Ambercon 2015 - A Review

Another year and another wonderful con. This was my 14th consecutive year at the convention and it remains one of my favorite events of each year.  Each year, I usually have at least one game that I run that didn't go as well as I hoped.   While I had a few games go differently than I expected, that is to be expected.  (Expect the Unexpected should be the first rule of gamemastering.)  However, all of my games felt like hits.

Slot 1 - Murder on the Cocoanut Express - I like starting out my convention with a light, easy to jump-in game.  This game of murder and mystery was just the bill.  Advertised as a mix between Marx Brothers and Agatha Christie, we all designed characters to ride on the train, all of whom had a reason to want Mrs. Potter dead. I played a butler to a rich socialite...a Jeeves to his Wooster or an Alfred to his Batman.  Of course....I had to be the murderer.  You know how those butlers are...

Slot 2 - The Dresden Files game.   I forget the actual title, but this was Mike K.'s series game.  I played an Earth Mage with a signature spell that covers his body in rock titled "It's clobberin' time!" I used it well as we faced a Denarian.  This game was good fun.

Slot 3- Black Petals- This may have been my highlight this year.  A game of pregens, set in the world of Michael Moorcock's Elric.  Elric and Moonglum were PCs, as well as several other characters.  After many times trying to run a game set in the Young Kingdoms, I finally had one where it felt like I captured the feel of the books.  It was serious and melodramatic. The players were all great and really threw themselves into their pregenerated characters.   It worked out nicely that I had two pregens who are characters from the novels and I only had two of the players who were very familiar with the books and took those two PCs.

Slot 4 - X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills - Based loosely on the graphic novel with the same title, the players worked together, despite differing views on the what the future of mutantkind should be.  There was a preacher posting hateful sermons on Youtube saying that mutants were evil and abominations.  He has been stirring up anti-mutant violence and something had to be done to stop him.

Slot 5 - Federal Powers Bureau - John S. has returned to GMing at ACUS after a few years away and he hit us with a fun mystery an excellent system for handling super-spies.   I am tempted to borrow the system myself as it is nice and streamlined but does a good job of handling a variety of skills and abilities.  I know John was disappointed about the pacing (one of the hardest things to handle when running a mystery game), but overall I enjoyed myself.

Slot 6 - D&D: Expedition to Castle Amber - I recently picked up 5th Edition D&D and I am quite hooked on it.  I think I may finally have a D&D system that is what I always though D&D should be.  So, when thinking about games to run at ACUS this year, I said "Why not run a game to give my fellow Amberconners a chance to play the new edition while also playing with what happens when your traditional D&D characters get pulled in to the plots of Amberites.  What followed was simply hilarity.   I think it has been ages since I laughed that hard as a GM.  A motley crew of adventurers from the Forgotten Realm of Faerun (An High Elf Paladin, a Drow Rogue, a Drow Monk, a Halfling Rogue, a Human Figher, and a Rogue Rogue/Wizard named Stabbity Jones), accompanied Eric of Amber as he used gates hidden in the giant dungeon of Undermountain to sneak into the Pattern Room. The best parts of the game were the ridiculous planning sessions on how to defeat the Red Dragon including using Soveriegn Glue to glue him in his cave.   Of course the Soveriegn Glue came to great use later in the game as the "heroes" sealed the door to the Pattern Room and glued an upside down Everflowing Chalice to the wall....flooding the chamber.

Slot 7 - Dreaming City: Fistful of Juju - A mix of new and returning players breathed some new life into my longest running series of games.  (I ran the first Dreaming City game in 2002.) Lots of big things happened and the game climaxed with a rooftop concert on the city's most popular club, Reverb, while the Morrigan's Armies tried to shut it down because of the anti-Morrigan propaganda of the lyrics.

