Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A Horse Of Another Timbre: Campaign Log, Session 3

  The following is the campaign log for the third session of my current Amber campaign. Most of this log was typed up by one my players (thanks, Brendan!) during the session. I've added a few notes of my own, and a couple of the other players appended a summary of a small scene they did between sessions.  Click here to start with session #1 or session #2.


Campaign log: 28 September 2020, turn by turn

Setting the Scene: Much of the previous session took place at a somewhat sabotaged dinner party in Castle Amber. At the start of this session, Bleys brings the banquet to an end by bringing Droppa Ma'Pantz, the Court Jester, in to do a performance. The performance is borderline offensive. Lord Rein leads the exodus out of the hall, largely to assist in clearing the room before minor nobles can start asking questions about why the King and Queen never showed up to their own party.

Most of this session is a murder investigation, being conducted by 6 PCs and multiple NPCs, none of whom particularly trust one another.  Information was dolled out slowly and tightly, with lots of scenery chewing to help establish characters, and some detective legwork of the crime-scene procedural variety as well.

The PCs are:

  • Dalziel, son of Bleys. A scientist who has been in Amber for several months.
  • Maarit, daughter of Sand. An orphan who never met her mother.
  • Spinturnix, son of Julian. Grew up in Forest Arden.
  • Medore, child of Dierdre, just recently arrived in Amber to learn Dierdre is dead.
  • David Weyreth is a retired officer from the militaries of Amber.
  • Abn Haram, the human-shaped son of Lady Nykae of Chaos. 

Most of the NPCs are from the novels. Not just the big-name Amber Royals, but also plenty of minor characters, the non-Royals who only show up in a paragraph or three of a single novel. Lord Feldane, for example, is present at the final battle of the Black Road War, and witness to the deaths of Deirdre and Brand.

Scene 1: David, Bleys, Lord Feldane,  -  (Banquet hall)
David listens to Bleys talk to Lord Feldane, who is worried he offended the King. Then Bleys chats with David about Caine; Bleys is worried about Caine's motives, learns that Caine is "fascinated" with David, Bleys asks David to make contact (for the children!). Bleys reveals three potential bad things Caine did recently:

    1) Hiring the treacherous captain that attacked the Chaos delegation in on the boat.
    2) Put the insulting messages on the buffet table to call out the Chaos delegation and the King for treating with them.
    3) something far worse, but Bleys doesn't say what exactly (GM: because he doesn't actually know yet) and wants David to try to get info about it from Caine.

David notices the guards are writing down who leaves. He goes to the harbor and surveys the ships in the harbor, they are the Venom, the Revenge, and the Knife in the Dark. He commissions a dinghy to go out in the harbor. He rowed out to the ship he thought was likely Caine's ship, The Venom. He spots Caine on deck, Caine has the crew lower a rope down to the boat, David rows toward the ship.

Scene 2: Abn Haram, Dalziel, Maarit, and Corwin,  (Banquet hall in Castle Amber, then Dalziel's lab)
Haram, Dalziel, and Maarit leave the hall to go discuss science, taking food with them to Dalziel's Lab. Dalziel's Lab is snazzy and as high tech as possible without electricity. Abn Haram examines Dal's equipment. They have a discussion of how fire works in Amber. Haram explores heat and water, Maarit goes to get safety devices.

Dalziel thinks about two principles:

    The numbers/ laws of physics here are not the same as they were shadow worlds.
    As something approaches weaponization, it becomes harder to use

As they talk about these things, Abn Haram feels like someone is making a "bad call" to his Tarot card, so he moves into another room. Abn Haram focuses and connects with Sevran, a blue-fur tentacled horror who is a friend, calling from a place where there's a lot of entropic energy and a hole in reality. The friend warns that there's been a "development at the rift" which might affect the negotiations. It asks if "the various missions have been a success" and asks for Haram's mother to call it.

After the call, Haram excuses himself to head back to his mother's chambers; Dalziel calls Corwin to warn him that Haram is on his way back to the suite.

The group heads toward the ambassadorial suite. Corwin asked Dalziel to stall him, but Abn Haram continues at speed. Maarit and Dalziel keep up with him. Lord Corwin appears and tells Haram that his mother (Nike) had been attacked; she killed 14 people in defending herself. Corwin reveals she's been removed to another place and the King isn't answering calls. Haram, Dalziel, and Maarit accompany Corwin into the murder scene. Haram sees neither Brute nor Steward among the corpses. The assassins are humanoid but not human.

    Bald assassins with chunky jaws, bloodshot eyes, jaws open (in horror? or someone was checking their mouths)
    wearing functional black clothing, like ninja outfits with sport coats
    Stabbed to death (recognizably by Nike's sword skills)
    Back of one assassin's hand has a bony protrusion
    Door is damaged FROM THE INSIDE
    Haram notices: It was a surprise attack, seemingly from the wardrobe?
    Wet footprints on the floor - was Nike in the bath when the attack began?
    Likely conclusion: the assassins trumped in, or perhaps one or two were hiding inside and trumped in.
    There are a pair of men's shoeprints and women's shoeprints that Corwin doesn't mention.

Haram suggests the door was "broken in," and Corwin suggests someone smashed against the door from inside, then explains the battle scene in detail. Meanwhile, Maarit uses her pendulum to investigate. Haram steps to the side and reaches out to Nike through his Tarot card, but gets no connection at all. Corwin said that Random took Nike to a surgery in a place shielded against the tarot.

Abn Haram starts to cut open one of the assassins; Corwin starts to object but then changes his mind and says Haram could go ahead. Corwin indicates that he's seen the creatures before, reveals that forensics might be valuable. Haram passive-aggressively implies Corwin isn't working hard to solve the attack. A card call to the King fails to connect.

Scene 3: Nix and Medore in the library with Dik and eventually Corwin and Umbra
Dik arrives in the library, being gently pursued by Medore. He tries to lock the door but Medore shoves the door open. Nix and Medore meet and briefly chat about with Dik a bit about whether he would like to chat. Medore reveals he's Dierdre's son and is supposed to bring Dik to talk to Corwin. Nix indicates he also wanted to speak with Dik, so he accompanies Dik and Medore back to meet with Corwin.

When we return to the banquet hall, Nix and Medore find it mostly abandoned. Medore mentions a "spill" that Dik made / covered up. Medore directs Dik toward the royal chambers; Nix follows. At the royal chambers, they are redirected to the ambassadorial suite, where they meet Corwin. Corwin asks Medore to conduct the interview with Dik, then meets Nix. Corwin asks Nix if he or Julian had anything to do with "this," Nix says no. They turn away.

Nix asks Dik about creatures traveling between shadow worlds, they discuss a few obvious ways the creature could have traveled to the shadow world. Medore's raven arrives and Nix becomes enamored of it. Dik and Medore talk about the message on the tablecloth, then about how politics is scary, then about literature.

