(Before settling for that topic title, I went through the following thought process: “Need a good title. What’s a good title. Hey, what was that “will travel” line? Have Horse, Will Travel, so… Have Dice, Will Travel? No! Damn you, Keith Baker! Damn you!”)
I would also have to characterise myself as a gamer traveller. I grew up bouncing across Europe, partly thanks to my father’s job. I’ve lost count how many times we went to Strasbourg and Paris. I currently live a life of shuttling between the cities of Espoo and Tampere, 170 kilometers apart, and am active in roleplaying and science fiction clubs in both.
When I grew up a bit and found gaming, I naturally started to look for something to do with the hobby in foreign countries. When I was still a kid, this was mostly about finding game stores, because my parents would buy me stuff far more readily when we were on a holiday trip. Now in my mid-twenties, finding game stores is still one of my primary concerns in new cities, though for a bit different reason. I like to find new, strange games and to chat with gamers from different cultures. Learning new things and meeting new people is fun. I also collect games. Since I haven’t played a fraction of the English-language games I own, I can deal with them not being in a language I don’t even know. I’ve got copies of the sixth edition Drakar och Demoner and an unknown edition of Das Schwarze Auge in my bookshelf, and neither my Swedish nor my German are sufficient to read them. From a mid-nineties trip to Düsseldorf I also have a copy of Warhammer: Festungen that I later purchased in the English-language edition, Siege.
Finding Game Stores
Game stores, however, are elusive. They tend to hide into areas where a tourist does not normally look for them, with the exception of Games Workshop stores, and often are difficult to find online, especially when the language barrier prevents effective google-fu. Not that the google-fu still isn’t worth trying, though – it’s how I found one in Berlin after my trickier methods failed.
Then there’s a sneaky one that I’ve developed. Games Workshop stores are easy to find, but they do not carry roleplaying games. However, there are three different RPGs based on their licences, so it comes naturally to ask for a GW store clerk where you could buy Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play or Dark Heresy books. This worked in Edinburgh and Amsterdam, at least. Not in Berlin, though, as I found after walking for several kilometers from my hotel to the GW store (the distance looked so short on the map…). The only guy in the establishment who even spoke English was this red-headed kid who couldn’t have been twelve. The advantage to this system, though, is that Games Workshop stores do have an online database, a user-hostile turd though it be, and can be found pretty much everywhere.
On the language thing, by the way… it is polite to learn at least the “restaurant vocabulary” when you go to a country where they speak Foreign. You know the stuff, “thank you”, “please”, “hello” and so forth. This will also get you a much friendlier response. (My father is really annoying about that. He doesn’t just learn the restaurant vocab, he makes sure to know the basics of the entire language. I’ve never been quite sure how many he speaks fluently, but apparently at least four.) This is especially true in Finland, because we apparently are a grim and reserved people, which is strange and off-putting to foreigners used to other people smiling. Learning a few words of Finnish will serve as an icebreaker. I find it also works well in Germany. The French can sometimes be weird about it, but it never hurts to try.
I’ve also had local friends, met online, show me the local game stores (Copenhagen), and occasionally I’ve been able to find them just by myself, by keeping an eye out for certain kinds of display elements. The Sci-Fi Bokhandeln in Stockholm’s Old Town I found like this, noticing this big dragon hanging in the front of a building. Then, it’s in the one place in the town where all the tourists will go anyway. Found another one in Dublin.
Dragon logos, Games Workshop logos on display and so forth are good clues.
See New Places, Meet Interesting People, and Play with Them
Well, playing games is what we do, and to broaden one’s horizons, it’s occasionally worthwhile to head out of the basement and meet new people to play with. Gaming conventions are pretty good for this. I’ve been to every major roleplaying games convention in Finland and played or run games in them (Ropecon in Espoo, Tracon in Tampere, Conklaavi in Turku and Maracon in Oulu). I’ve also been to conventions in Dublin (Leprecon 2003 – still have the t-shirt!) and Aberdeen (DrakCon… 2006, I think).
Especially back in the days of Living Greyhawk, this was a major motivation for me, though I didn’t get to play in all that many foreign games. Just one in Amsterdam, a Sunndi regional, SND4-02 Whispers in the Dark, and another in that Aberdonian convention, an Onnwal two-rounder, ONW5-03 The Unplumbed Depths. Loads of fun both times.
