Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A is for Amber

So I've decided to make a last-minute plunge into the A to Z challenge, and wanted to talk about worlds. Fantasy worlds, yeah, and mostly gaming fantasy worlds, or at least worlds that have a gaming components, but in general largely broad-scale settings for campaigns and stories.

And a lot of them start with "A"; Azeroth (WoW), Athas (Dark Sun), Ansalon (Dragonlance), and Abeir-Toril (Forgotten Realms). But I'm going to go with Amber.

I found Amber in my high school years - a series of slender books,written by Roger Zelazny, first serialized in Galaxy magazine. (and which got me reading Galaxy in the first place). It was a great high concept - a multiverse of similar shadow-worlds, differing by details from world to world, and at its center Amber itself, supposedly real and unchanging, ruled by a family of quasi-immortals. Familial conspiracy and swordplay (gunpowder doesn't work in Amber) and tarot cards. What is not to love? The name itself captured both the immortal nature of the setting and how it serves as a trap for those within.

Years later, I discovered that Zelazny was working with the philosophy of Plato's Cave, the idea that reality is just a shadow of a greater, deeper  reality. Taking old stuff and reforming it in fiction - cool idea.

Zelazny's Map of Amber, from Galaxy Magazine
Gaming connection? Eric Wujcik put together an Amber Diceless RPG, which was notable for its lack of dice as a resolution mechanic, instead working on ranking system (If you are the best swordsman, then the second-best swordsman will never beat you at swordcraft). In the few cases I've seen it, the games either take a wondrous leap of the imagination on the part of the players embracing the world, or ends up with players trying to redefine all other conflicts in terms of what their characters are good at (which is probably a lesson for us all).

The original five books of the Amber Chronicles are extremely good and endure re-readings and the passage of time. A second five-book set doesn't hold up as well for me, though I'm not sure if it is because it is revisiting a magical place (making it less magical) or simply that I am not longer the high-school kid who, looking for more fantasty after Middle Earth, found Amber.

More later,