My Play History, at the Finnish Museum of Games

mph_2017

The Finnish Museum of Games opened at the Vapriikki museum complex last week. It was a crowdfunded project, and its mission statement is to showcase the history of Finnish games in all their forms. The core exhibit consists of 100 different games deemed relevant in one way or another. A surprisingly big portion of them are role-playing games or larps, and many of them are playable at the museum.

I will write up a larger report of the museum from a role-players point of view next week. I should have a pretty good feel for it then, since I will be spending my entire Thursday there, the complete opening hours.

This is because I got involved with a university course on the game studies side where we created the first temporary exhibit of the museum. The course was run by Annakaisa Kultima and Jaakko Stenros, who also blogged about it. It opened today and runs until February 10th, and it showcases the experience of playerhood through our personal histories as players and gamers. It’s called Minun pelihistoriani, or My Play History. There are thirteen of us from various backgrounds, and in addition to the texts narrating our histories and the objects that contextualize them, we’re present in the flesh. Each of us has a couple of days in the calendar when we’re sitting in a chair and chatting with visitors, perhaps even playing a game with them.

My dates are Thursdays January 19th and February 2nd, and Friday, February 10th.

It’s an interesting concept, and I feel we’ve made a hell of an exhibit for one hell of a museum. The folk at Vapriikki grok how to run a museum and make it interesting in a way I’ve rarely seen, and I go to a lot of museums. They use space in interesting ways, and the experience goes beyond just walking around and reading plaques. There are things to touch and try out for yourself. It’s how a museum should be done.

I will report on how things went once the month is over and done with. If you’re out and about on the dates above, come and say hi.

All the texts in the museum are available in both Finnish and English. Entry is 12€, 10€ for the unemployed or 6€ for students and kids. Children under 7 get in free.

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Another Year!

So, that was 2016. May we never see its like again.

Okay, gaming-wise it was not a bad year. Gaming-wise, 2016 was a remarkably good year, I think both personally and on the level of the hobby at large.

We saw a number of fine Kickstarters fund: ConanDelta Green 2nd EditionPugmireThe 7th Sea 2nd EditionUnknown Armies 3rd Edition, and the Swedish Tales from the Loop. From Finland, we’re getting Sotakarjut and Astraterra 2nd Edition.

Additionally, unless I miss my mark, Lamentations of the Flame Princess delivered the last of the adventure modules from that one serial campaign so many years ago – Towers Two, and Broodmother Sky Fortress, and they were worth the wait.

Other cool stuff came out, like Hood from Myrrysmiehet, the Hell’s Vengeance and Strange Aeons adventure paths from Paizo, and the anniversary edition of Curse of the Crimson Throne, with impeccable timing as our party is next embarking on the last part of the campaign.

In play numbers, our Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign advanced by ten sessions, our Reign of Winter by 11. My Legacy of Fire reboot got one game in, and then there was a bit of Pathfinder Society, a Vampire: The Masquerade session that one of the players reported on, and some playtesting of various things.

I finally broke down and bought the D&D 5E Player’s Handbook. It looks like a solid game, though it of course does a thing that I already have a game for and its product support is tumbleweeds. If I ever run Paizo’s Second Darkness adventure path, though, I might convert it to 5E just to see how that goes – it’s in 3.5 and would need to be converted anyway.

So, what’s up for 2017?

The convention season of the year kicks off for me in February with the larp conference Knutepunkt in Norway. I’ll be attending the Week in Norway as well as the conference itself, but I have no responsibilities beyond good behaviour. Have to relax at least at one convention.

I should probably note that in mid-February there’s also Valocon in Jyväskylä, but I doubt I can make it.

Following that is Tracon Hitpoint in March, where I just shot off my program suggestion mail – a very important thing since the program division head has been telling me they’ve got an hour scheduled for me anyway and I’d rather not talk to a chair for 45 minutes. We had the first Hitpoint in 2015 at a school, but the convention is moving up in the world and is taking over the Tampere-talo conference centre. Apart from being bigger and better-suited for actually running a convention, this is nice for me since I can see it from my window. The venue will also host the comics festival Tampere kuplii two weeks later. In late May, I can probably be found in Uppsala for Kontur.

