*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
September 26, 2021, 10:08:27 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 82 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
Pages: [1]
Print
Author Topic: [AmberCon NW 2005] Four Days, Seven Games  (Read 10434 times)
Pôl Jackson
Member

Posts: 33


« on: December 02, 2005, 07:39:07 AM »

I recently spent four days at AmberCon NW 2005. I've been attending this Con every November, for going on six years now. This year, I had a lot of "ten minutes of fun packed into four hours of play" experiences. I had a fantastic time being on vacation - socializing with familiar faces, meeting new people, eating at the five-star restaurant, experimenting with mixed drinks, and soaking up the atmosphere at the fabulous Edgefield hotel. But a lot of the gaming itself didn't really grab me, somehow.

The games:

* The most disappointing game for me was "Amber's Watchdogs", run by Michael Sullivan. In "Amber's Watchdogs", the players were young princes and princesses of Amber, competing for the King's approval by seeing who could best deal with an invading army. Michael had taken the dice mechanic out of DitV, and was using it to run a much more tactical game. Commonly, player's would announce an action; dice would be rolled the determine if the action was successful or not; and Michael would decide what effect this would have on the situation as a whole (including whether or not the character was currying the King's favor.) It struck me as being very traditional Amber, in that the GM acts as the sole gateway for interpreting how character actions affect the game world.

I have played in - and enjoyed! - this kind of tactical game in the past. What was different this time was that I showed up to the game with vastly different expectations. This game was billed as a Dogs in the Vineyard variant. It wasn't. There were none of the hard choices or moral quandaries that I would have expected to see in a game based on DitV. I think I really would have enjoyed this game, if I had known what I was walking into. As it was, I ended up bowing out early. (To be fair, it was pretty late, and I was already exhausted. But still, I should mention: this was a clear case where my agenda of "being on vacation" outweighed my agenda of "playing role-playing games". I was more interested in a good night's sleep and a leisurely morning than in continuing with the game.)

* There were two games where I got "ten minutes of fun" out of the sessions. Both were fairly traditional Amber games: "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead", run by Simone Cooper & others, and "The Forms of Things Unknown", run by Ameer Tavakoli & others. These games had a lot of similarities. Both were "sequel" games (to games that had been run last year). Also, both had a large number of players (and a large playing space) that made them very similar to LARP/freeform games. And in both games, I had a character who didn't have a lot to do. The things I did do were a lot of fun, and it was often entertaining to watch what other people were doing. Still, it would have been more fun to be doing more. Part of the problem is that in Amber, the GM is the gateway for anything your character does - there are only so many GMs to go around. But part of it is my fault; I got attached to character concepts that were mostly passive, and I didn't make enough of an effort to break out and get involved.

* The four games I had the most fun in were all non-Amber DRPG games. Unfortunately, all of them suffered to some degree from having new rules for players to absorb.

I played in my first Polaris game, run by John Kim. I spent a lot of time just trying to wrap my head around the rules - learning when I could use what phrases, the roles of the Moons, etc. As a result, there were only a few moments during the game where I was really jazzed by what was going on. (John: I loved that bit where the tunnel collapses, leaving just your hand sticking out of the rubble. And that picture Michelle drew of the demon lover! Brilliant! You've got to scan & post that, if you still have it.) I also had very different expectations when it came to scene framing than some of the other characters did. I was looking for punchy, short scenes; at least one other player wanted long, intense conversations. One session of play wasn't long enough for us to get comfortable with our respective styles. But! I learned a lot about how to play Polaris, which was the primary thing I was looking for in the session.

I also played in Lee Short's "Amber Shadows" game, which was an adaption of his "Star, Moon, and Cross" game, in development. This is a rotating-GM game, with resolution based on Tarot cards (sometimes using the card number & suite mechanically, sometimes interpreting the card creatively, sometimes both). I had some of the same problems with this game as with the Polaris game; it took a while to get comfortable with the rules, and I had different expectations from other players when it came to scene framing. Those problems weren't as prevalent as with the Polaris game, though. There was a lot more about this game that I really got into. The "newsreel" at the beginning of the game - where the players collaboratively create plot threads by playing and interpreting the Tarot cards - was brilliant and awesome.

