Bcon, Barcelona

A while back, I had the delight to visit Bcon, in sunny Barcelona.

Predictably, the day after we left for Spain, where it was still t-shirt weather despite all the locals wearing parkas and shivering, the Stark words came true and two inches of snow got dumped on Helsinki. Coming back was a bit of a shock.

The convention was three days long, and the roster of guests of honour was most respectable: Johanna Sinisalo, Richard Morgan, Andrzej Sapkowski, Aliette de Bodard, Rhianna Pratchett, as well as the unknown-to-me Péter Michaleczky, Enrique Corominas, and Rosa Montero.

My Spanish is just about sufficient for basic survival and my Catalan is nonexistent, but fortunately a lot of the program was English and everyone I needed to have an actual conversation with spoke good English, both within the convention and outside it in the city.

The convention’s “main area” was the dealer’s room, which featured a bar as well as the local vendor Gigamesh peddling off stuff that was apparently taking up inconvenient storage space at prices which could only be lower if they had been paying me to take the books away.

My convention experience, as is usual, was rather coloured by occupying the Worldcon 75 table. I did have time to catch a few program items, such as “The Failures of Futurology”, a discussion of what we failed to predict. There’s apparently a largish passenger airplane in existence whose in-flight entertainment system is hooked up to the internet through a satellite link, and shares hardware with the computers that actually keep the plane in the air, which is so remarkably short-sighted I’m not sure it works even as a technothriller plot point. There was also reminiscing about the late Stanislaw Lem, a worldbuilding panel where Andrzej Sapkowski made a splash at the start by declaring the whole endeavour pointless, and other interesting things.

But don’t take my word for it. Impressively, they streamed the whole convention program and it is now available on YouTube.

Apart from the above, I recommend Political SF, as well as anything with Adam Roberts, Richard Morgan, Johanna Sinisalo, Charles Stross, or Aliette de Bodard.

Another cool thing was an English-language edition of the Polish fanzine Smokopolis, with short fiction and a history of the Polish role-playing scene. It was later made available as a free download.

Barcelona itself is a beautiful city, and I recommend it as a travel destination. For the geek, there’s the science fiction and gaming store Gigamesh and its sister shops in the same city block. It is also an old city, and a sense of history and oldness oozes from the cobblestones in the older quarters of the city, a warren of streets and alleys it’s easy to get lost in and inspired by. On the newer side of things, there are the truly outlandish Gaudí buildings, such as the cathedral Sagrada Família, a work in progress since 1882, and Casa Batlló, or “the House of Bones” as it’s also known. Gaudí’s dreamlike architecture unlike anything I have seen in that scale. It feels like something from Sigil or Tanelorn or Amber instead of the real world.

I have traveled much this year. While Bcon may not have been my favourite trip of many, many rewarding wanderings, Barcelona has become one of my favourite cities.

I mean, look at this thing. Casa Batlló, photo by Wikipedia user Amadalvarez, CC BY-SA 3.0

I mean, look at this thing. Casa Batlló, photo by Wikipedia user Amadalvarez, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

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Ropecon 2016, or, “I’m taking this year easy.”

We had a Ropecon again last weekend! Woo!

As my sole reader from last year will remember, the convention had to finally depart, after 18 beautiful years, the non-Euclidean fever dream that was the Dipoli Conference Centre. We found expansive new digs at the Helsinki Fair Centre, which, if nothing else, would have room for us to grow. There’s a new conference wing that suits convention style programming well, and big, huge exhibition halls where we placed the miniature gamers, card gamers, the dealers’ room, the boffer fighting, the archery range, and the wrestling show. Those all fit into a single hall. I’ve been in smaller aeroplane hangars. For the first time in my recollection, the dealers’ room was not cramped.

We all wondered if Ropecon can make the transition or if it would be disfigured by the barren expo halls. I think it survived just fine. Some things changed – the green parks of Otaniemi have been replaced by the office park that is Pasila – while others remained the same. While the card gamers finally have enough oxygen, the air quality in the tabletop gaming rooms was as musty as ever.

Our guests of honour this year were the excellent Ross Watson, whom I’d met before at Tracon 2013, and the rock star Claus Raasted, who was originally a Ropecon guest of honour ten years ago but since then pretty much changed the face of larp so we figured we could have him back.

I keep saying “we”. I haven’t had an official position at Ropecon for some years now, but old habits die hard. Like the habit of Ropecon veterans of asking me to do “just this one small thing”, which is how I wound up on two different awards juries this year. I assume it’s punishment for my admittedly smug advertising of how I’ve kept my duties light.

The first thing on my plate was a Pathfinder Society scenario on Friday, #7-22 Bid for Alabastrine. It was my kind of scenario, in that it required the PCs to be proactive in attaining their goals and was designed for solutions other than killing everyone. Actually, killing everyone would be a Bad Thing and probably not possible. I also liked how as a social scenario with as little combat as possible, it still left the barbarians and other heavy hitters something to do. The game went well, running only a hair under the four-hour time slot, with a crew of three beginner players and one more experienced one.

My Saturday morning program item was “Game Novel Then and Now”, a two-hour look into the history and meaning of role-playing game tie-in novels. It ties in with an article series I wrote for the Loki blog a couple of years back as well as my MA thesis. Game novels are a fascinating topic that basically nobody writes about, the Scribe Awards habitually overlook, and academia barely acknowledges. I’ve been delving deep into the weirdness of late, and brought back things of great interest, some of which I’ll post about soon.

Finally, on Sunday, I had a presentation with Miska Fredman about the English translation of Astraterra. The translation is more or less done and we should have the IndieGoGo campaign up and running in the near future.

Typically of me, with a full plate of programming, I didn’t actually get to see much. The things I did see were the postmortem of Solmukohta 2016 – went reasonably well, we learned a great many things, larpers can be difficult customers – and the first half of the vaunted Pokémon musical. The costuming was top-notch.

As for the rest of the con, some things went well, some did not. The poor availability of food has been discussed elsewhere to exhaustion already – of the something like 22 restaurants in the Fair Centre, a total of five were open during the con, and only the burger joint and the prohibitively expensive hotel restaurant (also the only place serving alcohol) were open beyond lunch hours. This was apparently due to the company running the show colossally misunderstanding the demographics of Ropecon, which I think is a bit rich at a venue that hosts conferences, conventions, expos and fairs of every type.

Anoher thing I thought could’ve been done better was the ticket queues before the con opened. We could’ve done with opening another one or two ticket counters to shorten the lines. This, though, was mostly a bit clumsy. For proper failure, look at Rio Olympics.

Overall, though, it was a good convention. The criticisms are things that stick out because they didn’t work, while the capable work often goes unnoticed because smooth running does not draw attention to itself. Despite the move, despite the loss of the green spaces and the non-Euclidean architecture, it still felt like Ropecon. Ropecon is more than just the walls at weird angles and though they housed us well, the soul of the event is in the people, and the people came. It was home.

Sasquan: Not a Convention Report

Well, this report has been some time in the writing. Jetlag kicked my ass and it’s stayed kicked for a week and counting.

The other week, I was at Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, in Spokane, Washington.

My long-time reader may remember how in 2013, I worked on the Helsinki in 2015 bid that ultimately lost the site selection vote at LoneStarCon 3 (and if the previous sentence contains unfamiliar concepts to you such as “bid” and “site selection”, I recommend you go back and read the LoneStarCon report for the explanations). Well, this was it, and we were back.

This is not going to be much of a convention report, since I did not actually see much convention. The Helsinki 2017 bid owned me for the duration, so my time in the convention centre was spent behind and around our bid table, telling passersby about Helsinki, Finnish science fiction literature and fandom, and other stuff that was asked of me.

I think the strangest question I fielded was about the genes of Eero Mäntyranta.

My time at the parties was mostly spent cleaning up and tending bar, except for a short while on Friday night after dinner, before the news about site selection results broke. I was on my way to the Dublin in 2019 bid party, when I was waylaid by a member of the DC in 2017 bid committee, who started pumping my hand and offered his congratulations and condolences.

It’s like they say. Losing a Worldcon bid is horrible. Winning it is terrifying.

For my part, I am happy that this vote stood in stark contrast to the other one at this year’s Worldcon. The competition between the bids was friendly, clean, fair, and fun. My condolences to the other bid committees – I’ve been there. I know how it feels.

