AmberCon NorthWest 2007

         This was my third year going to AmberCon NorthWest (ACNW), a small but well-organized game convention -- lead by organizer Simone Cooper. Besides the Amber focus, it's standout feature is the location at McMenamins Edgefield, a hotel and brewery on a historical site.

         This year there were 90 or so people who attended, even or a bit less than the previous year. Again most were from the state or adjoining states, with scattered attendees from across the country and a few from England. The gender ratio seemed roughly the same -- roughly 40-45%. And as before, there were many games run by women: ?? by women compared to ?? by men and ?? by both. This time I went with my wife and son. It seemed that there were more kids than last time, but still rare.

         I opted this time to run two non-traditional games this year. The first was a non-Amber-setting game -- the parlor larp "Hamlet", that I had run twice before. The second was a non-traditional Amber-setting game, a action-packed game "Big Trouble in Little Amber". My full list of events were:

Slot #1: "Forgotten Scions"

GM Dawn Greenlee
Thursday, November 1, 2007 - 7pm to midnight

This was a classic sort of Amber campaign scenario -- a group of people with normal lives on Earth discover that they are actually descendants of Amber. The twist with this was that on this Earth, there was an AmberCon in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand -- and Nine Princes in Amber was being adapted into a major motion picture. The PCs were supposed to be prepared in advance via email with some reason for being at AmberCon Las Vegas. The PCs we got were:

         This had the potential for a lot of self-reflective bits, having Amber fans finding that they were Amberites. I played up to this by making a character who wasn't a fan per se but had read all the Amber books and written a screenplay based on them. As it turned out, though, none of the other PCs had read the books (though of course all the players had). I think the reflective part had potential, but it wasn't realized since mine was the only PC who dug into it. I should mention that my PC was based to a large degree on my best friend from high school, and his film credits were imaginary indie films like the sci-fi feature "Traveller" and the teen comedy "Teenagers from Outer Space".

         The main action of this was the PCs being contacted by the elder Amberites to join their lost heritage and perhaps aid in the continued fight against Chaos after the end of the Patternfall War. (The second series was not part of the continuity here.) All of the PCs eventually walked the Pattern and talked to their parents. There was some followup as Trish's PC Jon Shiel left Amber disillusioned and the others tried to contact him.

         There were a lot of fun bits of interplay in this, but I don't think things really came together for this one. To be fair, it was intended to have more laidback pacing as the establishing session for a periodic campaign to be run at ACNW. Still, the potential for reflective stuff wasn't realized, as I mentioned. Also, the PCs broke apart fairly quickly once given freedom of movement. Lastly, there wasn't a strong driving motivator since the threats (both to us personally and to Amber as a whole) were abstract. i.e. Chaos might eventually attack Amber again, and it might trap us if we didn't stick close to Amber. However, while we had seen Chaosites attacking others in Shadow, the threat seemed pretty abstract. To me, the combination of who our PCs were with the situation wasn't very compelling -- but it was still a nice group of people to play with.

Slot #2: "Betrayal at Castle Amber"

GM Amy Edwards
Friday, November 2, 2007 - 9am to 1pm

This was an adaptation of the boardgame Betrayal at House on the Hill as a semi-role-playing scenario. We did not actually use the game components. Instead, Amy (and friends) had created a beautiful alternate set of cards and tiles based on the Amber series.

         For those unfamiliar with it, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a horror movie tile-baesd boardgame. Each player takes one character based on classic horror movie stereotypes, and starts moving through the haunted house. The house has three starting tiles, and new tiles are drawn randomly as characters explore, finding Omens, Items, and Events. After a randomly-determined point, the betrayal phase starts. One of the players turns into some sort of monster and betrays the others. The game has forty or so different monster scenarios, each of which has different rules and victory conditions.

         We played this as the group of Amberites returning to Castle Amber after attending the coronation of Merlin as Emperor of Chaos (i.e. the end of the second Amber series). The roleplaying did affect our choices in the game, but not that frequently. More often it served to foster in-character banter between the players. i.e. At virtually any omen, I would say as Bleys "It's a sign that I'm meant to be king!"

         All in all, a very good game. Everyone said they would be interested in buying the homemade copies of the game if they were available.

Slot #4: "Hamlet"

GM John Kim
Friday, November 2, 2007 - 8pm to midnight

This was an eight-person larp that I ran, which was a pre-made scenario written by J Li of the now-defunct Shifting Forest Storyworks. The description I gave for the convention book was:

A larp adaptation by J Li of Shakespeare's Hamlet, set in a twist of the plot the day after Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius. Hamlet is about to be sent away to England in a few hours, and will not have another chance to kill Claudius perhaps for years. The majority of the court, Ophelia included, have been told that Polonius accidentally fell down the stairs. At the queen's insistence a small gathering is held to send Hamlet off. In the middle of it all, Laertes returns unexpectedly, demanding to see his father.

I originally had five players preregister, and we worked out who would be which parts by email. I suggested five key parts of the eight, and everyone gave their top three choices. Luckily, there were no conflicts in the #1 choice. However, no one wanted to play Claudius -- the fifth player was interested in Rosencrantz. Therefore I had planned on playing Claudius myself. However, as it turned out one of the players didn't make it, but two others turned up from a cancelled game. The players and their parts were:

I think things went quite well. I had brought crackers, danishes, and Danish cheeses -- and some of the players brought wine. It did end with Hamlet and Laertes openly killing Claudius, at around 11:30. As Madeline commented, this was an ending which could have happened much earlier. There were two key events leading to this. Hamlet privately confessed to Laertes about killing Polonius after others had lied to him, and won him over as an ally. After that, the conspirators pulled away the guard Marcellus and sent him running via social conflict.

