Category: Theory

Thus Amber was born of chaos, transformed in shadow, and kissed to wakefulness by the typewriter’s keys after all the work was done.

-Roger Zelazny, “The Road to Amber” (The Collected Works of Roger Zelazny, Volume 6)

So I picked up The Collected Works of Roger Zelazny as the books came out – all 6 volumes.  There’s some interesting bits in the back of Volume 6 that one of the gentlemen on the amber_diceless_rpg Yahoo!Group drew my attention to…

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I’m slowly feeling my way towards what I want to do with item and creature creation, and as such, I spent a little time today reviewing the ADRPG and Shadow Knight.

(As an aside – I always forget, when I haven’t looked at it in a while, just how completely insane certain sections of that book are.  Can we say “power creep”?)

There are some fascinating examples of non-standard powers and abilities in the NPC descriptions.  Items and creatures aren’t the only offenders when it comes to that, of course, but I’m sticking with items and creatures for this post.  I may look later at the powers.

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Can you breed the opposite way as a shapeshifter?

I’ve considered this before – even talked with other people about this before, and the expressions I get when I mention it are fascinating.  The consensus, it seems, is that one should not be able to do – nay, should not be able to even conceive of doing – such a thing.

I have some theories as to why this is.  The uncharitable chunk of it comes down to latent homophobia.  The more charitable one is that it’s just too much work.

I mean, who has which bits?  Does it matter?  Could you get the deed done with an eyeball and a pseudopod?  Who carries the child to term?  Do both parties do so?

And then there’s the matter of the child.  What shape does it come out – the natural form of one or both parents, or the forms they were in when they did the deed?  An amorphous puddle of goo?  Does the child have shapeshifting too?  How fast does it mature?

More to the point, since we’re talking about swapping sexes before… well… swapping sex – what happens to the sexual characteristics and gender identity of the child?

This is another re-post from the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow form.  The writer of the book made the mistake of asking what we thought was wrong with Sorcery…

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Shared Shadows

Reposting an answer here from the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow forums – the post I was replying to was regarding whether Earth and Avalon could be shared Shadows.

I have a hard time counting either one of those as shared Shadows.

I mean, to think mechanically – who put points into Shadow Earth? Eric, when he ditched Corwin there? He never really visited again. Flora, when she became Corwin’s warden? She seems to have spent a lot of time making sure her life was comfortable… Corwin himself? He didn’t even know for most of the time he spent there that he could claim a Shadow as his own. Random? He only visited from time to time. And much later – Merlin, who went to school there? Luke, who did likewise?

If you assume they all did – that’s 6 points worth of Shadow that nobody’s really doing much of anything with. If you assume it was only the ones that spent the most time there – that’s Flora and Corwin, so 2 points. Where’s the other point being spent? And is it reasonable for Corwin to pay points for something he doesn’t even know is his and didn’t exactly choose in the first place? It just seems to me that if it’s anyone’s, it’s Flora’s, and I’m hesitant to accept even that.

As for Avalon – you’re forgetting Benedict, too. But I think you already put the nail in this coffin: they’re visiting different versions, so I’m fairly comfortable in saying that that doesn’t count as a shared Shadow.

I could argue that the Keep of the Four Worlds was a shared Shadow, between first Jasra and Brand and later Jasra and Luke. I could also argue that the Shadow where Brand was kept might have been a shared one between Bleys and Fiona. But I can’t think of any other possible examples.

I kind of suspect what happened with the whole “shared Shadows” idea – and this is totally just a theory – is that some of the original playtesters asked “can we do this?” and Wujik said “sure.” :) I know that most of the folks I game with just don’t share Shadows…

One of the things I used to develop plots for the Spirit of the Century game I ran was to steal liberally from news stories.

The second plot I ran was based on a news article describing a group of Russian climbers in the Himalayas that had mysteriously gone missing. It went on to involve the polar bear god, Moscow, Siberia, and huge glowing crystals.

The first plot, on the other hand, was based on an article about feet washing up on the Vancouver coastline. At the time there had been seven feet found. I called that story “The Nine-Foot Man” – so tragic as it is to be finding severed feet, imagine my amusement when I ran across this article today…

Power Words always seemed to me to be the redheaded stepchild – if you will – of the other powers.

It’s as powerful as any other power (wtf, Wujick?) for a second or two.

It comes from the user and the user only.

It can’t be countered off the cuff, but it can be countered by any other power.

It has to be instant.

It’s… kind of crappy and ill-fitting, to tell the truth.

Look, I can see where the rationale for the power came from – I could probably quote you Corwin’s line, in fact – and I respect the fact that there is a rationale that comes from canon (which is more than can be said for some things in the ADRPG), but still. It’s basically cantrips from early D&D, or Harry Potter magic if you want to go with something more recent, and making it a separate power from sorcery and conjuration seems a bit silly. A separate level of power, I can see – but its own power? Really?

