This article originally appeared in Pyramid #6

Alchemy... at Al Amarja

Strange Source Material for Over the Edgetm
By John Nephew

Eclecticism is the name of the game in Over the Edgetm. From weird science to espionage, UFOs to wizards, and even just plain folks -- it all has a place on the strange island of Al Amarja. One of my favorite activities is historical research, so I like to draw on curiosities of the past for roleplaying material. Out of that interest arose this new feature for Al Amarja, based on a historical figure: the alchemist Nicolas Flamel. Use it to supplement the businesses in OTEtm's Chapter 5, "At Your Service," or adapt it for another roleplaying game that you enjoy.

Fleur de Lys
Investments Ltd

Type: Investment Agency
Rep: Gullible Burger
Brief: A newly arrived international investment firm, about to set up offices in the Edge.
Address: Bienvenidos Hotel (200 Plaza of Flowers), Room 528;
presently looking for office space in the Plaza of Gold.

Nicolas Flamel was a Parisian scribe and alchemist of the late 14th century. Guided by an angelic dream, he discovered a book -- the lost Asch Mezareph of Rabbi Abraham. With the help of a Spanish Jewish cabalist, Flamel deciphered the book and (it is said) successfully transmuted lead to gold on the 17th of January, 1382. This formula had been used by the Jews to pay tribute to Rome at the time of Christ. It is recorded that Flamel repeated the process twice again.

History and the man's tombstone tell us that Flamel died in March of 1417. Some say he and his wife live on -- having discovered that other elusive goal of the Alchemists: the Elixir of Life.

Secret Background

Nicolas Flamel does live -- and now he's on Al Amarja.

Being immortal is not all it's cracked up to be. While Flamel does not age, he is susceptible to more immediate forms of harm and bodily injury. Plus there's the issue of the neighbors -- it becomes obvious that Flamel and his wife are "different" as their neighbors grow old and die, while this couple remain vibrantly middle-aged.

The simple result of these facts is the following: Flamel and his wife are extremely cautious when it comes to personal safety (they know their life expectancy is measured precisely by how long they can avoid death by accident); and they have to change residences and identities every generation or so. They've also become adept in the use of makeup to hide their apparent youth as years go by.

The couple have traveled all about the globe in their six and a half plus centuries. Sightings of them are recorded from such places as the Paris Opera and India. After 20 years of working as an investment counseling team in Seattle, the couple decided it was time to move along.

Their business, Fleur de Lys Investments Ltd, was incorporated in Grand Cayman, so transferring their offices and holdings to new names and a new location -- the Edge, Al Amarja -- was easy. Respected professionals Nick and Pernelle Flannel joined the ranks of the mysteriously disappeared; and Niccolo and Penelope Lethas, affluent burger, appeared on the Mediter-ranean isle.

Why Al Amarja? Because it's small and obscure, and yet well enough connected (through institutions such as Swaps) to serve their business needs. The Flamels expect to easily establish their new lives, and settle in to a peaceful existence under the Mediterranean sun. Unfortunately, Al Amarja might not be quite the island paradise they envision. Without connections -- to conceal their natures, they had to completely abandon their former lives -- the Flamels must struggle through a period of vulnerability.

The Flamels do not transmute gold except when absolutely necessary. They can make more money for less effort in more conventional ways, for one thing; they live relatively simply, and don't need much money, for another. But most of all, they have a sense of balance and order which they think transmutation disrupts. On the purely economic plane, a gigantic influx of gold would just depress its own value and be ultimately counterproductive. The Flamels believe that a corresponding metaphysical imbalance would result as well, because (as alchemists well know) the harmony, balance and relations among elements on the earth are intimately tied to the celestial balance of the universe.

The Asch Mezareph

The Asch Mezareph is a gilded volume, with leaves made in a most curious manner. They are not paper, vellum or parchment, but appear to be a soft, pliable bark of some sort. The book's copper cover is engraved with curious and unrecognizable symbols. Inside, there is text in Latin (including a curse invoked against any except "sacrificers and scribes" who dare to read the work).

The body "text" of the work is an obscure allegory, mostly in the form of pictures and apparently nonsense inscriptions. Only someone with intimate knowledge of cabalistic and alchemical traditions (someone who, say, succeeds with a roll with such a knowledge against a difficulty of 21) can even hope, with months of study and experimentation, to decipher its contents. Since no one but Flamel is known to have succeeded, some in alchemical circles wonder if there may be more to it than just understanding -- most likely a certain moral disposition or psychic state (i.e., only a virtuous person can use it). Once understood, the work provides the secret of the Philosopher's Stone -- a marvelous compound capable of transmuting the base metal lead into first silver, then gold.


Niccolo Lethas
(aka Nick Flannel, Nicolas Flamel)
Ageless medieval alchemist

In the 14th Century, when Nicolas Flamel was born, an education was a rare and precious thing. Though his parents were not affluent, they recognized the value of learning, and sent young Nicolas to study in Paris.

So he went, and soon he held the profession of scribe, with membership in the Guild. Since the printing press had not yet been invented, Flamel's career intermixed the modern roles of publisher and bookseller with that of the scribe. Thus did he acquire the Asch Mezareph, which changed his life forever.

