Cons Ahoy! Ropecon and ConQuesT and Tracon, Oh My!

May has begun, and the convention season is kicking off in earnest.

Next week, from Friday the 15th through Sunday the 17th is Ropecon, the eminent gaming convention in our country, now for the 22nd time. It is atypically in the spring, since our conference centre Dipoli is getting renovated into office space and we’re forced to look for new digs. (Look for an announcement at the con!) The Finnish Pathfinder Society will be out in force once again. This season’s multi-table spectacle is Legacy of the Stonelords, kicking off at noon on Saturday. I’ll also be running a table of We Be Goblins! on Sunday, but apart from that I’ve kept my schedule fairly clear. The pre-convention party coincides with my 30th birthday, too…

I’ll have a scant few days to recover from Ropecon before I must hop on a plane, and head to Kansas City, Missouri, for ConQuesT. My job there will be to represent the Helsinki 2017 Worldcon bid. Yes! I am crossing the Atlantic in order to tell America what an awesome convention we would put together! Since I am aware that many of you will probably not be coming to Kansas City just for the pleasure of hearing me bloviate, I’ll put together a larger post about this soonish.

I will also be saying hi to George R.R. Martin, who’s following me to Finland a month later for Archipelacon, June 25th – 28th. I’ve signed up to talk about something, but I’ve yet to hear back from them if they want to stick me on a panel or what. Archipelacon is unfortunately sold out, but if you’re one of the lucky ones to have scored a ticket, come and say hi.

Later in the year we’ll also have the Tampere Role-Playing and Anime Convention Tracon in early September, its spinoff gaming convention Tracon Hitpoint in late November, and of course in August, Sasquan, the Spokane Worldcon. I am as yet uncertain if I can make it there. It’s awfully far away. Am trying, though.

This looks like the rest of the year’s conventions for me, though there’s always other stuff that comes up. I’d have liked to get to ConFuse, in Sweden, but turns out I’ll be in Salzburg watching opera. Unicon in Riga, is another possibility that’s been bounced around and would also be remarkably cheap to get to.

Some New Releases of Interest, News, Conventions

It has been a while, but it is not because I’ve vanished off the face of gaming. It’s at least in part because I have been writing elsewhere. One of these elsewheres is the International Journal of Role-Playing, whose fifth issue just came out and has a couple of pages of Mika Loponen and I giving the 2012 history book Playing at the World a very critical look.

Our dynamic duo is also responsible for editing the book for released for next year’s Solmukohta (or Knutepunkt/Knutpunkt/Knudepunkt) larp conference. That rabbit hole got really deep really fast. It is traditional for the larp conference to publish one or more books for the convention. These are collections of articles about what the Nordic larp scene has been up to in the past year, ranging from academic papers to photoessays.

This year’s Knudepunkt is going to be in Denmark next month, and the first one of their two books came out recently, the Nordic Larp Yearbook 2014, which takes the concept of Nordic Larp and limits it to material just from the past year.

On the convention front, the Finnish flagship RPG convention Ropecon is moving this year from its customary late summer location to May 15th-17th, due to Dipoli’s renovations. There is no word as yet about 2016, though people are hard at work on it already. For this year, the theme of the convention is Journey, the call for programming has gone out, and Michelle Nephew has been announced as the first guest of honour!

After Ropecon, June 25th-28th, we have the science fiction convention Archipelacon, in Mariehamn. It’s a small-scale, understated affair of only about 800 guests, and like its predecessor Åcon, the guests of honour are little-known up-and-coming authors who can use the exposure, like George R.R. Martin, Johanna Sinisalo and Karin Tidbeck.

Finally, there’s going to be Tracon, September 5th-6th, which will have some gaming stuff as usual and I’ll be present, but at this point things are still up in the air so there’s nothing specific to tell.

And even more finally, there’s the one where I’ll be doing more than just talking or running games, Tracon Hit Point. We don’t know when (late 2015)! We don’t know where (Tampere)! We do know it’s going to be awesome, and there will be more information once we have managed to generate it!

New Year, New Tricks

So, that was 2013.

