Ambercon (ACUS) 2013, Livonia, Detroit

Ambercon (ACUS) 2013
Wonderful con with a decent amount of social time with friends I see once a year (when I’m going there!)
Some very good character play and lots of action. Some time as a player with GMs handling genres that I love.
I’m going to do my usual summaries of games below, even though I’ve not said much about Amber gaming in these pages of late. So this year I’m hoping to do more, stretching format a little to talk about how I design games and how they turn out. No game survives contact with the players. On the other hand, would you really want it to? I don’t think so.

Ambercon needs more games (or players to become GMs as well). Write me here if you have an interest and I can put you in touch with convention organizers.
For those just joining us, Ambercon ACUS takes place once a year in the Detroit, Michigan area. You are welcome to attend or ask me questions about the Con. The Amber convention includes all kinds of diceless games, and covers a wide range of genres besides Amber (as told by Roger Zelazny in 15 different stories about the “Nine Prince in Amber”.)
This year I’m including the time slot structure, so new readers can get a feel for how a convention runs beginning to end.

Slot 1 : Thursday, March 21, 2013 – 7pm to midnight
(note: folks are arriving to the convention, or arriving late and gaming next day, this slot is often a ‘warm up’ or filled with easy to light games)
Agents of the Argent Rose: City of Paradise GM Arref Mak

premise: Corwin has drawn a Pattern of Order (called the Argent Rose) south of Ygg while remembering the Paris where he was happy for a time. Players take on the roles of his grandchildren, who are significant Agents of the Argent Rose.
structure: This is a game mashup of history that was, history as Corwin remembers it, and history as made by the Players. France is the center of the globe and all Art and Culture lead back to Paris. Corwin Fenneval does not really run France, having learned that he does not care to be King. However, he is a titan behind the scenes of the growing strength and majesty of the republic of France. Various world leaders find his charisma hard to shake off. In theory, Corwin is the center of Everything but in practice he is a man that has his own interests.
This is also a ‘serial game’. The game premise repeats each year with a changing cast of Player Characters. It’s not a game form I invented, but I pushed this into the convention schedule when most games were ‘continuing campaigns’ and tended to lock up the convention schedule with great game blurbs you could not join because they were already full and the GMs were not going to slow-down to introduce new Players to the extensive back story.
A ‘serial game’ is open to new players. However, I offer first choices to returning players and so the game may fill up fast. You have to get your game choices back to the organizers quickly if you want to squeeze into a game like this.
Blurb: France. The year is 1923. An age of wonder and contentment has come upon the world. The modern vision of great bards like Jules Verne has begun to see realization. The world hub for artistry, genius, and innovation is the banks of the river Seine. Paris. You have safely escorted the Chin Emperor’s daughter as she returns to China. Private orders, insure that Stigmatist radicals do not threaten a long-standing alliance between China and France. But now you know that one of your cousins has fallen to the Stigma cult! Your Chinese allies cannot stand against the cult led by your Cousin, Maximilian. Your mission, keep the peace and support the Great Republic. The Argent Alliance, the honor of your family and innocent lives may hang in the balance.
summary: Last game the Princess had finished her tour of Paris and was returning to China. The Players interacted with her, but had many problems of their own to deal with, as Grandpere Corwin was planning to divorce Grandmere Lorelei. This possible divorce sent consternation through many of the PCs… and in-game Corwin reveals his heartbreak and anger that Lorelei has been lying to him about her true nature for many years. Still, the Players got the Princess out of France and on her way to China, only to discover with some horror that people were trying to kill her. And a final moment reveal was that a cousin, (and former Player Character), was suddenly working for the Stigma terrorists against Argent France.
So this year, we began with a successful return to the Forbidden City. A huge crowd is waiting for the party, waving crowds that are some miles long. The scale of this swamps anything the PCs have seen before. Even France does not throw this kind of party.
The princess arrives, and long slow welcoming ceremonies begin.

An army arrives on the same avenue as the parade and immediately attacks the Imperial Guards, throwing all into disarray (and we are off and running!)
Some PCs are very good at overwhelming odds, but even they are not foolish enough to confront an army. Still, William and Cloe make serious in-roads to defending the palace, while Simone, Melisande, and Vivian protect the Princess.

