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March 29, 2004

My AmberCon US Report

It was, in almost every aspect, a perfect way to remind me not to repeat 2003 (where I missed AmberCon US) again.

Long details follow.

Before the con even began, a very bad plan I had initiated in Edwin Voskamp's ShadowWorld needed to be brought to its conclusion. Through a last-minute switch from foolhardiness to caution, we were able to run away with only a few lasting side effects, one of which will be of importance below. And we (I'd enlisted some friends) didn't unleash a horde of demons to swallow the world. (Well, I think we didn't unleash them...) Go us!

First slot, I was faced with a challenge. A Fly in Amber: Maxwell Smart in the Real World had an interesting problem. Would you believe no one really wanted to be the title character? Well, I adopted my best nasal voice (not all that good) and fell back to only the most time-tested humor and we made a go of it. The unending battle between CONTROL and KAOS proved to be the newest front in the unending battle between Amber and Chaos, and somehow it was only Maxwell Smart and his team (Agent 99, Larabee, and Hymie) had to investigate the strange, postage-less post cards KAOS had been using to somehow escape CONTROL raids (or possibly as part of a scheme to undermine the US Postal Service... Max never gave up on that possibility once he made it up). There were inflatable sharks, small but dangerous KAOS agents in Little China, and a few surprises (many involving the just how stale a joke can be and still get a laugh)... But in the end, all turned out well. Perhaps not perfectly, but when it comes to perfection, we only missed it by that much.

I took a break Friday AM, to swing by the local store to buy supplies and to really ready myself for the rest of the weekend. Technically, I suppose, I was preparing for my own GMing, but I won't even try to fool anyone into thinking there was any work involved there. And I bought too many snacks... excepting the white chocolate Resees cups (mmmm... non-death!), I didn't eat the food purchases at all.

From there, it was to the GM's chair. Or, rather, to just another player's chair, as Tall Tales of Pattern and Shadow doesn't really require a GM except to start the stories rolling. As with the previous play, the story quickly spiraled into odd directions. Time consistency was left in the dust, 200 lb. canaries married into the royal family and angry soldiers on hippopotamuses (hippopotami?) chasing people up mountainsides (it is not generally recognized that the hippopotamus is a natural-born mountain climber). I think a good time was had, and I'm still under orders to run the game again for The Black Road.

The "work" part of the weekend done, I settled down to the real Shadowworld (mainline) session. With Ben on the team, Starchild wasn't even asked to be in charge (a burden she happily did without after her recent Australian misadventure)! Yet, despite her presence as just another agent, one of the more peaceful and restrained missions ever occurred. An investigation proceeded with minimal destructive research techniques (a few computers were destroyed; a handful of soldiers assigned to "sleep research" so Starchild could check their minds for prior manipulation; a lot of jet fuel was burned up flying us back and forth from army base to army base until our true destination was uncovered). In the end, and with Starchild only contributing a few minor comments, we were able to negotiate a peace with one of the Circle's more nagging enemies (the escaped former Circle psionics of "Sanctuary") that will hold at least a while. With what information they could give us, we were able to bait a trap for the rogue CIA elements that have haunted the background of several recent missions. By feeding mission information for a far less capable team through a compromised channels we knew the rogue CIA types were watching, we lured them in and took them out. There was a bit of excess in our response (Starchild was unable to keep the team's firepower below that of an average battalion, as she wasn't team leader), but in the end nearly a third of them were taken alive, including one ESPer. A glowing success, I think.

One odd element, however... Starchild has found herself exhibiting a new power, and one with which she is not at all comfortable. Apparently, her experiences in Australia have duplicated the essential content of a magical initiation (without the usual ritual portions or preparatory training). Despite her regular exposure to psionics and other phenomenon beyond normal ken, Starchild has always held tenaciously to a strictly scientific world view. Until she finds a way to understand this new experience that does not call it magic, she will not be comfortable. The additional fact that it doesn't work in the Chicago area (where she lives) also helps her denial. For a character started as a caricatured gag, she's grown quite a life of her own. She remains one of my favorite characters, if only because I can't see how she'll every figure herself out.

Undertow was everything it promised to be. I've played in Simone Cooper games before, and the results are always worth the effort (creative and emotional) they call for. This one was another strong example of the type. Structured with 12 players and 8 GMs (so that pretty much every male Elder present had a sub-GM in the role), we brought a new generation to a self-absorbed, lazy Amber. The older generation was focused on their own petty matters now that Chaos was dealt with and the throne settled. The twentieth anniversary of Random's coronation was a celebration that fell into anger and resentment, from which most of the youngers fled back to their own Shadows. The thirtieth was never to be, as shortly before it the Pattern (or, I think more correctly, the power behind it) rejected its own, killing Random, destroying the Jewel, and unleashing a destructive beast to eliminate the rest of Oberon's children. My character, an emotionally isolated sort who made his way in Shadow as a riverboat gambler, suddenly found himself taking up his disdained father's mantle in the Arden (son of Julian, in case you didn't guess). But a father on a near deathbed (played excellently by Arref, through scenes where the two started to see just how much of each other they had missed over the years), a strong sense of personality honor, and a simple recognition that, in his view, he is "pot committed" to this one has him strongly considering a drastic change in lifestyle and level of responsibility. I really, really hope to see a "chapter two" next year!