Slot 8 - Rebma Confidential -  Jeremy Z. couldn't make it this year, so I volunteered to run this to make sure the players got their annual fix of the Undertow.  I felt the game went really well and lived up to the feel and quality of the games Jeremy usually run.  The combination of underwater creatures, film noir trappings, and Cthulhu-esque horrow makes for a unique setting that is always a blast.
Thanks to Kris F., we have some quotes from the Rebma game:

"I'm looking to hire a good private investigator.  I hear you're cheap."

-- woman to Johnny Sharktopus

"I subtly follow, in a way that only a giant shark can." -- Johnny

Sharktopus to GM

"Body bags are useful, especially in this neighborhood." -- Calli to Na'la

"I'll fire a warning shot." -- Johnny Sharktopus

"Into her head?" -- Anne

"I put the (shark-attracting) coin into the back pocket of a hipster at

Johnny's House of Blood who's complaining about the lack of vegan

options." -- Johnny Sharktopus to GM


Ambercon check list update

Write basic information about town and NPC residents Got a general idea what I am doing with town and NPCs
Write up intro e-mail to send to players
Hit Library for books on topic and read them. Still having a problem finding many detailed books on the topic, though I do have one book that has a chapter dedicated to it.
After players send basic idea of type of character they would like, write up and send characters to players.

Figure out who the big-bad will be. Make it awesome. Done. Awesome, I think.
Write intro e-mail.
After players choose characters, come up with rest of the plot.

With Ultimate Power:
Find where I packed Nobilis Still haven't unpacked that box apparently.
Re-read Nobilis RPG book and decide what tweaks game will need. Decided I do not need the rulebook as I am using the basic mechanics, but different stats....and I remember the basic mechanics.
Intro e-mail
After players choose characters, make stats and send them to players.

Dreaming City:
Figure out how badly the PCs doomed the city last year. ;) Done. They are screwed. Seriously, I have a plot figured out. That is more than I usually have done for this game by this time each year. I usually figure out a basic seed of a plot the week before the con and then just wing it at the con. Last year's game had all of this planned: Terminator-like Angel comes gunning for Tristan, complete with "Have you seen this boy?" line. Oh yeah, and some street racing stuff. Street racing is cool in Urban settings. How much cooler with magic?

Dragon City (assuming I am in it):
Come up with back story for Boss Totoro Got a basic idea.
Practice wookie sounds. Ongoing.

Rebma Confidential (safely assuming I am in it):
Practice Peter Lorre voice. Ongoing.

ACUS 2011 Review...almost a year later

I always meant to write up a review of my con. It just slipped my mind. Now, my memories of the con are faded, but not so much I can't write a quick review.

Slot 1: Enigma Society Reflections- 
This was my second and last year in Enigma Society playing Doc Holliday.     Last year, the immortal and constantly suffering Doc got a Holy Grail.  It wasn't THE Holy Grail, but a grail given to him by an angel.    It could heal the wounds of the sick, but not him.      He used it at the end of the game to offer another dying character a chance to heal.    The character died (he was given an option to go instantly to heaven).  Doc had never been given that option before when he tried it, but thinking about the peace the dying character showed in those final moments, he drank from the grail again and took the plunge.   RIP Doc.   The game was fun, although a bit slow at times.    This is generally the feel I get from Jack's games.     They are a series of kick-ass moments cut apart with a bunch of slow parts.      The kick-ass moments pay off, but you have to wait for them.

Slot 2: 1871: La Commune-

As 1870 began, Paris was the center of Europe; the font of culture, fashion and invention. A long, disastrous war with Prussia and months of siege have left the city broken. Parisians have been reduced to eating dogs, cats, and rats. Now,the new National Assembly has arranged a cease fire with Bismarck and the Prussians march proudly through the streets of city, adding further humiliation. You would think that things would be returning to normal in the city, but the mood remains tense. The National Assembly must sense this, for they are relocating to Versailles. A revolution is coming! Paris has suffered greatly during the siege, but it survived. It will not now suffer under the rule of the French government! History is at hand! The future of Paris is up to you.

