Saturday, March 27, 2021

Platypus Justification

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced the Platypus only exists because God needed a CR3 monster for the third room of his new "Australia" dungeon, and he'd already used up Owlbears in the first room and Displacer Beasts in the second.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Horse Of Another Timbre: Campaign Log, Session 4

 The following is the campaign log for the fourth session of my current Amber Diceless RPG campaign. Most of this log was typed up by one my players (thanks, Brendan!) during the session. I've added a few notes of my own. 

You can Start from Session #1 or just Rewind to Session #3.

Campaign log: 12 October

Setting the Scene: The first few sessions were a failed assassination attempt and a murder investigation set against the backdrop of a banquet in Amber with visitors from Chaos. Tangential investigations continues in this session more than anything else.

The PCs are:

  • Dalziel, son of Bleys. A scientist who has been in Amber for several months.
  • Maarit, daughter of Sand. An orphan who never met her mother.
  • Spinturnix, son of Julian. Grew up in Forest Arden.
  • Medore, child of Dierdre, just recently arrived in Amber to learn Dierdre is dead.
  • David Weyreth is a retired officer from the militaries of Amber.
  • Abn Haram, the human-shaped son of Lady Nykae of Chaos. 

Most of the NPCs are from the novels. Not just the big-name Amber Royals, but also plenty of minor characters, such as Will and Dik, who only show up in a paragraph or three of a single novel each. I was particularly happy with the way I utilized Roger and Rolf, two castle guards from the novels. Another non-Royal is completely my own invention: Jinna the Scullion, who dispensed exposition and minor clues in several later sessions as well.

A few major Chaosites show up in this session: Nykae is the mother of one of the PC, and serves as General in the armies of her brother Sevran. Other minor Chaosites such as Brute and Steward are present as well, these are all connected to Abn Haram's character sheet in one way or another. Allies, minions, conjuration results, etc.

Scene 1: Abn Haram heads to the stable with Steward - Abn Haram, Steward, Brute in the stables of Castle Amber
Abn Haram stuck Kimchee in his eye. (He was trying to figure out if chemical weapons work in Amber.) Steward shows up with a painting, front/back, and some Amber chess pieces. 

That's the back of the painting. It's sort of a map.

Steward says she was on an errand for Abn Haram's mother, Nykae. They head for the stables.

Abn Haram wanders the castle some more, and Maarit (who was in the opposite end of the stables, see scene 3 below) decides to stay on his trail.

Abn Haram tries to use the Tarot to find his mother (the card grows cold but he cannot establish a connection). Haram asks a guard if he can have someone contact King Random, but no one is willing to do so. Haram goes to the library and marvels at the old timey technology. He browses the organizational materials, histories, scientific treatises, etc. Haram makes an excuse to head for the toilet when he senses contact through a Tarot.

It's his Uncle Sevran; they chat about the state of things. Sevran suggests Nykae might be injured, suggests it's suspicious that Haram hasn't seen her. Sevran tells Haram that Nykae was trying to get "some objects," directed toward an effort to reach Haram's father. Haram passes the chess set and painting through to Sevran. Sevran decides to bring Haram into his confidence in his mother's absence. Nykae and Sevran have been watching a hole in reality, which has been growing. Recently the hole ruptured and a "horse with a horn" came out of the hole, killed people, and escaped. Sevran's trackers went after it, but they haven't returned.

Sevran says he will assemble a group of people to try and force a call to Nykae. Haram gives Sevran's card to Steward to use to give Sevran regular updates. Maarit and Haram chat about Haram's pretend diarrhea that he used as an excuse to avoid being observed on his call.

Haram studied the painting before he passed it to Sevran - the painting is very old, has cracks where it was folded. No tarot quality to it, but the paints are very high quality. It has the potential to have some under painting. 

GM's Note: I have had very little luck in anticipating the motivations and actions of Abn Haram. His player always surprises me, which is really cool, but does sometime result in wasted efforts on my part. This map-like-thing (above) was clearly a secret the character's mother was interested in, with an implication that it was the whole point of her traveling to Amber. It was also implied to be related to the disappearance of his father (Osric). We're six months and a dozen sessions since that prop's introduction, and this thread has gone more or less nowhere. That's okay, the campaign has a lot of subplots, so there's plenty happening. It _may_ mean that this could prop back up later in the campaign if the plot ever slows down a bit. Which will probably feel like a cool call-back when and if that happens. Until and unless it does, though, I can't help but feel like it's a failure on my part. A bit of a fizzle in an otherwise excellent campaign.

Scene 2: Dalziel heads for the dungeon to check on the pattern - Dalziel, Rolf, Roger, and what's left of Will in Dungeons of Amber
Dalziel sees the guards Rolf and Roger, discovers that someone "fell" down the stairs. They report that someone tried to access the dungeon. The story Rolf tells: the guard Will came by with a junk of drink, they imbibed, then a person from the Court came by to try to get down the stairs, called himself "Thelkor," Will relieved Rolf while he whizzed, and when he returned, he found Will missing. Roger reported that Will fell down the stairs and had a burnt artifact. Dalziel examines the burnt object, which smells like a burned heavily-decayed body. The object that fell with Will has human-like teeth in it. Roger mentions he thought he saw a hand reaching from the burning corpse.

GM's Meta-Note: Rolf, Roger, and Will are actual minor characters from the Amber novels. All three are guards in Amber's dungeons. Of the three, only Roger gets any memorable lines or development in the books: he's basically an author-insert character. The books are written by Roger Zelazny, and Roger the guard is writing a novel at his guard post. My real-life name happens to be Rolfe, so I decided to give Rolf a tiny bit of development and screen time as well, as a tip of the hat. In one of these early sessions (probably this one) there was a fair bit of meta-/sub-text to the banter as Rolf and Roger talked about how they split the responsibilities of keeping the Pattern safe.

The pattern is glowing but seems undisturbed. Dalziel decides to secure the door with himself inside, sends Roger back to his post.

2b: Dalziel waits at the pattern. - Dalziel, Corwin, Dungeons of Amber
He uses the opportunity to study the pattern, attempting to draw it on a page, checking out the pattern. The proportions of the pattern keep messing up the drawing. Eventually, Corwin knocks on the door and Dalziel lets him in. They discuss the odd state of Will and his attacker. Dalziel worries about pattern whizzers. Corwin says he needs to go check the corpses in the murder scene; he asks Dalziel to go check on Maarit, and then to bed.

2c: Dalziels slumbers - Dalziel and Bleys
As he sleeps, Dalziel dreams of walking around the pattern, but its fire has gone out and instead it smokes, as if full of incense. Time stretches and he finds himself fruitlessly walking around the pattern, getting nowhere. He spots his father on the other side of the pattern, speaking to him but beyond being heard. Finally his father shouts at the top of his lungs and can barely be heard shouting, "Wake up, Dalziel! Wake up!"

As he wakes, he receives a Tarot contact from his dad. Bleys asks Dalziel for info (says Dalziel is the "most trustworthy" person there). He indicates that there's "blood in the water" and says Caine is up to something, and that there might be a war. He suggests Caine is mounting an offensive against Random, and says he can avoid taking a side by not being there. Dalziel suggests that the assassins LOOK like they were sent by Bleys.

Bleys ponders the idea that there is an impending coup, wonders if Corwin is still in the capital, thinking that having a powerful brother of the King in town would help keep Caine from advancing "his coup." He asks Dalziel to pass along the impression that Bleys is still there, contemplating the defense of the city. He also gives Dalziel a request to find or speak to David, and then suggests that Dalziel get David's message for Bleys.

They also discuss the burning bodies / burned bodies, and some magic / person who makes beings appear? They discuss whether someone else might be marshalling a new attack on Amber. Bleys, a bit annoyed, breaks things off. 

GM's Edit: The thing that caused Bleys to break off was Dalz thanking him for including him in things and not treating him like a child. Bleys said "let's not get all sappy about it" or something to that effect as he broke off the contact.

Scene 3: Maarit heads for the stables - Maarit, Mathis, Bronze
She looks for some guards on her way, adding the stables to their rosters. Then she finds a spot to sit in the stables where she can listen for Abn Haram to guard him, subtly. Steward sees Maarit and alerts Abn Haram to the surveillance. Haram goes back to sleep.