         In other Parlor Larp games, some players have had issues with the social conflict system. In this case, though, I think all the conflicts worked smoothly. In principle, the mechanical social conflict system is there to break deadlocks and keep the game moving, which it did in this case.

Slot #5: "Warlord's Quadrant: Apogee's Wake"

GM Stephanie Itchkawich
Saturday, November 3, 2007 - 9am to 4:30pm

This was a science fiction game, a diceless game using material from the 1980 RPG Space Opera, a continuation of a similar game from last year, "Apogee Down", where survivors of the CSS Apogee's crash had to find their way back to Confederated Space. There were only three players this time, and only one from the previous year. Responding to the GM's email, I made a character in advance -- but the third player made a character at the start of the session.

A little over half the session was taken up in preparations: creating Don's character, introductions, an overview of the situation, and then outfitting our ship for the mission (which involved a number of negotiations and review of our ship's personnel). We were trying to rescue some 18 thousand people missing in warlord-controlled space: 563 from the Apogee, and around 17,500 lost from the carrier group sent to rescue it. The warlords were a loose group of primitively organized clans, but with substantial psychic powers boosting their apparently low technology. The mission seemed overwhelming to say the least. We had a single Class IV cruiser with around 130 crew (compared to a full carrier group which had been defeated). However, we had under-the-table support from many sides who could not publically support a rescue for political reasons. We supplemented this with 10 rogues from the pirate's connections as well as 30 marines, 10 medical personnel, and gunnery crew from the Navy. We also received an experimental, top-secret fighter group that essentially took over our bay.

         We then proceeded into the dangerous quadrant, and started up investigations. A military rescue was out of the question, but we were instead able to negotiate a release based on our rather fuzzy understanding of the warlord logic. I liked a lot of the action, but I do feel like a lot of the game was rather over our heads. We were dealing with vast forces. While we were given a lot of help and commanded the mission for ourselves, we had little information and thus had to .

Slot #6: "Big Trouble in Little Amber"

GM John Kim
Saturday, November 3, 2007 - 7pm to midnight

This was a new event that I had come up with for this con. It was an intersection of three inspirations: (1) the Amber setting and gaming tradition of intricate backstory and plotting; (2) the 1986 film "Big Trouble in Little China"; and (3) the Spirit of the Century system and neo-pulp gaming advice. Here was the description I gave for sign-up:

In Jidrash, the capital of Kashfa, there is a neighborhood known to locals as "Little Amber". It is a little piece of the great empire of Amber, where people of Amber congregate within this foreign land. However, mysterious events go on within the bowels of this neighborhood that none of the Kashfans fathom. Solemn oaths are sworn, deals brokers, and wars carried out without any of the local Kashfans understanding.

All of that is about to explode when a local tradesman happens on a mysterious crime, and heroes within Little Amber must rescue the kidnapped victims.

This is a Spirit of the Century game set in Kashfa before the first Amber series, with pulp action and spirit.

         My idea was to have all of the PCs have backgrounds tied into Amber and for them to have various secret knowledge... except one. That one PC is the "Jack" character -- not necessarily exactly Jack Burton of the movie, but a parallel of someone who knows nothing of Amber or the background. My plan was to work out characters by email, and give all the players except the Jack character detailed background. However, many of the players were slow to respond by email, and other things happened, so I didn't have the characters complete until just before the con. They were pregenerated characters based on mostly general requests from the players.

cf. the Character Sheets that I have online.

Overall, I think the game went very well. There was a lot of fun pulpish action that mixed Amber tropes with schticks from the movie. It was set a while before the first Amber series. I started with a big action scene where Lady Jasra -- an innocent noblewomen to all knowledge -- was kidnapped by strange shadow men. They then tracked down the source, found an illegal cage match of bizarre creatures in caverns below the city, and eventually took on the mystically superpowered culprit.

There were a lot of great lines in it, like when an Amberite prince throws a sword from a football field away to kill a creature with them, and Jack then shouts out to him "Bet you can't do that again" and the inevitable follow-up. This perfectly mirrored the attitude of the movie, while still being distinctly Amber.

Slot #7: "OMG! We're like totally BFFs!"

GM Lee Bynum
Sunday, November 4, 2007 - 10am to 4:30pm

This was a run of Gregor Hutton's indie game Best Friends -- a diceless game about "girlfriends and their petty hatreds". We made our characters and their situation up collectively in the session. The GM decided that we were to be high school juniors, but we had a lot of leeway past that. The game starts by determining stats by a fun method where all the other players determine what the one players stats are. Unlike the last game I had played, we basically didn't decide anything about our characters before stat assignment.

         As a group, we came up with the idea that we were going to be the "Christies" of the school -- where most of us were called some variant of Christie. The players and our characters were:

Obviously, this lead to confusion -- but it was deliberate and we embraced it. Many of the NPCs kept confusing us as well. The action mostly centered on our schemes to get back at an ex-member of our clique, Kris, for whom June was a replacement. My character, Christina, was pretty but not tough and average otherwise. I had that she was struggling with being boring -- she was toying with the idea of going out with a bad boy Lee that her father would hate. However, when in the process of scheming she met up with rival Kris' older brother in college, she decided to try for him instead.

         The game was a lot of fun in a tongue-in-cheek but mostly believable way. Most of our characters worked together (though bickering all the while) against our rival Kris. I skipped out on the high school Halloween dance because I got to go to a college party with Kris' older brother -- but no one hugely objected, and we all got relatively happy endings.


         The big story of this con was a terrible cold that took out many people during the con itself instead of afterwards as is common. However, it held up as my favorite convention these days.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Thu Nov 29 08:42:56 2007