This was my ninth straight year going to AmberCon NorthWest (ACNW), my favorite American convention. There remained a good crowd of about a hundred-twenty-something, with various newcomers along with stalwarts. My full list of events were:
GM John Kim
Thursday - 7pm to midnight
This was a re-imagining of Zelazny's Amber around a Chinese theme. The idea is that all civilizations and universes are merely reflections of the great Jade Empire, where the Pattern is housed deep in the Forbidden City within the capital. Further, those in whom the imperial blood runs true are superhuman - able not only to walk the Pattern, but to leap to the tops of buildings and engage in fantastical swordplay. It is a merging of Amber and the Chinese wuxia genre. My players the their characters were:
I had created four characters as possible pregens and initial NPC contacts, including Sanniang above as well as:
During the game, I asked players more about their background, and we came up with three more based on feedback.
We began with three vignettes. The first was Po Dan, who broke into a corrupt governor's treasury - only to find it is a trap. He fought off the guards only to encounter a shapeshifter whom he runs from. They have a rooftop chase to the city gate, where he calls lightning down on it - only to see the skies rip open. At the same time, Mimi was fighting bandits shaking down her theater - that was broken up by an earthquake. Meanwhile, in the capital, Sanniang sensed a danger to the emperor - she psychically travelled to the throne room, breaking through the wards, only to see Emperor Ling's heart burnt out. "Snake Spider" Fang then also arrived psychically and demanded she surrender to investigation. She fled as the emperor's death sent shockwaves throughout all of reality.
Mimi and Po Dan returned to the capital. "Snake Spider" Fang sent her to investigate Sanniang. Po Dan talked as leaders there argued over investigating the killing and supporting a new emperor. Hin-hung wanted a strong new emperor as soon as possible; Cai Fu wanted to investigate before deciding; Feixue stood between them. Mimi went near Sanniang's personal shadow An Shan - a realm of titanic mountains - and was attacked by fire-breathing tigers (arranged by Fang to draw out Sanniang). Sanniang came out to help Mimi, and then invited her in.
After being introduced to and brought up to speed, Mimi eventually tried to trump back to a side gate of the Forbidden City, but her trump was interrupted by spymaster Fang. He convinced her to pull him through, but she would not permit him to take action against Sanniang. He instead argued with Sanniang and then returned to the Forbidden City. They others considered the evidence so far, and further had theological discussions about how they should decide the next emperor.
Based on this, Sanniang walked the Pattern in her mind, and from the center wished to talk to the gods for what to do. She found herself dropped deep inside the Primal Pattern, where she first talked to the ghosts of Mimi's dead brothers Kiki and Liki. They took her to the ghost of Emperor Ling, who described that he had tea with Sanniang, and after she left he felt his heart burst. While she was gone, Po Dan fought with a shapeshifter in her workshop - eventually defeating it at the cost of many guards and trashing the workshop. Sanniang left the Primal Pattern by being ejected out of the Pattern within the Forbidden City. Exhausted, she was soon captured and held in pattern-laced chains for trial.
Minister Hin-hung had psychically interrogated many of the servants, and found their memories erased - but by combining views caught some glimpses of Sanniang going to see the emperor before his death. Returning to the capital to join the investigation, Po Dan experimented with the tea and tried to come up with the formula, eventually duplicating both the spell and the ingredient used.
Sanniang argued with her brother while in chains, eventually believing him that this was not his doing - while still infuriated with him. In the end, Hin-hung and Po Dan came to an understanding - and secretly arranged tea that had a variant of the assassin's formula used on the emperor. They then served it to the imperial family leaders at dinner. "Wise Heart" Xin had arrived at the last moment for the dinner, having been warned away by Po Dan. At dinner, many felt their hearts races after drinking the tea - and further, Po Dan faked his own death by fire from his chest. "Snake Spider" Fang then ran from the table to get space to escape. Sanniang chased after though in chains, and held off two shapeshifters at great cost - choking a flaming demon with her chains while a great spider bit her with poison. Mimi went past and fought Fang to a standstill whereupon he was overwhelmed by the other family.