Ropecon 2017 is in late July, and stays at Messukeskus. Two weeks later, the venue will host Worldcon 75. Finally, in September, Tampere-talo will see Tracon 2017.

Whew, that’s going to be a busy year. As for upcoming releases, I hope they’ll include most of the Kickstarters I listed above, the majority of which aren’t yet out with full products. Though it’s a computer game, I will note that Torment: Tides of Numenera is set to launch in February. It is the spiritual successor of the venerable Planescape: Torment, a game so good it basically killed computer games for me. In August we should be getting Pathfinder‘s science fantasy cousin Starfinder.

As for gaming, we’ll be finishing both Curse of the Crimson Throne and Reign of Winter soonish, and I would expect my Legacy of Fire to wrap up before the year is out as well. We’ll see what will be run after that. I have received requests for Vampire: The Masquerade, and I’d like to have at least one adventure path running, but we have nothing solid yet.

And that’s what 2017 looks like to me. I’m probably overlooking something, there are things I’ve forgotten and things that never drew my attention. Please, let me know!

 

RPG Novel Talk, Pathfinder Stats for LotFP, Stuff

Time for one of these again!

I really have been up to a lot this year.

I had two program items at Ropecon this year, they were both filmed, and they are also both already up on YouTube.

First, there’s the Astraterra presentation with Miska Fredman. The sound quality is a bit wonky, unfortunately.

And then there’s the talk I did about the game novel now and then. I am very happy with both the presentation, though the structure kinda breaks down towards the end, and the video itself, which has clear sound. It contains the filthiest things ever published about Space Marines. I also observe who’s the biggest sex symbol in all of D&D. In between the funny bits, I tell why these novels exist and also what they’re good for.

Meanwhile, Lamentations of the Flame Princess has released Jeff Rients’s Broodmother Sky Fortress to rave reviews. The Pathfinder RPG stats in the PDF version are my work, as were the PF stats in the previous Towers Two and Forgive Us.

While Towers Two is probably the weirdest writing project I’ve been part of – I’m pretty sure I’m the only game designer on the planet who has had to figure out how to mechanically express a man literally vanishing up his own asshole – Broodmother Sky Fortress was the most fun to design. There’s an entity in the adventure that’s so powerful it made no sense to stat it up at all in the low-powered, old-school LotFP system.

Pathfinder RPG don’t roll that way. My creation, which took five hours of crunching numbers, is no match for the Great Cthulhu, but is quite capable of ruining the day of your average 20th-level adventuring party. Solo.

Finally, I’ve gotten involved with PlayLab!, a webzine by the game studies folks at the University of Tampere, and until the end of the spring term will be producing game reviews, popular articles about research papers, and a few other things for them. Thus far, out are my review of World of Warcraft: Legion and the Finnish tabletop role-playing game Praedor. A longer article about College of Wizardry is forthcoming.

College of Wizardry 10, or, “I want to go back”

Last Monday, I returned home from the larp College of Wizardry, tenth of its name. Physically, at least. Mentally, I haven’t yet, not really. Emotionally… time will tell.

If the concept is not familiar, CoW is a Harry Potter -inspired larp for 135 players, played at Czocha Castle in Poland and organized by the primarily Polish-Danish team Dziobak Larp Studios. Unlike the boarding school of Hogwarts, the Czocha College of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a university-level institution, where the students are adults and have already graduated from one magic school. Not Hogwarts, though – the CoW larp series started out as a Harry Potter spinoff, but the serial numbers were filed off after the third game. The family resemblances remain, but it is its own thing.

First thing out of the way, when I say “Czocha Castle”, I really mean castle. It was built in the 14th century, is accessed by a bridge, and features both dungeons and secret passages. Like, actual secret passages. While at least one of them is dead obvious by the marks on the floor in front of the bookcase, I cannot get over how cool it is to move a bookshelf to reveal a stone staircase beyond.

