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30-May-2004: The Meaning of Hate

Pretty soon the spring entries of the blog will be removed from the notebook main page and stored into archives. Most people don't read the archives, so I can say what I think and it is visible only for a couple of days. The topic of this entry goes beyond and outside the scope of my Notebook in general, but since my source is a roleplaying-related forum, www.majatalo.org, we'll ignore that for now.

There is a thread at www.majatalo.org concerning the hatred of Yankees (read: Americans, the Finnish forum participants can't make a distinction between Yankees and other Americans). I have nothing against the thread being there, since freedom of speech is one of our inalienable rights. But it did shock me and made me pause to think.

I have always had a somewhat idealised notion of what kind of people roleplayers are. I have thought them to be open-minded, creative, with poor but definitely improving social skills as such. Even if I don't like game theorists and Schools of Roleplaying, the people promoting them are intelligent, aware and eager to discuss (and occasionally alter) their opinions, theories and observations. Apart from the one email which prompted the infamous "Elvis of Roleplaying" -entry from my part, all who have commented by blog or my opinions of these matters have been polite and attentive listeners when I've explained my point of view.

In short, I have held roleplayers in high esteem and believed them to be above the masses of "mundanes" which make up most of the fucked-up group known as Humanity. As shocking as the Yankee Hatred -thread was, maybe I should be grateful that it pulled my head out of the clouds. It showed me that roleplayers are people like everyone else and thus subject to human weaknesses, like prejudices against nations and people they don't know, understand or have ever met. Of course, newsgroups and WWW is full of similar hatemongering, but it is usually by fascists or other extremist groups, not by roleplayers.

It also shocks me to see how lightly they use the word "hate". Anything they dislike, anything they even slightly disapprove, anything that is not preferable to them, they say they hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Do they understand the meaning of the word "hate"? Do they understand the implied threat behind the word "hate"? Do they have any other options or different levels of dislike than hate?

I dislike a lot of things. I dislike some people. I am suspicious of certain groups, individuals, concepts and ideologies. I regard some concepts and things as moronic or pointless. But do I really want to see them hurt? Do I want to hurt them myself? Do I want to make them suffer? Do I want to kill them? Do I want to wipe them out of existence, along with everyone and everything who support them? Because THAT is what "HATE" is and it is not to be taken lightly!

I don't hate anyone, not even the hatemongers at www.majatalo.org

I am just very, very disappointed.

29-May-2004: Land of Frost

Eat this, wannabe game writers! Wille Ruotsalainen got his Roudan Maa books out of the printers and they will on sale at Ropecon! Congratulations on a job well done and welcome to the inner circle of contemporary Finnish RPG authors! Ok, so it is a supplement and not a game, but it IS a setting and to me that is the most important part of any game.

The Definitive Kalevala fantasy supplement is here and I hope it gets the media attention it deserves. A review by Petteri Hannila will be posted here on 1st of June, but you can already read it from sfnet.harrastus.pelit.rooli.

27-May-2004: Day After Tomorrow

I have just returned from Kinopalatsi where I watched a special showing of the new big-budget disaster movie "Day After Tomorrow". From the same idiots who directed Independence Day. Although it was much better than the movie the makers are famous for, it was idiotic, badly writted, poorly acted, melodramatic and pathetic. The characters were so one-dimensional that if they had not met their stereotypic fates, whether love, duty or death, it would have seemed unnatural. The special effects, while showy, had some pretty spectacular flaws, like a newsreporter standing in front of the funnel of an F5-class tornado without so much as a light breeze blowing through his hair.

And people who don't live in cold climates should not attempt to recreate scenes of extreme cold and frost. Rule number one: You don't take your gloves, hat or hood off whenever something important happens. Rule number two: Nobody freezes that fast, not even in space. Rule number three: When you breathe in sub-zero weather, your exhale produces visible puffs of water vapour.

If it was this bad, why am I writing about it? Because something in the movie touch a button in my soul and that button reads: "post-holocaust". I have a saying: if you squeeze excrement hard enough, it becomes a diamond. Amidst the crap were a few absolute gems that really put the hook in me. Not many but some, and they were powerful. Very, very powerful, overshadowing the overall crappiness of the flick. I know on a conscious level that it was a very bad movie, but I really feel spiritually richer for having seen it. If the "good movies" out there would have this effect on me I would do nothing else but watch them.

There was nothing to like. But I liked it anyway.

24-May-2004: Art News II

I would like to begin by ranting against game theorists and Schools of Roleplaying, but neither have actually done anything lately to merit it, so I guess we'll just have to skip that part. I'll have to think up with alternative ranting topics for days like this.

The one source of displeasure the I have is www.roolipelit.net, where someone has very kindly written an entry on Praedor and then given the homepage of his own Praedor campaign www.praedor.org as the (implied) game homepage. The real homepage is www.burgergames.com/praedor/ as everyone should know by now. Praedor.org is not the prettiest site around and people have been asking me why did I settle for such an ugly layout. But the truth is that I have nothing to do with these people or the site in question.

Now, to Art News, second edition. I completed the final story for the Praedor novel yesterday and all that remains is proofreading and fine-tuning. Petri can still demand major changes and is reading it through right now. Unless something really drastic happens, the book has the following stories:

Vihreä Kuu


Vanha Koira

Jättiläisten Maa

Petojen Herra

They form a loose chronological continuum so I recommend you read them in that order (and pray to the gods of Jaconia that Jalava puts them into the book in that order or else my continuum is ruined). I don't know what the book will be called, but my suggestions for a name would be Vanha Koira or Jättiläisten Maa, or then something generic like Taruja Jaconiasta, vol 1. And no, unlike the rest of the genre, it will not be a trilogy. In the unlikely case that somebody actually buys the book and Jalava wants more, I will write something completely different with completely different characters.

Whilst Petri evaluates the overall content, it is also being worked over by my spouse and a friend who has translated a lot of books for Jalava, including fantasy novels. They are not after typographical errors but of inconsistencies, stylistic breaches and lapses in the story arc logic. I am biting my fingernails in fear and anticipation. Stage fever is a terrible thing and I, an ex-teacher and a veteran speaker at Ropecon, am burning with it.

While I have a tendency to diss my work, all who have read the stories have commended them. My spouse even compared me to Edgar Rice Burroughs and for me that is a big compliment. Especially so since the good old fascist, racist and sadistic ERB represents the very genre I am trying to emulate; pulp fiction (fantasy variant), aimed at the currently non-existing audience of young working class males. Other well known products of that age and genre are Conan (by Howard), Zorro and some of the earliest superheroes and -heroines.

I just fear that I don't have enough sex in it. A post-sex scene between two middle-aged people does not really count in this genre.

Oh well, maybe next time.

20-May-2004: Art News

As for the grant, I got it. It is in the bag (or bank, to be more precise). It was real and not a daydream like I feared, but I still find it hard to believe. City of Vantaa held a party for the grant recipients last Tuesday and I was there, eating cake, giving a short (very short) speech where I thanked the City Council for the grant and told what it was for and mingling with all sorts of artists. Author Anni Järvenpää-Summanen was supposed to be the biggest celebrity there, accepting her 10-year grant, but I have to confess that I had never heard of her before. Two guys from the band "Kengurumeininki" were also there and I had heard about them: a rock band that makes music for children.

They also gave me a smelly rose and a fancy paper congratulating me on receiving the grant. If they had put my name on it I would have framed it on my workroom wall. I guess you can't have everything. That and completing a couple of projects at work has resulted in almost a week of non-stop small-scale parties.

All good things come to an end. Today I will submit 105-page script of my book to Petri for evaluation and I am absolutely terrified of what he will say. It is like having a bad case of stage fever; you manage to convince yourself that your piece is abhorrent even before the first critic gets to read it. Showing the script to a friend of mine who has translated a lot of fantasy for Jalava was really nerve-wracking. I was so convinced it was crap that her positive remarks were hard to believe. Gniko, whose mother is a professional author, told me what she had said of this kind of self-criticism.

According to her, when you start writing you like your text because of all the cool new things and tricks you've done with it. But as you go over it again and again, you'll get fed up with them until they seem irrelevant, stupid or just plain bad. However, the reader is not going to read your book 30 times over in painstaking detail and will find your text just as enjoyable as you did on the very first time.