And advancement is “you learn another Word.” Right.

And I really, truly hate the sample words. Not what they do, but the samples of what the character might say. “NOGTZ!” “POLRZ!” Really? Really?! I’m all for encouraging RP, but – really?

I kind of like that phrase – “shapeshifting yourself dead”. Would anyone reasonable want to do that? Probably not. Would any player? Probably not.

Then again, maybe one player out there would.

But stepping back from the brink of things that really should only happen for damned good story reasons, there are a few shapeshifting things that the ADRPG just doesn’t deal with well.

Take the weir, or any other common werewolf of your choice. There’s a 1-point ability for items and creatures that lets them have a single alternate form, so NPC werewolves are no big deal. Or you could have a selkie – same thing, different animal. You could have an NPC with a suite of alternate shapes – Named and Numbered, even – for 2 points.

For a PC, there is… 35 points of shapeshifting.


Wujick walks this fine line sometimes between making you pay for something that’s innate and letting you treat it as innate and free when it comes to item and creature creation. I suspect that’s what the issue is here; he probably felt that the weir are inherently able to shift to a single alternate form, and thus shouldn’t need to pay for something innate.

Even though it offers a half-weir PC a bit of an advantage, wouldn’t you say? Or a huge disadvantage, depending on the GM.

That, or he saw no reason that a character concept might include only one or a handful of shapes, but not the other powers of shapeshifting.

I suspect this issue right here is one of the big ones that leads to partial power house rules. Pattern has some divisions that can be made, and so does Trump and Logrus, but none of them are so necessary as to be required. To work properly, shapeshifting as presented in the ADRPG needs to be a partial power system.

(It also argues – again – that the item and creature creation section is broken, but that is best saved for discussion elsewhere.)

And then there’s the “alternate shapes might cause changes in strength, endurance, etc” the author casually slaps down with no particular explanation of how or why he’d allow it. I realize it’s backed up in canon – see Merlin’s fight with the Dweller on the Threshold – but it has potential to be an easy game-breaker if you just casually toss it out like that, sans any sort of balancing mechanism.

And there’s my favorite phrase – it’s ill-defined and ill-advised when it comes to the abilities and the divisions between them. Most of basic Shapeshifting is devoted to “when things go wrong” instead of to the power itself. The powers offered are kind of all over the map – at basic, you can shift your features, with the mechanic described as mimicking a feature of someone else, but only at advanced can you imitate someone? Huh?

I have some ideas on how I want to handle Shapeshifting, I think, but it warrants further thought. A la carte ordering is definitely on the menu, though…

Bouncing off of this post

I think my “best” freeze ever was in the first actual campaign game I played in. We were playing Changeling, and I was playing a Pooka. I’d established the character as not so much a liar as an obscurer of the truth under lots of long, rambling, circular-to-pointless exposition. We got into a situation where my character and an NPC had to run back to our patron, the Duke of Boston, to get help to rescue the rest of the party. We broke for the night when we’d reached the Duke’s house, and I spent the intervening week working up a lengthy explanation of exactly what my character was going to say.

We got to the session. It came around to me. The GM knew I’d worked up what I was going to say, and gave me a chance… but I completely froze up at that point. My mind went blank. The only thing – I mean, the only thing – to spring to mind was a single sentence:

“There is absolutely nothing wrong.”

It worked out well in the end, but that was a horrifying moment. The best part of it, honestly, was the fact that we all had a good laugh about it – then, and later.

Anyway, stories aside… I find I’m very much in the category of on-the-spot freezer. I can make decisions just fine – ask my current group about the night the GM phoned me when I was home sick and doped up on Nyquil and asked whether the paladin or the rogue was going to die – it’s just speaking that makes my blood run cold.

This is why I don’t play the Face, and why I’m not the party leader, ever. Inter-party banter, I can do. But put me in front of someone that needs speaking to that isn’t in the party, particularly some sort of official/noble, and my mind goes completely blank.

How many of you use the Damage and Armor system as written?

I see plenty of justification for Extra Hard in the books but nothing beyond that. Greyswandir does not shatter swords or plate armor or, if it does, Corwin doesn’t bother to mention it. He does bisect a tiger-sized Chaosian with one stroke but he’s superhumanly strong. Julian’s armor and Morgenstern are proof against medium-sized handguns. That’s about it.

-rtrimmer, Amber Diceless RPG Yahoo!Group

I have always kind of suspected that Wujick conflated the silver properties of Grayswandir – which I assume from the fact that Random and Deirdre had him kill the weir – with pure damage output.

It’s not correct, and it’s another thing that the item and creature creation system cannot actually handle. There’s no provisio in the rules for silver affecting werewolves, cold iron affecting fae, or any other variation of material X affecting thing or species Y but otherwise having no particular affect on anything or anyone else.