Ropecon Draws Nigh

I apologise for updating even less than usual. I have a good excuse.

Screw that, I have an excellent excuse.

As some of you may remember, I’m the RPG admin for Ropecon this year. Ropecon is the biggest Finnish RPG convention at around 4,000 visitors per year, and to my knowledge the  largest gaming convention in the world run by a non-profit organisation. (According  to the Society for Nordic Roleplaying, we’re expecting 10,000 visitors this year, but I wouldn’t place money on those numbers.)

Anyway, the Ropecon week has now begun and though it’s been hectic with the convention and work and a number of other things, now it’s really picking up. On Thursday, there’s Arpacon, a free one-day event aimed at people who are new to roleplaying. It’s a new thing we’re trying this year, and we hope it turns out well. Like Ropecon, it’s held at Dipoli, a conference centre in Otaniemi, Espoo, that looks like the stars are right and at any moment the door of the Cantina will open to reveal the form of the Great Cthulhu, roused from his slumber of eons.

Seriously. They say there isn’t a single straight angle in the house. While I know this isn’t exactly true, they aren’t exactly abundant. This is like my eleventh Ropecon in Dipoli and I can still get lost there. I only figured out the layout of the bottom floor two years ago. Last year, I had trouble finding the room where I was supposed to give a presentation. It’s a confusing place, but in a really cool way.

We’ve got RPGs. There will be about 140 sessions of scheduled RPGs running over the weekend. Some games of note:

  • Charlie ei surffaa (Charlie Don’t Surf): A Vietnam War RPG running on some sort of houseruled admixture of Twilight: 2000 and Phoenix Command. I believe it’s now the campaign’s fourteenth year at Ropecon. There are some hardcore GMs that run so many games over the weekend that they’re just given their own table and freedom to make up their schedules as they see fit. These guys are given their own room.
  • Pathfinder Society: Paizo’s organised play campaign. With Living Greyhawk gone, they’ve taken over the tables previously reserved for the LG crowd – though in actuality, the GMs haven’t much changed. There should be at least ten sessions of PFS running throughout the weekend, by my count.
  • The modules of our module writing  contest – seven high-quality adventure modules from different writers that will be run throughout the weekend and then be graded by the players. As an additional incentive, we have an expert jury giving constructive criticism of the competition modules (and when I say “expert”, I mean “as qualified as it gets this side of the language barrier”). This is another new thing we’re trying and I hope it goes well.
  • Those GMs who get their own table? One of them is James Edward Raggi IV, a fellow RPG blogger over at Lamentations of the Flame Princess. He’s running six sessions of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition over Friday and Saturday. Incidentally, I recently interviewed him for Roolipelaaja, and the issue should be coming out just in time for Ropecon. As a fringe benefit, I scored some copies of his publications, including the yet-unreleased No Dignity in Death: Three Brides. This stuff is made of win and awesome, in that gritty old school D&D way that leaves you with single-digit hit points in the darkness at the bottom of the dungeon after your torch went out with all your friends dead or worse and ominous footsteps approaching. (As an aside, Thanuir of Cogito, ergo ludo is also running a couple of games. Actually, I think Gastogh from The Small Dragon’s Den is the only Finn on my blogroll who’s not running games or working the con in some other fashion. Not sure about that Ludosofy guy since I don’t know who he is [or, indeed, whether it even is a he].)

Amusingly, not only will there be way more D&D 3.5 games running at Ropecon than 4E games – we’ll also have more AD&D 1E games, and possibly an equal or greater amount of 3.0 games. (This has nothing to do with me. I am impartial in my job and have turned away no willing GM, and do not foresee ever doing so, unless some asshole tries to run RaHoWa.)

In addition to RPGs, we’ve also got LARPs, miniatures wargames with tournaments for both Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000 as well as Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures. We’ve got card games, with the Finnish Championships of World of Warcraft and Munchkin running at the con and a 24-hour Great Dalmuti table. Oh, and that Magic: the Gathering thing, too. We’ve even got board games running around the clock at Täffä, one of the adjacent buildings. And then there’s the speech programming – presentations, panel discussions, Guest of Honour speeches…

We’ve got strong theme programming this year. The theme is Myths and Secrets, and we’ve got a bunch of presentations on different mythologies – Arabic, Japanese, Russian… you name it, we’ve got it. There’s also a presentation about historical assassinations which is the single piece of programming that I’ve sworn I will see, and one about cryptology, and then there’s this one three-hour presentation by a policeman about real-life crime scene investigation, and about a hundred things more.

