in the Shadow of Greatness


April 17, 2014

Ambercon 2014: aftermath... wow, fun convention

So I had so much fun it cannot be put into words. And I'm suffering from convention head cold. It was worth it anyhow.

Ambercon needs more games (or players to become GMs as well). Write me here if you have an interest and I can put you in touch with convention organizers.

Ambercon ACUS takes place once a year in the Detroit, Michigan area. You are welcome to attend or ask me questions about the Con. The Con welcomes Indie games mostly diceless.

The Amber convention includes all kinds of diceless games, and covers a wide range of genres besides Amber (as told by Roger Zelazny in 15 different stories about the "Nine Prince in Amber".)

This year I'm including the time slot structure, so new readers can get a feel for how a convention runs beginning to end.

Slot 1 : Thursday - 7pm to midnight
(note: folks are arriving to the convention, or arriving late and gaming next day, this slot is often a 'warm up' or filled with easy to light games)

Agents of the Argent Rose: City of White Evil
GM Arref Mak

premise: Corwin has drawn a Pattern of Order (called the Argent Rose) south of Ygg while remembering the Paris where he was happy for a time. Players take on the roles of his grandchildren, who are significant Agents of the Argent Rose.

structure: This is a game mashup of history that was, history as Corwin remembers it, and history as made by the Players. France is the center of the globe and all Art and Culture lead back to Paris.

This is also a 'serial game'. The game premise repeats each year with a changing cast of Player Characters. It's not a game form I invented, but I pushed this into the convention schedule when most games were 'continuing campaigns' and tended to lock up the convention schedule with great game blurbs you could not join because they were already full ---and the GMs were not going to slow-down to introduce new Players to the extensive back story.

A 'serial game' is open to new players. However, I offer first choices to returning players and so the game may fill up fast. You have to get your game choices back to the organizers quickly if you want to squeeze into a game like this. That's a feature not a 'bug'. This year we had room for a new player and so more fun!

summary: Last game the PCs managed to strengthen the unsteady position of the Princess of China and her father. They also set free some powerful Otherworldly creatures. And William got engaged. They return to France after months of travel. It is nearly Christmas. The end of 1923 draws near.

So this year, we began with a successful return to the City of Lights.

Last year was armies and big gestures, so this year was stories about the PCs and their own goals. Things were much more personal. Some Players are furthering their careers; some are working on relationships and romance.

game design
: this serial premise was originally presented in Ambercon North, a French fantasy in a Canadian venue, and was only played at Ambercon North every year. I was attending the both cons in those days. It moved to Ambercon US when ACN shut down.

There are many pluses to the serial design game. Real Life gets in the way so often, and you don't want a game to sag or feel empty if a Player cannot make the team one year. So the trick is building a flexible frame that encourages unique Characters all tied to a easily visualized concept.

And that's most of why this game works so well. Plus we have a fun cast. Any new player that shows up, is pulled into the whirlwind and given a fast run down by Players as if they are a visiting family member....because they are. And because you don't want to explain to your parents how you snubbed your newly discovered sister/brother/whatever.

This year was a fast moving mix. Corwin actually left France to go deal with Mad Max in China. There were missed telegrams and omens of other things going on. There is an ongoing feud between the Muse Queen and Corwin. And Corwin's Lorelei is trying to assist the various PCs in settling their lives before she gets kicked out of Paris by Corwin.

Family issues:
We have poor Max, who has fallen to the dark side. Now dead. (resolved this session)
We have Corwin moving forward with separating from Grandma. (unresolved this session)
We have William engaged. (unresolved this session)
We have Melisande in a strong romance with Keaton. (unresolved this session)
We have Cloe in an awkward romance with Tesla, who thinks he is too old for her. (unresolved this session)
We have Venkatta in an awkward arrival, . (unresolved this session)

Danger issues:
Vivian is still in thrall to the Muse Queen by her previous oath.

