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Basic Information

Ambegris (also Ambergris1) is, not to put too fine a point on it, solidified whale vomit. More specifically, it is a fatty substance produced by the bilyary system of sperm whales to deal with intestinal irritations and blockages.

Traditionally it was recovered from beaches around the world and used as a spice, burned as incense or used to make perfume and traditional medicines2 - the well oxidised form found in this context having an odour similar to that of rubbing alcohol (isopropanol). Later, once the hunting of sperm whales became possible, it could also be recovered from the carcasses or when vomited up by a dying whale. Fresh ambegris smells … less pleasant … and requires some aging before it is usable. Arguably (relatively) fresh ambegris could also have been recovered from beached sperm whales, but it seems not to have occured to anyone … possibly due to the various differences between aged and fresh material.

Ambegris has more or less been displaced from the modern perfume industry for various reasons, but is fairly valuable, trading at around USD20/g.

The medieval Chinese considered ambegris to be dragon spittle … which was not that far from the truth come to think of it … and medieval Europeans believed, with far less accuracy, that a ball of ambegris would protect the wearer from plague.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • The whole dragon-spittle thing - in our world ambegris comes from sperm whales - in a fantasy world, with lots of big things that swallow other things whole, perhaps there are other sources of similar materials that are at least as valuable.
  • Treasure - either as matured material or (for those PCs with good knowledge skills) pulled out of the guts of a dead whale (or other critter as above).
  • Perhaps useful in the making of potions and similar things.
  • Maybe it does work against plague and/or other diseases… possibly as a power component in an appropriate potion?
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