The Body In The Library: Intro & Opening Scene

An Amber Cross-Over to Lords of Gossamer and Shadow

Author’s Note: This is the second post in a series of blog posts which will set forth a complete adventure for use by Diceless GMs and Players. Today’s installment is the Introduction & Conflict. You can find the first in the series, Overview, posted on the blog as well. This will be followed by the following chapters over the next several weeks: Investigation & Complications, Climax & Resolution, and Conclusion & Aftermath. For many of the characters, places and ideas herein – having the Amber DRPG and Lords of Gossamer & Shadow Corebooks might be necessary or desired (e.g. you want a stat block for Brand or know what a Dwimmerlaik is or looks like etc.) – you can obtain copy of the Lords of Gossamer & Shadow Corebook as well as various supplements including The Long Walk (which is a massive supplemental rules and campaign book that contains a wealth of material) from various online retailers.

Background

Brand fell into the Abyss – which experience tends to impact one’s mental state and Brand was of a different nature than most in this regard to begin with – according to multiple sources.  The Abyss is a dark and dangerous rift that connects through Shadow (the Shadow between Gossamer Worlds, not the less than real worlds of Amber) to the realm of the Dwimmerlaik.  Brand came through the Abyss, in a state of lunacy, to the home of the Dwimmerlaik and was captured by Krovaliss who recognized Brand was no ordinary Gossamer world dweller.  Krovaliss decided Brand could be a handy tool and, with the aid of a pair of Dwimmerlaik witches, further broke and conditioned Brand with the hope of using him to some end in the future plans to invade the Grand Stair.

Krovaliss is the warlord of the Dwimmerlaik and has ambitions both within the Dwimmerlaik empire and beyond.  He has forged an unusual pact with Drake, a Gossamer Lord who fills a similar role amongst their number, and who has similar ambitions.  Krovaliss had determined to test his new tool, the re-conditioned Brand, by sending him with some information and a gift to his fellow conspirator Lord Drake.  The gift is an unusual Key.

Brand was provided with the Key that Krovaliss had discovered ages ago in the battle on Finsiterrae in the last battle of the Great War between the Dwimmerlaik and the Gossamer Lords centuries ago. Korvaliss recognized the Key as an object of great power even though its origins and purpose were unknown to him.  He shielded the Key to prevent its detection as he studied it. However, despite many attempts, Korvaliss has failed to find the Door this Key opens but now will deliver it to Drake as a gift and a sign of faith in their pact.  Brand, due to the conditioning he has received, appeared pliant and obedient to the instructions given by Korvaliss: to deliver the Key to Drake and accept any message or gift Drake provides him and return to Krovaliss.

The Key it so happens works on two Doors – both of which lie on the Corridor of Mirrors (the only doors that exist along the entire length of that Corridor) – that mysterious construct of Amber and its multiverse of shadow worlds.  The first Door opens into Shatterlight and the second opens into Khestaros, seat of the Dwimmerlaik Empire.  This makes the Corridor and the Key very strategically important to the Dwimmerlaik, to the Gossamer Lords and to Amber itself.  In addition to connecting the Expanse of Amber, the Courts and the multiverse of their reflected shadow worlds to the Grand Stair, it provides stable shortcut directly between the two rival empires which could be used for a sudden and devastating attack.

The origin of the Key is unknown and its existence and nature is secret to all but a few individuals:  Dayle and Lucien amongst the Gossamer Lords and Mowbray amongst the Dwimmerlaik.   The secret is closely guarded by each of those that know of the Key’s existence and none of those who know of the Key realize that the others know.  Each of these individuals has established spells or other means for detecting the Key should it resurface from the dormancy in which it has lain in Krovaliss’s possession for millennia. So when Brand leaves Shadow to travel with the Key to Drake – all those who know of the Key and wish to possess it are alerted.  Each of these powerful personages takes steps to find and secure the Key.

As Brand journeys away from Shadow his “conditioning” begins to lapse which allows him to escape the bonds of his instructions to a limited degree and he detours toward a private shadow he controls to attempt to heal himself of the “conditioning” and insanity from which he suffers.  He is pursued however by a swarm of strange black creatures that are slightly incorporeal and glowing with dark energy, Brand is attacked and by the swarm and suffers “burns” from the dark energy all over his body severely wounding him. With his strength failing, Brand’s still demented mind seizes on a last refuge of “safety “and he Trumps, using his exalted Trump ability, to Castle Amber’s Library.  The creatures surprisingly are able to follow him and so, desperate for aid grabs a spare pack of Trumps in the Library.  The deck contains the cards representing the player characters and with his last strength Brand sends a powerful Trump compelling that actually draws the characters to his aid.  Brand knows and understands little of the Dwimmerlaik, the Key and the Grand Stair but he knows enough to realize they represent power and a threat and he’ll communicate that to whomever he can before he expires.

Introduction & Opening Scene

Hooking in the Player Characters:

Introducing the player characters into this adventure is largely the same exercise whether you are using new characters or existing characters from an on-going campaign. In either event, you can allow the player characters to dictate their “game start” position and current purpose – where they are and what they are doing before moving into the opening scene of this adventure. 

Depending on the situation and parameters of a GM’s campaign and world-building, the GM may wish to dictate certain restrictions and adjust this opening to reflect those parameters or conditions.  For example, the campaign and world design may not allow the type of Trump effect described above wherein Brand pulls the characters to him via Trump or the GM may wish to require characters to be in Castle Amber – these adjustments can be made to adjust how the characters arrive at the opening scene without disrupting the scene itself.

Character Prologues:  The gamemaster should provide each player character the opportunity for playing their character in a prologue scene that permits some natural introduction of the character and exposition and helps establish key public aspects of their character for the other players.  These scenes should be brief – just a few minutes for each player – but if a couple characters have established relationships or have an idea for a scene/encounter that involves more than one character you can combine character prologue scenes and allot a little extra time.

These scenes should establish a few basic introductory components of the character – appearance, key aspect(s) of personality, role in Amber. Key artifacts in possession etc.  This can be drawn out by asking the player’s leading questions during their prologue scene.  For example, “So Quentin (player character name) is fishing at the Lighthouse of Cabra, what does he take with him for this outing?”

These prologue scenes are especially helpful in a new game to allow players to get the feel for their character’s “voice”, attitudes and style before throwing them headlong into the action.

Opening Scene

Drawn In to Amber:

Once each player has had the opportunity to play out a prologue scene or the scene has reached a suitable moment that would have good dramatic impact for the players, shift to the description of the Opening Scene:

You experience a strange tingling at the very edge of your perception and suddenly you hear in your mind a loud piercing shrill note like a whistle and you feel a contact via Trump has been suddenly established between you and another person whom you do not recognize. Without you doing anything at all to establish or refuse the connection – it is simply there.

You perceive a sudden roar and rush of force and power and you feel yourself drawn though a Trump contact to the strange person on the other end.  You experience the usual sensation of passage through Trump to another location but in this case it feels as if you are being pulled, reeled in by the person on the other end of the contact. You find yourself standing at the doorway to the Library in Castle Amber. You find yourself surrounded by others who appear to have just arrived as you have – looking alternatively bewildered, alarmed, wary, suspicious  – beyond the double doors you hear a loud buzzing noise that increases and decreases in volume.

The GM can deliver this as a single sudden shift of scene for all players at once or the GM can repeat this, modifying slightly the description (e.g. instead of a shrill whistle, a resonating gong etc.) for each player character or group of player characters that are in a scene together and varying details in a way that may make it personal to each player character. Obviously feel free to adapt the language etc. to your own words and voice.

