"Pressure Which Refines":
Pressure Which Refines is something akin to a sequel to Relative Difficulties, it's spiritual predecessor. Most of the events and incidents from Relative Difficulties also occurred in Pressure Which Refines prior to the starting point of the campaign; however, many have been altered. This is mostly to accommodate the changes in the basic paradigm of the game and the loss of characters central to certain storylines, as well as to eliminate events that have been considered too screwy to remain.
In effect, Pressure Which Refines is based on Relative Difficulties but is separate from it; this campaign can be said to be set in a kind of "parallel universe" of the original Relative Difficulties campaign.
This history is more concise than the history for Relative Difficulties, because of the work of Rachel Poxon and the author on their character journals, the sources for this document. Of course, this means that this history is also inaccurate in some ways, as all the facts are not known to the players of the campaign, as is to be expected.
Several new members of the royal family of Amber, Joe McClane (played by Chris Tomkinson), Tristan (played by Robin Richards), Morianna (played by Rachel Poxon), Victor (played by Justin Parker) and a few others, all arrived in Amber during what turned out to be particularly turbulent times. Not long after arriving in Amber by different routes all but Morianna had walked the Pattern; she decided against doing so at that time, claiming that she did not wish to suffer the same dire exertions as the others. She had her own advantages, however, and was not altogether powerless.
At a ball held in Amber soon after, presumably to celebrate the arrival of new family members, Joe first met Florence, the youngest daughter of a prominent noble family in Amber, Victor met Julie, from a slightly less prominent noble family, and Morianna met Julian, each presumably making a very lasting impression.
A number of peculiar occurrences were taking place in Shadow, some of which the group were sent to investigate, no doubt to test their mettle. The first involved a race of furry semi-arboreal creatures known as Zithians. Some unknown individual or group was apparently making use of a Broken Pattern to mutate these low-tech creatures into dangerous beasts, possibly to create some kind of attack force. A skilled shapeshifter was found to be involved, suggesting a connection with forces from the Courts of Chaos, and a group that left a black rose as a calling card may have been involved in the scheme in some way. The army-building was stopped, but the motives behind the design were never uncovered.
Next the group was sent to the Courts of Chaos, ostensibly on a information gathering mission but more likely to just learn about Chaos and it's people. Since their guide in Chaos was Caine it is likely the visit served another purpose or ten. While there Joe forged a friendship with a certain Gilbert of House Gilgamesh, a "mercenary House" that sells the services of it's highly capable military forces to other Houses. At this time Tristan also made known to Corwin his wish to somehow reclaim his dead wife, Elizabeth, from beyond the grave. It is unknown exactly how this was achieved, but this apparent act of necromancy was successful and his beloved wife was returned to him.
During this period it first came to light that Caine was Joe's father, and that they did not get on.
Upon returning to Amber, Joe proposed to Florence. She accepted, and their wedding was arranged for a few months later.
At this point another new member of the family, Danan (played by Karl Fordham), came to Amber.
The group of young ones were sent to investigate the appearance of a plague in a Shadow close to Amber that had begun to make it's presence known in Amber itself. A period of investigation led to the discovery that a large corporation was responsible for the development of the plague; several sources provided evidence that it was done under the direction of a member of the Chaos House of Cullket, called Julian. The powers-that-be made an agreement and left his fate in the hands of their young detectives, who were sent to capture and interrogate him. They were not entirely successful as, once again, the true motives of the players behind the scenes were never discovered.
No sooner had they returned to Amber for Joe and Florence's wedding that these mysterious players appeared to move into a higher gear. Attacks on several members of the royal family preceded more wide-spread actions, many marked by the appearance of the signature black rose. Some family members were apparently driven into hiding while others went missing after receiving injuries; Julian was left for dead by unknown assailants while both Benedict and Caine left parts of limbs behind before vanishing. The younger family members were either taken into Shadow by others or left, for all intents and purposes, to fend for themselves.
One group, consisting of Morianna and Victor, found themselves with extra company: Ulrich von Bek (played by Karl Fordham, who had relegated Danan to NPC status), a previously unknown member of the family; and Tim, one of the family known to them but seriously injured. They soon retreated into Shadow, leaving Amber to be occupied by whatever force had seized control of it.
Returning to Amber after a few side trips in Shadow the group entered Rebma, whereupon Ulrich revealed the messages he carried to Llewella from Andreas of Amber. Not long after they participated in the Defence of Rebma, a conflict which was decisive enough to keep the forces from the land from bothering the watery realm ever again.
After the battle Ulrich walked the Pattern and the group were taken by Andreas (who had arrived at the end of the battle) to a rendezvous in Shadow with Joe and other members of the family. There they were told of the nature of their foe.
