Rob here. It’s an honor to be invited back to guest blog and to discuss a topic that apparently had gotten the interest of more than a few. As I mentioned during my article about Gen Con, Order of the Amber Die is a professional roleplaying group. They partner with Paizo, play their products, and publish the resulting content and data to the blog. They marathon – as I’ll detail below – to complete modules in a quick succession of days. They have members from across the country, and they now include me!
I’m not sure when I first learned of Order of the Amber Die. I expect it was some time during 2015 when I saw they were marathoning Giantslayer. The fact they marathon through an entire weekend to get a single module done in just a few days was a bit shocking but very exciting. The dedication and preparation that would take from all involved, especially the GM, impressed me greatly. I GM for a core group of friends and I know what it takes to prep just a singular session a week or two at a time. You have to review the story, the monsters, the NPC stat blocks, prep maps and accessory set ups, let alone ensure the players have their characters ready. Readying a whole module to be played in just a few days was maddening to me.
It was actually during the maddening run of Strange Aeons that I became enthralled. I knew I wanted to run the path for my group and the Order took it out with the dedication of tortured, insane souls of Lovecraftian tales. They played in the dark, had frightful amounts of mist to sift through, and struggled with the mind-altering dangers at every marathon. The maps the GM Adam was producing, the dedication of their player captain Aerick to ready the players, the gorgeous art and photography… I knew that if I wanted a game even remotely as good I had to follow their work closely. I followed them on facebook, youtube, and joined their Patreon.
Apparently (thankfully!) my engagement with them drew attention. I was perhaps a bit over-enthusiastic – something i often worry about when meeting new people – but I liked everything they posted, asked about their sessions, was thrilled to see Dan play an openly gay Quinn the Iconic Investigator, and participated in their contest (and won!) the weekend of the 4th of July. I posted up my fully drawn asylum for Strange Aeons In Search of Sanity and my Dwarven Forge builds for Thrushmoor and the Iris Hills Estate. But, aside from all that, it was the Order reaching out to me after the New Year and saying “your positive attitude is also one of several reasons why we wanted to reach out to you.” I knew I wanted to try and prove to them I could handle a marathon but that simple acknowledgement made me all the more in and wanting to show I had what it took to join Order of the Amber Die.
Posted by Rob Pontious on Sunday, February 3, 2019
Over the coming weeks we planned my first visit, which wouldn’t be for a sanctioned marathon module play as they resumed Ruins of Azlant after an intense series of playtesting Pathfinder 2E. Instead I’d be visiting for their slightly relaxed, home-game of Rise of the Runelords. I’d join with an iconic at level 1 and pray I survived as I’d level quickly with every combat. It was still a marathon over a series of days so rising early, playing all day, and proving I was a chill person a group of friends who’d known one another for years wanted around was still important. Adam, Matt, Dan, Jody, Erick, Sean were all friendly as could be during those upcoming weeks as I (again) eagerly asked all I could of how they ran games, planned food, prepped the staging as I wanted to do things right! I wanted to prove I was ready for this AND (hopefully) help them have a great time too!
One of the first things I asked was about food planning. That prompted a discussion of roles, which sometimes shift but there are some primary functions within the group. Adam is the primary GM and effectively an External Affairs / Public Relations guy as well as handle photography. Erick Germer (Germs) is the lead photographer, videographer, and editor. Matt Hardin leads the social media updates and is also the Player Captain. The Player Captain ensures every player is ready for game with their character, understands each character abilities, preps for treasure as well as the strategy needed. It’s especially true for those tough paths like Ruins of Azlant where you spend so much time underwater! His planning to match cheap treasure purchases with the right spellcasting made it much easier to roll forward, saving precious marathon time. It also gives the GM a way to focus on the story and let someone else be responsible to ensure the players needs are met.
Back to food planning though. While different people can help cook, it’s Sean Linville who is the Castellan of the group and I should say of Fort Rannick, which I’ll get to later. Sean crafted a complex structure to support backdrops, lighting, and black out curtains. The Castellan plans food, ensure distribution of food, cooks often, and also helps fix up those accidents that might befall a space a large group of people share when perhaps a bit tired. An accidental hole or two might happen. It helps Sean is a knowledgeable contractor, a tireless friend, and I might note also an amazing person and family man!
I’ll note there’s more members than I truly know as I’ve yet to meet everyone. Roles swap in and out as members take hiatus for family or work. Examples including the video production and photography of Sterling Brunsvold or the cooking skills and player captaining of Aerick Lim. Everyone contributes how and when they can, owning a part of the greater success of Order of the Amber Die.
If you played Rise of the Runelords you might be familiar with Fort Rannick. Thankfully there aren’t any ogres roaming around unless maybe I’m there! At least for now, Adam cedes his home space so it can transform for these marathons. Furniture moves out, tables go in, the scaffolding made by Sean goes up, then it’s beautiful backdrops and lightning. In comes professional grade lightning, table mats, scenery, minis, GM screens, speakers, spot lighting… The area transforms so Fort Rannick can host the marathons.
