I’ve been a bit absent lately because of a lot of personal stuff happening all at once in my life. It’s been a difficult year. I was stressed out, and even considered putting a stop to all the Game Design aspects of my life. On July 11th, I received a mail from the great Mario Ortegon saying I’ve been whitelisted for a PoC scholarship in Big Bad Con. PoC scholarship? Big Bad Con? What the heck are those things? I didn’t know it then, but a whole journey that would literally change my life was about to happen.

Hey! This is a different article from the norm I used to write. There are no monsters or tips. It’s just me, plain Tomas Gimenez Rioja writing about an experience I recently lived through. For those who don’t know, I’m an aspiring g… *ahem* I’m a game designer from Argentina (that place all the way at the bottom of the Americas) that started blogging about D&D and gaming in general 4 years ago until the folk at Tribality noticed me and had me write weekly columns. I wrote for many things, and applied for the Gnome Stew, where I got accepted and now you have me right here writing this. But why was I of all people contacted and sent to a convention in the US?

What is Big Bad Con?

Big Bad Con is a small convention in comparison to things like PAX. However, that small number of people allows one to easily get to meet and chat with more people, aside from just playing games. Its level of security and COVID protocols (COVID tests were given for free, people got tested all the time, and you were required to use mask at all times), apart from being an event that not only allows, but also encourages diversity makes it possibly the event I’ve felt more secure and comfortable in ever. Its PoC programme started in 2019 (y’know, before the calamity). The con missed 2020, and 2021, only to come back now in October 2022. Then, stronger than ever, the PoC programme started recruiting people.

The Mail

Let’s jump back to my side of the story for a bit before we go back to the con. For those who don’t know, the history of Argentina is quite weird (it can be fun to research as well, in 2001 we even had 5 different presidents in less than two weeks), and the country received a whole load of European immigrants mostly during and after the two World Wars. For those, it was the promised land. Spoiler alert: it only felt that way for a while. The reason I’m saying this is because my ancestors (many generations ago) were actually European, both from my mother, and father’s side. You may be able to tell that from my surname as well, heh. That means I’m caucasian, male, and cisgender. Why was I included in a PoC (People of Color) program? My friends even call me the whitest in the group, and pretty much everyone I told looked at me with a weird face as I said I was being invited as part of a PoC programme. Lots of thoughts went through my mind as I read Mario’s mail.

 While Big Bad Con cannot currently offer you the scholarship, we may be able to offer it to you in the upcoming months if we have additional funding or if the selected recipients are unable to accept or have other issues attending down the line.

I apologize, as this may not be what you are hoping to hear. Your work in the TTRPG space is nothing short of exceptional, and the PoC Programming Team looks forward to seeing what comes next for you. Our team includes Ajit George, Whitney “Strix” Beltrán, Sean Nitter, Surena Marie, Carlos Luna, Justice Arman, Anthony Joyce-Rivera, Pam Punzalan, Mario Ortegón (that’s me!), and Indrani Ganguly.

“Your work in the TTRPG space is nothing short of exceptional”

“Exceptional? Me? I’ve got to talk with big people in the industry, yeah, but I’m still a nobody next to all those names included in the team for example.” It was a bit of a shock to me, especially because I was a big fan of Mario’s work. Mario contacted me through other sources and said there was a big chance I could get chosen, but it was very difficult for me to see it. I continued my life with zero expectancy of being chosen. It didn’t make sense in my head, there are surely people that deserve it more than I do. On August 31st I received another mail from Mario. I was the chosen one

Maybe I was worth inviting? I mean, I did create products of my own, and even took part in two big setting books from Tribality Publishing. I wasn’t sure. I knew only a few faces from profile pictures on Twitter, but apart from that I was feeling like a fish out of the water. I was nervous I could get too anxious and end up having a bad time. But then the time to travel arrived.

The arrival

I was finally in San Francisco! It was “just” a 13 hour flight, with two hours of wait time in Texas (ouch), while having the allergies. I coordinated with Morgan (@SirenaBesos on Twitter) to meet as they had just arrived as well. I knew nothing about them, and so I was extremely nervous at first. When we met, Morgan was just the sweetest and coolest! We shared the RPG stuff we worked on, and I had to swallow my fangirling when hearing they worked on Kids on Bikes.

