Some Observations on the Pathfinder Playtest

Now that I’ve had a chance to engage with the playtest materials for Pathfinder 2E, I have some vague and preliminary thoughts.

First of all, this is what a playtest looks like. We’re not just given playtest rules to flail around with aimlessly like we were back for the first edition. There’s a set of playtest adventures, both for Pathfinder Society and in the campaign Doomsday Dawn, that have been written with specific playtest goals in mind. For each adventure, there’s a questionnaire to fill out. It’s all tickboxes and sliders, which means the threshold for filling it out is low, and the output is going to be raw numbers data for some statistics-minded person to sift through. Very useful, when there’s enough of it.

I’ve participated in quite a few playtests over the years and this is I think the first open playtest that didn’t feel like I was primarily participating in a marketing stunt. Also, the feedback is being listened to and the rules document is a work in progress. We’re already up to version 1.2.

There’s also a playtest forum for expressing views that are more nuanced than “on the scale of 1-5, how challenging was this combat encounter”. It is fortunately moderated quite aggressively but I think it could use a bit more of an iron fist.

My personal play experience with the playtest thus far consists of playing The Rose Street Revenge, and running Raiders of the Shrieking Peak twice and “The Lost Star”, first part of Doomsday Dawn, once.

That first one got played on livestream at Tracon. Finnish only, but here it is, if you want to see people muddle through an unfamiliar rules system for seven hours.

I think that the current version of the game rules runs more or less smoothly, but there are a couple of sticking points, both apparently because they’re fixing known issues in first edition but they’re not quite there yet. The first of these is the rule for dying, which is complicated and not very intuitive even after they rewrote it in the newest update. It removes negative hit points and makes dying an process of incremental Fortitude saves. This is most likely in order to do away with the nonsensical situation where it’s sometimes preferable for your character to go down into low negative hit points than stay standing with a couple of hp left after an enemy attack, because then the character remains an active combatant, will be attacked again, and is much more likely to die from that attack.

The other one is resonance, a resource that’s governing the use of magic items, evidently to avoid the trope of the christmas tree character, as well as beating everyone to full hp with a wand of cure light wounds after every fight. Making healing rarer but giving characters more hit points might be a good direction to go, but resonance as it currently exists isn’t working. Then, we’re going to see a reworked version sooner rather than later.

As for the adventures themselves, both Raiders of the Shrieking Peak and “The Lost Star” were really short. Raiders ran for three hours the first time and two hours the second, and “The Lost Star” we got through in around two and a half. Neither is particularly impressive as an example of the craft, but that’s not what they’re trying to be. They’re good for a fun game, and Raiders of the Shrieking Peak is excellent for trotting out every cow-related pun you can come up with.

In Doomsday Dawn, I’m especially a fan of how each part ties in with a Pathfinder adventure path. I’ve run a few of them and hope to bring in a few old players for the relevant parts.

As for the other big changes… I’m ambivalent on the inclusion of the goblin ancestry, I think switching from “race” to “ancestry” is a good idea both because it easier facilitates the separation of cultural aspects of the rules package from the physical features, and because “race” has some unfortunate connotations, not to mention translating really poorly. In Finnish, the word is “rotu”, and if you use that outside of a fantasy role-playing context and aren’t referring to a breed of domestic animal, you will sound like a 1930s eugenicist who will now proceed to take measurements of the listener’s skull. That’s not a good look.

Another interesting thing I haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore in depth is the collapsing of multiclasses and prestige classes into the archetype system. I vastly prefer the archetype system over prestige classes and am wholeheartedly in favour of this change, as long as retraining rules are also included in the core (which they are). Multiclassing I am not so sure of, and I’ll want to give it a whirl before passing judgment.

Further thoughts as they develop.

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My Finncon Program

Convention season is upon us!

Well, it’s been upon us for over a month now. However, Finncon is this weekend in Turku. It’s the major sci-fi convention in Finland on years when we don’t all do irresponsible things with our personal schedules and run a Worldcon. Finncon’s got awesome guests of honour, the authors Lauren Beukes and Maria Turtschaninoff, and the academic GoH Merja Polvinen.

Because I’m bad at saying no and panels are easy, I’m on a bunch of things this year.