That is probably true.

In other news, www.roolipelit.net is open for business, even if business is slow. Something in the site layout bugs me; its uninspiring. The idea behind the site is superb: Roolipelit.Net aims to be a web-based replacement for Magus and other RPG media, which have been sorely missed in the past two years. With no actual magazines in sight and almost a year to go before I can start working on Vyöhyke (a generic supplement for all Burger Games releases, with little something for Myrskyn Aika as well), we really need a Finnish RPG media. I hope their business picks up.

15-May-2004: Progress At Last

Just finished by fifth story of the my book. I am thinking about writing a short prologue story to the beginning, but apart from that the book is ready. I will be honing and rewriting parts of it until the very last minute, of course. Nothing this big is ever so good that you can't improve it further. And I bet you a buck that I am the only fantasy author in the whole world who writes Sword & Sorcery listening to WASP.

I kill a lot of people in this book and many of the deaths are quite graphic. Although still short of the insane heights of sadism and gore Edgar Rice Burroughs achieved in "Tazan, King of the Apes" or the fascist adoration of physical combat in the works of R.E. Howard, I am doing my best. Of course, if this book ever ends into libraries, it is probably somewhere in the "youth section", right next to Tarzan. Well, it is nice to know that I am the more "wholesome alternative" if a mother is worried about the influence books might have on her a children. When did Tarzan and Conan become youth literature? Heroic Fantasy was originally intended for single working class males as a mixture of escapism and soft pornography.

Come to think of it, I am doing very poorly on the pornography section and my female characters, sidelined as they are, are much too strong and close to the Nordic ideal to be valid damsels in distress. I even have a post-sex scene between two 50-year olds!

I am doomed!

Juhana Petterson wrote in his column in RPG-Net that now that I got an arts grant he is sending applications left and right. I wish him luck, but the sad truth is that my grant was the result of an existing publishing agreement between myself and Jalava Kustannus, so I received as an artist and author, not as a game writer. However, they did accept my games as "published works", so maybe there is some hope. I hope he gets one and I hope he tells me where he got it, because a couple of more grants would make the budget of Stalker a whole lot easier to bear. Ropecon Society may assist in that, but it is far too early to tell.

To my great surprise, there was a description of my upcoming book at risingshadows.net. The information probably comes from Jalava and reads like this:

Petri Hiltunen on julkaissut kolme sarjakuva-albumia luomastaan Praedor-fantasiamaailmasta. Siitä on julkaistu myös roolipeli. Nyt Ville Vuorela on kirjoittanut Praedor-maailmaan sijoittuvan romaanin, jossa on runsas Petri Hiltusen kuvitus. Aric on mahtava miekkamies, joka saapuu majataloon Taxoksen kaupunkiin Eram Majatalonpitäjän vieraaksi. Aric pyytää Eramia mukaansa seikkailuun Luumetsään. Aricin miekka on tarunomainen ase, joka on kiertänyt aikansa mahtavimmilla sotureilla. Kirja on laadukasta kotimaista sankarifantasiaa, joka vetää vertoja alan parhaimmille ulkomaisille vastineille. Petri Hiltusen jyhkeä kuvitus tukee kirjan vauhdikasta juonta.

Umm, that's cool... but guys, although there is a fellow called Aric in the story and he has a sword, a really good piece of work from the smitheries of Angar, neither he nor his sword are the focus. The book is about Eram and how he returns to the life of adventuring under the alias "Old Dog". The original short story was titled "Old Dog" and the rest of the book as been written in the same vein. I don't know if they'll let me choose the name of the book, but it sure as hell should not be "Sword of Aric"!

Risingshadow.net lists the book under "New Publications in September". That was news to me, but hopefully it is true. I am a bit worried if Petri can find the time to do the illustrations, but maybe the people at Jalava know this better than I do. As for the marketing bullshit, it is okay. Everybody does it and nobody really expects a first-time author like me to rival the likes of LeGuinn, Howard or George Martin.

Oh, and a final note: "Praedor" is the name of the whole concept. The fantasy world is called Jaconia (and beyond it lies Borvaria).

13-May-2004: Dragonbane

Dragonbane is a LARP game set in the world of Myrskyn Aika (if I have understood anything correctly) and perhaps the most ambitious live-action-roleplaying project ever. With over a thousand players and hundreds of writers, the Dragonbane team is trying to take LARPing to a whole new level, and although I don't LARP, I think they are going to succeed. Plans, budgets, environments, special effects... everything promises to be little short of spectacular. The intended date is autumn 2005 and intended location is Estonia.

Dragonbane website has opened: http://www.dragonbane.org

This is an international project so check it out wherever you are from.

For LARPers out there I can only say that Dragonbane is probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and if I am impressed by a LARP project, it is really going to knock your socks off.

For non-LARPers I can only say that this is the level of ambition I would like to see in all game projects. Of course, there is a limit as to how much resources you can put into a pen&paper RPG product and there is certainly no point in making a cinematic advert, but if all would-be game designers would set their sights this high some of them might get quite far.

12-May-2004: Dark Future

In the last entry I wondered what was the definition of character immersion. Mike sent me this quote from Beyond Role & Play:

"By understanding a character as diegetic roles, the diegesis as the
character's perception of the reality of the game world, and the player
as the participant of the role-playing game, immersion can be defined
like this: Immersion is the player assuming the identity of the
character by pretending to believe her identity only consists of the
diegetic roles. (See Stuart Hall (1996) for more exact definitions of
identity and role)."

As far I can understand all those fancy words there is nothing I would add. I just find myself wondering if that really is a goal and not a method, but then again I am not the theorist here. Mike also pointed out that the part stating that storytelling ceased to be a part of the essence of roleplaying in the winter of 1999-2000 referred only to academic discourse on gaming. Fair enough, this is exactly why I compared Schools of Roleplaying to normative grammar and dislike them both. They are instructive, not descriptive. But enough about that.

A topic that has intrigued me lately is the fate of the dark future genre, partly because of the science fiction panel I was part of at Conklaavi. As far as science fiction is concerned I am usually a post-holocaust fanatic who likes to explore social dynamics and veers away from high-tech, but you are now witnessing the exception that makes the rule.

Cyberpunk is out of fashion (some say it is dead; I disagree, although I do agree that the presentation of the future world given in CP2020 is dead and decomposed) and in terms of games there is nothing out there. Of course, the collapse of Soviet Union and the subsequent events have made the world even more unpredictable than beofre. After Iraq, I don't feel like making predictions even for the next year, let alone for year 2020 or something. For the D20 system there is a game called Armageddon:2079, a mecha game on World War Three. Definitely interesting, but not really what I am after.

For all its faults, the Matrix Trilogy had certain highlights. Even the often derided Revolutions had a very interesting scene where Zion dock operators are jacked into a VR space where the controls of the dock facilities float in front them. Perhaps it is because I am in the electronic games industry now, but cyberspace, or more precisely any plausible if also futuristic practical applications for the Gibsonian cyberspace feel much more interesting than they did back in the early nineties when they were such a hot topic. What are the distribution of power and political processes like in a post-information society? What is daily life like in an automated society where the whole infrastructure is run via an omnipresent data network, accessible from anywhere, anytime?

From the game design perspective it poses the following questions: What kind of post-information age setting would an expert find plausible? Can the key themes and dynamics of that setting be conveyed to a non-academic or an underage gamer? What would have to be added or omitted that an early teenager would find the setting interesting, while not alienating the expert (at least not by too much)? Is it even possible? If yes, is it playable? Is it interesting? Is it marketable?

Let's focus just on cyberspace. Assuming there were no technical restrictions (which takes us into far future or science fantasy genres), can we fathom a society where it would be practical to have a cyberspace? What would be the everyday benefits of having what is essentially an alternative reality superimposed on the physical world that you can access at will? Why is it there? Is there a reason?

I really, really want it to be there.

10-May-2004: Punk Gamemastering

My esteemed colleague Mike Pohjola runs a column in RPG-Net that I read regularly. Typical for RPG-Net columns, it has discussion threads attached to it where readers can comment on it and Mike responds, usually defending the points he has made. The style of conversation is polite, intelligent and academic. As I have none of those qualities I rarely participate.

