Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Handful of Questions on Big Bad Con

I had a chance to talk with Sean Nittner on the subject of Big Bad Con, which is currently Kickstarting, and we got his whole crew in one big Google Doc to answer questions about the con.

This is a VERY LONG interview, so it's behind a cut after the introductions.

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Tell me a little about yourself and how you're involved with Big Bad Con. What's your role? What's important to you?

SL: I’m Sophie Lagacé and I’m the Event Coordinator. That means working with other staff organizing specific event tracks like tabletop and live-action role-playing (RPGs and LARPs), Games on Demand, workshops and panels, and this year board games as well. I'm there to bridge the gaps and make sure the convention events come together as one big well-timed volley of fireworks.

What’s important to me is to help support and improve our community, whether we mean by that the gaming community or the local Bay Area community. I want more new people to feel welcome, to try and enjoy our hobby; and I want gamers to have an exceptional experience — as I do every time — at Big Bad Con.

I started gaming as a teen and I have the hobby to thank for some of the best things in my life, starting with my friends and family but also extending to practical skills as a facilitator, speaker, project manager, writer, and so forth. I want others to reap the same joys and benefits I have. 

KT: I’m Karen Twelves, editor and marketing assistant. I review most of the communications that Big Bad Con puts out on the blog, emails, and through Kickstarter. I also do a lot of work on the convention programs--editing the game descriptions down to size, cross-checking the schedule. Con-wise what’s important to me is making sure that people get all the information they need, clearly and concisely.

I’ve been gaming since high school and love that BBC makes it so easy to play a variety of games and meet new people. Everyone’s just really excited to be there and committed to having a good time.

ED: I’m Ezra Denney, I am helping coordinate boardgames at BBC. I’m thrilled to be involved with my favorite con, and psyched to be giving back to a con that has given me so much. I really want to put boardgames on people’s calendar at BBC, and share my love of all games with the attendees.
Table at Big Bad Con 2016

YK: I am Yann Kherian, simple volunteer at BBC. I have been attending since the first year. I now give a hand on the event, move tables, help people, smooth the games-on-demand dispatching, make the participants feel good. I love BBC as it has a different vibe than other cons, more indies games, and a very friendly community.

SN: Sean Nittner here. I wear a few hats for Big Bad Con. Last year we incorporated as a non-profit organization and I became the president of the board, which means I get cool moves like opening a board meeting and calling for votes (yes, our board meetings are powered by the apocalypse as well). The boards primary concern once the convention is underway, is the growth of our programs outside the con, specifically our outreach program to run games in schools. At the con itself, I work with all our coordinators to ensure we have a great list of games and events, and a hotel to play them all in.

I started running one-day conventions for Good Omens over a decade ago. I remember the first one felt like it was my birthday, Christmas, and Thanksgiving all rolled up into one day. I love watching people game and enjoy their time together. Over the years though, my focus has shifted from creating a place where we play great games to creating a place where everyone feels welcome and safe playing great games.

BH: I'm Bryanna Hitchcock and I help run the Big Bad Gauntlet. BBG is a flagship event with an interesting history. It started as a competitive event and has turned into a multi-table, shared RPG experience. In addition to the gauntlet, BBC always has an amazing schedule of excellent indie games run by designers and great local GMs.

But beyond the games there is another layer to BBC. It's also a place where queerness and gender variance are accepted and even welcomed. I love that the community code of conduct is posted around the con. I feel safe there. I'm a trans woman and the BBC community has given me a place where both my hobby and identity feel welcome.

RO: My name is Ryan Ossum, and I am your Reigning, Defending, and Undisputed Champion of the Tell Me About Your Character Booth. Oh, I also run some games here, and maybe play in some, and stuff. My role is... Honestly, insignificant. I (for one shift or so a year since I learned of the Booth) stick myself in it and raise money for Doctors Without Borders by being that ear that wishes to hear your tales. The tales your friends are TIRED OF HEARING ABOUT. I haven't heard them! I may... repurpose them... for nefarious plans later in games I'll run elsewhere, but I want to know about it, and you. I want you to want to tell me more, because it's $5 for 5 minutes of my therapy. Let me hear those tales of your gaming, for good and for justice!

AM: I’m Adrienne Mueller, Data Editor. For BBC 2016 I proofed and cross-referenced data from BackerKit, the BBC website and other sources to make sure all the information was accurate.

I offered to help out with BBC because I wanted to relieve some of the overhead for my friends, who were already devoting a ton of time and effort to make the con happen. It's important to me that the good people who organize the con have support!

