December 6, 2005: 9:48 pm: Cons, GMing, Playing

Over on The Forge, Pôl Jackson posted about the games he played in and ran at this year’s Ambercon NW, and then came to this conclusion:

And it took writing all of that just to realize: I need to start playing on purpose. I can’t just show up to a game half-prepared and expect that fun will somehow happen to me, as if by magic. Over the last year, my tastes have changed, and my expectations have changed. I need to be proactive about the games I sign up for. Make sure I know the rules. Make sure I’m hooked into the story. Make sure I show up to the game in the right frame of mind to play. I am responsible for my own fun.

Specifically, here are some things I think that I should do for next year’s AmberCon NW.
* When signing up for a “variant” game, I’ll e-mail the GM first and get the skinny on what the game is really like.
* I’ll come to the hotel a day early. Better yet, two days early. Soak up the atmosphere and have my vacation before Amber Boot Camp begins.
* In traditional Amber games, I’ll be more aggressive about suggesting events that could involve my character. Both before the game (“how can my character hook into the action more?”) and during the game (“could I be in this scene?”). Write a kicker. GMs will like it!
* When running a non-Amber game, I need to find out which players have played that system before. If most haven’t, then this should be a “demo” game, with different expectations (with a goal of “learning the game” rather than “running a full session”).
* Playing a new game? I need to buy the book and read the rules beforehand! The less time spent struggling with the rules, the more time can be spent playing.

I think that’s all great advice for pretty much anyone who attends an Ambercon, and I plan on trying to keep it in mind myself the next time I go to one.

December 4, 2005: 10:21 pm: Cons, Game systems

Over on John Kim’s RPG journal, there was a discussion in comments about the sorts of games that get run at Ambercons, and Ginger
said this:

You might want to talk to [lj user]mcurry, who’s on the con committee for The Black Road (a Boston-based regional Ambercon), about the evolution of indie gaming at TBR. Last year at TBR, I played and/or GMed Amber-themed Everway (not so indie, but still) and Amber-themed Cats. There was also Amber-themed Nobilis (again, not so indie), Mountain Witch, and a scheduled game of DitV that had to be dropped when the GM had to go to Europe instead of coming to the convention.

Over the past few years, TBR appears to have developed a minor reputation for having a more eclectic selection of games than some of the other Ambercons. We didn’t go out of our way to encourage our GMs to run these sorts of games, but we were certainly receptive to having them, which apparently was enough.

For TBR 2006 we’re going to add an indie game track where the games are explicitly not Amber-themed. Why do this? Speaking as one member of the con committee, my own interest in indie games is certainly part of the reason, but I also believe that stagnation can be an all too real danger at a small con like ours. I personally wouldn’t have much interest in devoting my energies to a con where the same people showed up and played more or less the same games year after year, so I’m trying to keep that from happening. Indie games seem like a great way to go about it.

July 10, 2005: 3:09 pm: Cons, GMing

Here, at long last, is the post where I try to talk about The Mountain of the Sorcerer-King, the Mountain Witch game I ran at this year’s TBR.

I’ll start off by saying that in the future I don’t see myself planning to run a game using a system that hasn’t been released yet. Tim was great and he gave me a bunch of help, including an update to the version of the playtest rules I had and a bunch of advice about running the game, but I still don’t think I was as prepared as I might have been if I was using a system that had already come out. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m glad that Tim is taking the time to get his game right before he releases it. I just probably shouldn’t have committed to using The Mountain Witch before it was actually completed.

On the bright side, the players mostly seemed to be having quite a good time, and there were definitely moments of inspired play. They didn’t hesitate to expend Trust points, and were therefore able to prevail rather handily in most of the battles against the Sorcerer-King’s minions. One of the players commented that he thought some of the opponents should have been tougher to defeat (specifically suggesting that they should get either a bonus to their die or get to roll more than one die), but I think much of their success came from the combination of their not being afraid to spend Trust and my not managing their Trust points as well as I should have (by making them expend more points). The final scene ended up being quite bloody, and I think most (if not all) of that blood was due to PC-on-PC violence, as a couple of Fates came to a head. It isn’t that it was a bad session, overall, it just could have been better.

There were problems though. The first of these arose during the part of the session where I did my best to explain the rules and guide everyone through character creation. Since I’d never actually run (or played in) a game of The Mountain Witch before, I didn’t have as firm a grasp of the rules as I would have liked, and this made it harder for me to explain them to the players (most of whom hadn’t had a chance to read the rules at all). The fact that this was a slot of limited length at a con meant that I also felt some pressure to get the game going, and so I probably rushed things more than I should have. For the most part this wasn’t a big problem, as the game is reasonably simple and I was able to fill in gaps in rules knowledge as we went along, but I think that if I’d been able to explain things more clearly, it might have avoided some of the rough spots that occurred during play.

