Each Amber campaign struggles to bring life to the Courts of Chaos. The implications of the novels throw intriguing light upon the Courts, yet do not illuminate each question raised by the tale. Here I speak then, of my own working premise to the Courts.
I respect Roger Zelazny to the highest degree as an author and a poet. Any elements herein which contradict or lessen his work are my own. Please feel free to comment.
Consult the Houses of Courts of Chaos for overall glimpse and political notes.
I'll start by talking about who the Chaosians seem to be; they are the most successful and oldest civilization in the universe. Judging by the apparent age of the universe, the number of failed civilizations we can document, and the recorded history of the Courts, this accomplishment alone is probably the single most important factor in looking across the length of Shadow at our distant cousins. They have history on their side.
The Chaosians are masters of all.
The Chaosians are learned and expert in any field that their Traditions have found to be critical to their continued power and success. Their numbers are overwhelming. Their influence profound.
Houses of Chaos
The oldest records in the Courts firmly indicate that first and foremost were the Houses of Chaos. Before the Church of the Serpent, before the Throne of Thelbane, the Houses were rooted on the edge of the Abyss. These Houses, many of which still exist today, were the initial organization and are still the spine of authority in the Courts.
The Houses are organized in different methods and manners, but each is a singular power. It requires extreme conditions for the power of the King to reach inside a House even now. House crimes and justice are handled by the House Elders and Officers. While age is not an automatic entry into power, it is most often true that the long climb to power and success is accomplished in combination with age. Age of maturity in Chaos is 30 years. The best often live to be a few thousand years old or more. Average life expectancy is nine hundred years.
While records are less clear on the ascendancy of the various Houses, it is undisputed that Helgram is the oldest House still functioning. Rascal is the youngest House, less than 500 chaos years old.
Each House has Traditional Offices which bear great power and influence within the House. Within a House, some of these positions are obsolete or seldom filled as such Officers, if they are strong enough, can contest with ruling decisions of the Elders.
Some of these include:
Elder--------Ruling executors------always an odd number Sinister-----Unseen Work-----------only one Arbitor------Investigations--------may be two or three Mentat-------Expert Psyche---------traditionally one Warlord------Expert Warrior--------traditionally one Warlock------Expert Magick---------traditionally one Lessat-------Expert Shaper---------traditionally one Keeper-------Honor of the House----traditionally one Voice--------Speaker of Lords------only one Waysat-------Ways of the House-----may be two or three
The power and manner of each of these Offices might fill a treatise itself.
Some of the concepts require explanation:
Worth commenting from the Amber perspective is the Keeper, who manages the Honor of the House. The Courts of Chaos has no traffic with economics as we are familiar with it in the Golden Circle. They do not follow, nor do they have referential meanings for monetary terms such as; invest, compound, profit, and national ecomony. Instead, they barter debt, obligation, service and material from House to House, or simply provide themselves with what is needed. Generally, the most powerful Houses rely on their own means of providing for every need, or go without. Debt and obligation to another House is carefully managed for it is part of the Honor and Power of the House. The Keeper is in charge of maintaining the balances for these matters. This would include marriage proposals and contracts, lending of expertise or training, provision of any sort of service or luxury to include entertainments. Therefore understand that when you are in the Courts, you will not find any place to buy things you need. You will be completely dependant on what you bring, or the generousity of your host.
Another Officer is the Sinister. Do not let on that you know of this position, for no one will admit to understanding what you are talking about. Many Chaosians simply do not know this Officer exists in any House, let alone their own. The Sinister, if he/she exists, is charged with tasks that go beyond honor and outside of convention. The Work Unseen, the left hand of the House. Sometimes there is no Sinister, as the position is hard to control. Sometimes the Sinister is slain every cycle of years dictated by the House Protocols of Tradition. Seldom is the identity of the Sinister revealed below the rank of Elder.
Forms of Chaos
All Chaosians are not shape shifters, yet most are. Children begin to learn the craft at eleven or twelve years of age and are capable within ten years. Chaosians teach a very strict set of requisites for the craft. Shaping is as dangerous to an undisciplined Shaper as it is to an enemy*.
