by Jason Cordova
We're getting close to hitting our $3,000 Patreon goal, which means we will soon begin planning for two editions of Gauntlet Con each year. We don’t yet know what that second edition will look like—maybe it will be like the regular Gauntlet Con, maybe it will be something different—but I want to use this blog post to make a proposal, which is Gauntlet Con: Test Fire.
Gauntlet Con: Test Fire is directly inspired by Metatopia, except, like the original Gauntlet Con, it’s entirely online. I’m envisioning something smaller in scale than Metatopia, and laser-focused on indie rpgs, story games, and the OSR. We would have a slate of diverse designers for each edition of Test Fire—say, 15-20 from outside The Gauntlet, and 10 or so from inside The Gauntlet—each of whom would have their game (or part of their game) rigorously playtested by Gauntleteers and other attendees. It would all be coordinated through a Discord server (just like Gauntlet Con), except there would be channels and chat rooms dedicated to that year’s featured games. The selected game designers would also sit on panels moderated by members of The Gauntlet community, and participate in workshops and playstorms. In short, it would be an opportunity for the selected designers to interact with, and get feedback from, the most active, vibrant, and dynamic indie ttrpg community there is—and in a really deep, productive way.
I want to be clear that Test Fire would not be positioned as an alternative to Metatopia. It’s no secret that I, personally, have had some unpleasant interactions with the people from Double Exposure (the company that puts on Metatopia), but Test Fire has nothing to do with that. I truly believe that Test Fire could help expand the conversation about what it means to be a playtest-focused convention. In fact, if I didn’t think Test Fire could legitimately benefit the wider ttrpg community, I wouldn’t be proposing the idea.
So let’s talk about some of those potential benefits, because I think they are key to understanding where my head is at with this. Here is a bullet point list (I’ll say a bit more about each below):
- Test Fire would be an ideal space for game designers (and fans) from marginalized groups.
- Test Fire would be an ideal space for international game designers (and fans).
- Test Fire game designers would receive very rich, useful feedback.
- Test Fire game designers would benefit from close association with The Gauntlet.
- Test Fire games would have to be ready for online play.
- Test Fire would minimize social anxiety or feelings of imposter syndrome.
Test Fire would be an ideal space for game designers (and fans) from marginalized groups. This is my personal Number 1 reason for wanting to put on a convention like this. Meatspace conventions are expensive, often prohibitively so. This is especially the case for people from marginalized groups. The sad fact remains that the roleplaying game industry, like every other industry, privileges people who can afford to network. When you consider the overwhelming whiteness of the industry, and why it’s that way, you have to acknowledge the major role that access plays, and much of that access comes from being able to attend conventions. Test Fire could help balance that out a bit since it would be free or, at the very least, inexpensive. Attending Test Fire would require some basic tech stuff (internet access, a computer, a mic), but certainly not airfare, Uber, hotel accommodations for 3 nights, and meals at restaurants.
Test Fire would be an ideal space for international game designers (and fans). All the things that would make Test Fire ideal for game designers from marginalized groups would also apply to game designers from outside the United States. I recently reached out for feedback from folks vis-a-vis Metatopia and I was inundated by international folks lamenting that it was extremely difficult for them to attend. There was a sense of international designers being completely left out of the indie ttrpg design scene because of their inability to attend Metatopia. Test Fire could certainly help remedy that.
Test Fire game designers would receive very rich, useful feedback. Gauntleteers get to attend Gauntlet Con for free, which means the people helping playtest the games at Test Fire are steeped in The Gauntlet’s famously strong play culture. On Gauntlet Hangouts, our day-to-day gaming platform, we schedule nearly 150 sessions per month. Gauntleteers game all the time, not just at conventions, and that means Test Fire game designers would have a very deep pool of energetic, experienced indie gamers to rely on for feedback. Also, because the slate of games selected for Test Fire would be relatively small, they’re going to each get a lot of attention.
Test Fire game designers would benefit from close association with The Gauntlet. The Gauntlet is becoming an increasingly important place to promote indie ttrpgs. When our podcast hosts, game runners, editors, and community organizers are looking for games to engage with, the Test Fire games are going to be near the top of the list simply because we have been exposed to them in the context of the convention.
Test Fire games would have to be ready for online play. I’m somewhat biased, but I think playing ttrpgs online is the future (and possibly the now). Game designers who aren’t thinking about how to make their games easily played by Twitch streamers and communities like The Gauntlet and Roll20 are behind the curve. Test Fire would force game designers to start thinking in terms of online play.
Test Fire would minimize social anxiety or feelings of imposter syndrome. First of all, you’ll probably be sitting in your room or office the whole time during Test Fire, so you won’t have any undue pressure to socialize. And hopefully the fact that your game was selected to be part of the Test Fire slate would minimize any feelings of imposter syndrome.
For now, Gauntlet Con: Test Fire is just an idea. I still need to bring it to The Gauntlet and let everyone in the community have their say. If we decide to go forward with this idea, the first edition of Test Fire probably won’t be until early 2020, so there is still plenty of time to figure out the exact contours of what a playtest-focused Gauntlet Con looks like.
Do you have any thoughts for a convention like this? Let me know in the comments!