Wow, I was nervous about this game.     After years of puttering with the idea of running a completely historical scenario, I finally decided to submit one.    The Paris Commune of 1871 gave the perfect set-up for a roleplaying game.  It was chaotic, scary, and obscure enough that few players would know the details of how things really went, so they can't use "learned from history" to change events.     It turns out, I had no reason to be nervous.   I got a fantastic group of players that leapt fully in to the setting and moral questions of the events.  The PCs played various members of the Montmartre socialists, anarchists, and leaders.     Each character had one super-special schtick.   For example, the artist could make paintings and art that stirred people's emotions.    One character was a fantastic writer.   Another character was able to get the instant trust and respect of soldiers (being a veteran himself).   None of these "powers" were gamebreaking, but all of them moved the story along.      They were there at the beginning of the Paris Commune when the citizens of Montmartre chased the French Army out of the city and were there defending the city when the army came back with Hessian Military.      I don't know if any players read up on the events, but they made one key move that the real life Commune missed.    They seized money from the banks.    Historically, the money in the Paris banks was smuggled out over the months and used to fund Hessian mercenaries to take the city back.   The players seized the money early and later was able to use it to pay off some Hessian mercs, not to fight for the Commune, but to not fight for France.  It bought them several more months before the fall of the Commune and changed history a bit.

Slot 3: Savage Fires of Amber-

Ancient prophecies warned of the day when the ground would shake and Mt. Kolvir would be crowned in fire. The day has come and who could have predicted that Amber's greatest threat would not come from shadow or from the royal family? Day will turn to night as death comes from below. Only an expedition in to the core of the world itself can unravel the mysteries behind Mt. Kolvir's fire.

After the hit of Savage Skies of Amber the previous year, I decided I wanted to run another pulpy Amber game using Savage Worlds.   I also had just learned a lot about Volcanoes and Pompeii and thought the signs that Kolvir was actually a volcano could be a good start to a game.   This one was not as much of a hit as the previous Savage Amber game.   I kind of ended up pushing the players along on an adventure and I don't feel like I gave them the freedom to make their own plot as much as I like to.      The basic plot: The Pattern was stolen!   Really!     The characters end up tracking in to the earthly shadows of underground Amber in to molten center of the universe.     They ride in The Professor's trump powered digging machine.   They met mole people.       They ran around a lot.     It had some cool moments, but was not a big hit, I think.

Slot 4: Harbingers: Crisis in Hypertime!

Being a superhero isn't easy. It's a violent life and for far too many, it is cut short. You have sadly become one of those statistics. You were fated to be one of your world's greatest heroes, but a senseless death robbed you of your destiny. Instead of creating a legend to be retold for generations, you will be forgotten without even a small footnote in history. Only limbo awaited you....

The magic of the multiverse has given you another chance at life and another chance to prove your worth. Teamed with heroes from other Earths, you find yourself leaping from universe to universe, facing perils on Earths not your own, and fighting to make right what could go horribly wrong. The mysterious being known only as The Monitor assures you that your eventual reward for facing crises on multiple Earths will be a return to life in your own world. Until then, you are a Harbinger.

I was trying to come up with a setting for an ongoing series of "elseworlds" games where the players would keep the same characters.    Unfortunately, I did not handle power balancing very well and had a few very annoyed players complain through much of the game that "Super-Batman" was overshadowing their characters.       I think the concept of the game still worked pretty well, but I used my KEY system, and I think the system breaks down when you use it to try and create JLA level superheroes more than I expected it too.    I may try doing the series idea again sometime.  (The basic idea that the heroes are dimension-travelling troubleshooters like in Exiles.)     If I do, I will go completely points-less like I usually run my superhero games.