We got to the hotel and place where the event was going to take place (The Hyatt), and that’s where I started seeing more and more faces! Firstly, I met with two familiar faces for me: Pam Punzalan (@TheDovetailor) and Mario Ortegón (@elwarius). Pam I had met before while playing one of her games online with her as a GM two years before: Sundo (click here to get it. It’s free now!). I have been following her ever since because I really enjoyed the game, and I couldn’t believe she still remembered who I was. Mario I knew from his stream (Sendas en Los Reinos), and I had chatted with him at some random moments because we are both latinos, and I really like what he is doing with his Ixalba setting. Later, I got to meet with Jaime Reyes-Mondragón (@JaimeRysmon), who I had arranged to be roomies with, and would then become a fantastic friend all along the con (looking forward to seeing you again!). He and Alastor Guzman (@Alastorgv) even worked on a Power Rangers-like game that Matt Mercer himself bought (Tezca Sentai). Apart from some shenanigans in a Mexican place to eat with Morgan and Andy Munich, that was all for my arrival, and then it was time for the con to start!

Alastor, Matt, and Jaime posing as Super Sentais when Matt bought the game

Alastor, Matt, and Jaime posing as Super Sentais when Matt bought the game. Yeah, Matt was at the con.

The Con

The first day involved meeting a whole lot of people! I mean… I met a bunch of people all weekend long. Remember that nervousness I talked about before from not knowing anyone? It all went away because everyone was amazingly friendly and eager to include you in games and conversations. You know the phrase “never meet your heroes”? That doesn’t apply for these folk. I got invited to dinner by Carlos Cisco (@carlos_cisco) in a Japanese restaurant (sorry if I sucked at using chopsticks, hehe), and he told me he recognized me from the Arcadia review I made about his article. It feels weird to hear someone say that even my negative opinions made sense to him. It’s going to be difficult from here on out to review stuff about people I met and made friends with.

Indrani Ganguly (@nonagondice) had a contagious aura of positivity, and even gifted me (and pretty much everyone) some dice that I would proceed to paint with many others in the weekend. She also brought a whole table of Indian snacks for everyone to try out, with Alika Gupta (@capefoxalix) (a great friend I made that was always there to chat, along with Raya Sarkar (@rabbitbucket), both incredible artists) and Cris Viana (@crislv) (a fantastic designer, and friend who even created my business cards) adding some extra snacks, from India and Brazil. Sorry if I forgot to add in someone else who brought snacks. They were all delicious!

I got to meet and play with Leon Barillaro (@barilleon), and Willy Abeel (@theWillyBoo) as well! Two people full of positive energy that were playtesting their games. O Captain from Leon is being crowdfunded at the moment! Go help it reach the big numbers! Willy, on the other hand, was playtesting a smaller but frenetic game with dice whose name was about to change due to copyright reasons with the big gaming N, so I am not sure what’s the name going to end up being. Make sure to follow him to know first hand! Playing Stealing the Throne with these two, Jaime, and Hannah Rose (@wildrosemage) was definitely one of my stand-outs of the weekend! I loved the amount of energy Hannah brought to the table as well, mimicking her character movements.

Another thing to stand out were the Werewolf games ran by the great Justice Arman (@justicearman) and the Blood on the Clocktower game (seriously, if you haven’t tried this game try to find one game online, it’s fantastic!). I got to play both of those games with James Haeck (@jamesjhaeck) who I really admired from his work. After some mutual backstabbing and roleplaying our characters, I can say we did become good friends as well!

Indrani adverting us about the level of spice in these snacks. Not enough for the Mexicans there, quite a bit for me!

The Panels

The panels were one of the best things from the con. There were many spaced throughout the weekend, all with goldmines of knowledge to gather. I learned a whole lot from everyone, even though I missed one I was really looking forward to. Some phrases stuck with me, such as “If you are designing games, then you are no `aspiring` game designer, you are a f@#ng game designer” (I may have paraphrased a bit). There’s not much more to say about them because I’m not going to share the entirety of the panels, but if you do come to Big Bad Con, make sure to attend them. They are definitely worth your time! The only problem I had with going to this many panels is that I had less time to actually play games. Next time, I’ll make sure to choose strategically!