That trip to Aberdeen was a strange one, though. It was a family vacation, but in Edinburgh, not Aberdeen. To get to the convention, I had to take the train from Edinburgh on the previous evening, spend the night in Aberdeen and go play in the morning. I had time for one game before it was time to hit the rails and go back to Edinburgh. Since I was strapped for cash, I opted not to sleep in a hotel or any such frippery, but to spend the night walking around central Aberdeen, marvelling how they’ve managed to build such an architecturally homogenous city. I didn’t get cold, since it was summer and I’m a Finn, but my legs ached something fierce after that. Also, come morning, I acquainted myself with Scotland’s answer to Mountain Dew, a bright orange caffeinated soda named Irn-Bru. They say it is made of girders.
I loved the game, though. It was a return to Scarlet Brotherhood’s Obelstone Keep, which held a certain significance to Onnwalon players after previous modules set there, including the meatgrinder intro Escape from Obelstone, had established it a certain infamy. We went in, rocked the house, kidnapped the head honcho, fed one floor of the castle to a huge gelatinous cube, and then hit the bricks before the eldritch horrors from beyond space and time could eat our brains. My character, Captain Xaylen Ambedor, also made off with the head wizard’s spellbook, which would net him a death sentence were he caught with it in Onnwal. Good thing he doesn’t live there. I think it ate a point of Wisdom off him, too.
Unfortunately, my Berlin vacation was timed simultaneously with a big convention in Bonn, and all the German gamers were in there.
There were also plans for a border convention between the Principality of Naerie (the Nordic Countries) and the Free State of Onnwal (the United Kingdom and Ireland) that would’ve taken place on a ferry from Göteborg to the UK. It’s a pity that one never happened. It is also a pity that the campaign ended, and its follow-up no longer has a regional mechanic. If LFR worked the same way, I could even overcome my instinctive loathing towards 4E to play, just because of the ease with which it facilitated finding one-off games with new people in new places.
The Museums and Stuff
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but I’ll do it anyway. In addition to the directly game-related pursuits, there are loads of inspirational and interesting things to be found in foreign countries – and likely also your home city, if it is worthy of the title. Museums always have something worth the price of admission. I have something like ten pages of handwritten notes I scribbled down during a day spent in the British Museum some years ago. In Tampere, where I primarily dwell now, there’s a spy museum. Most European capital cities have war museums of some description. In Copenhagen’s… Royal Museum, I think it was, there’s the halberd that was used to kill the first Swedish soldier who came over the walls of Copenhagen during the siege in 1658-59. In the Armoury of the Stockholm Royal Castle, there is a museum that, among other things, displays the jacket King Gustavus Adolphus was wearing when he was shot and killed on the field at Lützen, the last of the European monarchs to fall in battle.
Interestingly, when I went to see it, they also had a special exhibition about fencing and swords, and I got to try fencing with a sabre against a local fencing hobbyist. I won, narrowly.
Art museums vary, but ‘ve never gone to one that didn’t have at least something to make the it worth the time. Even a museum of modern art, and I’m generally not a fan of modern art. Kiasma in Helsinki, for instance, has a mosaic depicting Lara Croft in the entry hall floor, and a chandelier made entirely out of chicken bones (yeah, I know, the Sedlec Ossuary has one made out of human bones).
Museums also tend to have shops with literature related to whatever they’re exhibiting, in case you want to know more about something.
Travelling on the Couch
Finally, there are places where you just do not want to go. Well, dunno about you, but there are places I don’t want to go, and the people living in those places probably don’t want me there, either. There are also experiences I’d rather not have (and I’m willing to try a bungee jump or any local delicacy that doesn’t bite back). For these places, there are travel shows.
My personal favourite is Madventures, which chronicles the journeys of two Finns, Riku and Tunna, as they make their way around the world, eat interesting things, meet interesting people and experience things I’d generally rather leave for my player characters to experience. They’ve now released three seasons, the last of which was shown on the Travel Channel. I believe all three DVD sets have English subtitles, and the third one also has English narration. Madventures is good fodder for gaming inspiration.
And now I’m in this vein, I would also recommend Richard Attenborough’s nature documentaries, especially Planet Earth and Life, since they’re prettiest things I have ever seen on television. All of his shows, however, do a good job of chronicling the dangerous, beautiful and often downright weird things found in nature. It places some of D&D’s more outrageous monsters in perspective when you know there’s a fly in South America that pumps its head full of air, which then channels into its eyes and inflates them so they’re at the ends of long stalks. The fly with the longest eyestalks wins mating rights. There’s also a cave in… Borneo, if I remember correctly, that is home to a million bats and has a full cave-floor ecosystem revolving entirely around their crap. And when you go underwater, it gets really trippy. The gelatinous cube is pretty damn freaky, but let’s face it, it’s hardly without precedent.
Incidentally, it seems like I will be in Bratislava, Slovakia, in May. Anyone know a game store in town?