Maarit admires Bronze, a strangely-patterned horse (it's striped brown and green), and chats with a stablehand about it -- who reveals that these are "wonder horses." She and the stablehand open the idea that she might come back and ride the horse. Bronze belonged to Sand, whom Maarit has never met, but has been told is her mother. Bronze has been maintained in these stables for a very long time.

Scene 4: Medore questions Dik - Medore, Nix (Spinturnix), Dik in Castle Amber
Upon realizing Medore is trying to get Dik alone, Nix stays in the library while Medore walks toward Dik's quarters. Medore questions Dik about the messages written under the plates. Dik confesses that he smuggled a gift on behalf of Lady Karm to Abn Haram, some sort of light love token. Medore promises to protect Dik in exchange for his help finding out which Kitchen staff might have planted the message. Dik suggests Ginna the Scullion seems suspicious, as does the chef.

Dik mentions the message he had to give - "The door is open far below...Lady Karm remembers the debt owed to Gehenna's finest son... Many happy returns" - it was accompanied by a key. Dik hands out a folded-over handkerchief with a gravy-stain image of the key stuck on it. Medore assures Dik that he's protected.

4b: Medore meets up with Corwin - Medore, Corwin,
Medore asks Corwin about Lady Karm, that she's trying to reach out to the Chaosites.. Medore suggests that it was a servant who wrote the message, and Corwin agrees, but suggests it was done at the behest of a family member. Medore says it could have been "Jinna the Scullion" or "Chef Wilhelm." Corwin invites Medore to join him in the morning at the place where Corwin likes to go to remember Medore's mother.

Corwin asks more about Karm's message, Medore repeats the message to Corwin. They proceed to the ambassadorial suite, then stab some bodies and rifle through their clothes. The bodies start smoking after he stabs them; Corwin puts the smoking body in the bath tub and takes its clothes. They search the bodies to see if they're carrying any shared item. They each have a piece of iron jewelry, which Corwin finds significant. Corwin suggests he'd want the King to arrest the Chaos delegation. Corwin establishes that the murdered Chaosites smoke or burn when he stabs their corpses with Greyswandir; the assassins do NOT smoke.

Medore and Corwin discuss the next steps -- who they can trust, which door they think the key opens. Medore gives the gravy napkin to Corwin, then heads for the kitchen. He gossips with the kitchen staff and learns that the Chef yelled at everyone that night, was fussy for his table settings. Medore has a tasty dessert and reports to Corwin before he goes to bed.

Scene 5: David leaves Caine's ship - David, Caine and (Caine's nephew from Rebma?) aboard the Venom
As David leaves Caine's ship, he sees an eddy of water and a submarine from Rebma surfaces. The person on the ship calls out that his uncle is expecting him, and Caine's crew invites the unknown person aboard. David, having seen this, rows ashore and heads for his camp to go to bed. He arranges for an early call.  

5b. David makes breakfast - David in City of Amber then Castle Amber
David rises early, takes a run to the early markets, and then begins cooking breakfast for King Random. He learns that Chef Wilhelm has taken the morning off, so David makes the relatively simple dish: pancetta something something something (not at all simple). David has to rush and ends up giving the King a plate of total garbage. 

(David's Edit: In fact, I simply stopped curing the pancetta a few minutes early, so it may be only somewhat less salty than optimal. And the meal is pancetta, oysters, and crayfish in a soft scramble with Egg-Avocado toast, which I assure you is quite simple, in the grand scheme of culinary things: a protein scramble with toast, more or less. One must be mindful of what one puts in one's body, yes?)

GM's Edit: That is one of the great things about running your game online, and having logs and pages the players can access. Players can jump in and later clarify bits that others didn't catch the first time. I'm lucky to have such active participants.

Scene 6: Nix roams the castle - Nix (Spinturnix), Jinna the scullion, Hendon in Castle Amber
Nix spends about an hour researching a) recent events at the castle and b) methods of movement among shadow. After learning a bit, he leaves to try and dig up a little gossip with the scullery maid. He chats with Jinna, the scullery maid, who reveals that the banquet wasn't well attended, that Droppa MaPants chased everyone out with his bad performance, and that Lord Bleys was in charge. Nix learns that Chef Wilhelm demanded some time alone with the table settings, and later Bleys did the "yank the tablecloth" magic trick. Next, Nix seeks out Hendon to find lodgings. After revealing who his identity, Hendon eagerly helps Nix find rooms. Nix takes modest rooms near Julian's wing of the castle. Hendon tells Nix he'd be welcome to have lunch with King Random the next day.

Quote Log:

“I can still deny everything. I don’t know anything about it.” -Abn Haram

I rub a bit of Kimchee in my eye. Does it hurt?  I am a man of science after all!  - Peter/Abn Haram

"I'm giving him space, but also making sure that he doesn't get got." -Marit

“I’ll protect your secret, but in exchange, you will help me figure out who on the kitchen staff had motive to leave those messages.” -Medore

“My friends do very well… I protect my friends.” -Medore

“That does make sense… he is always trying to get in mah pants too.” -Kitchen Maid

“Yes, turns out Dick is the center of the universe.” -Rolfe

“I am in a bit of a hurry, I had a lot of that Kimchee.” -Abn Haram, hoping to not be followed into the bathroom

I supposed we should serve less Kimchee next time. -Marit

“I haven’t had a party this interesting in at least six months.” -Medore

"Family is far more plural than it used to be." -- Corwin, to Dalziel

A Song Of Ice And Fan Theories

 In the Discord group we'd set up for my Amber campaign, me and my players were discussing our favorite Fan Theories from various media. I decided to snip my rambling opinions from there and repost it here, because I feel I did a decent job of summarizing some complicated and nerdy theories.

I will say, if you like fan theories, and can stomach a bit of literary gore, you'll find no series of novels more rewarding than A Song Of Ice And Fire. They are intentionally written to encourage infinite dissection and analysis. Every chapter has a point-of-view character, which are chosen by the author to very strictly control the reader's access to what's really happening and what the prime movers actually think about it. Varys and Baelish and most of the other big conspirators never get POV chapters of their own, so you're constantly trying to puzzle out their schemes from what others observe. Most viewers of the show are aware of the famous fan theory about John Snow's true parentage (which was proven true after the show outpaced the novels) but there's hundreds of fan theories conjecturing all sorts of secret conspiracies and hidden meanings, and I'd guess more than 30 of those hundreds are actually truly what the author intends to reveal by the end of the series. If you want to send your brain down a deep dark rabbit-hole, ASOIAF is your bunny-burrow. 

The following Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones theories are without major spoilers, unless of course all my harebrained theories prove ultimately to be true. So most likely <1% spoilers, but with an outside chance that it's 100% spoilers if I'm actually correct on all counts. And if it is possible that I'm right on any of this, it's not because I'm clever. None of these theories are my own, they're almost all from random videos on Youtube. I've collected them here because I've never seen them in one short place in print together, but generally posted in multi-chapter youtube video channels.

 Where to start: The internet has determined that the final season of GOT was not up to the same standards of the previous seasons. I believe the reason it falls apart is because the motives and schemes of the two most important manipulative bastards in the novels, Varys and Littlefinger, simply proved to be too byzantine to translate to the screen. Once their goals were cut, it left huge holes where the plot should have been, and the show-runners couldn't fill the gaps in a way that lived up to the premise.

So here's my beliefs on the motives and backstories of Varys and Littlefinger in the novels:

Varys is a secret Blackfyre, and this hidden King's Blood within him is why he was castrated by the wizard in his youth. Young Griff (a character who didn't even make it into the show) is not the semi-secret Targaryen he appears to be, but is actually a secret Blackfyre. Specifically, he is the son of Varys's sister Serra, who was the second wife of Illyrio Mopatis. Serra and Varys are matrilineally descended from the Blackfyre line. Varys is just looking to put his own nephew on the throne, which is a simple-enough goal, but you would have to put 300 years of world-building and history on the screen to explain who the Blackfyres are and why anyone should care. That's a lot (s)exposition, even for GOT.  Also, Young Griff doesn't show up until maybe book 4 or so, meaning there would have been no way to introduce him before Season 5, and giving him a major story arc at that point would have taken too much focus off the fan-favorite characters (Jon and Dany).