Saturday

  • 12:00-12:45: Namedroppauspaneeli (or, The Name Dropping Panel): Wherein I moderate and Nina Niskanen, Marianna Leikomaa, Sari Polvinen, and Leila Paananen tell you what English-language sci-fi and fantasy you should be reading right now. Ostensibly in Finnish but the notes I’ll be putting up during the panel will be in English.
  • 13.00-13.45: SF and Fantasy in Musical Theater: How do science fiction, fantasy and horror translate into musicals? Hamilton’s been all the rage recently, but surely there are other examples of SF musical theater as well? A presentation by Marianna Leikomaa, Sari Polvinen, and Jukka Särkijärvi.
  • 14.00-14.45: Kirja tulee kirjan luo: Wherein Shimo Suntila moderates and Jukka Särkijärvi, Sari Polvinen and Boris Hurtta discuss the ways and means of book collecting. I swear, I’m by far the newbie on that panel and I have around 3,500 titles. Only in Finnish.
  • 16.00-16.45: The Masquerade: A playful masquerade show that I host, as is tradition. Bilingual. Signup is still open. The award ceremony is at 21:00 at the Koulu restaurant.

On Saturday evening, starting at 19:00 at Koulu, there’s also the collective release party for a total of six different sci-fi, fantasy, and horror titles. I have a short story coming out in the anthology Valitut, which is nice.

Sunday

  • 13.00-14.45: The Hugo Panel: The panelists talk about this year’s Hugo finalists: what’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly. Have the recent changes in the Hugo nominating process had an impact on what makes it to the final list? Sini Neuvonen, Marianna Leikomaa, Tommy Persson and Jukka Särkijärvi.

Come and see us talk smart things! Come and say hi! Or not, no pressure!

Ropecon in two weeks!

Knutpunkt 2018, a Report

I spent last week at Knutpunkt 2018, the newest incarnation of the Nordic larp conference, this year in Sweden. The Week in Sweden pre-event programming happened in Malmö, while the conference itself took place in the nearby town of Lund.

The Week in Sweden this year was light on stuff other than larp, so apart from the Nordic Larp Talks I spent my time mostly in non-larper company I knew in town, when I wasn’t doing touristy stuff or recording episodes of the LOKI vlog. It was my first foray into video blogging – a short daily video talking about what was up and an interview of whoever didn’t run away fast enough. There were a couple of other people I wanted to interview, but because the whole thing was very much unplanned, quick and dirty, that was not to be. The videos are mostly in Finnish, though the interviews in episodes two, three, and four are in English.

The Nordic Larp Talks, though… that was when I got properly into the KP mentality again. This was my fourth KP, and the event remains unlike any other gaming event I regularly participate in. While it’s not always a serious event, it always takes larp seriously, as art, as a game, as a vehicle for self-expression, as a political statement, as a research subject.

The NLT is a series of short talks, not entirely unlike TED Talks in style, that explore the topic of larp from a variety of perspectives – theory, practice, “here’s a cool thing we did and what we learned”, social issues. Fortunately, the video team was on the ball this year and the edited videos are already on YouTube, so I won’t have to rely on my imperfect human memory to summarize complicated, complex, and important topics. Here’s the first of the fourteen.

I do, of course, recommend them all, but if you’re pressed for time, go for Evan Torner’s “Emergence in Larp” for the entertaining, Jonaya Kemper’s “The Good, the Bad, & the Internalized: Searching for Self Liberation in Conscience for the thought-provoking, and Maria Pettersson’s “Larping in the Political Heart of Europe” for the sheer mind-boggling wow factor. In the week before KP, they also managed to upload last year’s Nordic Larp Talks from Oslo, which are also well worth checking out.

After the Talks, it was time for bed (okay, we hit the bar first) and in the morning we drove to the hotel in Lund, where the event proper could start. One of the first things at the opening ceremony was the declaration that this Knutpunkt is an intersectional feminist conference, which warmed my heart. Also, the meals defaulted to vegetarian. Meat was an option, but it was considered a special diet. The scene is outspoken and political. They’re more or less my politics, which is one of the reasons I feel so at home there. It is not a monolith and the conversation is always ongoing.

One of the things that’s usually been a part of the Talks but wasn’t this year – wasn’t a program item at all that I noticed – was the book release. There’s a book released each year as a companion for the conference. I think this is an important part of the tradition, and as a bibliophile and one of the editors of the 2016 books I noticed this. This year’s book, Shuffling the Deck, was released primarily as an electronic work, a series of articles on the Nordiclarp.org wiki. The print-on-demand version from Lulu is pretty affordable as long as you don’t want it in colour, though. There’s also a PDF download, but it appears to have printer-quality images, which means it’s 286 Mb. My download’s been running through the past two paragraphs and there’s still a bit under 90 minutes to go. My preference would be to include the book in the price of the KP ticket, but I suppose that at 20€ including postage I can’t complain too much.

