Looking Back at 2008

It was quite a year, in both good and bad.

Many greats passed away. Gary Gygax, N. Robin Crossby, Erick Wujcik, Bob Bledsaw, people who built and created this hobby. Living Greyhawk ended, Dark Heresy, Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play and Talisman only narrowly avoided the axe, and the era of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 came to an end.

On the other hand, we got Pathfinder, Dark Heresy and all the rest are still around, and the Chinese Democracy of the Finnish RPG scene, Stalker, came out, and was good. Tracon rocked. Finncon rocked. Ropecon rocked. I started this blog, which has occasionally divided opinion, but I think it’s a good thing.

I realise that I’m a bit late with this post. I blame World of Warcraft (my tauren druid is at level 68!), a New Year’s celebration that we maybe tackled with a smidgeon too much enthusiasm, and my little bother’s move.

I prefer not to dwell on the past year. There was good stuff, there was bad stuff, and we’ve all seen it already. It is time to look forward, into the future, at what looks like it’s gonna be an awesome gaming year.

There will be new games!

Towards the end of the year we’ll be getting The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game (hopefully), and Tales of New Crobuzon, of which I’ve blogged before. At GenCon 2009, we should be getting from Fantasy Flight Games the second part of the Warhammer 40,000 RPG triptych, the rogue trader game (and this month, Creatures Anathema, a monster sourcebook for Dark Heresy).

There also may or may not be a game called Deliverance in the pipeline from Kahriptic Knights Publishing. Allegedly, it will feature characters from the monster rock band Lordi. For those of you who don’t know or rememeber Lordi, let’s watch it again… The company’s website doesn’t really inspire confidence, though.

However, the big thing I am waiting for, which, if properly executed, eclipses all these in sheer awesome, is, of course, Pathfinder RPG, from Paizo Publishing.

There will be conventions!

The con year starts with the one-day anime and RPG convention Tracon in Tampere, on February 7th. I’ll be there, running Pathfinder Society.

There may or may not be a Conklaavi this year, too. It’s in Turku, in the spring, I’m not a part of the scene over there and I don’t think I even know anyone working on it anymore. They eventually do get the event off, but its existence is usually poorly advertised and two years ago  I didn’t even find out about the convention until after the fact.

Finally, there’s the most important con of the year, Ropecon, in Espoo, which is the one all you foreigners should come to. It’s in the summer, I think a week before GenCon Indy, and tends to generate staggering amounts of praise from our American guests of honour, most recently Chris Pramas. John Kovalic’s Dork Tower strip from a few years back was also great.

At Ropecon, there are RPGs! There are miniature games! There are card games! There are monks beating themselves on the head with 4E PHBs, and ninjas, and kilted Game Masters! There are explosions! (Well, not usually, but I’ll see what we can come up with.) And every Ropecon I’ve been to has been better than the one before it!

There will also be Finncon, on July 10th-12th in Helsinki. It’s the big science fiction con in Finland, and this year the guests of honour are George R.R. Martin and Alastair Reynolds. Finncon is also awesome, especially now that there will be special segregation of the anime fandom into their own designated area.

Ah, this year is a good year to game!

RIP N. Robin Crossby

Yesterday, the game designer N. Robin Crossby passed away.

Crossby is remembered for creating Hârn, a fantasy setting second to none in its attention to realism, and for keeping the setting and the game going for 25 years. Hârn has also inspired a devoted, creative and amazingly productive fandom.

I must admit that I have only a passing familiarity with Crossby’s work, but what little I have read managed to be realistic while retaining a certain sense of wonder about it. It was good.

Rest in peace, Robin Crossby.

The year is getting grimmer by the month.

Requiem for a Living World

It was the best of campaigns. It was the worst of campaigns.

At Gen Con Indy eight years ago, Living Greyhawk kicked off. It was big the moment it started and got bigger as it went. During the campaign’s run, it has seen perhaps eight to nine hundred different adventure modules, when all core, core special, regional, metaregional, introductory, adaptable, adapted and interactive modules plus mini and special missions are all tallied together. Maybe even more – I have no total figures, no complete listings of the massive amount of introductory modules that Nyrond released annually, or a full reckoning of the mini-missions of Sunndi. It is not outside the realm of possibility that now, in the end, the modules of Living Greyhawk have reached quadruple digits.

Living Greyhawk was global campaign, breaching, with its strong online support, language barriers and borders in a way its predecessor Living City never could. I’ve played Living Greyhawk in three different nations, with fellow players of seven different nationalities. If there is or has been another campaign in which this has been possible, I am not aware of it.

It was good while it lasted.

