This is the weekend of Ropecon 2021, virtual for the second year in a row. As there have been a lot of role-playing game studies books coming out in the past few years, we felt we needed an excuse to catch up, and thus was born the clunkily and slightly inaccurately named “Jukka Särkijärvi and Evan Torner Chat About Recent RPG Monographs” (there’s one book there that’s not a monograph).
I was also asked for a bibliography, so here’s the books we covered, the books we mentioned, and the books we obliquely hinted at in the program description by mystifying references like “Bowman (2010)”. You can find the International Journal of Role-Playing here, Analog Game Studies here, and as a bonus, the Japanese Journal of Analog Role-Playing Game Studies here.
Of course, accessibility is always an issue, especially when dealing with academic publishers who price their stuff for institutions, not private individuals. Some we bought, some we received straight from the authors, some we wrested from the jealous grasp of university libraries. DriveThruRPG carries a lot of the McFarland books, but not all of them. Some are entirely or partially free downloads, and I have linked to those. I can only wish the best of luck to those embarking on the same journey.
Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2010. The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems, and Explore Identity. McFarland. Link.
Carbonell, Curtis D. 2019. Dread Trident: Tabletop Role-Playing Games and the Modern Fantastic. Liverpool University Press. Link.
Deterding, Sebastian and José Zagal. 2019. Role-Playing Game Studies: A Transmedia Approach. Routledge. Link. Open access articles.
Fine, Gary Alan. 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. University of Chicago Press. Link.
Grouling Cover, Jennifer. 2010. The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. McFarland. Link.
Hedge, Stephanie and Jennifer Grouling. 2021. Roleplaying Games in the Digital Age: Essays on Transmedia Storytelling, Tabletop RPGs and Fandom. McFarland. Link.
Henriksen, Thomas Duus, Christian Bierlich, Kasper Friis Hansen, and Valdemar Kølle (eds.). 2011. Think Larp. Rollespilsakademiet. Download.
Jones, Shelly (ed.). 2021. Watch Us Roll: Essays on Actual Play and Performance in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. McFarland. Link.
Kamm, Björn-Ole. 2020. Role-Playing Games of Japan: Transcultural Dynamics and Orderings. Palgrave Macmillan. Link.
Loponen, Mika. 2019. The Semiospheres of Prejudice in the Fantastic Arts: The Inherited Racism of Irrealia and Their Translation. PhD thesis, University of Helsinki. Download.
Mackay, Daniel. 2001. The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art. McFarland. Link.
Mizer, Nicholas J. 2019. Tabletop Role-Playing Games and the Experience of Imagined Worlds. Palgrave Macmillan. Link.
Mochocki, Michał. 2021. Role-play as a Heritage Practice: Historical Larp, Tabletop RPG and Reenactment. Link.
Montola, Markus and Jaakko Stenros (eds.). 2008. Playground Worlds: Creating and Evaluating Experiences of Role-Playing Games. Ropecon ry. Download.
Montola, Markus and Jaakko Stenros (eds.). 2010. Nordic Larp. Fëa Livia. Download.
Peterson, Jon. 2020. The Elusive Shift. MIT University Press. Link.
Saitta, Eleanor, Johanna Koljonen and Jukka Särkijärvi (eds.). What Do We Do When We Play? Ropecon ry. Open access articles.
Schallegger, René Reinhold. 2019. The Postmodern Joy of Role-Playing Games: Agency, Ritual and Meaning in the Medium. McFarland. Link.
Seregina, Usva. 2016. Performing Fantasy and Reality. PhD thesis, Aalto University. Download.
Seregina, Usva. 2018. Performing Fantasy and Reality in Contemporary Culture. Routledge. Link.
White, William J. 2020. Tabletop RPG Design in Theory and Practice at the Forge, 2001–2012: Designs and Discussions. Palgrave Macmillan. Link.
Williams, J. Patrick, Sean Q. Hendricks, and W. Keith Winkler (eds.). 2006. Gaming as Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity and Experience in Fantasy Games. McFarland. Link.
Additionally, I have been working on a series of articles for the Loki role-playing webzine about many of these books. Only in Finnish, I’m afraid.
Ropecon 2019 kicks off a week from now at Messukeskus in Helsinki. There’s a lot of great programming on offer, and if you’re even remotely able to make it, it’s well worth the trip.