Sanniang showed heroism despite the false accusation against her, and was eventually agreed on as regent.
GM John Kim
Friday - 9am to 1pm
This is an alternate-history larp that I had run previously, set in a timeline where the Icelandic colony in Vinland expanded rather than disappeared. It was set in what is modern-day New Jersey, on a viking homestead established for several decades - near to Lenape territory.
The scenario was originally made for 12 people, so there were many characters missing. Unfortunately, I don't think I did a good job of adapting it down to a smaller group. Also, the run was influenced by being in a morning slot in a room with a bunch of couches in a circle. The combination of few players, missing characters, and room arrangement meant that the game was effectively tabletop rather than live-action.
The start of negotiation was a little slow and formal, but went reasonably. Everyone eventually went into a spirit journey lead by Sigrid, who sent them into a barrow mound while she separately went to consult the Norns. They went away from graves, which put them into contact with Norse nature spirits - a face in the rock talked to them, and attacked them. Lapawinso and Thorstein got separated and had to burrow their way to the surface, cooperating, while the others had to fight shadow creatures given Mahattan's bravery. They came out able to speak to each other, and resolved more of their situation though without any immediate plans.
I was disappointed in myself for this one, and will think harder about character structure in these scenarios.
GM Sara Mueller
Friday - 2pm to 6:30pm
This was a continuing game, where Florimel, Llewella, and Fiona had divided up Amber, Shadow, and Chaos between them after Corwin died in Patternfall. At the start this adventure, Queen Florimel of Amber was brain-dead, Queen Fiona of Chaos was presumed dead though actually in hiding, and Head Speaker of the Law Llewella was in a coma. Chaos was in civil war; fae mounds were pushing up into Arden; and the underwater headquarters of the Speakers of the Law had been overrun. The player characters are all Speakers, who are now headquartered by Yggdrasil. In last year's adventure, a character had found the Jewel of Judgment in his secret shadow, walked a strange Pattern variant (possibly Logrus related) and put the Jewel back. Flora's daughter Cassandra ("Cassie") had just assumed the throne of Amber. The players and their characters this year were:
It had been roughly two weeks since the last adventure, and the Speakers of the Law had been very busy. Llewella's mysterious robotic-seeming secretary Clytemnestra sent a trump call - saying that there was a security breach in sub-basement 2, and the private vault was in danger. The Speakers naturally responded and re-took the old headquarters, fighting their way down through many Chaosites, including tough ones in the basement, who were trying to get past a sealed vault door. Interrogating a captured trooper, we found that they were from a tiny house of chaos - House Therril - with orders to recover the treasure within. Inside the vault door was a pocket Shadow like a crystal cave - with a crystal pillar on which were three items. Secretary Cly said that the room predated the headquarters, and that it had been used to permanently lock these away. The items were:
Leomur found a connection with Llewella in her coma to the knocker, which suggests that it is something precious to her or a part of her. He followed the trump energy of the knocker to Eric's private aerie near Amber. In a guest room mattress, we found hidden a trump of the door that the knocker came from.
While there, Lillith got a trump call from House Hendrake, receiving a letter from Fiona's lead guard Kaeladin that he had a hole in his memory - which had been set to be announced some time after Fiona's death. With Leomur taking the lead, we followed the knocker and card to create a jumpgate to a faerie village. It seemed to be a semi-faerie town called Overhill, and the manor house of the village was a residence of Princess Llewella.
After investigating the manor, Viola rode her horse wearing the silver horseshoes into an alley in City Amber. In the basement of that house, behind a hidden door in the wine cellar, was a vault. (Majia imitates something of Llewella's there.) In the house, Brid put on the bone ladies' shoes, clicked her heels three times, with Lillith touching her, and found herself in an awful, sickened orchard. There was a farmhouse and mausoleum nearby. In the mausoleum (of the Waterford family), we found a bone flute with a connector cable, in a coffin with the still-breathing corpse of a teenage girl. One of the bodies is a woman buried in armor with Deirdre's coat of arms on a pendant.