Lastly, I ran two games: One of "Dogs in the Vineyard" and one of "PrimeTime Adventures". The DitV game was blessed with four players who all knew the system (one of whom knew it better than I did). This was a godsend when the Dogs split up, and I was dealing with two simultaneous conflicts; one of the players jumped in as co-GM for the scene.

The "PrimeTime Adventures" game was the worst game of PTA I've ever been involved in, by which I mean it was only "really good" instead of "brilliant". The premise was fantastic: a show about the lives of low-grade Bond villians. (Think of the nameless grunts in coveralls, and you'll be on the right track.) It was called "Other Side".

I feel like I really dropped the ball in the PTA game, in several ways. First, I missed a prime opportunity to have two of the characters play tour guide for the rest of the characters at the very beginning of the show, thus establishing the characters and the headquarters in one fell swoop. Second, my suggestions for Conflicts were not great. (It can be good when a Conflict interacts with a character's Issue... but not when it does it the same way, every single time. If a character's Issue is "Cowardice", then it becomes boring and repetitive if every single Conflict is, "do you run away?" My new rule of thumb: a Conflict should relate to a character's Issue only once per game, unless you can find a new and interesting twist on that Issue.) And lastly, I think I was too eager to jump from scene to scene, when the players would have liked more time for roleplaying. But! There were some really amazingly good scenes, and I think that everyone had fun.


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.
 * There are a lot of Dogs in the Vineyard players out there. I must find them!

Comments and/or questions welcome.

 - Pôl
Logged
Ginger Stampley
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2005, 09:40:25 AM »

Pol: as a two-year vet of The Black Road (the northeastern regional Ambercon), I think you've got a good set of suggestions for making Ambercons better for players.

In particular, your suggestion about being more aggressive in the traditional Amber games is dead on. I've done them at both TBR and Ambercon, and when I take a firm hand in framing, I have a much better session. It's also better for the games if I do my socializing in down time, or take a slot off to hang with friends in a long con instead of social chatter during the games.
Logged

My real name is Ginger
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2005, 11:55:33 AM »


Hi, fellow AmberCon NW player/GM here.  I overlapped with Pôl in four of the seven games mentioned. 

I'm working on a full convention report on this.  I had a few disappointing games, but a number of excellent ones.  The Polaris game I organized went very well, I thought.  As Pôl reported, it was hampered by having a short time slot and a thus a fair fraction of the time was spent on learning the rules.  Still, I think everyone had a lot of fun.  I'll put the pictures and character sheets online soon, I promise. 

* The most disappointing game for me was "Amber's Watchdogs", run by Michael Sullivan. In "Amber's Watchdogs", the players were young princes and princesses of Amber, competing for the King's approval by seeing who could best deal with an invading army. Michael had taken the dice mechanic out of DitV, and was using it to run a much more tactical game.
I concur with Pôl's description, though he left at around the midpoint of the game, I think.  Really, the game had very little in common with Dogs -- just a mildly similar die mechanic.  It was a competitive game for the PCs to show each other up and gain their father Oberon's favor.  As it turned out, I ended up with the highest favor at 6d4 -- but I had to use "wheedler" tactics to do so.  The GM removed equipment and free relationship dice, wasn't working from a fixed proto-NPC list, had changes fallout so that you couldn't gain d4 traits -- all fallout lost you dice.  This meant that violent conflict was a complete loser, since you would take wounds that don't heal. 

It was a bit of interest to me since it exposed the tactical sides of the Dogs mechanic -- wheedling in the form of how many traits you could drag into the conflict, and a bit of a numbers game in how to push dice.  The lack of proto-NPCs meant that the GM was just setting a difficulty in dice for each encounter, which came down to an arbitrary choice of how rough he should make it for the player.  I used highly girly tactics for my PC Llewella, thus reducing my conflicts and my fallout.  Several of the other players were, I think, struggling with the system. 