However, as I was browsing through the comments today, I found this little pearl of roleplaying theory:

[Ken Vinson] "Maybe I'm not keeping up with cutting edge RPG theory, but since when did telling a good story become irrelevant to the "essence" of roleplaying games?"

[Mike] During the winter of 1999-2000.

If you haven't read these, now is your chance:
Dogme 99: http://fate.laiv.org/dogme99/en/index.htm
The Manifesto of the Turku School: http://www.laivforum.dk/kp03_book/classics/turku.pdf

Of course, roleplaying theory has progressed enormously since then, but in my opinion, that's when story telling lost credibility as the "essence" of roleplaying games. Maybe Juhana would like to send us a few snippets of his Beyond Role and Play article?

You can find the full thread here: http://www.rpg.net/forums/phorum/pf/read.php?f=123&i=88&t=86

So, it is Turku School of Roleplaying that has the authority to decide what is or what is not the essence of roleplaying and when it change? This reminds me very much of the normative grammar for English language, where we have a theory of how a language works, prepared by renowned intellectuals. If real-life observations don't match it, it is the language, the speakers and the real world at large who are to blame. More importantly, this whole statement implies that there is a single, universal "essence" of all roleplaying, which Mike thinks to be character immersion.

No-one has been able to give a concise explanation what character immersion is, but I have always thought the so-called essence of roleplaying to be a mixture of many things, from the adrenaline rush of diced action to story telling and identifying with your character as deeply as you can or care to. While I find the storytelling approach easiest when I am gamemastering, I believe the actual play experience varies from person to person. While I, the gamemaster, pursue the story, my players are fiddling with numbers, roleplaying their characters' personalities and dialogue, or immersing themselves into their thoughts, feelings and deeper motives which might not be obvious even to the characters themselves. Thus a roleplaying session is really a chaos of dice rolling, personal victories, bitter defeats, true and simulated emotions, flashes inspiration and stimulated creativity.

And you expect me to believe that just one of these things is the "essence" and the rest are irrelevant? It seems that I dislike normative grammar and Schools of Roleplaying for the same reasons.

8-May-2004: Blood and guts

By the look of his armour the redbeard was a knight, a warrior noble for the Princes of East, now serving the Lord of Beasts for whatever reason. He yanked his greatsword free from the chieftain's corpse, turned and slashed. Culan's warcry turned into a cry of pain. He staggered past the knight and his slain chieftain, his left hand clutching the stump of his right. The knight ignored him and focused on the two remaining enemies; Raven and Old Dog.

Another day, another battle scene. I can write just as gory texts as R.E. Howard but I can't glorify them like he does. I identify too strongly with the people I kill in my novels. Still, I kill a lot of them. The part of the novel, "Old Dog" that has already been published in the web has only three deaths. When I am done with the book, I'll have to count how many detailed death scenes I have written. It all fits the genre but I still feel like I am mentally disturbed when I write the stuff. I wonder if the readers will feel the same way.

Ropecon'04 webpage is out, amidst controversy over its graphics and layout. The present flower theme is not bad, just very un-Ropeconish. If I understood correctly, the layout is permanent but the images act as placeholder graphics for the actual Ropecon images. There isn't much content yet and I have a nagging feeling that past Cons have been quicker with their pages and prototype content. This is just a feeling, though. And anyway, if they get most of the stuff there in June it is still early enough.

What I would like to see next is the GM sign-up information. As I have told a hundred times I've been thinking about running a Stalker adventure at Ropecon, but maybe they don't take pre-event sign-ups this year? It would be very odd, but it is perfectly possible.

6-May-2004: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has balls

I have been visiting the website of the GSC's (distributed by THQ) upcoming FPS game S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl. And for the umpteenth time, no, my game project does not have anything to do with them, except that both draw their inspiration from Stalker. Furthermore, I have the license and they don't, which is why they are using all those dots and using a plotline that sounds so stupid I want to cry. However, as a computer game it can be pretty cool.

In the game, a mysterious disaster has turned the Chernobyl exclusion zone into the Zone where anomalies occur (although pretty sparse compared to the book) and all sorts of weird creatures run amok so that the players have something to shoot at. At decreasing intervals there is a blowout in which the whole Zone is engulfed in strange phenomena, new monsters appear and anomalies change place. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. refers to a secret government project behind the accident but for some reason the people searching for mutated fungi and other samples from the Zone are still referred to as stalker.

However, the game has a lot going for it. Graphics are gorgeus, but that is a must for any modern PC games. More importantly, they have modeled the 18-kilometre exclusion zone in painstaking detail and all the major features and buildings are recognizable. There is no fixed path of advance; instead you can go anywhere and do anything, including interact with NPCs or hunt other stalkers. Stalkers themselves are organised into factions and the player needs to choose his friends and enemies carefully. Factions have their own goals and the progress of NPCs affects the game events just as much as the progress of the player. Samples and equipment looted from the Zone can be exchanged for better weapons and tools. Unfortunately there is no skill system or character ability progression.

Although I am aiming for a different atmosphere and play experience with the roleplaying game, the atmosphere captured by the game screenshots and trailers appeals to me. The devastated, post-holocaust landscape combined with lush vegetation reminds me of the scenery in the movie "Stalker" and while the emphasis on action, whether shooting at mutants or exchanging fire with stalkers or soldiers from enemy factions is alien to my view of Stalker setting, I do like the genre. If the Ukrainians get it all together, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is one heck of game, with more balls and atmosphere than most Anglo-American games put together (even Far Cry was from Germany).

Something's wrong the electronic entertainment industry of the west and I think it is lack of courage. People in the business think they already know what sells and avoid difficult genres (like scifi), topics or solutions (like the completely free play environment). Misguided conservatism, unwillingness to take risks with innovative ideas. Lack of ambition... or lack of creative ambition in comparison with financial ambitions. Preference of the same old compared to new things that would propel the industry forwards in more ways than just setting new standards for graphics (and hardware requirements). Then everybody acts surprised when the genre breakers become the biggest hits.

I wonder if this applies to pen and paper roleplaying games as well?

3-May-2004: City of Vantaa rocks!

No, I would not believe it either until now. But it does, it rocks ten times more than any other place I've ever lived in. I love this town. I hug the concrete, kiss the blacktop and dance naked in the meadows surrounding Mätäoja.

City of Vantaa has just awarded me an Artist's Grant! And not a small one either! Although no longer unemployed, I am still hurting from four months of unemployment and a lifetime of stupid financial decisions (you wouldn't believe...) and can really use the money. So thank you, City of Vantaa and forgive me all my misgivings about you (even if you can't handle medical care). I will repay you. I will write. I will publish and I will be published. I will add to the culture and fine arts of this town.

Speaking of writing, Praedor novel is still in the works (obviously) and I am having quite a bit of trouble with story #5. As it stands, it is so obviously the weakest link that I just have to rewrite it. I thought writing a dungeon romp would be easy compared to the rest, but it turned out to be the other way around. Gods damn you Howard, how did you make it look so easy? Actually I have enough pages already to meet the demands specified in my contract with Jalava, but the story arc isn't complete. I have about 20 pages of the primary story arc left and then, if there is time, there will be a 10-page story #1. Story numbers refer to their order in the book.

One effect of the grant is that if I ran out of time, I can take a few weeks off without a pay to finish the book (assuming that the game projects I am working on do not fall apart because of that). I also have my doubts about the original scheduling: Petri is probably far too busy to do anything about the interior illustrations before September, so there is no telling when the book will actually hit the stores.

Still, life is good.

30-Arp-2004: Designer's Notes Policies

I usually don't discuss the policies behind Designer's Notes for the simple reason that there are no codified rules. However, here are some points I would like communicate to both of my potential readers.

Designer's Notes is not a public forum where different parties, factions or individuals might exchange their views. It is about MY views, MY opinions, MY ideas and MY inspirations. If you feel offended by them, you have two choices: don't read it, or ask me by email if you could have your comment added to the bottom of the specified entry as a post-scriptum. If I think your comment would contribute something to the entry, I will add it. If I don't, go express yourself in another medium, private or public.

Designer's Notes is written in the form and style of a column, not as a diary. It can embrace, ridicule or attack any other declaration, piece of work, interview, article, review or other form of communication available in public media and forums. I will try to provide pointers to the source but this is not always possible (unless somebody taped Martin Ericsson's Sunday presentation at Ropecon X and put it in the Net). Since this blog is about my opinions I usually don't bother with direct quotes. If the source is available somewhere, there should be a pointer. If not, go ask the other party for details.

I am Burger Games. Burger Games is me. I will not touch private email on this blog but any emails concerning Burger Games or my person within the scene are fair game.

I will comment on fanmail. I will bring out important points or revelations concerning the scene when they have occurred to me through an email exchange (and when there is no obvious harm to the other partner of discussion from doing so and will remove them if asked to). I will publicly trash hatemail concerning Burger Games or my person as a game author and scene activist (as small as that role might be).

When trashing hatemail or commenting on negative trends in incoming communication without an individual source, I try to omit names and identities. This may fail if the provocation is serious enough, but I will honestly try. However, when trashing something you have publicly presented under your own name or signature, I will refer to you by that name.

Designer's Notes is not the Word of God. It is unbelievable that there can be any doubt of this. I have no supernatural powers, command no armies, control no assets or in any other way have the power to change anything. There is no benefit in worshipping me, nor point in accusing me of endangering an entire branch of science by my writings. This is is a weblog kept by a soon-to-be middle-aged overweight guy of mediocre health, struggling finances, poor eyesight and ill temper. He is part of the scene because he writes RPGs every now and then, but whether you give a hoot about his opinions is up to you. But iIt's nice if you care, because nobody else does.

29-Apr-2004: Back to the Zone

If yesterday's debates and arguments taught me anything it was that if I come up with a plan for the real world, it is bad, and I just should just stick to the unreal ones. It is a big if; I have the feeling of being taught this lesson before, but I never learn it. The issue about an anti-drug stand in Ropecon is peculiar: however I try, I still think it is a splendid idea where the good things outweigh the bad. To me it is obvious, a no-brainer. Yet it was so poorly received that according to the empirical principle it can't be anything else but A Bad Idea.

Whatever my faults, I do have a sense of realities. Or as police commissioner Jansson from the beloved TV-series RAID puts it: "We are in this mess because every soft-handed idiot understands realities but not what is right or wrong." I am now officially a soft-handed idiot who has chosen realities over his sense of right and wrong. How that sense compares to the overall scheme of things is a different matter. You know my stance. And you know yours.

Hence, I have chosen to depart this world and return to the Zone (and various other fictional worlds), where I shall remain until the next bad idea overcomes my better judgement. Polite silence is hard when you're a cranky old man.

You're reading news from the Zone, this is Burger reporting.

After a long period of calm and quiet, there are finally some signs of life at Myrskyn Aika discussion forum. I am overjoyed, because it indicates that a player community is forming around the game. All RPGs need that survive, unless new supplemental material is constantly hurled at consumers. Such communities (Praedor also has one, albeit less solid) are useful for Finnish RPG developers as they both alleviate the misgivings many gamers (within and outside these communities) have towards Finnish RPGs and make it easier for us to promote our products by forming easily reached target groups.

Wille Ruotsalainen is (or at least should be) the big star of Ropecon'04. His book "Roudan Maa" is currently in the printers. I've seen prototypes of Roudan Maa and have really high hopes for it. It is not a game but a fantasy setting bringing both historical fact on Iron Age Finland and well-thought-out fantasy elements Kalevala Mythos to roleplaying games in an interesting, and most importantly, playable way. I've seen some of the material and if the rest is anything like them, The Definite Kalevala Supplement for fantasy RPGs is here.

Wille has already published bits and pieces of the Roudan Maa ("Land of Frost" in English, because "Land of Permafrost" would sound stupid) in Magus over the past few years, but now all that and much more will be available in a single book, illustrated probably by Wille himself. Unlike the rest of us, he can draw!

I can hardly wait!

Unfortunately I don't know of any WWW-pages dedicated to Roudan Maa. I hope there will be some and if there is any trouble with that I will gladly accept them under burgergames.com -domain. Hell, who wouldn't?

In a remotely related story, BBC has published a long web article (which probably appeared in a magazine or two as well) studying the current status of D&D as a hobby (note: "as a hobby", rather than identifying it as a single product of a wider hobby). Despite tiny and complete forgivable errors the articles and the reader feedback to it were incredibly positive. I told you the recent fantasy boom in media would have a positive effect on gaming as well. The last time I checked the article was here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3655627.stm

Anything else? Oh yes, Ropecon has asked Burger Games founder and CEO Ville Vuorela to give a presentation on something during the Con. It is highly likely that it will be about Stalker. I hope it will be more popular there than it was at Conklaavi. No further details are available.

And a final note: I was making changes to my Operation:Half-Life game, an action-oriented lite-RPG based on a well-known computer game so that I could make it public. I was thinking about an island where the experiments of a mad scientist have gone wrong, creating a supertech dungeon for our fighters...err..mercenaries and wizards...err...hackers to infiltrate. Then Ubisoft published its new FPS-game "Far Cry". Feeling that somebody had just walked over my grave I went and bought it, and lo! Except for the brave adventurers it was all there!

I'll have to come up with a different setting.

BTW, Far Cry is a great game.

28-Apr-2004: Larpers on rampage

Every now and then I get the feeling that LARPers (or more precisely the people defining themselves as LARPers) are rational, social and likeable people. Fortunately they then say or do something that drops me right back into the real world. Martin Ericsson's speech in last Ropecon was one event that I won't forget in a hurry. If I ever see another person like him I am pushing for a law that would prohibit live-action roleplayers from coming within two metres of sharp objects or moving vehicles.

Now, in the ever-so-delightful newsgroup sfnet.harrastus.pelit.rooli somebody suggested the idea of promoting "zero tolerance for drugs" in the event and I thought it was a splendid idea: there are lots of youths around, Ropecon and everything I THOUGHT it stood for are clearly healthy, social and clear-headed activities. So offering a stand to a non-drug association like Irti Huumeista Ry. would fit quite well and enhance the positive image of the event.

I was then informed by Mike Pohjola and others that giving a stand to an anti-drug organisation would equal to giving a stand to religious fundamentalist organisations and that the whole roleplaying community will be aghast and hate Ropecon forever for taking an ever-so-mild stance in the matter. And a stand promoting a healthy lifestyle would mean enforcing all the other rules normally associated with Christian fundamentalist virtues. And finally, that the police do not care about drug abuse anyway if they are informed about it in advance.

It is all there in the newsgroup, go ahead and read.

Latest developments:

I have just been told that Ropecon (and Burger Games) is a pro-drug institution because many of the roleplaying games out there enable player-characters to use drugs and drug-like substances. I can accept Dare Talvitie's view that an anti-drug stand in Ropecon might do more harm than good in mixing up event focus and priorities. I disagree but I am open to debate and it is not such a big deal. But this latest suggestion, put forward by you-know-who, is totally unacceptable and a sad proof that some people can't tell fact from fantasy. I am shocked, appalled, saddened and extremely disappointed.

Even later developments:

Besides arguing about it in the news, I have been discussing the effects of having an anti-drug stand at Ropecon with Dare Talvitie. We still don't agree (surprised?), but I'd like to sum up my opinion on it as follows:

The primary purpose of Ropecon is to be a hobby event and cater for their needs and interests. That determines the programme and events.

Now, if a small minority would be offended or marginalised just because there were an anti-drug stand the Con, I'd be happy to see them go. I believe the overwhelming majority of visitors would either be indifferent or supportive of the idea.

However, if this minority turned out to be much larger than expected, or it included many of the activists organising con events and programme for different genres, the interests of the hobby would come first and the stand would have to go. Dare thinks this might be the case and says he would certainly consider dropping out himself or at least complain a lot. I hold on to my view that this group of people would be small and insignificant, although I admit that losing Dare would be a blow.

The only way to find out would be to collect feedback of the idea from Con visitors. The present main organisers are opposed to the idea anyway, so it is not going to happen this year. I don't know what would happen if these organisations were to approach Con and reserve a table from Kaubamaja by their own initiative. That would make them paying customers just like the rest. Can Ropecon turn down Kaubamaja reservations on the basis of ideology?