However, what with physical distance and the troubles of travel, remotely is indeed the only way a lot of you can enjoy the convention. Since the con’s video team has been working like mad to get the backlog cleared before this year puts another hundred videos in the queue, I thought I’d go through the archive and highlight some of my favourites from over the years. These are English only, but if you do grok Finnish, I also heartily recommend looking up everything by Esa Perkiö.
2012: Peter Adkison – “Gen Con Now and Then”
Guest of Honour Peter Adkison talks about the then-45-year-old Gen Con and its history. Though his first Gen Con wasn’t until 1992, he nowadays owns the damn thing, and is an engaging speaker.
2012: Peter Adkison – “Wizards of the Coast, 1990-2001”
A really engaging speaker. WotC he founded, making him eminently qualified to talk about its first decade until the company was bought by Hasbro. Rounds out the picture provided by Shannon Appelcline’s Designers & Dragons nicely.
2012: Larson Kasper – “Larp as a Tool for Civic Education”
Guest of Honour Larson Kasper (with whom I larped last week) talks about how larp is used in Germany in adult civic education.
2013: Dagmar de Cassan – “History of Modern Board Games”
Board game expert Dagmar de Cassan, who had to bow out of her GoH gig for this year fortunately dropped by back in 2013, and gave us this talk. There’s also an interview from this year on the Ropecon website.
2013: D. Vincent Baker – “How to Design a Role-Playing Game That Doesn’t Suck”
Vincent Baker, the designer of Dogs in the Vineyard, Apocalypse World, and a bunch of other games, talks about his design style and philosophy. It is very enlightening, especially to people like me who have trouble wrapping our brains around Apocalypse World.
2014: Jason Soles – “Mythology, Art, and Game Design”
Guest of Honour Jason Soles from Privateer Press discusses what he’s created and how he ended up there.
2014: Massi Hannula – “All the Mistake We’ve Made”
An annual favourite, where Massi gathers a bunch of her friends, everyone talks about how they’ve screwed up in larp organizing, conrunning, gamemastering, or the like. The 2014 edition features Ville-Eemeli Miettinen, Katri Lassila, and Mikko Pervilä. Very funny.
2014: Guy Windsor – “Realities of Steel”
Guy Windsor teaches European swordfighting, and for many, many years he did an annual talk about how things work when you’re wielding actual sharp metal bits instead of a duct-taped pool noodle or a d20.
2015: Niina Niskanen, Michelle Nephew, Jaakko Stenros & Jamie McDonald – “Gender in Games”
The panel discussed gender and LGBT experience and representation in gaming from professional and personal viewpoints. The panel was an important one back then and remains so.
2015: Jason Morningstar – “You Call That a Larp?”
Guest of Honour Jason Morningstar gives an overview of what’s new and cool in American larp. I think this one’s stood the test of time in that though time may have passed by the specifics, America remains weird.
2016: Jukka Särkijärvi – “Game Novels Then and Now”
Yeah, it’s mine. I talk for 90 minutes about role-playing game tie-in novels, with a bit of Warhammer thrown in. I had fun making it, I had fun doing it, and I’m very satisfied with how it turned out.
2016: Juhana Pettersson – “Blood, Sex, and Techno Music: The New Vampire Larp”
Juhana Pettersson, one of the designers of End of the Line, White Wolf’s first official larp under Paradox Interactive, discusses the larp’s design and what was planned further down the line. Though not all of those plans ever came to fruition, I feel items like this are an important reminder of what White Wolf was actually doing.
2017: Martin Ericsson – “50 Shades of Darkness”
Martin Ericsson, then the lead storyteller for White Wolf, discusses the different styles of playing Vampire: The Masquerade and the challenges of accommodating the gamut of popular playstyles in the new edition’s design. (He also had some thought on the challenge of redesigning clan symbols so nobody’s tattoo would become obsolete, but I don’t think he covered that here.)
2017: Monica Valentinelli – “How to Create Your Own RPG”
Guest of Honour Monica Valentinelli discusses game design, gives advice, and covers some of the realities of the industry. (Fun fact: the game she mentions in the beginning before actually starting the program item was a showcase game of Hunter: The Vigil that I played in. There was a clash of cultures. We learned a lot.)