The "PrimeTime Adventures" game was the worst game of PTA I've ever been involved in, by which I mean it was only "really good" instead of "brilliant". The premise was fantastic: a show about the lives of low-grade Bond villians. (Think of the nameless grunts in coveralls, and you'll be on the right track.) It was called "Other Side".
Interesting.  I'm glad you describe it as one of your worst, since I found it fairly disappointing.  This was my first PtA game, though I was pretty familiar with the first edition rules. 

I had two main issues.  First, there was a lot of group meta-discussion over most elements, and I felt the drive for consensus stifling.  There was discussion before each scene, and then fairly soon after a scene started there was discussion over the conflict.  I had a number of ideas during series generation that were shot down, and two or three scene ideas that were shot down during play -- which was actually a pretty low acceptance rate in the game (in the end, I think had less than two scenes each).  By comparison, I felt that in Polaris or Shadows, individuals had more leave to run with their ideas. 

Also, I felt like the characters were fairly flat.  I think it comes down to that I don't like having a defined main Issue for the character.  This is probably a personal thing.  You suggested a rule of thumb that a Conflict should relate to a character's Issue only once per game.  To me, simply having a singular Issue defined made the characters seem less interesting.  Rather than having the pre-defined Issue lead the character, I would prefer for the issues to be generated in play. 

It's interesting that you say "I think I was too eager to jump from scene to scene, when the players would have liked more time for roleplaying."  To me, I felt like a number of scenes dragged -- though I think you may be right for the majority of the players.  But I think we had no more than a dozen scenes in the first place: the opening, two or three scenes in the first job, then a round of personal scenes, then the truck scene.  So there wasn't a whole lot of room to reduce. 

* 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.
 * There are a lot of Dogs in the Vineyard players out there. I must find them!

These all seem good.  I generally try to both contact the GM and/or players in advance, and try to keep an open mind coming into the game.  If you had your heart set on Dogs, I can see how the Amber Watchdogs game was a real disappointment. 

In most games in general, PCs work much better when they are highly active. 

I wouldn't give up to much on new games.  I think that both Polaris and Amber Shadows both had fun and interesting sessions as well as teaching the players the mechanics of the game -- Polaris was cut a little short mainly by having a shorter time slot, and starting late. 


Logged

- John
Pôl Jackson
Member

Posts: 33


« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2005, 08:37:38 AM »

Pol: as a two-year vet of The Black Road (the northeastern regional Ambercon), I think you've got a good set of suggestions for making Ambercons better for players. [...] In particular, your suggestion about being more aggressive in the traditional Amber games is dead on.

Ginger: Thanks for the input!

Now you've got me thinking that maybe I should write these suggestions up more formally, and post them somewhere for Ambercon players. Any ideas as to where? I'm not on any Amber forums or mailing lists.

I'll have to be really careful with tone, I think. It's not my goal to tell people how to play. I want to say, "hey, if your situation is similar to mine, then maybe you'd be interested to hear about these ideas that I had."

 - Pôl
Logged
Pôl Jackson
Member

Posts: 33


« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2005, 10:43:51 AM »

The "PrimeTime Adventures" game was the worst game of PTA I've ever been involved in, by which I mean it was only "really good" instead of "brilliant".
Interesting.  I'm glad you describe it as one of your worst, since I found it fairly disappointing.  This was my first PtA game, though I was pretty familiar with the first edition rules. 
Quote

John: Thanks for the feedback. I'd like to hash this out further, and try and separate "what you didn't like about the system" from "what you didn't like about this particular session". Because honestly, I suspect that I just didn't do a very good job as producer. I'd like to analyze that problem, in the interest of improving my future games.

I had two main issues.  First, there was a lot of group meta-discussion over most elements, and I felt the drive for consensus stifling.  There was discussion before each scene, and then fairly soon after a scene started there was discussion over the conflict.  I had a number of ideas during series generation that were shot down, and two or three scene ideas that were shot down during play -- which was actually a pretty low acceptance rate in the game (in the end, I think had less than two scenes each).  By comparison, I felt that in Polaris or Shadows, individuals had more leave to run with their ideas.

