Conventions Roleplaying

Convention pre-report: Fastaval 2008, Denmark

As some of you might already know, the premier danish freeform[1] convention, Fastaval, is just days from happening [during the easter holidays]. I’ve been a regular for the last 11 years both as a player, gamemaster and writer of cool games.

Fastaval is really unique. First of all, all games are written for the convention, most of them freeform or even jeepform. They are all one-shots, with premade characters and such. However, some very vibrant story-game peeps have been making quite a splash the last couple of years.

The convention takes place at a school and has access to the classrooms and the communal areas. The classrooms are used for the games and the communal areas for hanging out and the like.Games are played at two set times every day, but with multiple sessions each time. It is not unusual for a single game to be played a total of 10 times, some even higher (the highest I’ve seen was 18) with different players and gamemasters. A typical afternoon hosts 5-6 different games, all of these played by 5 or 6 teams each. Thats a total of 25-30 game instances for an entire afternoon.

As a player you sign up to the games via the conventions webpage and you get to play with a lot of people you might know, but more likely people you don’t know. There is no way of signing up as a team. As a gamemaster, you do the same. This is great, since it facilitates a lot of experience exchange. For a new idea, way of gamemastering or playing tecnique , it takes one or two years to propagate and enter the mainstream. The author is not the only person gamemastering her game. The gamemaster get the game sent by mail (or as a downloadable pdf). The games vary in length, but is, as a rule of thumb, read within a cople of hours.

The games are high quality. The writers use a lot of energy to make the games both look nice (layouts etc.) and make them accessible for other players. This is essential. For a game to be understandable for other people than the authors, it has to be well dispositioned and easy to understand. This does not mean that the games are simple, some games are very complex and challenging for both players and gamemasters. It just means that it must be easy to grasp the idea and what the author wants. This has in turn helped getting the games outside the convention, so that today it is possible to download these quality games from several websites like and Project R’lyeh. All games are in danish, but you get the picture. This makes it very easy for a gamemaster to pick up a game, gather some friends and play.

Afterwards players, gamemasters and authors engage in informal discussions of the game. Players playing the same character across gamesessions discuss the finer points of that character, relate what they did or said. Gamemasters tell each other what was cool, what worked well and what didn’t work. The author is of course always eager to know how everything went and discuss what people got out of the game. Beer always helps facilitate such a discussion, of which  there is plenty.

The mean age is around 27 and people are able to handle mature subjects. This is in turn matched with the topic of games. Some are very high-brow examinations of the nature of love, hate or complex human interactions, some have a comic streak and yet others are action packed gunslinging adventures. There is a focus on rules-light (or even absent) and a no commercial setting (like WoD, D&D). This is of course a result of several years of change. In the beginning everything was just D&D, Call and the like. In the later years the occational story-game (forge-type) has appeared and has in many ways, brought back the rules.

There is an award-show at last day of the convention, where the best games are celebrated. As an author you can win in several categories. The winners are selected by a jury that has read all games that year. The players and the gamemasters provide valuable input to the jury to help them choose the winners. This competetive element really helped improve overall quality of games both for the convention itself, but also rpgs in general in Denmark.

Fastaval is interesting because, after seeing several other conventions all over the world, I have come to realise that Fastaval really is unique. The conventionmakers worldwide, really should look to Fastaval for inspiration or ideas.

Any questions will be answered in the comments.

[1] Freeform in this context means “freedom of form”, that is you can, as a gamewright, choose whatever form you want, however it *has* to fit the story you are trying to tell. In more practical terms it means “rules” for telling the story, and tecniques that emphasise the story told. Ex: ‘All supporting roles are played by the players’, or ‘the gamemaster must use this tecnique to choose which scene is next’ and so on. Look at for more examples of rules and tecniques.


On nu-horror and The Mothers’ Group

A short recap: The Mothers’ Group [edit: New name is ‘The Mothers’] is my next game, which will premiere at the Danish convention Fastaval this Easter. In the game, the players play mothers, who at a group meeting, discuss various things related to just having become a mother with peers in the same situation. Even though it might sound placid or even boring, the game is everything but. High on intrigue and immersion, the engine that drives the game is envy, the gaining of status and that special evil that only women posses(1).

I characterise the game as a horror game, although none of the traditional horror-elements make any appearance in the game. No Chuthulhus, Vampires or demons of any kind. The horror in the game is more akin to the notion of ‘Personal Horror’, which I first saw appear in the games from White Wolf – the shock of realising that you are a monster – but in a different way. The monsters have left the building, and what remains are ordinary people; in this case mothers.

The game has been a long time underway. From the first threads of inspiration to the full-fledged game is at least 3 years. Sometimes ideas just have to mature. And someone must have the time to write them. My main inspiration for the game and the horror part comes from Sweden. The following is taken from the opening pages of Gustav Edmans game Under Sommaren (my translation):

“Always an adventure. There is always a monster, a conspiracy or over-exaggerated personal relations which must be present to drive the story onwards. I belive that this type of roleplaying, which requires extreme fiction to induce somewhat strong reactions, is to devalue the Swedish roleplayers”(2)Under sommaren, p.1 

This made me think, and in some ways inspired the non-conflict premise of Lady and Otto and eventually led to the concept of nu-horror). This is not to say that all games that involve fantastic or extreme elements are crap – it is the sole reliance on that element of the game to make the it work. This was essentially what made people leave horror-gaming in Denmark in the late nineties. People were fed up with playing (and writing) roles which were killers, sodomisers or the occasional rape victim. It was all cheap effects. And then they stopped doing it.

So horror more or less left the mainstream roleplaying scene. People were fed up. It didn’t work anylonger, people were not scared anymore and worse, the game-mastering specific to the games were looked down upon.And now, it is back. Same, but different.

(1) DISCLAIMER: Remember, this is fiction, right.
(2) Original swedish text reads: “Alltid ett äventyr. Det finns alltid ett monster, en komplott eller överdrivna personrelationer som bara måste finnas där, för att driva historien framåt. Jag tror att denna typ av rollspel, där den extrema fiktionen måste finnas för att framkalla någorlunda starka reaktioner, är att undervärdera Sveriges rollspelare.”


Its official: New game in the works

I just got an email from the persons in charge of the roleplaying games at everyones favorite convention in Denmark, Fastaval, that my next game is accepted into the programe.The game will be a short story called “Mødregruppen” or “The Mothers’ group”. The game is based on true stories from real mothers’ groups. Its a horror-story, but in a new way – ‘nu horror’ as I have coined it (well, actually it was johs). Nu horror is about real people with real and recognisable emotions in the real word. By lowering the threshold of what constitutes horror, even the slightest movement in an unpleasant direction, will invoke ‘that horror feeling’.Well, we’ll see if it works