AmberCon Northwest 2011 Recap

For those of you who I’ve only recently met, let me first explain a little about AmberCon Northwest.  ACNW is a yearly game convention based mostly around Erick Wujcik’s Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game. Which in turn is based on Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber series. Over the years, the strict adherence to only playing Amber Diceless has slackened. There continue to be Amber games, but there are also lots of other off beat games that now get run there. There are several of these cons each year. I’ve only been to two of them, and this is my favorite of them.

The convention is run at the McMenamin’s Edgefield, a beautiful resort just east of Portland, OR. Not only does the Edgefield have an on-site brewery, distillery and winery, but it also has a spa and salt-water soaking pool. The convention has no dealer room and almost never has panels. Instead from Thursday through Sunday the weekend is all about gaming.

The community of 120 some odd people is very open and welcoming. New people often speak of how friendly and helpful people are, and many of the people I’ve gotten to know over the last twelve years feel like family.

Coming right on the heels of World Fantasy Con, I was operating at a deficit in terms of energy. I was pretty wiped out most of Monday and Tuesday, on top of having some NaNoWriMo obligations, after WFC and only had Wednesday to work on my games for ACNW. Riding in the car on Thursday down to the convention, I worked on my NaNo novel for the most part and helped Dawn brainstorm about hers.

After arriving I spent a half hour in the soaking pool before my hour massage. In hindsight I will probably not get in the pool before my massage again. While relaxing, it left me overly warm and so it took me a while to cool off. Until then I was incredibly sweaty. Not sexy.

The convention proper opens with a meet and greet. The convention provides a light buffet meal where we all mingle and have a few drinks. This is the first chance many of us get to see the friends we’d made in years past and there’s a lot of catching up that occurs. It’s also where any relevant announcements are made.

Slot One – All That Glitters: From Chaos With Love (GM: Me)

Thursday night I ran my first game of the weekend. This is the sequel to a game I ran the year before. The premise is that it revolves around the mid-level movers and shakers of the Shadows that trade with Amber. My previous iteration had not been what I had hoped for. Instead of exploration and mystery solving it devolved into, essentially, a dungeon crawl. This year went much better and there were some very fun roleplaying moments. I’m looking forward to running this again next year.

Slot Two – Writer’s Brunch (Organizer: Kath Nyborg)

I don’t normally like to take slots off from gaming, but the last couple years I’ve been joining in on the formal “taking time off from the con to write” event. Last year it was in the bar and I really enjoyed the atmosphere while I plugged away at the writing. This year we were in one of the meeting rooms of the hotel, and it lost a lot of its charm for me. It probably doesn’t help that I was freaking exhausted and fading out towards the end. I bagged out early to take a nap before lunch.

Slot Three – Sandman: Broken Hearts (GM: Jen Edwards)

A sequel to last year’s game, this is a variation on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman using the game mechanics from Nobilis 3e.  It diverges from canon at the point where Morpheus transfers power to Daniel. In this universe, the emerald shattered and the bits of Dream’s soul scattered out to embed themselves with various people and entities throughout the universe. Last year the PCs only represented agents of Dream but this year we expanded it to include an agent of Desire. I’m hoping in future games we might see more Endless have emPowered agents available as PCs. I truly loved playing this game. It brought in all the things I liked about Sandman and Nobilis together very well and I look forward to playing it again next year.

Slot Four – A Drink and a Tale (Organizer: Ryan Craig)

This was a session of Baron Munchausen, with us taking on the role of various nobility of the Amber universe and telling tales. It had been several years since I’d gotten to play in it so I was really looking forward to this. We barely played, though. We started an hour late, people didn’t seem to get into the spirit of the game (though I tried to push things along on my end) and we only played one round. After that we just drank and socialized late into the night. I had a generally good time, made some new friends and patched things up with old friends. (Alcohol can be great at smoothing things over.) But I would have really loved to tell more tales. At the very least, I got the most chips from players for telling the best tale. Huzzah!

Slot Five – Pulp Chaos 6: Put Your Lips Together and Blow [Take Two] (GM: Me)

Saturday morning I ran another installment of my game of commoners in the Courts of Chaos. This was the one I was supposed to run the year before, but didn’t because of explosive gall bladder issues. I was pretty hungover from the night before and didn’t feel particularly on top of my GMing. This was the most self-referential of the games I’ve run in this series. In years past I’ve tried to mostly have the plot revolve around elements of the Merlin series. But in the first run of this one of the players had left a story item that stuck around for a few games even though he didn’t come back. Since he had returned to the game this year, I decided it was time for some payback from an NPC. Overall people said they had fun, though energy was pretty low.

We ended a little early and a couple of us, so hadn’t seen much of each other in the last year, spent some time catching up.

Slot Six – Grindhouse 5 (GMs: Me and Thaddeus Rice)

Our latest installment of Grindhouse, we again ran two games in one slot. (It was a double feature you see.) I opened it up with Wulfgar und Olga, a lampoon of Conan. Sort of. It was born out of our fake movie trailers from a few years before. We used In a Wicked Age, using what I’ve heard called “the Conan variation.” Characters and plot elements are randomly generated using a deck of playing cards. There’s a whole system of determining which characters come back with each story that is told. In the Conan variation every story has to have Conan as a constant figure through all the stories, much like the Conan tales. In our game we substituted our two pseudo-Scandanavian titans, Wulfgar and Olga.

Then in the second half, Thaddeus ran Arkham Prep, using a simplified version of Monsters and Other Childish Things. We were all pre-teens in a Lovecraftian themed New England private school. Each of us had a monster only we could see. Weird things were going on. I didn’t really know what to expect. With Lovecraft involved I thought it would be sort of a creepy horror/mystery with little kids. It felt much more whimsical than that.

With each game we had a “missing reel” time jump so that we could wrap the game up in time, often with random plot elements thrown in that didn’t make sense based off of the opening of the game. In between the games we collaboratively made up shlocky trailers. My favorite was the rip off of Twilight that I called Watching You Sleep. It started off with me just trying to do a version of Twilight that didn’t glorify or sweep under the rug Edward’s creepy and controlling behavior. With other’s input Edward was replaced with Count Orlock from Nosferatu. Seriously: rewatch the trailer for Twilight but replace Edward with a yellow-skinned creature with snaggly teeth, over-long fingers and batwing ears, speaking in a raspy voice. I’m just sad they don’t have the whole “this is the skin of a predator” line in the trailer so you can imagine Count Orlock’s bare, sunken-chested torso while he says that.

Slot Seven – Even Death May Die

This was my first stab at doing a diceless version of Scion: Hero. You can see the character creation I used over here. Overall I think that in trying to recreate the mechanics more accurately, I made it more complicated. But aside from that hurdle I had fun running it and others said they did as well. I had a pretty rockin’ set of players for this. I’m looking forward to running this again next year with a revised ruleset.

After this we had a roaming after party, which included our tongue-in-cheek awards (“The Obies”), soaking in the pool, drinking and talking late into the night.

I’ve found in the past that my enjoyment of the con often boils down to how much I run versus how much I play. Because despite how much I like to run, I also love playing and don’t often get to. I usually limit myself to only running for half of the con, and I allow myself to run four out of seven slots because in one of the slots I’m only running half the game. Even with that, with one game replaced by writing and one game not really getting off the ground, I really felt like I had a deficit of play time. I will have to keep that in mind when making choices for next year.

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