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Notebook

16-Aug-2017: Seikkailijoiden Kilta

It's been a few busy weeks since Ropecon but I finally got to reading Seikkailijoiden Kilta (transl. Adventurer's Guild). SK is the latest entry in the growing list of Finnish tabletop roleplaying games. It is a 140-page softcover book, slightly smaller than A4, with color covers and greyscale interior. The font is large and the whole thing makes a fairly quick read.

For the record, I really wanted to like this game. I have long hoped for a  fantasy alternative to Astraterra without the... creative math that plagues Heroes of the Tempest. On the surface and from what I managed to hear of the release presentation, Seikkailijoiden Kilta fits the bill.

Seikkailijoiden kila

My optimism took a hit as soon as I started reading. There is no division between player and gamemaster content. The book opens with a description of the adventurer's guild (a multinational institution that explains away the role of professional adventurers in this setting).

But then it goes into full World Book mode and spills the beans on ancient history, monsters and even powerful artifacts. Not only is a good deal of that best left to the Gamemaster, the reader won't get into the rules until page 68! And character creation until page 94! I am a big fan of world-focused RPG design but this is ass-backwards.

Saranea

Going to back to the world of Saranea, it is an archipelago surrounded by the Outer Sea that no one has managed to cross. At the center lies the Realm of Vaults, the ruins of an ancient civilization where monsters and magic now run rampant. Obviously, the characters are supposed to explore it and loot the treasures. Fair enough, feels like home already.

It is surrounded by the Random Encounter Isles... sorry, the Islands of the Privateers that the adventurers have to pass through to reach their hunting grounds. And on the outside, facing the Outer Sea, lie four kingdoms, conveniently located at the cardinal points of the compass, each with a distinct identity and culture.

Saranea is a very much purpose-built world and while there is a fair amount of backstory, it still feels artificial to me.This is a shame, because my early Earth Sea -vibes from this setting felt really, really good. Also, if you are getting strong Astraterra flashbacks from the map, trust me, you are not alone.

And one more thing: Finnish RPG authors, please, please, please, put some scale indicators into your maps! It is not that hard! And anyone suggesting that the GM can decide the scale by himself (*cough* Bliaron *cough*) deserves a spanking.

Now, it is page 68 and we get into the rules. The game uses the full D&D set from D4 to D20 and the basic roll is D20 against one of eight attributes with values ranging from 2-12 for beginners, and up to 25 for veterans. There is a level system (one per adventure) and for every level you can distribute 4 points into your attributes. Fair enough.

What I don't agree with is how the game deals with difficulty grades. An Easy Roll has no modifiers, so a super-talented beginner with an attribute value of 12 has 60% chance. A Challenging Roll has -5 to the value, so the odds drop to 35%.

I belong to a school of design where a difficulty grade means what it says. Easy Rolls are not worth it unless the degree of success has a clear and demonstrable effect. Most rolls made when adventuring would be Challenging or worse but having to apply a modifier to what is effectively a "Default Roll" feels clumsy.

On the other hand, the difficulty grades are not really explained anywhere so... meh. The author also commits the cardinal sin of using examples with very poor odds and then allowing the character to succeed most of the time. Such  examples are not representative of gameplay and can be misleading.

Curiously, character classes (or "calling") are described in the rules section rather than in the character creation. Combat may feel simplistic to some but it works and earns bonus points for not having an initiative roll. I hate those. Deadliness is low to moderate and dead characters can usually be brought back to life at some cost to the rest of the party.

Magic appears workable as well, although listing the spells only as a table at the end of the book feels cheap. It is mostly element-based, with Spirit as the fifth element. It all concludes with a multi-page adventure and several pages of tables for weapons and stuff.

I'd rather have all those tables in their respective sections of the rulebook and then again at the end of the book. All in all, the end feels a bit abrupt, as if the author had ran out of time, money or patience.  

The book is easy enough to read but the grey splatter textures sometimes jump at you. Art style is cartoony, with a strong homemade anime feel. I am not a big fan of that style but images depicting events and locales are nice, even if they were clearly meant to be shown in color. Unfortunately, there are also many, many portraits of characters without background or context.