The symbol on Flamel's medieval booth, to distinguish it from those of other scribes in the Charnier des Innocents and then the church of Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie, was the Fleur de Lys. This same device provides the name and corporate logo of his 20th-century investment firm.

Description: Frenchman, apparently in his mid-fifties; 5'10" tall, 155 lbs. His hair is salt and pepper, receding from a high forehead. In a cowl he would make the perfect monk, with long hands for prayer and deep, thoughtful dark eyes. However, he favors contemporary business attire -- finely tailored, if understated, suits.

Languages: Too many to list, including archaic dialects
Attack: 2 dice (with penalty die)
Defense: 2 dice
Hit Points: 16 (unnatural constitution)

Alchemy, 3* dice -- Besides an intimate knowledge of the history, symbols and practice of the art, Nicolas actually knows how to transmute lead into silver or gold, and other classical alchemical operations. He has some familiarity with modern chemistry (1 die) as well, but for the most part its subtleties elude his medieval intellect. Note: This is a "technical" trail. (Several scars on his hands and arms from the spattering of acids and hot compounds.)

Scribe, 4 dice -- Can write and decipher almost any well known script or alphabet (Roman, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Cyrillic, Sanskrit, Chinese, etc.), and many unknown (e.g., the symbolism of the Asch Mezareph). (Large callus on right middle finger just after the last joint, from centuries of writing; speaks with quaint idioms.)

Generous -- Penalty die to resist pleas for aid. Nicolas became well known in his "first life" for his charity. (He doesn't look away from panhandlers or street people.)

Hypercautious -- Aware that he will die only from mishap, not age, Nicolas has become obsessive about avoiding personal physical danger. His fear of self-endangerment is so strong that if somehow forced into a combat situation, he would receive a penalty die on attacks because he would be unable to strike boldly. (Avoids sharp objects.)

Penelope "Penny" Lethas
(aka Pernelle Flamel)

Shrewd immortal

Pernelle met her husband-to-be more than six centuries ago, when she hired him to scribe a deed. They enjoyed instant and mutual attraction, although Pernelle is a good decade Nicolas's senior. She had been twice widowed before. Recognizing a promising, respectable and attractive young fellow, she married him straight away. Neither has regretted it.

Austerity and caution became Pernelle, from her double experience with the financial quagmire of widowhood. Even when she and her husband had money, Pernelle's wise counsel was not to betray their wealth, lest it bring down jealousy and violence. (In fact, after Nicolas's staged death, a mob tore apart his house on rumors that the alchemist had made gold and perhaps left some there.) Although she has a kind heart, she keeps Nicolas's easy generosity in check, lest it backfire.

Description: A slim Frenchwoman of advanced years, 5'7", 128 lbs., with a round, grandmotherly face and fine features. She is somewhat stooped.

Languages: Like her husband, Pernelle has at least a rudimentary understanding of all the world's major languages.
Attack: 2 dice
Defense: 2 dice
Hit Points: 9 (weak bones)

Shrewd, 4 dice -- Pernelle is the social genius of the couple. After Nicolas discovered the Elixir of Life, it was Pernelle who suggested, planned, and implemented first her own death, then Nicolas'. She realized what trouble they might face if they were seen to go on living decades past a normal life-span without sign of aging. (Bright, piercing eyes.)

Weak Bones -- Pernelle qualified as elderly when her husband discovered the Elixir of Life back in the 14th century. While her body has not aged since then, neither has it recovered much. Specifically, Pernelle suffers from weak bones (calcium deficiency). Even slipping and falling on ice is likely to break them; and once broken, they take two or three times the normal time to heal. (Curved spine.)

Story Ideas

Nicolas knows secrets besides those in the Asch Mezareph. In particular, many people would be interested in the Elixir of Life: the Movers, who would like to offer an alternative to Apep's Breath to Monique D'Aubainne; the Pharoahs, who would rather not face immortal mutants; the glugs, who might see it as a means to restore their race's hegemony. If Dr. Nusbaum got wind of the couple's unusual longevity, he might wish to arrange for them to have a "medical examination" of his own devising.

Many secret societies would appreciate knowing the secret of the Philosopher's Stone, to create gold to fund their activities. On a more mundane level, FDLI Ltd's success might attract unwanted attention from competitors such as Al Amarjan Investments, or criminal interests such as the Net.

Suggested Reading

You'll find a brief description of Nicolas Flamel in The Encyclopedia of the Strange by Daniel Cohen (Dorset Press, 1985). This book is packed with great ideas for your Over the Edge series (not to mention fun reading), which is why you should really get your hands on it.

A deeper treatment of Flamel and the topic of alchemy can be found in Alchemy by E.J. Holmyard (Penguin Books, 1957; reprinted by Dover Publications, 1990). The section on Flamel includes a fairly detailed description of the Asch Mezareph's appearance.

For a consideration of how people might "live with immortality," I recommend Poul Anderson's science fiction novel, Boat of a Million Years (published by Ace). I found the final chapters rather cheesy, but the early parts -- where Anderson's historical research shines through -- are stellar.

OVER THE EDGE and OTE are trademarks of John Nephew dba Atlas Games.

Copyright 1993 John A. Nephew.

Article publication date: April 1, 1994

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