AmberCon US 2013: After Action Report!

Once again, my lovely wife and I ventured east to the Great Lakes State to once again savor the roleplaying pleasures to be found at AmberCon!

I don’t know that much can be said about our pre-con adventures in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. Suffice to say we had the traditional pre-con party Wednesday night and the trek to Zingerman’s. Because it was snowing Wednesday and Thursday, we didn’t explore any of the other shops in Ann Arbor. But Zingerman’s was delish.

The con opened up with its usual meet and greet. It’s a nice catered event that allow people who have been coming for years to see the friends they only see once or twice a year.

And now, the games.

Slot 1 (Thursday Night) – All the Myths are True: A Hel of a Place to Make Your Fortune
GM: Dawn Vogel

This is the… fourth installment of this game, in which my wife has mashed up Deadlands with American Gods. It’s Deadwood as if the Norse religion had remained strong into the time of the US expansion into the west. Each of the characters has some sort of connection to a Norse god. In some ways it was a chance to finish the plot from the previous year, which I think we’d run out of time on. It tied into a deity that my character has a strong connection to: Hel. Since Chinese gods had been introduced the year before, she allowed the new player in our game to play a character with a connection to a Chinese deity instead of Norse. It’s the sort of game where thinly veiled knockoffs of Li Mu Bai and Doc Holliday have a standoff against spirit wolves in a graveyard. All told, pretty fun.

Hopefully next year it won’t all be my character’s fault.

Slot 2  (Friday Morning) – Blood: The Shadowing
GM: Matt Andrews

The concept for this was simple: A World of Darkness style setting where characters were of the Blood of Amber or Chaos but don’t know it. By the book Amber Diceless rules, with caveats specific to the setting. Mainly it had no ability to travel through Shadow. I would link to the Web site, but it appears to be down at the moment. There were the usual sorts of factions one would find in a World of Darkness setting, each featuring a different belief in what having the Blood meant or what it should be used for. There was a religious faction, a corporate faction, a government faction, etc.

I had a fair amount of fun. I wasn’t sure how serious this would be as the other game of Matt’s that I play, Nano-Victorian Future, can be a little silly at times. But I thought the tone in this worked out pretty well. I’ll be curious to see if he runs it again. My character for this game was inspired by Namor from the series he had in the early 90s. I cribbed some powers from the apocryphal Rebma Sourcebook, and decided that my character believed himself to be a scion of the lost kingdom of Atlantis. Beyond that he was a member of the Double Helix Club, which was inspired by the Hellfire Club as portrayed in X-Men.

Slot 3 (Friday Afternoon) – Shattered Judgment
GM: Me!

This was a Nobilis/Amber mashup I ran. I realized not too long ago that the concept behind the Nobilis/Sandman mashup I played could be applied to Amber: During the showdown with Brand at the edge of the abyss, Caine’s arrow struck the Jewel of Judgment and shattered it. The shards embedded into a handful of the royal family, who became the manifestations of different parts of reality.

This was a Corwin-series only Amber. There was no Logrus in the Courts of Chaos, and the Courts were not the opposite pole. They really were the end of reality as Amber knew it. They filled in the role of Excrucians in this setting I whipped up.

I think overall the game went well. We had Brand (Love), Flora (Fashion), Corwin (Luck), Julian (Hunting), and Deirdre (Sorrow). I ran it in a four hour slot, which seemed like too little time, but in the end might have been too much in some ways. There wasn’t much time to have a whole lot of existential exploration of reality. Instead it was a lot of over-the-top action.

I don’t know that it lends itself to a sequel. I don’t know that I’d get all the same players and I didn’t have a way in there to bring in new players. But as an experiment in setting and mechanics, I thought it was fun.

For those curious, here’s my character creation instructions:

Slot 4 (Friday) – The Nano-Victorian Future: Whispers In The Dark
GM: Matt Andrews

My other game with Matt this weekend, this is one I’ve come back to repeatedly. It’s sometimes a little weird and silly, but overall fun. In this game I play a gentleman thief who goes by the name of “Bishop”. He leaves chess pieces behind. This year I knew I was in trouble when one player played a beautiful noble con artist and another played a beautiful police detective. They are like kryptonite for my character. The game involved a rogue AI, which we ended up trying to save from the authorities without getting anyone killed. We generally succeeded, but now the con artist has blackmail material on my character and has offered to keep my secret in exchange for marriage. Because she’s a social climber.

So I had fun, since there was a lot about my character. =)

Slot 5 (Saturday Morning) – Fallen Amber
GM: Me!