Blocking/Resisting the Contact: A player may attempt to block the contact or resist the “pull through” (by use of Psyche) or assert that they have an artifact or location in a private shadow, that blocks contacts.  The gamemaster should respond that such attempts are brushed aside and reveal that the individual at the other end of the contact clearly has superior Psyche to that of the player and, if the GM wishes to provide further information, he might impart: (a) it appears the individual at the other end of the contact the ability to penetrate the barrier – whether a  shadow or artifact based barrier; and/or (b) the Psyche of the other mind appears to be very unbalanced, deranged, chaotic and the player has impressions of: the Abyss, cold, darkness, burns, torture of various types, madness, a Grand Stair, a horrific looking creature (using a description of the Dwimmerlaik – see images from the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow Corebook), the Key and other images that may provide information or clues about what’s happened to Brand, where he has been and what he has experienced. For example, you might describe what Brand experienced as he feel into the Abyss, such as an image of losing his grip on Dierdre and seeing her fall away separate from him in the Abyss or a description of Drake as the individual Brand was compelled by Korvaliss to seek out and deliver the Key.

You can reveal more information and greater detail based on the player characters own Psyche and Trump ability. If the Player has Trump Mastery it can be revealed to the player that this is a powerful Trump trick that requires a great deal of Psyche and exertion to accomplish and only a couple of Elders would be able to do so.  For a player located in a shadow with a barrier to Trump contact, the player who controls the Shadow can be told that the barrier was penetrated by a Trump Master of great skill and great Psyche.  In the case of a player with an artifact that blocks Trump contact the gamemaster can indicate the artifact appears to have had no effect or has been circumvented by a greater power/ability.

A player character attempting to communicate with the individual at the other end of the contact (i.e Brand) will find the deranged and injured consciousness unable to respond with anything beyond a few words of mad ramblings.  The GM could use this as an opportunity to provide a clue or tidbit of information through Brand’s ramblings, such as “The broken rainbow must be protected.”(Referring to Shatterlight) or “They Key is to be delivered to the duck.” (Referring to Drake).

The gamemaster should continue to address player actions/questions in response to the “Trump contact” until the player characters are all actually assembled outside the door to the Library of Castle Amber.   In the event you have a player who is not an Amberite (such as a Lord of Chaos), you can inform them their character can surmise they have been drawn to Castle Amber based on descriptions of the place they have read or heard from others – though unlike Amberite characters who have spent time in the Castle before they may not be aware the doorway in front of them leads to the Library.

Outside the Library:

Allow the players a *very* brief period to react to their new location, the presence of the others, etc. and then continue:

The loud buzzing sound behind the doors fluctuates, growing softer, then louder and you hear a series of animalistic grunts or cries whenever the buzzing grows loudest.  The hallway you stand in is much as you remember it but the Castle seems devoid of activity at the present. You are one of several individuals standing here, what do you do?

The gamemaster should briefly take a single statement of action from each player such as “I try the door” or “I draw my sword” or “I see Quentin and ask him what is going on?”  In addition, if not discussed in their prologue scenes, the player should describe how they currently appear including any key items they carry that are obvious to a quick observation. 

One factor to consider is existing relationships between players — if the player characters do not all know one another, this can affect the dynamic of sudden introductions  or if they know one another, the gamemaster should encourage the interactions in the situation be shaped by those existing relationships – if PCs are rivals they may suspect one another of a trap or other misadventure, if allies they may quickly collaborate to compare notes on arrival, investigate the buzzing sound etc. The gamemaster should encourage such roleplaying and create opportunities for interesting interactions by doing things such as locating rival characters next to each other physically etc.

Here are some key facts for the gamemaster to use in responding to and resolving these initial brief reactionary actions by the PCs which should be resolved in descending order of Warfare rank:

  • It is apparently early morning in Castle Amber and there is little activity stirring
  • If a character goes to open the doors, they discover the Library is locked from within
  • Attempts to Trump Amber Elders will get no response for a variety of reasons, no connection, actively blocked, there is an aftereffect of disruption to Trumps from what Brand did to pull them here – the GM should respond to such attempts based on the specifics of current situation in their campaign and what the current status of an Elder NPC may be etc.

