Tracon 2009 – Good Gaming, Bad Crowding

Last weekend, I attended Tracon, the annual anime and RPG convention here in Tampere. It was the fourth of its kind, and held at the Technical University of Tampere, in Hervanta, where the shadows lie. I managed to sleep through my alarm clock and had to grab a taxi to get there on time for my game.

It’s mostly an anime con, with roleplaying games as a minor sideshow attraction, mostly present in the speech programming. As for scheduled games, there were four – our two Pathfinder Society games, a homebrewed pirate game, and Aulos, which I mentioned before. I never did get around to buying a copy, because annoyingly, whenever we were both present in the GM area at the same time, at least one of us was running a game.

The PFS games went well enough, though mine started an hour late and getting enough players involved shanghaiing otaku from the info desk. We had some old Living Greyhawk veterans familiar from Ropecon, who will be coming back. I ran a nice game for five, though two of the players were terrible cowards and shirked combat, abandoning twice the rest of the group when a fight broke out. It is more than slightly surprising that they all lived.

In the other table, run by the Helsinki organiser Juhani, apparently three of the  four characters died, after they split the party. Never, ever split the party.

The programming was nifty, too. Due to my game, I missed a presentation on cryptography that I was interested in, and the first half of a panel on the state of the RPG scene in Finland, which, according to Burger Games’ Ville Vuorela, was excellent. There was also a panel on organising a gaming convention that I missed half of, and Miska Fredman of Ironspine doing a presentation on some new games he’s working on. I missed the first five minutes or so, but evidently the concept is that of rules-light RPGs, sharing the same basic system and designed for cinematic or videogamey action. The first one, ENOC, which was supposed to be released at Tracon but was not, sounded like Delta Green where the guns matter. Undead Nazis, man. Everything is better with undead Nazis. I’m looking forward to this. Despite claiming that it’s not what he’s trying to do, I think he may be working on an excellent beginner RPG. Sure, it may run on D10’s, but man, I started on MERP. Ten-siders are nothing compared to that.

At the same time, Eero Tuovinen of Arkenstone is working on a starter RPG that he’s playtesting with six-year-olds, Eleanorin uni (Eleanor’s Dream). The Finnish scene seems to be looking for a Holy Grail of sorts, in the form of an easy introductory RPG that would bring the younger generation into the fold, the way red box D&D did in the early 90s.

My approach would probably be to take Praedor, maybe reduce rules complexity, tweak a bit to make the combat rules support epic, Lord of the Rings -style action (the movies), and write up a less adult setting.

From Arkenstone, by the way, I picked up Poison’d, a pirate game by Vincent Baker that created the biggest flamewars of 2007 on, and 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars, a sci-fi action RPG that’s been getting a lot of good press. I’ll probably do a review of Poison’d here sooner or later. It’s a short read. However, I must say, I am not surprised about  the flamewars. One of the examples of play is about a PC trying to rape another, which I can understand may have rubbed some people the wrong way. More on this later.

It was a good con. You know a con rocks when you can head there without breakfast and not realise you haven’t eaten anything all day until ten hours later.

However, the anime crowd is getting annoying. This year saw 3,600 visitors, all told, out of whom perhaps a hundred were there for the RPG stuff. It was crowded and stuffy and it was hard to move. The anime crowd, though, is what keeps the con there. Solely as an RPG event, it would probably not survive, at least not in its current form. We shall see how they’ll be dealing with the crowding issue next year. The attendance grew by about 600 from last year, which is huge, and the space allocated to the con is insufficient to deal with another similar boost. That it’s in February complicates things, because it’s fucking cold outside and the anime crowd can’t spread out over the lawns the way they did at Finncon.

When the con ended, the bus stops were crowded enough to fill at least two buses that I saw to maximum capacity. It reminds me of last Finncon, when the sci-fi crowd drank a bar dry. The con rocks, but the town can’t keep up. At Ropecon, at least, the local shopping centre has learned its lesson, and I don’t think the ATMs have run out of cash in a few years, either.

I got home the way I came, by cab. Another gamer recognised either me or my hat from Ropecon and we ended up splitting the fare. Then I treated myself to a pizza.

2 thoughts on “Tracon 2009 – Good Gaming, Bad Crowding

  1. Hey, since you were there: Are the roleplayers and otaku clearly two different audiences? In other words, do the anime folk roleplay, or do roleplayers just meet up in an anime con and sit down to play? If the first is true, were the games they played anime-themed? If latter, is it really worthwhile to gather in the same place? Maybe we should just spring up a related, but separed rpg con – Wyvern, or something.

    Second, I’m quite sure you can buy Aulos from Korppoo by contacting her through Majatalo’s Projektihautomo (she’s Siege there and I’m sure you can spot the Aulos thread).

  2. They’re not entirely different, in that there is some overlap, but I’m not sure if the amount is significant.

    Some of the anime folk certainly roleplay – I think all five of my players were there primarily as anime fans. Indeed, the three more experienced players were in costume. Naruto, I think. The one that tagged along from the Info desk mentioned it was her first tabletop RPG session, but that she had roleplayed before. Unfortunately she had to leave mid-session, and I didn’t have a chance to ask about that.

    I don’t think any of the games were specifically anime-themed. Pathfinder Society certainly isn’t. Eero Tuovinen did a presentation or workshop or something on converting your favourite anime to an RPG campaign. I didn’t attend, because I already own two different editions of BESM and I was doing something else at the time, so I don’t know how that one went, but you should ask him.

    Personally, I consider it worthwhile to keep the two still together. The anime convention brings income which a mere gaming convention could never create. Also, sticking both in the same place could facilitate a sort of cultural exchange and conversion of new gamers, if such was seriously attempted.

    While the anime crowd does take up a lot of space and is often tremendously annoying, I don’t think it’s the same situation as with Finncon/Animecon, where the two simply cannot coexist for much longer or there won’t be a large enough venue in the entire country to pull it off. At Tracon, it seems the dedicated RPG crowd is very small and cutting it out wouldn’t really do jack in terms of space usage. Of course, this is just my gut feeling and I have no solid numbers on anything.

    Thanks for the tip, I’ll try to score a copy of Aulos from there.

    Whew, that ended up long.

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