Scene 1b: David, Caine - Caine's Ship The Venom - Worlds mentioned: Ikseth, Karm, Hepania, Xandria

Caine waits in the Captain's Quarters of the ship, they chat and meet. David suggests that Chaos is being sown in the city, Caine agrees and says he dislikes the way things are going. Caine tries to recruit David. David tries to confirm that it was about 10 years since he was on a march with Caine.

    Caine did get in the way of a ship, he intentionally got in the way of the ship, knew that there was a mutiny.
    Then David mentions the comments on the tablecloth, and Caine acknowledges that he was behind it (or knew about it).
    He did know that an "enemy general" was being allowed into Amber.
    David tries to ask about the third thing he doesn't know about. Caine doesn't acknowledge whether he knew in advance or not.
    David mentions Llewella, and he and Caine agree that she is patriotic for Rebma more than Amber.  

David changes tack and asks what Caine has been doing "these many years." The routes have changed after the Black Road War. Lands changed and landmarks have been destabilized. David offers to work on Caine's behalf "on the shadow paths." They specifically discuss changes on the routes from Ikseth to Karm by way of Hepania, and how that route was more disturbed by the Great Storm than most - entire islands were in different positions after the war. David has been living in "Xandria." Caine seems to trust or welcome the relationship with David. Caine indicates that he will not condone violence or attacks on Amber itself, but he wants to "course correct" the King.

Scene 2b: (GM's Addendum) Dalziel, Maarit, Abn Haram, and Corwin, and later Steward and Vialle.

The scooby gang inspects the crime scene further. Maarit crawls into the wardrobe, and is certain that somehow, the attackers came out of it. There's a footprint inside suggesting that someone in it kicked the door open, but she can't line up her foot at that angle. It has two marks on it, suggesting that the door was at least twice smashed open from the inside, and hit the corner of the table where a chaos person was pouring a drink. One of the thugs has thug money, like if Al Capone was the Treasury Secretary. None have ID, and they were carrying shortswords as well as guns (though none of them drew their guns).

Abn Haram's Steward walks in from the hallway.

Dalziel tries Queen Vialle's tarot, and is able to reach her. She says Nykae's surgery is wrapping up, and they think she's going to make it. She says both sovereigns of Amber are dedicated to Nykae's safety and survival.  Abn Haram and Steward head to the stables, but might not be leaving.

Corwin reveals about when he'd seen this thugs before, 15 and 10 years ago. The first batch seemed to work for either Bleys or Fiona, and had tried to kill Corwin and Random. The second batch were Caine's attempt to frame whoever they belonged to, but Caine incorrectly thought that was Corwin. This third attempt could belong to Fi or Bleys or Caine, but the could also be Random's. What if the King created the situation that he then rescued Nykae from, as a way to manipulate her?

Corwin notes that Haram seemed less concerned about his mother's welfare than you might expect. He may have known the attack was coming. Corwin also notes that Steward did not comment on where she'd been during the fight. Then Corwin realizes Abn Haram might be half-Amberite, because of what Dara had told him long ago about none of her Chaos relatives being able to look human. Abn Haram is now suspect number one, and Corwin says if he gets to the Pattern, Haram can do worse things than walk it. Dalziel suggested magic may be different here now, because of what Julian said about the Weir.

Corwin assigns a guard each to help Dalziel and Maarit. He tells Dalziel to check that the Pattern chamber is safe, then sweep the Castle for anything else that seems out of place. He tells Maarit to babysit Abn Haram some more. Corwin is going to meet with Medore, and follow-up on something else he thinks may be connected to all this.

Quote Log - Night 3, 9/28/2020

“Fondness might  not be the right word, but maybe fascination would be more appropriate… or fixation.” David 

“You wouldn’t want to disappoint the little children!” - Bleys

“Let’s do some science!” - Abn Haram


“Oh my, that would make the two of you cousins, wouldn’t it!” -Dik, realizing that Nix probably wasn't going to cover for him with Medore

“I just can’t get enough of Dick” - Gavin

“Being good at warfare and having a sense of self preservation doesn’t make you not a little shit.” - Andrew

“Since all communication will have to go through you I have to trust you. And since I have no other choice, you have my explicit trust… Thank you, though.” -Abn Haram

“David:        I saw Llewella tonight

Caine: Oh? That is unusual, usually to talk to her I have to lean over the deck.

David: Yes, meetings with Llewella are usually more… wet. 

Caine: And not in the fun way.” 

My favorite exchange of the night was partly out-of-character:

“The Venom, the Revenge and I think the Knife in the Dark was out there at some point.” - Dock Guard. 

(So they are all named after virtues? - asks Abn Haram's player) 

GM's ruminations: 

This session was about simmering tension. The players started with basically zero knowledge of the murder-mystery, just awareness that bad things were afoot. They interviewed suspects, but didn't yet know the right questions to ask because none of them really knew what had happened until late in the session. They poked a lot dead bodies, and engaged in colorful banter, and slowly put together at least a bit of what was going on. 

Mysteries are absolutely vital to Amber, and you need a lot of them. They don't have to be police-procedurals like this session, but they do need to be layered and complex. This is especially true if your play group isn't particularly hot on the prospect of Amber PVP. Each PC in an Amber game packs a ton of power, so if 2 or 3 PCs collectively decide a particular NPC needs to go down, they usually will pretty fast. For that reason, the Amber GM needs to have multiple pots boiling at any given time, with more than one villain waiting in the wings. Luckily, the canonical NPCs are sneaky, murderous, manipulative bastards... so you can have 1 or 2  Big Bads and additional just-as-big-and-certainly-bad-but-not-necessarily-the-villian-of-the-story types. 

The bodies of the assassins that tried to kill Lady Nykae of Chaos were the spur-handed thugs that appear a few times in Corwin's novels. Most readings of the books interpret them as belonging to Bleys or Fiona, but I feel you can also make a compelling case for them working for Caine or Oberon without having to twist much, and if you assume some of the uncorroborated narrations in the novels are straight-up lies then you could argue that they might be Julian's, Random's, or even Corwin's goons.

It was clear that Caine was up to some sort of power play, but at this point no one was really sure if his motive was truly treason, or was just overzealous patriotism and was only incidentally making the King look bad.  Though David sailed out and talked to Caine, he didn't actually ask him straight up "Did you attempt to kill the Chaos delegation tonight?" As such, the answers he got were inconclusive and maybe even misleading. 

Things were about to get much worse. Tune in next time.

Monday, February 22, 2021

How To Do A Decent Corwin

 This was sort of buried in my recent campaign log post, and I thought it was worth breaking out and elaborating on.

Corwin is the hardest NPC to improv in Amber, by a long shot. Probably the hardest NPC I've ever had to portray in any game. Why? Because it's deucedly difficult to catch his voice, but anyone who's read even a single Amber novel will notice if you get your Corwin wrong.