If a PC attempts to break down the doors or open the doors by any means, such attempt should be successful- whether use of spell, force etc..  If they have Bad Stuff perhaps, they get a splinter or trip and fall flat on their face or some minor effect but they will get the doors open.  If the PCs appear distracted with other actions, indicate that they hear a verbal cry from inside the Library followed by the sound of a body hitting the floor. 

Inside the Library:

When the doors are open, reveal the following:

Inside the Library is a scene of destruction — furniture is tipped over, books and papers scattered about in a blizzard of chaos (small C).  In the midst of it all a prostrate figure lies face up in the center of the room scrabbling with its hands madly in an attempt to fend off a dark swarming cloud of darkness filled with eerie swirling pinpoints of dark light that hovers over the individual. Two other similar “swarm-clouds” hover nearby. The buzzing sound you heard appears to emanate from three dark clouds and the sound surges with the movement of the swarming clouds as they thrust toward the figure in what clearly seems to be an attack of some kind. Neither the person nor the swarm-clouds appear to be aware of your presence.  How do you react?

Again the GM should poll the players for a brief statement of their character’s immediate reaction and actions in response to the tableau before them.  The swarm of dark light/energy is an Umbra Swarm – a pure form of destructive negative energy.

The PCs may take several possible courses of action in response to the tussle in the Library:

  • Attack the Umbra Swarms/Assist the Person on the Floor
  • Observe and Gather Additional Information
  • Other Courses

Attacking the Umbra Swarm/Assisting the Person on the Floor:

Here is a run-down of the effects of using different options to attack the Umbra Swarms:

Attacking with Physical Weapons – Physical attacks of any type against the swarm-clouds appear to have no effect – this is true even of special artifact weapons.  They simply pass through the Umbra Swarm and do not even appear to make any contact or impression.  A PC can be told that there is no physical mass, even slight mass, to the swarm-clouds  – they appear entirely incorporeal and out of phase with reality.  The swarm-clouds do not react to such attacks at all.

Attacking the Swarm with Psychic Attacks – A character may attack with a Psychic attack and may have some effect against the swarm-clouds but it will not be a pleasant experience.  This is the psychic equivalent of punching bucket of sewage – you’ll hit it, you’ll make an impact and it will make your skin crawl.  Characters with ranked Psyche will sense an extremely alien intelligence and disrupt the swarm-clouds such that the clouds will physically withdraw toward the opposite end of the library briefly and the buzzing sound will diminish to a noticeably lower level than at any point since first encountered.  This will last for a period of a minute before the swarm-clouds will surge back toward the figure on the floor, ignoring the attacker.  The attacker will also realize the swarm-clouds are a singular entity even though they are three distinct swarm-clouds.

If several players attempt to collaborate with Psychic attacks or if an exceptionally strong Psyche character (e.g. Psyche in excess of 75 points), the attack will not only result in the effect on the swarm-clouds noted above but upon withdrawal, the noise from the swarm/cloud will change in pitch getting higher pitched as the swarm/cloud begins to contract in size from the size of a large chair down to a baseball before exploding in a flash of “blackness” or dark light and disappearing.  This effect can be achieved on one swarm-cloud but will not change the behavior of the other Umbra Swarms and cannot be replicated in a similar coordinated attack on the second or third Umbra Swarm.

Attacking the Swarm with Sorcery or Power Words/Cantrips – Sorceries, similar to physical attacks, appear to have no effect on the swarm-clouds.  Depending on the nature of the spell and it’s intended effects – the GM may impart to the player some information such as the singular nature of the entity, its alien intelligence and the fact that it appears resistant to magic.

Attacking the Swarm with Pattern – The Umbra Swarm will not react well to use of Pattern against it.  The effects will be to enflame the Umbra Swarm, with it increasing in size and increasing the buzzing noise and not altering its behavior and attacks against the prone figure on the floor.  The Pattern user attempting to attack the Swarm with Pattern will suffer a headache of severe intensity.  The Pattern User will however learn that the Umbra Swarm is controlled by alien intelligence, is not connected to any known Power in Amber (though if the GM wishes he might offer some connection to the Abyss) and is from outside the known multiverse.