Slot 5: The League of Quantum Gentlemen and the Curse of the Cosmic Caveman
Adventures through time and space with the Doctor can be fun...if constantly findng yourself chased by things that want to kill and eat you is your idea of fun. Your team of motley heroes have been working hard to fix the holes in reality that keep depositing creatures from other dimensions in to poor unsuspecting cities.... like Cardiff.

So, the Doctor has suggested a break. He's been talking all day, with a wink and nudge, about this little rock and roll club he knows in 60's Liverpool and this band he thinks you'll if you didn't figure out when and where you guys are going already. It should be a nice fun break from running all across the universe. Certainly, you guys can take one little trip without some universe-threatening problem coming up. Right?

I actually came up with the title of this game before I had a plot.   I liked the sound of it.     I also came up with the description (suggesting a trip to see the Beatles play in Liverpool) before I really had a plot.   So, I had to come up with a plot that involved the Beatles and a "Cosmic Caveman."     What I came up with:   While in Liverpool and visiting with the Beatles (whom the Doctor already knows and had apparently travelled with the Doctor on an adventure before (so they already knew about the Tardis, time travel, etc), a fleet of ships arrive on earth in the past, changing the present and only the PCs and The Beatles were unaffected.     Travelling through time, they find that the "Cro-mags" (from Sliders) had learned how to travel time as well as dimensions and conquered this world before humans had the tech to resist them.    The players eventually found a world where their previous accomplice, Vandal Savage and some Cro-Mags had been marooned and when they calmed the angry Cro-mags down by having the Beatles play music, they discovered that the Beatles had a soft-spot for the Beatles.   So, the PCs and the Beatles went on to stop the invasion with the power of music.     (All they needed was Hostess Fruit Cakes to really save the day!)    The game was a lot of fun, but I also decided that I want to stop running so many series, and decided that it would be the last year for the LoQG.   It frees my time up for more one-shots!

Slot 6: Free Latveria!
Doctor Doom, Monarch of Latveria, has agreed to hold open elections in his homeland for the first time in recorded history. He has even invited the Justice Society of America to ensure a free and fair election. By a quirk of Latverian election law foreigners may run for office. If you win, the most feared nation in Europe will bow to your will, and the JSA will have no choice but to enforce your victory. Plus due to the lack of any extradition treaties the JSA can't arrest anyone there for crimes not commited on Latverian soil. Free Latveria? You'll take it.

I had a ton of fun with this game.     The right selection of characters can make or break a game like this and this game had a perfect mix of PCs and NPCs.   I played Jimmy Olsen.      In a game where almost all of the PCs were supervillains, I chose to play a guy with two powers: "weirdness magnet" and "a really powerful pal."   Of course, it is bound to happen that Jimmy Olsen ends up with superpowers at some point, and sure enough when Jimmy Olsen bravely went off to fight the invasion of the Fantastic Four, he ended up with Reed Richard's elastic powers.    I don't know if they ever became useful, but Jimmy did manage to use the footage he got of his single-handedly facing The Thing and later wrestling with Mister Fantastic to great effect in the campaign.

Jimmy Olsen won the election!   Of course, I think it was the fact that people thought he was the least dangerous and most easily beaten if he becomes a danger. 

Slot 7: Fast and Furious in the Dreaming City
"You think you can race? Race wars ain't just any race, humie. It's outside the city gates. You think Murias has some mean streets, you ain't seen nothing. Sure, you gotta nice set of wheels there. Watcha got under that hood? Let me guess. An Elemental SR420 with a nitrous injector? Am I right? No? Did you at least get some good enchantments? You gonna race a care with no magic!? You brave man....for a human."

Sometimes, I come up with a theme for a Dreaming City game that doesn't come in to play that much.     The street-racing subplot of this game didn't come up a lot as the other plot I came up with ended up pulling all the PCs together pretty quickly.    However, we did end up with an Angel-possessed hot rod at one point trying to run over the characters, so life was good.     I decided that I wanted to shake up the comfortable life of one of the PCs this year.   PF plays a Nephilim, Tristan,  and I decided I liked the idea of a Terminator-like killing machine of an Angel coming to Murias to kill him.  The only way to describe how this turned out: epic!