We spend 5 novels inside Corwin's, so his personality is well-rendered. Corwin is sly and snarky, but also poetic. What's more, he has this amazing ability to make deep literary references off the cuff. I'm sure Zelazny cheated, by looking things up, and editing the hell out of every paragraph, so I cheat too.

Corwin is hard work. Before every session, if I know or suspect Corwin is likely to show up, I search quote sites on a variety of topics that seem relevant. The goal is to extract a couple of "clever" things that I can slip in and make them look like they were improvised. Shakespeare references are the gold standard for Corwin -- but you don't just literally quote ol' Billiam. You never just take an entire line of Shakespeare, or Tennyson, or Coleridge. You twist it around some way. You want it to sound familiar, and make the players nod along like they're in on the joke, or they at least found the easter egg regardless of whether they understand it or not. It's like Corwin really wants to show the other characters how smart he is, all the time, but he thinks the copyright police are going to burst in at any minute if every sentence isn't transformative. 

In the State of Denmark, there was the odor of decay...

So like I said, every session, if I plan on using Corwin, I brainstorm some topics that might be relevant to, or parallel of, the plots and themes and imagery of the game. Then I go looking for quotes that I can fold, spindle or mutilate into Corwinisms. I check quote sites on the internet, for sure, but I also check Zelazny's work. Sometimes there's already a Corwin line in the Amber novels that'll work perfect in this situation, which then feels genuine and immersive, like the way each of us have our favorite jokes and anecdotes we over-use.  And sometimes I do deep dives into Zelazny's non-Amber novels or his poetry. I have a dogeared copy of his "When Pussywillows Last In The Catyard Bloomed" poetry collection that I've riffed on or stolen from a few times. It's unlikely those will trigger the lightbulb over your players head the way that classical references will, but it definitely gets you thinking in Corwin/Zelazny's tone and style. 

We circulate,

the arm descends,

the diamond finger writes. 

That's three lines from a Zelazny poem, "LP Me Thee", which had on deck for when Corwin talked about how he felt like he had no control over his life and had to just sound the groove that had been carved for him. (With Corwin, there's always this tension of will he do the thing that loyalty and decency need him to do for the good of others, or will he choose this moment to seek personal goals at the expense of the universe. That makes him a good NPC, because him chafing at the need to be a hero and walking off in a huff means an opportunity is open for the PCs to step in and be better than him. But I digress...)

Having done a bit of this now, I feel like the "correct" amount of Corwinisms to drop into a session is two, or maybe three if he's really center stage for a long time. Less than two runs the risk of not feeling like Corwin, especially if the players don't catch the reference. More than three starts to come off as too gimmicky, and runs the risk of making Corwin less suave than he should be. Yeah, Corwin's a huge nerd, but he can also charm the seal-skins off a Rebman monarch. So I'll usually prep three or four especially Corwinian things to say, and just have them ready on deck with the plan to drop whichever pair fit into conversation the best. The ones I don't use can be stoppered and saved to decant some other evening.

Needless to say, running the game online makes it much easier to be Corwin. I've run a lot of Amber over the past two decades, but I feel like this campaign I've done my best Corwin. I can have my three or four prepped references and metaphors visible at the edge of my screen, so I only have to look left for a split second to harness the Corwin. 

But that also makes it tempting to go overboard, which is why I settled on prep 3 or 4,  and plan to just use the 2 that best fall into place organically. It seems to be working quite well, and it's not a particularly arduous burden on the GM to do before most sessions.

A Horse Of Another Timbre: Session 2 Log

 The following is the campaign log for the second session of my current Amber campaign. Most of this log was typed up by one my players (thanks, Brendan!) during the session. I've added a few notes of my own, and a couple of the other players appended a summary of a small scene they did between sessions.  Click here to start with session #1.

Campaign log: Session 2, 14 September 2020

Setting the scene. The ambassadorial party from the Court of Chaos retires for the evening. The King (Random) announces a feast for all present. That feast ends up being a giant rolling scene that involves nearly all the PCs.

The PCs are:

  • Dalziel, son of Bleys. A scientist who has been in Amber for several months.
  • Maarit, daughter of Sand. An orphan who never met her mother.
  • Spinturnix, son of Julian. Grew up in Forest Arden.
  • Medore, child of Dierdre, just recently arrived in Amber to learn Dierdre is dead.
  • David Weyreth is a retired officer from the militaries of Amber.
  • Abn Haram, the human-shaped son of Lady Nykae of Chaos.  
  • Ava, daughter of Florimel and Lord Uldain of Chaos.

A scheduling conflict has caused the 7th player to have to bow out of the game, at least for during the school year, so the plotline with Ava has been put on hold.

Several of the major NPCs are from the novels: King Random, his wife Queen Vialle, his siblings Prince Bleys, Prince Julian, Prince Caine, Princess Llewella, and Prince Corwin. A few of the minor characters and supporting staff are technically canonical as well: Lord Hendon the castle steward, and Dik who worked in the castle library. 

Lady Nykae of Chaos is non-canonical, but is part of a small family of NPCs I'd made up for a previous Amber campaign 20 years ago, and just dusted off to get things set up quickly. It maybe would have been better to come up with entirely new NPCs, but with 7 players and a huge NPC cast it seemed better to start from a template I already knew so that I could improvise more readily.

Scene 1: David Offers Breakfast - David, Random, Bleys, Hendon in Amber
Random and Bleys speak after leaving the Ambassadorial Suite where the party from Chaos is staying. They begin discuss Abn Haram's parentage, Bleys is suspicious of David, but Random asks him to stay in reflection of David's gift of a drum set. David offers to make Random breakfast; Random invites David to join the feast tonight. David makes inquiries with the Steward, Hendon.

Scene 2: Abn Haram and the Strange Customs of the Amberites - Abn Haram, Nykae,
In the Ambassadorial Suite, Abn Haram and his mother chat, reflecting on the rebellious captain and his skill seemed outsized. They try to understand his motives - did he want an incident or want it to fail? Then they discuss how magic works differently in Amber than in the Courts of Chaos. They also try to determine what Random's motives are. Abn Haram decides to join the feast, and look for scientific and photographic equipment he can use to learn more about how magic works in Amber.

Scene 3: The bookworm goes on an adventure - Nix (Spinturnix), MarySue Fannigan, Julian, Large Cats, in Oberon's Loupe
While Nix is reading, he hears mysterious voices in the library, but can't find them. He looks for signs of recent Pattern-based shifting near the janitors closet where the voices seemed to originate, but he can't find any. He talks to MarySue Fannigan, a scholar from the shadow world where Amber lore is the central concern of the culture. She suggests ways the visitors may have traveled, including Tarot or Drawings or, most worryingly, through the mysterious methods that the people of Chaos used during the Black Road War.

