LacunaCon 2019 Paves The Way To Make More Safe Spaces In Tabletop RPGs

Our articles on events tend to be straightforward – but I think this piece on LacunaCon 2019: Dauntless might need a bit of context.

“Stella, I’m sorry.”

Lynh Miranda had tears in her eyes as Stella Macatangay entered the family manor. It felt… heavy, almost empty, as though all light had been sucked out of the otherwise lively home. Lynh, still in tears, led Stella through their flight of stairs towards the master’s bedroom, where there were only a pair of necklaces and no sign of her parents.

In the weeks of her search for her parents, Stella has had quite the adventure. She discovered her family was part of a conspiracy, an organization that held themselves responsible for protecting ancient relics in the world. Stella, who had been trying to be a vigilante for the past 10 years (and failed), offered her services to the World’s Greatest Terrorist – and realized Hikaru Shinta was indeed great, and terror comes in different ways. Stella found herself gifted with abilities around the same time she found herself gifted with a new family – companions, allies, friends, even, that she saw herself strangely connected to.

And Stella was back home, ready to tell this tale to her parents who seemed to be back from their strange vacation. “You wouldn’t want to know where they were,” were Hikaru’s words. Stella had a hint of what they meant, but refused to believe it – in the same way one would want live a lie until it became the truth.

“They were gone all this time,” Lynh said, echoing the voices of Jack and Julie Macatangay, both using her gift as a Sin-Eater, a person once-died twice-living, to talk to their only daughter. “They were waiting for you to accept your heritage. And now they can be in peace.”

Tabletop Does A Lot Of Things

I left the session early with a heavy but content heart. I had asked our Storyteller, Play Without Apology’s Pamela Punzalan, to do what she wanted with Stella’s family, especially if it could help the plot. And my otherwise stereotypical bruiser grew a third dimension, much to my amazement.

As someone who’s been a fan of World of Darkness for a few years, being part of a homebrew that uses similar mechanics has been exciting. When I joined the Friday table (passionately coined the Pato Family) of my Ate Pam’s Waking The Dead campaign, I was expecting my Fridays to be an opportunity to unwind and hang out with new friends.

What I didn’t expect was to play a character I could proudly call my own, and to play a character with a personality so distinct from mine I could call her – Stella Macatangay – a “daughter.” That, in our table’s desire to write a wonderful story together, we are willing to talk and plan and coordinate events that would otherwise have to hurt our characters to help them grow. I wrote articles for What’s A Geek! and work as a content marketer on most days. On Fridays, I play Stella Macatangay – a Riskbreaker who wants to make a better world, no matter the cost.

On Fridays, Stella and her friends will try to save an alternate world from an apocalypse set to end it by the end of their 2012. And outside that story is a group of friends hanging out, getting to know each other, in a space safe from the tiring tribulations of the outside world.

Tabletop Isn’t Just Tabletop

And this is a realization I only realized in this campaign. Tabletop isn’t just a game, and it’s not just “hanging out.” Many elements have to be present in weaving a compelling narrative, much more if it’s a narrative you want others to contribute you. GMs and players need to trust each other and work with one another to make their stories work – and that needs not only courage, but the willingness to open one’s heart to the table.

This requires a safe space. And I’ve felt safe while playing with my Ate Pam and my fellow players. In this space, I’ve felt not just relief, but as though I can get out of my shell and be Stella – an identity completely different of my own, a person ready to explore the world in their own way. I can’t just credit Waking‘s setting, I have to credit the table for enabling the setting to work its magic.

When spaces are safe, we’re free to tell our stories. Which makes it quite exciting to see an event like LacunaCon 2019: Dauntless prepared to share the advocacy of making safe spaces to let both GMs and players weave amazing narratives in their own games.

In this piece, I gleamed some insights into LacunaCon 2019 with the help of Denice De Guzman, PWOA Site Mom and LacunaCon 2019 Event Head. We’d also like to thank Rachel Teng, Sin Posadas, and Erich von Lichnowsky of Gamers & GMs Philippines, which also co-organized the event, for giving their insights.

