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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 08:17 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 25, 2004

Some More DVD Watching

While prepping for AmberCon, I watched some DVDs. Brief reviews follow, mostly written during the flight out and pre-empted in importance by the ADRP/GoO announcement once I got here.

21 Grams - Wow. Just wow. Another time-jumbled movie like Memento or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but this time there's no plot reason pushed at us for this, it's just the way the story comes to us. Though filmed in chronological order (from articles I've read), it is shown in a shuffled fashion, sets of episodes that orbit around the critical events that bring three characters together in tragic ways. The acting is superb from all three leads (Sean Penn, who would have deserved an Oscar nomination for this had he not already had one for Mystic River), Benicio del Toro, and Naomi Watts), none of whom are given an easy character. The complex storytelling presents the viewer with a puzzle, but not one too hard to re-assemble. And since we often have seen aftermath before event, the worst moments are heightened by our knowledge of what is inevitable. Just fantastically done.

On the Waterfront - A classic, and well deserving of that label. Brando shows the power that made him a star with none of the quirks and wanderings that can overwhelm his skills in later films. Yes, the story is a self-justification for a director who gave in to the HUAC and named names, but it's still an excellent film, and even a persuasive argument if you accept the director's allegorical replacement of Hollywood's casual communists with Jersey waterfront union mobsters (which I don't, quite). The much-parodied "I could'a been a contender" scene is deserving of every bit of its immortality.

Dawn of the Dead - The original, and something of a classic in its own way. Certainly a convention-busting film for the US market, and a savage parody of the consumer culture. But, really, not the greatest film ever made in terms of acting or careful production. I'm hoping to get to the new "re-working" of this film sometime soon, just to see if they can maintain the good bits without adding too much clutter.

Posted by ghoul at 11:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Great News!

Announced today at AmberCon...

New Amber DRPG News from ACUS!

Recently, Erick Wujcik and Mark MacKinnon signed a Letter of Intent to transfer all publishing operations for the Amber Diceless Role-Playing Game from Phage Press to Guardians of Order.

While the details of this deal have not been finalised, Guardians Of Order wishes to solicit input and suggestions regarding the publishing of a new line of Amber role-playing products.

You are therefore invited to join Mark MacKinnon and Jesse Scoble at a Roundtable Discussion on Sunday morning at Ambercon US in the convention HQ Sunday morning.

Whoo-Hoo! :)

Couldn't find a new home that would love ADRP more, or a game more deserving of an up-to-date representation.

Go, GoO, go!

(More after that Sunday roundtable which, of course, I will attend!)

Posted by ghoul at 10:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 20, 2004

Sunshine on a Rainy Day

Spring is (essentially) here in New Hampshire, and that means cold rain/snow mixes and general gloom for just a bit more, when the green will take over from the sticks.

But today, I took a break from prepping my game world and my AmberCon characters and went to see a film. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the newest film to spring from the complex, surrealistic pen of Charlie Kaufman, and it has many traits in common with its earlier siblings.

This time, reality's little twist isn't a door into an actors head, a writer caught in his own screenplay, or a CIA-recruited game show producer. Instead, we get the temptation of memory removal. A chance to lose parts of our past we don't want, gain a fresh start. But nothing is really that simple, particularly not in a Kaufman story. No, bad memory and good are hopelessly entangled, and we can't give one up without losing the other. That is the assumption the film starts with, and from there it gets more interesting.

Told in a complex time order reminiscent of Memento (a personal fave), this film lets us watch a relationship form, mature, shatter, and reform (maybe), though with some very unique complications. Jim Carrey (think The Truman Show, not The Mask) and Kate Winslet are entirely up to the challenge the material presents, as are the all too human memory removers, including a very non-Frodo Elijah Wood. In fact, the only thing I'm not sure it up to the material is the director. I haven't seen his previous Kaufman-penned film (Human Nature), but having seen what others have done with Kaufman, I have to say I found this under-stated. Well done, don't get me wrong, and sometimes delightful for its quiet presentation. I like the effects as memories fade particularly... words on signs go first, sometimes with the camera looking dead at them, but more often than not without us quite noticing when they started to fade. But after earlier, flashier presentations, I found this just slightly underplayed behind the camera. Some of the more impressive ideas and effects were almost lost by fairly direct staging and filming.

But this is at most a quibble. If you're at all interested in a romantic comedy that will make you laugh and make you think, then this one's worth your time.

Posted by ghoul at 06:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 07, 2004

AmberCon 2004 Schedule

In case I need to remember where I'm going and don't have my email handy (or if someone else wants to know)...

Slot 1: "A Fly in Amber: Maxwell Smart in the Real World"
Slot 2: Open
Slot 3: GM ("Tall Tales of Pattern and Shadow")
Slot 4: "ShadowWorld (formerly Underworld)"
Slot 5: "Undertow"
Slot 6: "If You Can't Take the Heat"
Slot 7: "Nine Princes in Shadow: Benedict's World"
Slot 8: "ShadowWorld WWII (formerly Underworld)"

Posted by ghoul at 07:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 06, 2004

Ahead Of Schedule

I'm surprised. Are you surprised?

Once I set myself a short-term deadline, I found I was able to finish the work that needed finishing and actually sent the ATP background files to 6 people tonight.

If you're interested as well, just ask and I'll send the files your way. But note... I'm not going to be letting anyone read both the ATP and the AAT background files just yet (some people already have... but only a handful and much older drafts). This means you should decide if your preference is for the rough life of free-ranging nomads or the not-quite-so-rough life in crowded cities and ask for information accordingly.

I'm quite happy with how ATP ended up looking and reading, which may just means I've fooled myself into thinking it's a lot clearer and cleverer than it actually is. But I'll hear from people soon, so I guess that's how I'll find out.

Posted by ghoul at 08:20 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 05, 2004

Game Work Continues

Yesterday, I completed an extensive re-thinking of the Cultural and Profession Keywords for the plainsfolk side of my bronze age RPG setting. As mentioned before, this world is to be run on Dreamlyrics (and via email) using HeroQuest rules.

Choosing HQ as the rules base has been a mixed blessing. I've found it provides a great way to add detail to the world through the Abilities (particularly the "Typical Personality Traits") attached to the various Keywords. I also think its narrative focus will help me a lot since my setting is intended to be quite open to player input.

Unfortunately, the exact cosmology of Glorantha doesn't quite match the one I'm using, and so I'm still struggling with a few details of magic and, as a result, the Religion keywords (and the Common Magic abilities in other Keywords). There are some significant cosmological facts built into HQ's magic rules, and it's proving tricky to pull some of them out without leaving nasty tangles of roots behind. I'm 90% happy with what I have, but I'm hoping to make it better over the next couple of days. And I still need to work out just what Sorcery is in my setting, because it wonít be at all like the Gloranthan version.

As things stand, Iím hoping to send out files on Sunday. With the nomadic/clan-focused ATP (Across the Plains) documents sent to potential players to read over, ask questions, and start work on characters, I'm going to give some time to making similar updates to AAT (aaTemos), the more advanced city-focused neighboring setting. (The three-letter codes are a Dreamlyrics thing, a carryover from its CompuServe RPGames days.)

Posted by ghoul at 08:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 03, 2004

You Can't Take The Sky From Me

Or is there some better way to express my reaction to this news?

Posted by ghoul at 08:51 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack