Ropecon 2014 – The Same Old Song and Dance

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.

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.

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.

Purveyors of fine role-playing games and terrible humour.

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.

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.

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.

And now for a smattering of links.

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.

 

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The Dawn of a New Year

In what is apparently forming into a tradition, I hereby post about the last year several days into the new one, after every other blogger has already done their recaps. Like last year, I also blame World of Warcraft, and also Steam for selling me Mass Effect for a little under four euros and a pack of LucasArts adventure games from the early 90’s for a bit under two.

My tauren druid is now level 80, finally. He’s totally awesome.

This is how you know it’s a gamer blog. The normal people would blame the delay on the hangover after New Year’s. Had that one, too, though. Several, actually.

Aaanyway, let’s take a look at what I wrote a year back about 2009.

Well, to start with, The Dresden Files RPG did not materialise. However, it’s not vapourware yet and Evil Hat is aiming for release at Origins 2010. I feel they’re being realistic and refreshingly honest about their chances of hitting a definite release date. Still looking forward to this one. I’m a huge fan of the novels – not so much the TV series – and I feel they will translate rather well into a roleplaying game. Indeed, they were strongly inspired by RPGs in the first place.

Adamant Entertainment’s and Cubicle 7’s Tales of New Crobuzon has also failed to appear. I do not know the status on this, though Adamant is still apparently up and running. Their site is going through a redesign and is inaccessible at the time of writing. Cubicle’s site contains no mention of the game, though they do seem to have announced the playtest of an unnamed licenced fantasy RPG back in September. I think we can definitely say that Tales of New Crobuzon may or may not be coming out at some point in the future. Then, in this industry, release dates often do have that Xeno’s Paradox effect going on. We’re still waiting for Sinister Adventures’ Razor Coast, too.

However, there’s one product that I can pretty confidently say is dead, and that’s Kahriptic Knights’ Deliverance. Their website hadn’t been updated for six months by the time I last posted about it, so it doesn’t come as a great surprise that they still haven’t updated it after that. Well, it wasn’t a game I was overly interested in, anyway.

But then there was the stuff that did come out, and boy, is it pretty. As predicted, we got Rogue Trader, from Fantasy Flight Games. I haven’t yet digested my copy wholly, but will probably be posting about it if I ever get around to reading the thing entirely. We also got another big, fat science fiction RPG, Catalyst’s Eclipse Phase. I’ve read the setting stuff in the book and it is awesome, easily worth the price of the PDF by itself, but have yet to start on the rather impenetrable thicket of the ruleset.

I’m pretty bad at reading rules, to be honest.

Eclipse Phase is also notable for being licenced under a Creative Commons licence, making the PDF freely distributable. It’s a bold thing they’re trying and I wish them luck with it. I bought both the PDF and the hardcopy.

There’s also that Starblazer Adventures thing, but I already bought two 400-page science fiction RPGs last month.

In addition to Rogue Trader, FFG released the third edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play. It seems to be dividing opinion, and looking at the components, it is certainly unlike any RPG I’ve seen before in its presentation. The price tag is too much for me, though.

And then we got Pathfinder RPG, which was pretty much everything I hoped it would be. I currently have two active campaigns, though both have been on a holiday break due to the players in Rise of the Runelords scattering to the four winds for December and the DM in Legacy of Fire being a lazy bum and not getting anything done about playing the game during the Christmas break. The bastard.

Pathfinder Society in Finland seems to have sorta dried up and whithered away, likely because it never attracted sufficient DMs to keep the game running on its own momentum. Also, were I to compile a Top Ten list of the weakest products released by Paizo, it’d include every dungeon crawl they’d released for PFS up to Drow of the Darklands Pyramid, which is the last module I am familiar with. I stopped keeping up after that. It seems the last PFS game in Finland was played back in October.

That said, there are some outstanding modules in there. I’d name Frozen Fingers of Midnight, Perils of the Pirate Pact, Tide of Morning and The Decline of Glory as the best of the bunch.

The most awesome thing last year, though, was the RPG course I took at the university. For those of you who missed it, here’s a link to the records.

This year, Ropecon is on the 23rd-25th of July, at Dipoli, in Espoo. It’s gonna be awesome. Tracon will be a two-day event in the summer, from 3rd to 4th of July, this time in Tampere-talo, where Finncon was back in 2008. It will also be awesome. Then there’s the con in Turku, Conklaavi, from April 10th to 11th.

I don’t see anything of magnificent, mind-blowing awesomeness in the future, but Paizo is coming out with the GameMastery Guide in May and the  Advanced Player’s Guide in August. The APG is in open playtest and the six new character classes can be downloaded from the Paizo website. I’ve been busy so I’ve yet to take an in-depth look at them, but hope to do so at some point, preferably before the end of the month when they stop taking playtest feedback.

I also remember hearing that indeed, Fantasy Flight Games will follow the original game plan laid out by Black Industries about releasing three Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games. Two down, one to go, and that last one will be Deathwatch, about the finest of Mankind, the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines. I can’t find a source for that, though, and don’t know if it’s slated for 2010 or 2011 release.

So, that’s what 2009 looked like and what can dimly be discerned in the mists of the future. Let’s see how it all works out in practice.