One specific thing that I think wasn’t explained as well as it might have been was how to come up with strong Fates that would work to help build tension in the game and that could be foreshadowed during play. Part of the problem there was that, since I’d never played The Mountain Witch, I wasn’t sure myself what would and wouldn’t make a good Fate. That made it tough for me to give guidance to the players on what is, in my opinion the single most important aspect of the game.

We stumbled some during the play due to the relative inexperience of both the GM and most of the players with using a conflict resolution system. For my part, I’d read plenty of discussion on The Forge (and elsewhere) about conflict resolution, but that’s not really a substitute for the experience of having run a game that used it. Some of the players were in a similar situation, but a couple of them were being introduced to the concept for the first time.

There was also a serious issue with the amount of time we had to get through the game. I was running in a six hour slot (including a brief break for lunch), and with the need to explain the rules and create characters, that wasn’t enough time to do what I think would be considered a proper game of The Mountain Witch. Tim had already advised me that I was going to have to push to bring things to a conclusion in the amount of time I had, as the final rules recommend 8-12 hours for a full game. In the end, I ran well past the end of the slot in order to get the PCs through their confrontation with the Sorcerer-King (my version of the Mountain Witch), and I still don’t think the players had enough time to truly develop their Fates. If we had been an experienced group of MW players (with an experienced GM), we might have pulled the whole thing off in the time we had. Maybe.

There’s some possibility that I’m going to give this another shot at ACUS 2006 next March, and I’m thinking that it might go better on the second try. I’ll have time to better assimilate the system, which will have long since been released, and that should help both my running of the game and my teaching of the rules. I’ll also plan to do pre-generated characters with clear, powerful Fates that are designed to play off of each other. I’m going to have to mull things over before I make a commitment, but I think The Mountain Witch is a great game with lots of potential, and I’d like to take another shot at running it.

June 29, 2005: 9:19 pm: Cons

Here are the TBR 2005 reports that I’ve seen so far. If you know of any others, please let me know in comments.





: 9:07 pm: Cons

This past weekend was The Black Road 2005, our annual Ambercon-like convention held near Boston. It was another good year, despite attendance being a bit lower than it was in 2004, and everything seemed to go pretty smoothly. I’m sure the fact that none of the con committee members were suffering from broken bones or the plague (unlike last year) helped with that.

Here’s my report on the games I played/GMed:

Slot 1: From the Ashes
GM: Kris Kunkel)

This game used Amberkind, the GM’s Amber-oriented version of Vincent “Lumpley” Baker’s Otherkind, as the system for a scenario that involved a group of younger Amber royals and nobles heading off to a Shadow on one of those diplomatic missions that always seem to get someone (or several someones) killed. The Amberkind system seemed to work out pretty well, though we didn’t push it all that hard.

My character, Alexander, got himself beat up while looking for guns to bring along on the trip, but ended up with a few crates of carbines. Then, once on the mission itself, he decided to kill one of the two contenders for the Shadow’s throne, in hopes that an unborn child who might be his son would be able to ascend to the throne when he came of age. This is the sort of plan that sons of Caine tend to come up with. Overall, it was a fun game, and a fine way to start the con.

Slot 2: Dogs in the Circle
GM: Bryant Durrell)

Bryant ended up getting sent to Europe on business, so rather than playing Dogs, I spent most of the evening working on the game I was going to be running the next morning.

Slot 3: The Mountain of the Sorcerer-King
GM: me

I think this one deserves its own in-depth post, so for now I’ll just say that the game went fairly well, though it could have gone better. Still, all of the players seemed to enjoy themselves.

Slot 4: Le Cygne: Ghost Ship
GMs: Ginger Stampley & Michael Croft

This latest installment in the adventures of Le Cygne saw us drift through a red fog to a scary little island where a demented necromancer lived. Fortunately, the brave bosun (Skate, played by me) was able to guide the crew safely through the danger, mainly by paying attention to the ship’s owner and ignoring the acting Captain. I was definitely more “on” for this adventure than I had been for the previous one (which ran at ACUS), and I had a darned good time.