19-Apr-2004: Conklaavi

Turku is the fourth largest town in Finland, known for its old and pretty buildings, low skyline and warm weather. It should also be known for its kebab (traditional Finnish food if I ever saw one) restaurants. In Turku, kebab meals are 2-3 euros cheaper and 1.5 times larger than in Helsinki and I've never seen kebab rolls that big before. By rights, Turku should be the obesity capital of Finland. Conklaavi is an annual roleplaying event held in Turku and they arranged me to become their guest of honour (I would say "invited" if I actually had been invited and not just informed of the matter). Since they offered to pay my train tickets, meals and lodging at a nearby hotel, I was all for it and to Turku I went.

In theme and function, Conklaavi is pretty much like Ropecon, but only 1/10th in size. I was surprised to find that they only had one live-action-game (in a single room with seven players) and that there only two groups playing Magic there. The Warhammer miniatures tournaments were also small, but with excellent-looking figures. Really impressive.

What interested me most in Conklaavi were the speech programs, from presentations to panels. There were only a few, but although Conklaavi has been criticized for having too few events, what is the point of having more if people don't come to see the ones the have. My guest of honour speech was listened to about 20 people, but they came and went so that no more than 6 were present at any one time. I had to repeat the story of how I got the Stalker license three times, and I am NOT going to repeat it here.

On Saturday there was also a game theory panel, but you already know what I think about game theorists. I departed before I fell asleep and sort of loafed around the rest of the evening, until it was time to retire to the hotel. Scandic Julia in Turku is otherwise very comfortable, but A) it has no web connection and B) it is very noisy when a male basketball team and a female aerobic team have rooms on the same floor as you and they are all drinking, making out and shouting like crazies. I got some sleep, but not as much I would have wanted to.

On Sunday, there were three interesting panel discussions. First was a discussion about positive feeling and themes in roleplaying game, intended to provide a counterpoint to the present emphasis in dark, gloomy and angst-ridden settings. The second was a discussion on how to select and control your players, and about group dynamics between the players and gamemasters in general. Third one, where I was also one of the panelists, was a science fiction panel for defining and discussing the present state of scifi roleplaying. I hope I did okay, but at least the audience did not boo at me.

When it was all over, some of the organisers and me went to Cosmic Comic Cafe, which was a pretty cool comics-themed bar. I would like to see one of those in Helsinki as well. Unfortunately the stay was short because I had a train to catch and the organisers had some sleep debt to attend to.

The one thing Conklaavi did wrong was the treatment of their guest of honour. The food and lodging was fine, but now that they had a guest of honour, they still didn't have a clear idea as to what to do with him. So they did nothing. I was never introduced to the organisers, apart from the head honcho Jeppe. There were no social events, like joint dinners, where I might have got to know them and talk to them. There were only two events programmed into the GoH schedule, which seems a poor return for the investment made in my lodging and food bills. And finally, no thought whatsoever had been spared for my transportation, namely on how to get back to Greater Helsinki Area.

Hint: If you invite a guest of honour from as far as the capital, it would be polite to have some train schedules printed out for his departure. But if you don't have them, it is perfectly okay to say that you don't have them and thus don't know the schedule. Come on, there nothing to be ashamed of in admitting that you don't know train schedules by heart.

What is NOT acceptable is that you first give him false information about trains running late into the night and then dump him at the train station when the last train for Helsinki (leaving at 21.15) has already departed. I then walked to the bus station (after a cab driver told me where it was) at about 22.02, only to find that the next (and last) bus to Helsinki departs at 24.00. Too bad the bus station cafeteria closed at 23.00, so after an hour there I spent another hour outside, typing furiously with my laptop (I am quite creative when I am pissed off). I was home at 02.30, five hours after leaving the cafe. Tsk. Tsk.

Now, I liked Conklaavi a lot. The organisers are nice, young, active and social people. They don't have the same kind of experience that Ropecon organisers have, but then again the amateur nature of Conklaavi is what makes it so light and delightful. It is very unfortunate that this last incident left such a bad taste in my mouth.

3-Apr-2004: UNSF

No, I wasn't kicked in the balls when I said that. It is a Finnish RPG you can find at http://koti.mbnet.fi/unsf/intro.htm

United Nations Space Force Frontiers is the second game in our "Space, the awkward frontier" series. It is a roleplaying game where Humanity has conquered space and established colonies on neighbouring stars. Googling the web for UNSF produced astounding results; the abbreviation is not only the codename of an existing UN peacekeeping force in New Guinea, but also the name of no less than three other RPG projects and a story site. Of course, the full name of this game is UNSF Frontiers, which is somewhat misleading when the entire game and game site is in Finnish. Oh well, we've seen that before.

An item of good news: UNSF Frontiers has a beta rulebook with 49 pages, so the game actually exists! And more importantly, it is mostly grammatically correct! Then a bit of bad news: the writer is apparently trying to be clever and eloquent, using sentences like:

Vuosien kehityksen tuloksena radikaalisti lisääntynyt kaupankäynti planeettojen ja avaruusasemien välillä on nostattanut huhut suurista voitoista, jotka odottavat noutajaansa.

You need to understand Finnish to make sense of that, but trust me: it is poorly written.

Earth, Moon and Mars, who have their own planetary governments, have decided to form an elite combat unit called UNSF to fight against booming space piracy. The players take the role of a UNSF space infantry squad and travel to a variety of conflict zones all over the Solar System. Mmm... military scifi... I am starting to like this game.

Hegemony of 2280 seems a pretty international place: Nova Lingua is used as a common tongue in all colonies and there are only four states: Earth, Moon, Mars and Europa. Their descriptions are short and focus on their military capabilities. There is also a compulsory list of new technological innovations like FTL travel and space combat weaponry required to make this kind of setting happen. It is short and there is nothing too stupid in it. Kudos for that. Unfortunately the author has been unsure of the translations of much of the terminology here and the text is riddled with anglicisms, like "cryokapseli".

I like the page titled "Life in Hegemony". Too short, as always, but still gives a pretty good picture of what life is like for the average Hegemony citizen. Quite sufficient for a freely downloadable rulebook. Space station list is a frustrating mixture of poor layout and compound word errors. A simple list would have been better. For the most part, UNSF layout is functional but crude. In this particular chapter it really fails.

Once the setting description is over, we reach Character Creation. It reminds me of 2300AD but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The system is quite heavy and there are lot of tables and calculations. This seems to go hand-in-hand with scifi RPGs as a genre. Skills are measured in percentages and attributes give bonuses or penalties to the percentage value of each skill group. Difficulty levels bring bonuses or penalties to the percentage value but the 1/100 critical success chance seems a bit low.

Since all characters are soldiers, professions are just different branches of space infantry service. There are enough skills to make soldier characters happy. Character background and family status is also determined with a series of dice rolls and then there are lifepath events for each past year of his life, just like in Cyberpunk 2020 (and many of the outcomes are taken from that game). If you are into completely random backgrounds, UNSF has some of the better background systems I've seen.

There are rules for combat, hacking, first aid and space warfare. Unfortunately, the rules for surface vehicle combat have been omitted, even if the characters are more likely to fight with ground vehicles than with spacecraft. They are infantry, after all. There is a good list of weapons and armour and the pictures of different types of armour suits are especially good, assuming they have not been stolen from a copyrighted source (in which case I strongly condemn their usage). Overall, the equipment list is a mixture of 2300AD and Aliens, which is not a bad thing in itself. (Big Fucking Guns!!!)

Alien races, or xenomorphs (ksenomorfi in Finnish, you dolts!) are mostly beasts from alien worlds and being a big fan of Alien movies I could already see UNSF rangers gunning down the Alien-like Xions. There are no sentient alien races, although the introduction hints at the possibility of humans having made contact with one at the far side of Hegemony.