Oooh, and the guests of honour! From the RPG side of things, we’ve got Suzi Yee of Expeditious Retreat Press, purveyors of quality game supplement and OSRIC modules. They may be remembered for such works as the ENnie Award-winning A Magical Medieval Society – Western Europe and the WTF-inducing one-on-one module Pleasure Prison of the B’thuvian Demon Whore. Also, Joseph Browning is tagging along.

Our other guests of honour are L. Scott Johnson, designer of the Vampire: the Eternal Struggle CCG (oh, hey, we’ve got a tournament of that, too, whoda thunk it), Malik Hyltoft, a LARP luminary from Denmark, and the Finn Antti Malin, the reigning Magic: the Gathering World Champion.

I’ve here only scratched the surface of the excellence that will be Ropecon 2009.  This post may read like an advertisement, and, well, it is. However, I’m not getting anything out of this. It’s a non-profit venture. My pay is a badge and an invitation to the post-con party. I am getting that famous t-shirt, but I have to buy it. And, well, I’ve been promised cookies, but that’s not from the con organisation.

We’re all just doing it for the awesome.

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Finncon/Animecon 2009 Con Report

(Crossposted with Der Übergeek.)

Finncon/Animecon 2009 ended yesterday.

It was made of win and awesome, with blood, sweat, tears, and toil.

Three days long, the convention called a total of around 15,000 visitors to the Helsinki Cable Factory. Most of them, of course, were there for Animecon. I was there for Finncon. While I do enjoy a good anime as much as the next man (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex rocks!), I’ve yet to find a manga I like and I find its fandom occasionally off-putting and have precisely one thing in common with its greatest demographic, the fifteen-year-old girl. This is the love of really stupid badges.

My plan this year was to relax and have fun, and try to actively avoid anything stressful with Finncon. I’m already organising one convention, I did not want to kill myself with work three weeks before Ropecon.

Yeah, right.

While I did not have a position in the organising committee, the fact remains that I know most of them. I’ve spoken about this before, I think. The science fiction fans around the Helsinki region are broadly organised into three clubs, the Helsinki Science Fiction Club, the Helsinki University Science Fiction Club, and the Espoo Science Fiction and Fantasy Club. I’m in the board of the last one and one of the three board members who weren’t in the Finncon committee. It’s slightly difficult to go to a con where all your friends are working their asses off and just hang around.

So, I volunteered to man the science fiction clubs’ stall and sell badges. Which I did for eleven hours. Then, at the evening party on Saturday, I volunteered to come in at nine o’clock next morning to clean up since there were some issues with staffing. Alcohol was involved.

There was also the taking down and packing up of the convention. I think I did a total of around fifteen hours of work, with little in the way of sleep or food, and a hangover for most of Sunday morning. My feet still hurt from all the standing around I did (I tend to assume a standing position when selling stuff from behind the desk. Better reach, better command of the area, better visibility.).

I tend to invest myself in conventions pretty heavily, and it always takes me a day or sometimes even two to really get back to normal life, to recover mentally and physically. I’ve spent most of today in a sort of mixed afterglow/shellshock. Conshock.

Incidentally, I am awed by the amount of work the committee had to put into that con. What we’re doing in Ropecon isn’t even close to the scale of Finncon/Animecon.

At our stall, we mostly sold badges. We offered fanzines and ESC’s books and Tähtivaeltaja, but mostly it was just badges. I’m not up on the specific figures, but if I took a conservative guess, I’d say 500. Everything else combined, I’d be surprised if we broke hundred units.

While it’s nice that the badges are selling, some of those publications are really good stuff. They’re funny, and our fanzines are as professional as magazines published out of someone’s garage get. There’s content by professional writers in there. A lot of it. There’s at least one Petri Hiltunen comic that’s never been released anywhere else (called “Goretta vs. the Giant Killer Zombie Tyrannopenguins”). One of our books, Hannun basaarissa, contains an Alastair Reynolds short story that for nearly three years was only available in that single book, with a print run of 200. The most recent issue of Tähtivaeltaja contains another Reynolds short story that’s not only not available anywhere else, but also not available in any language other than Finnish. Even the English original was destroyed.

To market them, we tried to puff up Petri Hiltunen (which sold two issues), offer gingerbread with the Christmas Marvins (sold one issue) and advertise the porn short stories of Emmanuel Arse (sold three issues).

