Thursday, January 31, 2008

Scientific Laws in Amber

More old Amber files from my long-lost website. This one is a discussion of the laws of physics and magic in Amber.

These laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and magic are gleaned from careful readings and contemplations of Corwin’s saga. They do not draw upon Merlin’s story, as it contradicts much of Corwin’s exposition upon how Amber functions. Some of these laws are obvious from a single quick read of Nine Princes, but others are more subtle and required greater study of the books to draw these conclusions. As such, you might find a few surprises here:
  1. Pattern is greatly diminished in and near Amber.
  2. Logrus is either painful and difficult to use in Amber, or just doesn't exist.
  3. Shapeshifting in Amber is very difficult, possibly very painful.
  4. The very nature of Amber is toxic to chaosites.
  5. Silver gains special properties in Amber.
  6. Sorcery doesn’t work in Amber.
  7. Magic items are powerless (or at least less powerful) in Amber.
  8. Poisons and Drugs don’t work in Amber.
  9. Illness and disease don’t spread very quickly in Amber.
  10. Gunpowder doesn’t work, except for the stuff from avalon.
  11. Electricity doesn’t flow very well in Amber.
  12. The closer you get to the Pattern, the more restrictive the above rules become.
  13. It is possible for characters to manufacture exceptions to these rules.
  14. A whole separate set of laws governs Primal Pattern Land.
That's the short version. Here's the much longer versions, complete with arguments, counter-arguments, examples from the books, painful tangents, etc.
  1. Pattern is greatly diminished in and near Amber. Corwin says as much, and it’s supported by the books. It is not totally impossible to use, as both Fiona and Oberon take short-cuts that Corwin felt he couldn’t, and Corwin surprises himself in the fifth book by starting his hellride closer than he ever had before.
  2. Logrus is either: 1) dangerous to the user near Amber, 2) painful and difficult to use in Amber, 3) totally powerless in Amber or 4) non-existant anywhere in the universe and purely just an addition of the second series. The most common explanation it seems in campaigns is a combination of 1 and 2. The typical interpretation is that using the logrus near the pattern can have explosive side-effects. (in fact, the rulebook seems to provide this flashy destructiveness as the usual product of anytime two great powers touch).
    I see a logic flaw with that: if there’s some sort of explosion whenever pattern and logrus meet, why didn’t the chaos forces round up a few fanatics to summon the logrus in Amber and (suicidally) blow up the damn castle? Security was pretty lax in Eric’s reign, judging from how easily Dara got to the Pattern chamber (and how freely Random wandered the castle a few years after trying to kill the King), so there’s little that could be done to stop them.
    Logrus being largely powerless and painful and exhausting to use in Amber fits well enough with the apparent lack of Logrus in Corwin’s saga. (Afterall, the only time Logrus seems to be used in the first 5 books is when Brand summons a monster to attack Caine. And that could just as easily have been the work of Advanced Pattern or Trump.) So, that’s the ruling I tend to use.
    One day, when improvising, I did have a logrus tendril blow up when it hit the pattern. I wish I hadn’t. I’m stuck with it now. My only defense is that I can claim logrus tendrils have a very short range in Amber, and so won’t hit the pattern unless actually used in the dungeons. Coupled with my restrictions on shapeshifting in Amber, this almost covers it.
    Of course, in truth, all of this is flawed. The obvious correct answer should be that Logrus doesn’t exist. As defined in Merlin’s saga and the RPG, logrus is too powerful. If the lords of chaos find it that easy to move through shadow, then they would have always been a constant threat to Amber. Instead, Chaos is the last enemy anyone suspects when the black road shows up. ("Oh, them! But they’re out at the other end of the universe. They haven’t been a threat since Benedict was a baby. They can’t be responsible for this.." seems to be the line of thought) The lords of chaos should have little capacity for moving through shadow on their own, after all, that’s why they needed Brand’s help, and the black road, and hybrids like Dara and Merlin.
  3. Shapeshifting in Amber is very difficult, possibly very painful. The very nature of Amber and it’s primal order makes it so. If it was easy, the lords of chaos would have used shapeshifting to infiltrate the City and Castle and perform commando raids or sabotage. They never did, so it must be very difficult for them to take Human form (or shift at all) in Amber. Possibly you can only shapeshift in Amber if you are descended from Dworkin, since only he, Oberon, and Dara ever do in the series.
    It must be really hard for Amberites to shapeshift there too, because if it was anything that could be even remotely described as easy, you can bet that Corwin’s siblings, in their collective millenias of life and struggle would have learned how to do it.
