AmberCon NorthWest 2014

         This was my tenth 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:

Slot #1: The Jade Throne In Peril

GM John Kim
Thursday - 7pm to midnight

This was the second year of this game - my first continuing campaign. It is a re-imagining of Zelazny's Amber around a Chinese theme, where all civilizations and universes are merely reflections of the great Jade Empire, and the Pattern is housed deep in the Forbidden City within the capital. There are many relatives since the first emperor long ago, and 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 merges Amber with the Chinese wuxia genre. My players the their characters were:

During the game, I asked players more about their background, and we came up with three more based on feedback.

I did not take good notes on the plot, but roughly this was focused on a clash with the denizens of Chaos - the Mongol-inspired inhabitants beyond the Great Wall.

Slot #2: The Bureau

GM Roberta Tower
Friday - 9am to 1pm

This was a diceless game based on Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic, which has been continuing for a number of years. Everyone made characters in advance.

We started in the Portland office building of the Bureau, where most of the agents lived - with only Jane and Eddie definitely having their own apartments. Ed had fixed himself up in one of the cells, William had a room upstairs, and David and Lillith spent all their time around the place. A report came in from Bureau HQ: (1) that HQ was going dark - warning about Senate investigation; (2) something about carnation and missing townspeople; (3) reports of increasing sorcerous auras in the Seattle area.

It turned out that Carnation is a small town near Portland, where 15 people had gone missing in the last two weeks. We noted this but worked first on the sorcerous activity in Portland. We found evidence that the local sorcerers were unionizing, and were dropping off the net after their last union meeting. Searching further, we find an occult bookstore ("The Metaphysical Bookstore") owned by one Sara Thane, who was one of those who had dropped off the net. Donald Carr was another local sorcerer who had dropped off the net.

We all drove downtown in our specially-fitted van, after which William and David first checked out the bookstore. William had a bunch of ghosts and one possessed person following him. He lead them off while David checked out the bookstore - soon joined by Jane and Eddie. The bookstore clerk said that Sara Thane has been missing for a month, but her husband, J Thane, said that she had been home and going to work for that time.

We found blackness engulfing next door to the store - and tested it thoroughly including Eddie pushing a cell phone on a stick. Others noticed a crazy possessed person wandering nearby. The blackness soon spanned much of the building that was half a block wide. We were unable to stop it, but we did find items placed in distinct spots that were keeping the gateway open, and set up surveillance of the door into blackness, while also arranging for evacuation of the block.

We then checked out the nearby town of Carnation, starting with contacting the local police by posing as CDC officials investigating the local disappearances as possibly related to a brain virus. The 15 people had all disappeared at 11:45AM each day - and their points of disappearance formed a geometric figure with three points still missing.

It turned out that these two mysteries were independent and relatively straightforward. In Carnation, we went on patrol at 11:45AM the next day and we caught a young man (and enthusiastic cultist) about to sacrifice a person who was drugged and in the trunk of his car. We then went back to the city and removed all the items keeping the gate open. The building then sucked in and disappeared - destroying the building but with no further effects.

This felt a little flat to me mainly from genre expectations. With two simultaneous cases, I expected a connection and some sort of climactic wrap-up. That might be something to wrap up instead.

Slot #3: NINF: A Body on the Doorstep

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. The player characters are all Speakers of the Law, following Llewella who is headquartered by Yggdrasil. This adventure started with Chaos in upheaval with Queen Fiona on the run after it had been revealed that she orchestrated the attempted assassinations of Llewella and Florimel to escape her throne. Llewella was recovered, though, and Queen Cassandra of Amber was settling into her throne. This time, we were dealing mainly with faerie among the mounds turning up within Arden. The players and their characters this year were:


Slot #4: West Coast Alphas

GM John Kim
Friday - 8pm to midnight

This was a new game for me, done as an offshoot of the Syfy television series "Alphas" - which featured people who each had an extraordinary neurological talent (their "alpha ability") combined with a corresponding weakness. The player characters were a separate team of alphas in Portland with no direct connection to the series characters in New York. The team was organized around a psychologist named Dr. Kramer who was vital to them being functional as a team and in life. We used diceless and mechanic-less play. The players and their characters were:

I considered this a resounding success.

The action began with the team attempting to recruit Charlie. Stan had identified someone making usual connections to electrical equipment in the building where Charlie worked. In the meantime, Charlie was in the middle of getting fired. He fried his boss' computer and stalked out. That night, his boss was found killed in the lobby by an electric shock, and a witness identified Charlie as the one who pulled him over to where his body was found.

They investigated (....)