Summary: I'd love to hate this game as a 2300AD/Aliens rip-off, but I love it for the same reason. Neither of the predecessors (yes, there was a licensed Aliens RPG once) are still around and the inevitable Aliens vs. Predator RPG in the near future is bound to be a D20-game, so there is need for a good, testosterone-pumping "I like to keep this handy for close encounters" RPG, and none of my ideas, not even my recent scifi ideas, fit the bill. UNSF Frontiers is still incomplete, but I'd like to see it moving in one of these two directions:

  1. Become a genuinely serious military scifi game where the foreign biospheres have been found to be more horrible than ever imagined (read Harry Harrison's Deathworld Trilogy for inspiration) and the UNSF is racing all over Hegemony to prevent the colonies from collapsing. Or....

  2. Big Guns! Big Fucking Guns! Leave your brains at the doorstep and start blasting at ugly, slimy, horrendous beasts that'll rip you apart if they get close enough! EAT THIS! BLAM! KABOOM! AARGH! GO GO GO!

I'd play either one. Or both.

26-Mar-2004: Space, the awkward frontier

Or "what the hell are you talking about"?

I am in the process of writing another mini-game like Mobsters or Operation Half-Life and this time it is pure science fiction, with some leanings toward hard scifi. But I am not going to tell you more about that. What I want is to take a look at some of the other Finnish RPG projects out there, namely those involving science fiction. And I warn you, it is a critical look, even if I think that the games do have potential. We'll chew them up one at a time.

Burger Games homepage has a link to Project Sigma 2398. The link has been there for ages, but since there has been some progress to the project I'll keep it there. It is a science fiction roleplaying game where a human colony and some ships got sucked through a wormhole into some remote region of space. Their descendants have since then built their own enclave amongst a variety of alien realms. It is worth noting that the scifi MMOPRG EVE uses the same background story. They have written everything in English and not too badly, although a native speaker would probably consider the page clumsily written and even I could pick out a fair number of errors and typos.

At its current stage Project Sigma NNNN is just a setting. There are no rules, nor any information on how to run this setting with existing rulesets. The game attempts an anime look-and-feel and I think it would work beautifully with Mekton Z. You are free to disagree.

The page layout is odd but you'll get used to it. It is of fixed width and even wider than Burger Games homepage, which must be something of a record. There is a "Showroom" for pictures that "help you to get a feel of the world that Sigma 2398", with nine small pictures of non-detailed human and alien characters, as well as CGI firearms from the future. Given the lack of detail in other pictures, the extensive detail in the weapon pics is a bit confusing. Well, off to the Database.

Database is supposed to hold detailed information on planets, species and everything else worth knowing about the Project Sigma 2398 setting. Actually there are just two sub-branches, Technology and Species. Being something of a hard scifi fan I immediately started reading through the Technology section to see what makes the setting tick (FTL? Energy production?) but all I found was two guns. Yes, two guns. Whopping two guns. Guys, I know that your pages are incomplete, but are you really telling me that the first thing you came up with when designing your setting was guns? Come on, at least tell me what I would be shooting at?

Oh yes, there is the other sub-branch of alien species.

They gave me a gun and now they give a variety of alien species. I think I can see where this is going. There are 6 alien species, ranging from the compulsory little grey men (The Metagali) to an amorphous glob of goo (The Jelwai). Of these, only the first three have been explained in detail. So, armed with my two guns I go to meet them. What do I find?

Habits and traditions: The Metagali have a huge amount of different traditions

That is good to know. It would be cumbersome to have a huge amount of identical traditions. I just would like to know if these are religious traditions or something else. The species information is basically a list of anatomical and homeworld stats, notes on population distribution and tiny bits regarding the political system. The Metagali appear to have a democratic kingdom (much like the European monarchies of today) but if so, what the hell does this entry mean:

Governmental systems: Most important ones are The Metagali Space Navy and The Royal Merchant Fleet.

Maybe these two are major departments in the overall governmental system (which is the democratic monarchy mentioned above). If not, I can only conclude that there has been coup recently and while the society as whole still functions along the lines of a democratic kingdom, the royal family has been effectively replaced with a junta Naval officers and high-level merchants.

Now, can I shoot them with my two guns? There is nothing on the relations between the Metagali and The Humans so I don't know. Maybe they haven't made contact yet? Actually, in a setting without faster-than-ligh-travel (or even spaceships) it is only likely that they haven't made contact, since humans can't leave their new homeworld (where they are living mud huts without a society or language, but everybody owns a gun. The chieftains have two). That was the database. In its entirety.

Then there is a section called "Stories" with two entries. They are basically the same story told from different viewpoints. The story suggests that humans have cities and there is little or no mention of guns, which I find confusing in light of the other source material. Actually, the stories and the setting seem to have absolutely nothing in common, except that both feature humans and The Metagali, who have apparently found a way to contact humans even without a faster-than-light drive. Cities usually indicate some kind of an orderly society and the characters in the story seem to have a language. I wonder if they are living in cities built from guns?

Finally there are sections called Feedback and Authors, with obvious content.

My previous entry was about writing your own games and was not too different from the lectures I've given at Ropecon. The one thing that was missing was "work". RPGs do not write themselves. Instead, someone must roll up his sleeves and type them down, or else they won't be nothing but a cool idea in your head. This seems to be the problem with Project Sigma. The makings of a game are here and the illustrations (apart from the guns) suggest an anime-type approach to the subject. It is not a bad idea even if anime is not my cup of tea.

But really guys, you either write it or drop it!

21-Mar-2004: Making your own RPGs

Lately, I've often been asked questions like "what hardware do I need to write RPGs?" or "I want to write my own RPG; can you give me a good idea for it?". Since there isn't very much happening the Finnish RPG scene right now, I think it is a right moment to take a closer look at the requirements of the mystical art of roleplaying-game writing. This stuff is for newbies only, so Mike and Kalle can skip this entry without the fear of missing something important.

Now, there are four requirements for writing roleplaying games:

1) Experience. If you don't have personal experience on multiple different systems and different trends and genres of gaming, you are not going to make it. In my case it was a question of stages, or knowing what I wanted only after trying out or at least reading through almost everything there is out there (and plenty of stuff that is no longer around).

2) Inspiration. You don't start by saying "I wanna make a game, can you suggest a topic?". No! No!! No!!! When and if I have good topics for games, I am holding onto them. Besides, a question like that is a clear indication that you have neither inspiration nor vision and just want to write a game because it would be "cool". You must first come up with the idea on your own and not just any idea but the greatest idea ever, along the lines "Man, this is what I want to play and I know HOW I would play it". Nobody sets out to write a roleplaying game, they set out to transfer their great, ground-breaking game idea onto paper so that they might share it with others.

3) Skill. The vast majority of those approaching me with game ideas can scarcely writer their own names! I am not joking! Grammatically incorrect text riddled with typos and without a single correctly written compound word in sight is difficult to read, makes the write look like an idiot and turns even the best ideas laughable. Besides, people with no skill in writing usually have no skill when it comes to their style of self-expression, so their texts would be horrible to read even if they were grammatically correct. And don't give me that "Oh, I write badly just in IRC and email"-crap. If you can't get your casual text right, you should not even attempt long and heavy articles like rulebooks and source material. Trust me on this: I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary.

4) Something to write with. Writing games and publishing games are two different things. This sport is not about the best equipment and you can make a perfectly good game with some paper, pencils and erasers, if all the previous requirements are met. To get a game published you'll need to think things like layout but even then any modern text processor will do. Use the one you have most experience with but remember that any version of Word has one feature you'll need for every ten that you don't. The printing industry has also moved forward and modern digital printing services can eat almost any digital format, although they prefer dedicated editing software formats (like Pagemaker) or fixed layouts (like in PDF-files). I am not an expert in layout design, but I like mine. I know many people who don't but are still willing to put up with it. I guess the layout does not have to be perfect, just tolerable.

Your game doesn't need illustrations to be playable, but it is hard to imagine selling a game without them. I am in the fortunate position of having recognised early enough that I can't draw a straight line even with a ruler and thus have never attempted to illustrate a game myself. Unfortunately, many of the aspiring game writers out there are just as bad with art, but they are still planning to illustrate their games by themselves. Ppictures convey much more information than text and silly illustrations can ruin even the best game (now that I am no longer in my polite mode, I can confess that Tasnar is the perfect example of this).

