Meet, Play, & Learn: ConTessa @ Gen Con


I've been to a lot of cons, but this Gen Con was almost beyond words. I had a packed schedule, but let's just focus on Thursday and Friday for now.

Thursday morning kicked off with our Opening Ceremonies. We had a couple of lovely GMs show up to help us set up, which was so nice! Stacy started us off with her thoughts on why she founded ConTessa, and then introduced our first speaker, Shanna Germain of Monte Cook Games. Shanna gave a really inspiring speech on how leadership comes in many forms, and how participating in subversive or 'sideways' leadership can be the start of real change. Stacy then introduced Margaret Weis of Margaret Weis Productions, who told the stories of several women who helped shape gaming from the very beginning: Jean Wells, Laura Hickman, Jean Black, and Rose Estes, among others. I can not stress how much it meant to me as a woman working in the RPG industry to hear about these women who came before me. 

We gave out some of the swag we'd brought, such as buttons, lanyards, and badge ribbons, and most of our GMs picked up their gift bags. Then we rolled up our fancy new signs and hustled to the next event.

I was on the How I Designed It panel along with Shanna and Elsa S. Henry, designer of Dead Scare*. Stacy did a fantastic job moderating it, and the audience was really involved. They had great questions, and I was thrilled to discover how much Shanna, Elsa, and I had in common. They are some amazing ladies, and you should follow them on the internets to keep track of the awesome stuff they're making.

Next up was the panel I was moderating, How to Hack Your Favorite Fandom Into an RPG, and I'm not sure if I loved my fellow panelists or the audience more. Cheyenne Wall-Grimes and Ethel B joined me to geek out over adapting settings, characters, and stories from our favorite genres into playable hacks. Ethel helped out an audience member who was trying to hack different universe-as-fandom into his Pathfinder game (the answer was The Strange), and Cheyenne gave an in-depth breakdown of the Orphan Black hack she's working on. It was a really exciting subject, and one I may revisit on our next Panel Day.

While my panel was going on, Kat Jones was leading a LARP, There's a FanFic for That.... It sounds like everyone had a great time, and I'd love to hear stories from the attendees!

I was able to drop by Stacy's The Building Blocks of System Design workshop, and there were around twenty women of various experience levels there. Stacy sorted us into four groups, and led us through deciding on a theme, a system for Attributes the characters would have, Skills that matched our theme, and different options for how the Skills and Attributes might work. I had to leave before the workshop was over, but we already had the start of four different games I'd very much like to play.

Our Game Night was nothing short of amazing, despite having a little bit of a rough start. I want to thank everyone for being so patient while things got sorted, and I owe Cheyenne unending gratitude and GMing-on-demand privileges for helping me figure things out. Every single one of our GMs handled set-up with grace and enthusiasm, and I will not lie - looking over a sea of tables filled with women running games made me tear up.

I hated turning away the people who showed up with generics, but our twenty games were full. Although I had my head down with my own game (I ran Jean Well's Palace of the Silver Princess), every time I looked up I saw people laughing and having a great time playing games. People kept stopping in to see what all the fun was, and every single person who jumped up to answer questions, help out, and even run a last minute game, humbled me**. My players were great, and so patient in waiting for me to finish running around so we could play. Overall, it was an amazing and exhausting day.

Friday night I was unable to attend the Ennies, as I was running the game I'm designing with Marissa Kelly & Whitney 'Strix' Beltran, Bluebeard's Bride. In the middle of horrifying my players (as I'm supposed to in this game), my phone started lighting up. I flipped it over, but not before I saw the phrase "Gold Ennie!!!!". I told myself there must be context missing, or "gold" was a typo for "no", and I held it together until our scheduled break. Then I wandered around in a daze while friends congratulated me. I managed to get my head back into my game somehow, and then got to join Stacy and Ethel for champagne and cake at the Monte Cook Games Afterparty. It was truly a better end to ConTessa's first time at Gen Con than I could have hoped for, and the only thing that would have made it better would have been if Ari & Liz had been able to join us.

Photos courtesy of Stacy Dellorfano and Mark Malone.

Photos courtesy of Stacy Dellorfano and Mark Malone.

*Both Elsa's game Dead Scare and Bluebeard's Bride got their start at last year's Hacking As Women event, hosted by the IGDN

**My partner Mark Malone was there for me at every turn, and if it wasn't for his support, I may have spent the day in a corner rocking back & forth while mumbling about THAC0.