From left to right: Tan Shao Han, Cris Viana, Samuel Clarice Mui Shen Ern, Pam Punzalan, Indrani Ganguly, Mario Ortegón

PoC Dinner and PoC Meet & Greet

These were the events that blew my mind! The PoC dinner had us attend all in as-formal-as-we-wanted clothing, meaning that people brought attires from the regions they are from. I’ve never been to such a diverse (and might I say sexy) event! We got to connect even more with each other, eat delicious food, and lastly hear some deeply impacting words from some of the PoC Programming Team. I wanted to stand out Ajit A. George (@ajitgeorgeSB) and Strix (@the_strix) who almost broke me into tears with their inspirational speeches. We are the third wave of designers, and we are going to make us heard! This is the moment I understood I was enough. I am no simple game designer; I am a latino from a third world country who struggles to have their stuff be seen, or be taken into consideration by other better positioned folk. I may be caucasian, but I’m still a minority, and will make myself known to the world! If I had to choose my favorite moment in the whole con experience, this one will possibly be the most life-changing one.

The Meet & Greet, on the other hand, had us meet fantastic people from the industry, where we introduced ourselves to them and had to sell us as possible work partners, as well as provide pitches of our products and skills. The inspirational speeches from the day before definitely made this part easier, but it was still pretty nerve-wracking. Getting to be face to face with these folk was impressive, and I can’t thank the PoC team enough for making it happen! I think it was Anthony Joyce Rivera (@AJoyce_Rivera) who made papers for everyone with the people we should definitely meet as what we do is what they are looking for in their company, and vice versa. I got the chance to chat with people that might offer me jobs or projects in the future and that’s just marvelous.

Ajhit giving one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. AND CHECK OUT THAT OUTFIT!

Always feeling safe and secure

We all introduced each other, and had a piece of paper with our name and pronouns. The whole convention felt diverse with queer, black, people with disabilities everywhere to be seen and one could truly be themself at all times in this area. What’s more, the COVID protocols were top notch. There was one single COVID case detected and it didn’t get to spread anywhere because of how quickly the staff handled the situation. Tests were asked to be done, and even given to all that were at the event

We had special super protective masks for the event as well!

The People

I believe the real con was the friends we made along the way… In this particular case, it was the people that actually made the con such an unforgettable experience. All the chats while resting for a bit, sharing of stories, created a truly comfortable space. I’ve never lived anything like it. I know I didn’t mention a whole lot of you who I spent time with and definitely deserve to be mentioned, but if I was to name you all one by one this article would be three times its size, hehe. You know who you are, and I love you folk! If you haven’t yet, go follow everyone in their socials: HERE. I wanted to give some honorable mentions though:

  • Mario, you would get me in the middle of the event and present me to new people to chat (and possibly get a job with?), and the amount of effort you put into having me meet all those people is something that truly deserves praise.
  • Pam, I think you are possibly one of the people I spent the most time with, and I feel we forged a beautiful friendship. I do also consider you as some kind of mentor because of all the knowledge you have provided me both in the panels, and while sharing cocktails at the bar.
  • Jaime, and all the Spanish speaking people, you acted as some anchor to reality for me. I’d been speaking English all day long, but I knew I could go back to them to talk again in Spanish and have a notion I wasn’t in a dream, finding some comfort again when feeling a fish out of the water. And you all are amazing, let’s not forget that part.
  • The whole PoC crew that managed the scholarship, including Sean Nittner (@seannittner) and Eric Mersmann who made sure I could get from Argentina to the US and back.

Every single person I met was great. It’s been fascinating to meet you, and I definitely hope… Nah, I know we’ll get to see each other again!

Paying a visit to the Academy of Science in San Francisco (from left to right: Tomas Gimenez Rioja (that’s me!), Indrani Ganguly, Kandy J. Williams, Jaime Reyes Mondragon, Alika Gupta, Raya Sarkar)

After another 13 hours of flight (with now 10 EXTRA HOURS OF WAIT IN TEXAS) I’m finally back in Argentina. I got a ton of new games to try out, a plethora of people to talk to, and most importantly, am inspired to carry on as a game designer! This isn’t my last rodeo. Hopefully you will start seeing more and more of me in the near future, and it’s all thanks to Big Bad Con!

Also: Check out Dan Muñoz’s (@Nat1Fun) experience in the con and why he believes it’s the BEST thing to happen to you.

Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war, battling my black dragon mini. A great gift from Jaime (and a galactic Coke in the background for some reason)