Oh well, you either like Picasso or you don't.

Seikkailijoiden Kilta is not a bad roleplaying game. It just isn't a particularly good one. I am sure it works great with the author as the gamemaster but despite its mechanical difficulties, I found Heroes of The Tempest way more inspiring (as Hornankattila shows).

The same setting would probably work just as well or even better with, *sigh*, some OSR rules. The pacing of content reeks, as if the author has been writing notes for himself rather than a coherent set of instructions for an uninitiated reader. Fortunately, being a quick read, a persistent reader is rarely completely confused.

Well, there you have it. The author is no fool but this is very much his "first roleplaying game". I fear that he will be discouraged by poor sales, hangs up his sword and we will never hear from him again. Because if he persists, creates more content, takes in feedback and develops a coherent vision of what he wants the game to be and for whom, Seikkailijoiden Kilta 3.0 could be awesome. 

        

13-Aug-2017: Worldcon75Worldcon75

The largest speculative fiction conference in the world, Worldcon, has just concluded in Helsinki. In theory, it covers science fiction, fantasy and horror in all mediums but there is, admittedly, a strong legacy focus on literature. Still, with 600+ shows, panels and presentations there was bound to be something for everybody. The program palette was quite good this year. Unfortunately, I had to skip most of it because I was, and still am, struggling with bronchitis. But sitting around, soaking the ambience and talking to people both strange and familiar almost made up for it. Also, this was my second Worldcon and I've also been to six Eurocons, so I already knew that pacing myself was important. Worldcons are five-day events and by day four, you could see the battle fatigue settling in the crowds.

Puolenkuun Pelit asked me for something to sell at Worldcon and I brought them a batch of ten English-language Stalker RPGs. To my delight, they sold seven of them as well as a bunch of Praedor stuff and I have to commend their attitude throughout the whole thing. As their customers crumbled over the days, the sales staff at PP stand never wavered. They were as smiling and fresh today as they had been on Wednesday.

For most intentions and purposes, Worldcon75 was a great success. We are still waiting for the final numbers but with 6000+ attendees it is already one of the largest Worldcons ever arranged (update: around 7100 visitors, second largest Worldcon ever). And it was smoothly organized, too. Everything worked, everything was more or less on time and the fact that they ran out of room on Wednesday and had to implement a strict quota of day passes was not really their fault.

Because Christ on a bicycle, people! Me and others have been ranting about this event for years! The original allotment of meeting rooms was based on tickets sold beforehand. Then half as many of you barge in on the last moment and stand around wondering why you can't fit into the rooms! This is precisely the kind of event where you are supposed to book your tickets well in advance and anyone who asks why they weren't told this deserves to get slapped! That extra space from the exhibition halls could be made available this quickly to alleviate the problem is a miracle of organizing.

I was a little miffed that parking passes for the whole event were not sold to the public (although I managed to weasel one on the account of being an programme participant) but otherwise I have no complaints about the arrangements. A great event by all accounts and my Praedor presentation for foreigners even had a grand total of one foreigner in attendance. You can see the slides here. So far a great job and we (myself and Leena) have already booked our tickets for Worldcons 2019 and 2020, held in Dublin and New Zealand, respectively.

Special thanks to all of you who came to me asking for a signature or to tell me that something I wrote (mostly Käärmetanssija) was great. That is the true reward for being genre author in Finland. People like you (and to a lesser extent events like this, which is why we tour them every year) that allow me to overcome my imposter syndrome and write fiction in the first place. Without you, I wouldn't be here either.

Also, congratulations to Johanna Mustapää for winning an award in the Masquerade for her beautiful, practical and comfortable "Farrignian Court Dress" cosplay.

Farrignian court dress

But then...

As great as the event was, somebody also let an elephant into the room and I suspect the loxodonta is going to stay there for quite a while. Most of the foreign guests probably never noticed it. However, in my circles the incident was impossible to miss and I fear it will be the one thing for what this Worldcon will be remembered for.

