Monday, February 22, 2021

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.

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