For Worlds in a Handful of Dice, it was not a particularly remarkable year. I managed to pen a total of mere 15 posts, mostly convention reports. The year’s main event seems to have been in February, when I reported about Laborinthus, my peculiar find in a Zurich game shop. Reddit found it and showed up in great force.

The conventions were largely the reason it was so quiet over here. Between Ropecon, Tracon, and a third non-gaming event, I had way too much on my plate and came close to a burnout in the spring. I managed to muddle through Ropecon, had fortunately very few responsibilities for Tracon, and then had another annoying load of metaphorical bricks come down on me in the autumn, leading to me blowing a number of deadlines and generally not getting a whole lot done.

The year’s gaming was mostly Pathfinder Society, which has now reached sufficient autonomy that it barely needs my intervention to continue and grow. I also ran a game of Stalker late in the year, which I thought went rather well and drew my attention to an interesting fact about the system: it is possible for the GM to keep it entirely hidden from the players if they so wish. There was additionally a session of Paranoia XP, my first since the 90’s, which I shall not talk about any further. I played some Lamentations of the Flame Princess, too, and did some Myrrysmiehet playtesting. Alongside the Pathfinder Society campaign, a friend of mine started running Curse of the Crimson Throne, which is about one session away from wrapping up the first book.

I also larped for the first time in April. I am happy with both the experience and the blog post, partly because of the excellent photography of Tuomas Puikkonen.

The gaming world at large, then?

Well, Myrrysmiehet came out with the GM book for our game Vihan lapset. My contribution was primarily editorial, and I am very happy with the game. We also released Lännen maat, a role-playing game about the Egyptian afterlife, written by Risto J. Hieta, the Father of Finnish Role-Playing. The Glorantha Association of Finland released their translation of HeroQuest, which is also a very solid piece of work. There’s also Melidian, the spiritual successor of the elfgames Rapier and Elhendi. This is the only time you will ever see me use the term “elfgame”, by the way. I make an exception for games where you explicitly play only elven player characters. Tracon also saw the release of Lohikäärmeliitto, an OSR-like curio, and late in the year, Burger Games produced the free PDF of Crimson Rovers (scroll down a bit), a game about exploring and colonizing Mars. It’s in English, by the way. There was also the usual pile of Lamentations of the Flame Princess products, such as Vincent Baker’s The Seclusium of Orphone and his charmingly titled Ropecon scenario Fuck for Satan.

Paizo ran the open playtest for the Advanced Class Guide. While I am not strictly certain of the necessity of adding yet another pile of base classes to the already teetering tower, the hybrid class system seems to be a good way to do it. It limits multiclass dipping, and some of the ideas seem fairly clever. I am not fond of the hunter being married to their pet, though.

This year, I shall endeavour to have a higher rate of actual content-to-hamsters. Thanks to being involved with the Helsinki in 2017 Worldcon bid, I will also be digressing to that side of the fandom more frequently. These Hugo Awards are utterly fascinating…

News from the North

There have been a few interesting developments in the past month or so on the fields of academia and Nordic larp.

First of all, the fourth issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing was released back in September. The issue contains five articles originally presented at the Role-Playing in Games seminar back in 2012. There will be more articles from the seminar in issues to come.

Incidentally, one of the articles from the conference, ‘Threesomes, Waterfalls, and Healing Spells: The utility of magic, fantasy, and game mechanics in erotic role-play in World of Warcraft’, saw daylight this summer as a chapter of Ashley O’Toole-Brown’s PhD thesis.

The articles in this issue range from an ethnographic study of problems in role-playing communities (or the Drama Llama Paper, as I like to think about it) through a literary analysis of rulebooks and how they affect the formation of narrative in role-playing games all the way to edu-larp. It’s a fascinating smörgåsbord of different ways to study gaming.

Also, the larp PanoptiCorp was played this past spring in Denmark. It’s a Nordic-style larp about an advertising agency that takes all the clichés about ad people and dials them up to eleven. The larp was first run in 2003, and Juhana Pettersson discussed it in a column about it back then. It is worth reading. This time, Cosmic Joke made a fifteen-minute mini-documentary about the game, apparently as a part of a larger, feature-length documentary. Here you go!

