Big Bad Con 2017

Big Bad Con is a three-day role playing convention with a focus on indie role playing games. It was held on October 13th – 15th in Walnut Creek, California and this was my first time attending. Remember, indie means independent, which in terms of role-playing games means that you are not likely to find it outside of your friendly local game store. Of course you can always find PDF versions on sites like DriveThruRPG. You can find anything on the internet. I’ll just search for something wacky right now, like dumpster unicorn… yep, found one.

This was my first experience at an RPG convention outside of Fresno’s own Bookwyrm, which is much smaller but still wonderful. People who signed up for the con were able to go online and reserve spots in games ahead of time; although, I must admit that I learned the hard way that unless you are really on top of this, you can get left out of some of the more popular games. This wasn’t a huge problem for me because I haven’t played a whole lot of indie RPGs, so I never really felt like I was missing out on anything.

Games typically ran four hours in roughly a morning, afternoon, and evening block. Keep this in mind as I recap the games I played over the weekend. I ended up playing fewer games than I would at a boardgame con, but probably about the same as an event that specialized in wargames. I played five RPGs over the weekend at Big Bad Con. I could have played more, but I chose otherwise. I will talk more about that later. Now to the games!

Secret Histories

Secret Histories is a collaborative storytelling game where players take a walk and then use their physical environment to inspire them as they improvise a story that will be at least somewhat connected to a theme that determined earlier by the group. I had a great time with this and all we really did was take a walk around the hotel. We came up with a conspiracy theory heavy story about subterranean killer bees and a secret Babylonian cult of hinges and pivots. Yes, we were a very creative group. If you want to learn more about Secret Histories you should download the PDF. I plan on doing this soon with some local friends.

Action Castle

Action Castle is a game that recreates all the fun of the old text parser games like Zork or Leisure Suit Larry but adds in actual face-to-face interaction with other humans. What? How does that work? Well, one person acts as the computer and everyone else, and it can be a whole lot of people, give commands to try and solve the riddle of Action Castle. Seriously, I spoke to Jared Sorensen after the game and he said he’s run it with an entire auditorium of participants. I picked up the PDF from the Parsely catalog. You should probably do that too. What made it really fun was Jared’s commitment to his role as the computer. When we died and had to restart the game, he actually left the room, waited a bit, walked back in, and then redid his entire opening dialogue for the game.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

Dungeon Crawl Classics was everything I remember about my first experiences playing Dungeons and Dragons. Players quickly roll up characters and then fight monsters and grab treasure. Fighters swing mighty swords and wizards cast arcane spells. In my case, Grandiark the wizard botched his sleep spell roll at the start of a very difficult encounter and went into a coma. Don’t worry, the cleric saved him and he actually survived the adventure. Grandiark eventually summoned an ogre that landed the killing blow on the final monster, so he redeemed himself at the end. This was very reminiscent of a summer weekend in 1982 when my friends and I worked our way through The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, which was a Dungeons and Dragons adventure written by Gary Gygax. Dungeon Crawl Classics is just as fun and crunchy and filled with art that looks like it’s from the late seventies. You can learn more about Dungeon Crawl Classics at Goodman Games. It’s not something that I’m going to add to my collection, but I would happily play it again someday.


Epyllion is a game based on the Powered by the Apocalypse system where you role-play as young dragons protecting the world of Dragonia from the creeping threat of darkness by solving mysteries and learning the true power of friendship. Yes, I realize that sounds like a cartoon a preschooler might watch, but it was still fun. One of the things I like the most about the system involves the exchange of friendship gems. Your dragon has access to powerful moon magic, but that magic is fueled by friendship gems given to you by members of your party. If you do something that another player values, like being brave or creative, then they can reward that behavior with one of their gems. It’s just a neat way of encouraging positive game-play between players. My son was a big fan of the Wings of Fire series when he was in elementary school and I think he would enjoy this game. My buddy Scott and I played the game with a couple of teenagers and we all had a great time. You can learn more about Epyllion at Magpie Games.

Atlas Reckoning

Atlas Reckoning was a game I got into through the Games on Demand portion of the convention. Games on Demand offered players who hadn’t been able to sign up for a scheduled game the chance to jump into a game. Atlas Reckoning was described as a giant robots fighting giant monsters and what the hell, I figured you can’t go wrong with that. This ended up being the highlight of the con for me. The game really captured the cinematic feel of the robot vs kaiju genre and the somewhat crunchy nature of the combat had built in triggers that would result in opportunities for role-playing. My mech was named cowboy and had a giant rail-gun that looked like a six-shooter. My character was called Bagpipes because he was from the now destroyed city-ship of New Edinburgh and my co-pilot was called Redneck, who had a teenage daughter and a drinking problem. We were defending the city-ship of New London against giant behemoths. Ahhhh! I cannot say enough good things about this game! I really had a great time with this and as soon as it’s available on Kickstarter or wherever they decide to publish, I will be buying it. I wish I could tell you where to find it, but I have no idea.

You are old, Father William

Red illustrated by Eden Parkinson

I mentioned before that I could have played a couple of additional games, but I decided against it. Here’s something about myself that I came to terms with this weekend. I just can’t stay up as late as I once could. I’m in my 50’s now and my best time for anything involving creativity or mental gymnastics is before noon. I’m still pretty good until around eight or nine o’clock in the evening, but after that, forget it. I get sleepy and I start to nod off. Over the weekend, I considered getting into one of the Games On Demand in the 8 PM to midnight time slot, but I reconsidered at the last minute, and I’m glad that I did. I was able to go back to my hotel room and just relax and get a good night’s sleep so that I was rested and ready for the next day. You can expect to see me at Big Bad Con next year, just not too late in the evening.

Okay my friends, that’s it until next time, so play cool games with nice people. Let them know you value their friendship. Also, don’t give up on the world. I know it seems really rough right now, and you might not understand how some people can think and behave in such an ugly and hateful manner, but every little positive thing that you do can eventually make a difference.

6 thoughts on “Big Bad Con 2017”

  1. Ahhh… Expedition to the Barrier Peaks! I know you only mentioned it in passing in the article, but the mention made me stop and remember the module. I never played it, but I read it many times in my Dungeons & Dragons days. I liked how bug-eyed, cross-genre craziness was considered to be a feature in some of those early modules.

    1. Out of all of the original adventure modules, The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was the most memorable for me. The Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure that I played last weekend was similar in that it had that same cross genre craziness.

  2. I had fun running the Epyllion game for you and the group, I hope you get a chance to run it also, it would be interesting to do a campaign, I’ll watch this space for a writeup. I think next time, I’m going to go hard to drive one of the Dragons to become their shadowself and see where that takes the game… Thanks also for the Hearts Blazing recommendation, I’m off to read your post on that now.

    1. Thanks Dan! I was really excited to finally get to play Epyllion. You not only ran a really good adventure but you were also able to accommodate an individual who really wanted to play but had to deal with some pretty major challenges. I really appreciated how inclusive the con was and you were a great example of why.

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