Tracon 2011 and the Blades of Freedom

The summer con season is now over. Tracon VI has come and gone, leaving behind a contented gamer with a headache the likes of which gods have never seen.

Tracon is the roleplaying game and anime convention in Tampere, where I study. It moved last year from its former digs at the University of Technology down south to the conference centre Tampere-talo, right next door to where I live. For this reason, it is widely considered absurd that I am not a part of the organizing committee. However, I’m already doing Ropecon and I will organize only one con per year. Otherwise, burnout shall ensue. However, since I’ve also reached the point where I’m incapable of going to a convention without some work to do and refuse to pay for entry, I worked as a consultant for the RPG admin and helped out with Game Master recruitment. Additionally, I was there running demos of a new game I’ve worked on.

Lifting up the profile of the RPG side was on the agenda for this year, and to a certain extent, they succeeded. Pretty much every active game publisher in the country was there, with the exception of Tuomas Kortelainen (Noitahovi). Game demos were run, RPGs bought and sold and gifted, and lively discussions were had. Like Burger commented on his own blog, there was a strong sense of community and great fun was had. Also, though I think perhaps half to one third of the scheduled game sessions failed to run due to lack of players, the difference was made up in game demos. The Ironspine guys ran Generian legendat and E.N.O.C. and Sotakarjut, Sami Koponen ran Pyöreän pöydän ritarit, James Edward Raggi IV ran The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time, the Northern Realms guys ran Bliaron… and I, along with Ville Takanen, ran Vapauden miekat. That translates as “The Blades of Freedom”, for those of you not conversant in Finnish.

The Blades of Freedom

Vapauden miekat is a roleplaying project that I’m working on with Myrrysmiehet, an RPG publisher. The goal is to design a simple, approachable action game. It is inspired by Hayao Miyazaki (especially Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind), the Final Fantasy games, Star Wars and everything else that we find cool. The genre is postapocalyptic science fantasy and the style is anime realism, which means that gravity is not a law, more like a suggestion, and matter is inherently unstable and prone to explode if it serves to make a situation more awesome.

We’re trying to have sensibly dressed people in the art, though. The thing about the apocalypse is that afterwards, there’s no public school system to force girls into those uniforms.

What we had at Tracon was an early playtest version, with a print run of eleven copies. We sold it for a nominal price of €5 to interested parties, and ran demos. It was designed for a convention environment, one-hour long, easily explained and self-contained. We have high hopes for it, and the reception was positive. The scenario told the story of Sakura, a gunblade-wielding former officer of the Last Empire; Remington, a village blacksmith who fused his flesh with the steel of the Ancients; and Kiro, a sage and sorcerer from the faraway mountains who commands the storms like a faithful pet. Together, they had to stop the airship Liturgy of Hatred from demolishing the Shrine of Blossoming Hope.

I did manage to run one TPK session, though. The Northern Realms guys bit the dust.

The final game will be out when it’s ready, which may be sometime next year, perhaps. I am hesitant to give any solid timeframes because I said that the English translation of Stalker would be out for Ropecon and we’re still waiting for it. Apparently the proofreading and layout have stalled for unrelated reasons. Such are the trials and tribulations of small-press publishing, and one must learn to accept them.

Anyway, Jukka Sorsa and Ville, the other two designers, are now wrapping up Vihan lapset, another project of theirs, and once that’s over and done with, development will be really firing up on this one. I am excited!

The Gaming

In addition to running a couple of demos of Vapauden miekat, I played Sami’s Pöyreän pöydän ritarit, which I recently reviewed. I stand by my verdict on it as a product, though I forgot to note in the review that since it is such a rules-light game, you can’t read straight from the rulebook what sort of game it will generate. From a D&D rulebook, or Dark Heresy, or Paranoia, or anything traditional, you can get a very firm image of how the game will behave in practice. With Pyöreän pöydän ritarit, it’s pretty much entirely in the hands of the GM and the players, and Sami is a pretty good GM. My knight, Sir Garis, mediated a feud between the King of Cambria and the northern Picts, and later brokered the King’s daughter’s marriage to a local lordling. Also, he beat up some Saxons.

I didn’t have time for any Pathfinder Society, unfortunately, and thus my elven wood elementalist will have to wait for another opportunity to make his debut in the campaign.