It could maybe have more Claus Raasted talking, but then, I like listening to Claus Raasted talk. He has a pleasant voice.

For the parts of the audience who read Finnish, the player Jonne Arjoranta wrote about it for LOKI.

Swedish RPG Extravaganza! Drakar och Demoner Free Online

Yeah, I’m still alive, just terribly, terribly busy. But noting that is not the purpose of this post. This post’s purpose is to note that the Swedish RPG company Riotminds has released what looks like most, if not all, of the Drakar och demoner (or “Dragons and Demons”) back catalog as free PDF downloads on their website. So, if you think that a Swedish-language fantasy game in the spirit of RuneQuest and Dungeons & Dragons might be your cup of tea, head on over. The file for the “Jih-Fun” book of Samuraj looks to be broken, though.

This is a laudable deed. The old editions are basically abandonware at this point and with a language area as small as Swedish there’s not much to be gained even by PDF sales. This kind of accessibility makes things easier for us ludologists, chroniclers and historians of games, collectors and geeks.

For the record, I have some Swedish, but the most that can be said about it is that it’s there. It’s much the same thing as with my French, really. By the way, hi there Reddit. With time, effort and a dictionary, I can make sense of things.

I also own one Drakar och demoner rulebook in hardcover (sixth edition, I believe), but have never gone to the bother of trying to decipher it. Gorgeous book, though.

Thank you, Riotminds.

D&D PDFs Are Back, and Other News

A couple of days ago, Wizards of the Coast brought D&D PDFs back on sale. They pulled them originally something like four years ago, after the decision that selling PDFs leads to PDF piracy, which equals lost sales, which can be rectified by making sure that the wealth of already-released D&D PDFs was only available illegally. No, I don’t get it, either. Indeed, the decision’s arrant stupidity made me so angry at the time I made me decide not to buy a single thing from WotC until they brought the PDFs back. This was not hard, because it was at the beginning of the 4E era and in the absence of PDFs, they didn’t really sell anything I particularly wanted to buy, either.

I may also have demanded an apology for the travesty, but I understand if that’s not forthcoming. I was pretty mad at the time.

Now they’ve finally decided to rejoin the rest of us in the 21st century. The PDFs are back at OneBookShelf, and even people who’d originally bought them got their purchases returned to their downloads, which I thought was nice. They’re now available at D&D Classics, as subset of the same webstore that operates under the titles of DriveThruRPG and RPG Now. They’re not all there yet, but it isn’t a bad selection for a start. Also, if the free B1 In Search of the Unknown they’ve got up is any indication of the quality we may look forward to, it’ll be worth the wait.

It’s a professionally-done PDF. Clean scan, quality OCR, fully copypastable. The pagination matches up and the bookmarks are all there. The text comes with some unnecessary line breaks, but I can live with that. Commendable job, all around. I can’t really fault the pricing, either. As a nice touch, most of the product pages have a product history, which are written by Shannon Appelcline and Kevin Kulp.

Like said, the selection isn’t comprehensive yet and they lack stuff like all of Dragonlance, but what’s there is the good stuff. For instance, they have one of my favourite gaming products of all time, Uncaged: Faces of Sigil, which is how NPC accessories should be done. Unfortunately, their Deities & Demigods doesn’t appear to be the original, with Cthulhu and Melnibonéan mythos. Then there’s the historical reference series, which, like most things 2E that didn’t have to do with the ruleset, are awesome. There’s The Sunless Citadel, whence comes the only lovable kobold in the history of the game, Meepo; often imitated, never bettered. Craploads of 1st-edition and basic D&D adventures, too.

So, here’s me saying something nice about WotC for the first time since December 2007, when I first playtested Dungeons & Dragons 4E.

Incidentally, WotC also sells novels as ebooks on Amazon, nowadays.

Rock’n Loud at IndieGoGo

There’s a new Finnish RPG project on IndieGoGo. It’s called Rock’n Loud, and it’s about the life of a rock band, exploring themes like power chords, drug addiction, groupies and black leather. I don’t yet have a really good feel of the content, but pledged for the PDF copy just on the merit of it being Finnish, and music being an underexplored theme in roleplaying games (the only other RPGs about musicians that I can think up now are Umlaut, Tähti and the d20 minigame published in Polyhedron, “Hi-Jinx”).