Lucien has a different problem. He has not been able to enter the palace. His magical nature apparently is keeping him exposed and vulnerable…he quickly locates an alternate route through the grounds, where a tiny crack in the defenses allows him to slip inside the palace. Under the palace, Lucien discovers three ancient guardians who are watching the mayhem of the army attacking and commenting on it. He slips past them to join back up with the Princess.

The Princess fears for her father, so the PCs rush her through the palace sending alarms. Other Provincial Commanders (Generals with their own armies) are found, the Princess orders them to destroy the attackers (Purple Commander) and they rush off to do so. Lucien asks the Princess for a formal invitation to come and go from the palace (he needs this because he knows the palace is well defended against magic) and she complies with pen and papers supplied by Simone. The group hunts deeper in the palace and finds the Emperor, quietly listening to a gramophone jazz sample.

There is a tearful reunion, it is obvious that they care greatly for each other.

Outside, William and Cloe thwart the Purple attack and save a single Imperial guard from the devastation. But William is attacked by a lone soldier with long bow. He is hit several times even as he returns fire. A small duel ensues, Cloe grabs a rifle and does better with the longer range, crippling the attacker. William and Cloe realize when the soldier falls, and another runs along to the roof to take his place picking up the weapons, that they are confronting Max, their cousin, who seems to be able to possess bodies in order to attack them. He laughs at their feeble attacks, but William and Cloe destroy him again and again. He apparently gives up.
Lucien investigate the Guardians below, finding they are Radiant Powers and bound to the service of the Palace. No one may know they are there, they are so deeply buried. And they cannot do anything without instructions to defend the Palace. Lucien thinks this could be of use to the Emperor, but now realizes he is trapped with the three Radiants, for some reason they are not willing to let him leave. They bargain. Lucien realizes that they are extremely dangerous, may not the sort of help desired for the troubles above. He is careful and canny, trying to get free of the implied threat of their words. The Three Radiant Guardians bargain for the paper writ Lucien carries. In the way Lucien asked for free passage, and the way the Princess wrote her hasty response, Lucien fears catastrophe may result if he gives over the writ, but eventually, the Guardians agree to one of his terms, “I want her!”, pointing to one of the Guardians.
Lucien is released, quickly to return up to surface and explain what has been going on. The monsters are loose.

(at this point we are perhaps 2 hours into the game, I’m going to stop the narrative… because the solutions and story are most interesting to the people who were there, not you the readers and move along to game design and actual play responses.)

game design
: this serial premise was originally presented in Ambercon North, a French fantasy in a Canadian venue, and was only played at Ambercon North each year. I was attending the two cons in those days. It moved to Ambercon US when ACN shut down.
There are many pluses to the serial design game. Real Life gets in the way so often, and you don’t want a game to sag or feel empty if a Player cannot make the team one year. So the trick is building a flexible frame that encourages unique Characters all tied to a easily visualized concept.
My game has an entire 1923 earth to draw Characters from. Players have designed writers, sculptors, military enthusiasts, alchemists, movie stars, fashion hounds, and other dilettantes for the 20s version of an Amber story. Each story has really benefited from the changing cast and/or additions to the cast. Particularly for the variety and clever ways to interpret the standard Amber attributes against a backdrop that is nearly modern and very oriented on classy nightclubs and wild turn of the century mad science. The game conceit (Characters use the word ‘cousins’ for each other) developed by the Players, in part, is that they are all children of Dion, the world traveler and explorer enthusiast of Corwin’s kids in France. Dion sends telegraphs from distant places, sometimes gifts of advice, and he ties all the PCs together. They are not cousins, but half sibs in fact. Something that binds them even closer. This is something that was half designed early in the game but sparked a great solution to various rivalries that many Amber games include, but is NOT the focus of Argent Rose games.
Instead, the Characters snipe and jab at each other all the time, seeming from minute one of the game to delight in recalling the foibles and victories of each other as they rush about saving the world for France.
It’s pure gold in terms of a story that zooms along and yet has tons of character moments.
There isn’t any one Character that has been in every game. Yet many characters have made such impression that even when they are not around, PCs refer to them or they are doing things offstage. This year, for good example, Vivian was injured so badly that she was Trumped back to Paris into the hands of cousin Orestes. But where her injuries might have put her out of the story in many games, once in Paris, Orestes took her out to theaters, shows, drinking, etc. in her wheelchair. Orestes was played by the GM based on a PC from previous games.
design vs actual play: many GMs return to various themes when doing their Amber games. It may be intrigue, or it may be the deadly nature of shadow threats, or it could be destroying the Pattern, which is the center of Order in the universe. The Argent Rose game is about family more than anything else. Ultra cool immortal family, in a setting that acknowledges them to be the center of the game.
To achieve this, the deck is stacked thusly:

