AmberCon Northwest 2012: The Recappening!

Once again, we ventured south for four days of spa, drinking and roleplaying games. For those unfamiliar with the convention, it is one of a few conventions that had started out dedicated to playing Amber Diceless roleplaying. That’s still the core of it, though there have been more indy games making their way into the weekend.

There’s no dealer room, usually no panels. Just gaming from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon with breaks for sleep. It’s less of a convention and more a sprawling family of people that have been gaming together for years. This year was a peak year of over 130 people. We almost entirely overran the McMenamin’s Edgefield, which has been the home of the convention for all of its 15 years.

There are seven slots of games, here’s how mine went.

Slot 1 (Thursday Night): All That Glitters: No One’s Business but the Kashfans (GM: Me)

This is the third installment of my “Golden Circle intrigue game.” It’s generally a mystery oriented game, with the location shifting over the different kingdoms of Amber’s Golden Circle. The characters are the crime lords, diplomats, spymasters and military leaders that hobnob their way through the area.

I’m always a little unsure about this game. This all started with Pulp Chaos many years ago, as I attempted to imagine what a gritty street level game in the Courts of Chaos would be like. This then expanded into Rebma Confidential at AmberCon US, which tried the same thing with Rebma.

I don’t think this game has found its legs yet. It started off rough the first year, being more of a dungeon crawl than a mystery. This year I felt the plot was a little bit too much like last year’s plot. We had fun, and it was perhaps a sillier event than last year. I think next year I’m going to do something a bit more different.

Slot 2 (Friday Morning): On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon

This was a late starting and very silly sort of game using Ben Lehman’s game of the same name.  Ben Lehman is a great guy who makes a bunch of neat games that I never get to play, so I thought I’d sign up. The entire game is about being the last surviving breed of dragon, which is a pathetic and lame breed of dragon called a mud dragon. Character creation was entirely random, and all of the rolls involved in the game were a matter of overcoming your inherit lameness.

It was ridiculous fun. Very cartoony, with slapstick violence. My only complaint was that it runs very quickly. Each round was less than an hour. But I got to kill God, so I had that going for me. Because, you know, that’s how I roll. Not my greatest moment of scene stealing, but still pretty mighty.

It’s a free download, so feel free to give it a look. Maybe kick Ben some money, because he’s awesome and deserves it.

Slot 3 (Friday Afternoon): Sandman: Entropy’s Garden (GM: Jennifer Edwards)

This was tied for my favorite game of the weekend. For the previous two years that Jen has run this game, this probably was my favorite. But it faced stiff competition with the other game I played Friday.

The general idea for the game is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman mashed up with Nobilis ideas. I play Matthew, which is mostly just a chance to chew scenery. Someone destroyed Canada to get the attention of Destruction. And that just fills me with glee.

Slot 4 (Friday Night): Villians and Batman (GM: Ogre)

This game was a hack of Ben Lehman’s Polaris. The original game is one about tales of tragedy among elf-like entities at the North Pole. There’s no central GM, just a rotating protagonist and roles for interaction based off of relative seating position. The person opposite you plays your antagonist. In this hack, we played members of Batman’s rogues gallery. It was also a tale of tragedy, as our primary goals eroded in the face of our obsession with Batman. As each of us played a villain, the person opposite us was Batman.

It was fucking amazing.

I don’t know how Polaris usually goes, but our stories all fed on one another and created this massive, intertwined epic. We played for four hours and barely got into the story. Much scenery was chewed along the way. At one point another player was narrating so awesomely that all I could do is stare and listen, forgetting that I was supposed to interrupt the flow as his antagonist.

Even the side characters took on a life of their own. Scarecrow and Harley Quinn were not one of the main protagonists, but side plots developed surrounding them. My favorite moment, really, was when the Joker pissed off Harley once and for all and she defected to work for Scarecrow, complete with a Halloween-style witch costume.

It was the sort of Batman story we would have paid money to see or read.

Slot 5 (Saturday Morning): Pulp Chaos 7: Demons with Dirty Faces

This was the latest installment of this ongoing game. It’s basically an attempt to run a street level game set in the Courts of Chaos. In a place of reality warping Shadow-shifters and stitched together fragments of reality, what does poverty look like there? How about crime? As one player said in character one year, “You know Dagger Ways. It’s the kind of place you crawl out of the Pits of Hell and think ‘This is the kind of place I want to raise and possibly eat my young in.'”

It was, as per usual, very good. This year there were some strange twists to things. The first was that I accidentally set the max players at 8 instead of 6, and the game filled up. And it went to strange and weird places. Suffice to say that there were Lords of Chaos on hallucinogens and a multi-year-long man-crush consummated. To quote one character, “That ain’t an ovipositor.”

Slot 6 (Saturday Night): Grindhouse 6 (GMs: Thaddeus and I)

This was the sixth installment of this game. It’s not a campaign. It’s just an ongoing game with a common theme over the years: We run two games in one slot, horribly abusing a different indy game for each half. Thaddeus used the Fear Itself rules for GUMSHOE to run a Scooby Doo style mystery titled “The Strange Case of Old Man Jenkins”. I ran “Real World: Gotham City” using Monsterhearts. As with previous years, we had players describe trailers that air between the two halves of the game. And each game had a “missing reel” so that we could jump the plot to the end and try and turn things upside down.

Overall I feel like Thaddeus really knocked it out of the park and I got a chance to really try out GUMSHOE and see how it’s investigation mechanic worked. On the other hand, I think I should have had more pre-generated characters than just the semi-generated characters Monsterhearts normally uses. It took a while for people to decide how they wanted to adapt the Monsterhearts skins to common villains from Batman. And dumping them all together and letting things happen… didn’t feel like it really gelled.

Slot 7 (Sunday Morning/Afternoon): Even Death May Die: That Ocean is Not Silent

This was the second year that I ran this attempt to do an ADRPG-style reworking of the Scion: Hero system. It was a little wobbly this year. I had tried to smooth out some kinks learned from my first year running the game. I also only had one player return from the year before, so there was a certain level of trying to recreate some of the magic from the year before.

When I originally submitted the game, I had vague ideas of a Lovecraftian theme and retrying something I had tried to do in a previous campaign: Explore the idea of non-human mythologies. The general distinction between Titans and Gods is that Titans are raw forces of existence while Gods have become more connected to humanity. I’d pondered the possibility of a third option: non-human residents of earth who had their own Gods.

In the end it felt a little too high concept for a bunch of players who were relatively new to the Scion cosmology, so I reused the general plot from the previous year: A Titan is trying to force itself more into the mortal realm and the Scions have to stop it! The first year it was the Titan of Light and a bunch of angels. This year it was the Titan of Water and a bunch of deep ones. It ran basically fine, but it’s always disappointing to rehash old plots like this.

“Slot 8”

There are technically only seven slots at the convention, but after the Obies (in which we give each other awards for awesomeness through the con) and soaking in the soaking pool, some gaming broke out in a common area. People were calling it “Slot 8”, sometimes calling it “Slate!” I was convinced to run some Monsterhearts for some people curious about it.

I’ve never run straight Monsterhearts, and really only played it once before. It ended up being much darker and more messed up, with a high body count, right off the bat. After an hour of play, everyone pumpkined out so I ended up watching the wrong-bad conclusion to the other Monsterhearts game that was going on nearby. I can’t really explain it. There’s a certain level of “What happens in Vegas” that just requires this event to stay behind closed doors.

On the other hand, I had a great debriefing with more seasoned Monsterhearts players who game me a lot of pointers for the next time I try to run it.


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