I'm beginning to realize how much the producer's job changes between the time the show is pitched and the beginning of the show itself. Consensus during the pitch is critical (and I wish that there had been more time in the slot to addressing your concerns). During the pitch, it's the producer's job to facilitate consensus. But after the game begins, the producer needs to shift gears. It's not about creating scenes that work for everyone; it's about dealing with this scene, right now, that this player has requested. During the show itself, the producer should have more of a moderator role when it comes to consensus. I think that I was stuck in "consensus-building mode" for the entire session. The result was that I was not "saying yes" when a player would frame a scene, but rather saying, "does that sound good to everyone?" (Not explicitly, but I think that's the attitude that I was projecting.)

Also, I felt like the characters were fairly flat.  I think it comes down to that I don't like having a defined main Issue for the character.  This is probably a personal thing.  You suggested a rule of thumb that a Conflict should relate to a character's Issue only once per game.  To me, simply having a singular Issue defined made the characters seem less interesting.  Rather than having the pre-defined Issue lead the character, I would prefer for the issues to be generated in play. 

If the goal is to emulate the drama of a TV show, then "issues generated in play" strikes me as being problematic. I can't offhand think of any dramatic TV show where a character's Issue wasn't well-defined during the first few episodes (if not in the pilot episode itself).

Part of your discomfort with Issues may have been because I was pushing "let's build a conflict that ties in to your protaganist's Issue" pretty hard. In fact, it's not the producer's job to do that. It's the player's.

Quote from: Primetime Adventures, Second Edition, p. 78
Promote your protagonist's issue - You know best what's up with your protagonist, and you'll have the opportunity to create at least one scene that you can use to further develop him or her. What will you scene or scenes be about?

The reason I was pushing "relate conflict to Issue" so hard is because I was teaching the game, as well as running it. I wanted to make sure that that everyone understood the things that they, as players, should be thinking about. But perhaps I inadvertantly created an atmosphere that placed too much emphasis on Issues, instead of on "create a scene that you think would be interesting for your character, or that helps develop your character further."

John, does that sound plausible?

It's interesting that you say "I think I was too eager to jump from scene to scene, when the players would have liked more time for roleplaying."  To me, I felt like a number of scenes dragged -- though I think you may be right for the majority of the players.  But I think we had no more than a dozen scenes in the first place: the opening, two or three scenes in the first job, then a round of personal scenes, then the truck scene.  So there wasn't a whole lot of room to reduce. 

I don't think there's an easy solution to this one, aside from a.) playing with fewer people, or b.) playing more frequently with the same people, and adjusting to each others' styles. Becoming more familiar with the game rules always helps, of course.

I wouldn't give up to much on new games.  I think that both Polaris and Amber Shadows both had fun and interesting sessions as well as teaching the players the mechanics of the game -- Polaris was cut a little short mainly by having a shorter time slot, and starting late. 

I'm beginning to think that there are very different goals involved in teaching a game, as opposed to playing a game, and that these goals should be made explicit to all players. If a game is being taught, everyone needs to be on board with the goal of "learning how to play this game". This doesn't mean that there won't be actual gaming going on; the actual gaming might be awesome! It does mean that everyone accepts that play will be slower, that there may be a lot of discussion about the rules or the setting, etc. In contrast, playing a game involves a different set of expectations. The goal there (ideally) should be "playing on purpose". I think that trying to do both things during the same session is more likely to lead to unsatisfying play - especially if some players are in "learn game" mode, and other players are in "play the game" mode.