  • Corwin is there, but he’s got other things to think about
  • Parents (the three kids of Corwin) are responsible folks doing important things that keep them full-time occupied
  • Pattern power overshadows all other powers

So with nearly every PC a son and/or daughter of Dion, there is no internal intrigue. With Corwin’s kids being responsible folk (and only three) there are no Elders telling you what you are doing wrong. They are busy elsewhere. You can find them. You can talk to them about things you need, or warnings you have to give, but they will most often help you get something or tell you why it won’t happen, and then you move on.
It is a very free narrative space. The PCs are center spotlight.
And that’s most of why this game works so well. Plus we have a fun cast. Any new player that shows up, is pulled into the whirlwind and given a fast run down by Players as if they are a visiting family member….because they are. And because you don’t want to explain to your parents how you snubbed your newly discovered sister/brother/whatever.
Some time ago, when the game was a bit younger, J.P Brannan showed me a new aspect of gaming, and playing this game in particular, and it has helped every other game I’ve designed or played in myself. His cousin, William, realizes the ‘plot train’ was getting on a ship and leaving France to go to America. So he moved his PC off the ship and went to pick up a lagging cousin left in Paris. I’ve come back to this little ‘sticky bit’ time and time again because the reveal and impact on many games is essential to good game results. I’m not talking about cooperative play specifically, though it obviously was that. I’m talking about ‘sticky connect’ between Characters. You reach out and acknowledge another Character’s piece of action.
You respect other Players bits that they have brought to the table. You are likely to get twice the energy back from doing this.
So if someone describes their Character’s eyes as eerie, you can later on, share that your PC gives a small shiver when looking at that character. If someone says/does something wonderful, you take a moment and give a good in Character “huzzah”, and/or help them do what they are doing. Maybe afterwards, you tell the group of Characters in the briefing, “ya, we would have been goners if Charlie hadn’t tried this crazy idea”.
Argent Rose sees a lot of this ‘sticky play’. Characters bolster each other’s plays and offerings to the game.
In actual play this year, the PCs got into it very fast with danger, but they also quickly uncovered that the relationship between the Emperor and his daughter was going places and needed lots of help. And this expanded the whole story very much.
Family issues:
We have poor Max, who has fallen to the dark side. (unresolved this session)
We have Corwin moving forward with divorcing Grandma. (unresolved this session)
We have Princess Moonshadow learning her father is prisoner of the Provincial Commanders of China. He lives by his wits within a cage.
Danger issues:
Max can use the Commanders against each other to divide the nation. (resolved by players)
Emperor and Princess are in danger, Corwin wants them protected. (resolved by players)
Monsters are on the loose. (resolved by players)
Injuries to Vivian during play will end her career in Hollywood. (resolved by Vivian)
Reading thru the above, that’s a hell of a lot going on in five hours of play.

Slot 2 : Friday, March 22, 2013 – 9am to 1pm,
games early in the day for players often require great quantities of coffee, just sayin’
My Lady is the Sea, GM Kit Kindred

Rebma is a city under the sea. When Zelazny wrote the original story, he spent about one chapter of 15 tales here, but Players find it a terrific venue for gaming. Every GM has a different take on Rebma and its mysteries.
GM set us all up as Wardens of the Queen, knights of the Realm if you will. We were charged with defending the weak and holding the line against monsters and troubles. We were also run through a spirited background where ‘death before dishonor’ was a literal segment of who we all were.
This was a pretty fun game, loaded up with lots of characters (?ten or twelve?) and so things moved along briskly. Many of the Players were veteran gamers, so we chased after the action with enthusiasm. With so many players, you don’t have so much time for conversations and character spotlight, so developing relationships would have to come slowly.
But the GM wisely encouraged some mentor/student setups to start the game. That worked very well to many layers of what rolled out. Those little touches help push a startup game along. Everyone had fun from what I saw. The GM also wove a lot of Player story into possible outcomes for the action. So generally, this little startup went well and could easily return next year.