A Quick Rundown: What’s LacunaCon?

LacunaCon made waves last year for being the first Philippine event that put women and LGBTQA+ tabletop game masters in the spotlight.

In their event page, and as our friends from Play Without Apology (PWOA) put it, LacunaCon gives space for everyone to “come together and explore narratives” that are centered around women and  LGBTQA+ members. It also gives a way to bring these stories to people who want to understand these experiences, and to the community at large.

This year, LacunaCon 2019 levels up the experience. PWOA, alongside Gamers and GMs Philippines, will show everyone “who [they]’re and what [they]’re about. After LacunaCon 2018‘s success, LacunaCon 2019 will hopefully encourage more people to create more spaces for women and LGBTQA+ gamers to be themselves and share their experiences.

People might ask, “How can a tabletop convention achieve this?” This can be fairly legitimate question. However, we also have to remember that change can come in many different ways. For me, LacunaCon achieves this three-fold:

  1. We see that tabletop gaming isn’t just about rolling dice and shenanigans.
  2. There’s always something to learn about the dynamics of social relations, and most importantly,
  3. Change works best when done together, and it’s an ongoing process.

Behind LacunaCon

We’ve featured a lot of events in What’s A Geek!, and all of them appeal in their own ways. However, LacunaCon has set a mark in the realm of events. It may help to first check just what LacunaCon 2019 is about – and we may start with its etymology.

“PWOA thought of and decided on the name, but we did like it: the idea of filling a space or a gap that needed to be filled,” G&GMs said.

Denice also explained the idea for LacunaCon had come from PWOA’s desire to do something for women in tabletop month last June 2018. And while LacunaCon 2018 occurred last July 2018, a few weeks late, PWOA and G&GMs still pushed through.

“We wanted to celebrate women and LGBT in tabletop. For the most part, a lot of the members of PWOA are women and LGBT, so we wanted to give them the space to celebrate them.”

Denice explained PWOA and G&GMs organized LacunaCon 2018 “in a month and a half.” And despite this “crunch time,” the event turned out to be a success.

“We had to consider the venue and the number of DMs who wanted to play. And we also had to consider that it (LacunaCon) was a safe space,” Denice said. “[When] you say you have an LGBT event, [you’ll need to be] considering that a lot – [or] some of them might not be ‘out’. They want to tell their stories, but they can’t ‘yet’ because it [can] end up with people who may not be as understanding. We had to consider that people were safe.”

And the creation of safe spaces remained, and will remain, a priority for LacunaCon. If there’s a message that permeated from conversations with Denice and G&GMs, is that’s tabletop isn’t just tabletop. And LacunaCon isn’t just an event.

LacunaCon: More Than An Event

It’s about time we present the narratives and stories of women and members of the LGBTQA+ community that play tabletop games, and LacunaCon serves as a great medium to do so. Thanks to our friends from PWOA and Gamers & GMs Philippines, LacunaCon has made quite a huge step in this mission. As such, it’s not just an event.

“We want a space for women and LGBT to be able to tell their stories, [and] tell their narratives through roleplaying games,” Denice explained. “We can do that in other tabletop events, but this one’s the one that celebrates it. It’s not just an aside – that, ‘you’re female, you’re LGBT, you’re in the minority.’ LacunaCon fills that gap.”

“This is our love letter to inclusion and diversity,” G&GMs added. “We felt there was a need to showcase this demographic (women and LGBT) of the hobby specifically, because as in any sphere where men are the majority, it is often the case that women and LGBT+ members have thoughts and ideas that are stifled or remain unheard.”

Why Dauntless?

This is where I ask the proverbial question: why dauntless as a tagline?

“Last year’s was ‘LacunaCon’ because we wanted to make a safe space for women and LGBT gamers and GMs. This year, we already have that space. So what do we do to defend it? That’s the idea behind ‘dauntless,'” Denice explained. “It’s ‘dauntless’ because even in the face of adversity, and even in a political and social climate that’s not always nice to women and LGBT, we will not be daunted.”