The characters are both staff and students – Headmaster, professors, janitor, and juniors, sophomores and seniors. The students are sorted into five Houses. There’s the coldly intellectual and ruthlessly pragmatic Faust, the tight-knit and secretive Molin, the diplomatic and honourable Sendivogius, the artistic and bohemian Libussa1, and Durentius, whose motto is “valour and diligence” but who are really the party house.

The game is set at the beginning of term, starting with the students marching over the bridge into the castle on Thursday evening and ending with the Grand Opening Ball on Saturday night. In between, there’s two full schooldays, a few student parties, the Sorting Ceremony, and lots of drama, relationships, duels, and demon summoning. As students do.

Staff and Students, Living and Dead

The characters are handled differently from what I am used to in Finnish larps. We had the option of either writing up a character ourselves or taking a prewritten one. I opted for the latter because I was aware of constraints on my time, and because I wanted to see how they’re executed. The character was formed of a series of elements. There was their unique background and personality bit – in my character’s case, his mother was from an old and respected Hexblood family, but had married a Mundaneborn, which my character resented and had moved to his grandparents as soon as it was possible – and a number of boilerplate elements like House, what school he’d gone to before coming to Czocha, what was his year of studies, an extracurricular club, and his Path. The paths were Artificer, Healer, Guardian, Curse Breaker, Cryptozoologist. All of the material except House, year, and Path were just suggestions that you could edit, adapt, discard and change at will.

Charles Duke. No smiling.

Charles Duke. No smiling.

The characters were written to be gender-neutral, with a first name initial and a surname. It is thus that Charles Duke, Sophomore of House Faust, student of the Guardian Path, graduate of Stenøya Trolldom Akademiet, and member in good standing of the Alliance for Reclaiming Magic, was born.

Some readers may have twigged on to what was not included in the above – contacts. Those you had to figure out for yourself, and for the avid player, there was ample pre-game available online in the formation of relationships, friendships, acquisition of friends and enemies. People used Facebook, Google+ hangouts, Google Docs, and a special social networking site set up just for the larp, Czochabook.

Or then you could just skip that and show up at the larp. There were pre-game workshops for Path and House, where we figured out a bunch of contacts, how we think about one another, and generally who’s who and what’s what. This worked to a degree, though it’s still on the player to figure out what they want to do in the game and come up with plot. This is not a bug as such, just how the system works. It’s also entirely possible to go through the game just attending class and playing a student in as close to an everyday life it’s possible to have in a school for witchards. There’s also the race for the Czocha Cup and the acquisition of House Points, which offers additional structure and motivation to attend classes, answer the Professor’s questions, do homework and generally come up with stuff. It’s of course up to your character whether they care about all that. Mine was ambivalent; House Faust had won the past six House Cups, and Charles thought such a long streak would breed resentment in the other Houses and complacency in Faust, which would weaken them all as well as the whole of Czocha, where his deepest loyalty lay.

Learn from Your Elders and Learn from Your Peers

So, how’d it go for me? It was a learning experience. Point one: I should’ve engaged in the pre-game. I had a lot of real life going on and deadlines up the wazoo and back again, but I should’ve squeezed in something. The thing is, Charles was written as a kind of a dick. He was Hexist – that is, prejudiced against those with Mundane blood – hated werewolves, and was active in the A.R.M., which was the conservative political club. Additionally, he was House Faust, who have more than a little of the Slytherin in their DNA. Just showing up and playing a dick is problematic, because if everyone else’s character thinks your character is the online comment thread in the flesh, they have no motivation to drag you along into wacky student hijinks, and a lot of your game is going to be brooding in the corner. To my mind, it would’ve required preparing some contacts, both for like-minded characters and a few with a history of mutual antagonism just to keep things interesting. In the end, Charles was much less of a dick than I’d figured him; traditionalist, conservative, utterly humourless, polite and formal.

Another reason to do the pre-game would’ve been to get a better feel for who the character is before being thrown into his shoes and forced me to prepare with more depth. I could’ve figured out the elements which I needed to jettison earlier, and generally been farther along in the process of developing Charles into a person by the time I needed to embody him. Having a history tied to people at the school would have made me answer quite a few more “whys” of his past and personality than I did.