Based on this information, we attacked the headquarters of chaos House Therril. Therril's people had gotten Bleys' safe open, in which they found a box that lead them to the basement of Speaker HQ. We assembled the found pieces into a device that begins downloading an enormous amount of information into Llewella. Talking to Kaeladin, he revealed that the note was written after the treaty of Chaos and Amber, before he swore allegiance to Fiona as the new queen of Chaos. It had to do with the treaty. Note: The Black Guard, which Kaeladin represents, are sworn to a person of the ruler, not to the state.With Kaeladin's agreement, the group probed his mind and found that he had had his memories changed. He was missing a period of 15 minutes, during which he had discovered that he was of Amberite descent. Under Fiona's orders, he had chopped off Fiona's head, then trumped to Amber, killed Flora, and returned to Chaos. Fiona had wanted to get out of Chaos and her body, and would take over the body of Llewella via their psychic link if her body was killed. The psychic takeover had been stopped, but there had been no proof prior to this of Fiona's complicity.
After an hour with the device, Llewella was starting to stitch herself back together. The speakers agree that Fiona must be brought to justice immediately, and then eventually agreed to tell Kaeladin. He then promptly told Fiona "Run" via the intercom (as part of his satisfaction), then headed out to chase her down and kill her.
GM Malcolm Heath
Friday - 8pm to midnight
This was a game based on the Wildwood children's books by Colin Meloy. The five players all created their own characters by describing relatively ordinary Portland middle school kids. The players and their characters were:
We started on the first day of winter break, where we all took an invitation from a school friend named Suzanne to meet in a park. She lead us to the Ghost Bridge which took us into the Impassable Wilderness (activated by a stone she had), and lead us into a trap where we were trapped in a net and captured by coyotes. Crow and Percy were more suspicious and ran, but they were captured anyway. We met with the Dowager Governess, who first asked us to promise not to escape - but then told us we were all to be sacrificed to defeat the Great Tree. (Kiran mockingly told her after this that he agreed to her promise, but was dragged away regardless.) Afterwards, we were thrown in a cell with what was called "the beast" - but turned out to be an only slightly crazy bandit named Brian.
We escaped by pretending to fight, which brought the guard to the bars where we overpowered him. We escaped and Brian lead us to the northern mystics and the great tree. There we were welcomed by a motherly bear who gave us food and ale. The elder mystic then came, and explained that the Great Tree protected the Wildwood from the outside world. Kiran was dismissive, saying that they "want to keep their community gated." Simza was very emotional, identifying the elder mystic with her mother who had abandoned her. (The truth of this was not clear.) The mystic also said that they had Suzanne, who did what she did only because her father had been captured.
In the fight, Alfie and Crow both went wild fighting in a bloody battle of muskets and blades. Percy asked to relay messages for the command, and used that to bring in some tactics. She lead a squadron of moose to flank the enemy. Meanwhile, Simza and Kiran sat out the fight. Kiran asked after Suzanne - and found her upstairs in the inn. Finding her without her father, he was angry and said if she did this for her father, she should go and find him. He punched her and was kicked in the nuts in return. Dragging her downstairs, Simza made a folk charm of coyote hair and Suzanne's spit, and burned it in the fireplace. She then walked off.
After winning the battle, Simza insisted that Kiran return to his family - but she was staying. Alfie, Percy, and Crow all leaned towards going back only after more time in the Wildwood. They went the long way back without taking the Ghost Bridge.
GMs Lee Short, James Ryan Craig, Melissa Kocher
Saturday - 9am to 4:30pm
This was a larp-like throne war game, with pregenerated characters that the players selected from priorities. The players and their characters were:
The game began in the throne room of Amber, where the family was gathered at the calling of Eric acting as regent. The notable newcomers were Finndo and Corwin, who had both been missing for ages. He attempted to claim the kingship - which the others rejected although they still accepted him as regent, at least openly. There were armies of Chaos encroaching on Amber, and some made plans for dealing with them.