There was also a pay-what-you-want book table since a Danish outfit was clearing out storage space. I grabbed a few older KP companions, a few larp documentation works I’d had my eye on, and what turned out to be a children’s larp book in Danish and Greenlandic, which was pretty cool. I didn’t have a book in Greenlandic yet.

I find it difficult to write about the talks and panels of Knutpunkt. It’s partially because they tend to not be very simple and trying to articulate someone else’s fairly advanced thinking a week after the fact while doing it justice is an intimidating prospect. It’s also partially because one of the items I saw had the clause that there was to be no recording or tweeting from it due to the private nature of the subject matter (nothing dirty, you perverts). It’s partially because most of the best content of KP for me was outside of the programming, in the random encounters over lunch, at room parties, at lively moments of cultural sharing over a cup of tea.

Also, the most educational thing I saw was the Larpers of Colour panel, and that one was also recorded and uploaded on YouTube. There’s not much point in me telling about it if I can just show you.

Apart from being immensely educational on the experience of racialized players in larps and designing for inclusion, it also has the distinction of being a six-person panel that manages to dig properly into the topic from a variety of viewpoints while giving everyone enough talking time and staying coherent, and though I could’ve listened to this for another hour, it did not feel short. And none of the audience questions were horrible. Like, at every convention I’ve seen this panel topic, when you get to the audience questions there’s always gonna be That Guy speaking up for their right to be awful. Not so here.

And there’s KP’s strength. There’s a willingness to learn, an understanding of when to shut up and let others talk, the basic assumption that everyone means well even if they come from a different culture – and though it’s a Nordic conference, this time we had people from 27 countries. It’s a warm, friendly and welcoming community as long as you play by the rules, and the rules aren’t hard.

Next year, Denmark.

 

Stuff I’ve Been Up To: Sharks in Water Elementals

I haven’t been writing here a lot lately. The reason, as I around a year ago mentioned, is that I’m writing craploads in a lot of other places. While you wait for me to finish the report from Knutpunkt where I spent last weekend, here’s a selection of links to other games things I’ve written.

The post title is a bit of a clickbait maybe, since while I did write a long article studying the infamous cartoon about a shark summoned within a water elemental and what it means from the point of view of marine biology, the historical theory of magic, and the rules of the game, it’s only in Finnish. It’s on LOKI, along with another text of mine written since I did this last time.

There’s also a bunch of new things on PlayLab!:

Plus some research highlights based on other people’s texts, “Dungeons & Dragons & Deleuze”, based on a paper by Curtis Carbonell; and “The Hegemonic Masculinity of Rules Lawyering”, based on a paper by Steven Dashiell.

There’s also some reviews based on games played with me, and they’re pretty nifty as well, so here’s Markku Vesa’s Battle of the Reds and the Whites in Finland 1918 Review”, Aleksi Kesseli’s Arkham Horror Review”, and Elisa Wiik’s Finnish-language review Tales from the Loop – roolipeli teknofuturistisesta 80-luvusta”.

And then there’s that Chernobyl Mon Amour crowdfunding campaign still going on. In addition, I’m working with Jaakko Stenros on a book about role-playing games called Roolipelimaa, out sometime in the autumn.

And running Ropecon! Ropecon season is upon us once again, and the call for program is open. This time around we’re also doing an academic seminar on Friday on the theme of intersections in games. The call for abstracts is out, and will be until April 4th.

Chernobyl Mon Amour Crowdfunding

Just surfacing from a ten-day larp conference trip to note that Chernobyl Mon Amour is up on the IndieGogo crowdfunding platform. This is the English-language edition of Juhana Pettersson’s role-playing game Tšernobyl, rakastettuni. I did the translation.

The project has already reached its funding goal and there are no stretch goals to meet, but there’s still 16 days left on the clock.

It was an interesting work to translate since unlike most role-playing games, Chernobyl Mon Amour contains basically no rules mechanics. It’s as freeform as they come. It’s a game about former criminals building new lives and finding romance in the outlaw society of the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation. It’s like no game I have seen before. To quote the crowdfunding page:

In Chernobyl, Mon Amour you play a Ukrainian criminal who flees the long arm of the law to the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation. The concept is based on a Ukrainian folk story about a criminal who fled to the Zone and became so radioactive that the authorities had to leave him there.