Me, I bought two issues, Xmasparodia? Marvin and Marvinah, which date back to 1997 and 1994, respectively. There are a lot of back issues available. I also bought pretty much everything the Turku sci-fi clubs were selling, and, well, pretty much anything that looked interesting. It’s another con-related psychic disorder, con psychosis. It’s a tired state when everything is funny and everybody is wonderful and of course you have enough money for everything and it’s all so cheap, too. So, I picked up DVDs like Postal, issues of Kosmoskynä, issues of Sarjainfo, Marvins, badges, a hideous purple t-shirt, a mug of the Comics Society, a pile of old Forgotten Realms novels…

Yeah. A lot of loot. However, because I spent most of my time working, I missed a lot of the really interesting programming – a side effect of not asking for those hours free. On Sunday, when I did have time, I was too tired to actually drag myself to watch it. I spent an hour practically comatose in the sci-fi lounge, drinking water and generally not being a scintillating conversationalist. This was interrupted when the con organisation required a photo of my butt. Long story.

I did get to see our three foreign Guests of Honour speak in the On Writing presentation. We had a pretty impressive lineup here – while names do come bigger than George R.R. Martin and Alastair Reynolds, they don’t come much bigger. To get any bigger, it’s pretty much Gaiman, Rowling, Pratchett, or a proficient necromancer. The third guy was Adam Roberts, the guest of our academic science fiction study symposium thingy. Excellent speakers, all. Writers, too, though I must admit I never really liked A Song of Ice and Fire. It wasn’t a violent reaction to badness, though, so I’m giving his other works a chance. I’m especially interested in Fevre Dream. Then there was a copyrights panel, featuring Kaj Sotala, with whom I wrote Roolipelikirja.

One of the events I missed was the Destroy the Useless Crap auction, where people had the option of either saving or having the auctioned items destroyed, apparently with power tools. A friend of mine bought George R.R. Martin’s hat for a hundred euros. I am told a VHS set of Babylon 5’s fifth season got destroyed with a power drill. I can’t really say it wasn’t deserved.

The evening party on Saturday was great. This time, the restaurant had taken the forewarning seriously and stocked up, and we were saved from last year’s downer, when we drank the bar dry at Telakka, in Tampere. I counted around thirteen kegs of beer behind the counter.

The dead dog party was also excellent.

Oh, and we founded the Finnish H.P. Lovecraft Society.

Next year, Jyväskylä!

Greyhawk Still Alive: The Principality of Naerie Gazetteer 599 CY

When Living Greyhawk ended, we always had the plan to make one final Gazetteer for our region, the Principality of Naerie. We wanted to update our setting to the post-LG era, to show how plot arcs ended and new ones began, and where our beloved characters retired after the last Adventure Record was signed.

Not all characters survived the campaign, and not all of those who survived retired. Not all of those who retired were significant enough to warrant inclusion. However, there’s maybe ten former PCs in there.

This was actually finished months ago, but due to problems with the hosting of the old Naerie website, we couldn’t get it up anywhere. I feel a bit stupid, actually, since I didn’t understand until now that I can upload it on my WordPress account and have it downloadable here.

So, I give to you… The Principality of Naerie Gazetteer of Common Year 599!

It’s still not what I’d call a finished work. Sampo Haarlaa wrote expanded city gazetteers for the provincial capitals and Radoc, which could be updated and added to the Gazetteer. It could also do with some reorganising and an Organisations chapter, which could include such things as the Order of the Blue and Gold, who were our little-used Jack Bauer-esque paladins, and the Midnight Darkness, the Patriotic Knights and a few others. The religion chapter seems to lack an entry for Pelor, whose church in Naerie was established at the end of the campaign. If we had an official update on the end of the Bright Sands plot arc, we could also decide on the fate of the Bright Lands embassy in Naerie City and the two PCs who’d be associated with it.

That is all for the future, however. I may get around to doing some of those things later on, especially if we can get final, official campaign consequences for the 598 Core plot arcs. For now, we have a gazetteer. It’s not perfect and it’s not complete, but it is done – and really, if it were perfect and complete, there wouldn’t be anything left for the adventurers to do, now would there?

To go along with the Gazetteer, grab yourself Anna Bernemalm’s map of the Principality from her Maps of the Flanaess site. It is an absolutely beautiful piece of work, and includes a great deal of material from our Gazetteer.