Eric had apparently returned from the dead and taken control of Amber, imprisoning Random and somehow erecting a barrier that prevented entry into Amber by Trump. His goals beyond the domination of Amber were unknown. What was more, Chaos looked to be taking advantage of Amber's weakness (mostly the lack of Benedict) and was gathering a massive force to attack Amber on top of everything else.
Plans were made, discussed and discarded. Fiona and Bleys put in a number of appearances, proving they still lived; Tristan and his wife had also escaped capture or worse; and Dworkin appeared, but claimed that he was unable to take an active role in events because any action on his part would cause some factions in Chaos to use his intervention as a justification for a religious war against Amber, a war that a weakened Amber could not survive.
The Resistance moved to the world of Corwin's Pattern, where the hostile forces all around them were unable to reach. There it was decided that a reconnaissance mission into Amber was required.
Andreas and Intruder took Ulrich, Joe and Tristan to Amber while Guinevere, a woman possessing the mind of a destroyed Trump construct, were dispatched to stop a convoy bearing strange loads into Amber.
In Amber it was found that Julian still lived, though he was still very weak; Gerard had retained control of much of the Amber fleet; and that food shortages amongst the occupying troops had begun to create an atmosphere that caused cruelty to spread like a cancer. Stopping off to rescue Joe's wife and Victor's lover and fiancée also revealed that Morianna was a shapeshifter; she had been impersonating Intruder to allow him to secretly guard Victor and Guinevere against attack.
With the evidence gathered in Amber it became clear that Eric's forces were terribly undersupplied. It appeared that he was in fact planning more of a temporary holding action rather than an absolute occupation; his true motives remained unclear, complicating matters.
Before long the group was given another task; some form of unbalancing force was present in a Shadow close to Amber and they were to investigate it. Tristan found other duties elsewhere, while Joe remained in Corwin's Paris to train medics for the upcoming and inevitable war.
They found that a country in that Shadow called Tristram had been invaded by a demonic horde that had once been cast out by a legendary hero. A strange plague accompanied their return and the inhabitants of the region had fled. While they were preparing to seek out the source of the demons (the castle of the slain king, descendant of the ancient hero) they encountered a traveller, a mercenary called Zatharuss Jones (played by Chris Tomkinson, who had dropped Joe). He joined them in exchange for an equal share in any treasure they found in the castle; later Ulrich and Morianna somehow recognised him as another member of the family.
A long trek to the stronghold was fraught with danger but with some ingenuity they covertly entered the castle and made their way down to the caverns below. The four of them were forced to fight their way through a substantial number of foes to reach their destination: a portal to the demon world in the depths of the mountain below the fortress. Destroying it, they fled into Shadow and took a well-earned rest.
Ulrich tried to convince Zatharuss of the nature of his ancestry, but while he was unable to persuade him on that score he did hire him for the duration of the campaign to liberate Amber. He also offered to present Zatharuss at court in Amber and see to it that he got the opportunity to walk the Pattern, if he desired to do so.
Given a choice between investigating the home Shadow of a race known to be helping Eric or attempting an information gathering mission in a place where these creatures worked, the group chose the latter. Victor remained behind to work with Andreas, being unsuited to stealth and infiltration, while Intruder took Ulrich, Morianna and Zatharuss to the appropriate world. Disguised as locals the three explored ways of entering the central tower of the main city in order to get access to the information stored there; thus the leaders of the Resistance could ascertain how much the enemy knew.
After a few false starts, shapeshifting proved to the answer; Morianna used her ability to duplicate people to gain gain entry to the central computer system. Herself and Ulrich made use of this method of entry, using Trump to get the other two in. Intruder then used his more advanced knowledge of computers to plant a number of hidden devices in the central computer.
While resting in Shadow Julian, now healed from his wounds, paid a visit just before their refuge came under attack. Escaping to yet another Shadow, the opportunity for some real rest was taken. This all too brief period of relaxation was interrupted by the need to carry out another mission in Shadow.
Another Shadow was showing signs of some kind of peculiar intervention. Strange magical forces were at work in that world, causing a series of bizarre 'structural' imbalances in Shadow around it. While Zatharuss stayed with Andreas to help him on an assassination mission, Ulrich, Morianna and Victor were sent in to investigate and located a magical, tropical valley hidden in the frozen heart of a tundra. The inhabitants were extremely long-lived and very magically powerful; they had moved their entire valley when their homeworld no longer had the energy to sustain them in the manner they were accustomed to. Their prodigious use of magical energy in their new home had caused the magical imbalance.
This was only part of the problem, however; agents of Eric had approached their leaders and offered them some kind of deal. Some of the valley people had rebelled against this decision, causing Eric to send his Black Riders against them.
After spending some time looking around the group came into contact with one of the leaders, who revealed that Eric had offered them payment to create some peculiar energy-focusing devices for him. They had finished the prototypes and built a fully working version but he had not paid them. Eric had the finished product but the people would be willing to give over the prototypes in exchange for the payment Eric had offered. This turned out to be a number of surprisingly mundane items, including caviar and an automobile.