Nix calls his father, Julian.  Julian decides he needs to visit Oberon's Loupe to see the dead cat. He detects Fiona's previous visit by the scent of her perfume. The library's taxidermist is planning to stuff the cat. Julian warns Nix that two potential things are bad in Amber, the Weir troubles and the rising power of magic near the city. Julian tells Nix he should go to Amber to find out what Caine is up to and try and find out what the others are up to; he warns Nix to keep Fiona out of the loop. He gives Nix a card of the city and returns to the forest.

After arriving via the Tarot, Nix passes the guard and goes to the library. He notices that Dik, the archivist, isn't in the library or in his quarters. Avoiding the obligations of the banquet, Nix retreats to the castle library to see what research he can find about other modes of movement between worlds.

Intermezzo: Medore and Maarit Have a Chat about Deirdre and Sand - Medore, Maarit
(Summary of play-by-post conversation between sessions 1 and 2)
Maarit helps Medore find quarters and get settled in. Medore and Maarit talk about how little they know about their mothers, Deirdre and Sand. Deirdre died in the war, and Medore hadn't seen her in years but just found out.  Maarit has never met her mother, raised as an orphan and only recently found in shadow by aunt Llewella and uncle Gerard.  Medore offers her army to Maarit, who declines. They make arrangements for the Medore's belongings to be fetched from the docks by a servant in good shape, and Medore also requests another consenting servant in good shape for ...other exercise.

Scene 4: Winner winner all the dinner: Dalziel and Maarit and Medore, then David and Abn Haram and Llewella and Bleys and Corwin and Dik in Castle Amber - topics of discussion:  The Weir, Forest Arden, Nykae, the Black Road War, Courts of Chaos, Deirdre, and Caine
Dalziel meets Medore and reunites with Maarit. Medore excuses themselves to freshen up, and Dal reflects on the wounds he got from the forest battle, heads for the infirmary. He drops off his clothing and then goes for bandages and food. Maarit and Dal discuss the dangerous Wier in the forest Arden. They don't know why the remnants of Eric's wier guard might have attacked.

Llewella searches the hall and does not find a seat for herself. She talks with David, whom she knew from his service during the war. David gives Llewella the latest news and some ideas about what's happened. Llewella moves over to talk with Abn Haram. Abn Haram and Llewella talk about many things, including the mutiny. Abn Haram reveals himself to be the child of Nike (ni-KAY) of the Courts, but is coy about his purposes. Turns out Llewella is trying to find out what's going on in the city - they spar a bit about her dislike of the Chaosites and bad memories from the Black Road war.

Maarit talks to Llewella, reveals that the delegation landed aground and came through the forest. Llewella indicates that she loves puzzles when she sees that Bleys has entered the room and asks Maarit to help her in solving puzzles. Maarit introduces Dalziel to Llewella. Dal reveals that he only met Bleys recently (after the war), then Dal mentions his assault from the Weir. Llewella mentions that the last time she heard of the Weir attacking anyone, it was several years ago when they attacked Random, Corwin, and Dierdre.

Maarit also introduces Llewella to Medore, who reveals that their mother was Dierdre; Llewella is sad about that. Medore tries to use Llewella's Tarot card for Dierdre without success; then they use Corwin's card. Corwin arrives to visit upon hearing Dierdre's name, causing much consternation. Medore shows Corwin the note from his mother, they talk it over. 

The last bit of food is cleared from one of the platters on a banquet table. When servants pick up the platter, a message is found, written on the tablecloth the tablecloth. It says "She tried to destroy Amber -- She should not be seated at our father's table". Luckily, Corwin and Medore are nearby. Corwin quickly covers it with a plate, and they quietly discuss who might have written that message. As Maarit, Dalziel, and Medore go to investigate the message, Corwin again puts his plate down and has a servant guard it. Medore introduces Maarit and Dalziel.

Dalziel walks over to meet Abn Haram. They start talking science right away -- Abn Haram mentions his equipment was lost. Dal and Abn Haram discuss sharing equipment and scientific findings. They talk about how they started getting interested in science, talk about the different worlds they've been in, etc. They compare their divergent perspectives on what Amber is (static vs. sterile?). Dal leads Abn Haram toward a more politic way of talking about the scientific reality of Amber to avoid apostasy. They're bosom buddies!

Dalziel and Abn Haram continue their discussion of science. While Dalziel is considering food, Abn Haram notices a servant staring at him; Abn Haram moves toward the servant, who leaves the hall; Abn Haram follows. In the hallway, they talk. The servant turns out to be the archivist, Dik. "A door is opened below." He gives Haram a black key. "Lady Cindray Karm remembers the ancient debt owed to her distant cousin Osric. This key is her birthday gift to Gehenna's finest son, and wishes you many happy returns." They bond over shared love of libraries, then Dik heads for the archive and Haram heads to the restroom.

Meanwhile, Corwin and Maarit look to see if any other platters have messages hidden under them -- and find at least one. They order more food to help keep the messages hidden. Medore approaches Bleys, alerts him to the messages. Bleys has some musicians start playing, which helps thin people out and direct attention away from the tables, then yanks the tablecloths like a magic trick. Corwin and Medore eat, and eat.

Scene 5: A Shocking Discovery - Llewella, Maarit, and Lord Denesh in Castle Amber

Llewella and Maarit go looking for the absent King. Llewella warns Maarit that Caine seems to be causing trouble. Llewella confesses that she can no longer walk between shadows, because she is constantly under attack from elaborate death traps and puzzles, likely from family - someone who survived the Black War and has been tormenting her for decades. She warns Maarit that there might not be a lot of people looking out for her, and tells her she's always welcome in Rebma. An armed guard waits outside the royal chambers - NO ADMITTANCE. They're refused. Maarit uses her magic pendant, which tugs her toward the Chaos ambassadorial suite -- more guards here! There's been an assassination attempt! Everyone is fine but the assassin is dead, and his allegiance is unknown. Guard captain asks Maarit and Llewella to leave the castle or go back to the party.

Scene 4b: More Dinner Conversation - Corwin, Medore, Lord Chantris, Abn Haram, Dik and David  in Castle Amber

Corwin points out people to Medore, a variety of folks. Corwin points out that Lord Chantris is watching an old sailor and staring daggers. The sailor belongs to Caine. (GM notes: The sailor is David. I think that went over several player's heads.) Corwin points out when Abn Haram leaves the room, and notices that Dik went too and was acting a little suspiciously. Corwin gives Medore a deck of Tarot cards and goes to intercept Dik; but Bleys calls Corwin over and they leave together out a different door. Medore goes after Haram and Dik.

David has stood around the banquet hall creepin' on most everyone's conversations.

