Black Scifi 2012 – Conventions We Know and Love

The State of Black Science Fiction 2012

This is the fourth week of the State of Black Science Fiction Blog hop being done in conjunction with the Black Science Fiction Society and Alicia McCalla. Today we were supposed to talk about the science fiction conventions we like to go to and meet other people who share our interest.

I have been a convention attendee for over twenty years. I have been to CreationCon, ComicCon in San Diego, WonderCon in San Francisco, Star Trek Conventions across the country, and numerous local conventions here in the San Francisco Bay Area such as Pantheacon, Kublacon and my personal favorite, Dundracon.

I have been an active Dundracon participant for more than twenty years. Dundracon started humbly about thirty years ago as a convention for fans of fantasy-roleplaying games such as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It blossomed and soon began to include many other forms of fantasy, war-gaming, board games, Live Action Roleplaying, seminars and meetings with the Society for Creative Anachronism or SCA. It has become one of the oldest conventions of its kind in Northern California and has been hosted at the Hyatt in Burlingame for at least a decade every President’s Day weekend.

I have enjoyed Dundracon as a participant, playing a variety of games including my favorites of the Hero Systems Games, Chaosium’s Games (Call of Cthulu, Elric, Stormbringer, and Basic Role-Playing), Cyberpunk 2020 and its cousins, Shadowrun. There are hundreds of these games for four days all Dead President’s Day Weekend from Friday at 6:00 PM till Monday at 6:00 PM. Games are played 24 hours a day until the close of the convention; many people play right up until closing.

For most of those years I was a game master or GM and would run games for other attendees. Being a GM is an honored position of both power and trust. People you don’t know will sign up for your game and for 6-12 hours share in a mutual experience that you will create for them and they will participate in with you. This is the element of conventions that I feel makes them most like writing with a bit of directing and even some acting.

A GM must create a series of scenarios, a story, as it were, and create all of the setttings and potential possibilities for how the story MIGHT flow. He then creates a group of adventurers (the players) who come to the game knowing the rules of HOW to play but not having any idea of what they will be doing beyond a simple one paragraph like this one:

203 Stormy Weather
Type: RPG
System: Cyberpunk 2020
Saturday, 8:00 AM in 149 for 8 hours
GM: Becky Thomas
Characters may be provided by GM
Power Level:
Variations: minor house rules
A Category 5 hurricane will hit Cabo San Lucas in 24 hours. The whole
area is being evacuated, residents and touristas. Your job is a little
counter-corporate espionage. The challenge: stay alive in the
hurricane, avoid the Federales and looters, AND bring back the stolen
data.

The challenge is to have a session where the GM describes the scene, outlines each scenario, and acts out the parts of all the bad guys while the players take on the role of their individual character, working with or sometimes against the goals of the group. The magic happens when a skilled GM finds a group of players who can spontaneously get into their roles well enough that the entire event ends up feeling like a movie. Each person takes on their role, creates their dialog, on the fly, and takes actions that resemble that of heroic adventurers we know and love from cinema and books. Yes, most of the time its goofy, badly done, and easily forgotten, but done right it is as good as anything you have ever read or experienced and because it is not public beyond whoever shows up, can be an shared experience that bonds the group of you together for years.

Make no mistake, playing in a game is tough work. Running a game is tougher. Its akin to writing a novel where characters are completely autonomous and you still have to challenge their decisions and actions, even if they were not what you intended when you wrote the story outline. Often, that is where the fun comes in for the GM. He must be able to change his storyline to deal with creative thinking on the part of his players who might come up with a solution to the problem he didn’t even know could exist. This builds the creative muscle in a way almost nothing else I can think of.

I have been a GM since 1981 when the first versions of Champions and Dungeons and Dragons were published. I have run a series of gaming campaigns that span over a decade with the same and often evolving groups of gamers and we have many shared experiences and late nights running adventures that span a continuum of genres, themes, ideas, stories and game systems. Gaming unfortunately is not an experience done by many People of Color. When I started there might have been one other out of a room of one hundred people. That ratio is much better now and I am often pleased by the increasing number of People of Color and women who are now participating. I remember the arguments about women playing games and how it was thought they would erode the quality of play. That idea is so dead. They are better players and often better GMs as well. Something about how women communicate allows them to see players and story themes that were previously not considered by male GMs, such as storylines involving complex intrigue and dare I say it, romance.

You might think that the lack of People of Color is reflective of a particular discriminatory nature of gaming but and I emphasis this: Nothing could be further from the truth. I have gamed for thirty years across the entire USA and even in the deepest parts of the South, I have almost never experienced anything resembling racist behavior from gamers. I would even be so bold to say, they are often the nicest, most polite people I have ever had the pleasure to talk with. Two random gamers can meet anywhere, find a game they have in common and talk as if they were friends forever. And even if they don’t share any games, the nature of the hobby seems to bring an inquisitive mind, a mind open to new ideas and new possibilities. It is why I believe I have remained involved in the playing side of the industry for so long. I once wrote for the industry, but that is another story.

How does this relate to Blacks in Science Fiction? If you have never played a roleplaying game (RPG) or a tactical board game such as Warhammer 40K, you are missing a hobby that expands the mind, challenges assumptions, considers possibilities, and teaches social skills, negotiation, communication at a number of levels, language, art, design, and done properly can offer a lifetime of benefits able to be translated so they improve your workplace life, your home life and anyplace in between. I have used RPGs as a mentoring tool to give students a chance to roleplay circumstances they may experience in real life, or as an opportunity to think about an event from a more direct point of view. Gaming has been a passion in my life and conventions were the first time I got to meet other people who shared it. If you haven’t done it, you might be missing out.

