Närcon 2023

I’ve attended the third and last of the primary Swedish conventions for me this year, excluding the big one, Nordsken, which I might consider next year. Närcon is not specifically about games as such, being, simply, all about the fun, emphasizing cosplay and music. Spelens Hus Norrköping has an ongoing presence there, recently under review for its purpose, and this year, I was part of that team.

With others’ very generous help, I did three days of four-and-a-half hour blocks of “introduction to role-playing,” composed mainly of The Pool, InSpectres, and Zombie Cinema, including a workshop during the first 90 minutes.

As an excellent example of how I really shouldn’t be allowed to do things, when I learned we’d have three days with available workshop time for me, I said: “Oh! Then I can do three workshops!” … and no one stopped me. (Next time, please stop me. Thank you.)

  • Magical Fantasy
  • 50 Years of Role-playing
  • Role-playing Design

Given enthusiastic but not-numerous attendance at the workshops a Gothcon and Lincon, I decided the most optimistic and humble plan would anticipate six to ten people, probably less. That’s what I prepared for, in terms of the space I’d use and the materials to bring. Who was so surprised as me when thirty people showed up for the first …

Quick footnote: many thanks to MIFF for letting me use some overflow space for the following days! Also, the other quick footnote: people who attend more general events like Närcon are more curious than those at game-specific events like Gothcon – therefore, when you do something idiosyncratic, more people arrive to see what’s up.

Here’s the Powerpoint file for the first day’s workshop, which lifts slightly from the course Three Fantasies but diverges strongly into game procedures. In fact, doing so led me to think I might revise the course in that direction. Although it’s Powerpoint, I didn’t use a screen. I provided a three-page handout instead, with four slide-images per page.

The file doesn’t really capture the event, because my workshops are not merely slide presentations, but include activities. In this case, my plans for these were rattled by the unexpected attendance, but at least we tried some different spellcasting and some different purposes of magic. I didn’t manage to address, as I’d intended, the difference between magic as expression of ordinary or understandable things, vs. magic as expansion (out, away) from such things.

You can see that I went about as far as I could in one direction (cosmic, Hero Wars) and also about as far in the other (gritty, Hârnmaster), but mainly to point out that the intermediate concepts are vast and remarkably diverse throughout role-playing design. Really, magical rules design is one of my very favorite things, and I realize that it’s been badly under-served in the work at Adept Play so far. Let’s do something about that.

But that’s all extension from the real point, expressed – or rather, merely hinted – in the first slide and the lead image here. I’m thinking about the psychedelica just preceding role-playing’s first appearance, indicated by so many things … the band names (H.P. Lovecraft) (The Warlocks, renamed The Grateful Dead) (Hawkwind) (Ozrik Tentacles) and album titles (The Book of Taliesyn by Deep Purple) (Demons and Wizards by Uriah Heep) …

My argument for the participants was, in sum, that although we cannot turn the clock back half-a-century+, nor should we desire it, we can treat our time just as they did or that, bluntly, anyone can. And this is the medium to do it. Music was co-opted and sterilized. We need not be.

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4 responses to “Närcon 2023”

  1. Your last suggestion sounds like the proper form for an RPG is a zine.

    A combination of art, fiction, rules and actual plays. Plus music, but that takes it to my next point.

    The closest thing to a zine in modern day internet stuff is a blog. That allows linking in a way zines can’t. The music, and the art that can’t be covered by the zine form can be handled that way.

    It has an implication about the way RPGs should be written. A game presented in a zine isn’t going to be 200 pages, which I personally prefer. Tl;dr is a real thing for me.

    • Ideally, I think you’re correct, although terms like “proper” or “should” work for me only as “what I want.”

      Unfortunately, in practice, role-playing zines seem to disappear faster than they appear, if that were possible. In many ways the Forge was a proto-mega zine about independent publishing, and Adept Play is too, about play as such. Anyway and several other efforts probably qualify; Paul’s itch.io certainly operates that way in solo terms.

      The idealized anarchic internet would seem to be the perfect environment. However, so many efforts fell prey to grifters and co-opters and hobby commerce (but I repeat myself), whether publishing-focused or design-focused or community-focused. Then, given the double-hit of social media + crowdfunding … well, it’s nothing short of cultural metastasis.

    • Continuing on from Ron’s comment, “zine” to me seems so co-opted by crass commercialization that I can’t see beyond it. I wasn’t around for the heyday of the form, but most anything in roleplaying advertised as a “zine” is using zine-as-form rather than zine as a medium fit to purpose. That’s probably not clear. What I mean is that “zine” is usually draped in connotations and the form chosen for those connotations for purposes of marketing–i.e., this is underground, this is cool, this is punk.

      Blogs are stale and uncool. Therefore probably a useful form to explore (the internet’s continual disappearing act frightens me, though).

    • Another consideration is that we’re talking about play, and celebrating it, rather than publication. I’m becoming determined that publication is profoundly secondary.

      Therefore, here agreeing wth you, Hans, “zine” makes most sense to me in terms of function. Its implications include:
      – minimal buy-in to participate in any way
      – no barriers to entry or exit
      – equal formal status among any/all ways to participate; i.e., no named tiers or special access or privileges
      – coherent purpose at a very “high” level; contrasted with no specifications at an individual or applied level
      – awareness of idiosyncrasies as a feature

      Some of the above are social and emotional, so they can’t be pre-injected, but must be assessed continuously.

      Arguably, the organizers would conceive of a success-state in which the endeavor has met its goals and can close out. (This was in place for the Forge almost from its beginning. It’s not relevant for Adept Play yet.) The idea here is that without such a state in mind, the organizers are likely to “trade up” culturally and economically, i.e., to sell out.

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