And now, they say, the hard work begins. I’ve travelled abroad three times for this thing already and I’m only middle management at best. I think it’s been pretty hard already. At least I get to keep to my own time zone for most of this.

I managed to witness precisely two program items: the Hugo Award Ceremony and the first twenty minutes of Saturday’s business meeting, where the site selection results, already public since the previous night, were officially ratified.

I was at the ceremony as the plus one of Hanna Hakkarainen, who was the designated acceptor should our friend Ninni Aalto win Best Fan Artist. This came complete with access to a slightly awkward pre-ceremony cocktail reception and a somewhat awkward Hugo Nominees’ Reception where I was talked at by a remarkably grumpy gentleman who had just lost a Campbell.

Oh, and the Hugo Losers’ Party. Which was awesome. George has the details.

The actual ceremony was excellent. It could have been as awkward as the events that bookended it, but it managed to be warm, positive, and funny. Though there were all kinds of glitches, David Gerrold and Tananarive Due kept the show going on and at no point did it lag. Likewise, Robert Silverberg and Connie Willis are fixtures of these ceremonies for a very good reason. There was song, there was dance, there was a Dalek, a man announced his presidential candidacy, a woman thanked the patriarchy, entertainment was had, and some rockets were actually given out.

Don’t take my word for it, watch the recording! The actual ceremony kicks off at around 1:06 in the second video.

For the record, I disagree with some of the results, mostly in that the Editor categories got nuked. However, I believe we have now seen exactly what voting slates are good for, so could we please dispense with them in the future?

The business meeting is also online. It is much less exciting, though watching Kevin Standlee do his thing is pleasant in the way that watching the work of someone utterly competent often is. Also, some of the debate-heavy parts, such as Sunday, cause my will to live ebb.

Next year, MidAmeriCon II. In 2017, Worldcon 75. See you there.

Hugo Neepery, the 2015 Edition

These past couple of posts I’ve been warning that I’ll be writing up a separate post discussing the Hugos this year. It’s a somewhat controversial topic this year. You may remember how last year we had some trouble with a few authors having an entitlement problem. Well, they’re back, and this time the lunatic fringe also showed up to the party.

The way the Hugo nomination process works is that if you have at least a supporting membership of an appropriate Worldcon, costing around $40, you get to nominate works for the Hugo ballot. Since the English-speaking world sees some 1,000 works published for the novel category alone each year and the field is very broad, ranging from fantasy of manners to hard military science fiction, the votes tend to spread out quite a bit. Because of this, were someone to write up a slate of nominations, which Brad Torgersen did and then Theodore Beale imitated and expanded upon, and tell all their friends and family and fans to vote on it, it would only take a couple of hundred warm bodies to have an effect. This is entirely legal by the rules, but tremendously unsportsmanlike.

So, we’re left with the end result that the majority of nominees on the ballot did not make it there on literary merit alone. Indeed, there are a number of works there entirely lacking in merit literary and otherwise. The short fiction categories and Best Related Work are a lost cause this year, and though there are a couple of works there that I thought were pretty decent, like Kary English’s “Totaled”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” (though last year’s “Ink Readers of Doi Saket” was much better) and one or two others, they’re still not quite what I’d think of as Hugo quality and the rest of the nominees are too weak for me to call it a contest. This is one of the more insidious things about slate voting. Even if there was something that would normally have a fighting chance on the ballot, the contest isn’t going to be fair if it’s accompanied there by stuff that’s merely okay or worse, and an award won in a category where the rest of the nominees are present only because Little Teddy wants to promote his vanity press is hollow. It’s a spectacularly shitty thing to do to writers who neither asked nor were asked to be on the slate.

Best Novella is particularly dire and contained nothing that I did not detest outright. I shall also single out John C. Wright’s Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and the Awful Truth as the worst book I have ever read, a nearly perfect intellectual, artistic, and moral failure.

That said, Best Novel has a lot of good stuff, and I think Best Graphic Story was the strongest it’s been in years.

My vote for Best Novel goes to Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, a novel about a fish out of water in a setting of courtly intrigue. It’s very much “Jane Austen’s The Lord of the Rings“. The prose is beautiful and the main character, Maia, is relatable to a degree that’s starting to feel manipulative. It’s sentimental and cozy, and somehow makes it work. It was also light in tone, which is a refreshing break from all the George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie I’ve been reading lately.

I also liked Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword and Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. Actually, Addison only edged out Leckie for first spot on my ballot because Leckie already won pretty much everything except the Pulitzer last year. Liu’s novel was interesting and a worthy successor to its models in the grand tradition of idea sci-fi, but the prose and characters felt flat to me. So sue me. I’m not a big fan of Clarke, Dick or Asimov either.

Jim Butcher’s Skin Game I can take or leave. I loved Cold Days, but this one just left me cold. I’ve been a fan of the series, and Butcher still writes eminently readable stuff. However, the focus on Dresden’s sexual frustration in this one was tremendously awkward to read, and the end resolution felt anticlimactic for all the stakes they had piled up. Also, the pop culture references went far over the top. Especially at the end.

Kevin J. Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars I found merely dull. It’s very long, has aliens with katanas, and is simultaneously the sequel to a long series that it assumes you’ve read and the start of a new series, so it sort of assumes that you know all this stuff already and the actual payoff is going to be delivered a few books down the line.

For Graphic Story, I’m giving it to Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery. I have been reading a lot of Order of the Stick and Nodwick lately, and Rat Queens draws from the same well, the genre of D&D fantasy, where adventurers are a profession unto itself and mysterious strangers hand out quests in taverns. All three comics play with the tropes of the game and the genre, but whereas Nodwick is just a loose collection of jokes and Order of the Stick is an epic fantasy tale layered with the trappings of a role-playing game, Rat Queens captures the actual play experience like nothing I have seen before. It deftly weaves together the absurdity of a casual gaming group with the ostensible seriousness of the adventures they have. It’s also too funny to be read in public while trying to maintain decorum. And the art is pretty.

After Rat Queens, there’s the third installment of Saga, the first trade paperback collection of Ms. Marvel, and the first volume of Sex Criminals, all of which I liked. There was also a zombie comic of some sort, but it was not included in the voter package, was off the Sad Puppy slate and is a zombie story, which together killed my interest and I could not even be bothered to dig it up.

Also, it is a crying shame that Sing No Evil was not on the ballot. Or The Causal Angel, or Memory of Water, or “The Truth About Owls”, or the Southern Reach Trilogy, or The Blood of Angels, or Only Lovers Left Alive, or What Makes This Book So Great, or Sibilant Fricative, or The World of Ice and Fire or the second part of Heinlein’s biography, or nearly anything else than what we in so many categories received.

The Hugo voting is open until July 31st, and there’s still plenty of time to get your Sasquan membership and Hugo Voter Pack and see for yourself if I’m right or wrong.

Archipelacon: A Convention Report

I was originally going to start off this post with something along the lines of “I don’t know what you did over the weekend, but if you weren’t at Archipelacon, I had way more fun than you did”, but it looks like we weren’t the only ones with a reason to be happy.

Archipelacon was a four-day sci-fi convention in Mariehamn, on the island of Åland, branded as “the most fun you can have in a demilitarized zone”. The guests of honour were Karin Tidbeck, Johanna Sinisalo, Gary K. Wolfe, Parris McBride, and following the tradition of our Åland conventions of inviting up-and-coming, lesser-known authors, one George R.R. Martin.

And it was great.

The Quinsonitus ensemble. After the intermission, they would be back. Photo by Henry Söderlund, used with permission.

The Quinsonitus ensemble. After the intermission, they would be back. Photo by Henry Söderlund, used with permission.

How Great? Pretty Damn Great

Thursday dawned grey in Tampere. This is the summer, so dawn comes at around 3 a.m., which should give you a good picture of how early I had to get up to get on the bus that’d take me to the Turku harbour and onwards to the ferry that would take us all to Mariehamn. The Tampere fandom had reserved a bus for our own use.

Actually, I didn’t even get up. Being the neurotic that I am, I never went to sleep at all and spent my time watching stuff off Netflix. For the record, A Million Ways to Die in the West cannot be recommended.