You know that there is no return from the Zone. Your crimes are such that society will no longer accept you, and the only thing you have left is the possibility of a new life in the radioactive forest. As you settle into the Zone and meet its inhabitants, you start to yearn for something more. You want love.

Playing out these love stories amidst a radioactive society of criminals is the core experience of Chernobyl, Mon Amour.

Go get it!

Pathfinder 2E Announced

It’s the moment many dreaded, few lied to themselves would never come, and I guessed was soon to come when Starfinder came out. Paizo Publishing announced the second edition of Pathfinder. It’s to come out at Gen Con next year, preceded by a public playtest period.

For historical reasons, Pathfinder fans have a complicated relationship with new editions. The entire game exists primarily because Wizards of the Coast screwed up with the release of D&D 4E – and regardless of what you think of the game itself, how it was rolled out was a farce. There’s also the unfortunate tendency of online gamer communities reacting to the announcement of a new edition like a small tribe of invincible Gauls, convinced that the sky is falling and reacting by punching everything.

I’m not saying I haven’t been guilty of that, but it’s been ten years since I fought in the D&D 4E flamewars. I’m too old for that shit. I’d rather get worked up about a real problem.

Also, the game’s been around for ten years. Few role-playing games go as long without a new edition. Though Pathfinder fixed a lot of the issues of D&D 3E, it was still weighed down by the need to be backwards-compatible. As early as 2011, Erik Mona mentioned at Ropecon how he’d have liked to go further with the changes.

I’m also rather optimistic that Paizo remembers why Pathfinder exists and will maybe not screw this up. I’m optimistic that what they’ll deliver is going to be a better game that runs smoother whose math still holds up at higher levels.

It’s also nice that they’re dropping the word “race” and going with “ancestry”. I’ve been wondering when a major RPG would do that.

They’re doing the same thing they did with the original Pathfinder, and releasing the playtest rulesets as print books as well as free PDFs. The deluxe collector’s edition playtest rulebook may be overdoing it a bit but hey, nobody’s forcing you to buy it.

We don’t yet know a whole lot about what the game will eventually be like, but here’s Paizo’s FAQ on the topic and a Glass Cannon podcast where Jason Bulmahn runs Crypt of the Everflame that he’s converting to 2E on the fly.

Meanwhile, EN World is once again shouldering its age-old mission of informing the masses, and has opened an info wiki compiling and sourcing what is definitely known. In the months to come, this and Paizo’s blogs will be my go-to source for data. What some dude howls on Twitter or asserts on Facebook may be anything between actual fact and deliberate misinformation, and we’ve seen how anger and confusion rise out of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Stay informed.

My Ropecon Schedule

Ropecon is just around the corner! Like, starting this Friday.

As usual, I’m busy expounding my opinions on all kinds of things. The programme’s been out for a while now, and I’m personally appearing on the following three items.

Friday, 21:00-22:00: All the mistakes we’ve made
Massi and her fantastic guest speakers share their strangest, most magnificent and just plain disastrous mistakes in the name of designing more or less great games and events. By sharing our mistakes we all learn that failing is not the same as being a failure, it is part of designing. Let’s learn from our mistakes and laugh the shame away together!

Saturday, 14:00-15:00: Translating Role-Playing Games
A role-playing game translator tells about his work, his process, and the challenges therein. Expect strange linguistic trivia and wild anecdotes. Jukka Särkijärvi has translated Stalker, Astraterra, and Chernobyl Mon Amour into English and The Whispering Road into Finnish.

Saturday, 22:00-04:00: Hunter: The Vigil – Doubting Souls
Guest of Honor Monica Valentinelli leads a team of players through a one shot campaign. Join them to see if their characters survive the hardships of the 17th century. “In 1690, violent clashes, supernatural beliefs, and demonic influences spelled disaster for Salem Village and its surrounding towns, while others fought werewolves and vampires on the frontier. With so much at risk, only god-fearing men and women were deemed innocent — and those were few indeed. You play a hunter in these dark times, forced to question your fellow villagers to discern friend from foe and bring them to justice the way hunters know how.”

There’s a load of other cool stuff on offer, but here are a few I’ve marked down for myself and will probably miss because I’m too busy catching up with friends.