I did have one contact set up before the game; my mother played Assistant Professor Laura Ulfred, my character’s aunt, but we had very little contact during the game beyond her threatening to dock House Faust points if I did not ask my date for one more dance during the Grand Ball, fifteen minutes before the Book of Points was closed for the evening.

House Faust, incidentally, won the House Cup by one point, 536 points vs. Libussa’s 535. The victory was made of the Faust’s Fireball Dragons victory, so many extracurricular activities, homework essays, clever answers and questions in class, trespasses we got away with and such small moments. That one point made it special. Everything we did mattered.

One thing about having a game with so many players is the variety of experience. My genre was comic fantasy, to the point of being harassed with a cube-shaped rooster named Cockblock. I’m reasonably sure that was the experience most players had (comic fantasy, not Cockblock – though that bird got around). However, there were also dark, tragic, and even epic plotlines played out. Two characters died on Saturday night. I think there is room for it all as long as the plots are inclusive. The original source material gets both dark and epic at times, occasionally at the same time.

Magic Will Flow Through Your Hands and Your Heart

So, witchard school. Lots of magic thrown around. Magic in a larp is always slightly tricky since you can code a spaceship navigation system, you can simulate beating people up by beating people up, and you drugs can be so realistic people will wonder for years afterwards what they actually were, but magic doesn’t exist in the real world. Hence, the need for rules. In College of Wizardry, they were delightfully elegant: the target decides what the spell does. Most of the characters were still students and students’ spells didn’t always work as intended. It was always helpful to inform the recipient what you were trying to accomplish, like “Imma set your hair on fire, you werewolf-lover! FUEGO!” This rule was coupled with the aesthetic of “Play to Lose” – it’s more collaborative and usually gets you better story. Of course, this was more or less only relevant when dealing with attack spells, like in duel situations. My character wasn’t so much as threatened with violence, though did end up witnessing a very dramatic one between the gentlemen Rayford Elton and Raiden Grim.

Most of the spells cast were during class, mostly testing stuff on one another. This ranged from summoning the spirits of the dead inside one’s classmates to prank spells like “vox animalis”. There was also a chapter on common basic spells in the student handbook. The Czocha College of Witchcraft and Wizardry Student Handbook, incidentally, is a 559-page faux-leatherbound book that was included in the price of the ticket. It’s also available as a free PDF, as is the Von Schlichtwald Grand Bestiary. There’s also the out-of-character Book of College of Wizardry 4-6, which is a work of documentation. I know they are working on a series of other CoW books, both in- and out-of-character. For a bibliophile such as I, this is a very exciting game.

Reading them was by no means necessary to play, though it did deepen the experience. Still, out of the six teachers Charles had, two noted that the book was useless and one declared it should be burned. The fourth, Professor of Alchemy, on Friday mentioned he hadn’t actually read what the book said about alchemy. The following day, he had studied it and said it was actually quite good, but we should not feel bound by the printed word, so how about each of you pass this book around, tear out a page, and burn it on a candle.

The classes were a big part of the game. While you could skip them (and I did, once) without losing points, they were very entertaining. In Demonology, we summoned spirits of mischief and interrogated angels. In Necromancy, we summoned the spirits of the dead. In Mind Magic, we first simulated different fears and the second day, to offset the heaviness, Professor Nikandros had drinks and prank spells for everyone.

Oh, and in physical education we did knife blocking techniques. The second day, Professor Ikonomopoulos graded the bruises.

Two points for Faust.

Two points for Faust.

You know you’re in it when your sparring partner is the only guy in class who had separate gym clothes2.

Of course, there was also homework. I am fairly sure I have written less material for real-life college courses than I did during College of Wizardry. My favourite was an essay about consent and mind magic.

Listen to the Tide of the Centuries

We also summoned so many demons. There was an excellent NPC system in place. If you needed NPCs, like summoned demons, angels, visiting parents, investigating Guardians, drunk alumni, or harpies, you could go into the NPC room, explain what you needed, what kind of scene it was for, when, and where, and then you’d get the appropriate NPC in the appropriate time and place to do its NPC thing. The results were impressive. So. Many. Demons.