KS: I’m Kristin Sullivan and I am Present at the convention. I’d like to think I’m the back-up jack of all trades to the powerhouse that is Sean Nittner, but that’s giving myself way too much credit. Beforehand I bake for Little Red’s Basket. During the convention you can find me loitering behind or near the reg desk, heading up Games on Demand, or bopping between game rooms. I’m the person who can solve your problem and if I’m not, I’ll know just who can help us.

I love what Big Bad has become without sacrificing what it set out to do. From the beginning, we’ve been home to primarily indie and small press games, those games we collect and fall in love with but can’t get the damn home group to play. There’s no lack of confidence when I say Big Bad offers the best spread of RPGs on the west coast. Couple that with the welcoming atmosphere the con provides, arms outstretched to welcome every flavor of participant, and it’s a premiere convention, unmatched by any other I’ve attended.

Also, see Ryan in the booth. He truly is legendary. Is it even braggadocio if it’s so damn true?

NB: Hello, I’m Nathan Black. I’m the Community Coordinator for Big Bad Con. I wrote the Community Standards under Sean’s careful supervision. Big Bad Con 2015 was my first trip to BBC, and I fell in love immediately. Everyone was kind and welcoming and playing weird and interesting games. My role on site is more of a support role, checking with people and making sure that everyone is doing ok.

It is very important to me to protect and nurture our community. We have a great cross section of people at Big Bad. Our diversity and inclusiveness is our strength.



Ryan may be the champion of the booth, but Nathan sure as heck makes it look good.
SM: I am Shantih Moriarty, the chick who wanted board games. I harassed Sean earlier this year about having a proper board game track, and he said that would be great if someone would organise it.. And I grabbed Ezra :D.

CF: I’m Colin Fahrion, a graphic designer, gamer, immersive performance artist, experience designer, and royal portrait photographer for Prince Wrinkles Nonesuch (my cat who has way more my Instagram followers than I do). I have since I was young loved games, art, and design, and I am fascinated by those places where they all intersect.

I’ve been going to Big Bad Con for five years both as a player and a GM running games. Last year, I joined on as the head of marketing and the website — bringing my design, front-end web, and communications skills to the team. I decided to join on as I really love the Big Bad Con community, the staff, and all that they do to create a welcoming event that encourages creative play!





What are you most looking forward to about Big Bad Con? Is there anything that's happened before or that's new that's really piqued your enthusiasm?

SL: Big Bad Con is my favourite weekend of the year, it’s my Christmas. I have been there since the first edition in 2011. Some of the best memories I have over its six years of existence include exciting adventures with excellent people — in the Asteroid Belt, near Loch Ness, in the ‘Verse, in Aldea, on Coruscant, or above Stalingrad — and shared meals and drinks, peppered with gaming tales. The player caliber is amazing. The people who come to Big Bad Con are there to try new things and they are so enthusiastic about jumping into the story! 

KT: I love seeing what larps are going on; there’s always something cool and fun that I’ve never heard of before. It’s really exciting to try out new RPGs—sometimes run by the designers!—or see a well-loved classic get some attention.

Editing the schedule can be so hard sometimes because after reading each and every game description, I have such a hard time deciding what to sign up for!

ED: I think the renewed focus on boardgames at BBC is pretty exciting. We have more gaming space than ever before, great games that you can play to win, and 2 staff people focused on making your time in the boardgame room awesome.

YK: With the time we know the participants and shared many adventures. Nowadays at each table there is always someone I played with in the past. I also love the public here, they are very eager to try new stuff, I use BBC to bring strange games, and run some europeans game RPG gems. Maybe one day will I wake up early to run with the wolf.

SN: This year we're moving Games on Demand and improving our staffing level there. I'm also encouraging more GMs to submit games and I hope to have a really robust track. We're adding board games as well. I have so many good friends who love their Thurn & Taxis more than their Dungeons & Dragons, so I'm really happy to be adding that to! But most excited...seeing old friends and welcoming new peeps to the con, it's the best part every year!

