Monday, February 4, 2008

Archive: Alternatives to Merlin's Chaos

Thanks to The Way Back Machine, I was able to locate several more of my old Amber files. I big shout-out to Digital Sextant for showing me this possibility. The following used to be up on Geocities:
Alternatives To Merlins Chaos
If youve checked out my Laws of Magic and Science in Amber page, you might have gotten the impression that I dont particularly care for the second series (a.k.a.: Merlins saga, the last 5 books of Amber, etc)

Thats not exactly true. Theres plenty of great writing in Merlins tale. Zelazny is a skilled storyteller, and, Eric Wujcik points out in Shadow Knight, the second series has a lot of plot and style lessons in it that GMs would do well to learn from. On their own, the books are wonderful. I just dont like them as a continuation of Corwins saga. Heres a demonstration of why:

Corwins Chaos
Chaos, as Corwin depicts it, is incapable of traveling between shadows. In all the years of Oberons reign, we are lead to believe that Chaos never attacked, nor even interacted with, Amber. This version of Chaos needs the black road, the red-heads assistance, and half-breeds like Merlin and Dara to be able to bring an army to the foot of Kolvir.

Its also worth noting that Corwin never describes the tendrils or effects of the Logrus in his 5 books (unless you count Corwins brief recap of Julians vague description of what Caine said Brand used to get the jump on him).

And the only shapeshifting we see in this series is done by Dara, Dworkin and Oberon, only the last of whom seems to have total control over it. In fact, even in the heat of battle Borel, Strygalldwir and the hordes assaulting Garnath each have but a single form they maintain. The armies of chaos are wyverns, faceless women and giant cats.

Merlins Chaos
Then Merlin comes along and says that Lords of Chaos are free to move around in shadow as they please. He describes in detail many powerful uses of Logrus, including destroying whole worlds with Primal Chaos and racking and unleashing flashy spells in the blink of an eye.

He also says that the most common form for folks in chaos is a gargoylish demon-shape the likes of which never appears in the first 5 books. And as if that's not enough, Merlin implies that even the lowliest of servant creatures in chaos is capable of shapeshifting and controlling what form they are in.

Eric Wujciks Chaos
Erics rulebooks closely mirror Zelaznys second series. Heres my experiences from playing a Lord of Chaos in that setting.

So, lets say I want to lay siege to Amber. I get together with a couple of my fellow Lords and Ladies of Chaos. We use the Logrus to first build an army of demons and shadow-soldiers. Then we use the Logrus to whip up a bunch of magic swords and arrows to arm them with. Sure, this takes years, but in theory we have a near-infinite life span, control of time flow, and the backing and support of most of the courts. Then we use the Logrus to haul ourselves over to the Golden Circle and from there use trumps to bring our army to us. Instant invasion, no black road required.

If were really bright, we set up a few personal shadow worlds with Control of Contents, Time and Destiny and use them to lay traps to thin out the Amber royal family first. Then, once actual battle takes place, we make full use of the Logrus, a few Lords in the back using it to summon up reinforcements and unleash some really nasty racked spells while the demons in the front ranks keep those Amber Royals busy. Should some Amberite fight their way through my living wall of demons, I can use shapeshifting to become a unkillable pillar of fire or turn into a dragon and fly away. Come to think of it, a lot of my demons can do that too. So maybe my front ranks should all be in avatar form, pretty tough to kill with a sword.

And lets face it, if Im on speaking terms with any of the Amber royal family, its just to use them as scapegoats and cover. Black roads? Cross breeds? Who needs em?

So How Can This Help My Campaign?
If youre running or planning to run an Amber-based campaign set before the second series, especially one with no Chaos PCs, you have an opportunity to bring the element of surprise back into your game, to twist the players expectations and keep them guessing, or to provide them with a mystery worthy of their best investigative efforts. Or, you could use these in a campaign revolving around the Courts of Chaos as a way to give veteran players a whole new set of powers to explore, and an exciting change from the types of characters they're used to making.

That was a fun trip through through memory lane. You can find more of my old site at Do a search there for "", and then hunt from that. As I find time (lots of other stuff to do today) I'll post a few of the better pages from the archive. Not everything there has stood the test of time.


digital_sextant said...

Awesome! I'm glad your stuff was there.

r_b_bergstrom said...

It's weird. Not all of it is there. Certain pages are inaccessible, including the main "home" page.

I guessed around at how the subdirectories were organized, and found a page that way. Once I had one page I could verify, it became easier to find others.