Since I started all those years ago, I have run games, small personal affairs and large multi-group gaming events. I have spoken at seminars on the best ways to run games, research eras, create maps, talk about the science of science fiction, and help new GMs improve their game play. I can safely say, conventions and I are inextricably linked. Attend a few and you may be too. ComicCon has become a cult phenomenon offering sneak peaks of comics, movies, stars and the dreaded/beloved cosplay. One day when I have had a beer or two I will tell you about my first ComicCon. The horror, the horror…

Thaddeus Howze, Author – is a veteran of the IT and Communications industry with over 26 years of experience retooling computers to best serve human needs. Unknown to humanity, our computers have another agenda. Thaddeus recently released his first collection of short stories, Hayward Reach. In a coded format, he has secretly informed Humanity of the impending computerized apocalypse. You can read parts of the code here: https://ebonstorm.wordpress.com or http://ebonstorm.weebly.com. You can read excerpts and other short stories at Hub City Blues

Part of a series of essays on: The State of Black Science Fiction
Check out the other members of this Online Black History Month Event

Winston Blakely, Artist/Writer – is a Fine Arts/Comic Book artist, having a career spanning 20 years, whose achievements have included working for Valiant Comics and Rich Buckler’s Visage Studios. He is also the creator of Little Miss Strange, the world’s first black alien sorceress and the all- genre anthology entitled – Immortal Fantasy. Both graphic albums are available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online book store outlets. Visit him: http://blakelyworks.blogspot.com/ or http://blakelyworkstudio.weebly.com/

L. M. Davis, Author – began her love affair with fantasy in the second grade.  Her first novel, Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, was released in 2010, and the follow-up Posers: A Shifters Novel will be released this spring. For more information visit her blog: http://shiftersseries.wordpress.com/ or her website www.shiftersnovelseries.com.

Ja Ja (DjaDja) N Medjay, Author – DjaDja Medjay is the author of The Renpet Sci-Fi Series. Shiatsu Practitioner. Holistic AfroFuturistic Rising in Excellence. http://authordjadja.wordpress.com/ Transmissions from The Future Earth can be found at: www.renpetscifi.com  or on Facebook – www.facebook.com/RenpetSciFiNovel or on Twitter – https://twitter.com/#!/Khonsugo.

Milton Davis, Author – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com and www.wagadu.ning.com.

Margaret Fieland, Author – lives and writes in the suburbs west of Boston, MA with her partner and five dogs. She is one of the Poetic Muselings. Their poetry anthology, Lifelines: http://tinyurl.com/LifelinesPoetry/is available from Amazon.com  Her book, “Relocated,” will be available from MuseItUp Publishing in July, 2012. The Angry Little Boy,” will be published by 4RV publishing in early 2013. You may visit her website, http://www.margaretfieland.com.

Valjeanne Jeffers, Author – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls. Her fourth and fifth novels: Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork will be released this spring. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/

Alicia McCalla, Author – writes for both young adults and adults with her brand of multicultural science fiction, urban fantasy, and futurism. Her debut novel, Breaking Free will be available February 1, 2012. The Breaking Free theme song created by Asante McCalla is available for immediate download on itunes and Amazon. Visit her at: www.aliciamccalla.com

Carole McDonnell, Author – She writes Christian, speculative fiction, and multicultural stories. Her first novel is Wind Follower. Her short fiction has appeared in many anthologies and have been collected in an ebook, Spirit Fruit: Collected Speculative Fiction. Visit Carole: http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/ or http://writersofcolorblogtour.blogspot.com/

Balogun Ojetade, Author – of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: TheChronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steampunk) and the feature film, “A Single Link”. Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/

Rasheedah Phillips, Author – is the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair in Philly. She plans to debut her first spec/sci-fic novel Recurrence Plot in Spring 2012. You may catch her ruminating from time to time on her blog, AstroMythoLosophy.com.

Nicole Sconiers, Author – is also a screenwriter living in the sunny jungle of L.A. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and she recently published Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. Visit her: http://nicolesconiers.com/index.html

Jarvis Sheffield, M.Ed. – is owner & operator of TheDigitalBrothers.com, BlackScienceFictionSociety.com & BlackCommunityEntertainment.com. Visit him: http://www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com/profiles/blog/list?user=2stjwb1h216fd

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5 responses to “Black Scifi 2012 – Conventions We Know and Love

  1. Excellent post! Of course, I HAVE experienced racism in roleplaying – in the games and from the players – thus the fuel for the fire to co-create Ki-Khanga: The Sword & Soul RPG. Happy and continued gaming, Brother.

    • Now, I did mention that I used to write for the gaming industry and that was an entirely different thing. I experienced significant resistance to allowing People of Color to create material or add diversity to the product lines. So I understand why you were driven to create Ki-Khanga. As a creator, I put what I wanted into my projects and didn’t worry if people were offended. That still hasn’t changed.

  2. You have experience a lot… Thaddeus. That Ki – Khanga is the way to go.
    Whew… Like I said, before in a earlier post on my blog… No one understands
    what we are going through except us… and you have to be one of us to
    understand. Glad to have met you doing this blog hop. I see your passion
    is still high and strong and that’s a good thing.

  3. So that’s where your storytelling skills come from! I’ve never played an RPG, but will soon. What I’ve learned is that to be a good GM you have to be a good storyteller. Great post, Thaddeus.

  4. Thaddeus, this sounds like so much fun. I need to step it up. I played D and D in high school. I was like an elf or something. I just remember it being lots of fun. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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