber does not make guest appearances in my campaign. Neither does the Serpent. Nor do the other Elder Spirits of the Universe. They don't "work for scale". They are busy. And besides, your brain just might explode if you saw them.
There are two power levels of most Creatures of Power in my Amber Universe. The True level which corresponds to Shadow as a topology of the Universe, and the shadow-level which corresponds to local shadow conditions. The two have Hermetic associations (as below, so above), or perhaps in a more modern lingo, there is a fractal similarity. Unicorns of Shadow tell you something about a True Unicorn as shadow-dragons tell you something about True Dragons.
They are reflections in a different scale and power.
IMC, the only unicorns you can observe are shadow-unicorns. These are wild and feisty; gorgeous and fragile; they are highly prized and rarely captured. They can bring life to the nearly-dead, heal the most foul wounds, and steal the heart of anyone with a love of the strange.
Are there True Unicorns? Oh, yes. But they are less visible than the rarely seen shadow-unicorn. They live at a level of Perception that cannot be seen by ordinary mortals.
As for the Unicorn of Amber
Above and beyond the Creatures of Power are the Elder Spirits. The Elder Spirits do not live in the universe. They are the limits of the universe.
The Unicorn is an Elder Spirit, as is the Serpent.
True Dragons, or True Unicorns are but a hint of the potentials of these greater beings, who are so essential to things that their existence creates the reflections we call Dragons and Unicorns.
So did Oberon really have a Unicorn for a mother? More later.
Believe it or not, an Amber campaign can be a wide range of Tones and Textures without murdering Zelazny's concept or the original canon.
I've seen/heard of many folks taking a "pass" on Amber DRPG because it is that 'backstabbing game'. This subject also came up when I first proposed starting my campaign with friends.
Specifically, upon reading the rulebook:
"I have a bad feeling about this family. I'd be playing a character that has to relate to them somehow, or worse yet, is a child of one of them.
I can't find any of them that I even like let alone would spend time with."
This from one of my friends who is a published author. If a storyteller can't figure an "approach" to a character, how might a casual gamer do so? IOW, as the rule book portrays the Elders, they are a bunch of scary bastards. Is that the canon? Is that the main line of the game?
Yes and No.
In my case, the group that I was 'pitching' the game to more or less sided completely with the sentiment articulated above. And the game was set aside. Six months or so later, as folks were going through game-withdrawal, I pitched the same thing again. And watched everyone's face fall. The second pitch, it turned out, was also going against the fact that some of the players had picked up the books--- and been unable to get past the first few chapters.
The rule books had basically poisoned the appreciation of the novel. They saw Corwin's opening chapters as confirmation of what they had seen in the rules.
To be fair, I think the rules do a fantastic job of portraying the novels-- even to the point of inventive excess. The Wuj really knows his stuff, and is willing to explore lots of avenues, and present those avenues for consideration. And the "alternate Elders" are all pretty creepy power-grubbing bastards. That's the way that the Wuj sees the material.
And that's the way most prospective gaming people will see the material.
Amber is about other things too.
It's about pride, loyalty, and the threads that tie us together as family. Blood is thicker than water. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. It's also about privilege and poverty (that last is not economic poverty), about ego and memory, and the story never strays far from Wonder.
In the immediate sense, it is very much about Adventure within Infinite Imagination.
So I sat my gaming pals down and made a promise. In effect, though I didn't know that I was doing it, I was giving them a "gaming contract". In the years since then, I've seen more of these on the web and it's a very good idea. Players get a standard to strive for, GM's give a standard they plan to hold, and people commit to something that they have some faith in. They invest because they have a plan of trust.
I started this ramble with, "an Amber campaign can be a wide range of Tones and Textures without murdering Zelazny's concept". Here's what I did.
I told them this game was going to be about Adventure. I explained that the Eternal City was a greater wonder than the very human foibles of the Royal Family. That my plan was to do "Nine Princes in Amber" as if it was the greatest swashbuckler of all time, the Swashbuckler of Which All Others are but Shadows. I told them I wanted them to be the characters that every other fictional character might have to measure themselves against.
I wanted Eternal City to be wide-screen, one billion colors, cinemascope. I promised that my Amber would not be dark and treacherous as much as it would also be heroic and inspiring.
They bought it. We started.
And by golly, I came close.
Is it a good game? Damn right. Is it Amber? I think so. Would Zelazny have recognized it? Maybe.
Because my Amberites are complex like the people you know but more so. They are tough to figure, but always themselves.
An Amberite is both hero and clown. Both champion and arrogant bastard.
They will laugh when faced by a hundred opponents, but weep if a favorite rug is defaced.
They might steal your wife for a lusty picnic, but save your ass from a fate worse than death.
They come from a long line of bastards and villains.
They fight to preserve the Eternal Realm.
They bow to none and worship nothing.
They admit no betters.
My advice if you want to start a game?
Don't let your players read the rules.
Just talk them through it.
Creatures of Power that might populate an Amber campaign.
"UnBrood is exiled from our Empire and to the furthest reaches of the Eventide Veil. In the name of the Imperial Seat, we seal this terror beyond the waking Dreams of Men."
-from the Second Empire inscriptions at the dig in Argus, see 'Works of the Second Empire' by Professor Bu Meers, Library of All Things Wonderous-
A class of mythic monsters that have not been physically described anywhere in Shadow. Part of the legends collected in the LATW of the Empire of the Gleaming Banner. Among other mythic monsters of Shadow, the Unbrood hold a curious place. Most creatures are defined by their amazing construction or incredible powers, but not the Unbrood.
