“The archway loomed ahead, perhaps two hundred feet distant. Big, shining like alabaster, and carved with Tritons, sea nymphs, mermaids, and dolphins, it was.”Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber
When Phage Press still spoke of publishing sourcebooks for Amber Diceless Roleplaying, Jason Durall produced As Above, So Below: The Rebma Sourcebook. Art had been commissioned, the manuscript was finished, the author was paid, but for an assortment of reasons the book never saw the light of day. Jason Durall wrote up an explanation of Rebma‘s fate in the back of Lords of Gossamer & Shadow and a bigger explanation on TheRPGSite. A PDF of the manuscript has circled around, passed hand to hand, granting a glimpse into what could have been. (Google shows that there’s currently a copy of the PDF posted on TheTrove.net.)
For those who have never had the honor of seeing this apocryphal sourcebook, here’s a review and summary.
I’ll state right up front that I’ve always loved this book. I’ve stolen from it liberally for my own campaigns, tweaking and modifying it for my own purposes. There are some valid criticisms of it, which I’ll go into later, but I want to state my bias right up front.
It’s Starts with the Tritons
“It was a huge gray door of some slate-like substance, bound in metal, towering to twice my height. I remembered something about the size of Tritons as I regarded that doorway.”Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber
There’s a lot of obligatory content that you would come to expect: new NPCs to flesh out the Rebman Royal Court, notes on culture and geography. They even their own equivalent to the Golden Circle: the Coral Branch, with seven locales described. I’ve stolen big chunks of this content for my own games and I have a couple NPCs that I particularly enjoy.
But the thing that the book introduces that shakes things up is the Tritons.
Based on a couple throwaway lines from Nine Princes in Amber, Durall created an aquatic cosmology with an analog to the Courts of Chaos called the Labyrinth. In the Labyrinth was the Maelstrom, and in the Maelstrom was a Logrus equivalent called the Vortex. Instead of the Serpent, the Tritons have the Leviathan, a monstrous kraken with countless impossibly long tentacles. The king of the Tritons, Lir, was also the progenitor of the Rebmans and possibly forced out of the throne by an ancient war with Amber.
Not everyone has loved the Tritons. On a certain level, they’re just aquatic Lords of Chaos and perhaps not that original. But when I first read the Rebma Sourcebook they sparked my imagination. Rebma went from being an isolated cul de sac to a place with its own complicated history and cosmology.
Even though I don’t use all of the cosmology that Durall created, Tritons have become a permanent part of my Amber games. Even in games that have nothing to do with Rebma, I’m ready to open the toy chest if someone wants something pelagic or squamous.
The other thing I love from the Rebma Sourcebook are the new abilities introduced. These include:
- Reflected Pattern: An alternate and weaker take on Pattern, built around the mirror and water symbolism of Rebma. With it comes Mirror Patterns, the underwater equivalent of Broken Patterns with are distorted fun-house mirror versions of the Pattern.
- Vortex: The Tritons’ node of power, it functions like a Cthulhian Logrus.
- Adaptation: The biology necessary to survive in the oceanic depths, including expanded senses.
- Mirror Wrighting: The Rebman alternative to Trump Artistry, this functions more like a mirror-based cell network. This is honestly one of my favorite additions to the game.
- Empathy: Enhanced psychic abilities for communication in the dark depths of the ocean. It’s worth noting that Empathy was re-used by Durall in Lords of Gossamer & Shadow. Since I tend to nerf Psyche, removing the in-depth telepathic abilities, this is a valuable addition to my game if players want that psionic control.
Many, many years ago, I ran a one-shot called Free Rebma where I broke down the setting and rules a bit more if you want to dive deeper into them.
Worth the Effort?
Since the book never saw print, I can’t exactly recommend whether you should buy it. You might find copies by searching “rebma sourcebook” online. Even if new Amber content was being produced, I’ve gotten the impression that the Rebma Sourcebook still wouldn’t get published. Some people have felt the quality wasn’t good, some people thought that Tritons were just not that interesting as “Courts of Chaos only wet.” They do certainly muddy the waters of the whole Pattern/Logrus duality that Zelazny plays up in the Merlin series.
Obviously, I disagree with the naysayers. As a tool kit for expanding the scope of Rebma as a setting, it offers a lot of things to think about and new toys to play with. Like a lot of the content in Amber, it’s easy to take or leave parts as you so choose.
In a future piece I’m planning on sharing what I’ve done with my own take on the Rebma setting, blending together pieces of the Rebma Sourcebook with other setting pieces I’ve used over the years.