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Pros and Cons of Amber at Cons

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At the height of my passion for Amber Diceless Roleplaying I signed up at my local RPG convention to run several Amber games. Now, I've had a lot of success at this convention - "Phantasm", in Peterborough, Ontario. It has been running almost 25 years. I've been going for about 15. I've won Gamemaster of the Year 3 times, and Player of the Year (somehow) once. Amber, however, was an unwieldy beast, and although it is my favourite roleplaying game system, I will never run it at a convention again. Why?

5 Reasons I Will Not Run Amber Diceless at a Convention

This is in roughly "not as big of a deal" to "deal-breaker" order:

1. SPACE IS AN ISSUE: In Amber, as much happens away from the table as at the table. Notes, notes, notes. When you're in someone's house and you can basically take over the living room and the kitchen separately - and occasionally have to hide in a closet with someone to have a secret meeting - this isn't a problem. At a Con, you take up not just your table, but the back corner, the front desk, all the territory where people should be LARPing, and you end up having important pivotal character conflicts in the bathroom.

2. IT'S EXHAUSTING: Without dice, players don't need you to form cabals, have secret meetings, and make plans. They just need you for when they set those plans into motion, to know what happens. Exciting? Yes. Also exhausting! Everyone wants a piece of you.

3. CHARACTER CREATION: How are you supposed to care about your character unless you make it, and experience the auction? Pre-generated characters do not have the motivation that you have if some jerk across the table from you just outbid you for 1st place in Strength.
There just isn't enough on a character sheet (four stats and powers) for a new player to look at it and understand what they're supposed to be playing, no matter how big of a backstory you write in; the auction does that so much better. However, if you do run the auction, it takes up half the session.

4. LEARNING CURVE STEEPER THAN MOUNT KOLVIR: It happened a few times that I had groups that were a pretty even split between players who had played before (and so couldn't help themselves signing up even though I could have run it for them any time) and people who were new, curious, and probably wanted their friends who played before to shut up about the game already.

The problem was, Amber Diceless expects a huge amount of self-determination and initiative. Players who have played before, in the vanilla setting, are roughly familiar with the geography and what it can do (even if you fiddle with the details as a GM) whereas new players need to ask that many more questions ("So, if you get to the centre of the Pattern, you can go anywhere?") in order to catch up.

The more experienced players - like race horses out of the gate - corralled, manipulated, or murdered all the noobs within the first hour of play. It was clever, and brutal. It was like watching a few Bruce Lees enter a few Japanese Dojos. In the end, the new players were left with their heads spinning, no matter how much I tried to help them.

5. PLAYERS OVER INVEST: The only time I've had a player openly weep, in the middle of a convention, was over Amber Diceless. It wasn't other players being mean to him that caused tears. His character was the Warden of Arden once Julien absconded. Through a series of circumstances, mostly involving agents from the Courts of Chaos, a big chunk of the forest of Arden burned. I don't know if I narrated the action too effectively, but...well, it was too much for this guy.

I think part of the problem is, without the buffer of a character sheet and dice and other separating gimmicks, people play their character in Amber much closer to the chest. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. But - while a wild story - it's not really something I want to deal with in public.

I think I won the GM of the Year prize that year, and I think Amber was to thank, but I came out of the weekend with as many confused players as zealots. I also think I aged a year. So, I decided I'd much rather run Amber privately, maybe with passwords and secret handshakes.

I don't know how the AmberCons ever functioned - maybe they were all players who played before? Who knows. I would love to hear about other people's experience with Amber at cons.


Par Rathorne:
That really is an interesting summary andoddly pertinent as I'm in the process of 'calling' for GMs to run games at AmberConNI ;-)

So just a few comments on how I've tried to alleviate some of the problems you have faced (and to be fair, all good points!  And good enough to inspire me to actually response - I'm generally a lurker!)

1) Space - Yup.  Always an issue when you're effectively LARPing :-) (hey, some of our folk dress to impress too!)   To avoid this, I've organised one room per game... so we have the Library (Smallish, but lots of seating), the White Room (a full conference room with lots of space), the Upper Gallery (a full dinning dinning room with vaulted ceiling), The Lower Gallery (With easy access to a firepit outside - reserved for any GM who smokes!) etc.  But yes, I guess it pays having fewer games and a goodly portion of the hotel booked out to convention :)

2) *chuckle* No kidding.   We run Amber/LoGaS/DicelessStuff(tm) from Thursday evening to Monday afternoon.   GMing or not, every one of us tends to be a happy zombie on Monday :-)  But I'm not sure if I consider this a negative!  Again though, it pays that you can roll from your hotel room down to breakfast to a game, to the restaurant, to the game (via the pub) etc etc ;-)

3) Character creation - good point.  We generally don't do Pregens.  Generally games are assigned weeks in advance of the con (if the organisers are.. organised!!) and characters are created via email before the con.  Thus the investment.  Some GMs still do an auction... others choose to have players just build characters.   There are still games with live auctions though this tends to take up quite a bit of the game time so is generally quite rapid-fire and character concepts are created beforehand to speed things up.

4) Now this point is one I've struggled with quite a bit unfortunately.   There certainly is a lot of expected background knowledge (Benedict walks in brandishing a sword... Player: 'I draw mine and attack the fool, how dare he brandish his sword at me'... It's kinda like going to a Panto and knowing that you *have* to boo and hiss at the bad guy.  Oddly though, I've had a bit more success levelling the playing field with LoGaS - but you're right, there's an expected level of player 'evil' that newbies find it hard to match :-)

5) *chuckles* I certainly over invest as a player.  :-)   That said, a goodly number of my characters end up dead.  I'd say you narrated well though if you got that kind of emotion :-)   I'd suggest that having room to 'yourself' rather than an open convention hall makes dealing with emotion a little easier.

As for your conclusion - I guess the only thing I can say is.... don't give up! :-) Sharing the system in an open forum is the best way to get new folk into the game - though I tend to run more obvious plot lines to ensure newbies have very defined goals and try and pair them (rather than set them against) someone who has experience.

As for AmberCons... well, there does tend to be a weight of people who know the 'expectations' and while there are always new folk, that weight of knowledge certainly pulls them along :-)


PS - there's still a place or two if you you can make it over to Belfast and experience the mayhem first hand!

I can solve one really easily - don't have auctions.
Points buy only. So each player buys stats, powers and objects with the usual total in mind. It speeds stuff up considerably.


--- Quote from: Rogerd;1069003 ---I can solve one really easily - don't have auctions.
Points buy only. So each player buys stats, powers and objects with the usual total in mind. It speeds stuff up considerably.
--- End quote ---

Speedy maybe, but it loses a lot of meaning that way. Players making characters in little silos with only a superficial relationship to each other seems contrary, to me at least, to Amber.



--- Quote from: Panjumanju;1069206 ---Speedy maybe, but it loses a lot of meaning that way. Players making characters in little silos with only a superficial relationship to each other seems contrary, to me at least, to Amber.

--- End quote ---

Can the players see each other's sheets when you're done?


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