Broken Pattern will not suffer as severe effects as those noted for Pattern if used – but the Umbra Swarm will seem to seek to join or absorb the Broken Pattern and expand the flaws and faults of such a Pattern.

Attacking the Swarm with Logrus – The use of Logrus against the Umbra Swarm will not effect the Swarm’s behavior but the Logrus Master may gain information not available through other means.  The Logrus user will sense an “affinity” between the Swarm and the Logrus tendril will be drawn into the Swarm.  An Advanced Logrus user will also learn that the energy of the Umbra Swarm is connected to or a form of Primal Chaos though in a form that is unknown.

In all, attacks on the Umbra Swarm may temporarily distract the energy, allow players to learn a little bit of information about its source but will ultimately not appear to dispel or deter the attacks on the figure on the floor.

Assisting the Figure on the Floor:

Players may attempt to shield or go to the aid of the figure on the floor.  Getting close to the figure, within a few feet, it will dawn on the players that the figure is in fact a very much changed Prince Brand.  He appears haggard, thin to the point of emaciation and with dark blue-black colored “burns” on his skin and clothing that appear to come from the Umbra Swarm making contacts.  His eyes appear unfocused and his cries are of pain and incoherent noises.  More on what Brand can tell them below.

If the players come up with some inspired response to attacking the Umbra Swarm or shielding Brand, or after a few moments of attempting to attack or contain the Umbra Swarm, the GM may describe the following:

There is a sharp screeching sound at the far end of the library and you see a vertical almost eight-foot gash of black energy opening in midair between two bookshelves with nothing but a roiling black cloudy darkness beyond.  The swarm clouds withdraw from their attacks on the figure on the floor and retreat toward the rift moving faster than you have observed to this point. Upon reaching the rift there is an intensifying of the buzzing sound as the swarm cloud enters the rift and vanishes into darkness beyond.

Any attempts to halt the swarm clouds from entering the rift or to hold the rift open should be allowed but unsuccessful.  Entry into the rift should appear very, very dangerous and inadvisable and the rift should close immediately after the last swarm cloud enters it. If for some reason the characters make it into and through the rift because the GM decides they can succeed given their choices, powers and actions – so be it but you likely need to throw the rest of this adventure away and start one with your group trapped in Shadow near Khaestros – the Dwimmerlaik home world – and may the gods have mercy on their souls!

Attempts to probe the rift before it closes can, if the GM deems successful, reveal more information.  For example the GM may describe the image of three Dwimmerlaik standing concentrating focusing on some ritual (presumably the ritual of opening the rift, controlling the Umbra Swarms etc. – the GM can gauge how much information to impart, how to describe what they sense/observe etc. and the players can drawn conclusions they wish).

The Body on the Floor (Prince Brand):

When the players can get to the body on the floor, if they have not realized already, they can identify him as an emaciated, weakened, severely injured and changed Prince Brand of Amber (which in most cases may be Brand’s first appearance in your game or the first contact characters have had with Brand himself) and he should seem very different from the tales they have heard, portraits or Trumps they may have seen, etc. but still recognizable as the long lost Prince who fell into the Abyss.

Brand appears haggard, emaciated, with a crazed look in his eyes, he is dressed simply, no armor or weapons – feel free to describe his clothing in manner that works in context of your campaign or vision for Brand. He has black “scorch marks” all over his clothing and exposed skin but examination will show these are actually more in the nature of black wounds and decay like gangrene.

Brand will lock eyes with a player that is close, clutch at them or their clothing and babble but he doesn’t appear entirely “here” as he rambles and babbles he won’t respond to questions:

“So cold, so dark, I have to get out…..Shatterlight!  They have to be warned, the Enemy is coming – all of them….All of it will be destroyed…All of us will be destroyed…the Mirrors, find the Mirrors, the Doors are there, the Key – but don’t open the wrong one…it’s too late for me but save them, they don’t even know.”

Brand may reply to a  few questions at this point but his answers will repeat much of the above in different form, cadence, order – he should come across clearly as a madman.