On the topic of drunk alumni, there was an interesting cultural difference to how alcohol is handled in Finnish larps, where in my experience it’s typically “not until the afterparty” or at least strongly limited. Here it was “bar’s open after the classes” and afterwards some of the teacher players remarked that this was the first time the teacher’s lounge wasn’t a drinking club. I didn’t see any disruption because of drunken players. We were all there to larp rather than get liquored up. Some did sleep a little late but that may also have been due to past-curfew rituals in the dungeon. Faustians, I would note, were generally early risers3.

In general, apart from some kitchen hiccups and a certain confusion about our bus from Tegel Airport, the game was extraordinarily well organized. Stuff that needed to happen happened. Information was delivered. When schedules shifted, as they sometimes did, new ones were distributed with such smoothness I barely registered anything had happened. Conveniently, in the setting, magic was not incompatible with technology and I could carry a mobile phone with me. A lot of stuff ran on schedule and knowing the time was important.

Raise Your Wand to What Lies Ahead

Three days is a long time to live in the skin of another person. You discover stuff about them. For instance, Charles was a much less terrible dancer than I am. The game also stuck around for a while, and the morning after I’d returned I first spoke to my girlfriend in English before realizing I’m not in the castle anymore. For a couple of days, I couldn’t really accomplish much beyond gluing myself to the Facebook groups and going “I want back” in Google+ Hangouts. Straight off the plane, it was hard to relate to non-players. This text is already my fourth longer piece about the game, and there’s a fifth one coming, maybe even a sixth.

There’s something magical about the whole experience. I wouldn’t necessarily call it bleed since my character had the emotional range of a dead cod, but afterwards I had all the feels. There’s a sense of community, a feeling of shared experience. Together, we created stories. We made friends. Hearing the Hymn of Czocha, sung both at the beginning and the very end of the game, makes me misty-eyed.

Whether Charles Duke will be returning to Czocha is still up in the air. I think there’s still a good story in him, and it is not dependent on really any other specific characters from CoW10 being present. I might go for a midterm game with him. For another term-starter, perhaps something else. We shall see.

I know that I am returning. The 11th and 12th games are sold out, but the rest of next year’s lineup will be released on December 16th. It may not be cheap, but I like eating noodles.

stuff


1 I only figured it out now. Libussa was founded by the mythical hero Libuše, who founded Prague. IN BOHEMIA.

2 As a point of order, we did a brief OOC negotiation on how hard we’re going to play this and concluded “let’s just do this”. The same repeated on Saturday with another player, on whom I had both reach and weight, but who happened to have self-defence training. I limped for half the larp.

3 Leading to the breakfast table exchange “Why are all the Faustians up so early?” “It’s the nightmares.” My best line in the game and I don’t think anybody even heard it with everybody else talking. Oh well.

What I’ve Been Up To

It’s been quiet here. It’s not that I’m not gaming or writing, it’s that I’ve been writing so great many other things, and there’s only so much time I am able to spend at the keyboard.

The most important of those other things is the English translation of Astraterra, a project that morphed under my feet into the second edition of the game. Look for it in the first quarter of 2017.

Earlier this year, we also had the larp conference Solmukohta, on the Helsinki-Stockholm ferry. The pre-event highlights included End of the Line, the first official Vampire larp under White Wolf’s new management. Along with Mika Loponen and Kaisa Kangas, I also edited the two conference books, Larp Realia and Larp Politics (free downloads). I think they’re pretty good books, all thanks to our writers, and it was a pretty damn good con, at least for me. Conrunning on a boat was a calculated risk and could’ve gone south in so many ways, but the team pulled it off and the feedback is mostly positive. Next year, Norway.

In late 2015, we premiered the gaming convention Tracon Hitpoint in Tampere, a younger cousin of the anime and gaming convention Tracon. Hitpoint is dedicated solely to games. It skipped 2016, but will be back next year. I’m not organizing anything beyond the obligatory few gaming sessions or a presentation, since my conrunning energy for 2017 is directed at Worldcon 75.