The con really started at the bus stop, with all the other sleep-deprived fen, and continued on the ferry, where I met Johanna Sinisalo and Cheryl Morgan. I’d been recruited to be Johanna’s minder for the convention and was doing both the “Fear and Loathing in Hugoland” panel and masquerade with Cheryl. In addition, I had the literary Hugo discussion on Friday morning and my talk “Science Fiction and Role-Playing Games” on Sunday.

The Hugo stuff deserves a post of its own and anyone reading deserves it to be there, since it’s a bit off topic and not particularly fun this year. I will also do a separate post on the sci-fi game talk.

Apart from my own items, I did not see a whole lot of program. What I did see, however, was great. On Friday evening, there was the Deep Space Overture, a concert where a brass and percussion ensemble from Turku called Quinsonitus played a selection of music from science fiction film and television. They were very good.

I also saw Johanna Sinisalo’s guest of honour speech. She discussed how she discovered reading at the age of around two years, became a feminist at five and was given a five-year artist grant last weekend. This, in Finland, is a very big deal. Then, she also won the Finlandia Prize in 2000 with Not Before Sundown, which was also a big deal, because back then our most prestigious literature award did not usually go to speculative fiction. Incidentally, if you haven’t read it, do so. Now. I’ll be waiting. She also read an excerpt of the upcoming translation of her novel The Core of the Sun, a scene where the narrator ate chili, one of the last sources of pleasure legally available in its dystopian Finland. The description was synesthetic, almost erotic in a way. I am a self-confessed fan of prolonged descriptions of characters’ inner lives while they’re eating (I sometimes dig up this scene from Cryptonomicon and read it aloud to myself and marvel at it), and this was right up my alley. I need to read that book. I have it somewhere, I am sure.

I saw Shimo Suntila declare himself the Last Trash Writer of Finland, in a reprise of the event at last year’s Finncon. This time, neither Boris Hurtta nor Tuomas Saloranta were there to dispute the claim.

I went to see the latest installment Jukka Halme’s quiz show “Kuis?”, where contestants are forcibly drafted from among late arrivals, scoring is only tangentially related to correct answers, and it is possible (and common) to answer the question “What is your team name?” wrong.

On Friday evening was the Game of Thrones burlesque show. “The night is dark and full of tassels”, indeed… A lot of ketchup, there. It’s been suggested that if Helsinki wins the Worldcon bid for 2017, there might be a repeat performance. (And you can vote! We can make it happen, folks!)

There's a climbing mast at the local Seafaring Museum. Yours truly at top, Hugo-nominee Ninni Aalto climbing up, Henry Söderlund behind the camera. Photo used with permission.

There’s a climbing mast at the local Seafaring Museum. Yours truly at top, Hugo nominee Ninni Aalto climbing up, Henry Söderlund behind the camera. Photo used with permission.

The Masquerade, This Time No Song or Dance

On Saturday night, I hosted the masquerade! This has become something of a tradition since I was first forcibly drafted into the job by Jukka Halme, all those years ago in Jyväskylä. Cheryl took care of wrangling the judges (Parris, Johanna, and herself), while I did all the posturing on stage. This time the technology worked perfectly and I did not need to entertain the audience with poetry recital, dances or singing while the redshirts were trying to figure out how to fix things.

People keep calling it the cosplay contest, but I think it’s useful to keep the terminology separate here. Archipelacon (and Finncon) has a masquerade show. It’s not half as serious as a major anime convention’s cosplay show. It’s whimsical. There’s a low entry threshold and only two series and the the other one is for those who need their parents to accompany them on stage. While the level can be very high, it doesn’t need to be. This year, one guy showed up with a costume he made during the convention with stuff he found in the garbage bin outside the conference centre. I accepted two new sign-ups for the show during the show.

While at Archipelacon, we had to limit our prizes to the top three, at Finncon the tradition has been to give something to everyone. While one of them is the Best in Show, I myself have an award from 2008 for “Best Sucking Up to the Judges” (we were a team of characters from Petri Hiltunen’s graphic novels, while Petri was one of the judges), and can remember from the same year “Best Use of a Toaster” (accessorizing a Battlestar Galactica costume) and “Most Unexpected” (the Spanish Inquisition). From 2010 I have the award for “Best Fool’s Dance” – and that’s the time I was hosting!

All the Masquerade participants. Prizes went to Loki and Bilbo on the far right and Miss Darth Maul, right of the centre. Photo by Simo Ulvi, used with permission.

All the Masquerade participants. Prizes went to Loki and Bilbo on the far right and Miss Darth Maul, right of the centre. Photo by Simo Ulvi, used with permission.

What Makes This Fandom So Great

Finally, I saw the panel “My Life in Fandom” with George R.R. Martin, Parris McBride, and Gary K. Wolfe. They talked about their experiences in the fandom over the decades, such as how Gary had gone to a convention dressed in a normal academic fashion – you know the type, wool sweater with leather elbow patches – and very soon someone asked him which Doctor he was. Parris and George related the tale of how they’d first met, in a sauna in a Cleveland convention. On the ladies’ side. Joe Haldeman was on hand to introduce them. Parris ended the panel with a note that resonated with me and summed up why I do this and why Archipelacon was one of the best conventions I’ve been to. She asked us to go and meet someone new.

It’s about the community. It’s about friendship. It’s about being able to hang out with a like-minded crowd without fear of being judged for who we are or what we like (Unless it’s Highlander 2. But we judge with love.). The reason I saw relatively little programming was that I spent most of my time at the bar, meeting new people. We talked literature, politics, gaming, comics, science, academics, conrunning, languages, beer, history, and everything else with people from a dozen countries. We had fun together. There was karaoke, and a chocolate tasting, and we all bought bags of books without even denting the selection at the Alvarfonden book sale. I ended up with a folder full of Swedish filk and a bottle of twelve-year-old ouzo from a Swedish fan fund auction. It’s kinda like Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, except in real life (and I’m suddenly struck by the suspicion that in fact, it may be the other way around). A lot of the online discussion within fandom has these past couple of days been less than happy, and Archipelacon was a helpful and welcome affirmation that there’s a real reason why we’re doing all this. To quote the Fan Guest of Honour Jukka Halme of Finncon 2014: “Fandom is love.”

My book haul. And this was cheap. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

My book haul. And this was cheap. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

Ropecon 2015: End of an Era

Last month, from 15th through 17th of May, was Ropecon 2015. This is not the usual time for Ropecon, but our venerable venue Dipoli went under renovations after the con. It will be turned from a conference centre into offices. Ropecon 2015 was the last convention ever held in what used to be the best conference centre in the Nordic countries.

It was our 18th time at Dipoli, and my 19th Ropecon. My schedule was light, since my main things were judging the scenario competition, which was done before the convention, and organizing Pathfinder Society, which was done way before the convention. I also had one scheduled game, but for some reason I’d put it in the Sunday morning death slot, when everybody wants to sleep late. This time even moreso, since the preceding evening was the Last Night in Dipoli. There were a lot of sunrise shots from the beach on my Facebook feed in the morning.

Me, I spent most of the convention catching up with friends, watching some panels, and on Sunday, taking a lot of photos on my mobile and putting them on Facebook, reminiscing about the good times and bad jokes we’ve had in that building. They say it was designed by the Great Cthulhu, and that there are no straight angles in the building (false, the upstairs rooms 21-26 are all rectangular). It’s an architectural masterwork by Reima & Raija Pietilä.

In eighteen years, Ropecon has had time to grow into the shape of the venue. Next year we’re at the Helsinki Fair Centre, same place we’re trying to get the Worldcon. We’ll see how that goes.

Here, then, some memories of Ropecon.

Room 25

Room 26

Here’s Room 26, one of the upstairs rooms, the second-largest of our program rooms. There are five of them, and numbers 25 and 26 are big enough to be used for lectures. The rest are gaming rooms. Room 25 was also where I first took the stage and talked into a microphone at Ropecon. That was back in 2007, when my first book Roolipelikirja was released. It was co-written with Kaj Sotala. Heidi Westerlund (Säynevirta, as of last month) interviewed, Jaakko Stenros (PhD, as of last month) tore us a new one in his review in Roolipelaaja. I would surmise people have come upon the scene in less controversial ways, but I persisted, started writing for Roolipelaaja myself, and today count all the people involved good friends.

