“Hey Burgeri! Three hours waiting for players in Helsinki Book Fair! THREE HOURS! How come you are still smiling? How do you cope with something like that?”
Me: “Manage your expectations and you will never be disappointed.”
Me: “No, just me. Puolenkuun pelit was very kind to invite me to gamemaster a Public Session of Praedor but this whole thing went down pretty much as I expected.”
Yes, I did sit behind a desk for three hours waiting for players that never come. And yes, it was boring at times. But no, I don’t consider it a waste. Helsinki Book Fair is not an event where people linger. They rush, circle the book fair, circle the food & wine side and get out. Also, Thursday was always going to be slow day. So I set out my goods facing the passing crowd and sat behind the table, eager to engage with anyone promising stopping by the table. You can see the table in the pic. Samu The Frog is not for sale.
During those three hours, I had something 12-15 meaningful engagements. Once I got to explain the concept of roleplaying to a very excited high-school girl and pray to the gods of Ludology that I did a good job. Most of the time people either had some experience about roleplaying games in general, or were familiar with Praedor via other media. Which is not surprising, as comics and novels abound. Couple of them recognized me, one of them having read my early factbooks on game development (Pelintekijän käsikirja) and school experiences (Häirikkötehdas).
And that’s how it usually goes.
I sat behind a desk at Ropecon once, in that very same building in 1995 and swore never to do it again. Well, never to do it again on my dime. Since Puolenkuun pelit invited me to the Book Fair and was kind enough to send me a free ticket, I was tried to give them the best possible show. I don’t know if any of the conversations I had translated into sales then or later, but I hope I could at least plant a seed of interest in some minds, so they would seek out anything Praedor-related that strikes their fancy. This was a Book Fair, after all. And anthologies, novels and comics were all available there.
Rules for presenting a game and running a game are very different. Most of the people passing by speed up, knowing that you are there to talk to them. We are in Finland and they really don’t want to be talked to. Mediterranean-style ushering does not work here. Sometimes they genuinely don’t acknowledge you, being preoccupied with their phones, lunch or friends. Again, do not disturb. Then there are those whose pace slows down a little and they do look at the table. I am not a mind reader but if they snarl like looking at a roadkill, I am not going to engage with them either. Some people flat out hate RPGs or games in general and I am not here to convince them otherwise.
Casual curiosity is great. I open by asking if the concept of roleplaying games is familiar to them and continue from there. Explaining Praedor RPG as an extension of the comic albums by the famous artist Petri Hiltunen is a great segway. I never got there with the excited high-schooler though. She was so captivated by the idea of roleplaying games (having previously seen it only on Stranger Things) that I dropped the Praedor spiel and went all in on roleplaying games in general, especially in the basic process (empathizing with a story protagonist, deciding their actions and experiencing the adventure with friends). Please, oh please, oh Lords Of The Dice, let me have done a good job!
With someone already familiar with RPGs or works of Hiltunen it is easier. Praedor RPG is based on setting of Praedor stories and in genre is an adult sword & sorcery fantasy game (as opposed to the more folklore-oriented high fantasy of D&D and its many derivatives). It is important not to present any genre superior to any other but as a preference, as in “why would I choose this book over that” when selecting things to read. It is a great fit to this kind of event and something everyone coming to a book fair can relate to. All in all, my 10-15 engagements were interesting, rewarding and useful. I just wish there hadn’t been some much idle time between them but that’s how the dice roll.
My next public event is a Public Session as part of Kummacon in Oulu next Sunday. If I don’t get any players I will be both surprised and disappointed but that’s all part of the job. Every time you put yourself out there you run the risk of zero interest, no-shows, weirdoes and hostility. I’ve been lucky so far with the players that did show up, but some of the stories I’ve heard are pretty terrible.
This does not mean my players are always easy. Special needs players are surprisingly common at events and if you don’t try your best to give them a great experience, you are an asshole who has no business running a public game. Sometimes (okay, I think it has happened exactly five times in my entire career) I am pre-warned by organizers that a player has major psychological and social problems. Sometimes I can tell and sometimes I cannot, but I have always managed by rationing my attention between players and using humor to convey both rejections and boundaries.
Maybe they noticed and maybe they didn’t. But judging by the smiles, it worked.