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29-Feb-2004: Fanatic was fun

Lahti Fanatic was just the kind of event I like. There were two people from Games Workshop giving product presentations on LotR figures as well as an introduction to the coming Warhammer Online MMORPG (although it seemed like I knew more about it than the person giving the presentation). Finally there were two grand tournaments, one with Warhammer Fantasy Battle and another with LotR: The Return of the King. Attendance was around 450 and something like180 battles were fought, with the best 20 WHFB players getting into the finals which were played today. I am a novice when it comes to WHFB and only went there because of professional curiosity and to keep my friend company, but I enjoyed watching it. Munter and his boys had made some fantastic battlefields (I've never seen anything like them) and some of the better painted armies were extremely pretty. I hope to have photos from the event available at some point.

Conklaavi finally responded, with an email that essentially asked "what do you want to do as the Guest of Honour?" Funny, I thought the suggestions would come from them. I guess I'll prepare a GoH speech of some kind and offer to participate in panel discussions, as soon as they know what discussions there will be. GoH status requires me to hang around for two days and they have promised to arrange lodgings. They are suggesting a hotel, which I find a tad extravagant, but its their money, not mine.

Now, what shall I do in Ropecon'04? A part of me says "absolutely nothing" since nobody has expressed any interest, but maybe the Stalker-presentation would fit in there just as nicely. I also might even gamemaster something. The trouble with being a Ropecon GM is that you'll never know who'll you be playing with and mixing of players of all ages does not always work out that well. Maybe if I gamemastered a Stalker adventure? The game itself would be far from complete, but I would like to test the setting. Maybe not with stalker characters, but if the players were a group of reporters sent by the producer to do a piece of the Zones, first the official version with the assistance of the relevant military forces, and then a clandestine one where they would try to bribe a Stalker to take them across the border and into the Zone.

We'll see.

27-Feb-2004: Mammoth hunt

Puolenkuun Pelit hosts an official Warhammer Fanatic tournament called "Mammoth Hunt" tomorrow. A friend of mine is going to play there and I want to see what such events look like, so I am going to Lahti with him, hoping that audience is allowed on the premises while the tournament takes place. I'll write review of the event when I get back.

Tried emailing Conklaavi again. No reply, but let's give them a few days. Turku is quite far, so it may take a while for the email to get there, even if it is moving at the speed of light.

26-Feb-2004: Allergic Reaction

Solmukohta book: Beyond Role and Play seems to have stirred up quite a lot of game theory-related debate. And as usual, I am getting an allergic reaction. I used to be quite interested in game theory, back in the old days when I felt that pseudo-scientific or philosophical discussion on different aspects of gaming, preferably with fancy labels, would somehow improve gaming for me and others. Since then my interest has faded. The discussion goes around in circles, with topics and themes appearing, disappearing and reappearing again in cycles of two or three years. The whole philosophical field seems to have no other goal than to bolster the egos of the theorists themselves. Either that, or they are bloody awful at explaining what they are aiming at.

Frankly, I get a whole lot more out of a discussion with another gamemaster by asking what kind of campaigns he has run since we last met and then asking about interesting points or differences to my own style as they come up. Perhaps the fancy theories can put names and labels on everything we discuss, but referring to them would put me to sleep after the first paragraph. Reading Myrskyn Aika was very interesting and reading Mike's emails about it and his gamemastering style were even more so, but I never really finished reading the Declaration of Turku School of Roleplaying. I felt like I was a Vampire reading the Bible.

If I have to think in game theory terms, I am probably something of a conservative simulationist submerged in a pool of storytelling (I may have got the terminology wrong here). From my discussions with other gamemasters, I have concluded that my polar opposite in the simulationist sense is Sam Lake and in the storytelling sense Kalle Marjola, with Mike Pohjola somewhere between the two. Legendary gamemasters, all three of them. When they say something, they have the practical experience to back it up and often the common sense to say it in a practical way. Compared to these three, the so-called game theorists have nothing but hot air and boring sophistry. It makes me wonder if the game theorists have ever actually gamemastered anything.

For a creative or an emotional construct, like any of my more complex narrative-driven adventures, over-analysis is the ultimate kiss of death. You can break a steak into its base elements but the base elements alone do not make a steak. Then again, another cook can give you excellent tips on how to prepare and serve the steak.

I haven't read Beyond Role and Play yet, so this criticism is not aimed at it. It is a result of the impressions (and nausea) I got from following the game theory debate that ensued. But I do have a nasty feeling that the book is going to give me more of the same and that game theories form the core of "academic roleplaying". If so, I'll have to perform rites of excorcism on Hotelli Matinlahti before entering it to watch the Warhammer 40000 tournament in April.

25-Feb-2004: Eve of Battle

What would be a better time to update your blog than while waiting for your Praedor players to arrive? Another campaign, an entirely new adventure, one that was supposed to be part of the Praedor supplement, but since the supplement has been postponed to indeterminate future (in software industry they'd call it vaporware) they get to play it now. I just renamed it to "Green Lord" and will comment on its progress as the play proceeds.

Yesterday I suddenly realised that I can no longer talk about my game and adventure ideas here unless I've first checked whether or not they are applicable to mobile games. It is a very competitive world out there and I don't think my colleagues would think twice about stealing my ideas if they thought they could get away with it. While working as a game designer for Sumea remains a dream come true, this new need for creative secrecy is definitely a drawback.

Solmukohta is over and done with. Those who participated said it was enjoyable. Good for them and good for the other guests too, I'd imagine. The little TV news item YLE did about them was one of the best RPG-related news items I've ever seen. This gives me high hopes for the possible media coverage of future Ropecons and in preparation of coming interviews I've decided to make myself more photogenic. I have already lost 29 kilograms since last August, but I wonder if I should dye my hair blue or something... Back to Solmukohta: I haven't got my hands on their book yet but I will, and when I do, I'll review it here. I'll probably blast Martin Erikson for being Martin Erikson, but otherwise the review will be calm and objective. I promise.

BTW, those of you looking for more texts by Finnish RPG designers, check out MikeP's column from RPGNet. He has just published a new article.

Still no word from Conklaavi. I wonder if I should send them another email? (Of course I should). I just read from the weekly add-on to Helsingin Sanomat that the natives living outside the Greater Helsinki Area are hostile to us city-dwellers. I wonder if it is safe for me to go to Turku? I mean, wasn't Turun Sinappi (mustard) originally developed as an ingredient for cannibalistic orgies? They make it in Sweden now (for some bizarre reason it is stilled called Turun Sinappi, or Turku's Mustard) but I've heard that the local tribal shamans have already come up with a substitute called Auran Sinappi. Their magic is strong indeed.

20-Feb-2004: Nameless entry

Unemployed, day 94. The final day (even if my unemployment status has been a bit suspect for the two weeks I have been writing articles for Enter magazine).