Questions:

Who is they?

Drake….Vala….all of them….the Lords of the Stair

What is Shatterlight?

Home….for some of them but easiest place to find them

Who is the Enemy?

Them – the dark monsters of Shadow, the Ancient Enemy…..the Dwimmerlaik

What Mirrors?

The Hall – find the ones in the Hall but beware it leads to the wrong place.

What leads to the wrong place?

One of the Doors – the Key opens all the Doors beyond the Mirrors – I don’t know which one

What is the Stair?

I – I – don’t know – its just what connects everything and everywhere.

Players will of course ask things not anticipated here – like how did Brand get here, what’s in the Abyss etc. feel free to answer in short cryptic responses with “informative non-information” as necessary and appropriate.

Allow 2-3 minutes of questions or examination or other action in real time but Brand is dying and cannot be saved and will expire suddenly without a death curse being articulated.

In terms of possessions, most immediately apparent is that Brand is clutching a set of Trumps. Players can easily take them from the weakened Brand.  A close examination reveals the Trumps are crudely fashioned and are drawn in a style likely unfamiliar to the players (they were drawn by Brand himself) and contain images of each of the player characters. This is a point where the GM can describe the images which may be of the characters at any point in their history, not necessarily just as they appear currently. It is a good opportunity to tie the characters more directly to what is happening – using images from the characters history or backstory – particularly from moments that may have been pivotal or highly emotional points in the character’s history. The likenesses are rough not exact as if drawn by an artist from descriptions or barely remember images/memories. For any Trump Artists examining these “Trump”- the images seem part way between Trump Sketch and full-blown Trump and have limited utility/power.

A further search will reveal two more items of interest: (1) a Key and (2) a set of Icons. The Key can be described however the GM wishes, you can do an image search for an antique key that strikes your fancy for help with visualizing and describing this key.  Examination of the key beyond mere physical observation can reveal that the Key is magical, powerful and has a psyche and a name.  This is Kolwynia “The Key That Was Lost” (a little homage to Roger Zelazny, the creator of Amber, by referencing his non-Amber novel Jack of Shadows).  The Key will not psychically communicate with characters but the identity and presence of psyche can be detected. The GM can add specific mechanical powers to the Key to whatever extent they wish.  A psychic link or examination of the Key will reveal the Key’s primary purpose is the opening of a Door that lies on the Corridor of Mirrors and this purpose can also be sensed from examination of the Key using a Power like Pattern Lens or magical examination of the Key.

The Icons are like Trumps – a means of communication amongst those who are or aspire to be Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. Icons come in many forms and the GM can choose whatever form he wishes, some examples could be little carved figurines depicting the subject of the Icon, cameos or charms on a bracelet, coins with the lines of the subject minted on them etc.  Brand is in possession of two Icons – one depicting his Dwimmerlaik captor and “master” Krovaliss and the other a Gossamer Lord, Drake, Lord of the Falling Wall.  These figures can be described but the players are unlikely to be able to discern their actual identities. Players may not recognize Icons for what they are but handling and focusing on them should give them a reaction very much like the beginning of a Trump contact. The use of the Icons to contact and communicate with either of these individuals is likely to provoke a hostile response in these individuals unless they have some reason to know who the characters are and interest in treating with them (which could occur later in this adventure).

Conflicts & Next Steps

A dead Brand, a strange Key and a Trump of the Corridor of Mirrors, ramblings about the Dwimmerlaik, the Grand Stair, Drake, a great evil – there have emerged plenty of potential conflicts and there is plenty for the player characters to sort out, investigate and pursue – including dealing with the warnings of a coming conflict.  We’ll take these up and the potential player character actions and how to respond in the next installment, Investigation & Complications.

Published by adamgamer

Husband, father, attorney by day, tabletop RPG game writer, designer and enthusiast by night. A long time fan and player/GM of Amber Diceless RPG and a contributor to Rite Publishing's Lords of Gossamer and Shadow Diceless RPG and a freelance writer for other game publishers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: