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November 11, 2009 / jadettman

ACNW: The Wrap-Up

So, here are some overall impressions of ACNW with some other thoughts thrown in for good measure:

Was ACNW a fun time?

Yes, I definitely had fun. Overall, the games were good, the players were amusing/interesting, and I had a good time.

– – –

How was the hotel?

McMenimens Edgefield is a very nice venue for the convention. I haven’t run the numbers yet but my feeling is that my hotels costs were relatively low in comparison to my other big convention trip, Origins, and I liked the hotel much better than the ones I’ve stayed at in Columbus. It has character and some great food.

– – –

Would you do it again?

Currently, I’m leaning toward yes.

– – –

Other Thoughts:

  • So, if I was going to the convention to ‘network’ in hopes of gaining support for my current Amber writing project(s) then the experience was a failure. I was spontaneously given an opportunity at the opening reception to talk about Introduction to Amber and I gave it a pass because of personal shortcomings. I simply am not confident, out-going, or spontaneous enough to deal with large groups of people I don’t know in a speaking capacity. Excuses aside, I screwed it up and I doubt I’ll ever get a chance to repair that.
  • Most of the people at ACNW have been going for years, many of them for a decade or more. While they were welcoming I still keenly felt outside of the group. A lot of the activity around the convention was focused on catching up with people that you hadn’t seen since the previous year’s convention and I didn’t have that focus. I’m sure if I spent the next several years going to ACNW I might come to have a similar focus. It would still be a hurdle for me if I continue to go.
  • There was a mix of Amber games but there were also quite a few non-Amber games going on too. If someone were coming to the convention to play Amber (such as myself) this might seem a little off-putting (which it did). Doing a breakdown of the games available, there were:

45 – Non-Amber Games

32 – Spoof/Alternate/With-a-Twist Amber Games

12 – Traditional Amber Games

For a convention with seven game slots that seems like a rather uninspiring ratio, particularly for something called AmberCon.

  • Should I return to the convention, I think I would treat it more like a vacation, as I do with Origins. I might play in the morning and afternoon slots but staying up until Midnight or later for four days in a row is just too punishing a schedule for me. If I could arrange to run shorter games in those slots, I might but I don’t know if anyone would sign up for a game that only ran for a half a slot.


Leave a Comment
  1. Tim Jensen / Nov 11 2009 9:46 am

    Perhaps you need to attend more cons in order to build up your ‘gaming past midnight’ muscles.

  2. J.A. Dettman / Nov 11 2009 10:26 am

    That’s one option, Tim.

    Unfortunately, I also need to overcome my ‘get up with the sun’ programming. 😉

    I kinda like being a morning person, though.

  3. Michael B Sullivan / Nov 11 2009 1:28 pm

    Hi Jason, glad that you had fun at ACNW. A historical note: ACNW used to have a lot more games set in-Amber (or in-Amber-universe). I think that most people started to feel like they’d somewhat exhausted the possibilities of a con game set in Amber. I say this as someone who does run trad Amber games at the con.

  4. J.A. Dettman / Nov 11 2009 1:54 pm

    Hi Michael, thanks for stopping by.

    I understand that ACNW has been going for some time and, also, that the convention is focused on catering to it’s existing player base. So, it doesn’t actually surprise me, in retrospect, that there are a lot of non-Amber game at the con.

    From a newcomer’s perspective, though, it’s a little weird to go to an Amber convention that has more non-Amber games than it has Amber games.

    Here’s a question for you: how many of the traditional Amber games you submit to the convention don’t fill?

  5. Malcolm / Nov 16 2009 7:18 pm

    Hi Jason.

    I don’t think I got a chance to meet you – Ambercon NW was significantly larger this year, and with everyone gaming in each slot, mostly, it’s hard to meet new folks unless they happen to be in a game with you.

    I’ve been attending for just three years myself. I admit that I did have a leg up in the social end of things because I knew a lot of the people who attend from other contexts. Nevertheless, I can see where you’re coming from. It can be a “see old friends” thing, a lot of the time, and frankly, we should probably work on that. I will bring this up with the con organizers. The fact of the matter is that it’s hard for me to imagine a more welcoming group of people, once you get them in the same room with someone new. And once you know one or two people, the network is so tightly clustered that you will soon know nearly everyone. That can happen just one year.

    As far as “screwed it up and I doubt I’ll ever get a chance to repair that” I will basically say you’re wrong. This is a very forgiving crowd of people, and there will be and are other opportunities to talk about what you’re doing, opportunities that are likely a bit less intimidating, and equally fruitful.