Friday, 18:00-19:00: White Wolf – The Evolution of Monsters
Vampire: The Masquerade was built on a combination of the classic Gothic vampire novel and the late 80’s / early 90’s literary ”punk” trend of injecting irreverent perspectives and socially conscious social analysis into stale fiction genres. But there is so much more to say. How does Vampires imagining of the undead, werewolves and monsters differ from those of legend and literary analysis? How far have literature and games strayed from their literary and legendary sources of inspiration and have they lost something along the way? This talk also includes hints on the direction we have mapped out for the monsters of the World of Darkness as they face the tumultuous changes of the 21st century.

Saturday, 20:00-21:00: A Talk of Darkness
Come and join Guest of Honor Monica Valentinelli and operations director Matt M McElroy from Onyx Path, as they meet up with WhiteWolf lead storyteller Martin Ericsson and game designer Juhana Petterson, for a talk about the world in which all of their careers entwine: The World of Darkness. The game industry and storyteller veterans talk about their love for the lore and share war stories from their respective careers. The talk is moderated by renown cosmologist, writer and role playing enthusiast Syksy Räsänen.

Sunday, 9:00-10:00: Adaptation to Larp
How can you adapt existing works of art into the format of a larp? Works like books, plays or music? Are there different strategies for different media, and what have been done so far? What happens when the beautiful predefined story meets the freedom, interaction and participation of larp? I will discuss works such as Inside Hamlet, A Nice Evening with the Family, College of Wizardry, MacBeth, Love stories by ABBA and the Jane Austen larp Fortune & Felicity.

What’s up in the world? Award things, larp in Palestine, Sotakarjut!

The award season is upon us!

In addition to the Diana Jones shortlist I mentioned earlier, we now also have ENnie shortlists. First of all, I would like to note that Broodmother Sky Fortress, for whose PDF version I wrote Pathfinder RPG stats, picked up one of the Judges’ Spotlight awards. I’m pretty sure the win has jack to do with the PF stats, and everything to do with Jeff Rients’s insane visions, Ian MacLean’s art, and Jim Raggi’s uncompromising attitude toward quality. So, congratulations to Jeff! It was fun to write for!

Lamentations of the Flame Princess has a strong selection of stuff up for vote. Other things to look out for are 7th Sea’s second edition rules, and Free League’s Tales from the Loop. If that one doesn’t win Best Interior Art, there’s something wrong with the world. Voting for the ENnies runs from July 11th through 21st.

Also, it’s now nine days until the voting for the Hugo Awards closes, and I need to read one book per day to make it. Doable. It’s open only for Worldcon members, but there’s still time to pick up a membership, download the voters’ packet of something ridiculous like 30 books this year and lament about how you have to eat and sleep and work and can’t just read all day and night.

In other news, Sotakarjut is finally out. It’s Miska Fredman’s military sci-fi role-playing game about human/pig hybrids with Hans Zenjuga’s gorgeous, atmospheric artwork. It’s a bit of Revelation Space, a bit of Starship Troopers, a hint of 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars, a smidge of Aliens. I playtested it a long time ago. The system is very crunchy and looks fairly robust. Of course, at this point in time, it’s only available in Finnish. Now that it’s out, the next edition of Astraterra and the wrap on its English translation are next on the slab.

And finally, a group of Palestinian larp organizers are raising funds to take their organization to the next level, develop their practices and to be able to do more. The group includes people who ran Halat hisar in Finland, and they are doing impressive and important work in an area of the world that needs it. I threw them a bit of money, and you should consider doing the same.

College of Wizardry: The Challenge

Last month, a couple of weeks before embarking on my trip to play Cabaret, I was at a very different larp, in Poland. Some of you may remember my exploits at College of Wizardry 10 last year. This was more of the same, with a twist. Whereas most College of Wizardry games are about the beginning of the term at the magic college – or in some cases, the midterm exams – The Challenge lifted its concept from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Three colleges of wizardry had been invited to test their mettle against one another, to foster cross-cultural cooperation, and engage in hijinks, shenanigans, and skulduggery.

One of the photosets for The Challenge was released the evening before Cabaret. Talk about tonal whiplash.

The Red Trio, being totally serious. Photo by Iulian Dinu / Dziobak Larp Studios.