Slot #5: Monolith

GMs Jules and Yi Mei
Saturday - 9am to 4:30pm

This was Jules and Yi Mei's game that started about a group of soldiers on a covert ops mission against a cartel drug lord in Mexico. The action then shifted to a group of civilians in the Bay Area, with shared memories of the soldiers. I played the soldier known as "Kong" who turned out to be a mild-mannered immigrant chemist who had secretly killed her late husband.

It was an excellent diceless, mechanic-less game that mixed interesting character interaction along with the existential mystery. Such mysteries are always a little tricky on suspension-of-disbelief, but this one did about as good a job as can be expected. My favorite moment was when my character was sitting in negotiation dressed up presentably, and then leaped across the table using her commando skills to take down the negotiator and threaten him with the point of her high heel in his face.

Slot #6: Sons of Ambarchy 4

GM Clint Whiteside
Saturday - 7pm to midnight

This was the fourth 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 particularly missed two of last years characters - Madeline as Brand (Luke's sponsor) and Anne as returning nomad Cor. We played that Brand ended up in the hospital in an attack, and it turned into a bit of a split where Fi, Deirdre, and Flora plotted amongst themselves while the boys took their own path.

As we started, Brand was bleeding and down from the explosion outside the clubhouse - and the MC were all waiting in the hospital for news on his condition. Cor (as NPC) then ran off and shot up a nearby neo-nazi tattoo joint. He was picked up by the sherriffs along with searching and confiscating everything from their house. Randy went to check on the meth trailer and found it was missing. He sent prospie Marty to check up on the laundry (our legit cover business).

As events unfolded, Ron ordered Caine to keep security on the porn biz, and D took pictures of the crime scene and ATF agents. Flora ran the plates and passed them to her contact in the CHP, who connected the plates to Feds out of Boise, Idaho. D then asked her uncle Lon to track them down with his neo-nazi / survivalist contacts. At church the next morning, two new members dropped in - Dell (a nomad) and Sandy (a female member out of Anchorage), both in their fifties. Soon, the others heard that the weed fields were on fire, and several members headed out to deal with it lead by Julian.

Fi caught and interrogated the tattoo shop owner, Bobby McDermott, who said that the new neo-nazis were from various surrounding places, including Mark Englewood, who runs a legitimate Aryan power magazine.

Out at the pot farm, there were a bunch of firemen and police - and the whole operation seemed toast. Julian and Ollie ran into a mine on the way back, killing Ollie, badly injuring Julian, and totalling his Stern Morgan bike. There was a swastika carved into a tree nearby. The club then regrouped.

Caine spotted the meth trailer over the county line, and called it into the sherriff - noting by the fumes that they were cooking meth at the time. Meanwhile, Fi, Flora, and D used the excuse of going to visit Brand in the hospital in Palo Alto to go down to Fresno on the trail of Mark Englewood - at the same time as Randy went AWOL on a similar mission independently.

Randy spotted Dell on a shop overlooking Englewood's church, and went to talk to him. Deirdre was spotted by Englewood tailing him - but she wiled her way into his house - where he tried to seduce her, and she killed him with the help of Fiona and Flora. The three of them then dumped his head at the church - with clues giving the appearance of a Mexican gang killing.

On the way back from Fresno, an ATF SUV pulled the ladies over, and a female officer asked them to talk in a nearby restaurant. She gave them an envelope of pictures along with her card, indicating that she would want money to pay her off. Randy killed off one of the next leaders of white power who showed up after Englewood's funeral - making it look like an accident, even though no one believes that.

Fi checked with their lawyer Bill Roth, who advised to pay off the agents - and offered to personally help with the payoff if Fi would take Llewella away from him (who was trying to move into his house). Dell sent a series of selfies showing that he had tracked the messenger for Englewood to where she made the drop later. Ron blamed Randy for the hit on Englewood, and said he heard from Ben that Quentin is at war (presumably between white power and Mexicans). However, he didn't consider it a major problem. Ron sent Julian to Denmark to improve relations with their only overseas chapter. (There was also a connection there to get another Stern Morgan motorcycle.) Cory still in jail for murder, and asked for Caine to take care of the witness of him shooting the neonazi.

Next on Sons of Ambarchy:

Slot #7: The End of Dr. Unpronounceable

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.

In the continuing adventures, Dr. Bzggnartski sent a letter to public members of the explorers, speaking of an "existential threat to us all" and saying that he needs our help. He would turn himself in at 10AM at Charring Cross Station on Nov 9, but only into our custody. Surprisingly, he actually seems to do this.

He directs us to a hole in Siberia that goes into an underground world, where we eventually encounter a lost saurian civilization there. We eventually found the ruins of a lost city there, and meet the saurian queen - who is furious with Dr. Bzggnartski, and wants to recapture him to rekindle their power source. Negotiations break down, and we begin over their strange power source - eventually leading to the destruction of the power source, the seeming death of the queen (?), and the inevitable escape of the evil doctor.


         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.