Peter "Littlefinger" Baelish has goals that are legitimately much harder to make seem sensible on screen. Hidden mystical /occult goals, that involve deceptively-fulfilling specific bits of prophecy in front of the Weirwood trees. The most powerful supernatural beings of the setting can see through the trees. Baelish's goal is to fool the Gods (or at least the three-eyed raven) into thinking he is the messiah. He is definitely NOT actually The Prince Who Was Promised, but if you can only see the things he does in front of the Weirwood Trees, he is recreating all the story beats of the in-universe tales of  Bael the Bard, the Night's Queen, and Azor Ahai myth-cycles. It's a little unclear to me what power he thinks this will get him, but he does very specific things in places where specifically only the Children of the Forest can see them happening, and coincidentally these are also the only places in the world where the Children of the Forest would be able to see him. Each such action casts him in the role of the hero figure of yore who kidnapped a Stark bride, or the other hero figure of yore who defeated the Others. It probably also means he's planning to sacrifice Sansa in a ritual. Tangential to all this, it is also worth noting that all the major plotpoints that take place 17 years prior to the first novel, including the deaths of Ned Stark's father and the birth of Robert's Rebellion, are also events engineered by Peter Baelish. It's just not clear to me yet if he did these things to advance his magical agenda, or if said occult agenda came about after seeing as a young man how easy it was to upend the world.

Credits: Most of the Baelish stuff came from videos by Preston Jacobs. There are a ton of videos about Varys and Young Griff being Blackfires, but I know I've watched some (f)Aegon videos by In Deep Geek that we pretty great. So if you want to learn more about these theories, those are your search terms. Happy hunting.

As I said there are hundreds more theories of ASOIAF, and I think a few dozen are likely to be true, but those two are among my favorites, and their absence goes a long way towards explaining the way Varys and Littlefinger fizzle out in the later seasons of GOT.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A Horse Of Another Timbre: Campaign Log, Session 3

  The following is the campaign log for the third session of my current Amber campaign. Most of this log was typed up by one my players (thanks, Brendan!) during the session. I've added a few notes of my own.  Click here to start with session #1 or session #2.


Campaign log: 28 September 2020, turn by turn

Setting the Scene: Much of the previous session took place at a somewhat sabotaged dinner party in Castle Amber. At the start of this session, Bleys brings the banquet to an end by bringing Droppa Ma'Pantz, the Court Jester, in to do a performance. The performance is borderline offensive. Lord Rein leads the exodus out of the hall, largely to assist in clearing the room before minor nobles can start asking questions about why the King and Queen never showed up to their own party.

Most of this session is a murder investigation, being conducted by 6 PCs and multiple NPCs, none of whom particularly trust one another.  Information was dolled out slowly and tightly, with lots of scenery chewing to help establish characters, and some detective legwork of the crime-scene procedural variety as well.

The PCs are:

  • Dalziel, son of Bleys. A scientist who has been in Amber for several months.
  • Maarit, daughter of Sand. An orphan who never met her mother.
  • Spinturnix, son of Julian. Grew up in Forest Arden.
  • Medore, child of Dierdre, just recently arrived in Amber to learn Dierdre is dead.
  • David Weyreth is a retired officer from the militaries of Amber.
  • Abn Haram, the human-shaped son of Lady Nykae of Chaos. 

Most of the NPCs are from the novels. Not just the big-name Amber Royals, but also plenty of minor characters, the non-Royals who only show up in a paragraph or three of a single novel. Lord Feldane, for example, is present at the final battle of the Black Road War, and witness to the deaths of Deirdre and Brand.

Scene 1: David, Bleys, Lord Feldane,  -  (Banquet hall)
David listens to Bleys talk to Lord Feldane, who is worried he offended the King. Then Bleys chats with David about Caine; Bleys is worried about Caine's motives, learns that Caine is "fascinated" with David, Bleys asks David to make contact (for the children!). Bleys reveals three potential bad things Caine did recently:

    1) Hiring the treacherous captain that attacked the Chaos delegation in on the boat.
    2) Put the insulting messages on the buffet table to call out the Chaos delegation and the King for treating with them.
    3) something far worse, but Bleys doesn't say what exactly (GM: because he doesn't actually know yet) and wants David to try to get info about it from Caine.

David notices the guards are writing down who leaves. He goes to the harbor and surveys the ships in the harbor, they are the Venom, the Revenge, and the Knife in the Dark. He commissions a dinghy to go out in the harbor. He rowed out to the ship he thought was likely Caine's ship, The Venom. He spots Caine on deck, Caine has the crew lower a rope down to the boat, David rows toward the ship.

Scene 2: Abn Haram, Dalziel, Maarit, and Corwin,  (Banquet hall in Castle Amber, then Dalziel's lab)
Haram, Dalziel, and Maarit leave the hall to go discuss science, taking food with them to Dalziel's Lab. Dalziel's Lab is snazzy and as high tech as possible without electricity. Abn Haram examines Dal's equipment. They have a discussion of how fire works in Amber. Haram explores heat and water, Maarit goes to get safety devices.

Dalziel thinks about two principles:

    The numbers/ laws of physics here are not the same as they were shadow worlds.
    As something approaches weaponization, it becomes harder to use

As they talk about these things, Abn Haram feels like someone is making a "bad call" to his Tarot card, so he moves into another room. Abn Haram focuses and connects with Sevran, a blue-fur tentacled horror who is a friend, calling from a place where there's a lot of entropic energy and a hole in reality. The friend warns that there's been a "development at the rift" which might affect the negotiations. It asks if "the various missions have been a success" and asks for Haram's mother to call it.

After the call, Haram excuses himself to head back to his mother's chambers; Dalziel calls Corwin to warn him that Haram is on his way back to the suite.

The group heads toward the ambassadorial suite. Corwin asked Dalziel to stall him, but Abn Haram continues at speed. Maarit and Dalziel keep up with him. Lord Corwin appears and tells Haram that his mother (Nike) had been attacked; she killed 14 people in defending herself. Corwin reveals she's been removed to another place and the King isn't answering calls. Haram, Dalziel, and Maarit accompany Corwin into the murder scene. Haram sees neither Brute nor Steward among the corpses. The assassins are humanoid but not human.

    Bald assassins with chunky jaws, bloodshot eyes, jaws open (in horror? or someone was checking their mouths)
    wearing functional black clothing, like ninja outfits with sport coats
    Stabbed to death (recognizably by Nike's sword skills)
    Back of one assassin's hand has a bony protrusion
    Door is damaged FROM THE INSIDE
    Haram notices: It was a surprise attack, seemingly from the wardrobe?
    Wet footprints on the floor - was Nike in the bath when the attack began?
    Likely conclusion: the assassins trumped in, or perhaps one or two were hiding inside and trumped in.
    There are a pair of men's shoeprints and women's shoeprints that Corwin doesn't mention.

Haram suggests the door was "broken in," and Corwin suggests someone smashed against the door from inside, then explains the battle scene in detail. Meanwhile, Maarit uses her pendulum to investigate. Haram steps to the side and reaches out to Nike through his Tarot card, but gets no connection at all. Corwin said that Random took Nike to a surgery in a place shielded against the tarot.

Abn Haram starts to cut open one of the assassins; Corwin starts to object but then changes his mind and says Haram could go ahead. Corwin indicates that he's seen the creatures before, reveals that forensics might be valuable. Haram passive-aggressively implies Corwin isn't working hard to solve the attack. A card call to the King fails to connect.

Scene 3: Nix and Medore in the library with Dik and eventually Corwin and Umbra
Dik arrives in the library, being gently pursued by Medore. He tries to lock the door but Medore shoves the door open. Nix and Medore meet and briefly chat about with Dik a bit about whether he would like to chat. Medore reveals he's Dierdre's son and is supposed to bring Dik to talk to Corwin. Nix indicates he also wanted to speak with Dik, so he accompanies Dik and Medore back to meet with Corwin.

When we return to the banquet hall, Nix and Medore find it mostly abandoned. Medore mentions a "spill" that Dik made / covered up. Medore directs Dik toward the royal chambers; Nix follows. At the royal chambers, they are redirected to the ambassadorial suite, where they meet Corwin. Corwin asks Medore to conduct the interview with Dik, then meets Nix. Corwin asks Nix if he or Julian had anything to do with "this," Nix says no. They turn away.