Jenn Jackson and Michael Curry had me from the first words of the description of If You Can't Take the Heat. Amber needs a new chief chef and the great celebrity cooks of Shadow Earth are competing for the job. Naturally, it was Alton Brown's role for me. Of course, in competition against Julia Child (at her prime and played with every bit of necessary effervescence by Sarah Bear), he had no hope of winning. But fun was assured. Too darn many great quotes from this one (including an embarrassing accidental double entendre from yours truly), and everyone proved why it is they cook rather than trying to solve mysteries.

The next morning, it was another new character put to the test. Mike Manolakes started his Nine Princes In Shadow series with Benedict's World, a shadow of fractious clans and kingdoms where the peace is about to be shattered. Berrin was a young, self-assured clan warrior from the fractious highlands of Beag who came to find allies to end a civil war, but ended up being the reason the armies of the land were in the highlands rather than in the path of Chaos's invasion. Mountains gave us a natural fort, and so while others learned the nature of the enemy and searched for allies, Beag's clans united with neighboring forces to hold the passes until Benedict could return and the tide be turned. As firmly military as the Benedict theme implies, complete with huge charges, volleys of arrows to blacken the sky, and more than a few angry lords and warriors storming away from incomplete negotiations. I'm really torn if I want Mike to run more of this setting or if I'm curious what comes next on Eric's Earth. Or both!

And then, more Shadowworld (no, I don't have an addiction... why do you ask?) The WWII setting now, and we picked up where AmberCon North's 2003 session ended (almost to the day). The Nazis had 12 traincars of uranium ore in Norway, plus a Norse artifact that just might be able to raise the dead. No, after a bit of investigation, scratch that "just might." A PC who could animate the dead himself (one at a time, but that's enough) helped us turn the SS's plan against them, and then history was reproduced as a ferry bringing the ore across to Germany sunk to the bottom of the fjord. And, for once, we even managed to make our way back to England after the mission rather than staying on the run in Europe. Quite a success!

Good fortune put me on the same plane for my first leg home as other AC attendees Richard (Emeril in Heat and also a player in Benedict's World though the character name escapes me) and Amber (no shared games) DiTullio. We got more than our fair share of odd looks as we traded con stories the whole flight, but it was worth it.

Scattered around all of this was much delightful conversation, the Guardians of Order announcements, and more than a few chances to see friends all too rarely seen. I can't wait for TBR and ACN, then for next year in Livonia!

Not a trip without downsides, however... My new rolling suitcase was torn fairly significantly on the way up, and on the way back I managed to have something that never happened in Philly before... My flight left early. And I arrived just a tiny bit late (not Richard or Amber's fault... I stopped to grab a snack and failed to rush quite enough after). So it was a long run back to the original gate to catch another plane at the "final boarding" call, then a bounce to New York as an intermediate step to get back to New Hampshire. Ahh, well. The whole trip was well worth taking, the problems were at most annoyances. And if this is posted, I must be home and catching up on missed sleep (I'm typing in the LGA gate).

Posted by ghoul at March 29, 2004 08:17 PM

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>> ACUS 2004: game reviews from in the Shadow of Greatness
Usually by now I've collected links to many takes on Ambercon. Here are a few: Claimh Solais: Ambercon 2004- In review Amber on Amber: weekend review The Non-Euclidian Staircase: My AmberCon US Report... [Read More]

Tracked on April 2, 2004 05:42 PM

>> ACUS 2004: game reviews from in the Shadow of Greatness
Usually by now I've collected links to many takes on Ambercon. Here are a few: Claimh Solais: Ambercon 2004- In review Amber on Amber: weekend review The Non-Euclidian Staircase: My AmberCon US Report... [Read More]

Tracked on April 5, 2004 02:34 PM

>> My Ambercon US 2004 recap from Flaming Monkey
There are already several ACUS 2004 writeups out there, but here's my slightly belated take on things. I had a great time at the con, both during and between the games, and it was nice to get to spend time... [Read More]

Tracked on April 5, 2004 08:16 PM

>> ACUS 2004: game reviews from in the Shadow of Greatness
Usually by now I've collected links to many takes on Ambercon. Here are a few: Claimh Solais: Ambercon 2004- In review Amber on Amber: weekend review The Non-Euclidian Staircase: My AmberCon US Report... [Read More]

Tracked on March 30, 2005 01:33 PM


Artorius was his name, and 1/10 of a man of Beag as I recall. ;)

It was great chatting with you on the flight back. Murphy's Law to the max for a flight leaving early though. Truly incredible.

Posted by: Rich at April 1, 2004 12:55 PM

It was good seeing you, Jack, though it might be another year before we might see each other again.

Posted by: secret asIAN man at April 1, 2004 05:46 PM

Glad you were able to make it out this year, Jack! I'm looking forward to ACN. Wish I could do TBR too.

Posted by: Kris F. at April 2, 2004 10:41 PM

You certainly helped make the flight back more interesting. And you definitely need to let us know the next time you're in town.

As for ACN, though - all I can promise is to try. It'll be tight with my other trip, but we'll see what we can do.

Posted by: Amber at April 3, 2004 08:37 AM

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