I have today accepted a job offer for the position of a game designer at Sumea ltd. As dreams coming true go this is pretty good. And I even get to keep my status as a freelance IT journalist for Enter magazine! I shall immediately sacrifice a virgin chocolate truffel to Totem Hippo (read the previous entry if you don't know what I am talking about). Now, what dreams do I have left? Winning the lottery, slim waist and eternal youth, but that is about it. I would like to graduate some day, but I would not count it as a dream. It would be nice, but it is not a dream.

No word from Conklaavi yet as to what the Guest of Honour duties are and what events I am supposed to participate in. Not even information on whether I have to buy my own ticket to Turku and if someone is meeting me at the Railway Station. I find it difficult to believe that they would just settle on the Stalker presentation if I am really their GoH and I would really like to know, since my original intention was to participate only on the first day, and Conklaavi is a two-day event. I have sent email to them, but I remember how the last time I asked something they only responded when I commented on their lack of response on this blog.

And of course, neglecting to inform me that I had been chosen (not asked, just chosen) to be their Guest of Honour is in a league of its own as far as gaffes go. Understandable for an amateur event, but it does make Ropecon look very professional and well-organised. So, you organisers of Conklaavi, please (please please please!) DO tell me what you expect of your Guest of Honour!

Two of my friends get to read the Praedor story chapters almost as soon as I finish writing them and their comments on the storyline and characters have been really positive. I still have a morbid fear of public criticism (read: being laughed out of the room) but my faith in my abilities as a writer is improving. I have always thought that there was something terribly difficult to writing stories worth publishing, like some kind of a special skill or a pattern of thinking that you had to master before you could do it. Either I was wrong, or my two friends are just being nice to me. I mean, if writing really were this easy, everybody would be doing it! Right?

16-Feb-2004: Good news and good news

The first item of good news is that I received an invitation to the publishing of Solmukohta book. Unfortunately, I received it too late and had already booked that evening for something else, but thanks anyway. It probably would have been interesting. Whether or not one is interested in academic studies about roleplaying the book is likely to be worth a look. It is the first of its kind and from a quick summary of its content I concluded that it should interest even a dedicated P&P gamer like me. More importantly, it will probably offer an interesting tour into the minds of those doing serious research on roleplaying games and gamers.

The second item of good news is that my job status has improved. I am now officially a freelance journalist for the Enter magazine. Another company has expressed interest in purchasing game design and game documentation services from Burger Games and there is a job interview for a full time technical author position coming up. In short, a definite turn for the better. It started when my wife put some chocolate into the mouth of a small wooden hippopotamus totem she once gave me. It took a few days for the magic to work but it did work. I shall now dedicate my spiritual life to feeding chocolate to wooden hippopotamuses. I wonder what this religion should be called?

The third item of good news is that Stalker T-shirts, basically merchandise to promote our upcoming Stalker RPG, finally came from the print. Me and my clients have been quite pleased with the outcome, even though there were some problems with the T-shirt printing company. Stalker shirts won't be available for purchase anywhere, so if you didn't get one now, you'll never will.

The fourth item of good, if also somewhat absurd news is that Conklaavi, a Finnish roleplaying convention, takes place in Turku on the 17th and 18th of April. That is the good news. The mixed and absurd news is that I was supposed to go there just to give a presentation on Stalker RPG. Now, looking at the Conklaavi homepage I discovered to my horror that they have named me their guest of honour! They did not even bother ask me! Turku sounds suspiciously like the birthplace of Turku School of Roleplaying (in case any of you wondered where it got its name). Mike Pohjola, the author of Myrskyn Aika, also happens to live in... you guessed it, Turku! But they skipped him and chose me instead, an exotic foreigner from the distant and mysterious city of Vantaa.

To the organisers of Conklaavi: I am coming there anyway, so I humbly accept your (implied) invitation to be your Guest of Honour.

But next time, ask me first, okay?

14-Feb-2004: Official Thanks to Enter

This is my official thanks to Enter magazine for pulling my ass out of fire. I am a freelance IT journalist now. A job, sort of.

13-Feb-2004: Law vs. Chaos

Blog addiction. I am suffering from it. After years of self-censorship and deleting my newsgroups comments before sending them, blog-keeping has tricked me into expressing personal opinions and sentiments on things like game design, writing or Finnish conventions, especially when the first one is the only thing I know anything about. Burger Games can't afford to have opinions like these or get into arguments about them. I am really surprised at my weakness: after managing to be in the scene for years without ever saying anything, so why has keeping my mouth shut become so difficult lately? I guess it is one of those "if you have a hammer, all you see is nails" things. I like blogging too much to quit it, but maybe a hiatus is in order so that self-censorship and BG moderation policies can be re-imposed.

12-Feb-2004: First Rays of Dawn

"Which do you think is worse?" Blackwing asked. "Beastlord or Borvaria?"
"Borvaria", Old Dog replied without hesitation. Blackwing stared at him for a while and then said: "I can see where this insane courage of yours comes from. And damn if it isn't contagious."

Nobody ever comments on these translated quotations. Not that there is much to comment on, but I just thought somebody would say something (like "cut it out, you're spoiling me").

Mika Waltari is a world-famous Finnish author and his novel "Sinuhe" was even turned into a big-budget Hollywood movie in the... fifties? Sixties? I can't remember. Anyway, I like his detective stories better than his long and rambling historical novels, but the book I've been reading now is "Do you want to be an author?". It is a guide to novice writers dating from the early thirties, written with the human warmth of Waltari at his best. Of course, some of the stylistic instructions are downright outdated (contemporary literary circles are much more liberal about lewdness and violence) but there is still plenty of good stuff here. The part I've read most are his descriptions of the typical mistakes made by novice writers. He makes them look so obviously wrong that it is hard to believe that any literate person would be stupid enough to make them. Yet somehow some of them have crept into my text while I wasn't looking.

MikeP, a nice guy even if he is a LARPer, asked me why I dis my own work. He was concerned that prospective readers might be put off if I demonstrate doubts about my abilities as a writer. Another friend, Janka, promised to scream if I say again that real authors are something and that I am something different (I wonder why, but maybe that is not important). But I just don't see it that way. I am NOT a real author. I am a bard performing in a wayside Inn, as much a subject to history and helpless before the will of gods as everyone else in Jaconia. Petri is the real author. It is his world and he controls the future, not I, even if my contribution to Jaconia's development into its present form is significant. He has the power to destroy Jaconia and all life in it with a single phone call and there is nothing I could do to stop him. And he tells his stories. I only report mine.

In my mind, the idea of being an author implies also control over the events he writes about. In Jaconia, I am a bystander watching the events as they unfold in my head. I try to write them down in a way that will earn me a roof over my head and something to sink my teeth in. I can change my story by deleting entire chapters if the outcome does not please me, but only after they have been played out and recorded. It takes me back in time, back into the last recorded moment from where the events start to unfold once more, but never in quite the same way. Of course, I can choose how I describe the things I see, emphasizing certain themes and aspects in relation to others. And sometimes, just sometimes, what I write differs from what I actually see. Maybe that makes me an author on some level, or at least puts me into a position where I must make the same choices that an author would. Now that I'm writing this, it dawns on me that I actually have more control over Jaconia as a gamemaster than as a writer.