Slot 3 : Friday, March 22, 2013 – 2pm to 6pm
by now the Con is going full blast, but short slots are tricky on plot and timing
Texorami Reloaded, GM Kit Kindred

Kit has done a previous run of Texorami themed games. The shadow is one that is mentioned by Random as his favorite hang-out spot for a number of years. So this year, Kit advanced the shadow time and looked for everyone to bring in a new PC related to the family tree, but not to a previous PC you ran. (Hence the ‘Reloaded’)
He got a big rush of Players jumping in on this. Perhaps 10 to 12 in all. New faces were present.
However, runs of large games in short slots are damned tricky, so this one ended with a cliffhanger. As a Western shadow genre, this is a pretty good solution. Expect this game to return next year.
Texorami has prospered and settled down into a very fine city, no longer a wild town. However, there are a couple middle-aged holdovers from the 1875 wild town. Grandkids and kids of the original bravos are the focus now.
The story opens with a biplane buzzing into the raw dusty airstrip of Texorami. Since the mail travels by rail, this is an event worth paying attention to. Folks gather up to here some news from the arriving G. Violet Ryerson, who is looking to settle some family financial business. In the Jade Gardens district, a violent kidnapping takes place. But very quickly, even as folks are exchanging information, telegrams arrive with worse news: children have been kidnapped, old friends have been gunned down.
A posse is built to check out the danger in Jade Gardens. The result is fighting an army.
A quiet gal arrives with the wind, looking to make a bond with her heritage. She gets warm reception from Cody Jones, and leaves clues to the wider menace. Brother and sister Ryersons parlay with the strange foxy Celestial gal.
But a counter-attack by Texorami spook-handlers goes very wrong in Jade Gardens, ending the game with everyone set to DIE!

Slot 4 : Friday, March 22, 2013 – 8pm to midnight

evening time and now everyone is warmed up and running full out, these games can run over, because a short slot will stretch to finish past official close time
House of Daring and Laughter GM Arref Mak

premise: New game ideas are a good thing at a convention. This game is based on the notion that a group of kids from one prince might not get along, or might have enough common mojo to gang up on Amber and make some changes.
This premise is a one-shot that might run once for each of Oberon’s kids. It could become a throne war…or not. In actual practice, I would probably not run for Benedict’s kids (he won’t support his kids in contention with the throne), or Corwin’s kids (I’ve got a Corwin game going), or Llewella’s kids (she’s hardly interested in Amber’s throne.) I would also not build one off of a sibling that we know little canon about, such as Osric or Mirelle.
Last year I did the kids of Eric, as they considered taking the throne from Random. This year it was Random‘s kids trying to fit into the empty place caused by his disappearance.
game design: the kids have no reason to love Amber, as it is not implicit to the RP background, they were brought up in shadow, seeing Random only a few times a year. So every Player gets to define what they believe about Amber and how they relate to their Father, the King.
design vs actual play: here we had a wild and wooley group of kid designs submitted, which I approved with modest feedback loops to get a match to the Amber I would describe. Honestly, this game was a spotlight on Character creation and personality clash, as the kids tried to work out why they should care and who might be named heir to the missing king.
?Lucky for me? They all really believed in their PCs very strongly. They were convincing scions of Random: everything from crazed rock genius to disaster-prone pranksters. They only had rebellion in common, but that was pretty fascinating to play out as they reacted to the political problem presented by Queen Vialle.
By the time the assassin showed up to kill them all, the Queen realizes she’s done the most horrible thing of all, she’s gathered the future of the throne in one place where someone can smash them all at once.
Great little game for four hours. The players are talking me into a sequel. We’ll see if that flies.