We may have reason to fear this power, but it is a two-edged sword. Even a Shaper of many years experience can damage themselves if they do not follow the tenants. Common tenants are:
Never shape the brain's structure Never shape as a well-known person Never shape as sentient supernaturals
As to the "natural forms" of Chaosians much has been said, and I believe the Chaosians try to add to the confusion of this matter. Chaosians appear "human" to every extent when dealing with Amber and other societies of Shadow. The range of "human" in Shadow is quite broad, of course. Most Chaosians appear slightly more slender, paler, and taller than average "humans". Detailed investigation has not been possible. It is a fact that the extreme conditions at the Abyss are not healthy to "human" form and it can be expected that Chaosians compensate for this in their natural born form.
Most Chaosians are unfailingly polite, even when provoked they will try to maintain an air of aloof superiority. Chaosians have a "formal form" that they use in Traditional ritual with each other, or because they are not on the best of terms. This formal form is called "demon form" by outsiders or sometimes "combat form". The form does not mimic demons but is usually armored and weaponed for attack and defense. The form does not confer magical powers or allow Chaosians to mate with demons. These unlearned comments are simply false.
I have noticed that Chaosians are sometimes subject to agoraphobia. They spend almost their entire lives inside their own House and Ways. Even travel between Houses is often through secret or select Ways. Warriors receive specific training to acclimate them to expansive outdoor environs. In stressful situations, such as the battles in Amber, many warriors were less effective due to our wide open topography.
Abyss of Chaos
The Abyss is extremely dangerous. Any travel near the edge is dangerous. Strong fields of energy break down near the Abyss at unexpected rates. Chaosian magicks somehow take these factors into account. We do not know how they do this.
Actually entering the Abyss is usually fatal to the untrained. Every year, a few young Chaosians who persue the daring "sport" of "Pit Diving" are lost. Chaosian nobles sometimes have expertise in entering the Abyss or surviving short "skims" of the upper areas level with the Courts.
In Amber, we have documented evidence that most magick fails within the Abyss within minutes. Some of these failures are critical and destructive. The Pattern functions, but poorly in the Abyss. The Logrus seems to work in the Abyss with no strain.
Despite speculation, a specific power has not been associated with the Abyss. Most powers seem to diminsh or fail there. Even Amberites exposed to the Abyss for hours begin to die.
Demons of Chaos
The Demons of the Abyss are mysterious arcane beings. Chaosians make casual use of certain demons, in fact, select demons are granted status as House Servitors. While these relationships seem to amount to slavery, this must be examined in each specific case.
Surprisingly, Demons do not seem to care for the Abyss. While it is their environ, they are stronger and more comfortable out of the Abyss and in the Courts. Service in the Courts is sought for among demons, though the terms of such service are never taken for granted and always negotiated with great passion.
Demons seem to come in thousands of varieties, each with peculiar properties. One thing that seems to be true of demons is that they are specialized beings. Their natures are not broadly rendered but specifically defined.
There is a hundred thousand year history of demonology in the Courts of Chaos. Demons do not function well in Shadows favorable to the Pattern.
Trump of Chaos
I have spent some time studying the Trump Art of Chaos. The largest difference to our own Amber interest in Trump is attitude. Chaosians think of Trump as a pragmatic minor Art. They only train those sensitive to Trump who have no "greater calling" in arcane matters, warcraft, or politics. In other words, it is seldom that the best candidates even enter into the Art.
Further, the Trump Guild of Chaos is administered by the Crown, not by any House. So there is sometimes little support from family to become Trump proficient as it takes resources from the House. Some Houses keep their own Trump studies**.
Conquests of Chaos
I began this Brief, by stating that the Chaosians were the most successful and oldest civilization in the universe. The evidence supporting this is immense. One of the obvious manifestations is the Black Zone, the surrounding ring of conquered Shadows. There are actually two Zones surrounding the Courts, the Black and the Battle.
The Black Zone is composed of the vassal states, each of which might have its own arrangement with the Courts, and each of which is a territory buffering the Courts.
The Battle Zone lies between the Black Zone and the Courts. It is a blasted waste of tattered Shadows and stripped terrain.
Thousands of years of successful military adventures have produced several important cultural effects in the Courts. One is the complex support for slavery in each House. The serving class of Chaos are generations of conquered mortals who produce the labor supporting the noble houses. The ratio of servants to nobles is three to one. Do not expect an uprising or revolution to overthrow the Courts from this class, for these folk are practically groomed for their current state.