Nix asks Dik about creatures traveling between shadow worlds, they discuss a few obvious ways the creature could have traveled to the shadow world. Medore's raven arrives and Nix becomes enamored of it. Dik and Medore talk about the message on the tablecloth, then about how politics is scary, then about literature.

Scene 1b: David, Caine - Caine's Ship The Venom - Worlds mentioned: Ikseth, Karm, Hepania, Xandria

Caine waits in the Captain's Quarters of the ship, they chat and meet. David suggests that Chaos is being sown in the city, Caine agrees and says he dislikes the way things are going. Caine tries to recruit David. David tries to confirm that it was about 10 years since he was on a march with Caine.

    Caine did get in the way of a ship, he intentionally got in the way of the ship, knew that there was a mutiny.
    Then David mentions the comments on the tablecloth, and Caine acknowledges that he was behind it (or knew about it).
    He did know that an "enemy general" was being allowed into Amber.
    David tries to ask about the third thing he doesn't know about. Caine doesn't acknowledge whether he knew in advance or not.
    David mentions Llewella, and he and Caine agree that she is patriotic for Rebma more than Amber.  

David changes tack and asks what Caine has been doing "these many years." The routes have changed after the Black Road War. Lands changed and landmarks have been destabilized. David offers to work on Caine's behalf "on the shadow paths." They specifically discuss changes on the routes from Ikseth to Karm by way of Hepania, and how that route was more disturbed by the Great Storm than most - entire islands were in different positions after the war. David has been living in "Xandria." Caine seems to trust or welcome the relationship with David. Caine indicates that he will not condone violence or attacks on Amber itself, but he wants to "course correct" the King.

Scene 2b: (GM's Addendum) Dalziel, Maarit, Abn Haram, and Corwin, and later Steward and Vialle.

The scooby gang inspects the crime scene further. Maarit crawls into the wardrobe, and is certain that somehow, the attackers came out of it. There's a footprint inside suggesting that someone in it kicked the door open, but she can't line up her foot at that angle. It has two marks on it, suggesting that the door was at least twice smashed open from the inside, and hit the corner of the table where a chaos person was pouring a drink. One of the thugs has thug money, like if Al Capone was the Treasury Secretary. None have ID, and they were carrying shortswords as well as guns (though none of them drew their guns).

Abn Haram's Steward walks in from the hallway.

Dalziel tries Queen Vialle's tarot, and is able to reach her. She says Nykae's surgery is wrapping up, and they think she's going to make it. She says both sovereigns of Amber are dedicated to Nykae's safety and survival.  Abn Haram and Steward head to the stables, but might not be leaving.

Corwin reveals about when he'd seen this thugs before, 15 and 10 years ago. The first batch seemed to work for either Bleys or Fiona, and had tried to kill Corwin and Random. The second batch were Caine's attempt to frame whoever they belonged to, but Caine incorrectly thought that was Corwin. This third attempt could belong to Fi or Bleys or Caine, but the could also be Random's. What if the King created the situation that he then rescued Nykae from, as a way to manipulate her?

Corwin notes that Haram seemed less concerned about his mother's welfare than you might expect. He may have known the attack was coming. Corwin also notes that Steward did not comment on where she'd been during the fight. Then Corwin realizes Abn Haram might be half-Amberite, because of what Dara had told him long ago about none of her Chaos relatives being able to look human. Abn Haram is now suspect number one, and Corwin says if he gets to the Pattern, Haram can do worse things than walk it. Dalziel suggested magic may be different here now, because of what Julian said about the Weir.

Corwin assigns a guard each to help Dalziel and Maarit. He tells Dalziel to check that the Pattern chamber is safe, then sweep the Castle for anything else that seems out of place. He tells Maarit to babysit Abn Haram some more. Corwin is going to meet with Medore, and follow-up on something else he thinks may be connected to all this.

Quote Log - Night 3, 9/28/2020

“Fondness might  not be the right word, but maybe fascination would be more appropriate… or fixation.” David

“You wouldn’t want to disappoint the little children!” - Bleys

“Let’s do some science!” - Abn Haram

“Oh my, that would make the two of you cousins, wouldn’t it!” -Dik, realizing that Nix probably wasn't going to cover for him with Medore

“I just can’t get enough of Dick” - Gavin

“Being good at warfare and having a sense of self preservation doesn’t make you not a little shit.” - Andrew

“Since all communication will have to go through you I have to trust you. And since I have no other choice, you have my explicit trust… Thank you, though.” -Abn Haram

“David:        I saw Llewella tonight
Caine: Oh? That is unusual, usually to talk to her I have to lean over the deck.

David: Yes, meetings with Llewella are usually more… wet.
Caine: And not in the fun way.”

My favorite exchange of the night was partly out-of-character:

“The ships are the Venom, the Revenge, and I think the Knife in the Dark was out there at some point.” - Dock Guard.
(So they are all named after virtues? - asks Abn Haram's player)

GM's ruminations: 

This session was about simmering tension. The players started with basically zero knowledge of the murder-mystery, just awareness that bad things were afoot. They interviewed suspects, but didn't yet know the right questions to ask because none of them really knew what had happened until late in the session. They poked a lot dead bodies, and engaged in colorful banter, and slowly put together at least a bit of what was going on. 

Mysteries are absolutely vital to Amber, and you need a lot of them. They don't have to be police-procedurals like this session, but they do need to be layered and complex. This is especially true if your play group isn't particularly hot on the prospect of Amber PVP. Each PC in an Amber game packs a ton of power, so if 2 or 3 PCs collectively decide a particular NPC needs to go down, they usually will pretty fast. For that reason, the Amber GM needs to have multiple pots boiling at any given time, with more than one villain waiting in the wings. Luckily, the canonical NPCs are sneaky, murderous, manipulative bastards... so you can have 1 or 2  Big Bads and additional just-as-big-and-certainly-bad-but-not-necessarily-the-villian-of-the-story types. 

The bodies of the assassins that tried to kill Lady Nykae of Chaos were the spur-handed thugs that appear a few times in Corwin's novels. Most readings of the books interpret them as belonging to Bleys or Fiona, but I feel you can also make a compelling case for them working for Caine or Oberon without having to twist much, and if you assume some of the uncorroborated narrations in the novels are straight-up lies then you could argue that they might be Julian's, Random's, or even Corwin's goons.

It was clear that Caine was up to some sort of power play, but at this point no one was really sure if his motive was truly treason, or was just overzealous patriotism and was only incidentally making the King look bad.  Though David sailed out and talked to Caine, he didn't actually ask him straight up "Did you attempt to kill the Chaos delegation tonight?" As such, the answers he got were inconclusive and maybe even misleading. 

Things were about to get much worse. Tune in next time.

Monday, February 22, 2021

How To Do A Decent Corwin

 This was sort of buried in my recent campaign log post, and I thought it was worth breaking out and elaborating on.

Corwin is the hardest NPC to improv in Amber, by a long shot. Probably the hardest NPC I've ever had to portray in any game. Why? Because it's deucedly difficult to catch his voice, but anyone who's read even a single Amber novel will notice if you get your Corwin wrong.

We spend 5 novels inside Corwin's, so his personality is well-rendered. Corwin is sly and snarky, but also poetic. What's more, he has this amazing ability to make deep literary references off the cuff. I'm sure Zelazny cheated, by looking things up, and editing the hell out of every paragraph, so I cheat too.

Corwin is hard work. Before every session, if I know or suspect Corwin is likely to show up, I search quote sites on a variety of topics that seem relevant. The goal is to extract a couple of "clever" things that I can slip in and make them look like they were improvised. Shakespeare references are the gold standard for Corwin -- but you don't just literally quote ol' Billiam. You never just take an entire line of Shakespeare, or Tennyson, or Coleridge. You twist it around some way. You want it to sound familiar, and make the players nod along like they're in on the joke, or they at least found the easter egg regardless of whether they understand it or not. It's like Corwin really wants to show the other characters how smart he is, all the time, but he thinks the copyright police are going to burst in at any minute if every sentence isn't transformative. 

In the State of Denmark, there was the odor of decay...