The three colleges were the Czocha College of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the setting of the main College of Wizardry games, Nibelungen Universität für Magische Bildung und Studien (or NIMBUS among friends), the school for the German-language spinoff, and New World Magischola, the North American college from the larp series of the same name. NIMBUS was the host school and the game was played at the Kliczków Castle in Poland. NIMBUS itself is located in an indeterminate place but probably somewhere in the Harz Mountains of Germany. The colleges all have five different Houses for students, but there is variation in the paths of the students and the subjects taught.

This was the first run of The Challenge. While my CoW experience was the tenth run of the series and there was a certain routine to the proceedings, this one hadn’t been tested out yet. I see myself as a fairly ideal player for a first run of something like this, because I will let a lot of stuff slide before allowing it to impact my game, and it takes a lot to stress me out. Not that a lot of the design issues were even visible to me until after the game. The Challenge was a good game and a great experience, but there’s work to be done yet.

Voodoo and Top Hats

This is where I talk about my character. I’m still not gonna buy you a drink.

My character this time around was Étienne Rabasse, a third-year artificier from Lakay Laveau, one of the houses of New World Magischola. I figured that this was pretty much my only chance for a very long time to get to play a NWM student, so I went for it.

Étienne Rabasse and distant cousin Dárjá Rosenrot, played by my mother. Photo by Iulian Dinu / Dziobak Larp Studios.

I’d originally signed up for an organizer-written character, but especially the NWM writing team took their time, the majority of players had chosen to write their own characters, and the fairly recognizable popcultural touchstones of Lakay Laveau had started working in my mind, so I finally mailed the lead writer that I’d be creating my own character.

Lakay Laveau is named after its founder Marie Laveau, an actual historical person, who was known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. So I did some reading on New Orleans and the relevant history. Learning from my experience at CoW10, I went for something more outgoing, vocal, and outspoken than Charles Duke had been. I decided Étienne would be more or less a nice person and entirely unconcerned with anyone’s blood status, partly because I knew I’d get enough of that particular theme at Cabaret. He ended up rather what I imagine to be the archetypical Lakay Laveau.

Among my prep, I also put in a lot of hours working on an accent for Étienne, using YouTube videos. I have a knack for accents, but they’re hard. I usually affect a British Received Pronunciation, sometimes Standard American English. Étienne, though, was from the South, and not only the South, from New Orleans, which has a very specific local accent.

It’s also hideously difficult. I don’t know what the specific process for learning an accent is for actors, but at least they get to practice their lines beforehand. To pull off an accent at a larp, you need to be able to dress it on whatever topics emerge in conversation. Dialects are even harder, because you need to be able to use words outside your own active vocabulary spontaneously. Étienne, in the end, spoke with a generic Southern accent that I’m pretty sure hit most states south of the Mason-Dixon at one point or another. No “y’alls”, some French but less than I had planned.

Meet the Press

The regular College of Wizardry has its student clubs – the A.R.M., the W.A.N.D., the Basement Beer Brigade, the Dueling Club, and whatnot. The Challenge had just three: Marconi’s Mumbling Masters, the Devil’s Dealers, and the Snifflers. The first was the radio and the announcers, the second was the bookies and black marketers, and the last one was the staff of The Challenge Chronicle newspaper. Every student was sorted into one of these.

We originally agreed on an editorial triumvirate, with one editor from each school. Étienne was the NWM editor, and I ended up doing most of the work on the paper. If the concept was to produce a newspaper during the Challenge, well, isn’t that the same as a conzine? The execution was simple. I brought in my laptop that I’d prepared with a user account for the Snifflers that would keep anyone away from basically anything that wasn’t the Chronicle’s files. It was always on with the layout file for the next issue open, so anyone on staff – or hell, outside of it but that never happened – could wander in and type up a story at their leisure. At certain times I’d have the accumulated stuff printed out at the GM room – one page, sometimes two.

Spectating the duels. Photo by Ewan Munro.

I ended up doing most of the work. This is not an indictment of anyone else. It’s a big game, there’s lots of stuff going on, challenges and personal plotlines and everything, and it takes a certain mentality to go in the middle of the game to a quiet room and make up a column’s worth of stuff. Especially if English is not one’s first language. Me, I think this is fun, and it also served as character content when Étienne ceased to be a neutral and objective observer and took a political position after a public execution.

We did have a selection of filler material created before the game, but in the end none of it was used and everything that got printed was written during play. There was no shortage of interesting stuff to report on.

As a side note, the issue criticizing the execution was out within the hour. I’m a bit proud of that. Also, “I need to get the morning issue printed” was an excellent justification for getting a hall pass and wandering around after curfew. And if I mentioned in my CoW10 writeup that I wrote more stuff than during actual college courses, I’m pretty sure I outdid my output here.

