What is it?
GeekGirlCon is a game convention that runs in Seattle, and I found best described here: "founded on the simple principle that anyone should be welcome at the proverbial table of their geeky choosing, be it STEAM, cosplay, gaming, comics, or more. Since our inception, we’ve worked hard to make a space that is inclusive, diverse and accepting of geeks of all types and stripes." I had heard of it for a few years, since friends Andy and Kristine have a hand in helping it all happen, and have been hoping to take the daughter up there to check it out.
We got to the convention just after opening time on Saturday morning, and from the outset you could feel the excitement. Lots of cosplay, and a line out the building. There is something quite liberating about a line for a game convention that consists of a (relatively) low percentage of males, and high percentage of diversity. We had pre-purchased tickets, and quickly got to the front, got our badges, and headed in.
DIY Science Zone
The girls (daughter + her friend) went straight to the DIY Science Zone, a space of 20 or so tables, each with various experiments you could perform. Learn about plasma and oxygen while creating test tubes of corn syrup and blood cell-looking candy. Learn about structures and physics by creating a tower of paper and masking tape that needs to survive a fan and earthquake simulator. Visit the Bug Chicks and hold various beetles and silk worms and other creatures. And at each of these places you get a stamp on your little card. Fill up your card and enter it into a raffle to win science kits and more.
We spent a lot of time here, both this first day, and the next. They didn't mind repeating some of the experiments a couple of times, and we didn't mind them doing so. I will say it can eventually get boring as a parent, but having three of us (me, wife J, friend Ryan) at any time helped heavily... we took turns hitting up different panels, checking out games and various places in the convention.
Also, on Sunday when the girls invariably returned here to spend another two hours doing science, and the location was much less packed. This helped because we ran into friend Soren, and co-opted the mostly empty coloring table to play some Splendor (borrowed from the game library downstairs).
Although this link may not be linked correctly in the future, for now you can see the panels and other events listed for GeekGirlCon. I went to a panel on Accessibility in Tabletop RPGs which highlighted both physical and emotional boundaries in some games, and how to design with them in mind. The discussion during and afterwards were great, and the facilitators kept it moving very well.
My partner J hit a few panels as well, including ones about finding mentors, design, and more. I don't think we expected the panels to be such a highlight, but they were.
Additionally, there are a few events such as cosplay runway contests and more that draw big crowds and were quite fun.
Open Gaming (and Golden Sky Stories)
The open gaming room is in the lower level, and consisted of many long tables (like 4 rectangular tables strung together, in many rows) of various colors. The colors roughly described what they were used for, such as RPGs vs board games.
The RPGs had more than a few different games you could sign up for at any given time. A number of games were sponsored by Contessa (including D&D 5E, Pathfinder, Downfall, Follow, and more), and an additional set of games were run by GeekGirlCon's own RPG Open Gaming section. I was set to assist with open gaming, and was happy to meet up with my friends Andy and ET, who I've met at prior Go Play NW conventions in Seattle. They were both running a healthy amount of games, including Fall of Magic, Microscope, Follow, Dread, and more.
On Saturday I was set to run Golden Sky Stories. This was partially because Ryan and Ella had looked into it in prior months, but not being RPG experienced didn't know how to make it work. We had 3 players: my daughter (who's played it before), Ella, and their friend Bea. Neither of the latter two had played any formal RPG before.
EDIT: Forgot to mention this earlier, but this is the second time I've run kids only games where I introduced the X-card (the last was RPG Games on Demands - Kids Edition at Strategicon Gateway 2017), and again it was a very popular concept. We event went through and setup up some lines (a la "lines and veils"), things they didn't want to experience during play. In this case: scary dolls, spiders, monsters under the bed.
I kept the session pretty minimal as far as mechanics, since the ages ranged from 7-8, and the distractions were many. (I can't remember how many times the two younger girls noticed some cosplaying hero coming down the opposite stairs.)
For convention and little kid play, I prefer to use the Golden Sky Stories demo sheets (see Tabletop Day 2013 Demo under the Free Downloads section on their page), which reduces some of the mechanics in the game. Instead of the more complex "connections" that you normally make between characters, you just start with a fixed 5 tokens for Feelings and Wonder (two of the currencies the players use to make things happen). In a prior game, I had let the players use Dreams (the third currency in the game) as wild-tokens to supplement their pile of the other two... however in this session I let them upgrade their "connection" value in between scenes with their dreams. They dug that.
The story itself? Well, we had a cat, a bird, and a fox. There was a grumpy old farmer they were stealing apples and persimmons from (I gave them the opportunity to be naughty and of course they took it!). He turns out to be nice and gives them free apples when they help him. A little boy they see crying on a rooftop. A girl who's a friend and a "shrine maiden" whose family runs the local shrine, and who had a "problem"; her friend is leaving town and she wants to be his pen pal, but he threw her letter into the river when some boys were making fun of him. The fall festival where they help the two friends make up. And finally an epilogue where they receive some gifts in the mail from the boy from his new home in another town.
What made the game work well? Skipping some of the mechanics when necessary. Giving the kids lots of prompts to make stuff up: "Why are you excited that fall is coming?", "What did the boy send you in the mail?" etc. Also, letting them draw lots of stuff on their character sheets is always popular, like what the character looks like, what their home looks like, and so on. On the one hand, I feel like I'm able to keep kids interested in the game for upwards of 2-3 hours without issue. On the flip side, I'm not so sure I know how all the game mechanics work, cause I rarely use them all!
Follow (and Mice-Mechs vs. Cat-Kaiju)
So, I had about zero expectations to actually play any RPGs while I was at the con, and yet the opportunity arose. Sarah came to the con Sunday afternoon and hung out a bit with the girls, and then took them back home, and that let J and I loose. J went to a panel or two, and I hit Follow, being sponsored by Contessa, and being run by my friend Holly.
Follow is a recent Ben Robbin's RPG put out by Lame Mage (the same author as Microscope). I helped fund the Kickstarter, but haven't gotten around to really reading or playing it yet. Although the game is GM-less, Holly ran it as a sort of facilitator, since we had 5 additional players, and this sped up the game quickly. She kept us on point, and the game played in about 1.5 hours.
We started by looking at 3-4 possible storylines, and crossed some out via process of elimination (which ones we didn't want to play). We went for the Dragon storyline ("kill a beast" type quest), although what attracted us was the variant that was Mech vs Kaiju. Before long, we had mice in mechs fighting some sort of cat-kaiju abomination on a generation starship where the humans were in stasis.
The game itself played effortlessly, and sort of reminded me of some of Jim Pinto's mechanically light GM-less games such as Protocol. Very smooth and quick, good story prompts, and uber simple token mechanic which takes a temperature of how the players think their characters are doing, and using that to establish a random percentage of pass/fail for each quest. It's really a very neat and simple system and I'm dying to run some of this in the near future.
The dealer hall
Up on the top floor was a very large open auditorium with scores of booths, including some big names in general (Wizards of the Coast) as well as local stars (like Mox board game cafes), and tons of smaller press and artists. I picked up a few books from Microcosm Publishing including Biketopia: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories in Extreme Futures, and a few more in that series of short stories. (Stories Shelter and Signal Lost are especially great in that book!)
The con was spectacular, and despite looking forward to it already, it was much more of a highlight than I expected. I'd go again in a heartbeat, but the distance makes it a little difficult. Now to just create a similar one down here in Los Angeles.