Bleys and Corwin are talking in the hallway about Random and the Queen being so late to their party. Bleys says Random is not responding to his Tarot. They decide that Corwin will go find Random. Bleys will go try to wrap up the party, since he was playing Host for part of it already, and Corwin was an obvious late arrival. Dal will be sent to distract Abn Haram by taking him away from the party to someplace safe where they can talk science. Everyone agrees on the course of action, but Bleys feels Corwin is a little bossy / presumptuous. It's really important to Bleys that Corwin doesn't get to order him or Dalziel around. Dalziel's saner head doesn't lose sight of the situation and the shared goals, and gets them to stop arguing. During all of this, Maarit arrives and offers to help Dalziel with Abn Haram.

Scene 5b: Maarit and Llewella at the Gates - Maarit and Llewella at the edge of Castle Amber

Llewella decides to leave the castle instead of returning to the party. Anything bad that happens in Amber reflects poorly in Rebma, and so she needs to go tend to things there. Llewella gives Maarit her deck, so they can be in contact later. Maarit walks her out to the front gates of the castle. They notice that the guards are writing down in a ledger everyone who leaves, and at what time. Llewella walks up to the guards and bids them goodnight. While doing so, she makes an overt display of showing that there is no blood on her hands.

Quote Log Night 2, 9/14/2020

  • “I don’t know any of the players, nor the plot, Mother.” - Abn Haram
  • “I forgot about all the intrigue because now I’m talking about science!” - Dal
  • “I believe so. She is extremely hard to kill." - Abn Haram
  • "I've known Dick for centuries." - Corwyn

*sigh* The player who was keeps the quote log only remembered it was a thing in the tail end of the session. In addition to no doubt missing several great lines from my players, this timing also means my accidental penis joke was immortalized, and not any of the lines I'd painstakingly prepared in advance for Corwin. 

You see, Corwin is the hardest NPC to improv in Amber, by a long shot. Probably the hardest NPC I've ever had to portray in any game. We spend 5 novels with him, so his personality is well-rendered, and he has this amazing ability to make deep literary references off the cuff. I'm sure Zelazny cheated, by editing and looking things up, so I cheat too. Before every session if I know Corwin is likely to show up, I search quote sites on a variety of topics that seem relevant, to extract a couple of "clever" things I can slip in and make them look like they were improvised. Corwin is hard work. For example, my prep notes for this session suggest I was planning to say something along the lines of:

"Before I'm all 'Sound Trumpets' for 'things long lost', I should really start properly, by reiterating advice your mother hopefully already gave you long ago. In case she didn't, or you've mislaid it, here it is with a point finely honed by centuries on the family grindstone: Never trust a relative. It is far worse than trusting a stranger. With a stranger, there is at least a possibility that you might be safe."

That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. A nod to Shakespeare's Edward III on the topic of reunions, followed by a colorful metaphor instead of just a straight-forward "trust me, I know what I'm talking about", and then leading directly into a quote from Zelazny / Corwin himself about how awful all his characters are. 

Some nights, I anticipate topics of conversation and have relevant Corwinisms locked and loaded. Other times, the PCs pull out Corwin's card unexpectedly, and I have to scramble to make him feel "extra" enough. This night was his first appearance in this campaign, and I put it in motion deliberately, so I'm fairly confident I was prepared and it went well.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

A Horse Of Another Timbre: Session 1 Log

I am currently a dozen sessions into an Amber Diceless Roleplay Campaign, for a half dozen players. I've posted a few things about it from time to time, but I don't really have the time to write up every session here. Which is a shame, because there's not a lot of active Amber Campaigns on the web, so it seemed like an ongoing log of our campaign might be of interest to any Amberites who stumble upon us.

Thankfully, one of my excellent players, my old friend Brendan, is already on top of it. He's been keeping a detailed log every session, and has agreed to let me re-post it here. Brendan lives in a different state, so some sessions he has to call it a night earlier than those of us on the West Coast. So sometimes I have to take my own notes of what happened after he logged off, and I'll probably occasionally add a bit of color commentary as well. For example, I still had the list of books from "Fiona's Book Club" in the first session, so I inserted that below.

In addition, another of my excellent players, my friend Andrew, is keeping a log of funny and memorable quotes from the game. So I'll be posting many of those at the end of each campaign log as well.  

Both logs are below the collapsible/divide in this post.

The Setting: Corwin's Saga, the first 5 Amber novels, are treated as cannon. Those books are the tale Corwin told to his estranged son Merlin at the end of the Black Road War, so there's some wiggle room for face-saving or weakness-concealing lies on the part of the narrator.  

Books 6 to 10 are non-cannonical for the purposes of the campaign, and have not happened. What's more, many of the "big reveals" of those books have been set aside. Most notably, this is a "Logrus-less Chaos" version of the Amber setting. The Courts of Chaos have very limited methods for traveling the Universe. They are also very much NOT human. I put a lot of stock in the claim in the books that Dara's mother could not take the human form. Any Chaosite who looks human probably has a very interesting backstory.

Our campaign starts 10 years after the "Black Road War" (a term I have Amberites use instead of the cannonical term "Patternfall War" used by characters in books 6+. Patternfall seems to imply a level of vulnerability that the Amberites aren't likely to want to advertise)

Amber has been at peace for all 10 years of Random's reign, with no known fratricide attempts in that time. King Random has enacted many social reforms both in Amber itself, and further out in the Golden Circle.

The Cast: All the usual Amber NPCs from the first 5 novels are in play. Random is King, having been chosen by the Unicorn at the end of the war. In addition to King Random and Queen Vialle, several of the King's siblings appear in this session, such as his brothers Julian and Bleys, and his sisters Fiona and Florimel. 

In regards to those characters, or the most part, we take Corwin at his word about the personas of his siblings... they're a paranoid, fratricidal bunch, but as mentioned above,  things have been peaceful in Amber for 10 years now. The only major NPC that I've taken significant creative liberties with (at least in this first session) to specify that Sand and Delwin, two missing members of the Royal Family who are merely name-dropped in the books, are people of color in this version of the setting. This largely because two of the PCs are POCs. Neither Sand nor Delwin appear in this session, but I'm sure they'll turn up sooner or later.