Room 22

Room 22

There’s a weirdass loft in Room 22. I do not know what its original purpose was. The ceiling is too low for you to be able to comfortably stand up there, the stairs are very narrow, and it’s actually fairly small. One year, I think around 2010, some kids locked themselves inside to get drunk and scribble on the walls. We were not amused.

Room 22 was used for a variety of purposes. At one point, it was occupied by Arkenstone Publishing. Then it was used as the game demo area for playtesting and new releases. A year or two into my tenure as the Master of Game Masters, it was turned over to tabletop role-players, and stayed as a gaming room until the end.

James Edward Raggi IV, at Kaubamaja

James Edward Raggi IV, at Kaubamaja

Continuing down the 20’s corridor, you eventually come to Hall 4. Hall 4 has also had a variety of functions. Originally, when the con came to Dipoli, it housed Kaubamaja, or the Dealers Room as it would be known anywhere else (I can only assume the Estonian name for a shopping mall was used because of a mid-90s ad campaign for a Tallinn shopping centre that ran on Finnish TV, and then it stuck, like so many other in-jokes).

Here, we see Jim Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, proudly flying the banner of the OSR.

The chaos of Kaubamaja

The chaos of Kaubamaja

Kaubamaja, as you can see, has always been cramped. There’s small-press game designers, one or two larger game stores, some booksellers, and crafts people. Prominently visible here, at the back of the room, is the booth of the t-shirt vendor Genrewear, who’s also the traditional supplier of the convention’s t-shirts.

Hall 3

Hall 3

Here’s Hall 3, moving out of Kaubamaja and towards the stairs. Hall 3 used to host the card games before they moved outside Dipoli to the student restaurant Täffä a couple of years back.

Hall 2

Hall 2

Hall 2, home of the miniature games. They’re one of the few constants, and occupied this place the entire 18 years we were here. This is actually where I started. As a wee lad of 12, at my second Ropecon ever, I showed up with a backpack full of badly painted orcs and goblins to get my ass kicked at the Warhammer tournament. It was a ritual that was to be repeated a couple of times over the next few years, until I had to face the facts: I’m utter crap at Warhammer. At least my painting improved over time. Just this spring, I dusted off my army and took on a friend’s dwarves, resulting in a full rout of my army in about three rounds.

In 2004, I happened to wander into a Living Greyhawk game session run by this Sampo Haarlaa guy, and I am still on that path.

Con's vendor table.

Con’s vendor table.

This is the convention’s own vendor table, located in the great stairway from the Festival Lobby. This is where they sell the con’s t-shirts, pencils, embroidered patches, badges, dice… Back when I started in the concom, the RPG signup sheets were placed here, where they’d been since 2006 or thereabouts, moved there from beyond the info desk to make way for… this vendor table.

Yes, that is an Iron Throne made out of boffer swords. It was used for the Game of Thrones burlesque. No, I do not have photos of that.

Larp desk.

Larp desk.

Larp desk, just down a short flight of stairs from the vendor table. In my time, 2009-2012, the larp and RPG desks worked in unison here, but the first thing that my follower Patrik Renholm did was move both the RPG desk and the signup sheets into the Takka/Poli/Palaver corridor. The noble profile at the centre is Atte Iiskola, former LARP admin and one of the team that’s kept the desk running for far longer than I’ve been around.

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RPG desk

And here’s the RPG desk, my former bailiwick, in the Takka/Poli/Palaver corridor, so named after the three large gaming rooms it leads to. The desk is now run by Arttu Hanska, who took it up two years after me and is apparently continuing next year. He is not in the picture – the suspicious leers from behind the desk are those of his henchmen, tech students of distant lappeen Ranta.

The Takka/Poli/Palaver hallway

The Takka/Poli/Palaver hallway

The hallway itself. Stairs go up to Luolamies (Caveman. That’s the actual name of the room, not something we came up with.). Way at the back, you can see the door to Takka, which has been the domain of organized play campaigns since 2005. First there was Living Greyhawk, which was replaced by Pathfinder Society. The dude waving at the camera is Janne, one of our GMs.

Palaver

Palaver

Charlie Don’t Surf, played in Palaver. This is one amazing campaign. Eero Juhola has been running it at Ropecon for 20 years. It’s a tactical RPG about the Vietnam War. Amusingly, due to the earlier date of Ropecon this year, the campaign’s current duration is very close to that of the actual Vietnam War. The system they’re using is some kind of unholy mixture of Phoenix Command, Twilight: 2000 and loads of loads of homebrewed material. It’s very realistic and very lethal. I’ve never taken part. Should, one of these years. Originally, Charlie’s home in Dipoli was the Cone Room, off Cone Lobby, but it was driven from there to upstairs Room 23 by the first-aid centre. The first-aid centre was then moved to an office next to the Cantina door a couple of years back. I am not actually sure what the Cone Room has been used for these past few years. Children’s activities, possibly.

Takka

Takka

We come to my domain, Takka (fireplace room). Currently in progress is the seven-table convention special Legacy of the Stonelords for Pathfinder Society, watched over by Overseer GM Atte Kiljunen. The black-clad gentleman at the centre, facing to the right, is my colleague Aleksandrs Zdancuks, the Pathfinder Society Venture-Captain for Latvia. The GM at the table, with his back to us, is the Espoo Venture-Lieutenant Mikko Rekola. The green shirt on the left is the Oulu Venture-Lieutenant Markus Hyytinen.

Takka has been the home of organized play campaigns at Ropecon since 2005, when Sampo Haarlaa managed to gather together enough GMs for Living Greyhawk that it was easier for the Master of Game Masters at the time to just point us a pile of tables and tell us to schedule our stuff by ourselves. This year, Arttu Hanska stopped counting tables and just gave us the whole room.

Pathfinder Society memorial wall

Pathfinder Society memorial wall

The chronicle of the slain as it stood at the end of the con. For a convention that scheduled three sessions of the Bonekeep meat grinder scenarios and a multi-table special, pretty decent. Most were, of course, raised.

Luolamies

Luolamies

Leaving Takka and going up those stairs we saw earlier, we come to Luolamies. Back when we moved into Dipoli, Luolamies was unavailable to us. Then, for some reason or other, it was opened up one year and Kaubamaja promptly moved in. In 2013, the card and board games shuffled around a bit, relinquishing Hall 4 for Kaubamaja, and tabletop role-playing games got Luolamies as their big, open gaming area. Previously, this had been in the Cone Lobby, but those tables were now entirely occupied by the new Experience Point, an expansion of the demo room idea, that now runs the scenario contest, short introductory games of different types, and playtest stuff.

The name Luolamies, Caveman, comes from a secret student society (think Skull and Bones except less wanky) that apparently occupied the room for a time. Dipoli is in the campus of the Helsinki University of Technology (actually located in Espoo and nowadays part of the Aalto University of How Not to Reorganize Higher Education), and the tech students are very big on their own brand of student culture, which is steeped in tradition. Also, vodka.

The Info Desk

The Info Desk

The Info Desk, located in the Cone Lobby. This is the nerve centre of Ropecon, open around the clock, staffed mostly by experienced, senior conrunners. Visible behind the desk are, among others, former Ropecon chair Jouni Sirén and one of next year’s chairs, Tuukka Jakola. Behind the Info Desk is the actual Dipoli information office, whence conrunners may summon Dipoli’s employees to open doors they don’t have keys for and commit other deeds that as mere customers we’re not allowed to do.

The two gentlemen on the left behind the desk are wearing blue vests, marking them as Troubleshooters, or convention security. According to the law and the police department, we need to have a certain amount of licensed security people on staff. This requirement is wildly out of proportion for Ropecon, which averages about one security incident per year.

The Business Centre

The Business Centre

The Treasurer dwells in the Business Centre. It’s an office opposite the Info Desk. We’d been in Dipoli for 14 years by the time we found out about it, and it’s not visible on any public floorplans of the place. We’re pretty sure that the non-Euclidean geometry of the building gave spontaneous birth to the room.

The Cone Hall

The Cone Hall

The Cone Hall, now home to the Experience Point, before that for the longest time occupied by tabletop role-playing games. This is where I played my first convention game in 2004. It was the Living Greyhawk module NAE4-01 The Living and the Dead, by Juha-Pekka Saarinen. The GM was Sampo Haarlaa, later member of the Principality of Naerie Triad and eventually Point of Contact for the Dalelands Triad in the short-lived Living Forgotten Realms campaign.