BH: I'm always really excited for the Big Bad Gauntlet. I love playing and running games, especially Fate and Monster of the Week. At BBC I get to do that with a bunch of brilliant, open-minded people.
An off-kilter table at Big Bad Con 2016. ;)
RO: What am I most looking forward to? Honestly, it's two things equally. First is the Tell Me About Your Character Booth, because I bought myself a championship belt I plan on wearing during my shift to hopefully draw more attention to the booth and what it's there for in general. Second, and again, equally important to me, is that I'm running three games this year at Big Bad Con. Each of these games I am planning on running have the same THEME, but do not have the same setting. I want to see just how differently my groups of players play the same scenario (which can be explained upon request) but in three wildly different settings. Those settings are 1) A Sailor Moon-esque high school, 2) A Star Wars Padawan Training Facility, and 3) Xavier's School For The Gifted from the X-Men universe. Those two sets of activities combined are what I'm more excited about. 

AM: Playing new games and meeting new people! BBC always offers a huge range of games, and I love getting to try out new systems and settings. Also, BBC has been expanding a lot and I think it will have even higher attendance in 2017. I love gaming with friends I seldom get to see, but I also love getting to play with amazing strangers. The caliber of BBC attendees is really high, and some of my favourite games have been one-shots with people I've never met before.

Games on Demand is being expanded! The first BBC I attended I hadn't signed up for any games and GoD games were the only games I got to play. They're one of my favourite parts of gaming conventions and I'm really happy that BBC's GoD is getting even bigger and better.

KS: Seriously, Ryan bought a championship belt? I’ve deleted all my answers to just say I’m looking forward to that.

Honestly, I love the people. Now, if you know me, you’ll cough obscene words behind your hand when I say that, mostly referencing the waste of a male bovine, but it’s still true. Big Bad provides my favorite injection of beautiful humanity every single year. I find it invigorating. The vast majority of these attendees I only see once a year, in October, at the convention, and the truth of that is that it’s a shame. But if that’s what I can get, I’ll take it.

I think that’s why I love being at or near the reg desk. I love watching everybody come through, being the first to greet return attendees and meet newcomers. It’s like keeping two fingers on the pulse of the con and finding comfort in the steady flow.

This year, I think I’d like to actually sign up for a game. That’d be a first...ha!

NB: Of course Ryan has a championship belt. HE IS A CHAMPION.

I’m looking forward to seeing friends old and new.

Last year we introduced a convention-wide game reinforcing our shared values called Big Bad World. Everyone gets to pick a playbook when they get to the convention and gets experience points for doing nice things for each other. It’s a fun way to remind people that we are all together in this and playing to make a better community. I am really proud of what we are doing at BBC and it is totally a highlight of the year.

SM: BBC is so fun because you get an INCREDIBLE amount of systems, and people who are excited about them. They invite you into their worlds, and you get to play in them. I am also a HUGE fan of the sign up system, and am excited about some of the possible changes to make it better this year. I am also looking forward to having the snot beat out of me in terraforming Mars. 

CF: My staff role with Big Bad Con is mostly all pre-con, so once the con starts it’s time to get my game on! Every year, I look forward to seeing what unique and interesting games people run. And every year, I look forward to running games myself because there are so many amazing creative people bringing their all to the table!

Last year, I co-produced and co-ran a “wide-con” game of the Warren with Jason Morningstar, Steve Segey, and Jeese Coombs — 4 GMs, 4 tables, 4 players per table all “playing to see what happens” in their Grand Warren rabbit society. I was thrilled see all the individual stories at each table of each rabbit clan and I was riveted by the larger Grand Warren story that was shaped as the action spilled out to the other tables! It was certainly an intense game with so much going on and honestly afterwards I was exhausted, but happily so! Unique play experiences such as this are what makes me keep coming back to Big Bad Con.

tiny kitties!
For coordinators: 

What challenges do you encounter arranging the games, events, and overall setup of the con, and what do you find exciting about making them happen?

SL: I work with GMs to schedule solid events which we hope will interest players, and with event coordinators to arrange this into a coherent whole. I love the feeling I get when I can help find effective solutions for problems (I usually exclaim to myself: “Zoidberg helped!”), when I have a good idea for a special event, and when I manage to make someone’s job easier.

KT: We always have a badge-stuffing party with some of the volunteers (and people who got into town early and are crashing at our place) the night before the con. We order a ton of yummy food and put badges into badge-holders, fold and staple programs, and tackle any other last-minute tasks that might need doing. It can be a little hectic but with friends there it’s so much fun.

SN: Getting everyone into as many games as they want is always the great tetris game we play. First it’s a matter of making sure we have the games available. We do a lot of GM recruiting up front and then when a game fills up quickly we’ll often ask the GM if they want to run another session, or find other GMs who are known for running the same system. We also have the Games on Demand Track that’s specifically meant for folks who don’t want to plan out their games before the con, or who have an open slot they want to fill when they arrive.