Of course we’re often outside for the occasional break or grabbing a bite to eat. I should note again the Castellan (Sean) ensures all is mowed and well taken care of for a marathon weekend. Like I said, tireless and amazing! It’s nice to take those five to ten minutes to eat outside, especially when you’ve lost track of what time it is because of the black out curtains blocking out the sun. Later when all is finished and it’s time to relax there’s a fire pit as well so the Order can gather, reflect, and discuss the future ahead.
“Choose Your Character”
So long before I’d head to my first marathon to hang and get to know everyone I had to get a character ready! Adam and Matt warned me again I’d start at first level as was tradition for this home game. I’d have to survive but I’d get those precious XP drops between encounters and hopefully make it into the low teen levels like many of them were or were soon to be. I had to choose an iconic and have some back ups just in case.
I chose the Iconic Kineticist Yoon, the Pretty Princess of Fire and Herald of Gom-Gom, pictured above1! I’d NPCed a kineticist briefly for the last homebrew game I ran but I was ready to really unlock some firepower, literally. I prepped twelve character levels, which was thankfully easy due to Hero Lab. Double investiture in fire, prep for some long distance shots but also some melee… I also readied the Iconic Druid Link and the Iconic Psychic Rivani. Whoever survived would join the likes of Kyra, Alain, Kess, Lem, Enora, and Balazar in the Runeforge!
Off my sheets went to Matt for review as the Player Captain ensures you’re ready! They also help you right at the table, which I was soon to see…
The Night Before
I flew in and was graciously picked up at the airport by Adam and Germs. We chatted excitedly of the game and weekend ahead, finally meeting after so many years. I’d promised to get them a drink at Gen Con as I’d decided to return to it after over a decade. But this was far better! Everyone would be arriving tonight and we’d ensure the space was set!
At Fort Rannick the Castellan soon arrived with the weekend’s rations. Away they went as we discussed our start the next morning. I listened carefully to what was currently in play. They’d finished the Lust wing but Greed was next! Germs also stressed to me the importance of knowing what my character could quickly do on my turn, or simply take defense or delay. Sometimes that was best! I was resolved to handle my rounds quickly. Off to bed we went as it was game on at dawn!
Was amazing. Characters can come close to death, some can die, some can come back. But it’s a race and a fight to survive the Runeforge! I started Yoon as simply staying far back from the group after she was found wandering outside the Runeforge by Alain’s cohort Sven. She had little power but great ears! She heard golems coming from far back and then far ahead, and then back again! I survived a large encounter and it certainly seemed it helped! Level 4 came quickly! Then 7! Then 9! Then 10, 11, 12!
It was at level 12 while at the end of the Greed wing of Runeforge that we fought the metal mage. Yoon was getting frustrated with how many of her new friends were hurt. When we saw that mage down the hall (and Yoon had stayed back) and Alain got caught in a gravity trap, Gom Gom whispered to Yoon that the metal man had to die. Yoon summoned a fire so hot it burned blue, surprising her newfound allies. From all the way down the hall she managed to strike precisely at the mage’s heart and burned him straight through! That’s how she reached level 13 and we journeyed hurriedly into the wing of Gluttony.
Over those three days time blurred as we had quick, friendly meals and hours of gameplay locked in difficult character conversations about what do or dangerous exploration marked by furious combat with foul creatures. It was exhilarating despite the early mornings and long nights. The energy of the moment fills you though it’s important to have snacks and stay hydrated! It probably helped that I had a stuffed Gom Gom I had made to whisper with at the table.
Rob, one of our longtime patrons, flew in from Rhode Island for an awesome weekend of Runelords with the Order. Playing Yoon the kineticist, he didn’t want to travel alone, so he brought along Gom-Gom! @Paizo needs to sell these! pic.twitter.com/DWKgGwdK2c
— OrderOfTheAmberDie (@theamberdie) April 28, 2019
I learned a lot that weekend and seemingly proved myself too! We chatted around that fire, telling stories of old. I found out Matt was a Dragonlance fan as I recounted the campaign I ran purely of Wizards of High Sorcery, two of each wizardly order. Germs said I did well keeping my turn moving and being ready with my action; that felt good let me tell ya! Later once home Adam would thank me for coming in for a great, fun weekend. I wanted to know how the sanctioned marathons would go – as I knew they’d be tougher – and Adam assured me they would be. But if we could have fun at the home game and get it done, then the real marathon ahead was right for me!
Into The Sunken Dangers of Azlant
As I noted earlier the Order had paused their Azlant Odyssey – the Ruins of Azlant marathons – to do the Pathfinder 2E playtest. Now it was time to finish it after a year or so away! I thought I’d be NPCing but instead I was kindly allowed to take on Ezren the Wizard! I had to review all of Aerick’s materials, ensure I’d play him right, and I practice my Sean Connery accent to match as well! (It was okay.) I did pick up some graying hair product to try and capture some of that Ezren wisdom. I also had a few levels to prep for Ezren’s likely growth. The real difficulty was readying for underwater combat at length, including treasure and spells.
I like to think my organizational skills helped here and have made/will make me an asset to the Order. I introduced some treasure tracking spreadsheets for new treasure, sold treasure, purchases, and even wants/needs by the team. We also had a spreadsheet that tracked how each person would survive underwater, high pressure, get a swim speed, etc. It may seem like busy work but when you want to run marathons you want to have these details down, known, and everyone ready to simply agree on “underwater prep done?” so you can simply move ahead. We knew the plan – Matt the Player Captain especially – and thus we could swim on!
That was an intense few days and sadly Ezren lost his life to a banshee on the very last day. I got to NPC a wyrwood the party had met, which made for a quick roleplay challenge. What’s more I spent extra time with the amazing Savannah Broadway ( yes, their real last name is Broadway! <3 ) who came in to NPC after their illustrious stint as Winter in Strange Aeons. I’ll refer again to my article on Gen Con as it was partly the conversation at Module 5 that affirmed my love for these people. I mean, you’re with them for 3 days straight you better frickin’ like each other. But no, love is the word. These are amazing people. Half the table at this game didn’t identify as cisgender or heterosexual! Great, right? Well more than that, when we talked of PRIDE events, LGBTQIA topics, etc. it wasn’t a big deal. It was just a friendly conversation that we all were engaged in. It’s an amazing thing to not only be welcomed and accepted but to not be made to feel different. I think that’s something a lot of people are still learning, but let me tell you who could teach by example: Order of the Amber Die.
That leads into Gen CON. I wasn’t yet a full member but I was well on my way. Order of the Amber Die leads a few events about marathon gaming, becoming a professional roleplaying group, and of doing amazing scenery/maps and relevant photography. Adam and Matt offered me a shirt and to join them at these events. I’d not really be presenting but instead snapping photos and videos.
I did so with earnest while also trying to chime in with small comments to back up the well-established experience from Adam and Matt. Again, both were gracious in allowing my participation let alone the shirt that I got to wear while walking around the convention! That Amber Die is a beautiful thing and the dri fit sure helps under that August heat. I hope I represented it well after such an amazing experience thus far. It was over too soon really.
Gen Con really was an amazing, heartwarming, exhilarating experience as I said in that article. I truly hope you can come next year if you’re thinking about it! Be sure to hit me up if you do!
The Azlant Odyssey is over, and it was a record-setting 70+ session hours of non-stop intensity during our last marathon.
Time for nostalgia!
Here was a one-of-kind miniature of the dreaded lusca, from @OnCallGm Thurston Hillman’s adventure, “Beyond the Veiled Past.” pic.twitter.com/jCRwOoq93z
— OrderOfTheAmberDie (@theamberdie) September 3, 2019
That left the final weekend – weekends! – of completion for Azlant Odyssey. Adam let me know full membership was ahead as I’d get in my 100th hour! What’s more we were splitting things up over two weekends to get the maximum amount of time in while not rushing too furiously. Those final modules have amazing content and you want to do them justice. Well I came in for both by staying the week in-between at Fort Rannick!
Adam and I got even closer as he readied all week and I worked from his office. We discussed Gen Con, went over pictures, looked at the amazing video that’d been made in dedication to Karee Vogrin’s Critical Hit Cookies! (So good!) I got to hang a bit with Erick and Jody as well, which was wonderful.
I won’t spoil the details of the final module; you’ll see a post on the Paizo blog soon! I will say at least that Ezren returned by the grace of the Dawnflower and my 100 hours was made! I’m now proudly a full member of Order of the Amber Die as is the youngest ever to join: Julian Dappolone! Julian is also second generation, son of the late and forever great veteran and friend to the Order: Mike Dappolone.
The Amber Die
There’s more love and camaraderie here than can really be described by the moniker of “a professional gaming group.” You have to love these people you spend so much time with, let alone the game and all the passion it takes to make these marathons work. A good example is the Amber Die, symbol of the Order. It’s a frightening weapon in our GM’s hands as we fear those criticals, but it’s also a symbol of the tremendous effort of Adam, Sterling, Erick, Aerick, Sean, Matt, and so many more.
Hundreds of hours have been shared around the table by more members than even I know. They might take a year or two off but they can visit, they check in, they’re all engaged as life moves along with friends, family, and work. The Amber Die is a symbol of all those years and the collective passion of these people. And now I get to be a part of this too as the 28th member of the Order!
Thank you so much Order of the Amber Die, to all those members I’ve met, and to those I will soon! And thank you Know Direction for allowing me to tell others about it! For some behind the scenes video I encourage you to join Order of the Amber Die’s patreon including some traveling video we did for me and a post first marathon interview! I joined the patreon years ago for incredible assistance with my gaming and I love engaging with the members there. You’ll see me there, as well as increasingly on the Know Direction podcast as I get to talk about what else I’m passionate about or excites me.