Posted by: NiTessine | July 25, 2016

My Ropecon Schedule

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 Come hear about the unpublished tales of Drizzt Do’Urden, a Warhammer novel that isn’t Warhammer, and a series that needs to be deciphered with a flow chart.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.

I may also try to play a game.

Posted by: NiTessine | September 2, 2015

Sasquan: Not a Convention Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: NiTessine | July 6, 2015

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.

Posted by: NiTessine | July 2, 2015

Archipelacon: A Convention Report

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

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

And it was great.

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

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

How Great? Pretty Damn Great

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Masquerade, This Time No Song or Dance

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes This Fandom So Great

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

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

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

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

Posted by: NiTessine | June 23, 2015

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.

Posted by: NiTessine | June 18, 2015

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!
Posted by: NiTessine | June 5, 2015

Ropecon 2015: End of an Era

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

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

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

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

Here, then, some memories of Ropecon.

Room 25

Room 26

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

Room 22

Room 22

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

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

James Edward Raggi IV, at Kaubamaja

James Edward Raggi IV, at Kaubamaja

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

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

The chaos of Kaubamaja

The chaos of Kaubamaja

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

Hall 3

Hall 3

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

Hall 2

Hall 2

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

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

Con's vendor table.

Con’s vendor table.

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

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

Larp desk.

Larp desk.

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


RPG desk

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

The Takka/Poli/Palaver hallway

The Takka/Poli/Palaver hallway

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



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

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

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

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

The Business Centre

The Business Centre

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

The Cone Hall

The Cone Hall

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

The storeroom

The storeroom

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

The backroom

The backroom

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



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

The Auditorium

The Auditorium

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



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

Helsinki in 2017 bid table

Helsinki in 2017 bid table

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

The Cone Door

The Cone Door

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

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony

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

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

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

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

It has been fun.

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

Posted by: NiTessine | May 6, 2015

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.

Posted by: NiTessine | May 5, 2015

Review: The Paranet Papers

The Paranet Papers is the third book of the Dresden Files RPG by Evil Hat Productions. Technically, it isn’t out until a month from now, but I received the PDF as a review freebie.

It’s an impressive piece of work, much like Our World and Your Story were. The book is sort of a general accessory that mostly focuses on delivering different settings that explore alternative ways of building a campaign from the ways given in the core books, but also includes a load of new rules items and updates material from Our World to include material from Turn CoatSide Jobs, and Changes (Dresden Files book #12; the series is now at #15). It’s also a big book, with 378 pages of stuff parceled out in eight chapters. Incidentally, this review will contain SPOILERS for that book.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, the DFRPG books are presented as “in-universe” documents, a role-playing game that one of the characters, Will Borden, is designing to sneak information about supernatural threats to the general public (in the novels, Dracula was a similar work and led directly to the spectacular collapse of the Black Court of vampires). The game books are editing drafts of the final game books, with editorial notes in little post-it notes and a lot of highlighting pen work. This allows the books to include big secrets kept by the characters, usually with an “oops, I’ll remove this in the next draft” from Will, while simultaneously presenting a lot of data as mere speculation, with no obligation for the novel series to follow it. Where in the first two books, the comments were by Will, Harry and Bob the Skull, here they are from Will, Karrin Murphy and Waldo Butters, dealing with Harry’s apparent death and sniping at each other with pop culture references that usually at least one of the three doesn’t get. The illusion is broken only by the absence of “see page XX” notes – the real page references tend to be among the last things you can insert when laying out a book.

The Contents

Let’s see what this fat bastard’s eaten, then.

The first five chapters are descriptions of different areas of the world that act as campaign outlines and also as case studies of different ways to do city generation and campaigns in Dresden Files.

The first of these is Las Vegas, more or less an exercise in standard DFRPG city-building. It’s a city with a long-standing supernatural status quo that was contingent on a very powerful Red Court vampire. Then Changes happened, and now there is a power vacuum and the big players in the city are all getting ready to make a grab for it. The situation is not yet at a boiling point, but it is simmering aggressively. There’s some wyldfae, and some Skavis, and the local cops, and the mafia, and a cult of Ishtar, and a bibliomancer at the University, and some dude who may or may not be the actual Charon hanging out at the Venetian, and loads of other things. It’s a very complex, juicy situation, presented in a lovely, creepy manner. Like all the campaign ideas, it also notes which of the NPCs in the city are suitable for use as PCs.

The next chapter is Bloody October, set in Russia… in 1918, with the Civil War in full swing. The city they picked was Novgorod, a very old but much smaller city near St. Petersburg and Moscow. It’s an example of a historical setting, but also one that is based around the different mortal power groups in the city rather than locations and their themes. It’s also a place where the shit is currently in the process of hitting the fan and spraying everywhere. The Russian Civil War is one of the great clusterfucks of the 20th century. I remember the historian James Palmer once commenting on another game product set in the era to the effect that the goings-on were so gonzo already that a high-level fantasy adventurer party in the middle of Siberia would be just par for the course.

Of course, Rasputin is here, lurking in the background. Baba Yaga also makes an appearance, as does Koschei the Deathless. My personal favourite, Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, isn’t represented, but then again, his theatre of operations was thousands of kilometres to the east. Oh, and the local Cheka supervisor may or may not also be the Winter Knight. The Novgorod chapter is really cool stuff, though one of the NPCs presented is a Karelian Jew named Svetlana, from the lands of an evil Baron, which seems somewhat off to me. My cursory search couldn’t find references to East Karelia’s adminstrative division under Imperial Russia, but a Jewish village outside of the Pale of Settlement, in an area that never had a large population and most of that urban, seems kinda weird. The chapter is sourced from some old letters by a friend of Czar Nikolai II who also happened to be White Council and whose apprentice bumped off Rasputin (It didn’t take. It never takes. You’d think anyone killed that hard would stay down, but nooo…)

Bloody October is also mostly illustrated in a style resembling old Soviet propaganda art, which helps set the atmosphere. I like it.