Slot 2 : Friday - 9am to 1pm,
games early in the day for players often require great quantities of coffee, just sayin'
Sol Foster Clone Game
GM Sol Foster

A lot of games are built around plot. Some games are built around a strong cast. And a very few games are built around nothing but the desire to play something unexpected. Improv, pure and simple. This was that kind. The GM is a master of the form.

The Players decided we were probably time travelers of various stripes. Some were scientists trying to figure out the plot. Much fun was had. I got to play a retro hero character I designed years ago called Jack Nymble, the Tick Tock Man.

Slot 3 : Friday - 2pm to 6pm by now the Con is going full blast, but short slots are tricky on plot and timing the Raven Legion: Lords of Gossamer and Shadows, GM Kit Kindred

Kindred writes for the 'Lords of Gossamer and Shadows' game books. This time he roped a couple of other GMs in to assist and run two separate groups of players in a 'same time' adjacent rooms game within the Grand Stair of the LoGaS rule system (based on Amber Diceless).

Sounds complicated? Yes. Execution was pretty darn awesome with both groups getting some good story. Not sure how the Doormen mission turned out but we were pretty happy mercenaries when we finished.

Slot 4 : Friday - 8pm to midnight

evening time and now everyone is warmed up and running full out, these games can run over, because a short slot will stretch to finish past official close time
House of Intrigue and Foxes GM Arref Mak

premise: New game ideas are a good thing at a convention. This game is based on the notion that a group of kids from one royal might not get along, or might have enough common mojo to gang up on Amber and make some changes.

This premise is a one-shot that might run once for each of Oberon's kids. It could become a throne war...or not. In actual practice, I would probably not run for Benedict's kids (he won't support his kids in contention with the throne), or Corwin's kids (I've got a Corwin game going), or Llewella's kids (she's hardly interested in Amber's throne.) I would also not build one off of a sibling that we know little canon about, such as Osric or Mirelle.

Previously I did the kids of Eric, as they considered taking the throne from Random. Last year it was Random's kids trying to fit into the empty place caused by his disappearance. This year it was a very strange idea: Florimel calls her kids together to attend her funeral in Amber. She's leaving the Eternal City forever and she wants the kids to 'cover her tracks'.

game design: these kids have reason to love Amber, but it is not implicit to the RP background, they were brought up in shadow AND Amber, seeing Random as kids and understanding how complex a place it is. So every Player gets to define what they believe about Amber and how they relate to their Mother, the wonderful Princess Florimel.

design vs actual play: here we had a very sophisticated group of kid designs submitted, which I approved with modest feedback loops to get a match to the Amber I would describe. Honestly, this game was a spotlight on Character creation and personality clash, as the kids tried to work out why they should care and why their Mother thought she could vanish never to return.

?Lucky for me? They all really believed in their PCs very strongly. They were convincing scions of Flora: everything from subtle spymasters to diplomats to shadow traveling troubleshooters. Nearly in uniform opposition to Mom's plans, but that was pretty fascinating to play out as they reacted to the problem presented by Flora.

There were actually three layers to this game build. The Funeral, and facing elders in Amber. The Mission that Flora might need help on. The real reason Flora was going to disappear. The players drilled into the real reasons within 90 minutes....leaving a big improvisation finish against Overwhelming odds.

Brainy kids.

Slot 5 : Saturday - 10am to 5pm

day three of con, later start to allow coffee to work its magic

the Pendrad: Liquid Shining Universe

GM Arref Mak

premise: A new game where I mash up the various permutations of the Amber Universe as revealed by Zelazny. Amber is the oldest... no wait, Chaos is older... no wait, Shadow is older... no wait before shadows there were the Fae.

game design
: my Fae are designed based on the 'Lord Demon' book by Zelazny; complexity and beauty, deceit and invention, with lots of tangled loyalties besides.