There’s not much out about the game yet, but I am optimistic.

Me, D&D Novels, on LOKI

I just started an article series on LOKI about gaming tie-in fiction. It’s in Finnish, which may not be overly helpful for most of you, but if you want, I can recommend a good self-studying package. I foresee writing quite a few followups to it. Despite the picture, I am not condemning them all, but seeking the about 100 good books that according to Sturgeon’s Law should exist underneath the mound of crap.

In other news, I spent a few days in Zurich a couple of weeks ago and picked up some fascinating gaming products in strange and foreign tongues. There will be at least one photoessay forthcoming once I can wrangle the time to do something about it.

Pathfinder Society in Finland Post Up at Paizo.com

Just making a quick note here that a blog post written by Venture-Lieutenant Jussi Leinonen and I has gone up at Paizo’s blog, as part of the series where the Venture-Officers of different areas tell about how they’re doing and what’s it like running Pathfinder Society in their area.

It’s probably already the most widely-read blog post I’ve ever written. So it goes.

Mind you, it’s also the best-illustrated, with Daren Bader’s awesome cover for Irrisen – Land of Eternal Winter.

Yeah, Finland at winter. Captures it perfectly.

In Memoriam: Boris Strugatsky

Boris Strugatsky, since 1991 the surviving Strugatsky brother, has passed away at the age 0f 79.

The Strugatsky Brothers were the brightest stars of Soviet science fiction. They wrote dozens of novels, most of which I have unfortunately not read, but there is one that shines above all others. In 1972, they wrote Пикник на обочине, released five years later in English as Roadside Picnic, but probably best known as Stalker. If you have not read it, do so. Its influence on modern science fiction is difficult to overstate. Just the works directly based on it include a film that is a masterpiece on its own right (as well as another that’s highly entertaining), a trilogy of popular computer games, and of course the tabletop RPG that I am honoured to have translated to English. Nearly four decades after the book’s release, it is one of the most significant works of 20th-century science fiction, while remaining supremely accessible, interesting and entertaining in its own right.

The genre has lost one of its greats. It is a sad day.

I’ve found no mention of a cause of death, but he had been ill for some time and had problems with both his heart and kidneys.

Via SF Signal.

Playground Magazine Available in Digital Format

Splendid! Playground Magazine, the Nordic larp magazine that I’ve discussed a couple of times in the past and notoriously difficult to acquire, has been made available in a digital format at HP MagCloud. I picked up all four copies I didn’t yet have. I haven’t yet had time to actually read them, but a quick browse reveals a number of interesting things I have to read in greater depth. There’s one about Kapo, which I may actually end up using as an essay source; one called “10 Ways to Manipulate Your Players”; an article about Nordic Larp; an interview of Zak S; “How Bleed Is Ruining Larp”; “Table-Talk and 8th-Grade-itis”, which is about the roleplaying scene in Japan; and a dozen other things. It’s fascinating, and it’s finally properly available. Thanks to Juhana Pettersson for the heads-up.

New Finnish Newsblogs

It has been quiet on the blog. This is the result of me trying to complete about 50 ECTS’s worth of studies during the autumn semester, with the goal of finally getting my BA degree in the spring. The situation is not likely to improve before mid-December or thereabouts. Between now and then you can still look forward to a series of posts on the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path, since we just started in on Sanctum of the Serpent God last session, and the end is nigh.

Meanwhile, at least if you read Finnish, there are other blogs you can read. The last month has seen the birth of not one but two Finnish RPG news blogs, both joined with gaming forums. Because I’m crap at saying no, I’m also helping out on both of them.

The first of these is the Majatalo blog, sprung up as the new frontpage of the forum. It had a strong start, but seems to have stalled since. I’m not giving up hope, however, and will be producing news posts there as newsworthy things pop up.

The other one is LOKI, in conjunction with the Pelilauta forum. LOKI is shaping up to be something really impressive, with a large roster of capable writers and a steady update schedule of larger articles twice a week and smaller news reporting as needed. There’s also some content in English, conveniently placed in its own category.