Letter from the Chair, July 2019

Hello All,

Although it’s been a few weeks, I wanted to address an event that tested the limits of a large convention’s policies.

The rise of Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy in general has made conventions a much more diverse, crowded, and open opportunity for fun as well as conflict. One of the largest is the UK Games Expo. The UK Games Expo always had convention policies in place but recently updated them to the high standards of Pelgrane Press, who will not attend conventions “which don’t have a publicly posted and enforced anti-harassment policy.” Pelgrane’s new presence at the UK Games Expo in 2019 was evidence that their policy met Pelgrane’s standards.

That policy was tested by a Game Master who decided to ambush his players with a tabletop role-playing game scenario involving kids (using Free League’s Things from the Flood) being gang raped. “Just had the worst rpg experience of my life,” tweeted GeekGirlBookWrm. “Signed up for a Things from the Flood game and the GM decided it would be perfectly all right to have all our characters kidnapped and gang raped without discussing it with anyone first. Told us he enjoyed the shock factor of it…”

The fallout from this incident threatened to tar role-playing games with endangering children, negative stereotypes about role-players, and convention policies in general. The incident was widespread enough to garner national attention from the BBC and the Mirror, who at first attributed the incident to “a Dungeons and Dragons role-play gaming showcase.” 

After the incident, the response was swift:

  • Free League published a Fair Play Policy
  • UK Games Expo published a statement about its actions to address the incident, including halting the game and cancelling all games the GM was due to run, ejecting him from the show and not allowing him access to the convention, banning him from submitting games to the convention, speaking to the player who first raised the issue, unreservedly apologizing for the distress caused, and contacting the other players to offer apologies.
  • Egg Embry interviewed Free League and GeekGirlBookWrm about the topic on EN World, including Free League’s new licensed role-playing game, Alien.  “Publishers can’t control what a group decides to do with their product in the comfort of their own home, but playing a game at home with a group of friends is a completely different experience to playing at a convention,” said GeekGirlBookWrm. “In a home environment, the group can decide together how far they are all happy to take certain scenarios to make sure everyone at the table is comfortable with the story being told. In a public space, the group are normally unfamiliar with each other and do not know each other’s past personal history. Throwing in violence, especially of a sexual nature, when you do not know the people at your table is not good storytelling and it is not good GMing. GMs at public events should know and understand how to use the X-card and make players aware of its availability at their tables.”

This incident stressed the importance of pairing a thorough convention policy with a swift and public response. Make no mistake, this was nearly a PR disaster for the hobby; the Mirror’s misattribution showed how easily D&D and other tabletop role-playing games can be painted with a broad brush from a horrible negative incident like this.

To that end, I’ve implemented a Best Practices section of our web site. It currently lists Convention Policies for organizers, exhibitors, and guest speakers. I’ve limited it only to policies that have clearly indicated they are open source and free to be reused, but welcome your suggestions. This is a space the CAR-PGA is uniquely suited to address and I hope we can be a valuable resource for future convention organizers.

As always, thank you for your support!

Mike Tresca