March 25th through 28th, the special lady friend and I ventured out to beautiful and scenic Livonia, MI, for the 21st annual AmberCon. (This is commonly referred to as AmberCon US or ACUS.) Here’s my recap.
For those unfamiliar with AmberCons. Unlike other conventions I’ve been to, AmberCons are very small and entirely focused on roleplaying. There’s little to nothing in the way of vendor rooms and panels. From Thursday night through Sunday, it’s one 4-6 hour roleplaying game after another. It used to be entirely filled with Amber games, but now you find a streak of other games mixed in there.
Since attendance rarely breaks 100, you tend to know most of the con attendees. As a result there’s a really close community that surrounds these things.
There was an awesome potluck at the home of a couple locals Wednesday night, and the obligatory “go to Zingerman’s and then visit some local shops in Ann Arbor.”
For longer than I have attended, the convention has been at the Livonia/Novi Embassy Suites. I guess the hotel is okay compared to others. Going to McMenamin’s Edgefield for AmberCon Northwest has me spoiled when it comes to lodging. While the Edgefield lacks things like kitchenettes and TVs in their rooms, they make up for it in every other category.
The con had managed to work out some nice flourishes with the hotel. There’s a buffet dinner reception at the beginning of the con. Desserts in the con headquarters towards the end.
And, most importantly, the service at the restaurant was much better than I think I’ve ever seen it. Just routinely good. I didn’t cotton to getting razzed by the omelet guy before I had my coffee, and the food is still kinda lackluster, but otherwise the service was top notch.
I’m not sure if it was the idea of beautiful Liz, or she just enacted it, but there was a laptop setup in con headquarters that was showing all tweets with the “#ambercons” hash tag on Twitter. The general idea was that you could post game quotes there on top of any sort of general con comments. It was brilliant. A bunch of people signed up for Twitter that weekend and there was a lot of fast flying tweets through out the con. I think the only downside is that attempting to go back and look at old tweets is more than a little cumbersome. I tried to glean quotes from my games, but it was a pain in the ass.
The other item of note was that I got home to discover that my 2XL con T-shirt was on the smaller end of the 2XL range. On top of other challenges with the con T-shirts, this was a general downer.
Slot 1: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken
This was my attempt at bending the Amber Diceless rules to mesh with the Exalted setting. It felt like a mixed result. As with Shadowrun, I think my system didn’t really inform choices that people made. The players who were more familiar with Exalted than I thought of things to do that I didn’t think of. I think that my use of a pool of Essence, even a much smaller and less necessary, interfered with the flow of play. And I don’t think I had enough opportunities for over-the-top fight scenes. People seemed to generally have fun, but I’m not calling this a victory.
Slot 2: Nano-Victorian Future
GM: Matt Andrews
“You have to really hate someone to love God.” – Madeline
“In the meantime, his pocket watch takes a peanut.” -Matt
“I am second in pants. Except I’m in a dress.” – Dawn V.
“The best things I have are Botson and my pants, and your pants are way better.” Sean
“Five points in being murdered?!” Sean complaining about his character being rich and a target
“I want to see these pants in action!” – Madeline
“It’s like me stepping on an ant. Why would they bother?” – Lord Phillip Margrave
“But I mean, could we synchronize our pants?” – Jeremy Z
“Oh, look. The clues are all in this box that says ‘Clues.’ Oh, wait, that says ‘noses.’ Terrible, terrible handwriting.” – Matt
“Sassy ankles of mystery. That should be the name of a band.” – Matt
“Hypno pants. I need to use that in a game one of these days. ‘Stare deeply into my pants…'” – Matt
“You are at the Shady Arms.” – Matt
“Not PJ Sketchingtons?” – Sean
“Actually it was your impressive wingspan.” – Mycroft
“Beedibeedibeedi. If you know what he means.” – Botson
I had heard good things about this game from the girlfriend who played in it last year. The idea behind the setting is pretty fun and brilliant. I played Lord Philip Margrave, Count of Cambridge. He was a gentleman thief who went by the moniker of “the Bishop.”
But it seemed to run a bit rough. Friday morning was a tough slot for this game to be in. We were all tired from traveling and our first night of exhaustion. The front man for the plot, playing a great sleuth, had the misfortune of discovering the one brand of orange soda that has caffeine the night before. So he was having trouble tracking the plot at all.
However, there was some fun interaction between the characters. The best was really towards the end where we were swapping data around through online aliases. It’s a twist to the Victorian/Steampunk stuff that you don’t often see.