This way of seeing things is probably the result of seventeen years of gamemastering and telling the interactive stories where I am both the narrator and part of the audience. Sometimes my NPCs come to life in a way that frightens me. It is as if they were independent minds within the greater framework of my own mind (you LootEm players should know what I am talking about). In a written work, without the benefit of having any characters controlled by other people, my mind splits up into me and the primary characters, giving them occasional, frightening and sometimes extremely frustrating bursts of self-determination. It is one thing to have the story veer off course because the players aren't doing what you expected. Can you even begin to imagine what it feels like when it happens with characters that you are running yourself? I can already see the white-coated men breaking down the door...

I still have doubts about my abilities as a writer, but fortunately it wasn't me who came up with the final, "played-out" idea and story arc for "Beastlord".

They did.


Old Dog and Beastlord, of course! The story arc is already WAY different from what I originally had in mind and I really don't like what is happening next!

If you need me, I'll be in Kaivoksela Forest, running around naked and screaming Norse proverbs from Havamál in proto-Ugrian. And this concludes tonight's report on the state of Finnish fantasy literature.

10-Feb-2004: Speculative Fiction

I should be writing my book, but all the hassle with Stalker T-shirts (available only to a select few) has ruined my mood, so I am updating my blog instead.

Maybe I am slow or something but I just learned a nice way of putting fantasy literature under the generic label of "SF". I have always regarded SF as an abbreviation of Science Fiction, but when you call it Speculative Fiction it also covers fantasy works. Voila! Although I have to admit that "Stalker - the speculative fiction roleplaying game" does not have quite the same ring to it as the original title.

Only an idiot would ponder his creative future before the script of his first book was finished, but here I go... writing is actually pretty cool (apart from the fact that you don't get paid) so I've been thinking about what will happen in the summer when Old Dog is finished. Do I just turn my back on the whole writing thing and go back to work on RPGs? Both are pretty time-consuming hobbies, so it really is either one or the other. Assuming that Jalava ever wants to hear from me again, of course.

Obviously, I would not have got this publishing contract if my stories were not set in Jaconia. Jalava happens to the publisher of Praedor comics, so promoting the product line is obviously in their interests. I have to give a share of the royalties to Petri who owns the definite copyright to the concept, but this is not a really a bad thing. It's just my pride that dictates that I must write something of my own at some point. Too bad I am not the inventor of Stalker; short stories set into its setting would be cool to do, but I am NOT going to compete with either Strugatsky. Stalker is theirs and I am just borrowing it for the roleplaying game.

That leaves... Miekkamies and Taiga, which are completely mine. Miekkamies 2.0 never really got off the ground as I could not decide whether I should keep the full fantasy approach (and the setting of Arleon), or if I should recreate 17th century Europe where all the myths are reality (World of Darkness pulled that stunt off pretty nicely). I have story ideas (old scenario ideas) for Arleon, or actually a modified version of Arleon as the original setting was still rather clumsy. As for Taiga, I don't think I or anyone else would have much of a chance to get post-holocaust fiction published.

Do or do not. There is no try. In any case, I have to get Stalker RPG out next and preferably the Praedor supplement as well. Of course, I could just keep writing more Praedor stories and claim that they are the supplement, especially if I publish some story-related stats on the website. Hmm...

08-Feb-2004: The Rest is Silence

...Old Dog had seen it all before and way too often. Men and women, ruthless killers and praedors all, whose past was just a black, bottomless pit. They had fled from it all the way into Borvaria, but as they lay dying, they slid back into it. Confessions of evil deeds and dark secrets, whether made on a deathbed, a blood-spattered blanket or the arms of a comrade, were their final scream as they fell into the dark...

Peace and goodwill among the men. For several days there hasn't been anything that would have inspired me to rant so this blog is in danger of becoming a writer's blog once more. Let's take a look at RPG.Net to see if there is anything I would like to comment on...

Not really, it seems. The D20 plague is spreading into Traveller (and I though it was bad when Traveller became a GURPS product line) but that was not entirely unexpected. Fates Worse Than Death seems interesting, an RPG of the urban poor in a post-cyberpunk setting of New York in the year 2080. Nothing that I could really rant about.

Inspired by two excellent Kal Jerico comic books, I've been reading the sourcebook of Necromunda miniatures game by GW and wondered why nobody has turned this into an RPG setting yet. It is big, it is interesting, it is gritty and funny at the same time and unlike in most WH40K material even the power level of various types of characters is low and relatively even. Maybe if a I did a Neo-V conversion of it and ran a couple of adventures in the squalor of the underhive. That might be interesting.

05-Feb-2004: Thoughts on railroading...

I may have said this before, but one of the core concepts of my gamemastering is "Otherwhere", creating a sensation that characters are part of a living, functional world and that their story and adventure is just one in an infinite number other stories and adventures taking place all around them. This includes that they can go anywhere at anytime and there is always something there. Interesting sceneries or personalities at least. It is also fun to get them involved or just witness mini-events that bring out various aspects and oddities of local cultures and customs, as if the players were tourists in another world.

But if the world is completely open to them, won't they walk away from my story arcs and plot hooks?

Oh yes. If my campaign design is a book, players can add or delete entire sections and chapters, change the order of events, the roles I had planned for NPCs, like make minor NPCs into major or push major NPCs into the background as minor personalities. They can create entirely new encounters and miniadventures I did not plan for and that are not part of the overall story arc. And they can, and sometimes do, walk off the whole adventure. There is nothing to stop them. If and when this happens, it means two things: first, my estimates of player reactions were a total failure, and second, I have to improvise some interesting encounter or a mini-adventure to keep them entertained for the rest of the session. Hopefully the players won't notice a thing.

Once the session is over, it is disaster recovery time. What went wrong? Is the original story arc salvageable and if so, how and when can I insert the characters back into it, again without the players noticing that there was a crisis (some players always notice, others almost never)? If it is not salvageable, it must be broken apart and looted. Obviously some of the themes, events and ideas did not work since there was a crisis in the first place. The bad bits are to be discarded and the good bits recycled into what will be a new story arc. Typically my post-crisis story arcs are a shorter and have more safeguards than usual.

Having been bitten into this Achilles' Heel a number of times already, my campaign story arcs are never written down in these days. They exist as rough bullet points in my head and I divide it into as many sub-adventures (small storylines) as possible, writing them down one by one as the play proceeds. This approach also makes it easier for me to include new ideas, visions, or major changes brought about by unexpected character actions into the main story arc. While I almost always have a vision of how the big story should end, nothing is fixed. If the story takes an unexpected turn that would lead to even more adventures and even better events and endings, I'll take it! (Such changes are usually brought about by character actions, and for me the experience of realising that they have happened is somewhere between an orgasm and Buddhic enlightenment).

After all, my players are routinely more clever than I am.

04-Feb-2004: Burger's School of Roleplaying

This is part I.