Worldcon 75 is hitting Helsinki next year, and I’m the games program head. It’s going to be the culmination of a project I’ve been part of since 2013. I’ve travelled four times to the United States for it. I’ve worked for it in London and Stockholm, and will be adding Barcelona to that list next week. I’ve manned the convention’s promotional table at countless conventions. There’s a huge amount of time, money, and energy invested in it, and I’m looking forward to its fruition.

Oh, and I’m still trying to graduate.

Anyway, I will try to update this a bit more frequently, since two updates in nearly a year is just sad. I am currently playing in Pathfinder RPG campaigns Curse of the Crimson Throne and Reign of Winter, in their fifth and fourth books respectively, and will be doing big postmortems on those when they’re done. Likewise, I am resurrecting a Legacy of Fire campaign I originally started in 2009 just so I can finish the damn story. Finally, I have a one-shot of Vampire: The Masquerade scheduled for research purposes in a few weeks. There’s also going to be a report on the Barcelona Eurocon as well as some reviews, one of which has been in draft form for over a year after the WordPress editor ate half my work and really should be posted, especially since I got a free PDF out of it. Finally, I have a game of my own in the works. More on that later.

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.

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.

My Archipelacon Schedule

Archipelacon is in a couple of days!

I’ve somehow managed to get myself an impressively busy schedule, with a total of four program items, one for every day. On Thursday, right after the opening ceremony at 17:00, I am sitting on a panel with Cheryl Morgan and hopefully other people yet to be announced, titled “Fear and Loathing in Hugoland”. If you can’t tell by the title what that one’s about, spare your sanity and your faith in humanity and don’t try to find out. I’ll be splitting my eventual convention report into the Hugo half and the convention report to spare you the neepery.

The following morning, from 11 to 13, along with Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf, Marianna Leikomaa and Tommy Persson, I’ll be discussing some more Hugos, this time focusing on the nominees themselves and their merits or lack thereof. Same thing as last year’s Finncon, really.

Saturday evening, Cheryl and I will be hosting the masquerade. Don’t expect me to sing this year.

And finally, Sunday morning from 10 to 11, I’ll be discussing science fiction in role-playing games and why things get harder to play the harder the SF is.

I also compiled a schedule of stuff I would like to see. Note the total of four overlapping items I want to see that are right before the masquerade on Saturday evening. Such are the sacrifices we make. Not that I’d end up seeing more than half of the stuff I’ve earmarked anyway. Conventions have a way of distracting you from your intended goal.

But now, I still have a pile of short fiction to read and some slides to prepare.

Passing the Torch in Pathfinder Society

Yesterday, I sent the following e-mail to Mike Brock, the head of Pathfinder Society.

After thinking long and hard, I have decided to step aside from the position of Venture-Captain of Finland and name my successors.

It has been a fun couple of years, but I have held it as a guideline in my volunteer work to never overstay a position. There comes a time when the challenge is gone, the work becomes routine, and a sense of complacency sets in. This leads to sloppiness and poor performance.

This is coupled with some changes in my life situation, leaving me with less time to dedicate to fostering the Pathfinder Society community than it deserves.
Rather than stick around and enjoy the perks and privileges, I feel the responsible thing to do is give the position over to someone who can tackle things with a greater motivation and a fresh set of eyes on how to do things.

To this end, I would promote the Helsinki Venture-Lieutenant Mikko Rekola to the position of Venture-Captain, and name the longtime Tampere game master Atte Kiljunen as the Tampere Venture-Lieutenant. They’re capable and active, fair-minded with a sense of responsibility, and get along with people probably rather better than I do.

I’m not going anywhere, and I will still be around as a game master, font of wisdom, player and organizer of my home convention.

It has been fun. Thank you for making it so.
So, no longer my bailiwick, and I won’t be seen wearing those bright red polo shirts at conventions anymore.
But yeah, it was fun. One just needs to know when to move on. I need to graduate some day, and I have actually paying (such as these things go) game design and translation work to attend to.
Next week, Archipelacon!

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.