Power Words are brief, limited use, highly directed works of magic. Despite their name, they're not necessarily words; mystic gestures or sign language, special whistles, even simple runes scratched on a surface or traced in the air all fall under the term Power Words. Any medium that requires little or no preparation is suitable for delivering a Power Word. In fact, almost any medium at all can be used, though needing to spend 10 minutes painting a picture does tend to negate their usual utility.
There are no special requirements for learning Power Words, anyone with the time and determination can do so. It helps to have a tutor to unlock the most basic potential, but it's not necessary.
Endurance is of primary importance to a Power Word user, as all the words consume the life force of their invoker to function. Psyche is also important, as some Power Words can only affect their targets if the user has a Psyche advantage over them.
The first step to being able to use Power Words is to learn to tap your inner life force, causing it to be turned into the sort of magical energy that drives Power Words.
Once the basics of Power Word Potential are mastered, the Power Word user moves on to being able to invoke Advanced Power Words, digging deeper into their life force and learning to convert large amounts of it in a single burst.
The ultimate level of Power Words, allowing the user to use large quantities of thier life force directly, producing effects that rival many simple Sorcery spells.
Most users of Power Words pick one particular form of invocation for their Power Words and stick with it. However, once you've mastered the basic principles, it's actually quite easy to develop the ability to invoke the same forces in other ways. Someone who has learned Alternate Power Word Forms can choose another style for his invocation of words. There is no functional difference in how well the words work or any other factors, only in how they are used. Primarily useful for purposes of disguise or using Words in situations where normal invocation isn't possible due to circumstances. Each time this is learned gives you another Form to use.
Under normal conditions, Power Words are learned and used at a certain level of power. However, in dire times, a little more than what the character normally taps is required. By digging down deep, a Power Word user can dump large quantities of his life force into an invocation, producing a greater than normal effect. Boosting a Power Word this way effectively doubles its normal effect; it does not turn it into a more advanced version (Advanced or Exalted) and thus give any of the benefits for higher levels, it only increases the normal effect. The price for doing a Boost is terrible, requiring 5 times the normal amount of energy. A human trying to boost an Advanced Power word will kill himself doing so. A single boosted Exalted word is enough to make an Amberite exhausted. This is a measure of desperation, not a tactic to be used on a normal basis.
Sometimes, even a normally boosted Power Word isn't enough. For the truly insane and desperate, Advanced Power Word boost is available. By expending 20 times the normal energy, 5 times the normal result can be achieved. A human will always die when attempting to Advanced Boost any word. An Amberite who advance boosts a single Basic Power Word will be exhausted and doing so to an Advanced Power Word will be fatal. Advance boosting an Exalted Power Word would exhaust even Corwin, and would be instantly fatal to even those with moderate levels of Endurance. This is generally only used in situations where death has already been assured, to make one final, hopefully telling, blow.
A different form of Power Boost. By using extra life energy, the Power Word now affects a small area, rather than a single target. For 5 times the energy, the area is approximate 2 meters across, enough to get 2 or 3 people close together; for 20 times the energy the area is 5 meters across. The effect is not otherwise changed as with a Power Boost, though it's possible to use both forms of enhancement on a single power word, with a cumulative penalty. Note that attempting to do a Advance Boosted with 5 meter Area version of even a Basic Power Word would kill Corwin dead (using up 400x normal energy), probably without even getting the word off. This is why people use Sorcery for more dramatic effects.
For those Power Word users who have access to the energy of one or more of the Primal Powers of Pattern, Logrus, or Trump, it is possible to add small amounts of that energy to make their words more effective. Pattern tends to assist Burst, Create, and Quell type words, Logrus helps Disrupt, Destroy, and Induce words, and Trump helps all words to a lesser degree. In general, adding a major Power to a word makes it more effective and harder to defend against, even using powers like Logrus Defense or Pattern Defense. Power Backed Power Words need only be bought once to cover all three Powers, but a single word can only be backed by one Power at a time, even if the user has more than one.
Power Words are arranged into 1-point words (Basic Power Words), 2-point words (Advanced Power Words), and 4-point words (Exalted Power Words). Most Power Words are actually arranged into small groups that include a Basic, Advanced and Exalted version of the same effect. Additionally this groups are often part of a more generic family of words that all do similar things. For example, the Burst family of words includes, among others, the groups for Strength, Psyche, Magic and so on. The Burst of Strength group, in turn, contains a Basic, Advanced and Exalted versions of the word, of varying degrees of power.