Part II (addendum) can be found at the end of this entry.

Yesterday's entry concerning Solmukohta seems to have touched a nerve. It has been pointed out to me that there are several presentations about roleplaying in general, they are just not listed in the programme because their schedule is not set. And the one that is listed is titled: "Character Design - Gender Equality in LARPs". Gee, how did I miss that, I wonder. Anyway, a certain nice person whose name is witheld by request has explained me thoroughly that I have misunderstood the information policy of Solmukohta and that they did not intend to treat non-LARPers as a marginal audience and that experienced roleplayers would intuitively know that LARPin and tabletop gaming are so close to each other that nearly any presentation on LARPs is also applicable to tabletop gaming... (out of breath yet?). And even if there were those who did not know, should know now because it says so Mike Pohjola's Myrskyn Aika.

Well, boys and girls, Mike Pohjola says a lot of things in Myrskyn Aika, but maybe this attitude (not demonstrated by Mike in this case) is the reason why many veteran gamers have wondered if Myrskyn Aika was actually a parody of real roleplaying games (just read the reviews). I know it is not, but it is a work by someone whose main interest in roleplaying is character immersion, which is what pen&paper RPGs do OK and LARPs do extremely well. This is the so-called Turku School of Roleplaying and Mike is its leading advocate, and some say its very author. From him, this approach is completely understandable, especially since he recognises (or has said to me that he does) that it is not the only possible approach but just the one that he knows and likes best. Nothing wrong with that.

However, my interest in roleplaying lies in telling stories and creating an interesting chronological narrative of adventures, events and character development, similar to that found in literature, or in movies where events take place along a prolonged chronological continuum. While it does not exclude character immersion as a possible goal for the players (and I am always ready applaud to good roleplayers, like most of the LARPers I know), my task as a gamemaster is to be a gate between the setting which is where the characters are, and the real world which is where me and my players reside. I am telling a story and the players listen, giving feedback and suggestions in the form of character actions. I evaluate the effects of those actions, improvise changes to the setting and alterations to the storyline as needed. But my focus, my sole purpose of existence during a roleplaying session is to tell that story! Period.

This is Burger's School of Roleplaying.

This is also why I have come to the conclusion that Pen&Paper Gaming and LARPing have more differences than things in common. It is certainly possible to run a table-top session in a manner that emphasizes character immersion but I don't believe it to be possible to run a LARP session in a manner that relies on storytelling and narration. The format does not support it.

I presume that I will now be swamped with feedback about different ways to handle storytelling and narration in live-action roleplaying games. Certainly someone must have thought about this already and developed ways, perhaps alternative or marginal methods of live-action-roleplaying that do include narration and literature-style handling of successive events. But judging by the LARPs my friends have been in or that have been advertised in the forums I read, no one is writing them.

Fire away.

Part II:

And you did. Mike asked for a clarification on a couple of points and when a fellow game designer asks something like that I deliver.

Let me begin by stating that I like Myrskyn Aika and whether I liked it or not, it is still a benchmark in the history of Finnish roleplaying games. However, in my circle of friends I seem to be the only one who likes it and even I have to change gears in my head when doing it. It was made by very different people for a very different gaming style and whatever observations I make, I make them as an outsider. I do believe that Myrskyn Aika works beautifully in the kind of character-focused play (some might add "role immersion" somewhere in this sentence) it was meant for, not to mention the whole concept of combining P&P and live-action elements into a single product. Briliant!

However, most of us don't look at these things from the game design perspective as I do, but from the perspective of their personal preferences and playstyles. Hence, Myrskyn Aika is a strong hit among Turku School of Roleplaying, a miss with some others and I as a fellow game designer find it delightful to study a tool that is excellent for its purpose, even if my own purposes are different.

Mike also asked that if I am so much into storytelling and narration, why do I play roleplaying games instead of just writing stories? He also argued that there can't be a story without GM-Player interaction and that if there were, what would be the point of having players?

Wrong! My adventure design process begins with the writing of the story and of the non-player characters. It is the default story of the game, telling what will happen if the characters act as I expect and succeed in the challenges I expect them to succeed in. There is Act I with its NPCs and challenges and perhaps some pre-planned outcomes, one of which is then fleshed out into Act II and so forth. If my guesses on player reactions were always correct, the only excitement left would be performing as a storyteller and the potential changes brought on by dice (in a game with random element it is always possible to lose a fight but I would have have already decided the expected outcome of the battle).

Unfortunately, or should I say fortunately, players are clever and come up with all sorts of new and goofy ideas I never thought of. The adventure veers more and more off from the default story with every new act and I have improvise more and more (keeping track of NPC reactions can be tough). When the session ends, I do a summary of the changes and re-write the next session's Acts to reflect those changes. In effect, the default story has been changed so that I can begin improvising from a clean slate in the next session. So, do I have a story or not? That is actually a darn good question.

All this may sound very complicated but it really isn't, or at least not anymore (I've been roleplaying for a while now). My GM instructions in Praedor, especially those concerning adventure design, use this exact pattern. But I can see that I am not the only one who skips GM instructions in rulebooks...

In short, my enjoyment comes from coming up with (hopefully) good stories, but not knowing how they will turn out after all. It comes from the challenge (or should I say opportunity) of improvisation and story development. It comes from the satisfaction of having created epic moments and stuff that would have been fantastic to read, watch or enjoy in any other narrative format. And it comes from performing, from having put on a good show for my players.

Hmm, while I'd rather be friends with everybody, I seem to write better when I am pissed off or embarrassed. Thanks guys, you've made this a gaming blog once more! I wonder if I (or you) have any gunpowder left for tomorrow.

03-Feb-2004: Dark Chocolate

...His armour had saved his life but not his face. In place of his handsome features was now a horrifying mask of charred skin and exposed muscle, all soaked in blood. His lips had burned away, exposing the teeth and making him smile the joyless mirth of a dead skull. His eyesockets were empty...

Did I mention that I crave dark chocolate when I write? It has absolutely nothing to do with the excerpt above and I can't have it because of my diet, but I would really, really, like to. With all the corrections, stops, fruitless days and deleted pages I have still progressed at a rate of one sheet per day. I need about 70 and now have about 25, so I think I have made good progress. Of course, neither Jalava or Hiltunen has read any of this stuff yet so it might still go out of the window, but that is unlikely. The story I am writing now, "Beastlord", is turning into a dark and gory tale.

But let's talk about something else for a change, like the Finnish RPG scene. (Boy, we have never brought up that one before, have we?)

The next big event is Solmukohta, the leading Nordic roleplaying convention with a massive attendance of 235 people and an exclusively LARP-oriented programme. The leading Nordic LARP elitists (are there just 235 of them?) have a whole weekend to congratulate themselves on their intellectual and creative superiority while listening to academic presentations that few can understand and even fewer can apply in practise. Now, if that isn't the very definition of Paradise I don't know what is. Don't get me wrong: Arranging an event is a good thing in itself, even if its nature and programme don't agree with me. I just would have liked to have a genuine roleplaying event (like they first said it would be) instead of a LARP convention. And in any case, a convention with only 235 attendees should not call itself "leading".