Finally, many who have asked absurd questions about game writing or submitted their works to me for evaluation (and got them trashed) are 16 or under. I don't like age racism any more than you do, but it is getting progressively more difficult for me to take you underage game writers seriously. So while I know it feels like you know everything there is to know when you are a teenager, it would be better if you spent 4-6 years polishing your game before you come to ask my opinion on it. It seems like the real world is a level-based system, after all.

14-Mar-2004: Guinea Pigs of Terror!

The previous entry seems to have hit its mark and I am hopeful that I won't have so many stupid questions in the future. So those you who you have contacted me asking if I was referring to you, rest easy. Those I was referring to are bloody well aware that it was them.

I got back from Boardgame Weekend at Lahti yesterday evening, approximately 15 hours before schedule. The event, held at Munter's huge house on the outskirts of Lahti, had an all-male, by invitation-only crowd of about 30 (plus a pony-sized great dane called Banjo). It really was about boardgames, of which I have very little if any experience, and I quickly learned that my favourite boardgames are Attika, Finster Flure and Ra. There was also a very interesting game called Gocginard(?) where the gamemarks were flicked towards the board centre with your fingers and could send opponent's marks flying out of the ring. Unfortunately, my aim was so poor that I gave up after couple of games, but it looked fun.

Munter's house is BIG and reminds me of a game-oriented mansion with two separate home thetre systems. However, the primary sleeping quarters reserved for guests at floor -1 (truth!) were so cold that the blanket I had with me would not do. I tried to sleep in a room usually occupied by a small child, but was kept awake by three hideous monsters who screamed, yelled, jumped and tossed their house around all through the night. Upon closer observation they turned out to be guinea pigs, monstrous fur-covered creatures with gleaming red eyes and razor-sharp teeth, known for their blood lust, nocturnal orgies and rampant cannibalism. The bowels of Hell could not have coughed up more terrible fiends!

I am not a young man anymore, so without sleep my brain shut down for the next day. I remember only bits and pieces, like getting my ass kicked at Clans because I just could not focus. I decided to leave early and get some extra sleep so that whole work week ahead would not be completely ruined. I am a decent tech writer even when half-asleep, but you can't do game design in a vegetable state. Believe me, I've tried.

All in all, Boardgame Weekend was well worth visiting and I plan to do it again (if invited), although being a poor sleeper I'll probably schedule my stay for just one day (come early in the Saturday morning, leave late in the Saturday evening). I presume some of you reading this will want to attend it the next time (probably sometime in the autumn), and why not. Just remember that the event is by invitation only and the only person who can invite you is Munter himself. Boardgame Weekend has its own thread in the Puolenkuun Pelit forums, so writing there and offering to bring a lot of new boardgames to the event might get you one. Of course, knowing Munter (either personally, or professionally as I do) or getting acquainted with some of his old friends is a big plus.

11-Mar-2004: Stupid questions

Everybody has his cross to bear. Mine is that I am supposed to customer-friendly, no matter how stupid the customers are. It's been said that there are no stupid questions but after my recent experiences with questions about Mobsters and Praedor I am beginning to have doubts. There ARE stupid questions, asked by people with no perception of real-life facts, the ability to look up even basic information on books or internet, or any comprehension as to why a 64-page A5 booklet has less information in it than the 1928 edition of Encyclopedica Britannica. Or why a genre-specific game focuses on things important to that genre, inevitably leaving some things out of focus.

Hint of the day: If you are going to play a lightweight RPG based on old gangster films (like Mobsters, incidentally), it might be useful to have actually seen some of those. Or even to be familiar with the basic concept of a Prohibition-era gangster. Or even to know what the Prohibition was! And when it happened! And that there wasn't that much plastic back in the 1920's! The list goes on and on.

And if you are going to ask me why a freely downloadable 64-page A5 booklet does not exactly hold the player by the hand while introducing him to the life of romanticized gangsters, you demonstrate such a lack of basic comprehension that you really should stay away from me and my games. Roleplaying as a hobby requires a certain amount of intellect and basic education. Not that much really (hey, I can do it), but some. Definitely some. Ergo, it is not suitable for everybody. The game can't think for you.

Please remember that rules are abstractions and simplifications of life-like events in the setting, reduced to numerical format for the ease of play. Not vice versa.

Therefore, a melee attack can be more than just a strike. It is often a series of combat maneouvres aimed at harming the opponent, simplified to a single roll of dice. The Praedor rule that dodging characters back up about 2 metres per attempt implies that dodging is a series of space-intensive defensive maneouvres countering the offensive maneouvres of the opponent's attack, the net result being that the character has withdrawn roughly two metres per dodge attempt during this round. He may have also moved forward if he scored hits on his enemy, but those are such tiny descriptive details that in a narrative play we are not interested in measuring them. If you can't deal with the 2-metre rule, ignore it! I should have, but I just wanted to make the layout of combat locations a bit more relevant. But if it is THIS hard to grasp, I should have scrapped it.

Some things are intuitive, such as the realisation that fighting uphill causes more fatigue and that elevated position often gives better reach and angle of attack. If you have to ask why, don't ask me. Ask God, the Mother Nature, the Laws of Physics or whatever you see as the faction responsible for the basics of our existence. If you have to ask if it really is so, don't ask me but go find the nearest hill and try it out.

There are some things that we all should know by the virtue of having lived long enough to learn to talk. If you really have gaps in that department, I am neither able nor willing to help.

9-Mar-2004: I've got the blues

Spring is cold and I've got the blues. Stalker's on hold and I've got the blues. My writing is slow and I've got the blues. Eläketurvakeskus wants a bloody big sack of money from Burger Games and I've got the blues (now that I am no longer seeing everything in red). If you are buying into that crap that young people people should become entrepreneurs, don't! It sucks!

On a better note, I was right about my new job (a game designer in a mobile games company) being a dream come true and I am almost eager to go to work in the mornings. Okay, I confess: I LOVE going to work in the mornings and dream about it at nights, but you are not supposed to say such things aloud or people might think you are crazy. Work, especially ICT-related work, is supposed to monotonous, boring, mismanaged and stressful. Yet I have been having the time of my life, even if my job does include a fair bit of documentation and sitting at meetings. Wow!

They even have a workplace Cyberpunk 2020 campaign going on, which I am unfortunately unable to attend as I have my own gaming groups to look after. In fact, tomorrow is the first session of my second Praedor campaign, mostly with the same players as in LootEm. Yesterday I had a character creation session for a roleplaying adventure set in the world of Necromunda (an off-shoot of Warhammer 40,000). Today I had a game design meeting with my bosses in a good restaurant at company expense. This weekend I am going to Munter's house in Lahti to participate in a semi-private gaming event. Apart from the bloody Eläketurvakeskus, life is good.

Maybe I don't have the blues.

4-Mar-2004: Wow, blog fanmail!

I have received fanmail before, but never about this blog (although my friends have occasionally commented or commended it in the IRC). It is nice to know that I am not universally hated after all. A small clarification to the earlier entry is in order: The reason for wanting step down from the podium is that I am running out of presentation topics. In the last two Ropecons I've held presentations on writing and publishing games, from both creative and commercial perspectives. With about 60 people listening to the first and over 150 listening to the second, I think that everybody with any interest in the topic has heard them by now. I am not really an expert in anything else, so I've pretty much spoken my mouth clean, to use an old Finnish idiom.

Of course, suggestions on interesting topics are welcome, although I might not be the right person to talk about them. And presentations on upcoming BG products are always good for sales and therefore likely to continue :)

But back to the topic of gamemastering at Ropecon (and similar events)!

For a gamemaster, GM'ing at Ropecon is the ultimate challenge. Normally P&P troupes are pretty fixed; all members of the group know each other well and the gamemaster can customize his adventures to fit his group. In my case, I can pick the kind of group I want from a larger pool of players, thus customizing the group to my adventure.

In Ropecon you can do neither.

The idea behind public game sessions is that all sorts of players can try out all sorts of games, regardless of age, sex and previous experience. There are newbies who are out to find out what roleplaying is about, there are veterans interested in trying out different game systems, and there are game and genre fanatics who are curious at how other gamemasters handle the game and the setting. New hobby, new genre, new game, new gamemastering style... the point here is "new". People go to cons to experience new things and Gamemasters are no exception. Perhaps you want to try out an idea that would not work with your ordinary group? Perhaps you have your own game and would like to playtest it?