The main attribute that drives a Power Word is Endurance, as the energy involved comes directly from the life force of its user. Invoking a Power Word uses a number of points of energy equal to its cost to to learn: 1 for Basic, 2 for Advanced, 4 for Exalted.
|Tired||Exhausted||In a Coma / Dead|
|Ranked||12 + (Rank/4)||24 + (Rank/2)||36 + (Rank)|
Looking at the above table, a user with human level of Endurance, 3 points of Power Words will make him tired, 3 more will leave him exhausted, and another 3 would put him in a coma or kill him, assuming he didn't pass out. Corwin, God of Endurance, could probably dish out 40 or so points of Power Words before even breaking a sweat. A shadow Human would feel faint after invoking a single Exalted (4 point) Power Word, and a second without rest would probably leave him with permanent severe brain damage.
In general the Endurance of the Power Word user determines how effective they are, but for those Power Words that impose on a target or attempt to disrupt the workings of another, the contest of Psyche determines the level of effectiveness. As a rule of thumb, if the user's Psyche is greater, the word is effective, and if not, the word has reduced (or even no) effect.
The other factor in effectiveness is how often the words are used. The first time a Power Word is used on a target is the most effective. After that, each repetition is successively less useful as the target adapts to it. The greater the target's Psyche in comparison to the user, the less the times it's useful. If the Psyches are equal the first time or two will have full effect, then next one or two reduced effect, and after that, no or very limited effect. Brand using Neural Disrupt on someone with Amber Psyche would probably be able to use it a dozen or more times at full effect then another dozen at reduced effect, before they finally learned the trick of deflecting it.
Naming a target can effectively increases the user's Psyche, making Power Words used against them more useful, and useful more often. Naming a target does not imply the name need be said aloud, just like a Power Word could actually be a gesture or bit of song. It does mean the character must have a clear Psychic Impression of the target, either from direct mental contact (trump, magic, Psyche) or by knowing a great deal about them, such as their full True Name.
Further, the more dramatically superior the target's Psyche is, the better the impression the user must have for this to be useful. A character with Amber Psyche trying to Induce Terror on Brand would need to have studied him for decades or even centuries and been in direct contact with his mind on multiple occasions. And even then, the effect would be very brief and extremely unlikely to work a second time. On the other hand, a couple casual conversations about philosophy, or a few trump contacts, would be enough to make up only a few points of difference. However, the same stipulation that it's only good enough for a limited time effect still holds.
It should also be noted that the sorts of mental and social interaction that gives an advantage for using Power Words against a target tends to give them the same advantage for using their Power Words in return.
While repeated use on the same target makes a word less effective, this resistence is not permanent. Over time the idosyncrasies of a the invoker's Power Words change and the target begins to forget the exact details of warding it off. However, much like riding a bicycle, it does come back fairly quickly.
For example, when Corwin and Eric square off, they have equal Psyche. If Corwin were to use Neural Disrupt on Eric repeatedly in their fight, by the fourth or fifth time Eric could shrug it off without much effort. But when they next met, months or years down the road, the first time or two Corwin will be able to Neural Disrupt Eric, until Eric remembers the exact trick.
As a rule of thumb, if a person has acquired a tolerence, it slowly fades over the period of a month or so, but comes back in about half the number of uses that it took to develop in the first place.
There are a few central aspects that define a Power Word:
To illustrate these concepts, assume a character were creating some words to manipulate fire. To be Fast, a word that caused a sword to be wreathed in flames could only last for a single attack. A word which cause flames to leap from an existing fire onto a target would violate the Direct aspect, needing to specify both the fire and the target, however, a word which caused the fire to spit flames in all directions would work. Shooting a fireball that homed in on the target someone would not be Simple, requiring some sort of logic to find and follow the target. But a word which shot a single jet of fire from the user's hand to target would be reasonable.
Additionally, since Power Words draw on the user's life force, there is a very definite limit to how much they can do.
Here are some basic guidelines for what sort of things Power Words of various strengths can do
The following are examples of some fairly common power words, broken down by family and type, and then individually explained.
Strength, Psyche, Neural, Life, Structure Magic, Conjuration, Energy, Luck, Trump, Pattern, Logrus, Shapeshifting
Burst and Disrupt Power Words are two sides of the same coin. Burst adds a dose of ordered energy which accelerates and otherwise enhances various phenomenon, while Disrupt uses unordered energy, which slows or even negates those same phenomenon. Normally, Burst words are used to enhance the user's own abilities, while Disrupt are used against a target to reduce theirs. Additionally, Advanced and Exalted forms of the words that use invoke greater powers (Shapeshifting, Trump, Pattern, or Logrus) require the user have at least Basic levels of those powers, to be able to draw and manipulate the energies involved. It is possible to use Basic power Burst and Disrupt words without having that power.