Slot 5 : Saturday, March 23, 2013 – 10am to 5pm
day three of con, later start to allow coffee to work its magic

Clandestine Chronicles of the Cobalt Charter (2013)
, GM Arref Mak

premise: A game I designed a few years ago and has run a half-dozen times. This would be best described as ‘Free Amazons of Darkover’ mash up with ‘Mission Impossible’ as extraordinary mortal women of the shadows put their will against the powers of Chaos and Amber in order to right wrongs.

game design
: sworn to each other by an Oath greater than the sum of everything they hold dear, these women intend to overturn the casual cruelty of the ‘shadows are the stuff left over between Chaos and Amber’. So when they meet, they bring tasks/missions that they want to Charter to solve. The members debate the various tasks, taking measure of the risk and likely ability to ‘make a difference’ and survive. Often they agree to take on armies, or Logrus Masters, or countries, or monsters in order to save innocents from Greater Powers.
design vs actual play: there is something spooky and exciting about this game, because the GM cannot really know beforehand just how crazy the missions will be or how many can be accomplished in a session. For that reason, this is slotted in a long RP session, sometimes playing through lunch.
missions put to the group this year:

  • a shadow is being enslaved by demon led corporations, a swift strike would allow the poised revolution to begin
  • a shadow lab is scrubbing minds to create mass produced soldiers and servants from people
  • a proposal to start a resistance movement based on honor and justice in the Courts of Chaos
  • charter member (Medea) has an apprentice who is acting oddly, this should be checked for security of group
  • charter member (Muriel) has been kidnapped apparently to satisfy a forced marriage, she is being mind controlled, this will compromise the group
  • charter member (Nimue) needs a midwife/caregiver to take care of her baby due very soon, plus a safe shadow to hide her in to evade Amber/Chaos influences

As you can see, just one of these missions could create a game run of several hours. Further, because the ladies of the Charter are ‘built on’ points that are half the values of Amber/Chaos, most of these missions are way beyond the skill sets you’d expect someone to take on. That doesn’t stop the Cobalt Charter.
The Charter does a fair amount of scouting and research to find pressure points they will attack to get things to change. Sometimes the plans are very specific, or at times, they will say “let’s do A and C, and then we’ll perhaps know more about B and D and E.”
Most interesting to watch is the energy, passion, and fun that the Player group creates. The Characters are incredibly zealous anti-heroes. Many of them have been the broken victims themselves of Greater Powers, but each has found a way to carry on, or at least strike back.
They “aim to misbehave” and wow, they sure do.

Slot 6 : Saturday, March 23, 2013 – 7pm to midnight
evening slot with an ‘old style’ large group game in a stand up ‘drawing room’ scenario traveling through shadow
Imperfect Darkness, GMs Kristen Gibbs Schleick, Jack Schleick, Jeff Trumitch