However, the Northern Realms guys introduced me to a decidedly non-vegan dice game from Mongolia, where you throw sheep’s ankle bones. They’re an interesting randomizer, though I advised against using them as a primary game aid in a commercial system unless they want to beat Tähti (of the Chinese fortune cookies) for the title of the most aggravatingly hard-to-find game aids.

I picked up Fiasco from the Arkenstone booth, and in exchange for getting to crash on my spare bed, James Edward Raggi IV gave me a copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Grindhouse Edition.

The Rest of the Con

Most of my time at the con was occupied by the booth and running demos. I had time to see one lecture, Ville Vuorela’s talk on the Institute in Stalker, where I sat down in the front row and promptly fell asleep, which was rather embarrassing.

There were a couple of other interesting program items, but I managed to miss them all for one reason or another. As a general thing, anime conventions are a bit hit and miss for me, since I have no particular interest in cosplay and it’s a rare moment when I’m up to date on what’s popular.

Also, the goddamn Nazi cosplay. The first thing I saw when I entered the con area was a woman in a leather coat with an Iron Cross on a red armband. I’ve run into the phenomenon at other conventions, but I think the convention’s theme of police state and revolution exacerbated it, and there was at least one Hitler Jugend uniform that I spotted and a bunch of different SS troopers. Seriously, this is just distasteful, and I wish it would stop. Fetishizing the Nazis is about as ignorant as it gets, which is precisely what seems to be going on here. I saw this one lecture about Nazis in anime at Desucon, where the lecturer, in his snappy uniform, started by saying he doesn’t wish to politicize the topic (which accomplished precisely that) and then went on to analyze the uniforms on display in Hellsing with a fetishistic relish. And don’t even get me started on Axis Powers Hetalia.

Seriously, now. You can make fun of the Nazis. The Producers and To Be or Not to Be are hilarious. You can portray them as human, as done in the excellent film Downfall. They’re also pretty good villain material, what with being one of the best arguments for the existence of objective evil from the past century. What you don’t get to do is fetishize, trivialize, excuse, or ignore. There are some standards to maintain.

Apart from that slight annoyance, it was a good convention. The roleplaying games still need some work to either bring in sufficient active players to meet the supply of games or develop some way to interest the primary visitor demographic in playing. I’ve long maintained that Tracon is the best potential recruiting ground for the hobby, if we can only figure out an effective way to reach the audience.

6 thoughts on “Tracon 2011 and the Blades of Freedom

  1. Nice NiTessine. Glad you were able to attend for a bit.

    I completely agree with you about this Nazi fetish. It’s really overboard. Hope it doesn’t catch on more than it apparently already has.

    Mystic Scholar

  2. Most of the nazi uniforms were from various anime and manga. Japanese were far away from Europe during the war and they just don’t have the same inherent loathing (or shame, or whatever) about the nazis as Europeans or US Americans. So, they freely make use of nazi symbols and uniforms. For example, some Japanese airsoft (or possibly paintball) hobbyists arrange battles where the other side is dressed in full nazi uniforms. With nazi flags flying openly.

    Secondly, the cosplayers are of the 4th generation (?) after the WWII. Nazis are becoming “just history” for them.

    Why is it okay to cosplay Sovjet commissars, by the way?

  3. Who said it was okay to play Soviet Commissars?

    And the Japanese were Nazi allies and of the same mind set. They like selling their products to Western European and American consumers, but who said that they shared our values?

    The Bataan death march took place because they thought anyone not Japanese was less than a man/human.

    I’m not mollified by the fact that these Nazi uniforms are coming from Japanese anime. It just acerbates the issue for me.

    What do you think, NiTessine?

    Mystic Scholar

  4. My stance is that it’s okay to be in terribly bad taste, as long as one retains awareness that one is being in terribly bad taste and why this is so, and that’s what we’re lacking here.

    Soviet commissars are slightly different, at least in the Finnish cultural context, but I’m not saying they’re in good taste, merely differently bad. They’re not very common either, from what I’ve seen.

    The relationship of the Japanese with the Nazis and their own WW2 participation is not entirely unproblematic, either, but I’m not sure the comments box of my blog is the right place for it.

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