Belated ACNW 2008 Recap

Only took me a month. I blame NaNoWriMo. And laziness. This will be relatively brief since time has faded the crazy high I left the convention with and I don’t want this to be even later than it already is.

The Venue

The Edgefield was wonderful this year. I received constantly good service through the weekend. The only “complaint” I might have is that our favorite server, the one who usually takes good care of us during the Sunday wind-down, was promoted to manager. He still technically took good care of us, but it was in a much different role.

This was the first year I tried out their relatively new spa. I got an hour massage Thursday morning that was absolutely wonderful. It has been, jeez, probably over a year or two since I last received a professional massage. Absolutely rocked. Also tried out their soaking pool. I’m not a big fan of hot tubs in general, but this seemed okay.

Slot 1: Between Venus and Mars – GM: Thaddeus Rice

This was set up as a glam rock game using a fast and loose mechanic inspired by Changeling: The Dreaming. I played a sort of Ziggy Stardust/Man Who Fell To Earth character who performed to raise money to finance his engineering company, which in turn was working to develop the technology to help him get back to his own world.

It was a broadly fun game. My only complaint was that there were 8 players and I probably would have preferred a smaller, more intimate game. Still, Thaddeus made a very compelling sort of game that had some really tense situations. I had been set up from the game description to think that this would have some tie in with Amber, but Thaddeus did well at messing with our expectations in that regard.

I was particularly impressed by how the GM brought in many of our talents, especially since we were such a diverse and weird group of characters.

Slot 2: Down These Mean Streets – GM: Madeline Ferwerda

A sequel to last year’s “Through the Door With a Gun,” I returned as the jaded shamus trying to get by in the Deiga. I absolutely loved this game. It was probably my favorite game from the weekend. I love Madeline as a GM, I love her take on the Golden Circle Kingdom of Deiga and I love how she really brought the world of the hard boiled mystery to life. Like many mystery games, a lot of it involved players with portions of the puzzle needing to talk to one another to get the full picture. Somehow I found myself running in circles from one PC to the next, trying to courier information from one place to the next. In retrospect I felt like I was, bizarrely, one step ahead of the plot. OOC, I would hear other PCs get the information I needed right after I left them. It bordered on comical. The big climactic battle at the end was spectacular and I definitely had my moment of glory in the fight against the Big Bad.

Slot 3: The Pattern Authority – GM: Thaddeus Rice

I got something of an overdose of Thaddeus this weekend. I loved his game descriptions, love him as a GM, and tried to put sign up for both with the note of “I don’t need to be in both these games.” And I got into both of them.

This was meant to be a send-up of the dark cosmic characters, ranging from the New Gods to Silver Surfer to the Authority. My feelings are the most torn on this game. It was a great concept. It had an excellent group of players who were able to really bring the genre to life. We had some great plot stuff involving our characters and Thaddeus’s riffs on the classic Amber characters as superheroes was beautiful. The system was a variation on With Great Power, but since I’m not familiar with the game I can’t say what he changed.

But what caused problems with the game was logistics. It was a 4 hour slot. If I’m remembering correctly, we started an hour late. We had 8 players. And the system was a bit heavy. So the game consisted of:

  • Interlude for plot

    And that was it. Most of our great character backgrounds went unrevealed till we took a minute at the end to reveal our stuff OOC. By some weird twist of fate, my character (Pendragon/Corwin) was the only one that didn’t have a Dark Secret. And half of the PCs had the Dark Secret of “Betrayed Corwin in the Past” or “Would Like to Betray Corwin in the Future.”

    The game, I think, could have done a lot better with less players and a lot less system. The players alone were good enough roleplayers that they could have carried the game and didn’t need the cute mechanic to help plot along.

    As for the system, one player pointed out that the system really seemed to encourage changing the arena of conflict and not necessarily in a good way. “My dazzling array of attacks didn’t work? I challenge him to a drinking contest!” I have a similar frustration with many “story games.”

    Slot 4: Knight of Thistles – GM: Me

    This is my Winnie the Pooh/Amber hybrid game, where players turn off their higher mental faculties, try to either avoid plot or solve it in nonsensical ways, and drink tea.

    This was the 9th (and penulitmate) year I’ve done this game. I actually had a bit of plot for this year, drawing straight from the corresponding Amber book (Knight of Shadows). The PCs were stuffed into Undershadow, which in this case looked like the ink line drawings from the A.A. Milne books. They also managed to escape the Poohniverse entirely for a brief period of time. Hijinks ensued.

    Slot 5: Pulp Chaos 4: Big Trouble in Little Chaos – GM: Me

    Probably my favorite game that I run (at least in terms of traditional roleplay). This year I took the characters out of the ghettos of the Courts of Chaos to the demon slums of Amber. I have some really stellar players that play in this game, so it’s always a pleasure to run. This year we had the added bonus of an unexpected interracial romance subplot that came up. The phrase “I need to go make some chutney” will always hold a special (if damaged) place in my psyche. Another gem was, “Lemme tell ya: That ain’t an ovipositor. That’s not a mistake a guy makes twice.”

    I meant to email the players for feedback on where to go with the game next year. I want to keep the same low-powered, street level vibe we’ve had in past games. I’m not sure if I should keep it in Amber, move it back to Chaos, do something different.