2017: Anna Westerling – “Adaptation to Larp”
Guest of Honour Anna Westerling talked about the art of adapting works from other mediums into larp. This seems to be raw stream, so feel free to skip the first ten minutes or so of empty nothing. Her mike has a bit of a reverb at the start but it gets fixed soon.
2018: Eevi Korhonen, Alex Roberts, Karoliina Korppoo, Kristel Nyberg & Janina Kahela – “Women in Game Design”
A group of designers from the fields tabletop RPG, video games and larp discuss exactly what it says on the tin, a conversation that, as Eevi points out, is not one we’ve had a lot in Finland (by a quick count, I believe our grand total number of woman tabletop RPG designers stands at three, and I figure we could stand to do better).
2018: John Shockley – “Taking the Leap – International Larping and Why You Should Do It”
John talks about a thing that I do. Some of the material is a bit outdated in that Dziobak Larp Studios no longer exists and College of Wizardry is now run by The Company P, but most of what John covers is still applicable.
2018: Jamie MacDonald, Essi Santala, Joonas Iivonen, Tonja Goldblatt & Vili Nissinen – “Post-mortem: Just a Little Lovin’ 2018“
The organizing team of the 2018 run of the larp Just a Little Lovin’, set in the midst of the AIDS crisis of early 1980s New York, discusses and dissects the production of the larp. I played it, hauled some coffins for it, and was blown away by it.
This is but a smattering of the videos on Ropecon’s channel and not even all of my favourites – for instance, I only listed one iteration of “All the Mistakes We’ve Made”. Neither is it all of the English-language ones. I encourage you to go into the archive, delve deep, post your favourites in the comments!
Ropecon’s program is up! The con’s coming again, July 25th through 27th, and this time I’m paying my way by talking. A lot of talking.
My program items are as follows:
Friday, 20:00 – 21:45: Are You There, Crom? It’s Me, Conan – Mythologies in Role-Playing Games
Role-playing games have always drawn from myth and legend. This is a deep dive into the ways mythology has been used in different role-playing games over the years, from American interpretations of Kalevala to the umpteenth Viking fantasy. Come discover who is the most popular god in all of role-playingdom!
Saturday, 13:00 – 13:45: Living Greyhawk – kahdeksan vuotta, eikä aivan suotta
Together with Sampo Haarlaa, we’ll talk about Living Greyhawk, the most massive (at least by some metrics) organized play campaign to date. What it was, how it was cool, and what we can learn from it.
Sunday, 10:00-11:45: Roleplaying Games and Comics
Together with Jaakko Stenros, we’ll talk about role-playing games and comics, ones based on the others and the other way around, and which are good, and which are not, and which ones are heartily recommended.
Apart from my own stuff, the program in general has the usual problem of being packed full of stuff I want to see but I can’t be in three places at once and need to eat now and then.
Last year, Ropecon inaugurated an academic seminar alongside its regular programming. It went great, so they’re doing it again. I’m not personally involved though I will be there. The pre-registration is now open, the tentative program is out, and it looks really great.
This year they’re kicking it up a notch with a keynote speaker flown in from the States. Jon Peterson is known for the groundbreaking brick of a book that is Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventure from Chess to Role-Playing Games, which delves into the influences that coalesced into Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. The level of detail is staggering. They’re also collaborating with the journal Simulation & Gaming, and the best papers may end up in a special symposium issue.
Get your tickets here. Tea, coffee, and lunch are included.
Ropecon is just around the corner! Like, starting this Friday.
As usual, I’m busy expounding my opinions on all kinds of things. The programme’s been out for a while now, and I’m personally appearing on the following three items.
Friday, 21:00-22:00: All the mistakes we’ve made
Massi and her fantastic guest speakers share their strangest, most magnificent and just plain disastrous mistakes in the name of designing more or less great games and events. By sharing our mistakes we all learn that failing is not the same as being a failure, it is part of designing. Let’s learn from our mistakes and laugh the shame away together!
Saturday, 14:00-15:00: Translating Role-Playing Games
A role-playing game translator tells about his work, his process, and the challenges therein. Expect strange linguistic trivia and wild anecdotes. Jukka Särkijärvi has translated Stalker, Astraterra, and Chernobyl Mon Amour into English and The Whispering Road into Finnish.
