In 2005 I was at Ropecon, Finland’s largest volunteer roleplaying convention. Possibly Europe’s as well, but that sort of claim is always risky to make.
I was there as one of three Guests of Honour; the other two were Bill Bridges and Greg Stafford, who were quite a bit “heavier” than I was. They were also Americans, and I was “just” a Nordic larp person-of-interest.
It showed in things both large and small that there was a divide. They had hotel rooms. I didn’t. They had program items in auditoriums. I had them in somewhat smallish lecture rooms. Of course, they also played nice and didn’t “lose” their GoH handlers from time to time or (extemely shadily) get the Ropecon organisation to pay their €300+ bar tab. I did, moralising that it was only fair since I slept on couches with friends and didn’t cost a hotel room.
It was a bit of a questionable move, but looking back, it’s mostly a fun story. Also, the year after, when my friend Peter Schonemann Andreasen went as the Nordic GoH, he got free alcohol because a precedent had been sent. He thanked me afterwards.
The convention itself was awesome. Not only did I get to meet some cool people (Greg and Bill among them), but I also got to hang out with my Finnish friends and do a couple of presentations. I got to participate in a Rock/Paper/Scissors tournament on a bouncing castle, making it to the final by making out with the (huge and heavily bearded) judge to counter my loss in the semi-finals. I was at a rooftop party, with interesting people right and left, and atmosphere so thick you couldn’t roll a D20 in it. I got to eat at an incredibly fancy Russian restaurant, where the two hours of waiting for the food was helped a lot along by the bottle of excellent vodka I got to order.
I came without a plan, and I ended up borrowing a now-legendary flame shirt from Jukka Seppanen (who my wife has later dubbed “the Finnish Claus” after meeting him at Mike Pohjola’s wedding in 2009). I wore it for the entire convention and said somehing stupid about that fact in my ending speech at the closing ceremony. It was apparently funny, because there was much rejoicing.
But most of all, I remember how much of an honour it was. I was only a second-rate star compared to the Americans, but someone still wanted me to come enough to pay for my flight, my food and my booze (though the last part wasn’t exactly 100% agreed upon beforehand, it must be noted). I had a handler, who was there to help me and drive me around and keep me company. Having my own Finnish contacts, I was hard to keep track of, but he did a good job of trying. And I had people who said “What you do matters. Here’s the stage”.
That meant a lot. Having your work (volunteer or paid) acknowledged that way was something that motivated me and humbled me. It gave me a whole new understanding of why raising people up and giving them the microphone is so powerful. I’d been on stages before and had some degree of fame in the Danish larp community, plus a spattering of recognition in Nordic circles. But this was official and meaningful. And I’ll never forget that.
The 11 years since
Much has happened since then. Ropecon is even bigger now, and I have a feeling that my spirit-double Jukka is no longer the head honcho. The format and scope seem to be roughly the same, though, even if it’s evolved along with the times. My feeling is that at its core, Ropecon 2016 and Ropecon 2005 have a lot in common. I hope there’s still a bouncing castle, though I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep my footing on it this time.
I’ve changed quite a bit since then, though. In 2005, I was struggling to make ends meet as a pro larper, and was one of the early pioneers. Now, I have the world’s largest larp production company, and though I’m still struggling (sad, bjt true), the projects are quite a bit crazier. Like, a LOT crazier.
In 2005, Rollespilsfabrikken, the non-profit organisation I’m chairman of, had just been established. Now, it’s been Denmark’s biggest and craziest larp organisation for almost ten years. In 2005, I was in reality-football shape and weighed in at 80 kgs of fit mid-20's semi-celebrity. Now, I hover around 100 kg and sign more legal documents then autographs.
In 2005, I had recently met Marie. Now we’re coming up on our 7th wedding anniversary. Hard not to smile at that one. Then, I also had two books to my name – one self-published and one distributed by regular printing house. Now I have a printing house of my own, and the number is 20+.
It’s going to be a blast. Of that I have no doubt. And though I still think the American GoH this year sounds cooler than me (he wrote for Warhammer 40k, D&D and more – how cool is that!?), I don’t feel second-rate this time. I’m (maybe wrongly) confident that more than 15 people will show up to my lectures, and I have a packed program ahead of me, filled with nice people who are interested in what I have to say.
I think there’ll be a lot less couch-surfing and randomness than last time (most of my then 20-something friends are now 30-something friends with families and limited time), I’m sure it’s going to be amazing in its own way. I also have less of a hustle-the-organisers-for-beer-money-if-you-can mindset, and am grateful that I have a hotel room this time. And I’m glad that I get to do so much cool stuff while I’m here – ranging from panels and lectures to interviews and game mastering a freeform larp I (re)wrote in 2013.
I’ll also be less of a hot, rock’n’roll 26 year old who looks good in a leather jacket and sunglasses, and more of an outdated 37 year old who wears sunglasses and a questionable shirt with an aura of ironic confidence. And that’s also perfectly ok. I can’t really play the young-and-wild card anymore, but at least I have a better understanding of the dark side of that card than I did then.
But underneath the changes and the years, I’m still honoured and humbled that there are people who have invited me to be part of this fantastic event. It still means a lot to have someone reach out and say “What you do matters.” and let you onto their stage. I may be a better fit for that stage than I was 11 years ago, and I may approach it in a different fashion, but at the end of the day, I’m still just happy that they’ll have me.
And needless to say, the flame shirt is in my backpack. And there’s no chance in hell that I won’t be wearing it at the opening ceremony. Even if it did fit a bit better back in 2005.