The most memorable part was how it ended.      Since this was a pretty run and punch type of a scenario, the holistic detective, Diego Del Fuego had relegated to comic relief most game as he tried to talk to the Angel.   (He isn't a all.)   He also had to deal with his love-sick magical cell-phone that has a huge crush on him.      During the game, he figured out that the cell-phone had powers to do more than an ordinary cellphone if he was nice to it.   (He had to sweet talk it.)   He convinced it to help him get a phone call to the angelic host that sent the killer angel after Tristan.    The angelic host, being mostly just about the acting on the will of God and not about about questioning his decisions, weren't very helpful.    They only explained that it was HIS will.   So, he asked to speak to their supervisor.    After minutes of laughter about this by myself and the other players, he got connected to Metatron, the voice, speaking for the Heavenly Father.     He convinced them to call off their attacks by convincing them that by sending their powers to Murias, they acknowledge it exists.     If they acknowledge it exists, they have to explain where it came from, since it was not created by God or his people.    So, God said he would pull out of Murias and pretend it does not exist.     A perfect set up for this year's game!

Slot 8: Rebma Confidentia: Undercurrent
It rose up from the oceanic trench, a dark holdover from primordial times: Teeth the size of sabers, large eyes the size of saucers, an appendage tipped with a bioluminescent nodule dangled in front of its face. Smaller fish trailed in its wake. It didn't belong in water this shallow, but it also didn't care.

"Steve," it growled, its voice tinny underwater.

"F'Kilk," I said, using only its name as a greeting. "Long time no see."

"Not long enough. I got your message. I'm here. Start talking before I get hungry."

"I heard you found one of Caine's ships at the bottom of one of your trenches, from when Corwin attacked."

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. What's it to you?"

"My patron thinks Caine may have left something valuable behind, and is willing to pay handsomely for its retrieval."

"Keep talking, meat. You've got me curious."

I LOVE this game.  This was again my favorite game I played in and possibly my favorite game of the con.    The GM and players ham up their roles.   The GM is one of the best off-the-cuff GMs I know and because of this he rolls well with the craziness that the players hand him.  I also play one of my favorite RPG characters I have ever played: Dr. Adolphus Bedlo, a back-street doc.   He is a small eel-man who is not too brave, but awfully greedy.   He also takes better care than most to help the good people of the neigborhood.    He is not all slimy, after all.   This character all comes out of one of the first Ambercons I went to, where one of the games was based on Casablanca.   I didn't get in to the game, but when I signed up, I had my hopes on playing Peter Lorre's character (or one like him).        This idea stuck with me for a while, and I finally found a game where a slimy eel of a guy like Lorre tended to play fits right in.     He will talk bravely as long as he has the gun and you do not, but if the tables are turned....if it looks like he could die, he has no bravery.


ACUS 2012: Justice League Europe

I've tried running games to be intentionally silly before. It doesn't go so well. I've played games that were meant to be serious end up funnier due to events. I remember the wackiness of one superhero game where the players were trying to free a bunch of imprisoned metahumans and some of the people they freed (like Doomsday) made things worse because they weren't checking who they were. Ideally, I figured out that I like my games to play like an issue of the Justice League International comics from the 80's and 90's. During those years, the Justice League books were a good mixture of adventure with humor. The heroes were the B-Listers of the DCU. They were competent, but never taken as seriously as the A-Listers. They also didn't always get along and the bickering provided much of the humor. However, during these books they faced enormous threats like Despero, Starro, the Extremists, Queen Bee, etc.. They had to put their bickering aside when the fighting starts.

SPOILERS! (I forgot how to do a LJ cut or this would be behind a cut.)