Saturday, 22:00-04:00: Hunter: The Vigil – Doubting Souls
Guest of Honor Monica Valentinelli leads a team of players through a one shot campaign. Join them to see if their characters survive the hardships of the 17th century. “In 1690, violent clashes, supernatural beliefs, and demonic influences spelled disaster for Salem Village and its surrounding towns, while others fought werewolves and vampires on the frontier. With so much at risk, only god-fearing men and women were deemed innocent — and those were few indeed. You play a hunter in these dark times, forced to question your fellow villagers to discern friend from foe and bring them to justice the way hunters know how.”
There’s a load of other cool stuff on offer, but here are a few I’ve marked down for myself and will probably miss because I’m too busy catching up with friends.
Friday, 18:00-19:00: White Wolf – The Evolution of Monsters
Vampire: The Masquerade was built on a combination of the classic Gothic vampire novel and the late 80’s / early 90’s literary ”punk” trend of injecting irreverent perspectives and socially conscious social analysis into stale fiction genres. But there is so much more to say. How does Vampires imagining of the undead, werewolves and monsters differ from those of legend and literary analysis? How far have literature and games strayed from their literary and legendary sources of inspiration and have they lost something along the way? This talk also includes hints on the direction we have mapped out for the monsters of the World of Darkness as they face the tumultuous changes of the 21st century.
Saturday, 20:00-21:00: A Talk of Darkness
Come and join Guest of Honor Monica Valentinelli and operations director Matt M McElroy from Onyx Path, as they meet up with WhiteWolf lead storyteller Martin Ericsson and game designer Juhana Petterson, for a talk about the world in which all of their careers entwine: The World of Darkness. The game industry and storyteller veterans talk about their love for the lore and share war stories from their respective careers. The talk is moderated by renown cosmologist, writer and role playing enthusiast Syksy Räsänen.
Sunday, 9:00-10:00: Adaptation to Larp
How can you adapt existing works of art into the format of a larp? Works like books, plays or music? Are there different strategies for different media, and what have been done so far? What happens when the beautiful predefined story meets the freedom, interaction and participation of larp? I will discuss works such as Inside Hamlet, A Nice Evening with the Family, College of Wizardry, MacBeth, Love stories by ABBA and the Jane Austen larp Fortune & Felicity.
Finland’s premier gaming convention Ropecon is right around the corner. I’ve lately been swimming in the deep waters of Worldcon organizing and am not part of the concom this year, but I do have a number of scheduled appearances.
On Friday, at 18:00, I’ll be running the Pathfinder Society scenario Bid for Alabastrine. Here’s the blurb for that.
A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for levels 1–5. Decades ago, the merchant nation of Druma anticipated a wave of migrants and built the city Alabastrine to accommodate them. The mass migration never happened. Always seeking a return on investment, Druma recently began auctioning off control of the city to the highest bidders and wealthiest entrepreneurs for five years at a time. The next auction begins soon, and the powerful Aspis Consortium gold agent Myrosype—an enemy of the Society responsible for countless Pathfinders’ deaths—is poised to take control of the whole city for her own nefarious ends. The Society has secured a few invitations for the PCs to attend the auction. Can they disrupt the event’s delicate politics in order to stop their rival, or will the Aspis Consortium gain an unassailable stronghold?
It was assigned to me, but looks right up my alley. Intrigue and mystery that punishes players who think only with their damage dice.
What I consider as my main event for the convention is at 11:00 on Saturday morning, Game Novels Then and Now. It’s a two-hour presentation in English, about the phenomenon of the role-playing game tie-in novel, about its history, idiosyncrasies, and reasons why you should or should not read them. I’ve been reading game novels at the pace of about one per day for the past week for this.
Ropecon is home to many sorts of games. For better or for worse, these games have consequences where you can’t impact the outcome – novels. From Dungeons & Dragons to Settlers of Catan, from Magic: The Gathering to Necromunda, these novels come by the thousands. Come hear about the unpublished tales of Drizzt Do’Urden, a Warhammer novel that isn’t Warhammer, and a series that needs to be deciphered with a flow chart.
And finally, on Sunday at 11:00, I have Astraterra: An adventure RPG for all ages with Miska Fredman, who actually wrote the thing. I just translated it. This is about the game’s impending release in English, where we discuss the game, the work, and what happens next.
There’s also a list of stuff I am interested in seeing but due to scheduling conflicts, my body’s need for food and laziness will probably miss until they are posted on YouTube:
The release presentation of Juhana Pettersson’s role-playing game Tšernobyl, rakastettuni (Chernobyl mon amour), which I helped proofread. This is at 18:00 on Friday, same time as my game, so I will miss it.
