For those of you not in the know, there is an RPG based on Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. And there are several conventions catering to those of us who are lunatics for the books and game: AmberCon UK, AmberCon US in Michigan, and AmberCon NW in Portland, OR (or as it’s better known, the “Drinking AmberCon”). Those are the three I know of, and I’ve only ever attended the last one.
This was my second year at AmberCon NW and I have to say it is the best gaming convention I’ve ever attended. For starters the male to female ratio is about 50/50, maybe weighted a little more heavily in favor of women actually. The people who attend are friendly, literate and really intelligent. As the Amber system is diceless you just don’t get a whole lot of Munchkins or other power-gaming dorks. And while we don’t run/play just the Amber system, most of the other game systems you’ll find in use there are of the indy/gamer/hippy variety, which are heavy on characterization and ROLE playing as opposed to ROLL playing where you rely so heavily on the dice. In fact I think I used dice in one of the seven games I ran or played in all weekend.
Now, they do sort of loosely suggest that you link/use Amber in some way or another in your game, or at the very least run it diceless. Some examples of games that were run but that I did not participate in include: The Hamlet LARP, Merlin’s Saturday Night Gaming Group (where people played the elder Amberites playing a D&D dungeon crawl and their characters were Order of the Stick Characters), and just tons more. I’m going to give you a run-down of what I ran and played over the weekend to give you an idea. Humor games figure largely, but there are several GMs who specialize in “dark and gritty” as well.
Thursday evening, my buddy Pol Jackson hosted (no GM) a game of the Shab-al-Hiri Roach. This is an indy game wherein you play faculty at a New England university in 1919 jockeying for position and tenure. The system of play involves stake-setting and a dice roll for each conflict. My friend Jeremy managed to create a Dwarven Fighter for this game. Sigh. My character was being blackmailed into a lesbian relationship with another faculty member, and we managed to send two of the male faculty members nude and tied-together in a boat out onto the river that ran through town. Jeremy actually won.
Friday morning was Aurellis (Diceless) run by Tim Hart. This game is sort of “X-Files” meets Charles Stross meets Stargate, and loads of fun. It is an ongoing game, I believe, and most of the other players had played in it before. We had to stop an Aphrodite cult from drugging all of L.A. My character was a hacker who fought MMA as a hobby. We stopped the cult, but Aphrodite got away. Really a very good game with a lot of really awesome players.
Friday afternoon, I ran a game I called “These Kids and Their Jungle Dances.” Also diceless, this one actually sort of ran on the Amber system. I say “sort of” because I kind of used the Amber stats as suggestions for how to mediate what happened, but mostly just let the story build on its own. Basically four of the elder children of Amber (Corwin, Eric, Fiona and Flora) went out into Shadow to investigate a suspicious occurence of reality. They found an aunt they never knew existed and discovered she’d created a copy of the Pattern in pavee diamonds on the bottom of her swimming pool. It’s a long story, just think of a cross between Paris Hilton and Jayne Mansfield with godlike powers. Leslie, who played Flora, requested a sequel next year so she could kill her aunt because “she’s hotter than me and tacky.”
Friday night was the yearly Pooh game run by my friend Jeremy. This is diceless mayhem. Essentially it’s Amber in the Hundred Acre Wood. Oh, it is far sillier than you can ever really know. Usually there’s drinking involved and tea and cakes. Honestly, I could try to explain it, but it just wouldn’t make any sense. At all. Think a group of adults sitting around a coffee table eating cakes and jam and pretending to be anthropomorphic animals and stuffed toys in the Pooh style. The Hundred Acre Wood is Amber and The Courts of Tigger are Chaos. This time we had a crossover with Wonderland and I STILL owe Jeremy a neckpunch for what he did with the hedgehog croquet balls.
Saturday morning was my friend James’ Brave New Gotham game. Again, diceless. He crossed Marvel, DC and the Buffy-verse in one game. It was a good game. Lots of character interaction and planning. And, yeah, we fucked up on occasion, but in the end Blade got to stake vampire Superman, Batman was cured, and everyone lived mostly. I think. A lot of action, very fast-paced. He managed to fill one of the longer slots of the convention and really keep it moving the entire time.
Saturday evening I ran “Wands of Avalon.” Diceless. Okay, here’s the deal: last year I started the Amberite at Hogwarts thing with “Nine Princes in Hogwarts” and it’s become a relatively popular game. I keep warning people though, don’t expect me to keep it all in chronological order. And no, the plots of the Amber books referenced have NOTHING to do with what goes on in game. I’m just being cute. Last year, Corwin sent his daughter to Hogwarts to find a suspected child of Amber. This year, that child who is now an adult was teaching at Hogwarts and had to find a child of Chaos. I wound up tossing out most of my plot ideas because we kept losing the key character. There was a norovirus going around the convention and the original player of the Amberite character came down with it, then halfway through the game the player who was taking HER place came down with it and had to leave. Sigh. I had the other returning player, who was now the Charms instructor, run the students through their paces, discovered the child of Chaos, and a whole lot of really awesome role-playing of a terminally-embarassed teenaged girl at a parent-teacher conference took place.
Sunday morning, I decided to kill my hangover by starting the drinking at 10am (Drinking AmberCon, duh) and played in my Boy’s “The Professionals” game. Basically, a whole lot of hired guns descend on Seattle after a suitcase full of McGuffin worth $50 million. I played the favored daughter of the Yakuza as played by Devon Aoki. Jon played a Bruce Willis character. Kai played David Bell (the Parkour guy). Bernie played Chow Yun Fat. Thaddeus played basically a Jason Bourne character. And I cannot remember the name of the guy who played Jean Reno. We lost one player to the virus and Bernie kept having to make mad dashes to the restroom. This game was just one action film money shot after another. We had a blast and way more energy than the usual Sunday game, you know when everyone’s hungover and exhausted, not to mention riddled with pukey-virus. So much fun. Bernie had to leave before the rest of us, so decided to go out in a blaze of glory by shooting Jean Reno’s suitcase full of money with a shotgun, and dying gloriously… in slow motion… there were doves…. Not really. But it was a blast.
Sunday night was the wrap up party. Where even more drinking was had. One of the Boy’s players won for best quote of the convention by saying, as Marcus Aggrippa, “So, can we at least sell Marc Anthony on this internets?” Long story, again. We had some really awesome conversations and lots of snuggle time. Also, last year, it was decided that “Whiskey makes Ogre sexy.” This year, our friend James announced that he needed to do more drinking to get as sexy as Ogre, to which Ogre responded by clapping a hand on James’ shoulder and saying, “I’d have to drink a lot of sexy to get as whiskey as you, man.”
Monday morning was Hangover Central in our room. Ogre, Jeremy, and I were all dragging ass. Had breakfast with this lovely British couple. Murray had run the Hamlet LARP my Boy had played in. Emma shared my disgust over Jeremy’s treatment of the hedgehogs in the Pooh game. Then we drove the four hours back to Seattle.
Seriously, this gaming convention kicks ass. Even if you don’t like Amber, there’s enough other stuff for you here. Granted, if you’re a dice-obsessed gribbly power-dork, well, then there probably isn’t much there for you. But, if you’re willing to give gaming without dice that relies on your ability to think on your feet a try, you might want to check it out. We’ll pack a spare black leotard for you.