Dies Irae

At Gen Con Indy 2007, the axe fell with the announcement of Dungeons & Dragons 4E. We got a year to wrap up our regional storylines with a cut-down module allotment. Play numbers fell when the campaign’s finitude became clear. Module writers fled, triads lost motivation. There was and still is a great deal of bitterness and a feeling the final core storyline was poorly handled, as well as a perception that the campaign and the players were screwed over in what should have been the campaign’s beautiful swansong. What campaign infrastructure didn’t fade got mostly transferred over to Living Forgotten Realms, the supposed heir to the throne, and have had to divide their attention between ending Living Greyhawk with the dignity it deserves and kicking off Living Forgotten Realms less than two months from now.

And now it ends, with a bang, not a whimper, and the culminations of a dozen major storylines, some of them originating from the first years of the campaign. There has been great upheaval in other regions, with wars, fiendish invasions and planar rifts plaguing the land. A full reckoning of these end days will, I am sure, be forthcoming in due time.

The module database is still active until the end of the year, though all the triads will be let go of their positions at the end of today. After December 31st, 2008, it will be gone, like rain in the mountains, like wind in the meadow, behind the hills, into shadow.

Sanctus

Though I have had frequent harsh words for various aspects of the campaign, I have said them because I cared. It was a good campaign, one of the best. I have said it before, and I will say it again: in Living Greyhawk I have seen both the best and the absolute worst of adventure module writing. There have been magnificent epics, investigations that dared to be intelligent, exhilaratingly straightforward hack-and-slash adventures and even moral and ethical challenges.

I have played 149 Living Greyhawk modules. Most of them were pretty good, a few were pretty bad, and some were the finest I have ever played, putting many if not most of Wizards of the Coast’s and TSR’s published modules to shame.

Though I have called out the worst in the past, I must refrain here from naming the best – the list would simply be too long to be included here. It will have to be a future project.

Meanwhile, I ask that the readership name their own favourites among the corpus of Living Greyhawk adventures. My own experience is mainly limited to the Principality of Naerie, the Splintered Suns, and the core – though I’ve also adventured in both the Free State of Onnwal and the Kingdom of Sunndi – and I only came to the campaign in 2004. The rotation of adventure modules and the regional system make it so that no single man can know all that has been released for the campaign.

I consider this a feature, not a bug.

It fostered an atmosphere, a feel unique to each of the regions, giving the modules a context beyond the immediate. Done well, they felt like different places, with different peoples, customs, politics, and local concerns. As France is different from California, so is the Caliphate of Ekbir different from the Kingdom of Nyrond.

The other thing Living Greyhawk did remarkably well was create the sense of a truly living world. It is possible it came out clearer in Naerie with our relatively small population, but in Living Greyhawk, you felt you were truly affecting the world of Greyhawk, and even more, there were other people also affecting it somewhere out there in the world, and the stories began and ended, thrones toppled and rumours came to our distant shores from those lands without our characters ever intervening. The Liberation of Scant. Sewarndt’s coup in Nyrond. Iggwilv’s attack on Perrenland.

Agnus Hextorii

Of course, the RPGA has, all this time, had only a handful of paid employees. The vast, overwhelming bulk of the work done on Living Greyhawk has been volunteer or freelancing for a nominal fee. Regional and metaregional modules were, at least in my time, unpaid labour. So were regional websites, gazetteers, metaorganisations and cartography. While core modules were paid for, the fee was so small that I know at least one writer outside the United States had the checks framed instead of cashing them.

Thus, I thank these Stakhanovite heroes, who each did their part in making Living Greyhawk the best campaign it could be. While nothing is perfect, and I would be the first to admit the many imperfections of both the campaign and my own contributions to it, it was good. While often slowed down by bureaucracy and accounting, these did not detract from the experience once the table convened and the dice began to roll.

I thank the Circle, the metaregion representatives, the Triad members, the module writers, and anyone else who worked for the benefit of the campaign in these eight years, be they webmaster, playtester, moderator of a regional discussion forum, convention organiser, proofreader, or card-carrying judge.

Finally, I must thank the players. A campaign does not exist without players. By my association with Living Greyhawk, I have met many wonderful people, made new friends, gamed with a hundred different people. I couldn’t always get along with everyone, but when you put enough people in the same room, personalities will eventually clash. It’s been a great campaign, overall, and for that, I thank you.

Libera Me

And now it all comes to an end. We still get to play, sure, and the database isn’t going anywhere for another six months, but the campaign has reached its conclusion. There will be no more.

What now?

I, and I expect some others, will keep their Living Greyhawk characters and continue the campaign past December 31st, into the undiscovered country of home campaigns. The Principality of Naerie is not going anywhere, we have a backlog of modules from other regions should our characters wish to head abroad, and we can write our own adventures. So, in January 2009, we’ll release the Naerie Gazetteer 599 CY, tying up the plots concluded in our regionals and adding some new developments. We’re offering it as a fully fleshed region for anyone to use in their home campaign, ripe with adventure hooks.