Invariably, I do something (read a book, play a video game, see a movie) and I wonder, “I wonder if I could make a game out of this.” This was one of those, loosely inspired by Fallen London/Echo Bazaar. It’s been a few years since I’d played it, but the idea had nestled in my head and evolved. It merged with an idea I’d had for Amber re-imagined as Arkham, Massachusetts. Absorbed some ideas I’d had regarding a Bioshock/Rebma mashup. You can see what I did here:

The basic mechanic was the same that I use for Pulp Chaos/Rebma Confidential, but adapting some of the changes I’d made for All That Glitters. And I re-skinned it to give it a more Lovecraftian feel than pulp. The game went pretty well. I felt like the plot was a little derivative, but people seemed to have fun.

Slot 6 (Saturday Night) –  Ashworth Academy: Penultimate
GM: Me!

This may be the first campaign I’ve ever run at an AmberCon. I’ve run lots of series, but this is the first time I’d ever done a “returning players only” sort of thing. The first couple years I still maintained the conceit that players could come and go. I didn’t have a fully formed notion of what was going on behind the scenes until it played out. But by the end of last year it was very clear that this was about this set of characters. I couldn’t add in anyone after last year.

The big picture that has come out through play is that the Pattern and Logrus have been destroyed and the Jewel of Judgment shattered due to something unspecified that Ghostwheel did. The last “living” world is a patchwork amalgam of Earths. Ashworth Academy is a private school that the PCs started at as Freshmen. They are Juniors this year. The school has had many nods to Amber and is, in some ways, a faint nod to Amber-That-Was.

This year, cribbing a bit from Midnight Nation, the other school got to make their argument. The characters all awoke at the Charybdis Institute, a place that echoed the Courts of Chaos. It was more of a military academy than a private school, built to train spymasters and crime lords. Bits of the world began tearing open into the Abyss. They found Brand and Deirdre. It was awesome.

Next year is going to be nuts. I think they want to keep playing after their characters “graduate.”

This game has a site:

Slot 7 (Sunday Morning) – The Long Winter in the Dreaming City
GM: James Arnoldi

Another wonderful year in James’s game of fae noir. I again played my holistic detective, Diego del Fuego. The character started off as a parody of my fellow liberals, but I’m starting to find depth within him. It’s hard to be naively idealistic without tripping over yourself.  Diego’s finding himself in the paradox of not knowing how to change the world without violating his principals of peace. This was especially true with the Winter Court in control of the city of Murias. When the Queen of the fae calls up the Wild Hunt, it’s hard to be a pacifist.

Diego already had established a non-profit organization for disenfranchised gods called Habitat for Divinity. This year he started up a new one as the plot involved the oppression of zombie slaves by a necromancer. Jokes about Undead Pride and cars with gray rainbows abounded. (Diego is calling the grey rainbows “Fifty Shades of Gray.”)

Diego’s thing is doing non-traditional divination methods and then I decide what he thinks the clue means and he follows it. He has the flaw “can never do anything the easy way.” He can’t ask people questions. He has to ask the universe. Which involves Diego wandering through town, avoiding the plot, until he arrives at the end.

This time he did an I Ching reading using coffee stirrers instead of yarrow sticks. I had the GM pick a number between 1 and 64. He gave me 43. In the way that sometimes stories just come about through magic, this is what I got:

“Break-through. One must resolutely make the matter known at the court of the king. It must be announced truthfully. Danger. It is necessary to notify one’s own city. It does not further to resort to arms. It furthers one to undertake something.”

The whole description is uncannily appropriate and perhaps the most straightforward answer I’ve ever gotten with Diego. So Diego went to the Queen, and she resorted to something Diego finds abhorrent. So now he finds himself trying to understand what he can do that doesn’t just create more violence.

The site for this game:

Slot 8 (Sunday Night) – Rebma Confidential: Kiss Kiss, Glug Glug
GM: Me!

This is my gritty street level Rebma game, which someone once described as being film noir with Cthulhu jokes. In recent years I’d cribbed plots for the game from Raymond Chandler novels, but I ran out of ones I’d read. So this year was based off of Call of Cthulhu: One of the old gods of Rebma was starting to awaken and it was giving people with a bit of psychic sensitivity nightmares. Meanwhile there was a very musketeerian conspiracy between agents of the crown (led by the Queen’s sister, Scylla) and agents of Llewella. Generally fun. We had our usual core characters in this game, with some new players that really brought a lot of energy. I always love running this game because the players so deeply define the setting through their characters. It’s like a strange and alien homecoming.

I’m tempted  by this to run a game involving agents of either Scylla or Llewella, like a gender-flipped musketeer game.

For a glimpse at character creation and setting, this is the page for this:

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