Shadow travel is a fairly commonplace ability for player characters on this game. There are a wide variety of abilities that grant shadow travel, especially shadow travel that is, practically speaking, limited to the Golden Circle and other near-Amber shadows. Consequently, not having Pattern does not significantly restrict where most characters can go.
General Limits on Shadow-Walking
Regardless of whether a shadow travel power is based in Pattern or not, it is subject to the following limitations:
- There is no substance of shadow in Amber, Rebma, or Tir. You can't shift from there.
- All shadow travel requires actual movement. If you cannot physically travel, you cannot shift. You are actually going from one place to another.
- All shadow travel requires an obvious visual cue, unless you specifically have an ability that states otherwise. If you cannot alter your surroundings using some kind of cue that indicates its change, you cannot shift. You need to be able to grab ahold of enough "difference" to actually move yourself through shadow.
- You cannot use a shadow-walking ability to travel rapidly within a shadow. You can change locations by walking away from the shadow and then walking back to a different place within the shadow, but this is usually slower than just directly traveling within the shadow itself.
Limits on Non-Pattern Shadow Travel Powers
Pattern encompasses both shadow travel and shadow manipulation, but non-Pattern powers are more restricted in their abilities. The following notes cover some critical distinctions between Pattern and other shadow travel powers.
Non-Pattern shadow travel powers are limited in the following ways:
- Slow travel. All such powers are slower than even the most crude Pattern travel, and can never be used to hellride.
- No shadowfinding or shadows of desire. These powers lack the kind of precision and control over destination that Pattern posseses. Only Pattern, and abilities specifically marked with the "shadowfind" powerbit, can shadowfind. No other abilities allow characters to travel to a place of their desire. Non-Pattern abilities normally spell out where someone can go — typically, this is places that they know, places in the Golden Circle, a path of places where a certain set of circumstances applies (as defined by the ability), and the like. Such abilities generally do not let you just "happen to end up" where you really wanted to go; they are specifically not useful for gathering resources, items, etc. If you don't have a shadowfinding ability and need to get to a shadow with specific characteristics for a plot or the like, you must get it okayed by the staff.
- You are finding your way through shadow, not manipulating shadow. The distinction is subtle, but an important one. The ability to travel through shadow does not equate to the ability to alter shadow. In particular, non-Pattern powers cannot adapt the walker, his companions, his possessions, or his environment to suit the shadow. For instance, you cannot change your clothing, alter a vehicle so it continues to work across different shadow environments, find an item of power that has been lost, etc. — only Pattern can do this.
- No leading of large groups of people. Unless it is explicitly stated otherwise, non-Pattern shadow-walking abilities do not allow the leading of armies, fleets, or, essentially, more than a small group of people or whatever fits in a vehicle. (In some cases, for instance, an ability will allow the character to sail a ship through shadow.)
- Vulnerability to shadow blocks. It is extremely difficult for non-Pattern abilities to overcome shadow blocks. Getting around such blocks may involve taking a long detour, if it is possible at all. Dealing with a block should always be negotiated, and the logic of the ability should be applied, but trying to get around a block in any case is very difficult for everyone (including Pattern initiates, who have far more freedom to find ways around blocks), and this should certainly be played up in the case of non-Pattern abilities. (Note that Eric's canonical shadow blocks did not affect travel within the Golden Circle, though.)
Non-Pattern shadow-walking abilities become weaker and weaker as one gets farther away from Amber. Shadow becomes more and more abstract the further one goes, and non-Pattern abilities only work as long as there is stable, recognizable substance to work with. The deeper reaches of shadow are accessible only to those who are initiates of the Pattern.
"I was unable to go the entire distance. You know how the shadows grow wilder and stranger the farther you get from Amber? Until the mind itself is twisted and turned toward madness?"
— Gerard, The Guns of Avalon
The substance of shadow becomes more and more unstable the farther out one goes. It is difficult to control the shift, and the shadows seem ever more malleable, and their properties dangerously unpredictable, and the places themselves flat-out weird.
The more skilled at shadow manipulation (represented by specific gifts) and the stronger-willed the individual (represented by Force, Resolve, and specific gifts), the farther out an individual can go. However, eventually, the shadow-walker (whether a Pattern initiate or not) reaches a point beyond which he simply cannot continue; he must turn back or go mad, and to even be in a place that far out is inherently dangerous.
If one were to push out to the theoretical limit, it would be a place where the substance of shadow disintegrates entirely, and it cannot be stably shifted at all. The "edge of shadow" is functionally subjective, based on where the individual is forced to stop.
Beyond the theoretical limit of shadow is what is commonly thought of as "Chaos"; it is a raw soup of primordial matter that does not have enough stability to be called shadow. It is functionally impossible to go there. Characters who try to push beyond the limits of their own will (which might not be anywhere close to the theoretical limit) simply go mad; this leaves them lost and likely eventually results in grave injury or death, but does not take them any closer to the theoretical limit.
Shadow-Walking to Established Shadows
Shadows that have taken on a significant degree of true reality — the "Golden Circle" of near-Amber shadows, shadows where royal Amberites have spent significant amount of time, and the like — are subject to some specific caveats for travel.
First, these shadows have natural entrance points. Shadow-walkers who aren't intimately familiar with the shadow who try to walk there normally end up arriving in the general vicinity of these natural entrance points. These are not choke points, but these are border regions. The most extreme case of this is shadow Arden, which forms the boundary with the true Arden of Amber itself — it is the natural land entrance to Amber, and anyone shadow-walking via a land route is funneled into Arden. The same is true for sea routes. When a shadowpath exists, the natural entrance point is pulled towards that vicinity.
Second, conditions that make it difficult to enter the shadow or to travel around it tend to be reflected in the close shadows. The novels give examples of Julian's reflections and Gerard's reflections patrolling Arden and the seas around Amber, respectively. Circumventing these kinds of blockades can be challenging, because even if one doesn't encounter the actual person, one may encounter his reflections instead.
Shadow-walking to established places is never pinpoint. When walking to a place that is less "real", there is always the philosophical question of whether one is exactly where one wanted to go, or simply a shadow of it that is so close that it doesn't matter. Established places are sufficiently real that this cannot be the case — there is one place and one place only. Consequently, the entrance point to the shadow is approximate. It is therefore impossible to be precise enough to, for instance, show up in front of a specific dungeon cell, or even to lead armies to a specific battlefield, rather than to a general vicinity.