Within the castle, Eric had guards keep Corwin out of the library - so he burst in, and confronted the librarian inside - actually Finndo shape-shifted. He threatened the librarian, who was apparently looking into records of when Finndo was around. Others were looking into the disappearance of Florimel - who was later found dead on Shadow Earth - and confronting the armies of Chaos. Corwin coordinated with Deirdre and set his troops to attacking the Black Road. He found that Greyswandir could divert the advancing road, but it marred the Pattern on the blade. This meant that the Road had some Pattern behind it.
Later, Corwin contacts Finndo by trump, who had Oberon's body that he found deep in a pocket Shadow that was difficult to escape. Corwin asked to be pulled through and found himself in Chaos where he met Finndo's Chaosite wife.
Later, others join, and they confront a minor house of Chaos to recover Osric. It turned out that Oberon had been sacrificing his own children in order to maintain the Pattern. In backstory, Finndo and Osric were imprisoned in Chaos when they found out. Eric, Flora, and Corwin imprisoned Oberon - but the Corwin was betrayed. Later, Julian found out the secret and killed Oberon. They brought Oberon's body back to Martin's room in Amber, and pieced together the situation.
Fiona then rode by herself to the Grove of the Unicorn. Convinced she was up to something, Corwin chased after her - and then Eric, Julian, and Rand chased after him. They fought just by the grove, and Corwin barely escaped to trump back to the castle. Finndo then rode out with him and a bunch of guards with orders to keep the peace. They arrive to find Fiona has summoned the unicorn. It asks all of them what they would give to restore the Pattern. Finndo walks the Pattern and offers self-sacrifice. He is stripped of his powers and strength, but becomes king.
GM Clint Whiteside
Saturday - 7pm to midnight
This was the third in a continuing game. I was joining it as one of two new players - we arranged a linked background. Previously, the club had gotten into meth cooking after a clash with Dalt. The last game ended with NPC member Ozzie being run off the road and shot up with AK-47s.
We started with Deirdre vomiting in the shower of her hotel room, cursing out Cor. They clearly care about each other, however. We picked up with them rejoining at the clubhouse, where Cor was allowed to transfer back into the club. Brand and the probie Luke were sent to pick up Ozzie's bike from police impound. While driving out to the county sheriff's impound, they drove past Dalt's thugs and some neo-nazis in town. Luke ran them off the road.
Meanwhile, Ron and Cor talked to Gerry in the hospital. Jul, Rand, and Caine stopped by the meth cook trailer and find it burning. The assistant Manuel was dead, and Don was hiding in the trunk of his car. Back in the clubhouse, Deirdre called her uncle Lon, who is involved with militias and gun-running, and had him look into the neo-nazi connections. Fi and Deirdre talked about porn, and D agreed to help out. As the boys get back, D and Cor talked and had sex in the office, and shortly after, Brand and Fi had sex in the kitchen.
Don hid out in town for a while, but he ran into someone searching his trunk and knocked him out with a phone book. Jul, Rand, and Caine dealt with the guy, who turned out to be one of Dalt's thugs, by setting him up for the police. After this, Julian took Don as a probie, although Brand argued against this. The group set up to get meth equipment, with Brand taking charge.
On Ron's orders, Julian harshly questioned his new probie Don, to make sure he had nothing to do with the leaks. In the garage, they detailed Don's car to disguise it. D's uncle found out that it was the White Aryan Coalition who were behind the AK-47s. Luckily, they were only loosely tied to Dalt and his thugs. In church, the club agreed to eliminate Dalt, which should eliminate the coalition's interest.
We skipped ahead about a week. Rand killed Dalt on his own without telling the others. "Wild Bill" Roth the lawyer visited, to arrange talks with the Aryans. Then Julian heard from a police contact that the DEA was coming in, and that there was a racist DEA agent close to the Aryans. (He had been kicked off a Fed investigation of the Aryans because of conflict of interest.) They searched and found bugs in the meeting room. During this time, Caine was on the road escorting a marijuana shipment. He hooks up with a beautiful woman named Flower.
