in the Shadow of Greatness


September 5, 2007

IMC :: gunpowder, nukes and flukes

Originally Posted by RPGP:
So Corwin's little trick in "the Guns of Avalon" is brilliant. Its not so brilliant when every PC tries to imitate it.

The problem is it all seems very bloody reasonable: if Corwin did it, shouldn't anyone else be able to? Spend enough time (and in shadow you have all the time you need), and you should be able to find a Nuclear Bomb that would work in Amber.

How do you as a GM deal with that?

That's a darn good question I haven't seen on other forums. Kudos for putting the genre question in just that light.

There are several options one might like to choose from:

You could say that Corwin is telling it straight, but that the working gunpowder is a part of Corwin's legend since he is the one to discover it. As the 'father of gunpowder' it is only Corwin (or his line) that can point you at the stuff. This is taking the principle of Creation as Zelazny tosses it around and applying it to the meta-universe.

You could say that Gunpowder must be bought as part of your PC's powers. This respects the design of the Amber Diceless game: Real Threats cost real points. No player should complain when a Horde bought with points tears through an army 'found' in shadow. Likewise for gunpowder used to threaten amberites. Likewise for someone who wants a nuclear bomb. (Good luck with costing that last one.)

IMC, I often use a threshold I might refer to as "infinite shadow versus limited perceptions." The principle isn't so different from 'needle in a haystack.'

If PCs want to find something in shadow so specialized that it negates a Real premise of Amber that lasted over two millennium, they are relying on sweat and good stuff more than precise personal perceptions. Or, to describe this another way: the PCs do not know any of the Real variables that Corwin was thinking and feeling when he found that place with that substance in that time----though you guess it had something to do with the original Avalon. Based on that data, you are sifting infinite shadow for a fluke causal event. Yes, you will find it. Yes, it might take a thousand years.

And I would explain that to the Players.

To those Players who would grab samples of the original gunpowder to analyze it to the nth degree and thereby "learn everything about it" so as to inform their search through infinite shadow, I would very carefully look to the match between their PC's legend and Corwin's legend because the right answer would be some interesting variation of "yes, but...."

This has never come up in my games, convention or otherwise in a way that broke the canon or genre.


Filed under : Amber, IMC at 05.09.2007
Michael says...

There are lots of options. Some of them depend on why gunpowder doesn't work in Amber. Why can you make tea, but not steam engines? If you know that, you can go a long way to explaining gunpowder.

Here's a few that don't depend on that (necessarily).
1: Oberon is with Corwin. He made an exception.
2: It doesn't have to last more than a week to still fit the facts. At best it might turn inert. At worst it's quite dangerous.
3: It was a fluke. Oberon closed the loophole after we last saw guns.

Posted September 5, 2007 10:55 PM
Paul says...

A fluke, yes.

Similarly, why couldn't you have some subtler, but just as dangerous changes in Amber?

It occurs to me, after reading them, that the tech set up of the "Dies the Fire" novels by SM Stirling are those in Amber. Gunpowder doesn't work, nuclear weapons and technology don't work, steam power does not work, electricity doesn't work right.

Stirling claims he made very small changes to the laws of physics (and doesn't say which ones) in order to come up with a world like that. Why couldn't Amber be like the DTF world?

Posted September 6, 2007 5:27 AM
Arref says...

Similarly, why couldn't you have some subtler, but just as dangerous changes in Amber?

This is another question I don't often see asked. Agree with your "micro physics" notion.

Infinity is scary stuff. For instance, what if a royal discovers a terribly effective shadow nerve toxin that kills and/or inhibits volition? Or a fungus that links you to a hive mentality. A certain drug that allows access to shadows never seen before. These are the sort of things that would be Zelazny but not the same-old.

The examples above still allow for fists and blades. Guns and nukes just sweep everything into a jumbled genre and seem to be a "gamer gadget" theme.

I really like the 'complexity degrades' caveat of House of Cards. It's simple and solves so many messy questions.

Posted September 6, 2007 8:07 AM
Michael says...

Our stuff is influenced by Jack Chalker, specifically Midnight at the Well of Souls for complexity limits. Also the shadow nerve toxin et. al. that you suggest is similar to other stuff in that series.

Posted September 6, 2007 9:58 AM
Arref says...

Now that you mention it....

I was very impressed with Chalker when I first read him in '77. Likewise as he developed his 'Soul Rider' series where a colony world's origins are uncovered "a la peeled onion" not unlike Corwin recovering his identity.

Yes, for comparison to creative worlds rubbing elbows (and shadow dangers), I think Chalker is a good starting point. While Chalker gets a bit gimmicky later in his stories, the stuff he tossed against the wall early in his writing was quite intricate with clever smaller gestures.

Good reference.

Posted September 6, 2007 10:48 AM
Michael says...

