Ropecon 2011: Sunday & Monday – How Grown Men Cried

Sunday was pretty busy for me. In quick succession, I had to administrate the Game Master loot session, moderate the panel on scenario writing, and then speed away to the closing ceremonies to hand over the prizes.

The GM loot I’ve explained in previous years, but basically, it’s a session on Sunday where all the  Game Masters  who returned their feedback forms get to come and pick gaming items out of a big pile we bought from a local game store, in an order decided by reading the entrails of a munchkin.

Then there was the scenario contest panel.

The Scenario Writing Contest

The scenario contest entered its third year with a format change. I figured that since we’ve got Frank Mentzer and Erik Mona showing up and locally, James Edward Raggi IV, we’ll probably never have as much oomph when it comes to writing modules in the same room at the same time.

So, I decreed that the modules be written in English, using a system under the OGL. I expected the participation to rise by a few modules, up to ten.

We got fifteen.

Also, we put them up for download immediately. That page is yet to be updated with the winners and the names of the anonymous writers, but I can tell that Sampo Haarlaa won first place with Hallowed Be Her Name, the second went to Niilo Paasivirta with Trouble at Troublewater, the third to Tuukka Tenhunen with City of Scorpions and the Player’s Choice Award was taken home by Satu Nikander’s Together We Shall Triumph.

The Player’s Choice thing is a change from past years, when the players decided all the winners. This year, the judges did that and the Player’s Choice was there to motivate people to run the modules. It did not entirely work and there were too few contest modules run for my tastes, but if the writers themselves can’t be arsed to run their own games, they mustn’t want to win all that much.

So, on Sunday I did a panel about module writing with the aforementioned judges. It went reasonably well, though I made the decision that the panel be more generally about scenario writing than about the specific scenarios. There were too many of them, I didn’t want to offend people whose modules weren’t quite as good as the others, and I didn’t really want to spoil the winners. I am not entirely sure if this was the right call, but we did get interesting conversation and comments out of it, so it could not have been entirely wrong, either. Specific criticism from the judges will be forwarded to the authors privately.


From left to right, that’s  me, Erik Mona, James Edward Raggi IV and Frank Mentzer.

However, I won’t be doing this next year. While I do seek to continue in the position of the Master of Game Masters for one more year, I’ll be farming  the task of running the scenario competition to someone else, if for no other reason then because I know all the winners from this year personally, some of them I count good friends indeed, and I think there are about four people in the contest who I didn’t know at all previously. Even I can’t take myself as credible contest-runner at this point, even though I have the judges’ own lists to verify that indeed, I did not play favourites.

The Crowning Moment of Awesome

Then it was time to speed to the closing ceremony, where I gave out the scenario contest awards, other people gave other awards, and so on.

Then the Guests of Honour Frank Mentzer and Erik Mona took the stage, and gave their thanks.

Frank also gave us something else. He pulled out this folder he had, and produced a number of small, light brown booklets. Every gamer in the audience held their breath.

Then, Frank explained that he was giving them to Ropecon, since we did not, amazingly, have copies of our own.

The booklets were the Chainmail rulebook, the original D&D rules booklets, and Supplement I: Greyhawk, by the hand of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, from the mid-1970s. The applause was thunderous, and grown men wept, I included. I was rushed, on the spur of the moment, up to the stage to accept the relics. My knees were shaky, my mouth was dry and I think I was hyperventilating. When I got down, I had to hand the books over to the chief organizers and sit down, lest I fall.

People I had never met came to me afterwards to tell me how touched they’d been by Frank’s generosity.

There was something magical about that moment.

They’re not shrink-wrapped first printings and they’re far from mint condition, but they’re how all this began. Three little brownish booklets in a Lake Geneva basement over a decade before I was even born. Without them, there would be no Ropecon, no Worlds in a Handful of Dice, no, no EN World, no Forge. This would be a poorer world.

We have a safe ready for the books, and a display cabinet for future conventions. They will be placed on display to remind everyone of how this started, of the origin point of this amazing variety and richness of different roleplaying games so different from one another that the term itself defies a single definition, and of Frank Mentzer’s generosity.

Monday, and the Second Shock

On Monday, after the con, Frank ran interested organizers a game. It was genuine, 1974-style dungeon crawl, where we made it out of the town and into the first room of the dungeon before we managed to botch everything and rouse an ogre that ended up smashing our other fighting man’s face in.

That fighting man, our security chief’s character Dinker, was the last of Frank’s fatalities during the convention. I am told that his final tally ran up to well over 40 during the revolving-door dungeon crawl he ran on Saturday.

Then, after the game, once we’ve cleared the table, Frank bid me sit back down. Then he opened the copy of D&D Rules Cyclopedia that he’d had lying on the table, and asked what I want him to write in my book.

I am still a bit stunned.

In Summary

Personally, this has been the best Ropecon yet. While I will always strive for it, I’m not confident it can be topped. Things may be organized better, the Cone Hall is a noisy place to play and the database has its hiccups, but in the end, it’s the people that make the con. The players, the Game Masters, the organizers, the guests of honour, the attendees, everyone.

It’s hard returning to normal life after such an event. The atmosphere of a good convention is intoxicating. These are my people. “My tribe”, to use the words of Randy Waterhouse, brought together by a shared interest in games, stories, funny  dice and latex elf ears. At Ropecon, I can walk into the bar at any time and find a table of friends to sit down with and talk about games over a pint. This year, we had people from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Poland, New Zealand, Latvia, Netherlands and Spain just showing up on their own dime to run games, play games, and talk about games. Even though online, on forums or the blogosphere, we may have our differences and disagreements, at ground zero Ropecon, the sense of community is palpable.

And the guests! The gaming scene is blessed in that though its celebrities are often busy people, they are also accessible, approachable and friendly (as long as you don’t wax too poetic about your character), and gracious even when things do not go quite as planned. They speak the same language and don’t send weird rider documents. This is different from the guests of honour in many other conventions, and I don’t think we’ve acknowledged sufficiently how lucky we are in this. Though Frank Mentzer amazed and moved us like never before, I would extend my gratitude to all of our guests of honour, past and future, for their part in the awesomeness that is Ropecon.

Thank you, everyone. See you next year.

9 thoughts on “Ropecon 2011: Sunday & Monday – How Grown Men Cried

  1. The closing ceremony remains the high point in my memory of that Ropecon. The gifts, plus the fact that Frank Mentzer agreed to shake my hand when I spoke to him after the ceremony.

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  3. Boo. In the old times we actually had to BUY all that extremely rare stuff. Now you’re getting all of them as gifts. (^_^)

    (Not that it was extremely rare during those days 🙂

  4. I was privileged to be accepted into the Tribe however briefly, though I hope that I can stay in touch with such new friends as NiTessine.

    You write with eloquence, and having met you that is not surprising.

    Of the whole experience, I regret only that I did not kill you. 😉


  5. Wow. Just wow. You guys rock. I am truly sad that I will mostly likely never get to visit RopeCon… as I am more a neighbor of Frank’s than I am of any of you good folks…. but this missive leaves me sorely wishing that the world were a smaller place.

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