An Introduction to Roger Zelazny's Amber Universe and the Amber Diceless Role-Playing Game

Disclaimer Type Thing:
I didn't create either of these things, and these are just my understanding of it all, not intended to trample any feet, copyrights, etc.  Take it all with a pinch of salt.

Introduction
 

The world which you have always believed was the sum of creation is but a Shadow of the one true world, the world of Amber the Eternal City, the most real of all worlds.  The magnificent city which you believe the sum of civilization?  But a shadow of the One True City, Amber.  The magnificent forests of your homeland?  But a shadow of the most true forest, Arden the Great.  Your seas are but a pale reflection of the aqua waves of the oceans on which Amber plies its trade.  Your sun is but a lightbulb before the glory of the primal Sun of Amber, and your Moon has no power to call forth cities in the sky.  You must cast away your illusions of glory, and come to understand the true nature of things.

In the dawn of time itself, Dworkin Barimen, a rebel son of Chaos, inscribed the Pattern with his own blood, using the Jewel of Judgement, a most powerful artifact rumored to be one of the eyes of the Serpent of Chaos.  By doing so, he reshaped all of creation, transforming what was Chaos into Order.  At the heart of creation stands Amber, the Eternal City, ruled over by the descendants of Dworkin, the royal family of Amber.  Dworkin's son Oberon became the first King of Amber, ruling for centuries over the Eternal City and spawning a probably uncountable number of children by his many wives and mistresses.  All those who have Oberon's blood in their veins possess a double legacy--a claim on the throne of Amber, and a claim to power, for those who have the blood of Oberon have the power to walk the Pattern which lies in the dungeons of Castle Amber, and gain the power to walk through Shadow to whatever they may desire.

The Pattern Chamber sits down under Castle Amber in the dungeons, in a room which is designed to be locked from the outside, as if there was some danger the Pattern would get up and walk away if not locked in, though it has never done so that anyone is aware of.  The Pattern basically resembles a very complex and twisted spiral.  One begins to walk it from the outside tip of the spiral, then keeps going until one reaches the center.  Those who have the blood of Oberon can walk it from start to finish, and thus gain power over Shadow.  Those who lack Oberon's blood burst into flames and die in seconds if they touch it.  Once you start walking it, you should NEVER stop, or you will probably be unable to start again.  Nor can you turn back, unless you want to die.  It is an exhausting exercise, not for the physically weak.  Once you reach the center the first time, you gain power over Shadow, to travel through Shadow by use of your will.   Both that time, and any other time you choose to walk it, you can command the Pattern to send you wherever you desire to go.

The power to move through Shadow conveyed by the Pattern is fairly simple to use.  As one walks, one can make small changes in the world around you.  As those changes mount, you move from Shadow to Shadow, stepping between parallel, similar universes.  Small changes gradually mount up, and eventually you can move into any sort of Shadow you can imagine...including ones that can kill you if you're not careful.  If you are in a hurry, you can hellride, where you keep a single detail and change everything else around you.  But this is very dangerous, as its hard to control such large scale changes.  If you're not in a hurry, you can take it easy and travel through Shadows where everyone worships you and makes your life easy--this is called 'the Royal Way' or the 'Ego Food Way' by the more sarcastic.

So what is Shadow?  This remains unclear.  Shadows are universes, ranging in size from closets to 'infinite' in size.  Close to Amber, it is hard to use the Pattern to shift Shadow, so it remains unclear as to how large Amber's home universe actually is.  Adjacent Shadows are usually, but not always, nearly identical to each other.  Thus, it can be tricky to meet someone in Shadow, as you may be three Shadows down from your friend, in a place whose main difference from the one he's in is nearly undetectable.