To this I added the new 'Lords of Gossamer and Shadows' ruleset because that was perfectly Zelazny: reveal a new layer of truth that other rules may work in other ways not expected with Amber.

design vs actual play: great PC designs in the new rule set. A mostly cooperative set of players, with some political investigation to be done. The Fae are withering, dying under the tyranny of the modern universe and its Order. But perhaps the discovery of the Grand Stair offers some hope for a future.

This all worked out really well. I think I could make this game run either serial or one shot each year.

Slot 6 : Saturday - 7pm to midnight
evening slot with lots of room to run late... many Saturday night games are big affairs, this was a small drawing room game
Hooray for Cpt Spaulding
GM Amanda Robinson

premise: Animal Crackers... Marx Brothers premise, the party starts, the main guest of honor is killed. Now what?

It was awesome. Kudos to the GM. One player turned out to be the Honorable Phryne Fisher.

Slot 7 : Sunday - 11am to 4pm

sunday morning, everyone is fuzzy or tired by now... but not in this game this year
GM David Vandenabeele

premise: Victorian times, 1875, and magic is breaking back into the world. That could be terrifying.

structure: complete character design before Convention (I prefer this myself, one or two character design emails can save an hour of play at the convention.) With no big system homework at all.

blurb: Our heroes in Her Majesty's service are swept up in an ancient conflict between recently reborn faerie courts. Specifics of the plot will be tailored to the characters present. Some elements may carry over from slot to slot, but these are separate events.

design vs actual play: hey, it's Sunday. We're all kinda half wired and maybe ready to kick some ass. So we kicked ass. The mix of players was pretty comfortable and the action steady thru the whole game.

I enjoyed it a lot.

Slot 8 : Sunday - 7pm to midnight

convention closer slot, usually folks are totally beat by now, so games at the tail end are either long-running campaigns or easy, funny, wild romps
or both
The Soft Cimmerian: Flowing Mirrors
GM Arref Mak

premise: Rebma is known for its strange mirrors and emerald aquatic city. Here play the Gallants of the Glass. The Knights who protect the City from the Mirrors.

structure: complete character design before Convention. This game first designed as a one-shot, To Wed the Soft Cimmerian. Folks had so much fun that they wanted to do a sequel. Then another. And so on.

So here we are (2014) with the 5th episode.

Despite the fine Character play, I did not want to add a continuing campaign to the con schedule. I also didn't want to continue the game if folks lost interest, and I did not want to create scheduling problems for the Con organizers. So this was set up after the first game as a serial game. First preference to previous players.

It is hard to describe how strange and beautiful this game has become. A magical combination of Players and Intent with lot of affection and weirdness. There are moments where I totally lose myself in these characters. I've seen Players totally rise up and slam dunk some game moments.

I'll include the original blurb below, because it has so many clues to what makes the game sing for me. If the first game had not worked so well... nothing would have followed.

blurb: (from the first game that started the series)

The PatternFall war begun by the Amber family is now over many decades. Moire, Queen of Rebma has held that reflected turmoil away from the Enigmatic City by force of will.

Finally a price must be paid. You go to the palace to place yourself in Moire's hands and meet your destiny. Your noble families, knowing the power of their blood of old, have selected you to Wed the Soft Cimmerian and quiet the Fomoire. You will dare the Afanc Labyrinth of Mirrors and champion Rebma.

Be joyous. Those joined in the sight of the Sea Hag shall only be torn apart by the Darkness.

Now you will feel no storm, for each of you will be shelter for the other.
Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are fluidic souls, but there is only one life before you.
May beauty surround you in the journey ahead and through all the years,
May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long within the double-dozen seas.

Prior reading of 'Alyse through the Afanc Glass' by Llewes Carroll is not required.

game design: What is the Soft Cimmerian? Why are 10 young people being married to it and each other? Why is Rebma so important but so different from Amber? Who are the Fomoire?