The Unbrood seem to be indescribable. Too awful to contemplate. Nearly too much to face in combat. Something of pure evil. They were confronted and defeated by the ancestors of the Empire. Information about them is gained from ruins of the Second Cycle Empire. By record, these 'terrors' were noted in singular and in groupings as if they were of the same Great Beast. Yet they were feared whether in packs or a single monster.
Slightly more is known about:
A race of monster-men that allied with the Empire to defeat the Unbrood. This distant kingdom of shadow-men still exists today, though it has little contact with other shadows. Even the alliance between the Empire and the Loathsome Prince of the Brood has fallen into neglect.
The Brood are extremely unpleasant to look upon and their social skills are said to be beastly. They are variously described as walking on all fours, or having heads and limbs distorted or simply larger than ordinary men. In distant Shadow, a location now forgotten by men, the Brood have a contentious and strange society. Their world is said to operate by very different laws than those more travelled by men.
And strangely, they are said to know arcane secrets about Time itself.
Ancient Entities. Creatures of Power that might populate an Amber campaign.
In the canon, we hear that some monsters have found their way into Amber. In fact, it is suggested that this event, penetrating the Eternal Realm, is a forbidding omen of terrible things coming.
IMC, this is a feature of my Amber. Even True Dragons may not enter Amber without guidance of unusual sort. In the same way that a Princess of Amber might not find a specific place that she has never been to--- Amber is one of the most specific places in creation. To know the air of Amber, the color of its sky, or the smell of its surf, is to know part of its secrets.
Refined Perceptions have power.
A more true and deadly form of the Manticore is the Kilticore. As the "man's face" is the 'signature feature' of a manticore, the most visual feature of a Kilticore is the "killing aspect". The 'natural' form of a Kilticore will include some sort of obviously deadly element. It may have wings of flame, or breath that constantly storms with lightning, some have been seen that exude toxic vapors, and there is one record of a 'beastie with great hydralic presses, gobbling and smashing without fatigue'.
The Kilticore differs from the True Dragon in many important ways. A Kilticore draws on a tri-lateral symmetry of Primal energies. Three Primals combine to form the nature of a Kilticore, and the creature cannot draw purely on any of the three. As such, the Kilticore is considerably weaker than the Dragon, but it is correspondingly deadly in the blending of those Primal powers.
A Kilticore can interact and affect Shadow. They can distort shadow-rules. While a Dragon rarely alters shadow-rules and can largely ignore shadow-veils, including many Shadow magics, a Kilticore is subject to most rules of substance and shadow. And in turn, a Kilticore can reply in kind. Where a Dragon's destructive force might be gross (need I say Primal?), the attacks and arcane might of a Kilticore are greater than any shadow-wizard. The blending of senses, substance, and shadow gives the Kilticore abilities and reach that a Dragon might not learn to recognize.
And Perception is a form of power.
Kilticores have been known to threaten Arden or the seaways leading to Amber--- if they have Primal powers that give them access to these routes. They may take three major forms or combinations of those forms, they can see across three shadow-veils--- able to look even into the Abyss, and they are attracted to mates of their own kind; of their own Primal energies.
In my cosmology, there are Eleven Primals. With Kilticores arranging these powers in triads, there is a frightening variety to the manifestations of this Creature. There are only eleven varieties of True Dragon, as a comparison. Luckily for the universe, Kilticore's are contentious even amongst their own kind. Other than mated pairs, they tend to be solitary.
Which is all to the good. This sort of Creature can crush demons and lesser monsters with ease.
Dragons are uniquely suited to understanding Primal Powers. It is what they are. The Blood of the Universe runs through these Creatures. The True Dragon, as opposed to the shadow-dragon, can move through shadow as easily as you or I move through air. Through experience, they can move through Shadow with a greater power or subtlety than a Princess of Amber.
IMC, there are Princes that have studied under Dragons for just that reason.
True Dragons are all of one family, but they come in the varieties that correspond to the Primal Powers themselves. Every dragon, in its youth, begins to choose which Primal its own nature will follow. This need not be as its parent, and often is not as youth likes to rebel. As they reach maturity, a True Dragon's nature and the power of that chosen Primal match for all time. The Dragon becomes as timeless and powerful as the Primal power can be when wielded by intelligence.
In fact, more powerful than any Prince/Princess of Amber. A Dragon can draw on Infinite Power.
But they cannot change their natures. They cannot be superior for knowing all things, for tasting from every cup of knowledge. They are what they are. And many a Prince of Amber can learn things to surpass these amazing beings.
What other Creatures of Power populate an Amber campaign?
"We truly are back to where we were before Sept. 11, when a patriotic gesture like this is derided as an attack against God. Or did I slip into an alternate universe, and we have a theocracy of our own here in America?"
Now I'm not suffering from a caffiene high or the Monday morning blues-- the American Family Association is thinking like the young lady they are championing-- very immaturely-- with a very narrow and inconsiderate point of view.
The sentiment "One Nation ... Indivisible" means exactly what it says unless you want to read more into it. And if you do, then you obviously aren't in agreement with the sentiment.
And where does that leave you?
Since when is anyone in America guilty until proven innocent? Since when is Negative Evidence the rule of social intercourse? Omitting something is deliberate provocation of religion? That may be fine for water-cooler gossip, but it doesn't meet the standard of mature social interaction.
Shame on you AFA. I'll hope for your vision to clear before you carry this further.