So like I said, every session, if I plan on using Corwin, I brainstorm some topics that might be relevant to, or parallel of, the plots and themes and imagery of the game. Then I go looking for quotes that I can fold, spindle or mutilate into Corwinisms. I check quote sites on the internet, for sure, but I also check Zelazny's work. Sometimes there's already a Corwin line in the Amber novels that'll work perfect in this situation, which then feels genuine and immersive, like the way each of us have our favorite jokes and anecdotes we over-use.  And sometimes I do deep dives into Zelazny's non-Amber novels or his poetry. I have a dogeared copy of his "When Pussywillows Last In The Catyard Bloomed" poetry collection that I've riffed on or stolen from a few times. It's unlikely those will trigger the lightbulb over your players head the way that classical references will, but it definitely gets you thinking in Corwin/Zelazny's tone and style. 

We circulate,

the arm descends,

the diamond finger writes. 

That's three lines from a Zelazny poem, "LP Me Thee", which had on deck for when Corwin talked about how he felt like he had no control over his life and had to just sound the groove that had been carved for him. (With Corwin, there's always this tension of will he do the thing that loyalty and decency need him to do for the good of others, or will he choose this moment to seek personal goals at the expense of the universe. That makes him a good NPC, because him chafing at the need to be a hero and walking off in a huff means an opportunity is open for the PCs to step in and be better than him. But I digress...)

Having done a bit of this now, I feel like the "correct" amount of Corwinisms to drop into a session is two, or maybe three if he's really center stage for a long time. Less than two runs the risk of not feeling like Corwin, especially if the players don't catch the reference. More than three starts to come off as too gimmicky, and runs the risk of making Corwin less suave than he should be. Yeah, Corwin's a huge nerd, but he can also charm the seal-skins off a Rebman monarch. So I'll usually prep three or four especially Corwinian things to say, and just have them ready on deck with the plan to drop whichever pair fit into conversation the best. The ones I don't use can be stoppered and saved to decant some other evening.

Needless to say, running the game online makes it much easier to be Corwin. I've run a lot of Amber over the past two decades, but I feel like this campaign I've done my best Corwin. I can have my three or four prepped references and metaphors visible at the edge of my screen, so I only have to look left for a split second to harness the Corwin. 

But that also makes it tempting to go overboard, which is why I settled on prep 3 or 4,  and plan to just use the 2 that best fall into place organically. It seems to be working quite well, and it's not a particularly arduous burden on the GM to do before most sessions.

A Horse Of Another Timbre: Session 2 Log

 The following is the campaign log for the second session of my current Amber campaign. Most of this log was typed up by one my players (thanks, Brendan!) during the session. I've added a few notes of my own, and a couple of the other players appended a summary of a small scene they did between sessions.  Click here to start with session #1.

Campaign log: Session 2, 14 September 2020

Setting the scene. The ambassadorial party from the Court of Chaos retires for the evening. The King (Random) announces a feast for all present. That feast ends up being a giant rolling scene that involves nearly all the PCs.

The PCs are:

  • Dalziel, son of Bleys. A scientist who has been in Amber for several months.
  • Maarit, daughter of Sand. An orphan who never met her mother.
  • Spinturnix, son of Julian. Grew up in Forest Arden.
  • Medore, child of Dierdre, just recently arrived in Amber to learn Dierdre is dead.
  • David Weyreth is a retired officer from the militaries of Amber.
  • Abn Haram, the human-shaped son of Lady Nykae of Chaos.  
  • Ava, daughter of Florimel and Lord Uldain of Chaos.

A scheduling conflict has caused the 7th player to have to bow out of the game, at least for during the school year, so the plotline with Ava has been put on hold.

Several of the major NPCs are from the novels: King Random, his wife Queen Vialle, his siblings Prince Bleys, Prince Julian, Prince Caine, Princess Llewella, and Prince Corwin. A few of the minor characters and supporting staff are technically canonical as well: Lord Hendon the castle steward, and Dik who worked in the castle library. 

Lady Nykae of Chaos is non-canonical, but is part of a small family of NPCs I'd made up for a previous Amber campaign 20 years ago, and just dusted off to get things set up quickly. It maybe would have been better to come up with entirely new NPCs, but with 7 players and a huge NPC cast it seemed better to start from a template I already knew so that I could improvise more readily.

Scene 1: David Offers Breakfast - David, Random, Bleys, Hendon in Amber
Random and Bleys speak after leaving the Ambassadorial Suite where the party from Chaos is staying. They begin discuss Abn Haram's parentage, Bleys is suspicious of David, but Random asks him to stay in reflection of David's gift of a drum set. David offers to make Random breakfast; Random invites David to join the feast tonight. David makes inquiries with the Steward, Hendon.

Scene 2: Abn Haram and the Strange Customs of the Amberites - Abn Haram, Nykae,
In the Ambassadorial Suite, Abn Haram and his mother chat, reflecting on the rebellious captain and his skill seemed outsized. They try to understand his motives - did he want an incident or want it to fail? Then they discuss how magic works differently in Amber than in the Courts of Chaos. They also try to determine what Random's motives are. Abn Haram decides to join the feast, and look for scientific and photographic equipment he can use to learn more about how magic works in Amber.

Scene 3: The bookworm goes on an adventure - Nix (Spinturnix), MarySue Fannigan, Julian, Large Cats, in Oberon's Loupe
While Nix is reading, he hears mysterious voices in the library, but can't find them. He looks for signs of recent Pattern-based shifting near the janitors closet where the voices seemed to originate, but he can't find any. He talks to MarySue Fannigan, a scholar from the shadow world where Amber lore is the central concern of the culture. She suggests ways the visitors may have traveled, including Tarot or Drawings or, most worryingly, through the mysterious methods that the people of Chaos used during the Black Road War.

Nix calls his father, Julian.  Julian decides he needs to visit Oberon's Loupe to see the dead cat. He detects Fiona's previous visit by the scent of her perfume. The library's taxidermist is planning to stuff the cat. Julian warns Nix that two potential things are bad in Amber, the Weir troubles and the rising power of magic near the city. Julian tells Nix he should go to Amber to find out what Caine is up to and try and find out what the others are up to; he warns Nix to keep Fiona out of the loop. He gives Nix a card of the city and returns to the forest.

After arriving via the Tarot, Nix passes the guard and goes to the library. He notices that Dik, the archivist, isn't in the library or in his quarters. Avoiding the obligations of the banquet, Nix retreats to the castle library to see what research he can find about other modes of movement between worlds.

Intermezzo: Medore and Maarit Have a Chat about Deirdre and Sand - Medore, Maarit
(Summary of play-by-post conversation between sessions 1 and 2)
Maarit helps Medore find quarters and get settled in. Medore and Maarit talk about how little they know about their mothers, Deirdre and Sand. Deirdre died in the war, and Medore hadn't seen her in years but just found out.  Maarit has never met her mother, raised as an orphan and only recently found in shadow by aunt Llewella and uncle Gerard.  Medore offers her army to Maarit, who declines. They make arrangements for the Medore's belongings to be fetched from the docks by a servant in good shape, and Medore also requests another consenting servant in good shape for ...other exercise.

Scene 4: Winner winner all the dinner: Dalziel and Maarit and Medore, then David and Abn Haram and Llewella and Bleys and Corwin and Dik in Castle Amber - topics of discussion:  The Weir, Forest Arden, Nykae, the Black Road War, Courts of Chaos, Deirdre, and Caine
Dalziel meets Medore and reunites with Maarit. Medore excuses themselves to freshen up, and Dal reflects on the wounds he got from the forest battle, heads for the infirmary. He drops off his clothing and then goes for bandages and food. Maarit and Dal discuss the dangerous Wier in the forest Arden. They don't know why the remnants of Eric's wier guard might have attacked.

Llewella searches the hall and does not find a seat for herself. She talks with David, whom she knew from his service during the war. David gives Llewella the latest news and some ideas about what's happened. Llewella moves over to talk with Abn Haram. Abn Haram and Llewella talk about many things, including the mutiny. Abn Haram reveals himself to be the child of Nike (ni-KAY) of the Courts, but is coy about his purposes. Turns out Llewella is trying to find out what's going on in the city - they spar a bit about her dislike of the Chaosites and bad memories from the Black Road war.