In addition, the following Player Characters attend this session:

  • Dalziel, son of Bleys, who has been living in Amber for several months. He was a scientist back home in the Shadow Lochland, and has recently begun a series of experiments to learn the laws of science as they apply within Amber.
  • Maarit, who was presented to the King a few weeks ago. Maarit is an orphan, who was found in the Shadow Iolu by Llewella and Gerard. She has been presented to the King as being a daughter of the long-lost Princess Sand. She has recently walked the Pattern for the first time, and has struck up the beginnings of a friendship with Dalziel. 
  • Spinturnix, is the son of Julian. 'Nix grew up in nearby Forest Arden, but has never actually met his Uncle the King. Spinturnix works as the Head Archivist of a great library of a world known as "Oberon's Loupe", which is part of the Golden Circle of satellite nations to Amber.
  • Ava, daughter of Florimel and Duke Uldain of Chaos. Ava has walked the Pattern, and is on good terms with her mother and her cousin Merlin. Ava lives in a shadow world called The Topiary.
  • Medore, child of Dierdre. Deirdre died in the Black Road War, and Medore is very different from their mother. Medore is non-binary, pansexual, and a person of color. There are lot of scenes early on where the Elder Amberites aren't quite sure what to make of Medore, and some of them check their priviledge and adapt to this faster than others. Medore does not yet know that Deirdre and the former King Eric are dead. At the start of the campaign, Medore is in a remote Shadow known as Dwydder.
  • David Weyreth is a retired officer from the militaries of Amber. He served under Caine in the Navy as a young man. In the second half of the Black Road War, he transferred to the Army and served under Deirdre. He is not a member of the Royal Family at all. (And given that he's a Player Character, that lack of significance is certainly suspicious.)
  • Abn Haram, the human-shaped son of Lady Nykae of Chaos. At the start of the campaign, both Abn Haram and his mother are both aboard a chartered ship in the Golden Circle, headed toward Amber. They are accompanied by Abn Haram's steward, and his pet pig "Brute", and Nykae also has her own entourage. 


Campaign log: 31 August 2020 

Scene 1: The Journey to Amber (Abn Haram, Nykae, Caine, Steward near Amber)
Haram prepares for a journey to Amber, has been gathering a group of people to help on their journey. Haram's mother arranges for the travel on a three-masted sailing vessel. He sails past a lighthouse and near a forest.

Spots three ships from Amber coming toward them, flying the colors of Prince Caine. Haram's crew mutiny, he and his mother and Steward kill many of them to stop the coup. Having stopped the coup, Haram uses magic to accelerate the ship and elude the Amber ships and run up the beach.

Scene 2: Science in the Forest (Dalziel, The Weir, Julian, in Forest Arden)

Dal executes a scientific experiment to learn about the universe around Amber. He's interrupted by some wolfmen (Wier). Dal kills one of them, gets bitten by another, and bests them in battle. As they retreat, arrows attack!

Arrows from the forest take down the werewolves -- it's Prince Julian and his patrol! Dal finishes his measurements, Julian reveals the werewolves are becoming a problem. They discuss wier, heritage, ambition, and science. Dal says he'll contact Julian if he plans to come into the forest. He learns that a hunt is afoot and heads off to find it.

Scene 3: Science in the Capital (Maarit, Bleys, in Amber)
Conducting an experiment for Dal in Amber, Maarit learns from Bleys that a delegation from the Courts of Chaos is late, and may have been ambushed at sea. They head on their way to a battle (or to receive a delegation), but stop for a drink.

Scene 4: Kitties in the Garden (Ava, Merlin, Large Cats, in The Topiary)
Far from Amber, Ava and cousin Merlin talk about whether he should walk the pattern. They meet a wounded unicorn and couple big mean cats. The unicorn is black with a golden mane. Ava talks down the cats and shoos them away, but they have some mysterious mutterings and ideas to offer before Merlin kills one of them with a spell.

Ava uses her labyrinth to hurt the remaining cat, which shrinks. Ava decides to try and keep the cat to question it. The dogs attack and the cat strikes back and they decide to end it. Ava calls her mother, who is fascinated with the unicorn. She wonders if the cats came from the stables of Lord Sevran of Moen. After they propose bringing it to Amber, the unicorn runs off, leading Ava to find a path in shadow leading out of the labyrinth, with her mom.

Scene 5: Birds & Book Clubs (Nix (Spinturnix), Fiona, Toucan Hawk, in Oberon's Loupe)
Nix returns from a long weekend (where he found a new bird with a huge beak) to find Fiona waiting for him, having read a whole pile of books on Dopplegangers. She assures him that it's all just a coincidence, that there's an issue with inheritance but it's nothing to concern him, but he might want to visit his father. He sends a bird to his father.

Waiting to hear back from his father, Nix puts away Fiona's books and notices they're all about changelings and doppelgangers. 

 Fiona's Book Club:

There's only a single Fiction title among the 43 books she had out. That lone fiction title was Dumas'  The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later, Volume 3. There's no signs of volumes 1 and 2 in the room.

All the other books on the table or in her chair are non-fiction, such as:

Wards of Power, Volume XXVIII: Abjurations Against Illusion And Befuddlement

A book about serial killers called "The Copycat Syndrome"

Saga of the Grisbanx Dopplegangers

Lord Forthright's Esteemed Treatise On The Detection And Identification Of Liminal Beings

True Tales of the Ty'iga Terror


Reports of Zombification and Identity Theft In The Age Of The Black Road

Dwellers Upon Every Threshold

His Majesty's Enemy Within: The Unmasking of the Clone King

all three volumes of the Compleate Catalougue of Changelings

Mirror Ghosts: My Possession Narrative

Doubles, Dopples, Matches and Mimics

The Village That Ate Itself

Pod People And You: A Primer

And several large, encyclopedic tomes of Folklore, Urban Legends, or Bestiaries of Supernatural Creatures, each with multiple bookmarks tucked in them.

Scene 6: A Gift for the King (David, Random, Lord Rein, Bleys in Castle Amber)
David hears a report about the disrupted visit of the ship from the Courts of Chaos from the King. He shows the King a new drum set. The king reminds himself of who David is, asks for a music demonstration, asks David to grab a sword, and then summons Bleys, who shows up with a wine goblet. Now we'll see what happened.

Scene 7: A Message from Mother (Medore, Toucan Hawk in Dwyder. Prop: The Note From D)
Medore is resting in his Edwardian world, a huge bird with a huge beak appears and inspects his wardrobes, and delivers a note Deirdre's hand asking them to prepare for war. 

 The note reads:

My little Zephyr,

We find ourselves drawn into a war. Amber needs us. I need your help. Raise an army, and await my arrival on the third day. If I am delayed, take the bird to Dorrit-town. It will know what to do.   -D

Medore takes three days to walk through shadow and raises a sizable army (mostly Edwardian technology soldiers, sprinkled in with a few High Tech Troops), which encamps in a realm near his realm. His mom doesn't show on the third day, so he heads to Amber.  

Medore takes a ship and brings his crew to Amber by sea.


Scene 8: At the Docks (Abn Haram / David / Medore / Maarit / Random / Bleys in City of Amber)

Maarit stands with Bleys, they see a ship and watch the dingy coming in and get news of some sort of attack from Caine. King Random and David, armed with swords and drumsticks. Random and Maarit have tension, he introduces her to Bleys. When the dingy appears, the men report that there was a mutiny on board. Random reveals that a delegation from the Court of Chaos was to arrive today to return an item that belonged to Osric, the dead brother. They ponder what could possibly have been the object on its way.

