Saturday, December 1, 2007

Chaotic vs Orderly Shapeshifting

This was one of the aforementioned old Amber pages that has long since vanished from the net...

"Chaotic Shapeshifting
Orderly Shapeshifting
A study in Static Form, Dynamic Form and the nature of True Shapeshifting

It seems odd to me that a place so random and crazy that it’s commonly known as the Courts Of Chaos should be the part of the universe where the average folks have the most control over their physiology and anatomy. Shapeshifting as it exists in the rulebooks is a fluid, versatile power all about mastering and controlling the complex chemical reactions and physical structure of your body. So isn’t it a little odd that creatures of Chaos have this highly disciplined skill?
And when you think about it, what kind of shapeshifting do we see in the books? In the first five novels (Corwin’s Saga) there really is precious little shapeshifting done. Let’s count it out:
  1. Dara shapeshifts uncontrollably while walking the Pattern.
  2. Dworkin, embodiment of the Pattern, intentionally shapeshifts to look like Corwin.
  3. Dworkin, as a result of the cyclical nature of his wounds (from the black spots on the pattern) loses control and shapeshifts in to something scary just as Corwin is trumping away.
  4. Oberon, one of the greatest initiates of Pattern and order, shapeshifts into Ganelon.
  5. Oberon, standing near the Primal Pattern, creates a bird from Corwin’s blood.
Only five major instances, barely one per book. Let's examine them for trends. What’s present in each of those examples? The Pattern. And what's missing that you might expect to find? Lords of Chaos with no Amber blood. Kinda makes me wonder...

Sure, Dara does say that her shapeshifting is a natural talent, a part of her birthright as a Lady of Chaos. But what’s funny is, we never see the various Chaosites in the first 5 books make full use of their shapeshifting. All the tricks that players use in the game - knitting closed wounds, growing wings to escape, taking better forms for combat - none of that stuff is done by Chaos Lords in Corwin’s Saga, and boy does it cost them.

Maybe this means that Chaosites don’t have control of their shapeshifting. After all, what could be more Chaotic? So here’s an alternate system for shapeshifters:

Static Form: 0 points:
This is the default for natives of Amber and most of shadow. Just like you and me in real life, a character with Static Form can’t change what they are shaped like.

Dynamic Form: 0 points:
This is the default for Lords and Ladies of Chaos, the creatures who serve them, and such beasts out of shadow as Werewolves. Any such character will have a large slate of forms they can assume, but little to no control over which shape they are in at any given moment. One you make a character with Dynamic Form, describe roughly a dozen different shapes you want them to be capable of, along with the triggers that send them into that shape. Your GM will have ultimate approval of the shapes and triggers, but here’s a few possibilities…
Emotional Triggers: You could have a form you take when you become angry, and another when you are sad, frightened, proud, aroused, or laughing.
Celestial Triggers: You change with the phases of the moon, the color of the sky, the arrangement of the stars or your proximity to Amber or to the Logrus.
Chemical Triggers: Your forms are determined by your diet, and/or what drugs you imbibe. Watch out for allergic reactions.
Magical Triggers: It’s possible that spells could be created to transform you into a shape of your choice, or hold you in that form once you’ve achieved it. Alternately, perhaps you could have specific Power Words whose purpose is to invoke specific shapes. Check with your GM to get their ruling on the limits of magic to affect shapeshifters.

So which of these [trigger] methods is supported by Corwin’s saga? We really don’t have enough information. Dara’s walk on the pattern could be an example of emotional triggers being struck by the memories that a Pattern walk brings to the surface, but on the other hand, Dara runs a wide range of emotions in the books without ever losing her shape.
I’d figure probably a complex mix of different triggers is involved, more than the casual observer is likely to be able to catalog or decipher. GM's and players will have to work out amongst themselves what sorts of triggers are active in their game, and how complex they want it to be.
In any event, this is a possible explanation of shapeshifting as Corwin describes it: when a Lord of Chaos chooses a battle it’s usually at the time and place that brings out their best form. If not, then they pay dearly for the mistake, like the cats in Guns of Avalon or Merlin’s friend on the skinless horse in Sign of the Unicorn.

Dynamic Form probably doesn’t confer any regeneration on its own since the shifting is so uncontrolled. However, a kind GM might let you give certain artifact powers and qualities to some of your shapes for free, provided you counter-balance them with drawbacks or only put them on forms that are rare for you to enter. Work it out with your GM.

True (Orderly) Shapeshifting: 35 points.
This is the power that Dworkin and Oberon use, and behaves just like in the rulebooks. The pre-requisite for this power is at least 50 points of Pattern. Once you have mastery over primal order, you may learn to develop mastery over your own body. Advanced Orderly Shapeshifting is possible too, with the cost and abilities listed in the rulebooks.

Dynamic Form and the Logrus:
Under this system, there’s no reason why the Logrus even has to exist, especially if you let shapes incorporate powers. Should you choose to keep the Logrus in your campaign, please bear in mind that invoking the Logrus is sure to trigger a flurry of Dynamic shapeshifting in the user.

All text © 2000 by Rolfe Bergstrom, with inspiration drawn from Roger Zelazny, Eric Wujcik, and others - thanks, Collin!"


r_b_bergstrom said...

The Collin mentioned in thanks was Collin Jensen. He played in my longest-running Amber campaign. His character started with Advanced Shapeshifting, and Collin was always pushing the envelope. He put it (shapeshifting) at the top of his list every time there was character advancement. His hijinks opened my eyes - nothing in Zelazny's novels came anywhere close to the Advanced Shapeshifting write-up in the ADRPG rulebook.

r_b_bergstrom said...

Speaking of which, I went on a pretty determined "If it ain't in the first 5 books, it ain't cannon" kick for several years. This article was pretty indicative of that. Other articles/pages along that line included an argument for why the Logrus can't exist at the time of Corwin's tale, and a painstaking analysis of the laws of physics in Amber itself. Gimme a few weeks, and hopefully I'll get all that stuff up on the web again.

r_b_bergstrom said...

I also tried a far more "crunchy" version of Dynamic Form in another campaign.

The system had a worksheet for shapeshifters. It gave Chaos PCs a specific number of forms. Each form had a point budget for buying powers.

The result was the players kind of being scared off from trying a Chaos character. Only Ryan took Shapeshifting, and then he and his schedule kinda flaked out on me. A lot of work for no payoff.