    Slot 6: Grindhouse 2 – GM: Me and Thaddeus Rice

    This was two storygames run back to back in a 5-hour slot. Each of us took a turn “GMing” half a game. We had a spectacular group of players and we laughed non-stop. This does compete with Pulp Chaos for my favorite game I ran, but Pulp Chaos was the superior roleplaying experience. This was primarily a half dozen people sitting in a room cracking each other up.

    Thaddeus’s story was “Punk Rock Apocalypse,” where he retasked “Don’t Rest Your Head” for a zombie apocalypse game. We all played punk rockers. I was a “punk rock MacGyver” and had this absurd British accent (heavily inspired by ogremarco‘s British accent) that I didn’t drop for the whole two hours we played the game. Had a half-smoked clove cigarette as a prop and stammered and twitched my entire way through the game. Laughed my ass off. It was beautiful.

    My story was “Amazon Chain Gang vs. the Snakeagator,” where I used “Best Friends” for the band of female inmates being chased through the swamp by the Snakegator. It was… a special kind of horrible. The players went all out trying to trash up their characters. When they revealed that the Snakeagator was really just another woman being oppressed by male authority? Brilliant.

    Slot 7: In Dolor Veritas – GMs: Todd Worrell and Eric Todd

    After writing the below, I realized that I had significantly more to say about this game than the other six. This isn’t to say the other six weren’t good, but this slot really gave me a lot to think about in terms of what it is I like in games.

    I was a little uncertain about this game. I signed up because the game description jumped out at me, but got a little anxious when the con rolled around because (a) I hadn’t noticed that the game had player maximum of 10 (and ended up with 12) and (b) I hadn’t previously grokked that it was going to be a politics heavy game, which is the sort of game I really suck at. I made a point of finding a player in the game that I trusted and selling myself into her service as her minion. As it turned out, my concerns were largely unnecessary. This wasn’t that cut-throat of a game.

    We played the family that ruled the Church of the Unicorn in a long-distant future where the events of the books are merely the stuff of myth. I’m always fascinated by where people go with this sort of set-up. I’ve always been a fan of the thought of a new golden age, but more often I tend to see Amber as a mostly forgotten memory. The paths between Shadows usually still exist in one form or another, but the Eternal City and/or the royal family is a mostly forgotten legend.

    There was a very different feel between the first half and the second half. For the beginning of the game, we were split up into three groups of four, each representing the children of a particular parent. We played out a couple of scenes from our early childhood, had a brief break for lunch where we were to tell other PCs about some event from our character’s life, then when we came back we were shuffled up into four groups of three, sent out into the larger world on diplomatic missions for the church. The diplomatic missions set the stage for the second half of the game, when one of the groups managed to anger one of the Emperors we were interacting with and all hell was about to rain down on our heads.

    The second half revolved around all the PCs trying to figure out how to keep the Church and our family alive in the face of a very angry Empreror bringing the full force of his Empire onto our wee heads. It was handled in broad strokes involving a lot of travelling around the countryside and trying to find aid or solutions from our neighbors.

    I absolutely loved the first half. It embodied what every Amber game I’ve ever played has lacked. When I came out of that first half, I felt like my character was part of a family. I knew exactly how he felt about each of his siblings and how he reacted to him. When we did our diplomatic missions, we had some very rough morally grey situations to deal with that were really awesome. Especially since my character was not normally one who thought in terms of moral ambiguity. I really enjoyed trying to wrestle out how he felt about it, seeking out his siblings to confide his confusion and uncertainty. This is what I would want every Amber game I play in to be like. Hell, it’s what I want every roleplaying game I play in to be like, period. It was just awesome and I’m looking to try and apply this to my games in the future. Really, this belongs in a post all it’s own on the topic of, “Things I’ve realized that my games have always lacked.”

    The second half I didn’t enjoy a whole lot. The game became 12 people arguing in-character about what to do, everyone thinking the other factions are deluded fools. Though I haven’t been in a lot of large person games in the (holy crap) 10 ACNWs and half as many ACUSs I’ve gone to, most of them have pretty much felt like this in the end. (The others have been along the lines of, “The GM has more players than he can handle and you mostly get ignored.”) Some people really love them. It’s not really my bag. It was also pretty hard for me because I’d put myself in minion role. My character was very much a follower who was more inclined to Do What His Sister Says. I broke out of that role a bit and was able to work on solving problems, and I had a significant role in the final conflict. But I certainly wasn’t playing to my strengths as a roleplayer.

    Had the entire game felt like the first half, this would have totally been my favorite game of the weekend. But the second half was frustrating enough that it balanced out the experience. I’ve been asked by several players to come back next year, and I think I will since I really loved the other characters in the game. I’ll need to find some better way to approach the large-group deliberating.

    I’m hoping to do a general “state of my gaming” post soon. I’ve had some thoughts about some of the systems I’ve been playing with lately.

  • 2 thoughts on “Belated ACNW 2008 Recap

    1. colomon

      “My dazzling array of attacks didn’t work? I challenge him to a drinking contest!” sounds like the good bits of Norse mythology to me…

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