Word of advice: Choose a game that you know well. If you know the game but the players don't, you can help them. If you don't know the game but the players do, they can help you but then they are not getting what they came for.

Personally, I would like to tear off all Ropecon GM ads where the gamemaster has imposed restrictions on his players, such as age or gender. Of course, having a barely literate 8-year old newbie joining your Praedor group is not the ideal situation, but you wanted to test your skills, right? If you can make him feel at home in a company of older players and enjoy the adventure just as much as the adults, you've passed the test! I am proud of the fact that I've never had a player walk out on me in mid-session. There have been a couple of no-shows, but irritating as they are, the GM is not to blame if the would-be players change their minds before the game. If they leave in mid-game, you are doing something wrong (start by checking your game session ad, since it may have given them wrong expectations about your adventure).

The perfect Ropecon scenario is short, easy to grasp even if the player is unfamiliar with the game and somehow portrays the game or setting as a whole. For example, a well-planned Borvaria run that begins and ends in the Wolf Wastes could be a perfect Ropecon scenario, since it gives the players an impression on what Praedors are and what they typically do. A whodunnit-type murder mystery in any of the larger cities or courts that forces the characters to meet NPCs from all walks of life would also be great, as it gives the players a picture of what Jaconia is like. If you can have both in the same adventure, even better, but most Con sessions last under five hours, so don't get greedy. Con is not the place for long and complex adventures. And for heaven's sake, don't split your long adventure over several days, expecting the very same players to show up again! Charlie Ei Surffaa got away with it, but you wont!

Use ready-made characters. That way you can start playing almost immediately after the group has assembled. I often let the players choose their characters in the order they show up and try to make all characters good, solid personalities that fit the game and the setting. It a sort of "the kind of adventurers this game is for" -approach. Sometimes my players have decided to create new characters anyway and occasionally I let them, but if any player disagrees, it is a no-go. Character creation is often slow and I don't want half the group to fall asleep while the other half sorts out numbers.

Don't keep playing until you drop but instead plan the ending as carefully as the beginning. It is also a good policy to time it with the start of some other major event, so that players interested in seeing something besides your face still have a chance to make it. They rush off, while the rest mill about the table, eager to hear your comments on their play or ask you questions about the game. Still, you can't plan for everything, so it is useful to design your con adventure so that some characters can be dropped off in mid-play if their players need to depart before the play ends.

Ropecon is a social event, but Ropecon game sessions are not. The players are not sitting at your table to meet each other but to try out new games. Therefore, planning an adventure that rests heavily on character interaction is a bad idea. Lucky you if it occurs, but many people just aren't talkative, in-game or off. If you must do it, make it clear in the game ad that characters are supposed to interact with each other. That should scare off the newbies.

Ropecon has seen some pretty strange stuff over the years and public P&P sessions there are no exception. Some gamemasters come out there to try out things that could never work more than once. Some of the players are there with the same goal. While it is more in line with the original intention of Ropecon to use public sessions as demonstrations of existing games and settings, there is always room for wacky ideas. As long as it is legal, go for it! You may never get another chance!

3-Mar-2004: Memories, memories

Well, it's been three days since the last hatemail so I guess it is safe to say something again. Before I was so rudely interrupted by the person-of-indetermine-sex-who-shall-forever-remain-nameless, I was looking back at Ropecon 2000 and before, when I used to run a public game session or two during the Con.

It all began in the first Ropecon, back in 1994. A friend of mine dragged me to Paasitorni and I fell in love with the whole concept. I dashed home, picked up my draft of Miekkamies (it had not been published yet), ran up to JayJay (my first encounter with ORC) and asked if I too could run a public game session. He said yes and I gamemastered four sessions of pretty much improvised Miekkamies and was rewarded with two loot items.

By 1995 Miekkamies was on its second print run and while Messuhalli was a bad place for Ropecon´95, I do have fond memories of the five(!) Miekkamies-sessions I held there. In 1996, back in the romantic halls of Paasitorni, I gamemastered a session of Taiga using a 200-page draft. Players loved it, but the game was less than successful when it got out. In 1997 I had made the more expensive print run of Taiga and ran it, hoping to attract people with colour covers and photograph-illustrated interior. It was all in vain, even if Taiga had by then aroused the interest (or sympathy) of two UK and one US-based distributor. In sfnet.harrastus.pelit.rooli there was a poll on the worst RPG ever and someone suggested Taiga. Although fans of the game rushed to its defence, I was devastated. I finally let the game, my favourite setting and the landscape of my soul, drop.

In 1998, which, if I recall correctly, was the first Dipoli Con, I gamemastered Mobsters for the first time. It was a mini-game created out of my enthusiasm for the Silver Screen gangsters. Again, players loved it and this time they were not alone. Mobsters is my most famous game overseas. I have received praises and fan mail all the way from Brazil and Japan. Of course, it does not cost anything and can be downloaded over Internet, so it is easier to distribute than paper games.

Ropecon 1999. I have absolutely no idea what I gamemastered there, but I do remember having gamemastered something. Back then I was also deeply involved in organising Ropecon, so there may not have been that much time for game sessions. In Ropecon 2000 I gamemastered a draft version of Praedor for a select few. It was also the last Ropecon where I was part of the organisation. I still haven't paid my way into any Ropecon (ok, back in 1994 I did pay at the door, but they refunded my ticket when I offered to be a gamemaster), because I always have had a presentation or a panel discussion or something.

Hey! I did run two sessions of Praedor in Ropecon 2001! How could I forget?

But now... I feel like I have said pretty much everything there is to say about RPG design and marketing. And with all this hatemail flying around I would probably be dodging tomatoes anyway, so it is time for me to leave the podium. Being a Guest of Honour at Conklaavi shall be both the crowning achievement and the finale of my career as an orator. I still don't want to pay my way in to Ropecon´04, though, so it is back to gamemastering for me. Stalker is a pretty weird game of an even more weird genre, but I hope there will be at least couple of con attendees with nothing better to do. Besides, odd ideas seem to do well in Ropecon.

Tomorrow, assuming that this odd calm in my mailbox continues, I'll discuss the things I have learned from running RPGs in Ropecon.

1-Mar-2004: I love the smell of molten metal

One of the authors of Beyond Role and Play blasted me for saying bad things about academic game theorists. He/She said that I am bolstering my own ego by dissing their work. Well, I am not dissing his/her work since I have not read Beyond Role & Play yet and I've said that in the entry. I am dissing the kind of work I've encountered thus far, giving Beyond Role & Play the benefit of doubt. Maybe it'll surprise me. I doubt it, but the chance is there. Apparently this person, who shall forever remain nameless, thinks this is a gross generalisation. And that, I think, is a major lapse of common sense.

Maybe it should be mentioned that the person in question had a disclaimer saying that he/she was writing as a private person, not as a representative of the whole Beyond Role and Play writer team. I don't know if that matters, but he/she did say it.

So, what do you people think my Designer's Notes is? A competing work? A forum for an alternate philosophy meant to undo your academic achievements? A dedicated counter to any and every proposal or theory presented in Beyond Role and Play or related work? The official voice of the Finnish RPG scene with the power to flatten mountains with its fiery rhetoric? Frankly, your knee-jerk reactions to my writings are a bigger ego-boost I could have thought possible. Here I was thinking that I was just some guy who writes P&P RPGs every now and likes to write his opinions about them. Apparently I am a major mover and shaker in this field, a definite threat whenever I choose to disagree with you. And instead of being a web diary of my personal gaming-related observations and opinions, Designer's Notes has grown into a mass media second only to Reuters in reach and authority.

It all leads to the question of who I really am? And judging from your reactions...

I am the Elvis of Roleplaying!

I am the King of Dice!

I am the Caesar of Gaming!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you very much! I love you too, World! I'll see you on tour! Today Turku, tomorrow Tokyo! I live for my screaming fans! I live for my raving critics!

I think I should start charging people for reading my blog. Maybe a monthly subscription fee of 29,99 euros would be sufficient for such a work of genius?