premise: The game was a setting of negotiating a peace treaty between Chaos and Amber. Properly we were all traveling through shadow to sign the treaty in Amber. But lots of cross agendas were on the Chariot.
The Chariot was a Martin/Merlin shadow construct for delivering huge logistic supplies (and armies) through shadow. It had not been finished in time for the Black Road War conclusion, but was now being used to demonstrate to Chaos that signing the Treaty was a ‘good idea’.
structure: So a large cast of players were the two delegations, poised with conflicting agendas. In a nice touch, the Chariot was also a player character. That turned out to be very very cool.
4 PCs ranged on each side, Chaos and Amber. The Chariot was ‘neutral’….maybe.
blurb: With the horrors of War concluded…and the winners and losers resolved…now comes the time for negotiation…but at what cost will Peace be attained. Diplomats, Ambassadors, Emissaries, and their Agents from both Amber and Chaos have tried to come to terms, but to no avail, with the threat of War looming on the horizon, some consensus must be reached. The delegation from Amber is escorting the Chaos representatives, back to Amber for one final round of talks. This mighty host is carried to it’s destination within “The Chariot” , a massive vessel, which travels along the Royal Way between realms. The Chariot has come to symbolize the technological superiority of Amber and their domination over all of Shadow, and perhaps the shape of things to come. Yet while the fate of the future of all existence is discussed, a threat from the past has come to tear it asunder.
game design: Well, of course, I did not design this game, but I found a lot of nice features I really enjoyed.
There was lots of space. We were in the Parliament Room of the convention, with tables pushed back to form a big clear space. So we actually had many little talking groups, very like a cocktail party embassy ‘meet and greet’. This was brilliant and immediately got everyone very physically into this game. We moved around. We gestured. We took stances and used body language such as you hardly ever see in suite-based games.
It was awesome. Kudos to the GMs.
One fascinating aspect was that all the magic creatures: Chaos demon, Chariot, and Shadow Creature of Amber were in telepathic contact during the game. We could pass any notes we wanted through a GM while doing other things. This was also very neat.
design vs actual play: 3 GMs allowed for many many threads of content, which led to NOT knowing what was going on where. Nice.
Never underestimate the importance of communication. Ha.
I played the demonic servant to the powerful Chaosi sorceress. When I signed up, I was not sure how smart a choice this was. Executing the will of another PC is not a great way to spend several hours, if you don’t match up with the other PC.
But then you could play a surly servant.
Luckily, Ben’s PC (El) was glorious. Ben did a great job of immediately touching on the long relationship, and the fact that El was dying. This mission was her last huzzah. So right away, I felt a strong bond with El and we were off. I would not be ‘surly’ at all, but dedicated. In fact, I started looking for ways to make sure the peace mission was a great success. My PC’s name was Opal, and Opal was a 18″ diameter black mirror sphere that rolled around behind El.
Early on, El and Opal discussed the mission and they made a promise to each other. The promise was that after the mission had its Amber success, that El’s passing would be “through Opal”. Opal thought this meant she could hold onto a piece of her mistress once she was dead, or just as she died. This touched on a central core psyche element the GMs had put some focus on with demons generally. The existence of demons was a key to understanding them. El thought this promise meant something very different. And she was cagey about her true purposes on the Amber trip. And that miscommunication became a huge thing later.
Opal immediately moved to get on best terms with Chariot and Balyr(sp?), the Shadow Creature of Amber. Opal secretly offered assistance to both. Including protection when she learned that Chariot had little or no combat experience.
Meanwhile, physically, Opal was doing nothing but following El everywhere, attending quietly behind her every move. In fact, to great dark comedy effect, Ben fell over me a couple times, stepping back from a meeting to find me so close behind that he stumbled. I tried to give him more space after that, but it was a really funny thing everyone remembered.
“You’ve never owned a dog, eh, Ben?”
That physical comedy began to inspire more moves. I noticed as we played, that not speaking, and following Ben everywhere, was disconcerting other players. An edge was developing to the presence of my silent PC. So finally when we got to a large conversation of VIPs, I started quietly circling them as a group. One loop around. Two loops around. Three.

It was totally silent, not threatening at all. But it set up El as someone to be reckoned with. Someone on her guard. For El had a faithful war hound, me.
I don’t think I realized how effective this was while playing. I had not consciously stolen this, but now I think about ‘Rover’ from the Prisoner series. That damn silent ball, rolling around the Village. Creepy.
One thing I did not realize was that my continued silence as the game went forward (I think the Chaosi attache was the only humanoid to talk to me, Thanks, Anne!) really started to be weird. I was ramping up the creepy without doing much at all. And looking back, I should have dropped the mask once in a while to let folks know I was having fun, just to break any misplaced tension.
As it was, great game and very weird story results. I betrayed my mistress. And I was destroyed but did not die.
Thank you GMs and cast!

Slot 7 : Sunday, March 24, 2013 – 11am to 4pm
sunday morning, everyone is fuzzy or tired by now… but not in this game this year
Fistful of Spies, GM Kristen Gibbs Schleick

premise: Spy vs Spy. Play any spy from fiction or make one up.
structure: complete character design before Convention (I prefer this myself, one or two character design emails can save an hour of play at the convention.)
blurb: The most dangerous man in the world is called Merikh. He started as a minor weapons dealer in the Middle East, but his reach now is far ranging, everything from cocaine production in South America, armor development in Europe, and nuclear weapon sales from Russia. The problem is that he is becoming involved in efforts with higher and higher political stakes. The recent instability in Syria is a small example. You are reportedly our best and brightest, the most talented spies of all our various organizations. Your job is to work together to infiltrate his organization and stop Merikh. The threat embodied in him could bring us all to the edge and over into World War III. The intelligence we have on him is limited but one thing is clear: something big is coming. Something very, very Big.
summary: well, this was pretty much straight up a great showcase for roleplaying. The Russian Steelwolf was an awesome retired KGB dude, played to enormous RP chops as a bad-ass. We had a suave and bored James Bond. We had Luther Stickle from the MI series. We had Jason Bourne as the uber-competant unstoppable field agent. I played Nyah Hall from MI2. And we had Agent 86 of CONTROL, “and loving it.”