I’ll try and give this another shot next year. I like the GM and the idea enough to give it another spin.
Slot 3: Major Hatreds and Petty Animosities
GM: Madeline Ferwerda
“I could just break your arms.” “You could try haggling.” “I’m an American. This is how we haggle.” -Gerard & an arms dealer.
“They have some interesting stuff. Check it out, a mummified cat. I mean, who mummifies cats?” – Gerard
I love Madeline’s noir games and the thought of Amberite’s swanning around post-WW1 Cairo, smoking and drinking martinis was too much to pass up. The game was fun, and there were some excellent roleplayers. But it didn’t have the thick Roaring Twenties vibe I was really hoping for. I’m not sure how to do it differently. Dropping us into a history lesson on the politics of post-war Middle East might have made things difficult. It wasn’t as frustrating as the “inadvertant military history porn” I’ve stumbled into. I guess it’s what I get for signing up for a game on the basis of “Madeline has a game with cigarettes and martinines.”
The fallout of certain PC actions were awesome, though, and Madeline’s one of the few people I know that seem to really rock with the Amber system. She makes the system downright sing.
Plus, I don’t know what it is, but I can’t seem to play Bleys without screwing over Brand.
Slot 4: Ill Met in Amber
GM: Chris Kindred
“Evie’s not answering any more voices.” – Bridgett?
“Everytime Evie goes down, Brand is usually around….” – ???
“Listening to O’Donovan never goes unpunished.” – ???
“There is no poking the Black Road. Or Black Spot.” – ???
“You killed your sister. You have to have a formal wedding.” – GM
“Is O’Donovan a certified emergency lap-dance technician?” — Jeremy Z. to Sol F.
“Essentially, you’re making an Evie shrine.” — GM
“You mean another one, right?” — Sean
“If you have any personal items belonging to our overdue librarian….” – Eric
“Yes, the fines are going to be atrocious.” – Evie
“Is Evie (the librarian) really stronger than Reggie?”-Kris F
“Hey, (he’s) a warfare guy, not a strength guy.”-Jeremy Z
“You don’t have Trump.”-GM
“We’ve got Stormy’s hand.”-Bill
“You don’t have his hand. You don’t have his Pattern sword either.”-GM
“I’m playing, of course, the lady with the most miles in the room.” — Juliana
“In every conceivable way.” — GM
“So we’re going to bleed out Stormy?” — GM to the group
“The wedding goes about as well as any large event does in the Marvel universe.” — GM
“So, Galactus?” — Sol
“I needed some alone time to do violent destructive things.” — Madeline to GM
“We can always clean up our mess next year.” — Bill G. overheard in the hallway
“The servant will know?” -Evie
“The Serpent. The Serpent!” -GM
“Are you taking pictures of my booze?”
“You’re covering your boobs.”
“BOOZE, not boobs.”-Jeremy, Kris F.
Once again returning to Kindred’s game of swashbuckling noir. Game was a bit unfocused and didn’t have as much swashbuckling as I would have liked. There was a big delay at the beginning because two of the PCs are also characters in another game the GM runs in the same universe, and they were trapped in the Courts of Chaos. My role this session seemed to involve a brief conversation with Caine and going out into Garnath to look at the Black Road and fight a PC possessed by demons. I guess it’s to be expected with nine players in a four hour game that starts late, but it seemed like it had gone so much better last year.
Slot 5: The Tomorrow Institute
“Note to self: steal some of Parker’s urine.” – Eugene
“Don’t you touch it. It’s not your Schwinn. It’s *my* Doombot!” – Eugene
“Because there’s nothing cooler than a would-be dictator on a Segway.” – Eugene
GM: so you slow your fall by hitting the ground?
JJ: “I tap into the security camera.”
Eugene: “I don’t think coax is cross-dimensional.”
This was my attempt to run a modern day game that poached ideas from several comic book and RPG sources, including Spirit of the Century, Planetary, The Authority and Rising Stars. The PCs were characters born at the dawn of 2000, and were now ten-year-olds at a private school designed to nurture their abilities. Some were inclined to be heroes, some leaned towards villainy. I used a simplified and diceless version of SotC for this.
Overall it seemed to go okay. I poached the plot from the first Harry Potter book. I underestimated how much the PCs would try to get the Macguffin right off the bat. I think one of the players was a little frustrated at how much comic-booky stuff there was. I was trying to make a mix of comic books and other fiction with child characters, but from my game prep I ended up with a lot more superhero stuff than anticipated.