At 23:00 on Friday, there’s a screening of Mike Pohjola’s heavy metal musical 1827, about the Fire of Turku. I saw it the last time it was screened at Ropecon and rather enjoyed it.
“So you went to work in Japan”, by Joonas Kirsi, Saturday from 12:00, overlapping my presentation. Joonas is an excellent speaker, and here he discusses what work life in Japan is really like, based on 18 months of personal experience.
“All the Mistakes We’ve Made”, by Massi Hannula Thorhauge, Claus Raasted, Riikka Böök, and Jukka Seppänen. This has become a traditional thing, where a bunch of larp organizers tell about a mistake that was made in running a larp, now that they can laugh about it, and what can be learned from it. This is right after my thing, so I can make it!
Unless, that is, I go see Tuomas Pirinen’s “Creating Chaos”, where the Games Workshop veteran discusses creating Realms of Chaos for Warhammer, and what Chaos is and how it works.
At 15:00 on Saturday, Jukka Sorsa talks about his new beginner RPG, Hood, based on the Robin Hood mythology. I playtested it way long ago, and I rather like it.
At the same time, there’s Massi again with “Solmukohta 2016 – How did it go?”, where she offers a postmortem on the Solmukohta larp conference. I was there and on the concom, so I kinda know what happened, but I am nevertheless interested.
Following from that, there’s Jaakko Stenros discussing the Finnish Game Museum and its role-playing game and larp exhibits. I crowdfunded the project as well as donated a load of material to the museum, so I am somewhat intrigued by how things are shaping up.
At 17:00 on Saturday, Juhana Pettersson talks “Blood, Sex, and Techno Music: The New Vampire Larp”, which is about the new Vampire larp by White Wolf Publishing. I played in The End of the Line back in February, and am quite interested in attending Enlightenment in Blood next year in Berlin.
Sunday at noon, shunted from his usual spot late on Saturday, is Esa Perkiö giving us yet another lecture on a horrible element of history and its use in games. This time, genocide. He’s a tremendously good speaker with relentlessly grim topics, and I’ve enjoyed every one of his presentations.
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.
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 inhis 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.
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
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).
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.
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, 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.
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, 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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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, 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 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, 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, 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 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.
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, 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.
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
The Helsinki in 2017 Worldcon bid was also represented at Ropecon. On the right, former Ropecon chair Mika Loponen.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ropecon is starting this Friday. I have a few program items that I hope I’ll be able to talk my way through coherently despite the sweltering heat.
On Friday, apart from puttering around the Pathfinder Society gaming area (in Takka, same as previous years):
18:00 – 20:00, Klondyke: Along with Teemu Korpijärvi and Joonas Katko, I’ll be talking about the history of the British Empire from one Elizabeth to the other, how the Empire came to be, what happened to it and how all its myriad wars and crimes are excellent fodder for role-playing games.
22:00 – 23:30, Room 26: With Ville Takanen, Miska Fredman, Samuli Ahokas and Jukka Sorsa, we will be discussing the present and future of our two gaming companies, Myrrysmiehet Oy and Ironspine, our games (especially the new Ironspine release Astraterra, which is absolutely great) and our future releases.
Additionally, I am doing the usual Pathfinder Society thing, helping games run smoothly and overseeing Saturday’s seven tables of Siege of the Diamond City, a game for up to 42 players. Overall, we have 34 tables of Pathfinder Society at Ropecon this year, mostly Season Five scenarios.
Apart from that, I may be reached either behind our sales table in Kaubamaja, hawking our wares, or in Cantina, enjoying a large pint of refreshing beer. There’s also a non-zero chance I will try and catch a program item I’m not participating in, such as one of the following:
Saturday 11:00 – 13:00, Auditorium: Our guest of honour Luke Crane expounds on the topic “How to write one to two books a year and not die”. This is relevant to my interests.
Saturday 20:00 – 22:00, Auditorium: Esa Perkiö, one of the most gifted lecturers we have at the convention, talks about yet another fascinating phenomenon of our world and how it may be applied to games. This time, slavery.
Sunday 10:00 – 12:00, Auditorium: If I’m awake at this ungodly hour, there’s Joonas Kirsi discussing the historical court intrigues of Japan. The reason he talking at this ungodly hour is that he’s good enough to be worth it.
