Tracon 2012: A Roleplaying Game Convention

Tracon 2012 was held last weekend at Tampere-talo, in Tampere, Finland. It’s billed as the “Tampere roleplaying and anime convention”, but in previous years, it’s been more of an anime convention with a bit of roleplaying stuff because the organizers are interested in it. This is because anime is amazingly popular over here, to the point where you can put up a convention in a rural municipality nobody’s ever heard of and triple their population for the weekend.

Anyway, previously Tracon has never really felt like a roleplaying game convention, just an anime convention where some guys from the gaming scene come to hang out, sell each other their new releases, shoot the breeze and eat together. This year, that changed.

Tracon is a big con. They had 4,800 visitors this year, a boost of some 700 from last year. If this keeps up, they’ll grow out of their venue. Its roleplaying side is a wee tiny thing compared to the rest of it. One room for games, a handful of game masters, a small nook on the second floor for the RPG vendors, away from the actual vendor area. Usually, there have been very few games and most of them got cancelled for lack of players. This year, that changed.

One of the guests of honour was Sandy Petersen, the man behind Call of Cthulhu, which is probably a contributing factor. I feel that Pathfinder Society can also claim some of the glory. There was gaming at Tracon this year. I think there were 24 games scheduled and around 20 of them ran (my numbers are probably a bit off, but they’re in the ballpark). In addition, there were two ex tempore Pathfinder Society games on top of the five we had scheduled, and Sami Koponen & co. did a magnificent job with short, introductory game sessions in the hall outside the games room and ran a total of 19 sessions of different games. The numbers may not look like much, but in Tracon, it’s a huge leap forward. Despite there being less RPG-related speech programming than in the past several years (or ever?), there were definitely gamers present and they actually played games. We even got some new people introduced to the hobby.

To me, this is what defines a roleplaying game convention. You may talk all you want about games, but it’s the actual playing that makes the con.

I myself ran two games of Pathfinder Society and mostly spent my time hanging out with the other gamers. I ended up seeing only two program items. First of these was Sandy Petersen’s guest of honour speech, Horror in Gaming.

Unfortunately, it was not very good. He’s an excellent, obviously experienced and articulate speaker, but the presentation was structured badly for the 45-minute time slot, with first fifteen minutes of good, if basic, stuff about running horror games, then ten minutes about a new iOS-based strategy game he was designing. I’ve forgotten its name, but then, I don’t do Apple. There will be a Kickstarter in the near future, I am told. The rest of the time was taken up by questions. This, I submit to you, is not how you do a presentation. It really should’ve been two different program items, both of them in their own 45-minute slots.

The other problem with it was that he clearly wanted to show us stuff, but he didn’t have a PowerPoint presentation prepared, so what he did was open up Word and type what he was speaking as he went. This, in different circumstances, might have worked. However, the laptop, being the convention’s laptop, had a Finnish keyboard. It isn’t all that different from an American one, but sufficiently so to render anything typed with the muscle memory of an American keyboard illegible.

I also later met Mr. Petersen at a kaffeeklatch event, but I arrived late and the meeting was cut short, and the encounter was far too brief. I missed the rest of his program items, but I am told that the game session he ran was superb.

I also saw Ville Vuorela’s talk about Stalker and the future of the franchise, which was an interesting overview of the state of the Stalker intellectual property and what the future might bring (apparently, the most requested accessory to the game is an Institute sourcebook). Unfortunately, I also continued my tradition of nodding off during Ville’s presentations. Conventions can be wearying.

Overall, it was a good convention. Met people, ran games, saw games being run. Tracon is shaping up to be a fine roleplaying game convention, and especially Sami Koponen and the Games on Demand team did excellent work. I’ve said it before and I will say it again; as a recruitment venue for the hobby, Tracon is a goldmine, if we can only figure out the way to really reach the masses.

Of course, there are things that can be fixed. The game room proved too small and should be joined next year by the adjacent one. The sign-up sheets were too small and not marked out very well. The online game schedule never included detailed scheduling for Pathfinder Society games. These, however, are minor issues and can easily be fixed next year. I have great faith in their RPG admin, Stefan Sauerland (as I should, seeing as he’s not only a former player of mine going way back to Living Greyhawk, but also a former RPG desk staffer from Ropecon), who stepped into the boots this year. Additionally, I’ve promised to offer my services as a consultant. If the trend observed here continues, Tracon 2013 will be a fine gaming convention.

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