For me, the next big event is Conklaavi in Turku. It is a real roleplaying convention that caters to all branches. I've been asked to hold a presentation on Stalker RPG and I've prepared a Powerpoint presentation for it. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much progress lately as my book has taken precedence to everything else.

What little progress there has been is significant. I have made some changes that will bring the game closer to the book, such as the inclusion of Pilman's Radiant (thanks Pare!) which unfortunately wrecks my plan for extreme geographical differences between the Zones (and the idea of a Zone cutting England in two...). I have also stressed the importance of Exclusion Areas bordering the Zones and I hope this will strengthen the post-holocaust nature of the game. I am trying to create worlds within worlds within worlds.

First there is our world, the modern-day Earth, pretty much as it is now apart from certain changes brought about by the Visit. Then there are Exclusion Areas, the no-man's-land between our world and the Zones where our world, the orderly human society, is either failing or has already failed. Beyond them lie the Zones, shards of alien reality that defy the very truths our world is built on. Full of familiar things and yet more alien than the surface of another planet, Zones are a challenge to both body and mind. Anyone who enters and survives will bear the scorchmarks on his soul for the rest of his days. Like praedors, some older stalkers will eventually be more at home in the Zone than they are in our world.

You: Sounds great! So when is it coming out?

Me (red-faced): In early 2005, I hope...

Post Scriptum: I just received another message telling me that my job application has been turned down. Financially I am at the end of the rope. Bankrupting a non-profit entity like Burger Games is not easy, but it is not impossible either. If it becomes financially unfeasible for me to maintain this site and domain, BG will close its doors. We'll know that by June.

01-Feb-2004: Battle Scenes and candlelight

...Old Dog did not even notice how the brigand he had tripped got up behind him. Neither did he notice the man falling down again, with a long arrow stuck in the back of his head...

...It sat on top of the wooden wall like a bird on a perch, timbers creaking under its weight. Its black skin was not scaly as he thought it would be, but smooth and moist like that of a frog. Yet no frog had six legs with claws that could shred a horse, or such a wide mouth filled with teeth as large as daggers...

...His first observation of the enemy was when someone ran against his shield and fell down, screaming and cursing in the dark. He struck into the direction of the screams and they were cut short by a sickening crunch...

Apart from using using the narrative past tense, I am writing battle scenes just as I would describe them in a roleplaying game. All those details and stylistic expressions are time-consuming, but if done properly they are precisely what keeps the players from becoming bored. Everything I describe, often improvising in a hurry, becomes part of the physical reality of the battle and can be referred to by the players. If I describe how bright the armour of the enemy is in contrast to the dark drapes covering the walls, then the drapes are there and a character can try to pull them down on his enemy, perhaps confusing and blinding him momentarily. Of course I did not plan the drapes to be used in that manner but it would probably work, especially since it adds colour and variation to the battle scene. Most of the time descriptive detail is just that, descriptive, but if the players come up with ways to use them to their advantage, kudos to them. It may be an unfair advantage but it also makes the whole battle a lot more interesting. Works in a game. Hopefully it works in a book as well.

I am writing this in the light of a candle (although the monitor gives out no small amount of light on its own). For some reason, I find it easier to write fiction with the simplest of tools. Despite having Pagemaker, Word and Wordperfect to choose from, I am writing my book with WordPad. Somehow I feel like the lack of frills leaves me more room to think and excercise my imagination. It must be illusory, of course, but it works. And when writing semi-professionally as I am doing, anything that works is acceptable and you can always run your story through a real text processing software when it is finished (text processors have handy proofreading options).

Actually, this is working so well that I am thinking about switching to candlelight altogether when writing fantasy- and semi-fantasy stuff, such as roleplaying adventures. Now all I need is some dark chocolate and red wine...

28-Jan-2004: Dialogue is Devilish

When I was younger, my attempts at writing stories usually failed because of my inability to portray dialogue. Having read so much I've always been good at describing landscapes or other static scenarions, but movements and especially conversation between two fictional characters had always been so very difficult to write that I usually gave up.

Enter the roleplaying hobby and exit the writing. After 17 years of PC/NPC interaction and several instances where PCs have observed prolonged debates and arguments between NPCs with very different personalities, the portrayal of characters through dialogue (as opposed to physical description) seems to have gotten easier. Then again, maybe I am just fooling myself and the little tricks that make NPC/NPC debates interesting in a roleplaying game do not apply in literature. In addition, my dialogues are taking too long to write and taking up too much space. I had aimed for short, concise pieces similar to R.E. Howard's original Conan stories, but it appears they will be far longer. I have also tried to keep the number of named characters to a bare minimum (again something I picked up from Howard) but I seem to be failing at that as well.

Anyway, the book is taking shape: Three stories, "Old Dog/Daughter of the Isles" and "Beastlord". The first two are intertwined and the third is a separate event, set chronologically after the first two. I will probably name the book "Old Dog" (Vanha Koira in Finnish), as he is the pivotal character in two of the three stories. I have also ideas for a fourth story named "Thieves of Alabar", but it won't be in the book. Next book, perhaps? *wink*

26-Jan-2004: Teaser

..."I am Old Dog! Mercenary, adventurer and praedor! I have slain dozens of men, beasts and things that are yet to be named! I have fought in ten great battles! I have made twelve treks into Borvaria! I have been to every land, quenched my thirst in every inn and bedded whores in every brothel! I have no tribe! I have no kin! I am Old Dog!"...

..."Only cowards dress in grey", Blackwing said, citing an old Forest Folk proverb even though he did not believe it himself. Old Dog had heard that one before and already had an answer: "That's why the cowards always win"...

...There had been five against him but now one was without a weapon, another a screaming cripple and third a silent corpse...

Here is a taste of the kind of stuff I am writing, except of course that I write in Finnish. Not much really, but maybe you can deduce something of my literary style. I have been doing a crash course in Finnish grammar and especially in the use of direct quotations. I have also tried to study the styles and approaches of existing Finnish fantasy work (mostly translations, though) and I hereby apologise if any translator or English-language author feels that I am plagiarising their style or idioms. It is not intentional, I swear.

Did you know that much of the modern pulp literature out there, like Nick Carter novels, are based on solid writer instructions? One death every five sheets, one sex act every seven sheets and so forth. I have tried to come up with similar stylistic patterns for myself, like "except for setting introductions, no more than two paragraphs without a direct quote, or at least a reference to what someone is thinking and direct quote in the following paragraph", or "a battle scene in every third chapter (at least)". Then there are more nebulous rules, such as "insert an event describing a local tradition whenever describing the local people" or "describe every new setting in detail so that you don't have to go back to it during the events". Some of these rules apply to my gamemastering and adventure design philosophy as well.

I know that great authors eschew such conscious limitations and guidelines, but I am not a great writer, so who cares?