Near to Amber, the laws of nature and geography are similar to Amber, but as you move further away, those laws change.  You can find worlds with no magic, no science, where fire is impossible or everything is fire, where everyone is Elvis (except Michael J. Fox), or which are inhabited by versions of yourself.  Yes, the Royal Family and many other Amberites cast twisted reflections of themselves into Shadow.  Thus, you can go find a shadow of yourself and kill it, then leave the body for your relatives to find so they think you've been murdered (one of Caine's old tricks).  Didn't like your father?  Find a shadow of him and beat him up.  Girlfriend dumps you?  Go find a shadow of her who worships you.

In fact, whatever you desire can be found out in Shadow.  If you have walked the Pattern, you can fix your mind on something and seek it in Shadow, and if you don't die in the process, you will find it.  Whatever your heart desires is out there, be it good or evil.  At some stage, almost every royal family member loses themselves in Shadow for decades or centuries, gratifying their whims in this way.

But sooner or later, this pales, because Shadow is only Shadow.  Anything earned too easily loses its lustre, and thus, sooner or later, you'll find yourself returning to Amber, Amber which is Real, Amber which cannot simply be made into whatever you want by willing it.  In Amber, you must work for what you get, and that comes to be more satisfying...for some, anyway.

And yet, there is evidence that Shadows can become more Real.  If many Amberites visit, or one dwells in a Shadow for a long time, the Shadow becomes harder to mold, firmer, more solid, more enduring.  Such a shadow is the 'Shadow Earth' on which Prince Corwin dwelt for centuries, as did Princess Flora.  Such Shadows raise disturbing questions about whether even Amber the Eternal City is real, or whether its current Reality was simply molded into it by the dwelling here of many Amberites.

And there's another problem:  Chaos.

If one rides far enough through Shadow, one comes to a tree, Yig, said to have been planted by Oberon to mark the boundaries of Amberite rule.  Beyond Yig the shadows turn increasingly strange and flimsy, easily broken and warped.  Far beyond Yig, one comes to the Courts of Chaos, home to Amber's rivals for control of creation, who huddle about the Abyss, the great garbage pit of creation.  They draw their power to shift Shadow from the Logrus, an ever-changing three-dimensional version of the Pattern that only Shapeshifters can walk.  The folk of Chaos have mutable minds and mutable bodies, as you might expect from their name, but they too are ruled over by a King.

The Logrus and the Pattern, Chaos and Order, Courts of Chaos and Amber, are locked in a seemingly endless struggle, sometimes violent, sometimes less so, and the tension between them is reflected in Shadow, the trillions of universes torn between those two poles of creation.  For a time, a black road ran through Shadow between the poles, but that road has been destroyed.  These tensions last exploded in the Patternfall War, the topic of the first Amber pentology, when Brand betrayed Amber to Chaos and tried to destroy it so he could remake creation in his own image.  The war ended with a treaty of more or less peace between Amber and Chaos, but tensions remain.

This is the multiverse of Amber, two places which possess 'Reality' of some kind, and a great blur of universes between them, which can be travelled through and molded by those who have walked the great Icons that confer real Power: the Pattern and the Logrus.

Castle Amber and the City of Amber

The exact size and dimensions of Amber proper remain debatable. Close to Amber, shadows blend into each other and tend to resist being molded to a degree which makes it unclear at what point you've actually left the home shadow. Also, those from shadows sufficiently close to Amber can apparently freely travel between those shadows at certain points or areas.

Castle Amber lies on the southeastern slopes of Mount Kolvir, which sits at the far western point of a U-shaped gulf which opens out eastward (It's at the 'bottom of the u'.)  It is about two thirds of the way up the mountain. At the top of the mountain floats Tir'na'og, a mirror image of Kolvir, Castle Amber and the City of Amber, on nights when the moon shines in the sky. It is  reached by a stair that appears on top of Kolvir when the moon shines. Below Kolvir, at the mouth of the Barimen river, lies the City of Amber and Amberport, two cities grown together into one. Amberport has no walls, although the harbor is guarded by two towers and a chain, while the city is walled. A long staircase and a long and winding road which switches back and forth frequently allow access from city to castle.