game design: I really liked the simple limit of six spy skills that Kristen came up with for the diceless system. I’m bookmarking it in case I want to do a genre game myself. Included here are the skills and how I answered them for Nyah Hall.

What one skill are you especially known for? (people have seen you do this well, or heard about you)
What one skill are you actually really good at? (your core awesome skill)
thief, fast hands/feet
What one skill do you think you are good at? (your other skill)
What weakness are you known for? (people have seen you do this, or heard about you)
attraction to jerks, danger
What weakness do you actually have? (your real weakness)
aversion to authority
What weakness do you think you have? (some weakness for)
noble, self-sacrifice

design vs actual play: hey, it’s Sunday. We’re all kinda half wired and maybe ready to kick some ass. So we kicked ass.
I played straight to Max’s whimsy. I glared at him when he did his best deliveries.
Honestly, if someone doesn’t react to Maxwell Smart, then it just isn’t as funny. I elected me. Instead of the long suffering 99, he got to play off of the intense professional thief who cannot believe in this idiot who is going to get them all killed.
Max was successful enough in play that other Players started throwing him lines, or ‘doing his lines for him’. Nice.
Steelwolf was hawt AND funny. Nice.
Bond was predictable, which was funny because he told us all that at game start. He predicted how the bad guys would react to everything.
Jason was dreamy and totally badass. Nice.
Luther is a geek’s god. Totally the man rocks. I will go anywhere he needs me to go.
So we put the hammer on the bad guys and saved the world. Nice.
Nyah also walked off with a billion plus dollars. Priceless. Thank you, Luther.
Thanks, GM Kristen!

Slot 8 : Sunday, March 24, 2013 – 7pm to midnight
convention closer slot, usually folks are totally beat by now, so games at the tail end are either long-running campaigns or easy, funny, wild romps
or both
The Soft Cimmerian: ‘the Enemy of my Enemy’ (2013), GM Arref Mak

premise: Rebma is known for its strange mirrors and emerald aquatic city. Here play the Gallants of the Glass. The Knights who protect the City from the Mirrors. structure: complete character design before Convention. This game was designed as a one-shot, To Wed the Soft Cimmerian. Folks had so much fun that they wanted to do a sequel. Then another. So here we are (2013) with the 4th episode.

Despite the fine Character play, I did not want to add a continuing campaign to the con schedule. I didn’t want to continue the game if folks lost interest, and I did not want to create scheduling problems for the Con organizers. So this was set up after the first game as a serial game. First preference to previous players.

It is hard to describe how strange and beautiful this game has become. A magical combination of Players and Intent with lot of affection and weirdness. There are moments where I totally lose myself in these characters. I’ve seen Players totally rise up and slam dunk some game moments.

I’ll include the original blurb below, because it has so many clues to what makes the game sing for me. If the first game had not worked so well… nothing would have followed.
blurb: (from the first game that started the series)

The PatternFall war begun by the Amber family is now over many decades. Moire, Queen of Rebma has held that reflected turmoil away from the Enigmatic City by force of will.

Finally a price must be paid. You go to the palace to place yourself in Moire’s hands and meet your destiny. Your noble families, knowing the power of their blood of old, have selected you to Wed the Soft Cimmerian and quiet the Fomoire. You will dare the Afanc Labyrinth of Mirrors and champion Rebma.

Be joyous. Those joined in the sight of the Sea Hag shall only be torn apart by the Darkness.
Now you will feel no storm, for each of you will be shelter for the other.
Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are fluidic souls, but there is only one life before you.
May beauty surround you in the journey ahead and through all the years,
May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long within the double-dozen seas.