When Medore arrives at the docks, they have an amusing interaction with Random, Bleys, David, and Maarit. Medore gives a bottle of good wine to Bleys. When Medore reveals who his mother is Deirdre, which makes everyone cringe. Because it turns out she's dead! Medore identifies her in the Tarot deck, and Maarit starts to take Medore up to the castle. Random pretends to be sad, but isn't really sad.


Scene 9: A Kitty in the Library (Nix (Spinturnix), Toucan Hawk, Large Cats, Julian, in Oberon's Loupe)

Later, in the library, Nix is accosted by a big cat, which tries to eat a bird. After a tussle, the cat is killed in the aviary. Nix connects to Julian via Tarot card and gets a caution to reach out directly to Julian before coming to Amber.

See also:

Scene 10: At the Gates (Abn Haram, Nykae, Dalziel, Bleys, Random, Maarit, David, in Amber)

Haram and the other survivors of the shipwreck make it to the city, where they send a townsperson to get the King. The rider announces the diplomats and everyone marches down to the edge of town to see the diplomats. They meet and Random announces a feast but the Court of Chaos general rebuffs him in favor of sleep.

Haram reveals that tomorrow is his birthday. Bleys smiles, David frowns concernedly. David takes the opportunity to mention that he fought against Haram's mom during the war. Dalziel calls Julian to learn about what happened in the forest.


Quote Log:

  • “One must be attended.” - Abn Haram
  • “I don’t know if they like their jobs. That’s between them and their God.” - Abn Haram
  • “Run home and lick your wounds, I have work to do” - Dal
  • (Gleefully) ::EAVESDROPPING!:: - Marit
  • “I said we don’t fight in my garden, but that was okay, that was good!” - Ava
  • “My arm is only ‘a little’ shredded” - Nix
  • “Well, you know how she likes the stacks” *wink* - Nix
  • “If you shit on any of my clothes, you’re lunch” - Medore, to the strange bird
  • “I don’t want them in my realm, they might stink up the place” - Medore

and my personal favorite exchange of the session:


King Random: “You a drum man, David, or just a brown-noser? 

David: "A bit of both, sir.”

Further Reading:

A few months back, I had posted a bit about our first session. You can read my thoughts about it here: As you can read there, I really enjoyed that first session, and I'm very lucky to have such a great group of players and such interesting PCs. 

I also wrote about a specific thing I did with some birds during this session. The log below fills in a lot of context and detail around those. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Caine's Amplifier

One of my Amber players wrote:

>  I'm listening to the Amber books while I work.   In the first book when Corwin is invading Amber on the ships he goes out to parlay with Caine.  Corwin has specifically passed Rebma and is in the south sea.  Caine talks to Corwin through an amplifier, and Corwin talks back through his amplifier.  This isn't an argument about how Amber 'should' work, I just found it interesting. :)

Ah, yes, I remember Caine's amplifier. That's a thing I wondered a lot about the first time I read it, as well.  
To bring you up to speed if that just went over your head: The city and castle of Amber has mostly medieval-level technology, despite all those shadow-walking Princes having ready access to better tech. They use lanterns in the dungeon, not flashlights. Guns, we are told, just don't work in Amber. (Amber's navies apparently even carry cannons or machine guns, but can't make them fire unless they get far enough away from "the one true city" first.)  Cars stall out somewhere on the approach through Forest Arden. Sorcery exists within the setting, but only Eric seems to know the secret of making it work on the battlefield near Mt Kolvir. Rebma is lit by some sort of magical streetlamps that sport underwater fire, but like everything else impractical in Rebma we are told precious little about how it works.
Anyway, as I recall, when I mentioned Caine's use of an amplifier to Chuck, the GM of my first Amber campaign, he countered that it was obviously a non-electric acoustical horn, which he claimed sailors used to call amplifiers back in the day before the electric guitar came along to steal the term away forever. He told me that in 1992 or early '93, back when I couldn't just google it on my phone. I would have had to walk across campus in a Minnesota winter (uphill both ways) to find a big enough dictionary to refute him. If I remember correctly, I think the passage in the book provides no details of what this amplifier looks like, and doesn't specifically mention it being powered, so at the time I just took Chuck at his word.

But now I'm curious.

Checking wikipedia today, I see that the technology of "I talk into a horn and my voice carries further" does go back to 5th Century in Ancient Greece. In the Americas, apparently the Iroquois made ones of birch bark before white settlers got here. The online etymology dictionary claims that the word "amplifier" as a noun first showed up in English in the 1540s, and the electrical version wasn't invented until 1914. So, maybe my old GM _wasn't_ just pulling a fast one on me? I honestly expected the internet to tell me Chuck was a liar.

Tangential to this... (and I guess I should add **SPOILER WARNING** for hidden backstory that gets doled out in little bites across the first 5 books)...

When Corwin and Random drive to Amber in the first book, the car conks out in Forest Arden, just a few miles before they get to the stairs to Rebma. So the technology limitations seem pretty localized. It's not that combustion, or electricity, or magic, or whatever doesn't work in the entire "world" of Amber so much as that it stops working before you have line-of-sight to the Castle of Amber.

That all seems stupidly illogical if you're thinking in terms of physics, natural law, and realistic science...

...but actually makes a certain kind of sense once you accept the premise of "this world was created by my paranoid sadistic father who used his unique reality-altering universe-creating magical powers to custom-brew a place where he didn't have to worry about any of his embittered children nuking him in his sleep". 

Honestly, Zelazny seems to shoot from the metaphorical hip rather than try to build a precise and self-consistent scientific underpinning for his world. This loosey-goosey approach is largely justified once you accept that certain characters know how to change the physical rules and properties of Amber and do so from time to time to support their own position.

Zelazny's also somewhat vague about where Amber stops and shadow begins. Some characters are capable of using Pattern in places where others can't, and this is actually a bit of a plot point.  But even if that wasn't the case, Zelazny also muddies the waters by saying things like how Clarissa was "a red-headed wench from a far Southern shadow" which seems almost to suggest that there are multiple shadow worlds somehow on the same planet as Amber (or at least these entire worlds somehow have a spatial relationship to Amber and share a magnetic North in common). 
So maybe you might argue that Rebma and Arden are actually in shadow, and that's why an electric amplifier works in the southern sea. You also might argue that Caine was working for Eric, so maybe Eric used his powers to make the electric amp function where it normally wouldn't. But Corwin says he responded by amplifier, too, so, perhaps Corwin is lying? Unreliable narrator, and all that. Or maybe Chuck was right, and it was just a low-tech wooden bullhorn. Or maybe we shouldn't read-between-the-lines and infer some broader technology ban. Perhaps there's no reason you can't listen to radio or surf the net from your favorite room in Castle Amber?
It's Amber, so I guess anything is possible, and you should never take anyone at their word. Especially not family, and especially not the GM.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

D&D Maps

 The following is a snapshot of the Roll20 landing page for my current irregular D&D game. 