Immediately south of Kolvir is the Vale of Garnath, most of which is covered by the Forest of Arden, the great hunting preserve of the Kings of Amber. It is protected by the Warden of Arden. Along the southern coast of the Gulf of Amber, three days ride from Amber, is Rebma, the underwater reflection of Amber. It claims only a tiny portion of the coast, which is full of farming and fishing villages.

Castle Amber

Castle Amber is a huge sprawling fortress along the southeastern slope of Mount Kolvir. It overlooks the pass which provides the easiest access to the plains to the north. It can be entered in two ways: climbing a steep staircase straight up to it from the city or riding up a longer, but less steep road which winds up from the pass.  Rumors persist of other access tunnels, but nothing has been proven.

A curtain wall surrounds the castle to the south and east, while the steep slope of Kolvir shields it to the west and north. Inside the curtain wall is a large courtyard, various small auxillary buildings such as the stables and smithy, a large garden on the northern side of the courtyard, and dug into the mountain itself, the main keep and palace on the western side of the courtyard.

The palace has five external stories, plus many subterranean levels dug into the mountains. The ground level contains most of the governmental business and public function areas. The second level contains the great ballroom, the armory, the library, and the great dining hall with related areas (kitchen, servants, etc). The third level contains the quarters of your generation of Amberites and the main guest areas. The fourth level contains the King's quarters and the royal vaults. The fifth level is for the king only, and none of you know what is up there.

Below the palace are many layers of tunnels. These include the dungeons, Dworkin's quarters, various laboratories and storage rooms, the wine cellar, and the Pattern chamber.

The Pattern Chamber

This room is of especial note. The Pattern sits in the dungeons of Castle Amber, in a room which is usually locked. The key hangs in the hallway by the door. Yes, it seems to be locked in order to keep something in, not to keep people out of it...

The City of Amber

Little is said in the canonical materials of the lay out of the city, other than the general impression that it is laid out like most medieval cities, divided into quarters.  Somewhere within the city is a dive for low lifes known as 'Bloody [Insert Previous Owner's Name Here]'.

Forest Arden

Forest Arden is a thick, ancient woods riddled with trails which can move about at the Warden of Arden's command.  It is easiest to enter Amber by land through the forest, unless one can fly or excells at mountain climbing.

The Golden Circle

Amber maintains trade relations with a variety of kingdoms that are close to it in Shadow; these kingdoms are known as the Golden Circle.

The Royal Family of Amber

The information given here reflects the situation at the end of the second Amber Pentology.  Campaigns using alternate Ambers will of course alter this information.

Dworkin

Dworkin created the Pattern.  Quite possibly he can't die while it endures.  He's eccentric and mysterious, no longer dangerously insane as he was when the Pattern was damaged for a time, but hard to understand.  He seems to wield every Power except perhaps Logrus, but since Merlin has shown you can use Pattern AND Logrus, perhaps he still knows the Logrus arts as well.

Oberon

Oberon is dead and gone, but while he lived, he was a ruthless bastard who used and abused his wives and children in his complex political games.  It seemed that Amber itself was his only true love, and all his games were done for its benefit...or to sate his lusts.  He died at the end of the Patternfall War (end of the fifth novel), and was succeeded by Random.

'I see dead people':  The Dead Siblings

It should be noted that it remains debatable as to whether any of these people are actually dead for real, given Caine has proved how easy it is to fake your own death.

The Princes of Amber

The Princes can be divided into two generations:  Oberon's children and their own children.

Oberon's Male Children
 


The Younger Generation:
 

The Princesses of Amber

Oberon's Children:
 

The Powers That Be

There are a variety of special powers available to those who dwell at the heart of reality, beyond the ken of most Shadow Dwellers.  Some have special requirements, while others can be learned by Shadow denizens.