RPGA is moving on to Living Forgotten Realms. I’m not, for a variety of reasons that I shall not elaborate here. It is an option for those who like 4E. I wish RPGA luck with it. They’re going to need it.

Finally, there’s the next global campaign for me – Pathfinder Society, by Paizo Publishing. It uses the Pathfinder RPG rules, developed from Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. It is run by Nicolas Logue, one of the finest adventure writers whose work I’ve had the pleasure to peruse, and the campaign’s faction system would seem to be straight up my alley, offering ample opportunity for skullduggery and developing some friction between party members, which I find creates better roleplaying. Reading their forums, the campaign staff’s enthusiasm is contagious, and I cannot wait to get my mitts on the rules and the setting book – significantly inspired by Greyhawk, by the way.

It’d seem I’m not the only one feeling Paizo’s love – there’s a couple of familiar names to be spotted on their forum already.

Though this is the end, there are great many new beginnings in the works.

Game on.

RIP Erick Wujcik

The esteemed game designer Erick Wujcik passed away during the weekend.

He had been ill for a long time, so it did not come as a surprise, but nevertheless, it is sad.

Wujcik is remembered for his work with Palladium Press, on Paranoia, and above all, on Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game. It is a pioneering work and surprisingly enduring – the game has been out of print for over fifteen years, and it still has a lively, active fanbase that most game companies can only dream of.

Wujcik visited Finland for Ropecon 2004. I never met him or heard him speak. Back then, I had no idea of Amber, a certain dislike of Palladium Press and really no idea who the man was. I do, however, have a dim and possibly incorrect recollection of him running a game on the other end of the hall when I was playing my first game of Living Greyhawk.

Nevertheless, in 2007, the first entry of Roolipelikirja was Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game, though written by my associate Kaj Sotala.

I still haven’t read the game, though it has long been on the list of books to acquire. Me being a bibliophile with a love of hardcopies and Amber being some sixteen years out of print, however, has made this something of an eternity project.

It has been a grim year for game designers, thus far, with first Gary, then the Judges Guild founder Robert Bledsaw back in April, and now Erick Wujcik.

Let’s hope the rest of the year is brighter. Rest in peace, Erick Wujcik.

Hi

So. This is my shiny new gaming blog. Why? Well, mostly because I like to write, and I like gaming. I do a lot of both.

Me, I’m a 22-year-old occasional student and occasional office assistant from Finland. I’ve played roleplaying games since… let’s say 1996. Possibly earlier, but I was young and can’t honestly remember accurately. I started with Middle-Earth Roleplaying Game, which I still can’t figure out, and have since played or tried to play over a dozen other games. I have a packrat mentality, and I think my collection numbers a bit over eighty games at the moment, with the total number of rulebooks, supplements, sourcebooks, accessories, magazines and adventure modules in the hundreds. Of kilos.

I dread the day I have to move.

Currently, I mostly play Dungeons & Dragons, with occasional sessions of Dark Heresy, Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, Godlike and a few other games. I’m also playing in an ongoing campaign of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, first edition.

My published writings include a few articles in Roolipelaaja, a Finnish roleplaying game magazine, one Living Greyhawk adventure called NAE7-04 Unyielding, and along with Kaj Sotala and others, a book about roleplaying games that was imaginatively named Roolipelikirja (“Roleplaying Game Book”) and published by BTJ Finland. I’m currently working on another Living Greyhawk adventure with Sampo Haarlaa, scheduled to come out next summer.

I also frequent a number of Finnish and foreign RPG forums and have varying levels of posting activity on each.

This blog will contain stuff about the traditional roleplaying games. Likely a large amount of D&D material, possibly game reports, reviews, my opinions on industry news, and whatever else catches my fancy. I may also document forays into the world of electronic games, though as my computer grows elderly, I hate consoles and consider Planescape: Torment the pinnacle of computer gaming, those will be rare. I’m fairly deep into the workings of the RPGA in Finland, so that will also be occasionally featured. I’ll try to keep the rate of updates at around two a week, but I know I’ll fail miserably at that and say that if I get something up once a month, I’m doing fine.

What this blog will not contain is roleplaying game theory, LARP stuff or discussions of storygames. I will try to keep One-True-Wayism and accusations of badwrongfun to a minimum. As long as you’re not playing FATAL, you’re doing fine in my book.

Let’s see what comes of this. I may be tinkering with the layout and the little things a lot in the days to come. Do not hesitate to give suggestions for improvement.

– Jukka Särkijärvi