Sorry about all this literary rant, but it is all I am doing right now. And not for the first time I wish that this blog had forum-like features that would enable readers to comment on these entries. I know this blog is being read by many colleagues and friends, some of them hoping or dreaming to become authors themselves (or at least finish something they have started to write) and I would really like to hear their opinion on these and other issues.

My friends in the Greater Helsinki Area, be warned: This spring I will be arranging Bohemian Artist Symposiums (read: get-togethers with food, wine, scented candles and creative discussion) for the artists and would-be-artists among you. Because I know you are there...

24-Jan-2004: Literary Interests

I have just finished reading the Finnish translation of George R. Martin's Songs of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones (translated by Kirjava Oy, the Finnish name is Valtaistuinpelit). It was really refreshing to see that Praedor is not the sole representative of modern Sword & Sorcery genre in Finnish, and that someone actually dares to translate something better than the usual D&D -based high-fantasy novels by Wizards of the Coast. So check it out, in any language, but don't blame me if the mature themes take you by surprise. Just remember that Sword & Sorcery genre was originally intended for the working-class adult male audience. While in these days it is difficult to imagine that particular demographic group reading anything, during the 1920'ies and 1930'ies they used to buy small story booklets from newspaper kiosks. That is how heroes like Tarzan and Conan got started. Game of Throne is classier than those two, but still expects the reader to be a mature person with some understanding of the physical realities of life (and death).

Quality-wise, Game of Thrones is far superior to early Tarzan and Conan stories, not least because of its length, multiple characters and a concise story arc. Conan-stories are just long enough to fit into booklets and apart from taking place at different points of Conan's life, there is no actual story arc, or continuation from one story to another (although past adventures are sometimes referred to). In length and format, my Praedor stories are closer to Conan than Game of Thrones. But if my compilation of novels is commercially successful, I might be tempted to try my hand at a real novel. But that is a big IF.

Damn, I'm nervous.

For the thousandth time; Please remember that I am not a real author and that my stories are basically roleplaying scenarios turned into narrative format. But they also do contain quite a bit of information of different parts of Jaconia.

22-Jan-2004: The story takes place...where?

What is wrong with me? Why aren't my stories set in magnificent cities, where the reader could get a mental glimpse of the towering palaces, glass mosaic windows, colourful throngs on the streets and the courtier's robes so encrusted with gold and jewels that they stand up by themselves? Instead, my story begins at Taxos, the southern market town of Southern Woods, then visits briefly the Pirate Isles of the Inland Sea, moves on into the rugged hinterlands of East Oft and finally ends in the white city of Alabar. Granted, Alabar is big but nowhere near as huge as the northern capitals. Besides, it is very modern, has different architecture and the average standard of living is way above normal. Not really a representative of the mainstream urban culture of Jaconia.

I wish I had more control over my stories but I really don't. They happen where and when they want. It is like a movie started rolling in my head and I start writing it down, but I have very little or no control over the movie itself. My imagination is very visual and when gamemastering, or writing stories as I am doing now, I am basically trying to write down what my inner eye "sees". After 17 years as a gamemaster these mental images are surprisingly rich in detail and I try to use that detail to create an actual sensation that the player (or reader) is in the described setting. I call it Otherwhere, mainly because it is a cool term to use when trying to pass as an intellectual when debating with fellow game designers. Fortunately, I have also learned to curtail my descriptions and focus on essentials, thus reducing the time it takes me to describe a setting. And once it is described, it is there and I usually don't need to go back to it again. Hmm, I don't know if any of that really made sense, but trust me on this.

19-Jan-2004: How big is Jaconia?

People have sometimes complained that Jaconia is too small, or that individual areas there are too small for them to have their own peoples and nations and so forth. Well, the Western Mountains are about the size of the entire Scandinavian Peninsula (Sweden and Norway), the surface area of the Great Forests cover about as much terrain as Finland and the river Franfar is as long as any of the great rivers of Europe! At times even I have had difficulties in grasping it, but now that I have been writing about it, it has slapped me in the face every once in a while. For example, I made the characters cross a stretch of higlands between the Southern Forests and the first canals dug along the south coast of the Inland Sea, and then realised it would take them a week! On the full-page map of Jaconia, the characters would cover about 5 millimetres per day along a road, and half of that off-road. Double the amounts if they are all on horseback and the terrain is level.

Here, a size comparison between Jaconia and Finland:

Always remember that maps, even modern ones, are symbolic.Rivers are shown wider than they really are, the more important roads (or in this case channels) are shown disproportionally large and apart from the Closed City, none of the capitals are nonywhere near as big as their cartographic symbols. Variations in the width of Gorfar on map emphasize variations in nature, but while the river itself is massive, it is still no more than 10 kliks across at any one point. Franfar is about one-and-a-half kliks wide at best, making it still a huge river, but nowhere near as wide as the map leads you to believe. Unfortunately some people seem to have mistaken our map for a satellite picture. Perhaps we should have added some more "here be monsters" symbols.

18-Jan-2004: Public Relations

I am writing a game-design weblog because I like writing about things I know and have something to say about. And since I don't like discussing personal issues in public, focusing on RPG design and related issues seemed logical.

Now, a publishing contract on a fantasy novel based on Praedor (comics or game, take your pick) came out of the blue. Is writing it game design?

A true artist and author would probably say no, but I disagree. The plotlines, the settings, the characters and the general themes are obviously based on my ideas about Jaconia, first developed when I started to turn a comic book world into a game setting. The stories will still have to pass Petri's acceptance before they are published and there will definitely be many changes, alterations and perhaps even rejections. Still, it is my work, based on my ideas. And the stories will describe new places, define new concepts, introduce new monsters and new ways to use them, be it in stories, comics or roleplaying adventures. It will all become part of the "official setting" and will be there when I return to write the supplement.

Yes, it is definitely game design. But do I want to write about it here? Now that is the question!

All creative processes are highly personal. Although I write stuff for publication and therefore can't be too squemish about revealing my inner self through the text, the process of writing and idea development feels... private. Still, this has never bothered me before, but then again I have been writing utility texts (such as rulebooks) instead of fiction. I guess it has something to do with the idea that when you are using my rulebook, it is just a tool. However bad my text is, the entertainment value of the actual gameplay still depends on your ability to create interesting stories and describe events in an entertaining fashion. As the gamemaster you might be pissed off at poor text, but you can still salvage the game for your players. Are you still with me? Good.

In fiction, if I fuck it up, it is fucked up. Period.

If the story takes you someplace you don't want to go, or the characters feel idiotic, the only way to escape them is to stop reading and throw the book into a bin. That is why it is so much harder to write fiction than it is to write roleplaying games. Now, this is getting a bit too personal, but let's face it: I am a sucker for good reviews, compliments and fan attention. If your self-esteem is as low as mine, such attention is addictive. I risk losing it all if the book does not turn out right, and let's face it: I am no Howard, Burroughs, Craig or Hiltunen.

I am just me.