Pattern

Only those of the blood of Oberon can walk the Pattern and pass into infinite Shadow, making it their playground and laboratory.  At first, you learn how to walk through shadow as described in the introduction.  Students of Pattern can also learn to call its image into their mind and use it to defend themselves from other Powers.  Advanced students learn how to walk the Pattern in their minds, then use it to scry through Shadow like a lens, seeking things and then moving themselves to those things or vice versa by pure will.  It can also be used to mold shadows and play with probabilities.

Broken Pattern

There exist in shadow many reflections of the Pattern.  The further you go from Amber, the more damaged and warped they become.  Some of them are full of holes, which enables Shadow dwellers to walk 'between the lines', and thus reach the center, burning the image of the Broken Pattern into their mind. This conveys the power to walk through Shadow...but your imprint is damaged, and thus you tend to end up in twisted, damaged shadows which are Not Fun (tm).  Still, it's the easiest way for people who can't walk the Pattern or Logrus to get a way to cruise around Shadow.  Also popular with sorcerors because they can hang spells on it.

Logrus

Anyone who can shapeshift can try to walk the Logrus, although it will drive them temporarily mad, and kill them if they lack the endurance to survive its many tests.  Survivors can then use the Logrus to reach through Shadow and find things, drawing those things to them with its tendrils, or grabbing onto those things and pulling themselves to them.  They can use the Logrus as a storage space for spells, or create servants from its tendrils.  They can use it to study things from a distance or simply whack people around with it.  Advanced students learn how to create roads through shadow, to mold shadows into whatever form they like (although Chaos tinged shadows tend to start changing and have to be periodically fixed), or even how to unleash Primal Chaos (VERY DANGEROUS).

Trump

The origins of Trump and the source of its power is unknown.  Those who study the ways of Trump can create pictures (usually cards) with a link to what is depicted.  Trumps of Places can be used to travel there.  Trumps of People allow communication with those people and even allow contactor or contactee to pull the other through the link.  Truly skillful Trump Artists are said to be able to create Trumps which trigger on a touch (acting as traps), to tell who is trying to Trump call them, or even to create Trumps which don't show their true target.  It is unclear in the canon as to whether anyone at all can be a Trump Artist, although anyone can use Trumps, even normal humans.

Shapeshifting

While most Chaosians can do this, this power is not limited to them.  Starting with a handful of forms, Shapeshifters eventually learn to change into anything, even becoming able to absorb things to give them more mass, or reduce their mass to become smaller things.  They can adapt swiftly to changing environments, become pillars of flame, turn into animals, sprout new organs, and close up their wounds, healing themselves at the cost of tiring.

Magic

The Amber RPG divides magic into three categories:  Power Words, Sorcery, and Conjuration, but Zelazny doesn't actually enforce such a disjunction in the canonical materials.  In general, the biggest problems of magic in the Amber Universe are the facts that:
 

Still, magic does have its uses, and it can be quite powerful in many places, especially around Chaos.
 

The Amber Diceless Role Playing Game

The Amber DRPG is a very flexible system produced by Phage Press, enabling one to role play in the world of Zelazny's Amber.  It is very simple and easy to learn (or so I delude myself), and most of the material on my Amber pages is for use with it.  The 'standard' campaign is set after the events of the first ten books, but most GMs tinker with that to a greater or lesser extent, including alternate royal families, adding trains, or turning everyone in Amber into sentient weasels.  Or whatever.

It uses a point and auction system for character creation.  At the start of the campaign, players bid on their attributes, thus resulting in creating ranked attributes.  The auction winner is first in say, Strength, the next highest bidder becomes second, and so on.

Remaining points are spent to buy powers, items, creatures, shadows, or saved to become 'Good Stuff', which makes you lucky.  If you had to spend too many points, you can take 'Bad Stuff' and be unlucky, or reduce attributes below zero.

The central game mechanic is simple:  the higher ranked attribute wins, all things being equal.  Of course, smart Amberites make sure all things WON'T be equal.

My pages under the Links section get into all of this in far more detail, and the rules have FINALLY come back into print, and can be obtained at Amazon.com.

Other Links on this Site

Last Update January 14, 2000