Fire, Sound, Light, Energy, Matter
Create and Destroy Power Words are generally more limited than Burst/Disrupt? words, as weaving and unmaking reality takes a good bit of energy.
Pain, Pleasure, Euphoria, Fear, Tiredness, Boredom, Trust, and Awe
Induce Power Words cause an emotion or physical sensation in their target. Quell Power Words remove the same. Because Induce and Quell Power Words are so invasive, if the target is unwilling it takes a clear Psyche Advantage for them to work. Even a very clear Psychic Impression is unlikely to if the caster is any significantly weaker than the target. On the other hand, because they operation below a rational level, the target of one of these words may not realize they've been affected. And while the Power Word may cease to work after a short time, the emotion may last until the target stops to examine their feelings, particularly if it doesn't run counter to their normal nature.
Twiddle, Mark, Mold, Fix, Cook, Clean, Shadow Step, Shield, Hand of Steel
These are words that don't fit cleanly into some larger family.
Sensing Power Words happens much the same way that sensing other forms of magic does. Pattern and Logrus lenses, Trump Scrying, Magical Spells, and Shapeshift Forms of Power sensitive to Magic can all detect the energies that go into a Power Word. Since a single word happens so quickly, it's quite hard to observe one unless actively looking, though.
An active Pattern defense will allow a Pattern user to shrug off any Power Words directed at them. The mere presence of Pattern does not prevent the use of Power Words, and words can be invoked standing in the center of the Pattern, if desired. A sufficiently Advanced Pattern user could, however, turn off magic in a Shadow to the degree that Power Words which affected anything besides the user would not work except by direct touch. This is much more work than turning off Sorcery within a Shadow, and most Pattern users would never bother to do so.
Pattern can also be used to tweak the rules of a Shadow in favor of Power Words, making them universally stronger. Words such as Burst of Psyche and Burst of Pattern can also be useful to people employing Pattern abilities.
Like Pattern, an active Logrus defense will disrupt any Power Words directed at the Logrus user. The presence of Logrus doesn't usually affect Power Words, though it can cause them to be slightly more erratic. It takes a very skilled Logrus user to turn off Power Words in a Shadow, though it is possible.
Logrus Tendrils make excellent ways to deliver Power Words, both from an aiming and distance standpoint. As with Pattern, Burst of Psyche or Burst of Logrus can be used to assist with many Logrus abilities.
A Trump defense will ward off most forms of Power Words, but unlike Pattern and Logrus, Trump offers no real way to counteract the use of Power Words on a grander basis.
Burst of Trump and Burst of Psyche are the most useful ways to enhance a Trump ability, and Power Words can be invoked across an active Trump connection. Some Trump users have reported good results using Burst of Luck when they're doing Trump Scryings.
In and of itself, Shapeshifting offers no great resistance to Power Words, though individual Forms of Power might. Several Power Words are useful to Shapeshifters though, including Burst of Psyche, Burst of Life, and Burst of Shapeshifting.
Due to their simplicity, speed, and directness, Power Words tend to work fairly well in disrupting or enhancing Sorcery and Conjurations. A sufficiently powerful spell or artifact can resist most Power Words, but Exalted Power Words tend to work on even the most powerful Conjurerd items or Sorcery spells.
Being similar in principle, Power Words can both enhance and be utilized by other magics. Burst of Magic is probably the most common way to enhance a Sorcery spell, while Burst of Conjuration can stabilize a conjured item under attack. Conjurerers with Power Word skills can create items containing or using Power Words, and many Sorcerers learn Power Words for performing counter-spells.
Power Words are a great filler power and equalizier, something that almost every character can effectively use. A handful of the proper Power Words can easily change the course of a battle. Power Words can be both amazingly blantant, such as using Bursts of Strength and Neural Disrupts during combat, or extremely subtle, like using Induce Boredom on an Ambassador to alter the tone of a delicate negotiation. Almost no one would take Power Words as their major power, though it could be done, particularly with Exalted Power Words.
These rules for Power Words are primarily an expansion upon and refactoring of those given in the Amber DRPG sourcebooks, giving them some unity and room for advancement, along with clarifying what sort of restrictions, effects, and interactions Power Words have. The modifications in John Biles' Magick system, and also the source that his system is based on, by Frank Sroce, are the basis for some of the improvements here.