    Regarding the ratios of Amber vs. Non-Amber games, I can only offer that I think the previous commenter is right, that for many attendees, that well has run dry. I tend to think of Ambercon NW as more of a “diceless” convention, and less of an Amber convention, although just about everyone is well versed Amber, and it’s the basis for what goes on, if only just because that’s where nearly everyone cut their teeth on these sorts of games. I am probably biased, really, since I was never really very much of an Amber gamer, and came out of a different background to get there, focusing more on the diceless/narrative sort of play, than the specific setting.

    And finally, Ambercon NW should probably be treated as a vacation. I go to game, and squeeze as much socializing in as I can, but since I don’t get a chance to game much outside of cons, gaming is really why I go, to get my fix, as it were. But the relaxing atmosphere, the social dynamics, and other aspects of the con make it more like vacation, and less like other conventions. You can make of that what you will.

    If I might suggest, there’s an active Amber mailing list, and an LJ group that has periodic bursts of activity, and these might be an excellent place to meet some folks who attend, and pitch your ideas. I think we’re all pretty open to feedback – the folk who run the con and the folks who attend.


  6. Michael B Sullivan / Nov 18 2009 12:58 pm

    I don’t know if it’s too late to reply here, but:

    This year, I ran Separation’s End, which is a pretty straightforward Amber game but was also the end of a four year campaign. I also co-ran Sign of the Unicorn + Zombies, which was a traditional Amber game.

    Both games filled completely. I actually ended up adding two slots to Separation’s End above my original limit. That said, Separation’s End benefited from returning players who have a lot of loyalty to the game.

    I’ve run Amber games in previous years that ended up being somewhat undersubscribed: I had several games that had three or four players when I had hoped for five or six.

    My impression from talking to people at ACNW is that a lot of players choose games primarily on the basis of “who the GM is,” and “is the game serious/funny/big/small/whatever,” rather than “is it traditional Amber.”

  7. Simone Cooper / Nov 24 2009 6:39 pm

    Hi Jason,

    Just wanted to comment that I agree very much with Michael as to how folks pick games in these later days of the convention. Basically, in some order, they want to know if they know or have heard a good review for the GM or game; if they know (or are actively interested in learning) the setting and/or system; if the game is going to be silly, deep, emotional, intense, competitive, etc.; and if the game requires a lot of set up in advance or if it has pre-generated characters. The traditional Amber games do usually fill well, I think because they take place in that lovely shared background of Amber. The fact that they no longer dominate the schedule also makes them well-subscribed.

    I was glad to find your blog (thanks to Malcolm for pointing me toward it), because several people have commented to me giving praise to the “Introduction to Amber” booklets. They were well received, and there were only about 10 left not taken by the end of the convention. If you haven’t yet, you should be in touch with the AmberCon US folks ( about leaving some for their registration room or in their packets.

    Like you, I do find myself exhausted from the schedule. Every year I tell myself I should take a slot off to just hang out, and every year I think, oh, but … there’s one more GM I haven’t played with, or one more game that sounds cool. 😉

    I do hope you come back! You’re one of the people I didn’t get to have a game with this time around 🙂

    All the best,

    PS: Kris Fazzari collects reviews of AmberCons for her home page, if you want to link up!

  8. J.A. Dettman / Nov 29 2009 9:12 am

    Malcolm, Michael, Simone, I would like to thank all three of you for commenting here. I know it’s been a little while but I’ve been at a loss for a response, though I have been thinking about what each of you has said.

    @Malcolm – I appreciate your viewpoint on ACNW. I think the problem, for me, is that I’ve been playing and (mostly) running Amber Diceless off and on for 14 years and the well hasn’t run dry yet. It probably makes a difference that I’ve been without it for about three years now.

    And I thank you for pointing at the Amber List. I’ve been on it for many many years, largely as a lurker but occasionally I add something. At this stage, it feels a little stale, requiring a lot of effort to overcome the inertia.

    @Michael – In retrospect, many of the people I talked to at the convention said that they picked their games based on who was GMing it and who else they thought would play. I get that. You want to maximize the fun and hang out with people you haven’t seen in a year. The social reunion aspect seems to be the greater focus at ACNW.

    @Simone – Thank you for the specifics relating to Intro to Amber. I’m quite happy that it was well received and now I just need to get off my butt and ask for some feedback on the Amber List.

    I did enjoy the convention (I wouldn’t want you to think otherwise) and I would like to return in the future. The question for me will, ultimately, be one of affordability.

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