Saturday 10 August 2019

Let Loose in Europe

As you might have guessed, July was also a somewhat hectic month, for a lot of reasons. Chaosium continued to keep me good and busy on the work front, but that isn't going to be the focus of this month's blog post (partly because I'm writing this away from home and the Oracle, my faithful desktop paper diary where I record what I get up to work-wise each day, so I can't check exactly what projects - secret or otherwise - I was working on. And there were a *lot*).

July saw two conventions: DNA Fantastyki in Wroclaw, Poland, and Ropecon in Helsinki, Finland.

The first one I attended was DNI Fantasyki, as a guest of Chaosium's Polish language licensees, Black Monk Games. I'd met the team when I was a guest at CarcosaCon in March, and I was looking forward to spending time with them again and getting to know them a little better. The convention took place in another castle, this one converted into the local arts and cultural centre. The Zamek was also surrounded by extensive parkland, and was a very fairytale style castle - much less vampire-inspired than Czocha!

I was collected from the airport by Joanna, my convention liaison, and taken to the hotel, a few miles from the convention site, but very comfortable. Joanna then took me into central Wroclaw to show me around which, of course, included a little bit of dwarf hunting. Later on, after I'd got back to the hotel and had a nap, I went for a walk to the next door Stadion, to discover that there was a hot rod motor show on there. Many of the attendees were staying in the same hotel as Fantastyki's guests, which was quite an unlikely pairing (although not quite as odd as the time we were at a Doctor Who convention and a bus load of Peter Kay fans arrived to stay for the night after a gig).

I took part in three presentations at DNI Fantastyki: one about upcoming Cthulhu products (that one was mostly in Polish, which was fascinating to listen to), one about what's best in Cthulhu, and one writing workshop. I also ran a session of this year's con scenario (Breath of Angels) and got to play in a storytelling game. A lot of the time, though, was spent sitting in the sun and talking through projects with our licensees. And playing on trams, if there wasn't a convention-organised taxi to get me where I needed to be.

One of the lovely things about the convention is that, because the castle is a community cultural centre, the con organisers want the locals to enjoy the convention, too, so you only need to buy a ticket if you want to go to the talks inside the castle. Everything in the park - the traders, the boffer sword people, the archery people, the food trucks, the beer tents and the music stage - were all free for whoever wanted to come along. As a result, there was a huge variety of people in attendance: cosplayers, gamers, locals, slightly confused visitors...

After the convention, I had a day to myself in Wroclaw, where I went dwarf hunting with a vengeance. I got a little over 70 of the little blighters, although some I must have walked past, going off the tourist map that allegedly showed where most of them were. Joanna once again collected me on the Tuesday to get me to my flight, and I headed home after a great weekend at a small(ish) but highly relaxed and fun convention.

Next up was a much larger convention: Ropecon (just a little under 5,000 this year). When we were in Germany for mini-Kraken in June, Richard received a text message from one of his Finnish LARPing friends, asking if I would be available as a last minute replacement Guest of Honour for Ropecon as, unfortunately, one of their original guests had had to drop out.

Now, I was sure I'd heard of Ropecon - all extremely good things, I hasten to add - but I just wanted to make sure I had the right convention. A quick check with friends on FB confirmed that I really would be an idiot if I said no, so I didn't - I happily accepted the invitation.

Unfortunately, I was due to fly to Helsinki the day after the Great Debacle at Schiphol Airport, which meant my flight was cancelled the night before and there was no getting through to anyone at the airline to sort the problem out due to, as you might expect, tens of thousands of people being stranded and/or without flights. Yes, it was exceptional circumstances, but the airline didn't exactly cover themselves in glory in the days that followed by the way they (mis)handled it. But that's another story...

Anyway, by just sorting myself out and buying the last seat that could get me to Finland in time for the convention, I made my way from Newcastle to Paris, then on to Helsinki, arriving much later than planned but there, nevertheless. I was collected at the airport by Massi and Veemelli, along with fellow guest, Jon Hodgson, who we've known for donkey's years. After a good chat in the car on the way to the hotel, we made some arrangements for sightseeing the next day, and went to get some sleep. (By that time, I'd only had about four hours in the previous 48, so I was a bit worn out.)

Let me just say: never have I been so well looked after at a convention. Not that I've ever not been looked after at  convention where I've been a guest, but Ropecon really took it to the next level. We were given a water bottle to make sure we stayed hydrated, awesome convention T-shirts, and a phone so we could get in touch with the organisers whenever we needed to. We had a translator (Veemelli) for the opening ceremony, gala, and closing ceremony so we knew what was going on, as well. We were thoroughly spoiled, which was lovely but a bit odd. At one point during the weekend, Jon lent over and whispered, "How's your impostor syndrome doing?" To which I replied, "Not great. Isn't it just important people who get handlers?"

(I was later informed at the Guest of Honour dinner that we were important people, which always sounds a bit odd, even if it is very nice to hear.)

I was very much kept out of mischief throughout the con: four panels (one about me, one about editing for gaming, one about gender in gaming, and one about the Mythos and gaming), the three big ceremonies, the rock-paper-scissors competition at the bouncy castle, two television interviews (one of them live on Finnish TV!), a newspaper interview, an interview for the convention's livestream (all the panels were livestreamed as well and should be on Youtube, if you're interested), a podcast interview (although his memory card ran out two-thirds of the way through - oops!), a game of Cogs, Cakes &Swordsticks, and recording some promotional material for the con!

I was also introduced to salmiakki (salty Finnish liquorice - lovely stuff), Long Drink (lonkero; gin and grapefruit soda - also lovely stuff; it was invented for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics by the grandfather of the woman who was our panel moderator for the gender in gaming discussion, and apparently one direct translation of its name is - wait for it - tentacle!), Finnish strawberries (soooo good) and the convention tradition of everyone buying vast quantities of sparkling wine because it's far cheaper than beer. Oh, that was a good night - chatting away to Finnish LARPers (most of whom know my husband from his international LARPing exploits) over long drink and sparkling wine until 2.30 in the morning...

And then there was the dancing. Finns really do love their dancing. I was fortunate enough to see them trying to kill each other doing some sort of polka (which basically looked like all the insane bits of Strip the Willow), and then take part in the wolf dance, which really is a sight to behold. Not only were there dance classes all through the convention, but the traditional dancing started at about 8 pm on the Saturday night and, as far as I could tell, was going to go on until everyone collapsed with exhaustion some time in the early hours of Sunday morning. And there was a disco LARP at midnight!

Did I mention the blacksmiths? Because, despite the heat (over 30C most of the time), there were blacksmiths forging away until the early hours of the morning as well. Totally hard core. (I'm pretty certain one of them was actually Wayland.) I may have bought a forged metal D6  - you know, in case any fairies start getting uppity at my gaming table...

Ropecon passed in a whirlwind of friendliness and hospitality. There was a dinner with Finnish game designers (very entertaining, and the best crayfish risotto I've ever had), and a Guest of Honour dinner so we could spend time with all the amazingly hard working convention volunteers (plus: braised reindeer shank, which was really tasty). And then I had to go home, back to my writing hovel (with thankfully little drama).

So, as you can see - another jam-packed month. Two great conventions, so many lovely fans, some great gaming, and some wonderful shared experiences that will stay with me for a long time.

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