in the Shadow of Greatness


September 24, 2002

ACN 2002 Comments

ACN 2002 Games and Comments:
One Five Sides to Every Story :: Arref
This game is never the same twice. I've run it three times now, blessed each time with folks who are really willing to immerse themselves in the improbable beginning.

It starts with an Amber DRPG cliché: waking with loss of memory, a pressing need to know what's happening, multiplied by five. The scenario is a delicate dance for GM and Players. I consider the game very tough for any roleplayer, as you start with no stats, no powers, no weapons, no clothes, and no idea what the GM is doing to you. But there is a strange freedom that the Players seem to enjoy and celebrate, and the play is pure because of it. With no backstory and no idea of what you ought to be doing, the game generates its own logic and view of what it is to be an Amberite.

This year was a blast, with each player making the most of their predicament. I got to game with many new people, and all of them really put a lot into this game. The game has many secrets, but I can say this: If the players put forth a real response to the environ, and work with each other's responses, then the game gives back a fantastic bit of vacillation between danger and fun. This may become my favorite con game. Thanks to Mark, Jenn, Jill, Kirt, and Sean as you all exceed my best expectations.

Two Blood and Darkness in the Dreaming City :: James Arnoldi
I call this game a labor of love. The background is interesting, the vision and texture of the game carefully prepared. I've not gamed with James before, but I quickly felt his creative investment in every NPC in the game. One good measure of a game is; can you feel as if you've "been there" in the space of a few hours. This game was a solid 'yes'. The other players all made much of their characters and the story was nicely wrapped up. As soon as I received James' email about character creation, I knew I wanted to be one of the street-kids. I've not had a chance to do young characters at a con. This game was great for this. And thanks to Jill P. for putting up with my 12 yr old PC hitting on her character so singlemindedly. And since I knew that I would have at least two more games with James, this was a great forecast of things ahead.

Three Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavalliers :: Mike Manolakes
Now I've gamed with Mike before; he's extremely experienced and very sharp about character-driven play. This material is a challenge, as the source movie has a strong vibe, a serious but odd texture. Mike hit this texture well, giving all the players a good feel for solving problems in the Banzai way. He had nifty character sheets and great props to go along with the game. To double his challenge, Mike presented the pregen characters as random picks from the table top. This meant that he didn't know what the mix would be, or how our skills might play out in his game. Top that off with the weird-science plot and you have to be a GM both flexible and quick on his feet. It worked. Familiar player faces here for the most part, or folks I'd just met in previous games. Again, kudos to Mike for trying something outside, but wholly appropriate to the Amber diceless genre. I got to play the Professor and save a pretty lady scientist.

Four Agents of the Argent Rose :: City of Love :: Arref
My Argent Rose games tend to be ambitious and overstocked with story elements. This one was no exception. Then again, folks keep showing up for them. This time around, I wanted to use the story I had ditched at the last minute in the previous year because of the tragic events of September 11. But some inspiration and last minute tweaks made a much better game of it this year than it could have been in the 2001 planned version. Helped by characters submitted beforehand, I was able to get a great slant on the business of terrorists trying to disrupt the "despised" glory and greatness of Argent France on Bastille Day. An accolade aside: two returning players, and a bunch on new ones, but they jumped in very strongly from the start with the background. Half the Players had done deep backstories to bolster their feel for 1920s Paris. I would say that contacting the GM beforehand in this game really makes a world of difference. It inspired me to add additional elements like the Irish civil war and the Trump aspects of surreal painting from the times. I took a chance, and it worked. I had the Players pick their own choices of events and locations to start the game. So everyone was scattered all over Paris. My hope, which did work, was that there was so much story going on that everyone would have a good chunk of the adventure, and that some of those stories would cross each other. I salute the fine roleplaying brought to this game. Argent Rose seems to really bring out Players who care about their characters, even if it's only a con one-shot. My thanks to Sol F., Anne D., Jenn W., Liz T., Mike M., and Shawn D.