We'll be playing a bunch in the next few days, and then probably not again for months. This tends to be a holiday game, as that's the only time all the players have days off in common.

Monday, December 7, 2020

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Plotlines


Two weeks ago, one of the PCs of my Amber Diceless Roleplay campaign managed to peek inside Dworkin's studio and see what he's been painting lately. Rather than just describing them to him, and paused there for the night, and made digital mockups of them between sessions. Those who've read the novels will understand some of the above, but I'm afraid I can't explain the inexplicable here, as it's plot relevant/revealing. The devil is in the details. Spoilers! 


Worth noting that these digital collages utilize some components that are found images. I did very little of the freehand drawing behind all this, because I had to crank out 6 compositions in time for tonight's game session. I feel this constitutes fair use under the notion that it's transformative and presents the components in a new context.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Photo of Me at Work


Photo of me running Shadows of Brimstone on our 3D Trederra board at DiceFest Online 2020 last month. Note the creepy alien soldier in the background.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Currently Gaming Nov 2020

 Other than that bit of math yesterday, I haven't really posted here in a while. Figure I should say a word or two about what gaming I'm doing.

D&D: Played the first session this week in a friend's campaign of D&D. I'm playing a flighty gullible Halfling Warlock. 

For those who know D&D, my Warlock Patron is Archfey, and my background is Guild Artisan. Dimple Copperock was an apprentice to a Colton Smelt, a master smith who makes fey-killing magical cold-iron weapons. Titania offered me power in exchange for betraying my master and leaving his employ. 

The campaign world seems pretty cool, and the GM has a lot of good ideas... but for some reason really likes the idea of the skill challenges from D&D 4th and has ported them over to 5th. I hope they don't come up too often. He did one in the first session, and it was clunky. Maybe they'll get better as we get more practice with them, but it felt arbitrary and flavorless to me. Definitely the weak-point of an otherwise excellent first session. The rest of it was more than enough fun to justify letting the GM do his thing with his favorite mechanical concept. Who knows, maybe once we've got a few skill challenges under our belts I'll grow to like them.

As I'm now playing a Warlock, I am eagerly awaiting the imminent release of Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, a new D&D rulebook that has a bunch of cool Warlock stuff in it.

Torg: I really like my playgroup, and am having a lot of fun, but I'm also having a hard time wrapping my head around Torg some nights. Not just because the rules are sometimes weird, but because I don't always understand the setting real well. This is my first Torg campaign, and most of the rest of the group have played Torg for decades. So they all grok the setting inside out, and I feel like I'm constantly playing catch-up. The GM threw a really interesting "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" plot at us recently, and I had the darnedest time figuring out if my PC (a dinosaur-man who worships a nature goddess I don't really know much about) should honestly be upset about body-snatching plant-clones. I guess it's an intruding reality, and as a Storm Knight I should be generally against that, but I also kind of felt like "Law of the Jungle" suggests mind-whammy plant-monsters gotta eat, too.

More D&D: I have a big campaign we play marathon sessions of on long holiday weekends. Had to convert it all to Roll20 because with the Pandemic nobody wants to get together for Thanksgiving Dinner. It was a ton of work taking my graph-paper (and Dwarven Forge) dungeon online... but now that I've got the tools/campaign built, I'm almost certainly going to want to keep using them even when things feel safe to play at the same table. Roll20 is pretty great.

Amber: We're 5 sessions into the campaign, and having a lot of fun. Nearly every scene has taken place in Amber itself, which is kinda weird, and probably my fault. I encouraged the players to get invested in Amber the place so that the big plot would matter to them, and I set a lot of interesting schemes in motion within walking distance of the castle, so they're sticking nearby thus far. It's cool, but I'm hoping to dive into the improvisational poetry of a hellride soon, as that's always a lot of fun to GM.

Shadows of Brimstone: Ran a bunch of Trederra adventures during DiceFest Online. I don't tend to talk too much here about work, but we did some almost theatrical productions this time. Fancy 3D board, 4 cameras, cool stage lights, creepy life-size Trederran Legionnaire standing right behind me, and a fun custom scenario with Darkstone Mortar fire. It was a lot of work, but also a ton of fun.

Mansquito -- I mean, Night's Black Agents: In recent sessions, the PCs slew The Man In The Iron Mask and a Moroccan Djinn. We've taken about a month off for various scheduling conflicts, but will return next week. The PCs have successfully infiltrated the power structure of Graf Orlok (the monster from the silent film Nosferatu), but they betrayed his bride while hunting those other baddies I mentioned, so next session will be a painful reckoning unless the players come up with a really clever cover story for what went "wrong".

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Advantage Math (It's not +5)

 I'm sure this is posted elsewhere on the internet, but I'm putting it here so I can remember so I don't have to do the math again if I forget it. In D&D 5th, Advantage is roughly equal to +3.325 on your roll on average, and Disadvantage works out to -3.325 on your roll on average.

That said, for typical difficulties of your character level in a thing your PC is built to be good at, the effect of Advantage is probably functionally better than that +3.325 suggests. Example: if you need to roll a natural 11+ (just counting the die, not considering modifiers) to hit, you'd normally hit 50% of the time, but with Advantage you'd be hitting 75% of the time. Which feels like it's a +5 bonus (a +25% success chance, since each +1 on a linear d20 = +5% success rate) in that situation, and if you look online you'll see people talk about it as if +5 were accurate.

I'd argue that +5 equivalency is really more of an illusion or an ideal, than an actual mechanical reality. You can't count on it reliably. Those people are just wrong.

I mean, the "it's practically +5" notion is predicated on a very middle-of-the-bell-curve target number. Aside from the fact that a roll of 1d20 isn't an actual bell curve, you also can't really expect to have the ideal mathematically balanced scenario show up at the table with any consistency. Yes, if you built your character really well, and your GM is very careful about the Difficulties they set and Monsters you encounter, then, sure, pretty often you'll find Advantage pays off roughly like it were a +5 boost to your average. But not every time. The moment the DM picks an above-average challenge for your climactic final encounter (or, for that matter, a real low-ball DC because they want you to succeed and some minor hurdle), or rolls on a Random Encounter Table, or the situation causes you to try something "outside the box" rather than what your PC is actually good at, this whole notion of it being equal to +5 is out the window. 

Lets say the GM puts a high DC on something, and you need a natural 18+ on the die to succeed. Your base chance of success is 15%. If you have Advantage, your chance of success goes to 27.75%. So that's just a hair better than a flat +2 boost. On the rolls where it really matters because you're trying to do the impossible, thinking of Advantage as being +5 will make you badly overestimate your odds of success. It's not only more accurate, but also safer, to think of it as if it were +3.

This fact is of greatest importance for GMs. If you plan out your scenarios thinking Advantage is +5, you'll end up making things impossibly hard for the PCs by mistake, and do so fairly often.