Tuesday, September 1, 2020

A Sneaky Little Thing With The Birds

 I should have put this in the Amber post last night, but forgot to mention it then. It's okay, that post was mostly about how great my players are, and in this post I'm going to beam some arrogant pride about a fun thing I did.

When I got to first scene for one of the players, I told him that he'd just gotten back to his office from a short vacation, and asked him to tell us what he'd done to relax on that trip. He said that his character, who does falconry and raises birds, had found a wild bird of a species he'd never seen before, a big hawk with a beak longer than any he'd seen before in a bird of its size. He then a few moments later showed the bird to a minor improvised NPC who shared his love of birds. I had that NPC gush over it, and reinforced his description by having them say that its beak was at least a full inch and a half larger than he'd ever seen on a bird of that size. I put just a little bit of extra emphasis on the words to make them stand out.

I did this, because I knew that I was leading in to a scene later where someone else was going to receive a messenger bird. In Amber, these are usually a semi-magical "bird of my desire" found via the use of the Pattern, they don't have to be a species you'd normally use for sending a message. 

So when a messenger bird arrives in another scene, for another player, with a note tied around its leg, I describe it as a large hawk, "with a beak a full inch and a half larger than you've ever seen on a bird of that size". Suddenly, the fun little detail that the player had improvised to describe what their character did on their vacation became invested with extra meaning and connection. Does this mean the message-sender was in the other character's world? That seemed clever, but too easy to get forgotten. Thankfully, I had another plot element ready in my toolbox.

Earlier, in a previous scene that neither of those characters were in, a different PC found a black unicorn, that was wounded and being chased by nasty cat-monsters. They saved it from the creepy cat-monsters.

When I got back around to the PC who introduced the bird again, I now narrated that one of these same cat-monsters had somehow managed to get into his building, and tried to get to his new bird. Thereby making the detail the player introduced somehow now tied directly to three characters' plots, one of them by way of a thing that happened before the 1st player improvised the bird detail. It's a little thing, but I'm really proud of myself for weaving this together like that. The birds are clearly linked, the cats are clearly linked, but how does the unicorn tie in?

The players picked up on it, despite the three characters having not yet met, and therefore not had a chance to compare notes. I'm looking forward to that connection in a future session. It feels like something straight out of a carefully structured novel, not stitched together in largely-improvised RPG sessions, so please allow me a moment to show-off and gloat about it. 


Thank you.

I love my new Amberites!

Ran the first session of my new Amber campaign tonight. I love my players! They're really engaged and give a damn about the NPCs already. They've got developed personalities, and some solid back stories, and they just all feel like bonafide Amber characters: several of them are cagey, nearly all of them have oversized egos, and the players have taken to the setting like fish to the River Oisen. Only 3 of the 7 players have read any of the novels before, and only 1 of the 7 has played the game, so I'm blessedly lucky that they've picked up the feel and the tone so quickly. 

I will claim a tiny bit of assisted credit there, as I did handle the Attribute Auction very differently this game (and will do so likewise for all Amber campaigns going forward). We did Powers first, so people were all-but-guaranteed to have enough points available for Pattern if they wanted it, and I really leaned into how great Pattern is for first-time players, instead of trying to "trick" them into overbidding on Attributes like the rules encourage. So this is the highest number/percentage of genuine Amberites I've ever had in a campaign. It seems like every Amber campaign I've run before has always had at least two players who wanted to be Shadow Sorcerors with zero links to Amber or Chaos, at least one player with Advanced Shapeshifting but no other links to Amber or Chaos, and at least one character (usually one of the previous three) with zero ability to move through worlds (not even Trump Artistry). It's a pretty serious stumbling block to getting the plot going if half the player base has no reason to interact with the NPCs or each other. This time, we avoided that better than ever before, and I think it's playing out really well.

But I can only a tiny thimble-full of the credit for helping set that up, because my players are just generally awesome and all I did was not screw them over during the Auction. The rest is all them.  Everyone already has their 1st session's Pledges up on the site. All the journal entries, campaign log, and quotes page are top-notch. (I want to share some of those here, but should probably check with the players first to get permission.) My players are doing great work, and really diving in head-first. I cannot sing their praises loudly enough. Great job, folks!

The plot is off to a rollicking start, with a couple good fights already, and lots of scheming plots and mysteries. I got most of the characters to meet each other in the first session, in a way that's got a little tension going between various parties, but not got any PCs gun for each other just yet. 5 of the 7 characters ended up in the middle of the city of Amber during a bit of diplomacy gone bad. 

The 2 that didn't get involved in that each got their own interesting mystery subplot, which show some signs of being interwoven with each other, and also possibly with what was happening with one of the characters.

Here's some other random plot points:

Uncle Caine is up to something nefarious, and faced a bad setback already when the envoy from chaos escaped what sure seems to have been an attempted ambush.

Aunt Fiona is feeding clues to one PC that all seem to be pointing towards some sort of presumably-unrelated doppleganger mystery. She refused to talk directly about it, but the clues would have been really hard to miss.

Strange birds have arrived at two characters worlds, one bearing a message from dead Aunt Deidre, the other possibly pursued by a cat-monster.

A black unicorn arrived in a different characters world, definitely pursued by two cat-monsters. After the monsters were slain by the PCs, the unicorn fled.

And just to add a little more complexity, Eric's weir have been stirring up trouble in Arden. 

I was very pleased to pack all that in to a single session. I am incredibly excited for the rest of this game!