Maarit talks to Llewella, reveals that the delegation landed aground and came through the forest. Llewella indicates that she loves puzzles when she sees that Bleys has entered the room and asks Maarit to help her in solving puzzles. Maarit introduces Dalziel to Llewella. Dal reveals that he only met Bleys recently (after the war), then Dal mentions his assault from the Weir. Llewella mentions that the last time she heard of the Weir attacking anyone, it was several years ago when they attacked Random, Corwin, and Dierdre.

Maarit also introduces Llewella to Medore, who reveals that their mother was Dierdre; Llewella is sad about that. Medore tries to use Llewella's Tarot card for Dierdre without success; then they use Corwin's card. Corwin arrives to visit upon hearing Dierdre's name, causing much consternation. Medore shows Corwin the note from his mother, they talk it over. 

The last bit of food is cleared from one of the platters on a banquet table. When servants pick up the platter, a message is found, written on the tablecloth the tablecloth. It says "She tried to destroy Amber -- She should not be seated at our father's table". Luckily, Corwin and Medore are nearby. Corwin quickly covers it with a plate, and they quietly discuss who might have written that message. As Maarit, Dalziel, and Medore go to investigate the message, Corwin again puts his plate down and has a servant guard it. Medore introduces Maarit and Dalziel.

Dalziel walks over to meet Abn Haram. They start talking science right away -- Abn Haram mentions his equipment was lost. Dal and Abn Haram discuss sharing equipment and scientific findings. They talk about how they started getting interested in science, talk about the different worlds they've been in, etc. They compare their divergent perspectives on what Amber is (static vs. sterile?). Dal leads Abn Haram toward a more politic way of talking about the scientific reality of Amber to avoid apostasy. They're bosom buddies!

Dalziel and Abn Haram continue their discussion of science. While Dalziel is considering food, Abn Haram notices a servant staring at him; Abn Haram moves toward the servant, who leaves the hall; Abn Haram follows. In the hallway, they talk. The servant turns out to be the archivist, Dik. "A door is opened below." He gives Haram a black key. "Lady Cindray Karm remembers the ancient debt owed to her distant cousin Osric. This key is her birthday gift to Gehenna's finest son, and wishes you many happy returns." They bond over shared love of libraries, then Dik heads for the archive and Haram heads to the restroom.

Meanwhile, Corwin and Maarit look to see if any other platters have messages hidden under them -- and find at least one. They order more food to help keep the messages hidden. Medore approaches Bleys, alerts him to the messages. Bleys has some musicians start playing, which helps thin people out and direct attention away from the tables, then yanks the tablecloths like a magic trick. Corwin and Medore eat, and eat.

Scene 5: A Shocking Discovery - Llewella, Maarit, and Lord Denesh in Castle Amber

Llewella and Maarit go looking for the absent King. Llewella warns Maarit that Caine seems to be causing trouble. Llewella confesses that she can no longer walk between shadows, because she is constantly under attack from elaborate death traps and puzzles, likely from family - someone who survived the Black War and has been tormenting her for decades. She warns Maarit that there might not be a lot of people looking out for her, and tells her she's always welcome in Rebma. An armed guard waits outside the royal chambers - NO ADMITTANCE. They're refused. Maarit uses her magic pendant, which tugs her toward the Chaos ambassadorial suite -- more guards here! There's been an assassination attempt! Everyone is fine but the assassin is dead, and his allegiance is unknown. Guard captain asks Maarit and Llewella to leave the castle or go back to the party.

Scene 4b: More Dinner Conversation - Corwin, Medore, Lord Chantris, Abn Haram, Dik and David  in Castle Amber

Corwin points out people to Medore, a variety of folks. Corwin points out that Lord Chantris is watching an old sailor and staring daggers. The sailor belongs to Caine. (GM notes: The sailor is David. I think that went over several player's heads.) Corwin points out when Abn Haram leaves the room, and notices that Dik went too and was acting a little suspiciously. Corwin gives Medore a deck of Tarot cards and goes to intercept Dik; but Bleys calls Corwin over and they leave together out a different door. Medore goes after Haram and Dik.

David has stood around the banquet hall creepin' on most everyone's conversations.

Bleys and Corwin are talking in the hallway about Random and the Queen being so late to their party. Bleys says Random is not responding to his Tarot. They decide that Corwin will go find Random. Bleys will go try to wrap up the party, since he was playing Host for part of it already, and Corwin was an obvious late arrival. Dal will be sent to distract Abn Haram by taking him away from the party to someplace safe where they can talk science. Everyone agrees on the course of action, but Bleys feels Corwin is a little bossy / presumptuous. It's really important to Bleys that Corwin doesn't get to order him or Dalziel around. Dalziel's saner head doesn't lose sight of the situation and the shared goals, and gets them to stop arguing. During all of this, Maarit arrives and offers to help Dalziel with Abn Haram.

Scene 5b: Maarit and Llewella at the Gates - Maarit and Llewella at the edge of Castle Amber

Llewella decides to leave the castle instead of returning to the party. Anything bad that happens in Amber reflects poorly in Rebma, and so she needs to go tend to things there. Llewella gives Maarit her deck, so they can be in contact later. Maarit walks her out to the front gates of the castle. They notice that the guards are writing down in a ledger everyone who leaves, and at what time. Llewella walks up to the guards and bids them goodnight. While doing so, she makes an overt display of showing that there is no blood on her hands.

Quote Log Night 2, 9/14/2020

  • “I don’t know any of the players, nor the plot, Mother.” - Abn Haram
  • “I forgot about all the intrigue because now I’m talking about science!” - Dal
  • “I believe so. She is extremely hard to kill." - Abn Haram
  • "I've known Dick for centuries." - Corwyn

*sigh* The player who was keeps the quote log only remembered it was a thing in the tail end of the session. In addition to no doubt missing several great lines from my players, this timing also means my accidental penis joke was immortalized, and not any of the lines I'd painstakingly prepared in advance for Corwin. 

You see, Corwin is the hardest NPC to improv in Amber, by a long shot. Probably the hardest NPC I've ever had to portray in any game. We spend 5 novels with him, so his personality is well-rendered, and he has this amazing ability to make deep literary references off the cuff. I'm sure Zelazny cheated, by editing and looking things up, so I cheat too. Before every session if I know Corwin is likely to show up, I search quote sites on a variety of topics that seem relevant, to extract a couple of "clever" things I can slip in and make them look like they were improvised. Corwin is hard work. For example, my prep notes for this session suggest I was planning to say something along the lines of:

"Before I'm all 'Sound Trumpets' for 'things long lost', I should really start properly, by reiterating advice your mother hopefully already gave you long ago. In case she didn't, or you've mislaid it, here it is with a point finely honed by centuries on the family grindstone: Never trust a relative. It is far worse than trusting a stranger. With a stranger, there is at least a possibility that you might be safe."

That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. A nod to Shakespeare's Edward III on the topic of reunions, followed by a colorful metaphor instead of just a straight-forward "trust me, I know what I'm talking about", and then leading directly into a quote from Zelazny / Corwin himself about how awful all his characters are. 

Some nights, I anticipate topics of conversation and have relevant Corwinisms locked and loaded. Other times, the PCs pull out Corwin's card unexpectedly, and I have to scramble to make him feel "extra" enough. This night was his first appearance in this campaign, and I put it in motion deliberately, so I'm fairly confident I was prepared and it went well.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

A Horse Of Another Timbre: Session 1 Log

I am currently a dozen sessions into an Amber Diceless Roleplay Campaign, for a half dozen players. I've posted a few things about it from time to time, but I don't really have the time to write up every session here. Which is a shame, because there's not a lot of active Amber Campaigns on the web, so it seemed like an ongoing log of our campaign might be of interest to any Amberites who stumble upon us.

Thankfully, one of my excellent players, my old friend Brendan, is already on top of it. He's been keeping a detailed log every session, and has agreed to let me re-post it here. Brendan lives in a different state, so some sessions he has to call it a night earlier than those of us on the West Coast. So sometimes I have to take my own notes of what happened after he logged off, and I'll probably occasionally add a bit of color commentary as well. For example, I still had the list of books from "Fiona's Book Club" in the first session, so I inserted that below.