15-Jan-2004: Going gets tough

What do you call it when you have a book deal but no job? In Finland it is called "death by starvation" (just think about Aleksis Kivi). Getting to write a book was and is a dream come true, but I still have to live on something. The ministry of education does issue grants to authors, but only if they have at least one published book already. I don't know if RPG rulebooks count.

So if you need me, I'll be in Tallinn, trying to sell my kidney.

Praedor stories aren't exactly RPG material, but they do have their uses as a source of adventure ideas and setting information. Besides, being the sorry writer that I am, all my stories are based on scenario ideas. But it is not game design and this blog is now in danger of becoming "the collected musings of a second-rate fantasy writer", so apart from occasional whining about my bad (and worsening) finances, I'll stick to gaming stuff and whatever random sparks of ideas come to mind.

Since Zone is on hold, along with everything else, this is the perfect opportunity to ponder what kind of an official gaming magazine I would like to see. I was very fond of the format of Magus, with its full-colour covers on a glossy paper and a grayscale interior. It was slightly smaller than A4 and I liked that too, since it fit into an ordinary bookshelf and was easy to hold. For a magazine relying on amateur writers and editors, the content was of extremely high quality. In short, there was nothing that I didn't like.

Despite all that, Magus was not commercially viable, so its replacement would have to find a different approach to the "industry" (sorry for borrowing a Hollywood slang term for movie business) that would make it.... well, the Pelit-lehti of the Finnish roleplaying scene. There is plenty of potential: if one of every twenty roleplayers goes to Ropecon, that means there are about 70,000 roleplayers and LARPers around. Two thousand regular subscribers would be enough for a magazine to live on.

What would I have done differently? I would have expanded the concept of adventure gaming by adding computer roleplaying games into the holy trinity of tabletop RPGs, miniature games and LARPing. Such a move would have had its vocal opponents (as older roleplayers are particularly keen to point out that a computer game can never have true roleplaying). Still, many of us "true roleplayers" also play computer games with similar themes, and bridging the gap between electronic and social gaming could have brought quite a few new players to "our side".

09-Jan-2004: Life is a Rollercoaster

Why can't something, anything, happen in the way I planned it?

Yesterday I had a solid plan of what I and Burger Games would do for the rest of the year: finish the Praedor supplement, release the first issue of "Zone", complete the Stalker RPG. A single email received today changed everything. Absolutely, positively, everything. It also changed my perception of who I am and what I can do. Doors I've been trying to open since early October stay shut, but other doors have opened; doors that I did not know were there until now. While I may still trip at the treshold, just seeing them open, even for a while, has been a very moving experience.

Despite all my whining (and I do that a LOT), I am a fortunate man. When my time on this Earth is over, you can carve these words into my tombstone:

Though he may have died poor and wretched,
rarely has anyone had so many dreams come true.

I will not list all my dreams here but you can probably guess some of them: the founding of Alter Ego and Burger Games, the success of Miekkamies, Mobsters and Praedor, the recognition, even fame received as a game author. And Taiga... although Taiga may be the biggest financial setback of my life, I would not be me if I had not written it. But enough of symbolics.

The Praedor story "Old Dog", which is available on the archive page of Praedor website, was evaluated by Jalava Kustannus Ltd. and they liked it. They want to publish a Praedor book. Not a comic, not a game, but a book of stories, three or four of them, and with 20+ full page illustrations by none other than Petri Hiltunen himself.

Now how many would-be authors are out there? Creative, gifted people who send a draft after another to different prospective publishers only to have them turned down again and again? The real artists, with enough vision and knowledge to debate on the virtues and flaws of different genres, or lament the great names that our highly commercialised fiction industry has bypassed?

Old Dog was my first attempt ever to attract an established book publisher. It was a tentative inquiry into the possibility of establishing Praedor as an all-Finnish fantasy brand. A footnote in an application to become a translator of fantasy books. They asked for a piece of my writing for evaluation, along with my translation of a test chapter taken from a Forgotten Realms novel. I was not good enough to translate for them, but I was good enough to write for them.

Becoming an author, even for a single book by an established publisher, is... was not the least of my dreams. I just did not think it was possible and when it really happened, it took almost a day for it to sink in. First I honestly could not decide whether it was a good or a bad thing (after all, I had applied for the translation job and I did not get it) and the fuss some of my friends made about it was confusing, although I do admit it felt nice. Now that it has sank in, I can't sleep.

Oh well. The next Praedor-related publication will be neither the supplement nor Zone-zine, but a book by Jalava, with three or four long tales of action and adventure, all set in different locations around Jaconia. They have been written by an RPG designer and probably the most experienced Praedor gamemaster around. They've been designed using the same principles I use when writing roleplaying adventures and have the same kind of narrative/descriptive approach I try to use when gamemastering (sometimes I skip things or else the game will slow down too much). The book will also have plenty of large illustrations and knowing Petri, they are going to be spectacular. It doesn't have a name yet.

08-Jan-2004: Back to the Zone

After spending most of December writing (or attempting to write) new stuff for Praedor (two new "books", a long and detailed adventure and additional detail to Alabar), getting my hands dirty with Stalker again feels like a vacation. One of the major problems with Stalker is that there are no previous games or established genres to lean on (apart from Praedor and even then only if you look at Praedor from a specific angle). Since most players will have neither read the book nor seen the movie, the whole premise of the game and setting needs to be explained on the first few pages in a graphic and interesting way. I am revising it again and this must be version 20+. It is slow going but I must get it exactly right, or it won't matter if the rest of the game is good or bad.

While progress in terms page count is slow and I am now slightly skeptical about the Ropecon'04 deadline, I've been developing different rule mechanics that are better suited for firearms, completed the skill list and the character generation is essentially there. I just hope that people would remember that Stalker isn't a military game. Combat rules are going to be as simple as I can make them using Praedor-mechanics, and there are going to be very few weapon stats (play D20 Modern if you want to choose from every gun that has been ever made). Besides, there isn't that much to shoot at in the Zone.

Speaking of "the Zone", I've decided that when the Praedor supplement hassle is over (one way or another, and preferably in a way that leaves me alive and well), I'll publish the rest of the existing and upcoming material for Praedor/Stalker/etc. as a series of fanzine-type publications. It is not a true fanzine since it is published by the same outfit that did the original products, but with an irregular schedule and likely highly variable print quality and length it is not a true magazine either (so hold your horses; this will NOT be a replacement for Magus and we still need a proper Finnish RPG mag). I intend to call the publication "Vyöhyke" (Finnish for "Zone") but if you have better ideas I'd be happy to hear them.

While I am naturally more interested in Burger Games products, I would also like to include Myrskyn Aika (Mike, I still think it looks better with two capital letters) into the scope of Vyöhyke. After all, Myrskyn Aika IS the uncontested market leader in the Finnish RPGs and much of the stuff developed for Jaconia would also work in Valenor (and vice versa). They may belong to different genres of fantasy but the gap is easily bridged if the gamemaster knows what he is doing. Besides, Mike's plans for "Dragonbane", a massive superLARP set in Valenor, are far too wacky to be ignored.