Prior reading of ‘Alyse through the Afanc Glass’ by Llewes Carroll is not required.
game design: What is the Soft Cimmerian? Why are 10 young people being married to it and each other? Why is Rebma so important but so different from Amber? Who are the Fomoire?
Basically this game is designed as a Zelazny mystery. The mystery is Rebma, its Queen, its history, and its agenda. How does the City fit into the watery worlds of shadow? Why do Mirrors mean so much to the mystery?
Zelazny wrote the Amber series as layers and layers of truth and yet further reveals. That’s this game.

Flavor setting info: …she opened the brass lid to tap and mix the sand, and an icy draft swirled around the inside of the craft until she closed the thing again. The draft had a sea scent to it, salty and sharp. “All mirrors lead to Rebma,” she said, as though it were an axiom.
PCs must be from Rebma built for 80 pts. Characters submitted to GM prior to convention can be built for 100 pts. Special powers only by GM approval. Players must have e-mail access. Notes: Expect the kind of fun that tired gamers generate. No Pattern, no Logrus.

summary: So things that have happened…
Game one (2008) – ‘To Wed the Soft Cimmerian’. Get married, how awkward is that? Get the Queen’s blessing and find out about the Afanc Mirror. No training to be had, but told to remember the wedding vows. Unlock the Afanc Mirror and enter. Get scared. Get chased. Get partially eaten. Survive.
Return to Rebma to find they are now the Key to the Mirrors. Their power with Mirror extends through shadow. Learn the previous group of Gallants all died in the Mirror except for the Sea Hag, the slowing (3 centuries) dying survivor of that group.

Game two (2009) – the Queen tasks the group to find Lir’s Bones, stolen five centuries ago with the sacking of Rebma by Black Hordes. In this day, Rebma understands that the Black Hordes were armies from Chaosi House Helgram, from the Land Where Shadows Lie.
The Sea Hag believes that one of her former partners survives trapped in the Afanc Mirror. The Queen wants the Gallants to ‘Go Ask Alyse’ inside the Afanc and get the information on pinpointing the Bones.
But no one is certain where to find Alyse or why she never returned. Inside the Afanc, all is twists and madness and danger. The group finds a mercenary soul named Cheshire who offers to lead them to Alyse, but warns that she is mad. Cheshire isn’t too rational either.
They return to Rebma with Alyse, but that lady’s mind is broken, she does not remember anything. They have failed to find the Bones, but the Sea Hag is very greatful to the group.

Game three (2010) – the Queen renews her goal of finding Lir’s Bones based on a few dreams of Mad Alyse. The Gallants study many portents, and find a path to the House Helgram in Chaos. But the way leads past many ‘Mirror Teeth’.
Dangers and High Sorcery lurk everywhere in the mirrorlands, and some great Beast prowls the Mirrors. Is it a Fomoire?
The Gallants sack House Helgram with the aid of wild magic-proof Guisels from the mirrorlands. Lir’s Bones are recovered and brought back to Rebma. Two members of the Gallants are pregnant now. The Queen rewards the Gallants with their own estate so they can raise children.

Game four (2013) – the Queen receives an embassy from the Queen of Chaos. Thelbane is seeking an Accord with Rebma to relieve the ongoing (5 years Chaos time, some months in Rebma) bloodbath in House Helgram. The House has lost 75% of its members and the Queen seeks a solution that lets the House survive.
Moire debates her answer, but involves the Gallants to see first if they can reverse the devastation they set upon Helgram.

design vs actual play:
Mmmm. Well, a very satisfying game for me.
Two new players joined us. This is the beauty of the serial game concept: adding some new eyes, and creative energy to ongoing momentum works. You don’t really know how that will work in practice, because this game has a fair amount of backstory and weird.

The two new PCs were nicely built and awesome in actual play. The Players got a very sketchy show of existing PCs, then worked to build Rebma flavored PCs of their own. They moved into the cast with GM handwaving to become part of the Gallants, moving aside previous characters I would have played as NPCs.
While I was worried that some of the puzzles would fall apart if new roles were assigned to those places, in actual play, some things took on new shapes and solutions that were extremely cool.
In fact, the new folks had lots of spotlight time: offering solutions and actual new powers that were useful in getting the job done.
–more soon–
Ambercon (ACUS) 2014, I hope to see you there. This will be the 25th anniversary.


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