In addition, another of my excellent players, my friend Andrew, is keeping a log of funny and memorable quotes from the game. So I'll be posting many of those at the end of each campaign log as well.  

Both logs are below the collapsible/divide in this post.

The Setting: Corwin's Saga, the first 5 Amber novels, are treated as cannon. Those books are the tale Corwin told to his estranged son Merlin at the end of the Black Road War, so there's some wiggle room for face-saving or weakness-concealing lies on the part of the narrator.  

Books 6 to 10 are non-cannonical for the purposes of the campaign, and have not happened. What's more, many of the "big reveals" of those books have been set aside. Most notably, this is a "Logrus-less Chaos" version of the Amber setting. The Courts of Chaos have very limited methods for traveling the Universe. They are also very much NOT human. I put a lot of stock in the claim in the books that Dara's mother could not take the human form. Any Chaosite who looks human probably has a very interesting backstory.

Our campaign starts 10 years after the "Black Road War" (a term I have Amberites use instead of the cannonical term "Patternfall War" used by characters in books 6+. Patternfall seems to imply a level of vulnerability that the Amberites aren't likely to want to advertise)

Amber has been at peace for all 10 years of Random's reign, with no known fratricide attempts in that time. King Random has enacted many social reforms both in Amber itself, and further out in the Golden Circle.

The Cast: All the usual Amber NPCs from the first 5 novels are in play. Random is King, having been chosen by the Unicorn at the end of the war. In addition to King Random and Queen Vialle, several of the King's siblings appear in this session, such as his brothers Julian and Bleys, and his sisters Fiona and Florimel. 

In regards to those characters, or the most part, we take Corwin at his word about the personas of his siblings... they're a paranoid, fratricidal bunch, but as mentioned above,  things have been peaceful in Amber for 10 years now. The only major NPC that I've taken significant creative liberties with (at least in this first session) to specify that Sand and Delwin, two missing members of the Royal Family who are merely name-dropped in the books, are people of color in this version of the setting. This largely because two of the PCs are POCs. Neither Sand nor Delwin appear in this session, but I'm sure they'll turn up sooner or later.

In addition, the following Player Characters attend this session:

  • Dalziel, son of Bleys, who has been living in Amber for several months. He was a scientist back home in the Shadow Lochland, and has recently begun a series of experiments to learn the laws of science as they apply within Amber.
  • Maarit, who was presented to the King a few weeks ago. Maarit is an orphan, who was found in the Shadow Iolu by Llewella and Gerard. She has been presented to the King as being a daughter of the long-lost Princess Sand. She has recently walked the Pattern for the first time, and has struck up the beginnings of a friendship with Dalziel. 
  • Spinturnix, is the son of Julian. 'Nix grew up in nearby Forest Arden, but has never actually met his Uncle the King. Spinturnix works as the Head Archivist of a great library of a world known as "Oberon's Loupe", which is part of the Golden Circle of satellite nations to Amber.
  • Ava, daughter of Florimel and Duke Uldain of Chaos. Ava has walked the Pattern, and is on good terms with her mother and her cousin Merlin. Ava lives in a shadow world called The Topiary.
  • Medore, child of Dierdre. Deirdre died in the Black Road War, and Medore is very different from their mother. Medore is non-binary, pansexual, and a person of color. There are lot of scenes early on where the Elder Amberites aren't quite sure what to make of Medore, and some of them check their priviledge and adapt to this faster than others. Medore does not yet know that Deirdre and the former King Eric are dead. At the start of the campaign, Medore is in a remote Shadow known as Dwydder.
  • David Weyreth is a retired officer from the militaries of Amber. He served under Caine in the Navy as a young man. In the second half of the Black Road War, he transferred to the Army and served under Deirdre. He is not a member of the Royal Family at all. (And given that he's a Player Character, that lack of significance is certainly suspicious.)
  • Abn Haram, the human-shaped son of Lady Nykae of Chaos. At the start of the campaign, both Abn Haram and his mother are both aboard a chartered ship in the Golden Circle, headed toward Amber. They are accompanied by Abn Haram's steward, and his pet pig "Brute", and Nykae also has her own entourage. 


Campaign log: 31 August 2020 

Scene 1: The Journey to Amber (Abn Haram, Nykae, Caine, Steward near Amber)
Haram prepares for a journey to Amber, has been gathering a group of people to help on their journey. Haram's mother arranges for the travel on a three-masted sailing vessel. He sails past a lighthouse and near a forest.

Spots three ships from Amber coming toward them, flying the colors of Prince Caine. Haram's crew mutiny, he and his mother and Steward kill many of them to stop the coup. Having stopped the coup, Haram uses magic to accelerate the ship and elude the Amber ships and run up the beach.

Scene 2: Science in the Forest (Dalziel, The Weir, Julian, in Forest Arden)

Dal executes a scientific experiment to learn about the universe around Amber. He's interrupted by some wolfmen (Wier). Dal kills one of them, gets bitten by another, and bests them in battle. As they retreat, arrows attack!

Arrows from the forest take down the werewolves -- it's Prince Julian and his patrol! Dal finishes his measurements, Julian reveals the werewolves are becoming a problem. They discuss wier, heritage, ambition, and science. Dal says he'll contact Julian if he plans to come into the forest. He learns that a hunt is afoot and heads off to find it.

Scene 3: Science in the Capital (Maarit, Bleys, in Amber)
Conducting an experiment for Dal in Amber, Maarit learns from Bleys that a delegation from the Courts of Chaos is late, and may have been ambushed at sea. They head on their way to a battle (or to receive a delegation), but stop for a drink.

Scene 4: Kitties in the Garden (Ava, Merlin, Large Cats, in The Topiary)
Far from Amber, Ava and cousin Merlin talk about whether he should walk the pattern. They meet a wounded unicorn and couple big mean cats. The unicorn is black with a golden mane. Ava talks down the cats and shoos them away, but they have some mysterious mutterings and ideas to offer before Merlin kills one of them with a spell.

Ava uses her labyrinth to hurt the remaining cat, which shrinks. Ava decides to try and keep the cat to question it. The dogs attack and the cat strikes back and they decide to end it. Ava calls her mother, who is fascinated with the unicorn. She wonders if the cats came from the stables of Lord Sevran of Moen. After they propose bringing it to Amber, the unicorn runs off, leading Ava to find a path in shadow leading out of the labyrinth, with her mom.

Scene 5: Birds & Book Clubs (Nix (Spinturnix), Fiona, Toucan Hawk, in Oberon's Loupe)
Nix returns from a long weekend (where he found a new bird with a huge beak) to find Fiona waiting for him, having read a whole pile of books on Dopplegangers. She assures him that it's all just a coincidence, that there's an issue with inheritance but it's nothing to concern him, but he might want to visit his father. He sends a bird to his father.

Waiting to hear back from his father, Nix puts away Fiona's books and notices they're all about changelings and doppelgangers. 

 Fiona's Book Club:

There's only a single Fiction title among the 43 books she had out. That lone fiction title was Dumas'  The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later, Volume 3. There's no signs of volumes 1 and 2 in the room.

All the other books on the table or in her chair are non-fiction, such as:

Wards of Power, Volume XXVIII: Abjurations Against Illusion And Befuddlement

A book about serial killers called "The Copycat Syndrome"

Saga of the Grisbanx Dopplegangers

Lord Forthright's Esteemed Treatise On The Detection And Identification Of Liminal Beings

True Tales of the Ty'iga Terror


Reports of Zombification and Identity Theft In The Age Of The Black Road

Dwellers Upon Every Threshold

His Majesty's Enemy Within: The Unmasking of the Clone King

all three volumes of the Compleate Catalougue of Changelings

Mirror Ghosts: My Possession Narrative

Doubles, Dopples, Matches and Mimics

The Village That Ate Itself

Pod People And You: A Primer

And several large, encyclopedic tomes of Folklore, Urban Legends, or Bestiaries of Supernatural Creatures, each with multiple bookmarks tucked in them.

Scene 6: A Gift for the King (David, Random, Lord Rein, Bleys in Castle Amber)
David hears a report about the disrupted visit of the ship from the Courts of Chaos from the King. He shows the King a new drum set. The king reminds himself of who David is, asks for a music demonstration, asks David to grab a sword, and then summons Bleys, who shows up with a wine goblet. Now we'll see what happened.