Basically this game is designed as a Zelazny mystery story. The mystery is Rebma, its Queen, its history, and its agenda. How does the City fit into the watery worlds of shadow? Why do Mirrors mean so much to the mystery?

Zelazny wrote the Amber series as layers and layers of truth and yet further reveals. That's this game theme.

Flavor setting info: ...she opened the brass lid to tap and mix the sand, and an icy draft swirled around the inside of the craft until she closed the thing again. The draft had a sea scent to it, salty and sharp. "All mirrors lead to Rebma," she said, as though it were an axiom. history of Rebma by Arref Mak

PCs must be from Rebma built for 80 pts. Characters submitted to GM prior to convention can be built for 100 pts. Special powers only by GM approval. Players must have e-mail access. Notes: Expect the kind of fun that tired gamers generate. No Pattern, no Logrus.

summary: So things that have happened...

Game one (2008) - 'To Wed the Soft Cimmerian'. Get married, how awkward is that? Get the Queen's blessing and find out about the Afanc Mirror. No training to be had, but told to remember the wedding vows. Unlock the Afanc Mirror and enter. Get scared. Get chased. Get partially eaten. Survive.

Return to Rebma to find they are now the Key to the Mirrors. Their power with Mirror extends through shadow. Learn the previous group of Gallants all died in the Mirror except for the Sea Hag, the slowly (3 centuries) dying survivor of that group.

Game two (2009) - the Queen tasks the group to find Lir's Bones, stolen five centuries ago with the sacking of Rebma by Black Hordes. In this day, Rebma understands that the Black Hordes were armies from Chaosi House Helgram, from the Lands Where Shadows Lie.

The Sea Hag believes that one of her former partners survives trapped in the Afanc Mirror. The Queen wants the Gallants to 'Go Ask Alyse' inside the Afanc and get the clues on pinpointing the Bones.

But no one is certain where to find Alyse or why she never returned. Inside the Afanc, all is twists and madness and danger. The group finds a mercenary soul named Cheshire who offers to lead them to Alyse, but warns that she is mad. Cheshire isn't too rational either.

They return to Rebma with Alyse, but that lady's mind is broken, she does not remember anything. They have failed to find the Bones, but the Sea Hag is very grateful to the group for returning her companion.

Game three (2010) - the Queen renews her goal of finding Lir's Bones based on a few dreams of Mad Alyse. The Gallants study many portents, and find a path to the House Helgram in Chaos. But the way leads past many 'Mirror Teeth'.

Dangers and High Sorcery lurk everywhere in the mirrorlands, and some great Beast prowls the Mirrors. Is it a Fomoire?

The Gallants sack House Helgram with the aid of wild magic-proof Guisels from the mirrorlands. Lir's Bones are recovered and brought back to Rebma. Two members of the Gallants are pregnant now. The Queen rewards the Gallants with their own estate so they can raise children.

Game four (2013) - the Queen receives an embassy from the Queen of Chaos. Thelbane is seeking an Accord with Rebma to relieve the ongoing (5 years Chaos time, some months in Rebma) bloodbath in House Helgram. The House has lost 75% of its members and the Queen seeks a solution that lets the House survive.

Moire debates her answer, but involves the Gallants to see first if they can reverse the devastation they set upon Helgram, 'The Enemy of My Enemy'.

Game five (2014) - distant shadow diplomacy, a wedding will stop a civil war with a Rebma trading partner, Rhadiant. Or will it? 'Flowing Mirrors'.

design vs actual play:
Terrific game, perhaps too much talking by the GM. There was lots of background and info of the culture and civil war to impart. The Players were sparky and totally into it from the first five minutes.

Veteran players returned, and no new ones for GM to coordinate. This game has a fair amount of backstory and weird. Last year we included two new players to the game and they worked very well with the full returning cast.

You'd have no idea this was the final game of the con, the players were so UP!

Ambercon (ACUS) 2015, I hope to see you there.

Filed under : Amber at 17.04.2014
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