  4. The very nature of Amber is toxic to chaosites. Otherwise, even if they couldn’t shapeshift to infiltrate the city, little guerilla bands would have broken off from the black road to harass the amberites after the defeat at Garnath. They needed the black road not only to travel to Amber, but to make Garnath habitable for them.
  5. Silver gains special properties in Amber. At first I just thought the Weir were vulnerable to silver. But it occured to me that Corwin refers vaguely to "Certain Beasts" in Amber that silver was potent against, not just specifically the weir. It's possible that Silver is potent against shapeshifters, or potent against shadowlings and chaosites when used in Amber. The specifics of that will be up to individual GM's.
    Just bear in mind that both Corwin and Eric bear silver blades, Corwin's guns used silver bullets, Benedicts mechanical arm was silver, Fiona drops a silver bracelet for Julian and Corwin to rush to. Greyswandir and Ben's Arm both peirced the veil between ghosts and reality in Tir Na Nogth, which could be a property of Dworkin or Oberon's magic, or could be a property of silver itself in that realm.
    It certainly would be in keeping with what we know of Oberon and Dworkin for them to have defined Amber as not only being toxic to chaosites, but to make silver a secret weapon there. Perhaps silver focuses the energy of Order inherent in the place. Hey, GM, it's your call.
  6. Sorcery doesn’t work in Amber. Or at least the shadow manipulation and shadow opening microspells don’t. If they do, then why didn’t Corwin or Bleys toss a couple spells at Eric when they attacked? And why didn’t Corwin use a spell to escape the dungeons later? Magic must be crippled in Amber, if not, then all the family would have learned it and used it in their battles.
    Corwin does use a powerword to give Strygalldwir a hot-foot and break his concentration, but doesn’t do the same when Brand is walking the Pattern and obviously needs to concentrate. Either Corwin is a fool, or he is operating under the assumption that magic will not function near the Pattern. Consider that Rebma is lit by magic lights atop the pillars, but in Castle Amber they use lanterns. In Corwin’s saga, the only time magic is used in Amber is when Brand lights a cigarette just by staring at it. But is that magic, or Pattern, or pyrokinetic psychic power?
    Side note: We all tend to assume that the Jewel of Judgement allows weather control as one of it’s powers. But, maybe it just strengthens the magic of the user. Maybe you need to be both attuned to the Jewel and have sorcery in order to summon a storm in Amber. (or cast any spells at all in Amber)
  7. Magic items are powerless (or at least less powerful) in Amber. Obviously, artifacts that shapeshift or use sorcery are crippled by the same restrictions discussed above. Greyswandir must have at least "deadly damage", if not greater, magical strength: it cleaves demons in half and sets them afire, and Corwin prefers it to all other weapons. But Eric takes several minor wounds from Greyswandir that don’t worry him at all until his brother starts taunting him.
    Also, if magic items work in Amber, who cares about Corwin’s guns? I’ll take a wand of fireballs or enchanted self-loading crossbow. Curiously, the only magic items that seem to function in Amber are the Jewel of Judgement and the Trumps. This implies that these either aren’t magic per se, or they are but are both on some primal order of power beyond normal magic. (trump as powerful as the Jewel? Blasphemy! But interesting)
  8. Poisons and Drugs don’t work in Amber. Otherwise, with all those years of sibling rivalry and family dinners, some brash kid would have killed half the family in a single sitting. Corwin drinks freely with his relatives, and there's no mention of royal food testers.
    If drugs worked, Gerard wouldn’t have hung Corwin over a cliff after beating him up, he would have administered sodium pentathol, or an herbal equivalent to truth serum, and slept easier afterwards. Corwin says most earth medicines won’t work in Amber, so why should miscellaneous drugs or poisons fare any better?
    The real question is: do they not work at all in Amber, or do they just not work on an Amberite in Amber? Perhaps the Pattern protects it’s initiates when that close to the source. Can you poison a shadowling in Amber?
  9. For some reason, illness and disease don’t spread very quickly in Amber. Otherwise, the Lords of Chaos would have tried viral warfare. Biological warfare was employed in ancient times by catapulting plague-ridden corpses over the city walls. Certainly a few wyverns could have dumped diseased bodies into Amber as they flew over.
    This is also reinforced by Corwin’s comments about most anti-biotics not working (and his being vague about what does work) in Amber: there’s no practiced and accepted way of dealing with disease in Amber because in Amber disease is very rare. Again, perhaps the pattern protects it’s initiates. Also remember that in Lorraine the black circle spread poison and plague, that it ruined the crops and made people ill. In Garnath, all it did was discolor some grass.