The third chapter is Neverglades, or Okeeokalee Bay, a town in the swamps of Florida, home to the actual Fountain of Youth, where about a third of all inhabitants have some mystic ability or skill and the existence of the supernatural is more or less public knowledge, taken as just one more thing. Hell, the town sheriff is a changeling and the chapter is narrated by a weregator who also doubles as the town’s tourist guide. Okeeokalee Bay is an example of a tightly-knit community, which is organized around the people instead of locations in a system they call the Neverglades Twist. We get several faces for a theme, and characters who can be the face of both a location and a theme, and so forth.

This is one of my favourite chapters in the book in how it presents a believable small community with an interesting variety of plots and tensions (there’s giant bugs! there’s the crazy blood-addicts of the deceased local Red Court dude! there’s a Conquistador ghost! there’s a love dodecahedron!). It’s very self-contained milieu with a strong, somewhat quirky atmosphere that I feel would be easy to bring to life in actual play (the narrator makes some very casual remarks about disposing of bodies, for instance). There are also infoboxes about local traditions and sayings, the latter of which is probably handy for people who game in English.

Then there’s Las Tierras Rojas. In both the first and third chapters, there’s a key element in the setting resulting from the destruction of the Red Court in Changes. Well, Las Tierras Rojas, the Red Lands, or South America as the rest of us know it, is nothing but that. It’s a treatise on the former lands ruled by the Red Court and how the area is dealing with the power vacuum (not well). It’s narrated by an agent of the Fellowship of St. Giles, the vampirism-infected guys fighting the good fight, who also got decimated as a side effect of the Court’s destruction, when all their vampire mojo left them. There’s also someone who may or may not be Manco Capac.

Whereas Neverglades focuses on a very small area, Las Tierras Rojas is a very large one, and I’m not sure if it really works. I’m not getting a feel for the setting in here, and I feel it would have needed more geographic precision. I’m not an expert on South American geography, but I have a working knowledge of it and I still had to hit Wikipedia every couple of pages, such as when one of the locations is described as “a hill in Veracruz”. While it was very educational to go find out what Veracruz is (a state of Mexico on the southwest coast of the Gulf), I feel that “a hill in the Mexican state of Veracruz” would have been handier. In general, The Paranet Papers really doesn’t seem to do maps.

Then we come to The Ways Between, a discussion of ways to get from point A to point B through the Nevernever, which also includes a ready-to-run road trip campaign, complete with pregenerated characters that it’s more or less tailored for. Personally, I don’t really get DFRPG’s affection for pregenerated characters. I’ve had players categorically refuse to play even a one-shot where they didn’t generate their own character.

This is a chapter with a lot of good ideas in the margins and at the edges, such as a lot of nifty and creepy Americana, urban legends come to life and supernatural hobo signs, but the actual campaign unfortunately does nothing for me. Then, I never made it past six episodes of Supernatural, either. The adventure locales seem too standalone and only a couple of them, like Concretehenge, a circle of stones in an abandoned quarry with a faerie guardian, and Old Man Oak, a tree that’s a magnet for misery, looked interesting to me. Apart from those, there’s a mysterious abandoned asylum, a demon-possessed mine, a safehouse in the middle of a forest inhabited by a gargantuan dream spider thing, and so forth. They feel like they should have been fleshed out more and most of them lack oomph. This isn’t helped by most of the art in this chapter being fairly uninspired (one of the artists that worked on the book has an unusual view of human anatomy).

The rest of the chapters cover a variety of crunchy bits. The first of these is the Spellcasting addendum. Here we get new rules for soulfire, more in line with what was seen in later novels, and lots of other little additions to better model new material. There’s a couple of pages on spellcasting in the Nevernever, several pages of expanded and clarified thaumaturgy rules and if that’s not your thing, the simplified and streamlined “Cheer-Saving Thaumaturgy”. The name comes from Will’s Arcanos group’s tradition of “He who kills the cheer springs for beer”. Then there’s a couple of pages on the philosophy of magic and the elements in the world of Dresden Files, which was interesting and felt like a welcome oasis between all the numbers.

I’m really, really bad at reading rules, if you haven’t figured that out by now.

The final two chapters are addendums to Goes Bump and Who’s Who, detailing new information about known creatures and characters as well as new acquaintances. This is pretty basic stuff. Having rules for the fomor is nice. The Who’s Who addendum also covers “plot device” characters, who are characters so powerful there is no real sense in trying to model them in the ruleset. They’ve been popping up a lot more in the novels. These are types like the Leanansidhe, Donar Vadderung, and so on. We also get Harry and Karrin statted out to the end of Changes, as opposed to the Storm Front stats provided in Our World.

The book wraps up with a comprehensive index. This is a good thing.

The Conclusion

It’s a pretty great book. I’m not all that hot on all the material and the novel guide aspect of some of the latter chapters is probably an acquired taste, but it’s written well and was an entertaining read. I especially like how the different settings are not just the setting, but also examples of new ways to create a setting under the DFRPG ruleset. That’s handy, and even a chapter like The Ways Between that was distinctly my least favourite in the book, has stuff that I can put to use.

The Paranet Papers gets my recommendation. It exhibits the same skill that was used to put together the two previous volumes of the game, and the presentation as an in-setting roleplaying game is great. The release schedule for the game may be glacial, but the wait has been well worth it.

Posted by: NiTessine | February 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Year

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

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