The storeroom

The storeroom

The storeroom, where we put all the stuff we need during the convention so they’re out of the way and nobody will steal them. Also in the picture is Logistics admin Juha Sihvonen.

The backroom

The backroom

The backroom is a refuge for the convention’s staff. This is one of the two places where missing staff should be looked for. It is also a place of utterly terrible jokes and coffee. Also a good place to follow the Troubleshooter radio traffic during the graveyard shift, when everyone is tired, not much is happening, and they start making their own amusement. There used to be a count of how many times boobs are mentioned during the night, but the practice has since been discontinued, for obvious reasons.

Keltsu

Keltsu

The other place to go looking for missing staff, affectionately called Keltsu, after Kaljakellari (Beer Cellar), a name the restaurant has not had in the entire time we were at Dipoli. It’s been known as Cantina since at least the mid-90s. They serve beer that’s not exactly cheap, pizza slices that aren’t exactly good, and also actual food off an actual menu. Keltsu is where you go have deep conversations about the nature of role-playing games, catch up with friends, and relieve stress. Indeed, some veterans of Ropecon do not actually buy a ticket anymore, they just show up at the Keltsu terrace and hold court there for the whole con! Sadly, this practice will also have to be discontinued.

The Auditorium

The Auditorium

The Auditorium, here between program items. We like to clear out the room for a couple of minutes so the AC has time to work. That’s not so much an issue in May, but in our usual time slot at the height of summer, hot rooms full of people have led to people fainting. In 2011, I moderated an adventure-writing panel here with Frank Mentzer, Erik Mona and James Edward Raggi IV. The next year I returned with the Alternate History panel (video in Finnish). I moderated the panel, featuring Minna Heimola, Teemu Korpijärvi, Joonas Katko, Mikko Heimola, and Hannu Kauppila. The Auditorium is Dipoli’s biggest room for speech program, and it’s also where all of the guest of honour speeches are.

Klondyke

Klondyke

The Klondyke room, here featuring Sami Koponen talking about how the gaming scene needs YOU! Klondyke is the third-largest program room in Dipoli. Last year, I did the Guns, Germs, and Tea panel (video in Finnish) on the British Empire with Joonas Katko and Teemu Korpijärvi here.

Helsinki in 2017 bid table

Helsinki in 2017 bid table

The Helsinki in 2017 Worldcon bid was also represented at Ropecon. On the right, former Ropecon chair Mika Loponen.

The Cone Door

The Cone Door

You’ve probably been wondering about the Cone that keeps popping up in those location names. It’s this thing. If you push a button, it will open and close, and it’s lit up at night. The Cone Door is one of the three doors of Dipoli and the only one that isn’t open during the convention. It’s only used for logistics, since it’s the one closest to the storage room and it’s relatively easy to get a van there.

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony

And here, an exceptionally poor shot of the closing ceremony, hosted by Ines Lukkanen and Aarne Saarinen. Those are space whales, up there. Space whales are cool.

So, there it is, my chronicle of Ropecon. It was a very relaxed convention this year, at least for me. I had the time I needed to catch up with friends and say properly goodbye to the place we’d called home for eighteen years. Next year will be very different. I am confident that it will still be a good convention, since at the heart of the convention are the people, not the venue, but things will change. The Fair Centre’s sensible architecture cannot hope to capture the wild and weird spirit of Dipoli.

Ropecon is the only place where I can wear a goblin.

Ropecon is the only place where I can wear a goblin.

It has been fun.

To end this overlong photoessay, here are the first things that the documentation team has managed to get edited and released from this year’s convention: the post-con interviews of our guests of honour Michelle Nephew & John Nephew and Jason Morningstar & Steven Segedy, as well as Jason Morningstar’s lecture on GMless design and play.

In the State of Denmark: Knudepunkt 2015, Part the Second

Read the first part here. Or just scroll down, or something. It’s not hard to find, it’s literally the previous post.

On Thursday, we piled into a succession of buses and headed out.

The actual Knudepunkt 2015 was held in the town of Ringe, where the town’s schools and leisure centre had been commandeered for the use of larpers. I slept on a classroom floor, the cheapest rung of accommodations, but it came complete with a mattress and all the stuff I needed to sleep like a grown-up, which was convenient. I have, in the past few years, discovered that I am no longer young and spry enough to go around sleeping on bare floors and expecting to be a functional human being the following day.

The venue was functional, but having stuff spread out across three different addresses, with my accommodations in yet fourth, did mean a fair bit of walking. There were three meals a day at the leisure centre, of which the first I managed to miss on both Friday and Saturday. I must admit that I am not a morning person. The ones I did not miss were edible but nothing to write home about (so I’m writing the whole of the internet). Good thing I am omnivorous, since the catering company wasn’t apparently entirely on the ball with special diets, nothing was labelled and Thursday’s vegetarian option looked like a bowl of sadness. General dissatisfaction about the provisions reached the point that one enterprising fellow negotiated us a small pizza delivery on Sunday morning.

Anyway. It being a conference, there were talks! As an ostensible newbie, I opted to follow the four-item Fundamentals track to begin with, which covered the “Knudepunkt scene”, larp theory, major larps in the tradition, and finally design. As I kinda predicted, there wasn’t much new in them for me except for the last one. I’ve been following along with interest for several years, but I have not considered larp from a design angle. The design lecture, given by Eirik Fatland, will at some point be available online. I will edit it here once I see it posted, for it was good and interesting, and enough full of information that at least I could not take it in all at once.

The first lecture ran us through what the conference is about, where it came from, who are doing it and what are the key things currently being talked about. Some of these are theory, like the concept of “bleed“, emotions leaking from player to character (“Here’s an ex you had a really difficult break-up with. Your character is her supportive friend.”) or vice versa (“Over the past eight hours, your character saw everything they cared for cruelly destroyed. Try and smile after the game.”). While it’s probably unavoidable in any circumstance the game manages to pluck a player’s emotional strings, there is apparently some controversy over the topic.Another big thing at the moment is larp tourism and going mainstream. The flagship for both is of course College of Wizardry, the Harry Potter larp to end all Harry Potter larps that you probably heard about at some point late last year. Incidentally, their IndieGoGo for next November’s games is going live on the 28th, for $375 a ticket. I am giving this serious thought. Good thing I like ramen. They’re apparently also coming out with Fairweather Manor, a Downton Abbey -inspired game.

Incidentally, replayable larps is another big thing. As the lecturer put it: “The question nowadays isn’t going to be ‘did you play?’, but ‘which run did you play?'”Also of note is the scene’s generally heightened awareness of the discourse on gender, sexuality and diversity.The theory talk was given by Jaakko “Žižek of Larp” Stenros, who also taught me some years ago. Therefore, it isn’t entirely surprising the material was familiar to me. I’ve also discussed most of the stuff in my original posts on the lecture course back in 2009 – magic circle, 360° illusion, diegesis, etc. – and won’t revisit those here. Of course there was some newer material from places like Markus Montola’s PhD thesis, but, overall here the benefit was having the same content delivered in a new package, sometimes rephrased and with fresh examples.

Then there was the key works lecture by Joc Koljonen, where I basically came away with the feeling of being well-read and knowing the meaning of the word “kapo” (a collaborator or ‘trusted prisoner’ in a concentration camp). It contained a number of examples from Nordic Larp, as well as the later examples of the Battlestar Galactica larp Monitor Celestra; the prison camp larp that drives me to drink every time I hear about it Kapo (there’s a book you can download from Rollespilsakademiet); the Finnish-Palestinian collaboration Halat hisar (or “State of Siege”; book downloadable from the Society for Nordic Roleplaying); and, of course, College of Wizardry (Book upcoming – oh, I forgot, the first lecture also covered documentation. Big on documentation, the scene is.), all of which I’ve had players gush at me after the fact and making me feel sorry I wasn’t there. Well, except Kapo. I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Finally, there was Eirik Fatland’s design lecture, delivered as a history of larp design thought, with the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches. I will not try to summarize it, since there will be video forthcoming and I will look like an utter tit if I get it wrong. One concept that did stick, though, was “brute-force larp design”, an older way of writing larps, where the solution to creating content was usually to have two conflicting hierarchies (orcs vs. elves) and basically throw as much plot as possible at the players and hope some of it sticks. The weakness of this is that it easily leads to the elf king getting all the limelight, and if one of the conflicting hierarchies, say, succeeds and wipes out the other one before the game is supposed to end, you’ll end up with one group of players whose characters are dead and another whose raison d’être was just removed. One solution, originally written by Fatland himself, was the fateplay system, where it’s decreed beforehand that, say, an assassin bumps off the elf king on the second day of the larp, and this is written into both of their characters, and it’s the players’ job to make it as dramatic as possible.