Armed with objects that would hopefully give the Resistance an idea of what Eric was intending to do, the exiled family members took stock and held a family gathering to exchange news and celebrate their successes to date. At that meeting it was learned that Andreas had gone missing in action while Zatharuss had barely escaped intact. Every known and living member of the family outside of Amber appeared, except for Caine, who was still missing. Benedict made an appearance, as did Sand, Martin, Julian, Gerard, Fiona, Bleys and Corwin. Random was said to be imprisoned in Amber while Florimel had the run of the castle but was forbidden to leave. Llewella was still in Rebma, and Michael was free somewhere in Shadow. Sand was asked about Delwin but no details were given.
The next morning the family split up again to evade yet another attack. Bleys took most of the younger members to a place of safety, while Victor was left to fend for himself. Morianna, Zatharuss and Ulrich were then directed to another place of safety by Bethal, who appeared to be 'just in the area'. In a little place somewhere in Shadow they encountered first one of the "cats" used by the Dragonfolk as scouts and troops, then one of the Dragonfolk in person, Garath. After a rest he took them on his back through Shadow to join a caravan of troops on it's way to the farthest fringes of Arden. There gathered an army ready to attack Amber and free it from it's cruel ruler.
Victor had already arrived in the camp, and after being given a short while to acclimatise the foursome were sent out by Benedict to capture an important mercenary leader in Eric's forces. This was easier than would be expected, as the mercenary chief in question appeared to have made prior arrangements with Benedict regarding turning coat. With Benedict's forces now adequately furnished with extra men and useful intelligence on the enemy, the attack was set in motion.
The early stages of the only true military conflict of the War of Usurpation involved skirmishes in and around Arden. Before the 'invading' forces could progress further towards Amber, however, they had to remove some form of minefield that was preventing movement across Garnath and the surrounding terrain. Here the Dragonfolk proved helpful; several of their number blasted the areas in question to destroy them, allowing the troops to continue into a regular fight between the two main ground forces.
At this point the Dragonfolk were effectively taken out of the battle by the presence of other dragons they claimed were ancient enemies; Eric had clearly called upon their foes to counteract the advantage such creatures gave his opponents.
While Benedict led an elite force towards the Eastern Stair, including Ulrich, Victor and Zatharuss, Corwin and Bleys had brought another contingent up the heavily guarded western route into Amber, through the mountains. On the way to the Stairs Benedict surprised everyone by publicly calling Ulrich his son.
Benedict then led an astounding attack up the eastern face of Kolvir; he fought his way up to the very gates of Amber itself, unlike Corwin and Bleys who each did only part of the route. Taking his ease at the top, Benedict let his men loose, very nearly at the same time as Corwin and Bleys' forces reached the walls at the other side of the castle.
The now combined army fought their way to the gates of the castle and beyond. Much of the effort of those members of the family involved in the fighting seemed concentrated on reaching the throne room, where Eric was almost certainly to be found.
He was there, standing beside a large version of one of his strange energy-focusing devices. Just as he appeared to be ready to activate it a shot rang out; all turned to see a man swathed in a heavy cloak, holding a rifle, standing on the main balcony. In response to Eric's frantic insistence that he had killed whoever the cloaked man was, the figure leapt over the rail of the very high balcony. Then there was the sound of a heavy blow; everyone turned back to see that Gerard had punched Eric out cold, effectively ending the war.
But only when Gerard and Ulrich fetched Random from his place of internment in the dungeons was the conflict truly over.
The only thing left to be seen to after Eric's short reign (about two years, though it seemed shorter to those in Shadow) was the matter of the mines left in Arden and much of the countryside. They were at least partly magical in nature and possessed an adaptive ability to avoid detection. Ulrich was given the mission to seek out skilled military engineers in Shadow and hire them to eliminate the threat. He took Victor and Morianna with him and after several false starts and a brief respite or two they managed to locate a suitable group. They offered them several benefits (an increased lifespan for one; an advantage gained by living in Amber) in exchange for their services and they accepted. Once their skilled had been tested on some actual mines they were set to work in Amber.
Recent events have revealed that one or more mysterious groups are active in Shadow. The group/s is/are involved in covert cross-Shadow commerce, apparently with the intent of building and funding a military force. Exactly who is behind it, why it s being done and who they intent to attck is currently publicly unknown.
Numerous strange individuals have also been seen in Shadow and in and around Amber. Some conceal their identities by wearing cloaks; others wear good quality pinstripe suits. Sometimes these mystery men (or women?) simply confuse people by their appearances; others have been known to help or to hinder. It is not known which group(s) they belong to, or which of them is truly friend or foe.
Are all these strange activities and encounters in Shadow all part of some scheme conceived by Eric, still active despite his defeat? Is Chaos preparing for some move against Amber? Is it something or someone else entirely?
Only time will tell.....