As stated, Ropecon Saturday was a far better day than Friday. Most of my critical duties had been discharged, so I could kick back a bit and actually enjoy the convention.
The biggest thing for me on Saturday was probably Blood Under Absalom, the 30-player Pathfinder Society event. It’s a feature peculiar to organized play campaigns, these big convention events with many tables running a single game session simultaneously. We had five table GMs and the overseer GM, Stefan, and the tables were packed. I think we could’ve accommodated one more table GM, at least. Something to consider for next year. Unfortunately, I had other duties and could not participate, but I popped in now and then to see what was up. Only three character deaths in the entire session, for some reason. They, at least, were some of the high-level Tampere characters who occasionally need to be reminded of their mortality. They all got raised, of course.
My view on PC death in organized play campaigns is that 1st-level characters are cheap and especially the iconic pregenerated characters, Valeros, Merisiel, Kyra and Ezren, are utterly expendable and even the softest GM has no need to play nice with them. First-time players are an exception and especially inexperienced ones probably shouldn’t be slaughtered in the first encounter, but nobody should be immune.
Personally, I netted 15 permanent PC kills in my first month as Venture-Captain, all levels 1-3, including two TPKs. I swear I did not do it on purpose.
In the evening, I moderated a panel on alternate histories. I am still not sure if it was good or not, but I hope people were entertained. I only knew two of the five panelists personally, and it turned out rather more academic than I anticipated. I know it was recorded and it will make an appearance on YouTube at some point in the indeterminate future, so we can see if it’s actually coherent.
After the panel, the auditorium was taken over by 1827 – The Infernal Musical. It was a heavy metal musical that ran in a theatre in Turku last year to packed audiences, and we were treated to a DVD recording on a big screen, telling the tale of the Great Fire of Turku. The musical uses classic metal and hard rock songs instead of original compositions (well, there are two of those, one by Mr Lordi), so there was no fear of the soundtrack being ass. Personally, I’m a great fan of metal and a sucker for musicals, so I was an easy audience.
Remarkably, 1827 also has a good book, the most underrated part of a musical. I saw Rock of Ages last night, actually, which provides a perfect point of comparison, being another musical that uses classics instead of an original soundtrack. Indeed, the two even utilize some of the same bands. The film worked well as long as it didn’t try to have a story, because it was inane even by the standards of a genre where the plot is generally regarded as an afterthought and an excuse to belt out a couple of power ballads. 1827, by comparison, was, you know, actually written, instead of just sort of invoked from some sort of morass of the generic. Okay, I guessed the ending twist well in advance, clued in by the fact that it was a Mike Pohjola work (the reason we got the screening in the first place), but I had great fun on the way there, even when there was no Iron Maiden playing.
There were nods towards Finnish history, including the obligatory send-ups of famous Finns of the time (such as Archbishop Tengström of Turku, who turned out to be one of the villains of the piece and a Satan-worshipper, who at the end of the first act sacrifices the Russian Commandant Sinebrychoff to his Dark Lord; and the evangelist preacher Paavo Ruotsalainen, played as a Yoda-like figure). There were roleplaying game references (one of the heroes of the piece is basically a D&D barbarian). There were puns (including the obligatory joke about the fact that the fire started at the Hellman house).
Unfortunately, that probably was the last time the entire musical will be seen anywhere in public. A novel is in the works, but it just won’t be the same.
After the musical, I went to play my only gaming session of the convention. At this point, it was around 1 a.m., and I kept falling asleep during We Be Goblins!, as one by one our hapless goblins died. Full TPK, but I am told it is not unusual in that module. The bits I remember were fun.
Sunday, then, was mostly just wrapping up the convention. I didn’t really have anything to do besides handling the Game Master loot event and wander about for something to do. This was unusual, since traditionally my Ropecon Sundays have been hectic and panicky because of the scenario writing contest and determining and announcing the winners. This year there was no contest, so no panic. I could relax and sort of not completely stress out. It was refreshing.
After that, it was just the Guest of Honour dinner, the Monday afterparty and the con was a wrap.
We’ll see about next year, but I’m probably handing over the GM desk to a follower and moving on to other challenges in con organization. What they will be remains to be seen. It’ll be the 20th Ropecon. Big deal, that.