Okay, I’m not gonna summarize any more of it.

Another thing we tried to go see but was full by the time we got there was a talk on debriefs. Instead, we sat around a table outside the classroom and talked, which was probably at least as fruitful as the talk would have been. I got some food for thought on the use of music, specifically singing, in games. It’s a topic I’ve pondered previously, as drinking songs are a bit of a hobby that I have and sometimes crossing the streams is exactly the thing to do, especially when both streams are, above all, participatory forms of self-expression. This may shape itself into a blog post, or a convention workshop, or an article, or something, at some point. An entire game, if I can ever figure out the core mechanic for Rather Than Well…

This, really, is the core of what I took away from Knudepunkt. Talks and lectures are all good and well, but it is such a tight-knit community that discussion and conversation are where the meat of it lies. I spent a long week putting faces to names I’ve seen in articles and blog posts and in my friends’ Facebook comments. Friendships were made. There were parties. At the Finnish party, we sang Finnish schlager that we would not be caught dead singing in another situation, at the top of our lungs. There was a Portuguese chorizo-burning ritual at midnight, complete with chanting. There was a second-hand RPG vendor who sold me Toon. On the final night, there was a party on the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins and Four Heavenly Virtues, with hotspots around the leisure centre for each of them.

My favourite, I must admit, was Envy, which was a window to the bar, where Gluttony and Lust were. It was lit green. At one point during the evening, it was also the place for the Swedish socialist song workshop, which I am not certain was intended but was deeply ironic.Also, each of the four Nordic countries had produced a short comedy sketch show, Knudepunkt TV. If you click no other thing on this post, click this one.

Next Year

So, next year, Finland. Well, at least some of the time. The Week in Finland is going to be precisely that, but the conference venue itself is going to be all over the place. If things go according to plan, we’re on a boat, one of the massive floating hotels and shopping centres that ferry people between Helsinki and Stockholm. It ought to be pretty awesome. See you there.

In the State of Denmark: Knudepunkt 2015, Part the First – A Week in Denmark

The annual larp convention Knudepunkt is an odd duck among gaming conventions. It has no single set location, but rotates between Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. It is not a large event, as far as these things go, usually averaging a few hundred attendees. This year broke the record at high five hundreds. Knudepunkt is the cradle of the Nordic larp tradition, the often surprising, sometimes harrowing, usually ambitious and never boring collection of styles of design and play that developed here. For a crash course, check out the book Nordic Larp.

A note on the name: it’s called Knudepunkt when it’s in Denmark, Knutepunkt when in Norway, Knutpunkt in Sweden, and Solmukohta in Finland. Spot the non-Indo-European language. These all mean the same thing, “nodal point”. I’ll be using Knudepunkt throughout this post to refer collectively to all the conventions.

For me, this was my first Knudepunkt. I figured that if I am to edit books for next year’s event, it would probably behove me to find out what the event is like. Immerse myself in the atmosphere, so to speak. Also, I like cons. This one was no exception.

Traditionally, the event itself is preceded by a week of other related stuff in the local capital, where there are larps, parties, local culture and other attractions and distractions. Our team hit Copenhagen on Sunday the 8th of February, so we missed some of the initial stuff like the Black Box Horsens larp con (you know you’re dealing with a serious convention when the run-up to the con includes another con).

I attended a bus tour, the Knudepunkt book release, and the Nordic Larp Talks. I also did a lot of touristy stuff like shoring up the economic prospects of Copenhagen’s bookshops in a bibliophiliac spree that left my luggage at a whopping 300 grams under the airline’s weight limit and taking a guided tour through Christiania, which is a fairly interesting place but probably best discussed elsewhere. Also, I did a lot of hanging out at the Bastard Café, which was the ground zero of A Week in Denmark.

 

The Bus Tour

On Tuesday, we loaded ourselves aboard a bus and hit a sequence of interesting targets in Copenhagen and the vicinity.

The first of these was the HQ of Iron Fortress. They’re a Danish company that manufactures professional-quality larp gear for larpers – latex weaponry, armour in both leather and metal, all sorts of garb, makeup materials, even latex tankards for when you absolutely have to flip the table and conk your drinking buddy on the head. And man, they look good.

The Iron Fortress lobby is well protected. Photograph © Jukka Särkijärvi.

The Iron Fortress lobby is well protected. Photograph © Jukka Särkijärvi.

Moreover, they are affordable. The company doesn’t do direct consumer sales, so I am now idly browsing through the selection at Faraos Cigarer, a Copenhagen gaming and comics store (the finest of its kind in the Nordic countries, I believe), just waiting for an excuse to splurge and start purchasing bits of platemail.

It was an eye-opening experience. I did not know there was enough of a market for this kind of thing to make it economically feasible to produce, but apparently and fortunately I was mistaken. No retailer in Finland, to my knowledge, stocks their products. Of course, there is a very strong DIY element in the larp scene and many people enjoy making their own gear, especially since it is, in the end, often cheaper.

A hundred marks to buy them all
One day to wind them
Three weeks to cut them all
And into a chain coif bind them
Ilkka Puusaari, Larppaajan käsikirja

The dragon is not alone. Photograph © Jukka Särkijärvi

The dragon is not alone. Photograph © Jukka Särkijärvi

Their range is also pretty wide, and in addition to fantasy there’s stuff like postapocalyptic/modern gear, like latex baseball bats, lead pipes and wrenches. In addition to latex, which is in the end more for looks than realism, they also make (or are putting into production, I do not recall) another weapon range more suitable for full-force combat. It is apparently a thing in Canada. I would like to say that the term for such games is HARP, but because of obvious reasons, it is remarkably resistant to googling. I tested a sword, and they will cause bruising. Wearing armour is advised.

Completely out of the left field, they also do a zombie run type event called Zombie Løbet.

After Iron Fortress, we headed out to the town of Roskilde, where we hit a local game store called Fanatic, where we could buy the stuff we had just spent an hour drooling over.

I like swords. Photograph © Jukka Särkijärvi.

I like swords. Photograph © Jukka Särkijärvi.

One thing I noticed in my tour of the store, as well as the brick-and-mortar Faraos Cigarer in Copenhagen was that the Danes don’t seem to produce much in the way of tabletop RPGs, which is a marked contrast with the Finnish scene. Even the otherwise ridiculously well-stocked Faraos Cigarer did not carry more than a few. The one I ended up buying as the requisite addition to my collection of games in weirdass languages was a 90s thing called Fusion. Very pretty.

After that, we hit the Rollespilsfabrikken villa in Copenhagen. Rollespilsfabrikken is the biggest Danish larp organization, and since they do valuable work in keeping the youth of Denmark busy with role-playing games, they are subsidized by the powers that be. Like, by renting them this villa that the city of Copenhagen had lying around. It’s 376 m2, too. I am feeling moderately envious here. Our clubs have club rooms. They have a club villa.

The villa was appropriately decorated. Lord Croak, made for a Warhammer larp several years ago. Photograph © Jukka Särkijärvi.

The villa was appropriately decorated. Lord Croak, made for a Warhammer larp several years ago. Photograph © Jukka Särkijärvi.

Rollespilsfabrikken was followed by Rollespilsakademiet, the place where they try to make money at this thing. It’s also the outfit that they publish books through, and most relevant to non-Danes, their website is to my knowledge the only location where you can download all the Knudepunkt books from the same place, including The Book, which was for a long time unavailable and elusive. They also have a load of other books available, mostly larp documentation. They make for fascinating reading, showcasing the Nordic larp tradition. Many also have beautiful photography.

Following the final stop of our tour was the release party for the 2015 Knudepunkt books. The release happened without much fanfare, and Claus Raasted repeated most of what he said there at next day’s Nordic Larp Talks.