Slot 5: The Puppies of Tijuana
GM: me

This was a sequel of sorts to Nine Losers in Akron, the kill puppies for satan game that I ran at both TBR 2004 and ACUS 2005. I don’t think that it ended up going as well as either session of the first game did, as the PCs spent more time screwing with each other than they did either killing small animals or paying attention to what passed for a plot, but most of the players seemed to have a pretty good time. Things that I as a GM could have done better on included being more prepared for the session, more evenly dividing my attention among the players, and paying more attention to what a couple of the players were trying to accomplish. I’m sure having less players might have helped with those last two issues, but I managed fine with a group of equal size at the ACUS session of Nine Losers, so I’m not sure exactly what was going on with me.

Overall, it was definitely an enjoyable con for me, and it was nice to meet some new people (Carolyn and Brian), see all of those folks that I generally only get to see at Ambercons, and spend more time with those people I’m lucky enough to see more often. I’m definitely looking forward to next year’s TBR.

June 19, 2005: 10:54 pm: Cons

Ambercon North 2005 has been officially cancelled, but ACN should be back in 2006. Here’s the announcement that was sent out today (by me, actually):

We know that many of you who attend Ambercon North need to make your vacation and travel plans well in advance, so we thought it was time to make things official.

There will be no ACN 2005.

As most of you know, we had issues with the Town Inn last year that have made it an unacceptable venue for the con. However, finding a replacement hotel in metro Toronto hasn’t been easy, and even with the added help of some local volunteers (thanks Matt and Liz!), we haven’t yet managed to find a location that we think will work out well for us. The current currency exchange rate has made our hotel search even more difficult, given how many of the people attending the con come from the U.S. side of the border.

The good news is that we are still planning on having an Ambercon North in 2006, and we’re hoping that the added time will allow us to find a venue that we can all be happy with for years to come.

Our thanks to all of you who have supported ACN in the past. We’ll definitely miss seeing you all in Toronto this fall.

May 21, 2005: 11:05 am: Cons

Here’s my schedule for The Black Road 2005:

Slot 1: From the Ashes [Amber using modified Otherkind rules]
GM: Kris Kunkel

Slot 2: Dogs in the Circle [Yep, Amber meets Dogs in the Vineyard]
GM: Bryant Durrell

Slot 3: GM – The Mountain of the Sorcerer-King [Mountain Witch with a bit of Amber flavor]

Slot 4: Le Cygne: Ghost Ship [Amber+Everway=Amberway]
GMs: Ginger Stampley & Michael Croft

Slot 5: GM – The Puppies of Tijuana [kill puppies for satan with recast Amber Elders]

Should be a fun time!

May 16, 2005: 9:12 pm: Cons, Game theory (or close enough)

Okay, this is the kind of thing that makes me sorry I’m not going to GenCon:

So I called the Justice League of Indie Game Design together and came up with a rough outline for the Workshop. Everyone got on board and planning began. The initial idea was to do a hardcore workshop with a catered lunch, group projects, presentations…but alas, this didn’t come together for a variety of reasons. The current plan is to set up a series of four seminars on the Friday of the con, with each running between an hour and 1.5 hours — with a lunch break in between sessions 2 and 3. If it goes well, maybe next year we’ll do something even more ambitious. Buy-in is $5 per session ($20 for the whole thing). I don’t have the exact write-ups of each seminar with me, but the details are:

Session I: Theory of Roleplaying, hosted by D. Vincent Baker (kill puppies for satan, Dogs in the Vineyard)

Session II: Game Design, hosted by Yours Truly [Jared A. Sorenson] and Luke Crane (Burning Wheel)

Session III: Worldbuilding and Mythic Storytelling, hosted by John Wick (Legend of the Five Rings, OrkWorld, Thirty, etc.)

Session IV: Print & Electronic Publication, hosted by Clinton R. Nixon (Paladin, Shadow of Yesterday) and Luke Crane

For those who will be at GenCon that weekend, the actual event code is apparently WKS00018: Roleplaying Game Design Workshop.

April 11, 2005: 7:35 pm: Cons

Here are a few more ACUS 2005 reports that have shown up:


April 10, 2005: 10:17 pm: Cons

For those who haven’t seen it, Nuadha (aka James Arnoldi) started a thread on The Forge about making Ambercons more indie game friendly.

As someone who has run kpfs at both TBR and ACUS, run the Success system at TBR, plans to run The Mountain Witch this year at TBR, and played in both My Life With Master and Cat at Ambercons, this is definitely an idea that appeals to me, and as one of the members of the TBR con committee, I’m curious about how well it might work out. I don’t want to see the hardcore Amber crowd get driven off by other indie games, but at the same time I don’t want to see Ambercons not change for so long that they die off. I guess it comes down to a question of balance.

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