So, how do I get that in a roleplaying game? I've been thinking and come up with something I think will work. The JLE game is based around the idea that the heroes are setting up the new Justice League International embassy in France. A threat, of course, comes along and there is serious plot they will have to deal with, but before that I plan to have some scenes of them dealing with things like moving in, the public relations nightmare of not having a French superhero on a team headquartered in Paris, etc. I also plan to pick out some fairly obnoxious NPCs for the team so if the heroes don't get annoyed with each other when dealing with this stuff, they will have someone else to plan their pranks on or throw their verbal jabs at. Should I go for the A-Lister of obnoxiousness, Guy Gardner? I haven't decided.

Ambercon To-Do List

I like to post these sometimes to a public forum because it keeps me honest...

Write basic information about town and NPC residents
Write up intro e-mail to send to players
Hit Library for books on topic and read them.
After players send basic idea of type of character they would like, write up and send characters to players.

Figure out who the big-bad will be. Make it awesome.
Write intro e-mail.
After players choose characters, come up with rest of the plot.

With Ultimate Power:
Find where I packed Nobilis
Re-read Nobilis RPG book and decide what tweaks game will need.
Intro e-mail
After players choose characters, make stats and send them to players.

Dreaming City:
Figure out how badly the PCs doomed the city last year. ;)

Dragon City (assuming I am in it):
Come up with back story for Boss Totoro
Practice wookie sounds.

Rebma Confidential (safely assuming I am in it):
Practice Peter Lorre voice.

Eugene Debs - "I am my Brother's Keeper."

Eugene Victor Debs was a shopkeeper's son from Terre Haute, Indiana. He would become one of America's most revered labor leaders through his leading role in the Pullman Strike of 1894; he is considered one of the nation's great orators, and was a founder of the Socialist Party. Nominated for President five times, Debs received nearly a million notes in the election of 1912. By many both in and out of the socialist movement, Debs is held in high esteem as the "founding father" of American socialism and the ideals it proclaims. The following excerpts are from his famous speech at Girard, Kansas on May 23, 1908.

Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man's business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked; "Am I my brother's keeper?" That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.

Yes, I am my brother's keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death.

If there is a man on this earth who is entitled to all the comforts and luxuries of this life in abundance, it is the man whose labor produces them. If he is not, who is? Does he get them in the present system?

Why should any man, woman, or child suffer for food, clothing, or shelter? Why? The question cannot be answered. Don't tell me that some men are too lazy to work. Suppose they are too lazy to work, what do you think of a social system that produces men too lazy to work? if a man is too lazy to work, don't treat him with contempt. Don't treat him with scorn as if you were a superior being. If there is a man who is too lazy to work, there is something the matter with him. He wasn't born right or he was perverted in this system. You could not, if you tried, keep a normal man inactive, and if you did he would go stark mad. Go to any penitentiary and you will find the men there begging for the privilege of doing work.

I know by close study of the question exactly how men become idle. I don't repel them when I meet them. I have never yet seen a tramp I was not able to receive with open arms. He is a little less fortunate than I am. He is made the same as I am made. He is a child of the same Father. Had I been born in his environment, had I been subjected to the same things to which he was, I would have been where he is.

Now, we Socialists propose that society in its collective capacity shall produce, not for profit but in abundance to satisfy human wants; that every man shall have the inalienable right to work and receive the full equivalent of all he produces; that every man may stand fearlessly erect in the pride and majesty of his own manhood.

Every man and every woman will then be economically free. They can, without let or hindrance, apply their labor, with the best machinery that can be devised, to all the natural resources, do the work of society and produce for all; and then receive in exchange a certificate of value equivalent to that of their production. Then society will improve its institutions in proportion to the progress of invention. Whether in the city or on the farm, all things productive will be carried forward on a gigantic scale. All industry will be completely organized. Society will for the first time have a scientific foundation. Every man, by being economically free, will have some time for himself. He can then take a full and perfect breath. He can enjoy life with his wife and children because he will have a home.