I liked the first Nathan Brazil books, and I lived Mavra Chang. Lots of his stuff seems a bit repetitive. The Four Lords of the Diamond seemed to be "The One Lord of the Diamond, Four Times".

Posted September 7, 2007 4:43 PM
Jim says...

I have to break my comment into two parts, and one will be more direct than the other.

I'm most comfortable with the previous respondents comments about it being a fluke, that is later amended by Oberon. I'm not very comfortable with it being an exception that Corwin is allowed to take advantage of, because that removes choice and consequence from what Corwin does.

I would agree that exploration of this almost mandates asking why it doesn't work, and why later Corwin does accomplish it.

One response to the "fluke" is that the jeweler's powder represents a side-effect to the Pattern being damaged. That is, it's a tiny "system error" in the way things work in Amber.. and you could find other tiny flukes across Shadow if you really looked for them. This does have canon issues, however, if you're worried about it. Corwin makes his discovery sometime before his memory loss. If you're comfortable with the Pattern being damaged a long time ago, and the effects of it only coming to bear much later- that might not constitute an issue.
Second answer... And as a disclaimer, I didn't visit those forums. I'm only answering based on what I've seen here on ITSOG.

The question as copied doesn't ask "how do you prevent this from happening" but rather, "how do you deal with it?"

You can allow it, with some courage, adherence to your campaign vision, and firm clear communication, and some application of Nobilis Monarda Law. (Summary= "Nothing is impossible, but everything has a cost, how much are *you* willing to pay?")

I see the introduction of gunpowder in the novels as being a response to the fact that Eric has a magical device that makes him otherwise invincible. Where I've seen the idea of gunpowder being re-introduced to Amber is rarely in a parallel situation. Not to make Corwin altruistic, but players are usually looking at it as a means to a much lesser end. Corwin is tempted by the Goat-Man of Lorraine's Black Circle with the means to conquer Amber (while Oberon/Ganelon scrutinizes his son for his response). Corwin declines, I interpret, because he realizes that while he might take the Kingdom, it won't be recognizable after they're finished. Along those lines, once the matter of the Throne is settled, guns are no longer wanted in Amber by the Elders. Corwin keeps them only long enough to maintain control, and when Random has the support of the whole family, the guns aren’t wanted by anyone.

What is not always emphasized in campaign background is that there was something precious and wonderful about Amber under Oberon's rule, and that is what is being fought over. (Acknowledging that there’s a perception that Amber is the only thing that is real also plays a part). Gunpowder potentially changes that irrevocably. I draw a parallel between gunpowder and forging a military alliance with the Courts of Chaos, and introducing them to Amber is on the same level of bad.

Consider Caine. Caine stabs Corwin in his bedroom. Why? After all Eric is already dead, and Corwin appears to have already won. IMO, Caine doesn't trust Corwin not to destroy everything about Amber that the rest of the have come to cherish. Caine's wrong, but is the conclusion that he's reached unreasonable?

Bringing it back to campaign and actually not making rules and rationales up for why it won't work any longer.. one can drive home the point to the player that this nothing done lightly. Unlike the Jewel of Judgment, gunpowder is something less easily controlled. They may end destroying Amber, and if the objectify the One True Realm to the point that the prospect of doing that is worth the cost.. they may find themselves reviled by everyone. Friend and enemy alike.

Is having guns worth Amber not being Amber anymore?

That's a big risk however for GM and Player. The Elders in the novels seem to have that wisdom by the end. They discard the guns to preserve their way of life. But can any player be expected to share those values? It depends on the shared campaign vision, a sense that the old ways had value, and the willingness of the GM to really be firm on the potential consequences of these actions. "Nothing is impossible, but everything has a cost, how much are *you* willing to pay?"

On the last note, I'd lay it out in clear terms OOC as well as IC, then let a player decide. No surprises for the player, so that it all falls on the character. Then by golly have a 'fist in my glove' when I adjudicate it. You might say: "Well why allow even the chance?" Because done right, you have real drama and real meaningful play- even if it only is a brief temptation that is never realized. Done lightly, or without consequence- you have a spoiled campaign that isn't Amber any more.

Nuclear weapons? :(

I have a less artful and thoughtful answer for nukes. I guess I'd hope that a player that would go to that length would be caught in pre-screening. If as a GM you’re actually worrying about nukes, I’d revert to Oberon corrected the "fluke" and shut all tech down. Screw the Monarda Law, obviously the player doesn’t get the shared vision and the character and player will never truly feel responsibility or ownership towards Amber..

Posted September 12, 2007 9:28 AM
Arref says...

Good comments.

I think you can deal with it straight on. And should tell the Players what's involved.

I'm very fond of the 'social vision' idea you mention. I love to hear Player Characters talking about the ineffable parts of Amber that work into their hearts.

Posted September 12, 2007 7:19 PM