The players, though, were great and were generally fun to run for. They really dove into their characters. The game mechanics mostly worked okay, but as always it was hard to think of ways to push their Aspects in negative ways. Since this was diceless, negative impacts to their Aspects would mainly just screw them over when they were already at a disadvantage for being children. So I didn’t have as much in the way of compels for them as I’d hoped.
I may continue this next year. I’ll see how I feel about it when the time comes.
Slot 6: Boogie Black Ops Magical Girls Omega
Guinevere: “We don’t like tentacles.”
David V.: “You have script immunity, you can like tentacles.”
Dana: “So a 17 year old and a 14 year old are kicking their asses.”
Dana: “And an 8 year old.”
Takahasi-san: “What part of Black Ops don’t you understand?”
Guinevere: “I thought that was the uniform!”
“Can someone draw another vampire on my hand. I need two.” -Guinevere
CJ: “We’re not tactical girls, we’re magical girls.”
GM: “… the cloak, caught in the breeze that you can’t see…”
Nekokun: “Best. Concert. EVAR.”
Ally: “Yeah, how many have you been to? One.”
Nekokun (who is 8): “My uncles say I should shake my moneymaker.”
Nekokun(holding out finger):”Kiss it and make it better?”
Guinevere(vampire) screws up her face & gives it the fastest kiss ever.
David V. “We’re an hour in and my face already hurts from laughing.”
C.J. (pretending to be Guinevere): “I don’t drink … beer.”
CJ: “Ifrita is prettier than me, because she has boobs!”
This was the first “straight” game of Best Friends I’ve ever run. I’d used the system for my part of Grindhouse a couple ACNWs ago, but I’d never tried to use the system (mostly) as it was intended. We had a lot of fun, not least of which was due to one of the players coming in drag. Yes, I had a game where the PCs were magical girls, and only one of the five players was a girl. And she wasn’t the one who dressed up for the game.
I think the only thing I might change if I do it again is to not use Best Friends. It’s interesting conceptually, but it really got in the way of fun a lot of times.
As a side note, I was almost tarred and feathered for inadvertantly giving my virtual idoru a pun for a name: Ayame Star.
Slot 7: Red Caps and Riots in the Dreaming Cities
GM: James Arnoldi
David V. “Can’t really take Diego off the reservation, cuz he was never really on it.”
Tristan: “Giving him a proper burial may not help him move on, but it’ll at least get the body out of the street.”
James A.: “You’re missing some awesome detecting.”
Dawn V.: “Yeah, well, my game’s got Reaver Porn.”
Gwen: it’s so much better kissing (an angel) in front of a fountain than effing a guy in a piss-stained mattress
This was, I think, my fourth game in James’s Dreaming Cities games. I reprised my role as Diego del Fuego, holistic detective. Which basically means, I made up bizarre detecting methods (like making a piñata with the newspapers detailing the case I was working on, filling it with Nordic rune stones and clubbing it till the stones came out and provided an oracle), and challenging James to provide me with plot.
I was slightly mortified to realize that the other PCs ended up all following me around under the pretense of “keeping me from getting killed.” This also resulted in circumventing the plot points James had prepared for other NPCs. Overall, a ridiculous amount of fun and my favorite game of the con.
Slot 8: Rebma Confidential: The Big Deep
Of the games I ran, this was my favorite. Just a ridiculous amount of fun.
It’s especially interesting for me to see how it contrasts with Pulp Chaos, which has the same setup but with a different approach. Pulp Chaos seems to revel in its non-humanity. Also, Pulp Chaos has a PC that anchors all the other PCs together and provides a central rallying point. Rebma Confidential, on the other hand, is much more human in its approach. It also has a constantly changing organic structure.
The players have been awesome at bridging gaps in order to find ways to act with other PCs. This year had an interesting schism between the two players portraying constables and the players in the role of more fringe elements. Halfway through the game, just when I thought the game might wrap up a little earlier than anticipated, the players deviled one another with outrageous stonewalling maneuvers. And they did this to themselves in order to have their characters interacting without outright just contriving to go along because plot demands it. We all laughed very hard as the constables applied pressure on the street doctor in order to get taken to the hiding location of a PC they were looking for. Then the constables had to split up and the one with the doctor was teamed up on by the doctor and the sea witch. The players of those last two characters had maintained these outrageous accents throughout the game, and were just chewing scenery together any time they were in the same room. Just… brilliant.
Sadly, no quotes from this game. One player opined that it was because, “What happens in Rebma stays in Rebma.”