I'll let professor Frans Mäyrä explain what happened.

I am not a larper but I was shocked and disappointed by the decision as well. For the Nordic Larp crowd, and Artante knows they are well represented in the geek circles around here, this was a slap in the face. Some have already sworn off Worldcons altogether and I don't blame them. But for the choice of medium, there go I. It was a stupid decision, it was the wrong decision, it was a royal fuck-up and I expect the Finnish organizers will be explaining their actions in future scene events until they are blue in the face. A just punishment and hopefully a shot across the bow for the future. What is the point of having a globe-trotting event if the local manifestation of geek culture and expression cannot be demonstrated there? You'd be left with something like this year's Eurocon. And trust me, you don't want that.     

Well, that's it. Next year, Worldcon is in San Jose, USA. I won't be attending but then there's going to be two in a row. My next event is Devcom/Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. It's all work, of course... Now who do I have to kill to ensure that my cough goes away by then?

 Praedor 31-Jul-2017: Ropecon 2017

Yes, it has been months since my last entry. My father passed away on March 25th, after a long struggle with cancer.  We were close and I was devastated. It sort of... brought everything to a halt. I didn't have anything to say.

Dad, 1941-2017
Paavo Kalervo Vuorela (1941-2017)

Everything dies and yet life goes on, with or without you, or anyone who would mourn your passing. Before I knew it, it was Summer, my next Praedor RPG supplement Kirottu Kirja came back from the printers and Ropecon, the largest independent tabletop and LARP gaming convention in Europe, was here. So I returned to Messukeskus and found out that I had no idea where everything was. Last year I was there in a wheelchair and now my mental map of the place was way off.

I had a lot of things going on in this Ropecon. Kirottu Kirja, the Praedor RPG supplement about Cursed Lands and all their horrors was written while the whole drama with my dad and his cancer was unfolding. It took me to some pretty dark and terrible places and I hope some of that has rubbed off onto the text. It is a 92-page hardcover book and I tried to keep the hardcover aspect of it a secret until this week. It didn't really cause much of a stir but what little feedback there is has been positive. You can get it from any major retailer of hobby games in Finland. Just follow the links on the right.

Praedor Adventure Cards finally became available as well (Pelikrypta), doing double duty as a large-scale mindmap of Borvaria and an improvisation tool for the gamemasters. Human ability to perceive patterns on random things is nothing short of amazing. I did a quick demonstration of its use in Keltsu Nova and the obviously random terrain felt complete logical to me: "okay, this Poison Grove is here because fluids are leaking from the Sewer Entrance to the north and emptying into the river, and the entrance was obviously revealed because of this Crater which also left this entire area being Tilted..."

Henkilön Leena Romppainen kuva.
As you can clearly see, there is an affluent area of well-preserved ruins along the river to the right but then the ruins become poorer and harder to traverse. Through great effort, our adventurers manage to penetrate the Poison Grove and bypass the Sewer entrance, only to find themselves at the edge of an Acidic Swamp. With rapids from the swamp blocking the way to the west, they returned to the ship at its hard-won anchorage just off the Poison Grove...

My both programme events were on Friday. I gave the release presentation for Kirottu Kirja and chaired the great 2-hour Praedor panel with myself, Hiltunen, Erkka and Jaakko Alamikkula, i.e. the thus-far published Praedor authors. Both of these events were packed, there was a sales spike of our books immediately afterward and the RPG stuff was absolutely flying off the shelves. If you were there, odds are that you spotted me doing a restocking run between my car and the stands of my retailers.   

Restocking run
Yes, I am ugly. But fortunately Kirottu Kirja is looking great.

Kirottu kirja

Well, now you know what I've been up to. Barring any other deaths in the family, I'll try to update this blog more often in the future. There is lot to talk about, both about my writings and those of others.
Praedor.net
Praedor.net

Praedor
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Kirottu kirja
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Praedor seikkailukortit
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Salaisuuksien kirja
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Käärmetanssija
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Vanha Koira
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Ville Vuorela - The Hollow Pilgrim – A Stalker RPG
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