Scene 7: A Message from Mother (Medore, Toucan Hawk in Dwyder. Prop: The Note From D)
Medore is resting in his Edwardian world, a huge bird with a huge beak appears and inspects his wardrobes, and delivers a note Deirdre's hand asking them to prepare for war. 

 The note reads:

My little Zephyr,

We find ourselves drawn into a war. Amber needs us. I need your help. Raise an army, and await my arrival on the third day. If I am delayed, take the bird to Dorrit-town. It will know what to do.   -D

Medore takes three days to walk through shadow and raises a sizable army (mostly Edwardian technology soldiers, sprinkled in with a few High Tech Troops), which encamps in a realm near his realm. His mom doesn't show on the third day, so he heads to Amber.  

Medore takes a ship and brings his crew to Amber by sea.


Scene 8: At the Docks (Abn Haram / David / Medore / Maarit / Random / Bleys in City of Amber)

Maarit stands with Bleys, they see a ship and watch the dingy coming in and get news of some sort of attack from Caine. King Random and David, armed with swords and drumsticks. Random and Maarit have tension, he introduces her to Bleys. When the dingy appears, the men report that there was a mutiny on board. Random reveals that a delegation from the Court of Chaos was to arrive today to return an item that belonged to Osric, the dead brother. They ponder what could possibly have been the object on its way.

When Medore arrives at the docks, they have an amusing interaction with Random, Bleys, David, and Maarit. Medore gives a bottle of good wine to Bleys. When Medore reveals who his mother is Deirdre, which makes everyone cringe. Because it turns out she's dead! Medore identifies her in the Tarot deck, and Maarit starts to take Medore up to the castle. Random pretends to be sad, but isn't really sad.


Scene 9: A Kitty in the Library (Nix (Spinturnix), Toucan Hawk, Large Cats, Julian, in Oberon's Loupe)

Later, in the library, Nix is accosted by a big cat, which tries to eat a bird. After a tussle, the cat is killed in the aviary. Nix connects to Julian via Tarot card and gets a caution to reach out directly to Julian before coming to Amber.

See also:

Scene 10: At the Gates (Abn Haram, Nykae, Dalziel, Bleys, Random, Maarit, David, in Amber)

Haram and the other survivors of the shipwreck make it to the city, where they send a townsperson to get the King. The rider announces the diplomats and everyone marches down to the edge of town to see the diplomats. They meet and Random announces a feast but the Court of Chaos general rebuffs him in favor of sleep.

Haram reveals that tomorrow is his birthday. Bleys smiles, David frowns concernedly. David takes the opportunity to mention that he fought against Haram's mom during the war. Dalziel calls Julian to learn about what happened in the forest.


Quote Log:

  • “One must be attended.” - Abn Haram
  • “I don’t know if they like their jobs. That’s between them and their God.” - Abn Haram
  • “Run home and lick your wounds, I have work to do” - Dal
  • (Gleefully) ::EAVESDROPPING!:: - Marit
  • “I said we don’t fight in my garden, but that was okay, that was good!” - Ava
  • “My arm is only ‘a little’ shredded” - Nix
  • “Well, you know how she likes the stacks” *wink* - Nix
  • “If you shit on any of my clothes, you’re lunch” - Medore, to the strange bird
  • “I don’t want them in my realm, they might stink up the place” - Medore

and my personal favorite exchange of the session:


King Random: “You a drum man, David, or just a brown-noser? 

David: "A bit of both, sir.”

Further Reading:

A few months back, I had posted a bit about our first session. You can read my thoughts about it here: As you can read there, I really enjoyed that first session, and I'm very lucky to have such a great group of players and such interesting PCs. 

I also wrote about a specific thing I did with some birds during this session. The log below fills in a lot of context and detail around those. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Caine's Amplifier

One of my Amber players wrote:

>  I'm listening to the Amber books while I work.   In the first book when Corwin is invading Amber on the ships he goes out to parlay with Caine.  Corwin has specifically passed Rebma and is in the south sea.  Caine talks to Corwin through an amplifier, and Corwin talks back through his amplifier.  This isn't an argument about how Amber 'should' work, I just found it interesting. :)

Ah, yes, I remember Caine's amplifier. That's a thing I wondered a lot about the first time I read it, as well.  
To bring you up to speed if that just went over your head: The city and castle of Amber has mostly medieval-level technology, despite all those shadow-walking Princes having ready access to better tech. They use lanterns in the dungeon, not flashlights. Guns, we are told, just don't work in Amber. (Amber's navies apparently even carry cannons or machine guns, but can't make them fire unless they get far enough away from "the one true city" first.)  Cars stall out somewhere on the approach through Forest Arden. Sorcery exists within the setting, but only Eric seems to know the secret of making it work on the battlefield near Mt Kolvir. Rebma is lit by some sort of magical streetlamps that sport underwater fire, but like everything else impractical in Rebma we are told precious little about how it works.
Anyway, as I recall, when I mentioned Caine's use of an amplifier to Chuck, the GM of my first Amber campaign, he countered that it was obviously a non-electric acoustical horn, which he claimed sailors used to call amplifiers back in the day before the electric guitar came along to steal the term away forever. He told me that in 1992 or early '93, back when I couldn't just google it on my phone. I would have had to walk across campus in a Minnesota winter (uphill both ways) to find a big enough dictionary to refute him. If I remember correctly, I think the passage in the book provides no details of what this amplifier looks like, and doesn't specifically mention it being powered, so at the time I just took Chuck at his word.

But now I'm curious.

Checking wikipedia today, I see that the technology of "I talk into a horn and my voice carries further" does go back to 5th Century in Ancient Greece. In the Americas, apparently the Iroquois made ones of birch bark before white settlers got here. The online etymology dictionary claims that the word "amplifier" as a noun first showed up in English in the 1540s, and the electrical version wasn't invented until 1914. So, maybe my old GM _wasn't_ just pulling a fast one on me? I honestly expected the internet to tell me Chuck was a liar.

Tangential to this... (and I guess I should add **SPOILER WARNING** for hidden backstory that gets doled out in little bites across the first 5 books)...

When Corwin and Random drive to Amber in the first book, the car conks out in Forest Arden, just a few miles before they get to the stairs to Rebma. So the technology limitations seem pretty localized. It's not that combustion, or electricity, or magic, or whatever doesn't work in the entire "world" of Amber so much as that it stops working before you have line-of-sight to the Castle of Amber.

That all seems stupidly illogical if you're thinking in terms of physics, natural law, and realistic science...

...but actually makes a certain kind of sense once you accept the premise of "this world was created by my paranoid sadistic father who used his unique reality-altering universe-creating magical powers to custom-brew a place where he didn't have to worry about any of his embittered children nuking him in his sleep". 

Honestly, Zelazny seems to shoot from the metaphorical hip rather than try to build a precise and self-consistent scientific underpinning for his world. This loosey-goosey approach is largely justified once you accept that certain characters know how to change the physical rules and properties of Amber and do so from time to time to support their own position.

Zelazny's also somewhat vague about where Amber stops and shadow begins. Some characters are capable of using Pattern in places where others can't, and this is actually a bit of a plot point.  But even if that wasn't the case, Zelazny also muddies the waters by saying things like how Clarissa was "a red-headed wench from a far Southern shadow" which seems almost to suggest that there are multiple shadow worlds somehow on the same planet as Amber (or at least these entire worlds somehow have a spatial relationship to Amber and share a magnetic North in common). 
So maybe you might argue that Rebma and Arden are actually in shadow, and that's why an electric amplifier works in the southern sea. You also might argue that Caine was working for Eric, so maybe Eric used his powers to make the electric amp function where it normally wouldn't. But Corwin says he responded by amplifier, too, so, perhaps Corwin is lying? Unreliable narrator, and all that. Or maybe Chuck was right, and it was just a low-tech wooden bullhorn. Or maybe we shouldn't read-between-the-lines and infer some broader technology ban. Perhaps there's no reason you can't listen to radio or surf the net from your favorite room in Castle Amber?
It's Amber, so I guess anything is possible, and you should never take anyone at their word. Especially not family, and especially not the GM.