Saturday, October 29, 2011

Interview: Sami Koponen, Finnish game material writer and a gamer

I already have interviewed Finnish roleplaying games designer Ville Vuorela from Burger Games
and it was a success. It gave me inspiration and courage to interview other people who are
publishing or otherwise active in Finnish gaming.

Second in my mind was Sami Koponen. Sami Koponen is Finnish roleplayer, active member of
Finnish roleplaying community and also author of roleplaying material.
You can find Sami's website and blog here:
Sami   also   writes   news   for   Finnish   roleplaying   games   site   Roolipelitiedotus:


Let's start with Efemeros. Efemeros is a published book slash magazine and there are already 
two episodes. First is compilation of roleplaying articles and second unofficial Praedor 
sourcebook with both rules and gaming reports and other Praedor related articles and 
material. Efemeros #2 about Praedor was more successful than the first one. Do you think 
that the key for the success was that you  handled one of the most popular roleplaying game in 
Finland Praedor in it?

Well, success is relative. Efemeros #1 had smaller print run and I wasn’t able to push it to dealers
too well, so naturally the actual number of sold copies was lower. Still, I do think that gamers found
a sourcebook far more interesting than a collection of RPG articles. How did Praedor itself affect
the success is a tougher question. I decided to make a Praedor-supplement in order to gain more
popularity for the supplement, yes. But would an indie-sourcebook been even more successful, if it
was for Dungeons & Dragons or for Heimot? Maybe. Maybe not.

In any case, it seems that there’s a small market for supplements in Finland. Unfortunately everyone
seems to be too busy publishing their own games. Supplements are good stuff in many ways.
Has your Praedor Efemeros had some impact that you know of in Praedor players' gaming?
Feedback from any Finnish rpg publication is scarce at best. I’ve heard of couple of groups, who
used the material published in Efemeros, but I don’t know if it changed their play style. After all,
Efemeros #2 was a collective supplement, so it’s most likely that any group using it would take
some ideas and discard others. Of course, if anyone reading this has used Efemeros in their Praedor-gaming, I’d love to hear about it!

About your gaming history. How did you start playing roleplaying games, what games did you 
play and how? How is your present gaming style different from the early years?

I think I got the idea of roleplaying from my big brother’s friend, who had roleplayed (I don’t know
if he was active gamer). Then a friend of mine bought RuneQuest, and off we went. We were like
ten year olds or something, so rules, setting and whole consistency of the gaming were wacky, but
the idea of shared imagined space carried us.

After the initial “proto-roleplaying” the actual games played were Stormbringer (4th edition) and
Cyberpunk 2020 (2nd edition). I was mostly the GM, but did get to the player’s seat as well.
Stormbringer was our basic fantasy adventure game without any reference to Moorcock’s fine
novels. We didn’t have any metaplot either, just an adventure after another with the same characters.
Besides making my own adventures, I also used any adventure I could get my hands on from other
game lines or from rpg magazines. Cyberpunk had its share of plotting, but characters also ended
dying quite fast after crossing major corporations. I seem to recall that the
game had some serious issues in firefight rules.

These days in my gaming table adventure has lost its ground to drama: The focus is in the
characters, their duties and their relationships and in all the moral conundrums rising from that.
Still, I haven’t abandoned adventure gaming for good. I’ve played several ten-or-so-session
campaigns of RuneQuest and Praedor within a year.

Go ahead, read my whole personal rpg history from my blog
( (editor's note: this site is in Finnish, but you can easily use Google Translate or
other software for other languages.)

You have tried out several different games and gaming styles experiencing for example how 
games run directly as those are presented in the book. Do you think that games give players 
most of it if you play them "straight from the text" or do you think that game material is just 
a toolbox gaming group can use for their own scenarios, worlds and campaigns?

It depends on what you want from your gaming. If you’ve found your way to play and wish to stick
to it, surely you should use games as toolboxes for your style. But if you are interested in trying and
learning new ways to play, discovering new gaming styles, then it’s a good idea to follow the game
rules as is. I myself tend to fall in the latter group, but I’m very aware that it’s not for everybody.

What is your ultimate favourite roleplaying game and how has that changed you as a player?

My Life With Master by Paul Czege, no doubt. The game blew my mind back in 2004, when
Arkkikivi translated it in Finnish. The importance of relationships, simple and effective dice
mechanics, strong emotional content, end game phase… it’s all there and more. I haven’t played the
game excessive amounts and it’s not the best roleplaying game per se, but it had a major impact on
me. Simply put, it showed me that rpgs can offer so much more than mere adventuring.

