Ropecon 2010 is done.
Well, not really, but from the point of view of all but the 33 men and women of the Conitea, it’s now over. We still have to handle feedback, document stuff, pay bills, clean up and move items from point A to point B. For us, the con ain’t done until the post-debrief meeting beers have been drunk.
I was responsible for the RPGs – corralling the Game Masters, making sure they had tables and chairs and maybe even players. I think we had a total of 67 GMs (after tallying cancellations and latecomers) and somewhere in the region of 150 sessions of RPGs on offer (not an exact figure, but it’s in the ballpark). This is slightly more than last year.
I spent most of the convention behind the GM desk, serving the Game Masters, bossing around my henchmen (an excellent team, by the way) and listening to power metal. However, I made myself time to check out some of the program and hit the dealers’ room. It was my 14th Ropecon, and the 17th convention to bear the name. Our guests of honour were Keith Baker, the designer of Gloom and Eberron, and the German board game designer Friedemann Friese. After last year’s problems, we decided to invite Keith Baker as a full GoH to prevent another burnout episode. Amusingly, back when we were picking guests of honour, I received an e-mail that he was restarting his Have Dice, Will Travel project right in the middle of the meeting.
Friday is the busiest time at the GM desk, and I spent most of my time at the desk, processing incoming GMs and solving minor problems. Overall, things went very smoothly and the few issues were resolved quickly, efficiently and politely. Reading my Game Master feedback is better than sex.
As a new feature of the GM service, we had Sami Koponen and Sipi Myllynen directing players to games that suited them. The feedback on them was positive as well, though due to manpower issues, the service wasn’t available all the time. This will be developed further next year. (Sami, apparently, also desires to be Caliph instead of the Caliph. This will eventually have to be resolved in the traditional way of Ropecon – naked seaman wrestling.)
Once my scheduled hours at the GM desk were up, I wandered around a bit, mostly buying a lot of stuff. Pretty much the first thing I did was to make a beeline for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess booth in the dealers’ room, and I scored myself copies of the eponymous game as well as the newly-released Hammers of the God, and Expeditious Retreat Press’ Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe and Magical Medieval Society: The Silk Road. From the Myrrysmiehet booth, I also picked up the minigame L.G.D.S. – Kalpean herrasmiehen tapaus (“LGDS – The Case of the Pale Gentleman”) and the second edition of Roudan maa (“Land of Frost”). Additionally, I managed to bump into Karoliina Korppoo during the con and bought from her a copy of her new game Invitation to Love, which is a card-based storytelling game with romance theme.
I haven’t yet had time to read all this, but the next guy to tell me that roleplaying games are dying is getting a d20 stuffed up their nasal cavity. Apart from the Expeditious Press books, they’re all brand new releases, and they look spectacular (including the Expeditious Press books). From what I’ve had time to read, this is all fabulous stuff! The production values are high, the content is juicy and sets the imagination afire. I will write up a series of posts gushing about this stuff once I’ve had time to go through it properly, but despite having fewer new releases overall than the past few Ropecons, the bar is as high as it’s ever been in terms of quality.
(Okay, I admit that I’ll probably have very little intelligent to say about Invitation to Love for the time being, since it’s so far from my usual fare that it might as well be written in Czech. However, I’ve never let that stop me before.)
L.G.D.S. was originally meant for the scenario contest (another thing that will be developed further next year), but the writer, Jukka Sorsa, called it quits when he was supposed to turn it in. The next day, he told me, he hit upon the idea of writing it up for a Myrrysmiehet release. If he’d finished this in time, he’d probably have won – the adventure is a straight-up railroad, but it features Dracula teaming up with an undead Rabbi Loew and his golem to raise Countess Báthory as an undead tentacled monstrosity, and the player characters opposing their vile plans are agents of the Sun King – a swordmaster, a mechanical man and a fire mage. The GM advice on description notes that explosions are always good, and you should have lots of explosions. However, you shouldn’t just explode people for no reason, because that’s a bit too Spinal Tap.
Seriously awesome stuff.
And then there’s Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which is a beautiful work of art – six booklets in a sturdy cardboard box and a cover illustration that’s so gonna be up for an ENnie next year. The tutorial booklet, for instance, is fantastic. It walks the neophyte gamer first through a really simple adventure story. Then there’s the second adventure, which is styled after a “choose your own adventure” book. For the third adventure, it tells you to find a group of real people and then gives you a long example of play with a lifelike group of gamers, presenting the game as it’s actually played. Of course, this all being written by James Edward Raggi IV, the text is lively and fun to read, and the example of play ends in a total party kill.
I also saw James’ OSR presentation, which he himself posted about on his blog. I didn’t catch all of it since I had to run in and out of the auditorium on con business a couple of times, but I don’t think it was quite as bad as he’s making it out to be, though I think he’s largely correct in that it would’ve been a better show if he’d just talked about the making of the game. When he gets warmed up, he’s a very good speaker.