05-Jan-2004: Sex, Drugs and Roleplaying

I know what you are thinking, but no, this entry is not about LARPers and neither is it about me and my sex life. It is about a game concept and thematic suggestions made by some of my friends. And yes, the group in mention included members of both sexes. I am not going tell who they were, but you know who you are.

They wanted an X-rated roleplaying game with explicit sex as a strong theme. Since I don't do joke games, they brought up "Goretta", an old older comic book by Petri Hiltunen and Nalle Virolainen. Goretta is set in the distant future (23rd century, if I remember correctly) and tells the story of a top-secret law enforcer/contract killer used by the Interplanetary Federation to hunt down and take out criminals otherwise beyond the reach of law.

Goretta is a blonde woman dressed in black PVC and leather, with a perverse furball-looking alien sidekick who wants to be whipped every now and then. In this society of the future interspecies sex is no taboo. The events take place on the city world of Megathis, which is largely a lawless, urban wilderness. The villains abduct people and use excessive bondage games coupled with psychoactive drugs to turn their victims into "love zombies", which they then sell as slaves on the black market. The story is packed with graphic violence, explicit hetero- and homosexual sex, hardcore BDSM and snuff acts.

Unfortunately for my friends, while sex can be a strong theme in any roleplaying game (and is a fact of life and an important facet of human personality and culture in my Praedor-adventures), it does not work as the core element of a roleplaying game. A game based on Goretta would ultimately be a scifi/action roleplaying game with very suggestive scenario ideas and explicit illustrations, but any rule mechanics that would enforce or promote sexual themes and encounters would be artificial or used for humour value. What role explicit sex would play in the game would still depend on the gamemaster and his ability to generate sexual fantasies that fit the setting.

Naturally the gamemaster would also have to be a mature person capable of routinely handling such themes and preferably with plenty of personal experience (except for the snuff part). Otherwise the game would only be a throwback into the days of my youth, when a hormone-induced game encounter with a voluptuous elven prostitute would result in blushing faces, muffled laughs and a horrendously erraneous description of the physical act of lovemaking. And dont even get me started about (mis)handling the element of romance in those days...

01-Jan-2004: Fresh Start

Happy new year to all my readers! As you can see, I have moved the entries from last year into their own archive.

Unfortunately the year starts with a piece of bad news for the whole roleplaying industry. Wizards of the Coast is planning to shut down their two game retailer chains within 60 days. In their statement they announce that this will help them to focus on their core business of game design. Okay, closing down the stores is bad, but getting your core business wrong is even worse. The objective of any roleplaying-game publisher is to SELL games and promote a gamer-friendly environment. I suspect that removing WOTC-owned game retailer stores cuts down the number of stores selling roleplaying-game material in the US by more than half. Now if that doesn't hurt the sales I don't know what will.

Also, if nobody knows what RPGs are, creating a gamer-friendly environment and promoting roleplaying games as a hobby gets somewhat complicated. Here in Finland, RPG retailers (fortunately unaffected by this decision) play a major part in creating and supporting what could be described as the Finnish RPG "scene" or "gamer community". Perhaps the RPG scene in the US works differently, but if their game stores have been the focal points for local gamer communities in the same way as they are in Finland, a lot of community feeling and extensive social networks are going to get wiped out.

Despite all my whining, we Finnish roleplayers have it good.

My New Year's Resolution for 2004 is to cut down the whining and stress the positive elements of the Finnish RPG scene. It does have its fair share of idiots but I guess that is a kind of universal constant that can't be helped. So, on with the good stuff:

I have an extensive circle of friends, including a number of those active in miniature gaming, especially Warhammer FB/40K (what else is there?). What they have told me about the wargaming sessions of Puolenkuun Pelit in Lahti sounds pretty awesome. I have already mentioned gaming stores as focal points for the local gamer community. Puolenkuun Pelit seems to be expanding beyond that. It is an RPG-, miniature- and computer games retailer in Lahti, but its WHFB special events, like Mammoth Hunt, attract gamers from all over South Finland. What I mean is that if my wargaming pals from Espoo are willing to go all the way to Lahti (which is in the neck of woods) to take part in what can turn out to be a single-match tournament for them, the event's got to be good!

To preserve my good relations with Fantasiapelit (which is the primary retailer for Burger Games products) I now have to say something about their wargaming opportunities. Fantasiapelit in Helsinki and Turku have separate spaces reserved for playing card games, wargames and even an odd table-top RPG session or two. The space is called Lohikäärmeen Luola (Dragon's Cave) and has several gaming tables with movable terrain elements (hills, fences, that kind of stuff). Mostly people just show up but they also hold events, listed on this incredibly dull-looking page (http://www.fantasiapelit.com/index.php?main=kalenteri).

Unfortunately the Finnish gaming media went belly up a year ago and the calender is poor on specifics (or anything else which might rouse any interest), so nobody knows about them!!! Why are my many grown-up and prosperous wargamer friends prepared to go all the way to Lahti to play in a miniature game tournament while ignoring similar events in Helsinki? Maybe Fantasiapelit is happy with their current publicity and attendance, but I still think there is something wrong with this picture.

Speaking of the Finnish gaming media, I've been missing that a lot lately. Last year there was a glimmer of hope that Alterations might have been taken into that direction, but it failed to happen. Feeniks, amateurish but definitely with potential, is also history and so is Peliluola column in Pelit magazine. And don't even get me started on Magus. Perhaps you people can do without a Finnish RPG mag of some sort, but I can't. I just can't. The administrators of Polymancer Magazine (US-based) exploited my weakness and overtalked me into putting their banner on the bottom of BG web page. I don't know yet if they really deserve it, but I'll let you once I get my hands on their first few issues.

Now to business.

I've been thinking about starting a fanzine (as opposed to a real magazine with commercial goals) focusing on Praedor, Stalker (when it is out) and Myrskyn Aika (if Mike will let me). There is far too much stuff on the Praedor supplement wishlist, and more importantly, for me supplements are a medium for expanding the setting and offering concise information, like rule updates. They are not suited for offering things like gamemastering tips, game design viewpoints, or general discussion on the differences between Sword & Sorcery and High Fantasy roleplaying games. That is what magazines are for.

I have and probably will write a lot of stuff for Praedor, but only part of it is what I would call supplemental material. If I cut up the rest into fanzine-sized articles, I'd already have enough Praedor-related content for about a year. During the year, I'll probably come up with some more, especially after Stalker is out, and I'd also like to try a thing or two with Myrskyn Aika, ranging from alternative settings to exploring Valenor (and Mike's head in the process). At this point you'd expect me to call upon the Finnish roleplayer community and ask them pitch in with material of their own, but I have learned the hard way that nine times out of ten it is not going to happen. Good stuff from anyone would be welcome, obviously, but I'll believe it when I have it on my desk.

I am now trying to get the Praedor supplement out of my hands and be rid of it once and for all (you would not believe how much you can come to hate a project). Then I again have the opportunity to do what I like (Stalker, Fanzine and learning to cook).