The other side of making our games run smoothly is addressing cancellations. When game cancellations happen, especially last minute, we look for replacement options for the players. Either other games they can get into, or replacement GMs to run the game (or something similar). We’re so fortunate to have a host of great GMs, many of which have stepped up in the last minute to run a game. And when players aren’t able to make a game, we post the opening to try and find another person to take their place. In the past that has been through a manual sign up sheet on the wall, but we’ve always found those sheets hard to navigate. Too many games, too small font, and no way to guarantee that if someone cancelled a game online, we’d update the sheets in time for someone else to see the opening. This year we’re going to keep open our digital sign ups throughout the con so players can see what’s open real time and sign up for games either from their mobile devices or from Kiosks at the registration desk.


For marketing:

How do you market a con that's got so much energy, so much going on, and capture it all - both word of mouth and official communication?

KT: We do a lot of word of mouth marketing for sure. We’ve got a lot of supporters who volunteer to promote it while at other conventions, or pass out fliers where appropriate. What’s very touching for me is the praise for the con I see on social media that’s completely unsolicited--people really love Big Bad Con and want to spread the word!

CF: The plethora of games themselves do a lot to promote the con. Big Bad Con attracts a lot of really creative people running great games. As a result, a lot of our promotion of the con is actually promotion of the game masters and designers themselves. The list of games for Big Bad Con has just started to fill in as people submit their games. But already it is filled with some really unique and interesting games including some playtests. Once the games list fills up there with be something for everybody. Actually, one of the common “complaints” from people is that there are so many great games that they wish they had a clone so that they can play all the games they want to play. It’s a good problem to have!

Specifically for those coordinating games:

How do you filter or choose what games get scheduled? Do you have criteria, and if so, what?

SL: Because Big Bad Con places its priorities on creating an amazing, welcoming experience at the individual level rather than based on number of attendees, it requires tasks that resemble more a game day event than a typical game convention. In particular, we actively recruit GMs who we know are particularly good, and we work with them individually to present their game in the most attractive fashion we can. Since we’ve been inviting attendee feedback since year one, we now have a pretty solid roster of people who return to run excellent games that receive player acclaim.

As far as criteria, we mostly leave it to what GMs feel like running; however, we also create our own wish list of hot new games and perennial favourite titles, and if people ask us for suggestions, we draw from it. If there is something that really seems to be missing by the time we’re approaching online game signups, we recruit among a pool of GMs who are often willing to pitch in to run something new.

SN: Sophie has it all!


Fall of Magic in action.
For anyone:

What excites you about Big Bad Teens and Outreach? How do you get involved?

KT: When promoting Big Bad Teens for its first run 2016, we reached out to a lot of gaming clubs at local middle schools and high schools to let them know about the con. I enjoyed connecting with Bay Area teachers and am really excited about our plans to bring more games to young players outside of the convention weekend.

SN: Outreach is our chance to introduce locals both to Big Bad Con and to tabletop gaming! We’re still developing the curriculum, but I’m very excited about running games for teens in the Bay Area, and hopefully having some of them out at Big Bad Con after that!

How does the scholarship program work?

KT: The Scholarship Fund supports women, people of color, and disabled or lgbtqia+ individuals in need of a little extra assistance to attend the con. It goes towards travel, hotel, and badge fees, for as many applicants as we have the funds for. The application for the Scholarship Fund is over on our website (http://www.bigbadcon.com/big-bad-con-scholarship-fund/) and people can contribute to the Fund through the Kickstarter!

What are bonus things — rewards, recognition — that people can take away from the con?

SL: On the tangible side, there are the various pins you can collect for the various to pitch in — GMing, volunteering, chipping in on the Kickstarter campaign, donating to the food bank or to Doctors Without Borders, and so forth. You can also collect playbooks for our meta-game, Big Bad World. Some game companies also provide prizes for those who try their games at the convention.

But to me the real reward that stays with me the rest of the year is playing and hanging out with great people and, the next time I see them, thinking “Oh, I know them, they’re so great to play with!” I keep relationships online, at game day events, at other conventions, and in regular campaigns.

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Thanks so much to everyone for participating in the interview! It was great to hear about the con and everything involved. The Big Bad Con Kickstarter still has a little longer to go - don't miss out on backing if it sounds like a good time to you!


Note: I don't currently have notes for who took these photos, but I will check with Sean to see if I can update this with those names!


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