It was shortly after I heard the news that Erick Wujcik died, back in 2008. He was the one who introduced me to true roleplaying gaming, through the Amber Diceless Roleplaying game he created, and, in the process, refined roleplaying gaming into true role playing as a game. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late 2007 and died in mid 2008 from complications resulting from it.
I was not playing in any Amber campaign at the time, but I was playing in a loose series of DragonStorm games, and I decided to run one that involved my favorite Amber character, Brigid of Amber, Seelie Crown Princess of all Faerie, as a tribute and memorial to Erick. (I could have used the Amber character of Damarian, who was actually from Erick’s GenCon Amber campaign, but I chose Brigid because she would work better for what I wanted to do here: mainly, she could be seen as as vulnerable as necessary for the scenario.)
My biggest problem was in not allowing the character to overshadow the other characters or the world itself. On her own, Brigid was as powerful as the most powerful beings in the campaign world, able to stand toe-to-toe with the biggest dragons and nastiest opponents and even use all of their special abilities: she was even capable of changing the world to suit her own desires should she desire. (She rarely does, however.) I’ve been in games where the gamemaster’s NPCs have overwhelmed the player characters, and I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted the player characters (and thereby the players) to be the centerpiece of the scenario.
Therefore, the player characters encounter Brigid as she comes riding into camp. (A camp in the middle of a blasted terrain, where all life was warped and changed to the worse: this will be important, later.) A totally exhausted Brigid riding a lathered, barely-able-to-walk steed. As she almost falls out of the saddle, she explains that something is chasing her, something that she didn’t have the power to defeat by herself, and she shifted Shadow to find the place where she would find that power, because tirelessly pursuing her was a Fire Angel. 1
A Fire Angel. A walking skeleton of a dragon with muscles and sinew formed out of elemental fire. (At least, that’s the way I described it.)
FIRE ANGEL — Large winged predator. F.A. Are [sic] extremely strong and have a lot of redundacies [sic] in their body systems, including three hearts. They are natural Shadow travelers and can be used to track (and assassinate) persons away in the Shadows. F.A. usually hunt in pairs. Natural habitat of F.A. is near the Courts of Chaos. F.A. are extremely dangerous but trainable beings. — Amber Dictionary
Fire Angels are the Courts of Chaos’ most dangerous weapons. They have to specially captured and trained to hunt one person and one person only. In the Merlin series, one is set out after Corwin, and it was difficult even for him to defeat it. Brigid is not nearly as battle-experienced as Corwin and could not normally survive being targeted by one, but she is capable of (and, through her Pattern artifact steed, assisted in) shifting Shadow to find the one place she would find the power to defeat it, even if she didn’t know what that power would be. That is how she managed to wind up on the world of Grandilar. (The reason she didn’t return to Amber or call any of her cousins or relatives to aid her was that primarily she wanted to demonstrate that she could take care of herself even under these circumstances. Calling for help was against the rules here, but shifting Shadows to find help was different, that was using her inherent ability as an Amberite to defend herself and was accepted among the Family as a suitable excuse.)
When she arrived, the characters could tell she was on the last remnants of her energy. (That’s Brigid: she pushes herself way too much, mainly because she doesn’t know the limits of her powers.) One of the characters managed to talk her into sitting down and getting something to eat before the Fire Angel arrived. That’s when the fight began.
It was a little touch-and-go for a while, but at least nobody tried casting fire magic at the thing. (My response would have been “How much did you heal it?”) It was only when one of the witches (earth priestesses) cast an Earth Power spell that Brigid realized just what power this world possessed that could battle a Fire Angel.
Earth magic, particularly elemental earth-based attacks. (As I said: “What puts out fire?” “Water,” one person answered. “What else? What else is elementally opposed to fire?” According to the way I laid out the elemental forces, Water and Earth surround Fire and stifle it, Air is across from it and nurtures it.) Brigid herself is primarily Fire and Air and Water, and Earth is her weakest element, so it was especially difficult for her to confront a Fire Angel. (Especially if she transformed into her primal avatar form, a phoenix.)
The Earth Power spell causes the earth to erupt underneath the target. It is a spell that can be augmented with additional spell power from the caster, and it is something that also can be augmented by others using special abilities. Brigid helped the witch recharge her magic, who then used all of it to cast the Earth Power spell. Brigid, herself a spellcaster, used the last of her own power to duplicate the spell, drawing what she could from the ambient magic of the world on a moment’s notice.
There was a moment when the number of dice being rolled for damage rivaled any Champions damage dice roll, but the effect was what I was expecting: the Fire Angel was destroyed.
And then Brigid fainted.
Shadowfax, her steed, appeared in human form to catch her before she landed, tsk-ing that she always pushed herself too much. But, given her supernatural and Amber heritage, she would be up and around in the morning.
And so it was: Brigid was not entirely recovered from her ordeal but recovered enough to repay the PCs by doing something that only an Amberite could do: change the world. After a long period of concentration, the land around them changed. It was now a vibrant land, full of primal magic, like what the world of Grandilar was like before Death Day and the Dragon Storms. And it had always been that way, nobody except the the characters ever knew it was anything else. (“She changed history.” said one of the players. “No, it was always this way, so she never changed anything.” “So she changed the past.” <facepalm>)
In addition, Brigid left them one of her Trumps, telling them to contact her if they ever really needed her help, but that they really, really had to need it or else she’d just come and take it away from them. Ever since, no one had ever needed to use it, and most players probably don’t even remember that its there: the player whose character eventually was given custody of it moved way years ago, and most of the other players aren’t a part of the gaming group any longer for other reasons.
But maybe one day, I’ll be playing at a convention or event and another GM will come over and say “Someone is trying to Trump Brigid: they need help.”
And she will respond, and she will help, because that’s what she does.
- Well, what she said was “Fire ¿§¶‡µ†€£?” because the word “angel” did not translate into the native tongue because such beings were not a part of the mythology. This despite her innate ability to communicate with anyone and mostly anything.