    This law has been argued against before. Some folks just think it's all those Amber-ranked endurances that prevented viral warfare on the "real earth". They point to the long lifespans of the "ordinary" castle servants as evidence that all living things in Amber have great resiliancy and superior stamina. This had me fooled and reconsidering for a while. :)
    Then I remembered that Corwin with his high-ranked endurance lived through the black plague, but wasn't totally unaffected. If it could zap his brain, then it would seem possible for bacterial warfare to work in Amber. Then again, one could argue the other way. Afterall, it seems odd that the Black Death, a resperatory illness, should cause Corwin's amnesia. Perhaps whatever Eric did to best Corwin originally also inflicted brain damage, and dumping him in a plague outbreak was just Eric's last bit of insurance incase the headshot wasn't fatal enough.
  10. Gunpowder doesn’t work, except for the stuff from avalon. (Is gunpowder totally inert in Amber, or does it burn but not explode?) There has to be some hitch in the physical laws there that prevents gases from expanding beyond a certain speed. Otherwise, not only would gunpowder and gasoline be utilized, but steam would be too. In WWII, the British navy created several prototype steam-powered anti-aircraft guns. If shadowlings can be this creative, so can Amberites. So whatever the law of physics that prevents gunpowder from exploding in Amber, it must also prevent watervapor and other chemicals from rapidly expanding or exploding. Remember, the ships have sails in Amber, not steam-driven paddlewheels.
    One of the pleasant side-effects of this is that it would probably be easier to contain or snuff fires in Amber. That would also explain why Eric doesn’t think twice before burning Garnath. One quick rain shower and it’s out, with no chance of the hot coals stirring up secondary blazes later. It also adds further explanation to why Chaos never tried commando raids to burn the city. It takes longer than usual to start a fire in Amber, and it has less chance to spread from building to building. They might have even tried, and failed.
    Side note: all this poses an interesting question. I pull the pin on my grenade in Amber. Is the fuse rendered inert permenantly, or is the reaction just suspended or slowed? Will the primer burn itself out in a non-explosive fashion, or will it be stuck in mid-reaction and detonate as soon as I set foot out in shadow? (Thanks to Userkaf and Whisper for pulling their triggers and forcing me to deal with this one)
  11. Electricity doesn’t flow very well in Amber. If it did, they wouldn’t need lanterns in the castle, they’d flip a light switch. Even ruling out steam or combustion as a power source, Oberon could have built a hydroelectric plant to power the castle. And even if there’s no waterfall nearby, why didn’t he import flashlights with really good batteries for use in the dungeons at least?
    Electricity might work on Amber, but just generate so much heat and resistance that it constantly melts the wires and just isn’t worth the continual maintainance and upkeep. Or maybe the very nature of Amber drains and discharges electrical energy very quickly, making it impractical or useless.
    Further evidence: on earth, a bolt of lightning can cause heart attacks via electric shock in humans a hundred yards from the strike point. But in Amber, Eric rains down lightning near his own troops with no adverse side effects. It only blasts those who are within the focal bolt, the energy seems to ground itself immediately with little or no spill-over into the surrounding area.
  12. The closer you get to the Pattern, the more restrictive the above rules become. For example, Corwin’s car continues to run at the far end of Arden, after he’s arrived at the "real Earth", but before they reach even the outskirts of Amber itself. The black road is strong in Garnath, but extends only to the foot of Kolvir, with no sign of it in the city, castle, or pattern chamber. Corwin states that he had to train his gunners on a world near to Amber, he couldn’t find one far from Amber but with the same laws of science. The stairs to Rebma are lit by a magic glow, but Castle Amber uses lanterns. It’s easier to shift shadow the further you are away from Amber.
  13. It is possible to make exceptions to these rules. Consider the trumps, which break the anti-magic law. Benedict's Arm, which functions where most technology is impaired. Corwin's guns. Oberon's many tricks and talents. All of these can be traced back to him or ultimately to Dworkin. Just be warned: those two (and maybe anyone who's attuned to the Jewel) or perhaps the Pattern itself, can make or break or find loopholes in these rules with a bit of effort.
  14. A final note: We never see anyone use the pattern to shadow-walk in the castle itself, but we do see Fiona use the pattern in Primal Pattern Land. Oberon creates the blood bird right next to the Primal Pattern. In fact, Greyswandir seems more powerful there then in "normal" Amber. So maybe a whole separate set of laws governs that place. Who knows, maybe guns and spells and flashlights work there too?

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