The issues of The Challenge Chronicle, which are probably not interesting to anyone who wasn’t at the game, are available for download.

The Game Itself

I’m not going to go into a detailed account of everything. The game had something like 140 players, so there was a lot going on pretty much at all times. There were the obligatory rituals at night (we did one at the gazebo! it was awesome!), and werewolves, and vampires, and there was a lot of duelling, and drama, and the most mind-boggling wedding. One of my few regrets is that I didn’t have the time to cover it for The Challenge Chronicle.

And then there was the core of the thing, the actual challenges, the tasks we were given. The game of it. The winning.

In classic CoW, there is of course the House Cup and the race for House Points, but it’s not the main goal of the game, or at least doesn’t need to be. It’s perfectly legitimate not to give a damn about points and do your thing, deductions be damned. You can play to lose. In The Challenge, there’s less alibi for that since the characters are there as the school team, the students picked for their skill, talent, motivation or mystical and hard-to-define protagonistiness to represent their alma mater. When you’re there for the tournament, it’s hard to not care about the tournament.

So, playing to lose gets harder to justify to the character, and to the game. You play to win. This is something I feel should be reflected in the design of the challenges.

For the record, I have no knowledge of how the challenges were designed. Some of them were created by the organizers and most by the staff players. Most of the challenges worked well for me and I had great fun.

The duellist Daniel Fabel. Étienne was a fan. Photo by Ewan Munro.

There were a couple of places, though, where I felt that the rule that the target or recipient of a spell gets to decide its effect intersected badly with the goal to win, and the situation looked like the player of an opposing school had the opportunity to screw you over for points. I am merely commenting on the optics of the situation, not that anyone would have consciously done so. It was especially troublesome when the spell isn’t simple, like an attack spell – reacting to breakaleggio in the appropriate manner is easy. The duelling challenge worked fine and was a great show besides. However, dropping into a complex emotional situation is really hard, and while I do have trust in the judge players, it was not obvious or transparent how the challenge was scored.

Mostly, though? Great fun. There were ball games, in and out of the swimming pool! There was a scavenger hunt! There were riddles (which I sucked at)! There were a number of ethical challenges, and one about wandmaking, and one about potion mixing.

Incidentally, the House Cup also made an appearance at The Challenge. Since there were a total of fifteen Houses present and giving each one a common room of their own would have been silly, they were lumped up into five Trios, with one House from each school, who then acted as one to score points in the Collaboration Cup.

Conclusions

Yeah, I had fun. Now at my second CoW, I had a far better idea of how to play to catch plotlines and get into cool things. Yeah, I would go again, especially since of all the castles Dziobak Larp Studios uses, this is by far the shortest trip for me. There were some design issues, but nothing game-ruining and nothing that wasn’t fixable. The food was good, from the point of view of someone with no dietary limitations. I would also like to see how The Challenge would work with the over 200 players it was designed for.

Doing the newspaper was interesting. It’s something I would be interested in revisiting in larp, either at a CoW game or somewhere else entirely. I may pitch an article on the topic for next year’s Knutebook.

Oh, and I also discovered how to get the photographer’s attention: wear a cool hat.

Photo by Iulian Dinu / Dziobak Larp Studios.

Stuff I’ve Been Up To: PlayLab! Magazine

One of the reasons it’s been quiet over here at the Worlds in a Handful of Dice is that my writing energies have been directed elsewhere. I completed a rather large creative writing module at the university over the past two years, I have been doing some translation work, and then there’s a thing I can actually link you. Well, quite a few things, really.

These past two semesters, I was involved with PlayLab!, the webzine from the game researchers at the University of Tampere. It’s a game journalism course, basically, where the texts are peer-reviewed. I did nine pieces in total, and if PlayLab! returns next semester, I may be back. Here’s my stuff:

I also wrote three research highlight pieces, where we took a game studies paper from a recent publication and wrote a popularized version of the text. These are my own words, but not my own thoughts:

Also, the Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of review by Markku Vesa and Vampire: The Masquerade review by Aleksi Kesseli are based on game sessions that I ran.

And last but not least, we did a collaboration article where each of us listed their favourite game from 2016, PlayLab! Best Games of 2016. My pick was the Vampire larp End of the Line, which was also recently nominated for the Diana Jones Award.