 - Pôl
Logged
Ginger Stampley
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2005, 12:54:55 PM »

Pôl: I'd talk to Michael Curry, who's active on this forum, about getting those suggestions posted. He's on the TBR convention committee and they're running an indie track, so those hints would be very useful for indie folks coming to TBR. PM me if you need more information or an email address.
Logged

My real name is Ginger
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2005, 05:30:38 PM »


John: Thanks for the feedback. I'd like to hash this out further, and try and separate "what you didn't like about the system" from "what you didn't like about this particular session". Because honestly, I suspect that I just didn't do a very good job as producer. I'd like to analyze that problem, in the interest of improving my future games.

Sure.  However, I wouldn't be too hard on yourself.  Basically, if my tastes run counter to particular aspects of Primetime Adventures -- or especially if different players have divergent tastes -- then your skillful Producer-ship will be an uphill battle.  I think one of the great things about many recent (and some old) RPG designs is that they require less virtuoso mastery on the part of the gamemaster.  There is no clear difference between GM technique and system -- and indeed many systems encode into the system what others leave up to the GM. 

I had two main issues.  First, there was a lot of group meta-discussion over most elements, and I felt the drive for consensus stifling.  There was discussion before each scene, and then fairly soon after a scene started there was discussion over the conflict.  I had a number of ideas during series generation that were shot down, and two or three scene ideas that were shot down during play -- which was actually a pretty low acceptance rate in the game (in the end, I think had less than two scenes each).  By comparison, I felt that in Polaris or Shadows, individuals had more leave to run with their ideas.
I'm beginning to realize how much the producer's job changes between the time the show is pitched and the beginning of the show itself. Consensus during the pitch is critical (and I wish that there had been more time in the slot to addressing your concerns). During the pitch, it's the producer's job to facilitate consensus. But after the game begins, the producer needs to shift gears. It's not about creating scenes that work for everyone; it's about dealing with this scene, right now, that this player has requested. During the show itself, the producer should have more of a moderator role when it comes to consensus.

Interesting.  Personally, I tend to jump-start a scenario by giving a lot of specifics, and then letting people shift it in the direction they want by what they add.  The GMless games we played at AmberCon (Polaris and Amber Shadows) had more stuff defined from the start by the organizer and/or the game.  In Shadows, Lee had the basic setup predefined as well as rough characters.  In Polaris, the game defined to some degree the genre and setup. 

Also, I felt like the characters were fairly flat.  I think it comes down to that I don't like having a defined main Issue for the character.  This is probably a personal thing.  You suggested a rule of thumb that a Conflict should relate to a character's Issue only once per game.  To me, simply having a singular Issue defined made the characters seem less interesting.  Rather than having the pre-defined Issue lead the character, I would prefer for the issues to be generated in play. 
If the goal is to emulate the drama of a TV show, then "issues generated in play" strikes me as being problematic. I can't offhand think of any dramatic TV show where a character's Issue wasn't well-defined during the first few episodes (if not in the pilot episode itself).

Part of your discomfort with Issues may have been because I was pushing "let's build a conflict that ties in to your protaganist's Issue" pretty hard. In fact, it's not the producer's job to do that. It's the player's.

Well, I don't think that it had to do with your Producer-ship.  I don't have the second edition, but my reaction to Issue came to me clearly in reading the first edition rules -- and how players approached them in play matched what I was expecting based on that.  As for matching the drama of a TV show...  Well, I think that given the power and encouragement to do so, players will find issues in their characters fairly quickly.  Then again, I'm also not very concerned about emulating television. 

It's interesting that you say "I think I was too eager to jump from scene to scene, when the players would have liked more time for roleplaying."  To me, I felt like a number of scenes dragged -- though I think you may be right for the majority of the players.  But I think we had no more than a dozen scenes in the first place: the opening, two or three scenes in the first job, then a round of personal scenes, then the truck scene.  So there wasn't a whole lot of room to reduce. 

I don't think there's an easy solution to this one, aside from a.) playing with fewer people, or b.) playing more frequently with the same people, and adjusting to each others' styles. Becoming more familiar with the game rules always helps, of course.

I think an important part would be to have quicker shifts of scene, and less time spent on debating things outside of the scene (or out-of-character in the middle of the scene). 


Logged

- John
Pages: [1]
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!