To deal with the DEA, the club made a plan to feed false info via the bugs to get the DEA to bust them for buying legitimate Chinese laundry equipment, using a contact named Mr. Lee (?) in Oakland. They went out to negotiate, which was successful. D called Cor in Oakland, asked if he was going to make it to their Lamaze class. He said he'd take care of it, and had Julian send the new probie Don to take her. D was pissed, but she still trolled for porn recruits at the Lamaze class. She then took Don back to her hotel room and spilled beer on his pants to get him in a compromising situation for when Cor got home. Cor took it in stride, with only mild threats to Don.
Eventually, the plan worked, and the DEA was humiliated and dropped the investigation after their bust turned up nothing. We then skipped a few days to when Brand and Fi got married at the county office. After the ceremony, Cor asked D to marry him. Deirdre was upset, but she accepted the ring. At the reception at the clubhouse, the catering van exploded. We saw Brand bleeding, and left it on a cliffhanger.
GMs Malcolm Heath, Kai Mayfield
Sunday - 10am to 4:30pm
This is a continuing larp-like game, a steampunk game about a group of explorers from a British society. There were about twelve players, who had just landed in Singapore in a submarine after destroying the island of Dr. B and rescuing his construct "bride" Allie.
We started in Singapore by introducing the "bride" Allie - a human-appearing construct whom the explorers rescued from the evil Dr. B. The theorist Dr. Darcy was very close to her. They took direction from Lord Huw, who had a very rough map based on a vision he had - jungle, natives, and ruins. We were looking for "Huwinium" - a jade-colored crystal needed to rejuvenate Allie, who had been running out of power. Mackenzie and Keolakameha questioned locals, and heard stories of ruins that had no particular connection to the map - so naturally the group then travelled through jungle to find them. They found the ruins and camped outside, avoiding traps around it. During the night, however, the ruins collapsed. Allie had retrieved the crystal fuel on her own in the night and headed off at superhuman speed through the jungle. She left only a brief note: "Best friend Darcy - I am sorry. Love, Allie."
Returning to the nearest town, they found she had stolen the submarine and left. We hired an airship and headed to London to intercept her. Searching in London at first did not find her, though we did hear that the submarine landed in Wales - and after some dangerous experiments, we confirmed that she was in London using a resonance device that detected her Huwinium power source. The poet Buckminster was captured by John Smith and John Smith, agents of the Crown. Keolakameha and Jack investigated a flat owned by Dr. B, and there fought with the same two agents. Jack knocked them both out, and Keolakameha left a note to the agency apologizing. They found letters by the doctor to his dead wife, and then met with the others in a pub across the street to confer.
From interactions, Darcy concluded that the two priests were hiding information - possibly working for the evil doctor. Returning to the airship, Darcy and Keolakameha tried to ambush the two priests - but the group was surrounded and captured by agents of the Crown. In questioning, the poet Buckingham told of the Black Tower - an organization dedicated to stopping Progress, and killing Dr. B. The agents say the two priests are working for them. The agents were not totally incompetant - Mary found that they know some technology, and they had found a cave containing a cache of Dr. B's devices including a homing signal that was drawing Allie in. She was prevented from reaching there by a jamming device that Mary had created, which Mary then turned off.
Captive in the cave, the agents and explorers were ambushed by Black Tower agents. In a big fight, the explorers held off the agents until Professor St. George eliminated most using a blood evaporation ray created by Dr. B. Mary had gotten a message to Allie by modifying the homing device; Mackenzie stopped a seismic machine set off by the shooting; and Jack proved himself quite deadly. Keolakameha mainly helped his bodyguard Mae do the real fighting. After the agents were fought off, young lover Darcy ran out to meet Allie who was approaching.
ACNW remains my favorite role-playing convention. The community is a big part of that, which is helped by the shared culture - and also by pre-convention organizing.