The Nordic Larp Talks

Another tradition of Knudepunkt is the Nordic Larp Talks, a series of short speeches or presentations about larp and related topics. The event was held at the Copenhagen main library the day before Knudepunkt itself started. I am not going to describe the content of the talks themselves because they were streamed online and you can go check them out yourself. For what it’s worth, I found Ann Kristine Eriksen’s, Massi Hannula’s, Eleanor Saitta’s and Evan Torner’s talks of special interest, though they were all good. There’s also Claus Raasted’s very short book presentation, and he’s always entertaining. (He’s also the guy who did the narration on that archery video that you probably saw recently. If the professional larp organizing thing folds, he’ll always have a future as a voiceover artist.)

After the talks, we adjourned to Bastard Café for board games and beer. The next day, Knudepunkt 2015 would begin.

The Beauty of Loncon 3

Finncon was big. Ropecon was bigger. The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention was the biggest. I attended Loncon 3 at the tail end of a two-week holiday trip to London and, as prophesied by the late Iain Banks, it was great fun and a total hoot.

As last year, I worked with the Helsinki bid for Worldcon. Though we suffered narrow defeat last year running against Spokane, we have come back stronger than ever and are targeting 2017. More on that in a later post.

What was different from last year, though, was that with the Worldcon located in Europe, we had vastly more boots on the ground than last year and I felt more comfortable with not being on call or on duty all the time or at every party. This resulted in me seeing probably more programming than in all the other cons I’ve been during the entire previous year put together.

Emmi Itäranta signing her novel Memory of Water at the Helsinki tent

Emmi Itäranta signing her novel Memory of Water at the Helsinki tent

The convention was at the ExCel Centre in London, a ginormous convention centre from which even the ten-thousand member Loncon only took over one half. The convention comprised a couple of larger auditoriums, around 17 upstairs rooms for panels, one very large exhibits hall featuring the art gallery, vendor area and Fan Village, and some other spaces. It was big, and it was easily a five-minute brisk walk to get from the Fan Village to watch a panel. Longer than that if it was a busy time of day. I literally walked so much I destroyed my shoes. And I’d only had them for three months, too…

The Fan Village, then. Last year, and I gather normally at Worldcons, the parties thrown by the different bids and other instances are in suites at the convention hotels. This year, the con committee had arrived at the alternative solution of placing everyone in a large exhibit hall in their own tents, where they promoted during the day and threw parties in the night. I actually prefer this solution to the hotel suites, since everyone is in the same space, there’s more air to breathe, you don’t have to switch floors to go to another party, and there’s no issue with other people trying to sleep in the vicinity.

Along with our competitor the DC bid and the 2016 Kansas City bid, we were in one of the largest tents, having bid parties for three nights of the weekend, with one on Sunday night for Archipelacon, where the convention also announced its third guest of honour after Karin Tidbeck and Johanna Sinisalo. It’s George R.R. Martin.

The Hugos

I suppose I should say a few words about the Hugos, since I held forth at such length on them before. I even went to see the awards ceremony, which I missed last year at San Antonio.

I have absolutely nothing to complain about. While not all the awards went exactly where I voted them, most of them did and the ones that did not were all well deserved. Congratulations to all the winners, and keep on being awesome.

The Stuff I Saw

An observation about Worldcon programming: it emphasizes panels a lot more than single-person presentations. This is, from my point of view, unusual. I mean, over half of all the items on the Worldcon programme were panels, while if I filter the Ropecon programme for this year, which has four tracks of speech programming over three days for panels, I get a grand total of one (1). This is an interesting difference and the programme is probably easier to put together this way than how we at Ropecon do it due to the sheer mindboggling scale of it all. Loncon 3 had over 1000 programme items over five days and I imagine it simplifies a lot when you can just tell people “you’re gonna be in these panels” instead of negotiating every lecture separately.

This does, of course, require you to have all those warm bodies to allocate to different panels, but I suspect that Worldcon might be one of those “build it and they will come” type deals.

The following is mostly written for memory, rather too late after the fact. The long trip, ExCel’s overenthusiastic air conditioning, five days of convention centre food and proximity to people and bacterial strains from every continent but the Antarctic conspired to lay me low soon after I had returned home on Tuesday and it’s taken me this long to put together anything coherent.

So, instead of going through every damn program item, let me just offer up a few observations.

First of all, Mark Oshiro is one of the best panelists I have seen. It’s a different skillset from holding a presentation by yourself. It requires the ability to improvise, be spontaneous, and work with any number of other people in front of an audience. I’ve seen it done well, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done this well. His is a rare talent.

The audiences at Worldcon also impressed me. With one single exception, audience comments and questions were good, informed, intelligent, and respectful. Admittedly, I did not go to any panels with a historical topic. Those tend to bring out the armchair historians. I wish they’d just do the honourable thing and sign up as panelists if they love the sound of their own voice so much.

During the Food in SF/F panel on Friday, someone pointed out that during the olden days, water wasn’t really the safest thing to drink, so people primarily drank beer or wine. The appearance of coffee and tea in Europe coincides roughly with the beginning of the Enlightenment – so basically everyone went from being slightly tipsy to being highly caffeinated all the time. (No, historical causality is not that simple, but I find this an amusing coincidence.)

Perhaps the best panel I saw during the convention was called “Sinbad Sci-Fi presents The World at Worldcon: Arabic SF/F”. It turns out there actually is science fiction and fantasy being written in the Arabic world. Harry Potter has been translated into Arabic and is being read, not burned. According to the panelists, there are problems with translating stuff into Arabic, but they’re mostly financial and though there’s a prejudice against science fiction and fantasy, it’s that the stuff won’t sell rather than it offending someone’s religious sensibilities. At least, this is the case in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where most of the panel hailed from.

From the left: Noura al-Noman, Ibrahim Abbas, Amal El-Mohtar, Yasser Bahjatt, and Yasmin Khan

From the left: Noura al-Noman, Ibrahim Abbas, Amal El-Mohtar, Yasser Bahjatt, and Yasmin Khan

As was also pointed out, talking about “the Arabic world” as a monolith is not really constructive, since there’s like 23 different Arabic countries and they’re culturally, economically and geographically very diverse. Heck, I have developed over the years a certain dislike towards discussing even sufficiently large single states like India, the United States, China or Russia as cultural monoliths.

Of course, the way we get our news from foreign cultural spheres is wonderful at creating the perception of such cultural monoliths. Seriously, when did you last hear a news story from an Arab state that was positive? Because I cannot remember if I ever have. That’s part of what made the panel so wonderful. It dispelled myth and prejudice and served as an important reminder that even in nations whose leaders we think are terrible (And seriously, do we like even our own leaders that much?), there’s this thing called normal people, who live and love and read science fiction. Write science fiction, too. Ibraheem Abbas’s books HWJN and Somewhere! have been translated into English. I missed out on the freebie copies distributed after the panel due to technical difficulties (my phone had died on me and the spare I was using was only slightly more advanced than smoke signals and by the time I got a new smartphone this week, the link behind the QR code had expired), so I haven’t yet had the opportunity to peruse them, but the few Goodreads reviews I of them I can even begin to make sense of look promising.

Also, the publisher Yasser Bahjatt introduced himself as a Spartan Jedi, because he was born in Sparta, Michigan and lives in Jedda. That was probably the most deftly done bridging of a cultural gap I have seen in my life. Here we have a panel looking very much the part of the Other, and then boom, Star Wars joke. Now we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about books. It literally brought a tear to my eye.

The Fan Village, as seen from the dealers' area.

The Fan Village, as seen from the dealers’ area.

These are the things that to me, make Worldcon special. While I can meet my Finnish and even most of my Nordic friends at almost any convention I go to in Finland, and they are great fun, and I think getting involved with running Ropecon is one of the best things that I’ve done, it’s at Worldcon that I can meet, well, the world. According to the con’s website, there were attending members from 54 countries. I made new friends from across oceans. I bought lots of books and talked with the people who wrote them (and now Scott Lynch thinks I’m stalking him). This lasted for five whole days.

I have this thing about conventions that I have mentioned before. When I go to a con, until it’s over I don’t really do anything else except attend the con. When I wake up, I go to the con site and I only leave it to crash for a few hours so I can do the same thing all over again the next day. I am fully immersed in the convention, I am with my tribe. I have no nationality but the convention, and my badge is my only passport.