Another important cultural effect is the normal arrogance of the Chaosians. After thousands and thousands of cultures have fallen to their superior might, they believe themselves to be the Masters of the Universe. They are the mightiest and most sophisticated culture in existance. This makes them polite to each other and condenscending to all others, including amberites.
If this is laughable or shocking to you, do not travel to the Courts. You will be drawn into duel if your attitude can not accomodate theirs. This brief does not have size and scope to cover the entire matter of Chaosian Code of the Duel.
Laws of Chaos
Law within the Courts is strict and merciless. It is peculiarly mixed with personal rights and overriding House obligations. Most 'crimes' are House crimes. This means that there are more than a dozen separate codes of law.
Who hosts your visit to the Courts is quite important because that is the body of law you will have to know and respect.
Over all of this, for several thousand years now, there is Royal Law. The King makes rulings for the well-being of all Houses. In times of a strong King, the Royal Law is fierce and uncontested and the King has final say over matters between Houses. In times of a strong House of Lords, the King may act as Arbitor between Houses.
Currently, King Merlin has passed through his young years as King of Chaos and is considered seasoned.
This information is intended to familiarize you with Chaos and our distant cousins there. It is not sufficient guide to traveling there unguided. Visits to the Courts of Chaos must involve planning and guidance from an experienced member of the Family. Aunt Florimel would be the best candidate, as she has mastered the intricate etiquette. Arriving at the Courts unannounced will land you in military confinement. Travel to the Courts must be approved by King Random.
Understand that there is no place for you to stay in the Courts. No hotel or hostel. No embassy. No empty chalet for visiting dignitaries. No compound for hosting foreign kings. Arrangement must be made with a House for hosting your visit. That House will then be responsible for you during your stay by the terms of the PatternFall Treaty. All clothing, food, security will be provided by your Host.
The Chaosians love Tradition and ritual. If you wish to be presented at Thelbane, more planning will be required. Your Hosts will make the arrangements, and provide you with suitable clothing. Expect a day at Thelbane to be sixteen hours of standing in one place with dignity and silence until you are addressed by a Royal Officer, your Host, or the Throne. You will be only one of perhaps four score matters scheduled for the day. Don't embarrass yourself.
Better yet, don't go if this sounds appallingly dull.
Church of Chaos
The Church of the Serpent. I suppose one would have to be truly of Chaos to understand the Church. In Amber, our relation to the Church of the Unicorn is distant and sometimes awkward. In the Courts, the Church can influence politics, and dictate Honor. While the Serpent has not manifested in thousands of years, the Church still holds important traditions sacrosanct within the culture of the Courts.
Recent ruling Kings have decreased the role of the Church. In ancient times, the Church was the one force of arbitration between Houses. The single voice of reason between rivals. While it still holds this function today, and while Church tenants still hold that churchmen can not hold House Offices or powers, the Church is not neutral with regards to the enemies of Chaos.
Enemies of Chaos
One last overview. There are basically very few Enemies of the Courts. Enemies to the Courts are notoriously short lived.
Amber. Even with the PatternFall Treaty, many nobles in the Courts consider us The Enemy. Many "unsanctioned" or "unofficial" plans go forward within secret cliques to pay back Amber for the first decisive military defeat of their immortal history. While these activities are clearly against Treaty provisions, the Lords of Chaos can only punish what they can find. Keep in mind these personal dangers to Amberites while in the Courts.
BlackAdders. The criminal outcasts of the Courts. One of the most severe punishments for House or Royal crimes is exile. Over time, some of these malcontents and traitors have banded together in Shadow. They are actually a very conservative lot, who sometimes attempt things far beyond their resources. Their symbol is the reversed emblem of Chaos; a black serpent on a red field. They are enemies of Amber as well.
Lessima*. Few Chaosians will talk about this vanished threat. This exiled House has been gone from the Courts so long that they are almost myth. Shapers of amazing skill. They survived against an attempted purge by other Houses and the Church.
-----submitted to His Majesty by my hand,
* - IMC Lessima, the exiled House of Chaos (created by MaBarry), is a non-Logrus, radical group long gone from the Courts. They really know Shaping.
** - IMC Lesser Trump, the Trump Guild Style in the Courts is 20 pts, half-cost. This allows some Shape Shifting, Logrus folk to possibly function as poor Trump artists. Trump produced are inferior.