On Friday, I went to bed early. Saturday was gonna be a long, long day.
On Saturday I got my only gaming during the con. Our “bouncy castle” for this year was a tie-in with our theme of “Ropecon 2020”. (“Bouncy castle” in Ropecon jargon means an attraction, event or program number that engages visitors from all of our audience segments – roleplayers, card gamers, miniature gamers. The first “bouncy castle” we had was a bouncy castle, hence the name.) The story went that Ropecon 2020 was gonna be total crap, and time agents from ten years in the future representing different interest groups had come to the con in order to shape its future and recruit sympathizers and activists for their cause. One group wanted to do away with Ropecon altogether, reasoning that no con is better than a bad con, while another one wanted the con to become a haven for academic research discussion and artsy games, and so forth. The time agents directed their recruits to perform certain tasks at certain times at designated hotspots, such as the info desk and the GM desk, and one group’s goal at the GM desk was to play a game of The Orc and the Pie. Of course, I ran it in Pathfinder RPG, and I’d printed up a bunch of A6-size character stat blocks (shamelessly ripped off Paizo’s iconic Valeros). The players could keep the character, of course.
So, I’ve now run some twelve sessions of The Orc and the Pie. Even after the hotspot was over, I had character cards left over, so in the evening, I ran it in the bar for other members of conitea, and at one point in the night for Mike Pohjola. Interestingly, the people who were familiar with D&D generally immediately attacked the orc, while people without a strong grounding in tabletop games looked for nonviolent solutions (and, well, Mike, but that’s just because he decided his 1st-level fighter was pacifistic). My favourite solution was Marko’s, who first asked “is the room airtight?” “Umm… sure.” “I close the door.”
Only a single character died, and even he managed to slay the orc in the process.
Also on Saturday I saw the only other presentation I had time for, Keith Baker’s lecture on how to write fantasy. I think I’ve seen one of these too many. When you’ve heard Ellen Kushner, Pat Cadigan, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Alastair Reynolds, Jeff VanderMeer and Hal Duncan and I can’t even remember who else discuss the same topic, you start to perceive a certain repetition in the material. There are only so many ways you can put words on the page.
The really interesting thing about Keith was that he writes shared-world fantasy, and the details of how that works from both the creative and the editorial viewpoints. Unfortunately, I was too busy during the convention and pretty tired during his talk, and didn’t have any intelligent questions prepared.
Saturday dragged a bit long for me, mostly because at the bar I sorta got caught up in this collective effort to drink the bar dry (successful, in the end – when will they learn?), and then after they closed, wandered around the con, spent a few hours down at the beach sharing a bottle of beer with a fellow gamer, saw the security guys demonstrate different locks and holds in one of the gaming rooms at three in the morning, and got an overdose of backroom humour. I finally managed to get home and sleep for about two and a half hours.
Sunday morning, I was as one of the undead. However, once my shift started, we got some audio gear behind the desk and could get ourselves some proper power metal, I perked up quickly. Sunday was quiet for the most part, and we could just listen to music and bullshit for most of the day. Hannu floated the idea that next year, we could have a dedicated laptop for playing Planescape: Torment, and whoever was on shift would play it during lulls in activity. Savegames only when the desk closes down for the night, and the goal would be to finish the game by the end of the con.
Sunday was more or less uneventful until the end, when you got the usual pomp and circumstance that accompanies the ending of a convention. I presented the awards for the scenario competition and an award plaque for Eero Juhola, who’s been running his Vietnam War -themed campaign Charlie ei surffaa (“Charlie Don’t Surf”) at Ropecon for a whopping fifteen years. The campaign is an institution. As I understand, its rulebase is a heavily modified amalgam of Phoenix Command and Twilight: 2000. This year, he had to start a new Charlie campaign from an earlier date because the primary campaign ran out of war.
Giving Eero some sort of recognition for his work was actually an idea of my predecessor, Janne Lahdenperä. Me, I probably wouldn’t have figured it out by myself. I’ve never played in the campaign, and from my point of view, it’s a fairly self-sufficient and low-maintenance affair. I give Charlie ei surffaa a room, and they do their stuff. Everybody is happy, even if I’m not entirely certain what it is that they do.
It seems I got photographed on stage. The fellow in the background was my lovely assistant Janne, one of our logistics admins. ConText, the con’s official source of propaganda and misinformation, declared us two the most popular conitea slash pairing of 2010. It is said that in the quiet hours of the night, our mascot, The Rock, writes conitea slash in the coat check. If you don’t know what slash fiction is, I don’t recommend googling.
Ropecon is sometimes very, very weird.
And now, it’s over. Until next year.