It’s a hard crash back to the real world after a high like that, but it has never been not worth it. For this, I thank the fandom. For all its faults and occasional capacity for truly mind-boggling amount of drama, it remains awesome.

Ropecon 2014 – The Same Old Song and Dance

Last weekend’s convention, with a fortnight of breathing space (yeah right) after Finncon, was Ropecon, 21st of its name.

This year, I’d taken on a lighter slate of duties, refusing a con committee position in favour of focusing on Pathfinder Society. In practice, this resulted in organizing and supervising a 34-table slate of Pathfinder Society games, including overseeing an eight-table Siege of the Diamond City special, and participating in two different presentations. I was still less busy than during my con com years, though.

The kill list of the weekend's Pathfinder Society games. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

The kill list of the weekend’s Pathfinder Society games. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

Friday was the busiest part of the con for me. I had to get the Pathfinder Society games going with seven GMs starting in the beginning slot, do both my presentations and in general get attuned to the convention.

The first part of that was the easiest, really. The GM desk, under the leadership of Arttu Hanska, was helpful and energetic in a way that I can only hope it was under my management, and made its new placement in the Takka-Poli-Palaver corridor work. Had to do some wrangling and one game started late, but all the first-slot games eventually went off, all the GMs got their paperwork in order and I could head off to do some final planning for my first presentation.

Well, I say my, but in reality, there were three of us. Along with Teemu Korpijärvi and Joonas Katko, we had a 105-minute talk about the British Empire, its reasons and history, and how those elements might be adapted for use in roleplaying games, titled “Guns, Germs and Tea”. Teemu talked about exploration and seafaring, Joonas talked about warfare and famous battles, while I discussed colonialism on the ground and how “the evil empire” is really a tautological phrase. It apparently went rather well, we got a lot of positive feedback, and it should be up on YouTube at some point for you to enjoy and me to curse every pause and “um” that I mumbled into the mike. Here’s a link to our slides. They’re in Finnish, but the bibliographies at the end should be useful for everyone.

Following on the heels of the British Empire, there was our presentation about the next really evil empire poised to dominate land and sea, Myrrys.

Myrrys

So, last year I started working with the small Finnish game publisher Myrrysmiehet. Myrrysmiehet is the outfit behind such games as the pirate-themed storygame Hounds of the Sea, the concept games LGDS and Swords of Freedom, last year’s Lands of the West (Lännen maat, written by Risto Hieta) about the Egyptian afterlife, and the most recent and ambitious project, Children of Wrath (Vihan lapset), a bleak, dystopian science fiction RPG about a world taken over by totalitarian aliens, who keep the population illiterate and easily controlled. It runs on the Flow system used by Stalker. This year we also released another one of Risto Hieta’s games, The Agents of Mars (Marsin agentit). In addition to myself, the Myrrysmiehet were Ville Takanen and Jukka Sorsa.

Then there was this another Finnish small game publisher, Ironspine, comprising the gentlemen Miska Fredman and Samuli Ahokas. They are responsible for making such games as the space opera Heimot, the occult action game ENOC – Operation Eisenberg, and the fantasy parody Legends of Generia. Most recently, they produced the frankly gorgeous family RPG Astraterra that got everything it asked for and more in its recent IndieGoGo and is, in my view, the prettiest role-playing game product to have been released in Finland.

There’s also this third outfit called Ironswine, guilty of The Fly (Kärpänen) and most recently the most awesome RPG in the history of awesome RPGs, Strike Force Viper. It’s a postapocalyptic action RPG set fifteen years in the future, after the Fourth World War, in 1999. The relationship between Myrrys and Ironswine is hard to define and slightly embarrassing for all concerned, so I’m not going into that right now.

Anyway, it so happened that the gentlemen of Myrrysmiehet and Ironspine alike took a weekend retreat to brainstorm games and playtest new material last winter, and the idea was floated that we should merge.

No, not like that, you perverts.

The idea was deemed to have merit, and looked good even once we’d sobered up. Our philosophies in game design are similar, there was a history of cooperation, and surely five guys can get more done than two or three. We then spent a while drafting plans and talking a lot, and made the final announcement at Ropecon.

Purveyors of fine role-playing games and terrible humour.

We also discussed our upcoming products. We have plans to release everything in both English and Finnish, starting with the Astraterra English translation which I’m raring to get my hands on and should be out in time for December. Also upcoming is Robin Hood, another family RPG, which is another short-term goal. There’s also a bunch of long-term projects whose priorities are subject to change as whim and mood takes us, but among those are Ville’s deckdrafting card game The War which is beautiful and atmospheric and has solid mechanics and just needs a crapload of playtesting so that the damn Conclave stops winning all the damn time, the second edition of ENOC which Jukka Sorsa and I are provisionally focusing on once Robin Hood is done.

There’s also those Ironswine dudes who are kinda suspicious and I really don’t trust, but they’ve got a game called Sotakarjut that I’m really, really tempted to translate as War Pigs, and Strike Force Viper, which has been pegged for further development.

More information forthcoming as stuff gets done. Once we have something to sell in English, we’ll be opening a DriveThruRPG storefront.

The Rest of the Convention

The last of my real duties at the convention was overseeing the Siege of the Diamond City Pathfinder Society special scenario, which we ran for eight tables. The job of the overseer GM in a special is easier than it sounds – it is just about keeping track of time, calling act breaks as they occur, and tallying results as they come in. It did require me to stay in the game room for the whole of the third act, though, which was slightly inconvenient and I must remember to draft myself an assistant GM for next time. The sweltering heat, associated requisite fluid intake and the resulting bathroom logistics were a thing. Fortunately, at least I had the foresight to request a microphone. Last year’s module had me shouting myself hoarse.

Siege of the Diamond City in full swing. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

Siege of the Diamond City in full swing. Photo by Jukka Särkijärvi.

I must say, I thought the scenario went quite well. In my view, it is thus far the best of the multi-table specials released for the campaign, featuring interactivity between tables and level ranges, a suitably epic plot, and a chance for every table to affect the outcome. As it stood, the valiant and resolute Pathfinders emerged overwhelmingly victorious against the demonic horde.

Well, I thought that was the last of my duties. Remember that Finncon report from two weeks ago? The one with the dancing? Well, the editor of Conteksti, the Ropecon conzine, was in the audience, and decided to do a comic strip. The strip, for those of you unable to read the lines of anyone except Jim Raggi, features a bunch of Finnish game designers and publishers discussing the state of the horse, interrupted by the appearance of an Astraterra crowdfunding backer benefit of a flying galleon and my song and dance show.

Note: This is not an actual Astraterra backer benefit, nor will it be.

After it was printed, there was only one way things could end. I expect the video of the closing ceremony will be out around a year from now. That is the length of my reprieve.

All in all, I deem it a very successful Ropecon (as does the treasurer – at 3,933 visitors, we fell 13 short of breaking the record). I had fun. I met all the old friends I never see anywhere else. I got some books. I even had time to play games. I got my ass kicked in a sumo suit.

Me in a sumo suit, during a rare upright moment. Photo by Peksu Järvinen.

Me in a sumo suit, during a rare upright moment. Photo by Peksu Järvinen.

However, as all good things, it had to come to an end, and as ended Ropecon 2014, so ended the convention’s time at Dipoli. Probably. The Dipoli conference centre, famously described by guest of honour Jonathan Tweet as a building designed by Cthulhu, has been the home of Ropecon for over fifteen years. The convention has taken on the shape of its venue, and the surrounding businesses have adjusted themselves to accommodate us and profit from our presence. Seriously, the grocery store next to Dipoli has a clause about working nights solely because during Ropecon, they’re open around the clock.

And now, they’re renovating it. The renovations will begin sometime next year and will likely take it off our hands for the next two years. After that, we are not sure if the venue is still suitable for our needs or if changes will be wrought. It is time to look for a new home. We do not yet know where it will be, but we do know that it will be somewhere. Ropecon will happen in 2015, and 2016, and all the years to come.

And now for a smattering of links.

What I did not have time to do was talk a lot with the guests of honour, Privateer Press’s Jason Soles and Luke Crane, he of Burning Wheel and other roleplaying games. Fortunately, for that purpose we had interviewers and intrepid cameramen. The GoH interviews were the very first things from this year’s convention to be edited and uploaded to our YouTube channel. The noise in the background is the convention’s afterparty.