Five Morpheus Calling :: James Arnoldi
No question, James knows his stuff. He took a bunch of submitted fictional characters and wove a tight entry into the premise of "Morpheus Calling". His smooth command of dialogue and character from the original sources was quite good. While he wasn't happy at how long it took to dive into plot, I thought it was extremely well done characterization. This was one of those times when sitting and watching others play and become twined in the story was pretty darn entertaining. The character choices that Anne D. and I picked were nearly perfect for this game and James really made use of it. I was immensely pleased with the fact that I didn't pick up a gun once in the story, as my character was on his honeymoon. Once again, with this GM at the helm, I felt very immersed in the game world. Kudos to Kris F. for her dead-on take on Aeryn Sun from Farscape. All the Players really did a good job on this one.

Six The Bloody Grievance: Destiny :: Arref
Strange history, this game was a one-shot from last year but the Players asked me to run a sequel.

Then because of the stuff life throws at you, only one Player made it back. Rather than cancel the game in a con strapped for games, I decided to run it anyhow, overlapping events with the first game so everyone would have a better feel for a terrible predicament of the scenario. For this game starts with the doomed seige of Amber. There is a twist, as this is the Amber that existed before the Elders that we know from Zelazny, so the first driving question becomes, "perhaps we do not survive, but we save Amber. And just how do we do that?"

Here the GM talked more than he usually likes (bad GM!), as I had an elaborate setup to give the new group of players. Once again, I got lucky in that these players took to the scenario with even more proactive interest than the last group. They made the game their own.

A divide quickly sprang up, between the Characters wanting to leave Amber or capitulate somehow to the Chaosians, or to at least find out what they were going to die for and the ones that would stay and defend. Dworkin was on the side of despair and surrender, except that he knew that there was no escape for himself or Oberon. Oberon and Lir were on the other side, planning to defend Amber to the death from the Chaosian hordes surrounding the realm. As you can imagine, few Players were in favor of the hopeless fight to the death.

But this game is also much more and functions on multiple levels. There are assumptions built into 'the readers' ten book view of Amber that have many possible precedent and variation. In other words, 'Bloody Grievance' is a backwards compatible version of what we know in the books, but Amber has not yet come into its strength. And if the Chaosians have any say, it never will. And yet, we all want Amber to survive. And we know Amber's survival did cost any number of earlier sons and daughters of Oberon. Bloody is in the title because folks are going to die, as two Players died in the first game. This game shapes the legend so old that a modern Amber does not know all its parts. If Corwin had composed it, it might have been a song, "Dirge to the Nameless Few".

In fact, D.J. used such music to good effect in the defense of Amber. And these PCs were tough. Kudos to: Jenn, who provided the spark, fiery temper, and volcano special effects that broke the seige. Sol, who provided the insidious powers of shadow, and a timely briefing of a late player. Thank you so much, Sol. Liz, who proved that you cannot outstare a cat, even if you are a Lord of Chaos, and if you try, you'll likely end up with your face in a plate of food. James, who penetrated the mystery of Dworkin's place in things, and who transmogrified the grit of certain death into a communion with Amber's special nature. D.J., who provided the mystic quality I've always thought the first bard of Amber should have. Kris, who played the Elder of which all others are but shadows, and who suggested "Eating with the Enemy" as a possible defense. Anne, who knows the Eternal City well, but willingly let the spotlight shine on the past. And, no, I can't promise a sequel to this one. :)

seven, and last Blaze of Glory :: Sol Foster
I had to have my fix. I may not get it next year. You may know of this splendid excuse for gaming excess already. If you don't, I'll herein perform the impossible and describe it to you succinctly. Ready? OK.
"Blaze of Glory is the amber game that brings the Hollywood hero back to life and makes you feel like a kid at play."

Does the madness make sense? Yes, in its own special way. Is it entertaining? Yes, you can admire the other characters while you are off-screen. Is it likely to drive you mad? Yes, and your healthcare won't cover the damage to your laugh muscles, either. And unlike Christmas, it comes around more than once a year. The special rules give out more kinds of Attribute expertise, and BoG benefits from this tremendously. It makes a band of men more important than a single amazing Amberite. The game recaptures the feeling of the splashiest, noisiest, swashbuckling circus you might imagine from films you enjoyed as a kid. Fun way to spend a Sunday. More applause to all.

Filed under : Events at 24.09.2002