About Finnish game industry today. It seems that there are more published and upcoming 
games in past few years than ever before. You read constantly about new projects in Finnish 
forums. Do you think that Finnish gaming is at its peak now? What about future? Will in few 
years publishing get slower or is Finnish game publishing growing?

Well, I surely hope this is not the peak, because you can only go down from a peak! Seriously
speaking, while it is true that we have more Finnish rpgs published than ever before, I think this is
mostly because it’s so easy and cheap to publish your own game these days. Finnish game
designing as such hasn’t progressed all that much during the past decade.

It seems  that there are game designers  who are determined to keep on publishing Finnish
roleplaying games, so certain continuity is likely. However, the high numbers of publications are
achieved through new designers. If we are going to see more people publishing their first game is
anyone’s guess. I’ve seen enough to know that forum discussions don’t automatically turn into
published games.

Aside from publishing, I’m more worried whether anyone actually plays these games. It would be
distressing to find out that folks buy Finnish rpgs just to support the game designer, without any
intent to actually play the game. These aren’t books to be read, these are games to be played!

In big world many roleplaying games are going into PDF download business but still in 
Finland printed products are most common. Will this PDF publishing boom catch also 
Finnish roleplaying games industry?

I think it will as soon as someone can produce good and cheap PDF readers. It happens within a
couple of  years is my guess. At the very least I think we’re going to see several projects that use
this new medium.

Then again, there are clear signs of bibliofilia in our hobby. People publish their game just to create
something concrete and gamers buy rulebooks just to feel them and see how nice they look like. As
the gamers’ mean age rises, they also have more money to buy artefacts ie. classy books.

In your opinion, how do you support Finnish roleplaying hobby and what influence do you 
have in it?

By gaming, mostly. I often try to introduce new people to roleplaying. I also support the scene with
filling the ether with game blogs, forum discussions and gaming reports in order to spread the word.
Distant second are publishing projects, my own or helping someone else.

I estimate that during this year I’ve played with maybe twenty people new to roleplaying. If even
two or three of these pick up roleplaying as a hobby, I’m happy. I also hope that my newest game
Pyöreän pöydän ritarit (
) would shed some light into Finnish game designing, but we’ll see. As there are only a few ways to
see any concrete results, I really don’t know my actual influence.

Tell about your future plans. What will you publish, what games or gaming material are you 
working on and will there be more Efemeros? And do you have any plans to publish 
something in English to see does if your ideas catch also others than Finnish gamers?

I actually don’t have any big plans now. I’m looking forward to get to run more games to newbies,
does that count? I do have an idea of a free, short, PDF-formatted rpg, but everyone has ideas. Even
Efemeros is ice-covered at the moment. I was supposed to publish a collection of Ropecon scenario
contest winners as Efemeros #3, but somehow I don’t think that kind of product would find its
audience. It might be rightly said that at the moment I’m more interested in supporting existing
games and hobby projects than publishing anything new.

This English-thing springs on me from everywhere. I’m mostly not interested. I like to focus on
Finnish rpg scene instead; there’s lot to do here. I also doubt that I would have much to say to
English-speaking audience. My gaming stuff is really not that original. The influences go in the
other way: I’m more interested in localising some cool ideas from English rpg scene than trying to
rebound those ideas back at them. Eero, who helped me in designing Pyöreän pöydän ritarit, has
some ideas of the game’s English version, but we’ll see if anything of that ever realizes.

As a publisher and active hobbyist, what advises would you give for starting game writers?

Stay focused. Think about what your game is about and then design all the rules, setting,
mechanisms and whatnot to support this goal. This doesn’t have to mean a single narrow theme.
Likewise, think about why you are writing a game in the first place. If it’s just for fun, do you really
need to publish it? If it’s something for yourself to play, do you need to publish it? If it’s something
someone else has already done before you, do you need to publish it? Publishing is a whole new
project besides game designing, so I’d advice to do it only if your goal requires it.

I'd also like to remind of the supplements. It might be a good idea to get your feet wet by writing a
supplement for an existing game: a sourcebook, an expansion or a scenario. There you have
something to inspire your own writing while still leaving room for your own innovations. The
mother game gives your product some initial popularity as well. Writing a supplement is an easier,
low-risk option well worth of considering.

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