“We will fight, which is why we put the cat (the signature PWOA cat!) in armor!” Denice added.

That funny anecdote aside, Denice also explained what might make this year’s LacunaCon different from its first installment.

“If you look at the structure of the program, it’s the same: we have tables where we can play, different tabletop games with women and LGBT DMs and game masters. [However], this year’s is kinda bigger,” Denice said. “In LacunaCon last year, we were trying to put our foot on the door. And this year’s that foot is firmly placed.”

We Go To The Games!

If you’re still thinking about which games to play and expect in LacunaCon 2019, then you might find yourself very interested in the tables LacunaCon has in store for us this year. Here are some of the games:

You can get some of the games on as well!

It’s interesting to note that even participants who will GM will have to undergo a screening process as well. This has been something I’ve been wondering about ever since I’ve heard of tabletop events, and I have to thank Denice and G&GMs for giving insights on this.

“When you’re a GM or talking in a tabletop event – or any event – and you’re putting yourself in the position of power, we believe people should feel safe around you,” Denice said.

“We have a screening process for all our events, not just for LacunaCon,” G&GMs explained. The group organizes various tabletop events aside from LacunaCon. “Because of the inherent layer of power built into the GM chair, it’s important that we ensure that our volunteers are principled and safe to play with.”

G&GMs explained that on their end, the first layer of approval comes in the form of internal testimonials. If a lot of community members already know the person and can declare these volunteers safe from personal experience, then this usually works.

However, if such testimonials don’t exist, G&GMs usually sets up a game with these volunteers to make the judgment call themselves.

After their events, feedback forms also help determine whether the volunteer GMs also performed properly and ensured a safe playing space.

Adventurers, Rejoice! AL-Legal Games!

If you’re looking for Dungeons & Dragons games, LacunaCon 2019 has them. However, if you’re looking for a new experience, why not join any of these Adventurers League (AL) games?

Adventurers League serves as Wizards of the Coast’s way of introducing “constant characters” in their popular D&D set of games. This allows you to play as one character and jump from one table to the next, with nothing to worry about creating new characters. You keep your experience, magic items (with the GM’s permission) and get to meet new players!

AL uses “tiers” to distinguish between tables and sessions that span across different levels. The AL-legal games in LacunaCon 2019 are Tier 1 games, meaning you can play them with characters that are Level 1 to 4. Here are those games:

You can choose to play these games as one-shots, or make a character you’ll start using for other AL games as well!

There’s Always Something To Observe, Assess

Featured games aside, it may also help for players and attendees to get to know more about game design, safe spaces, and philosophies revolving around tabletop RPGs. LacunaCon 2019 returns with its own set of talks – which is amazing, as it’s not all the time that we see events taking the time to feature guest speakers to talk about not just tabletop in itself, but the kind of impact it can do to the people pursuing the craft.

Even the talks in the first LacunaCon paved way for a lot of memories, good times, and lessons on both the organizers’ and participants’ ends.

G&GMs and Denice emphasized on talks that tackled the many dimensions exploring tabletop and safe spaces. There’s a talk called “Safe Spaces & Fun 101” that tackled scenarios involving invasion of personal space to more humorous, “what if your boyfriend is the bad player in the game?”

“The discussion revolved around many experiences, often uncomfortable, that were unique to women in the hobby,” G&GMs said. “It was heartening to be able to facilitate a space where these experiences could be brought up and talked about, for the people to be heard and hopefully to emphasize that they’re not alone and don’t have to be remain silent.”

Players and participants of LacunaCon 2018 can encounter similarly-interesting topics in these talks:

  • Fortune’s Favor: Creating Your Own Tarot Story-Game by Jammi Nedjadi will help players unlock their intuition with tarot cards to design collaborative story games.
  • Leaps of Faith & Practical Tips for Content Creators by Noey Pico and Sin Posadas talks of using tools like social media when releasing games.
  • What Queer Worlds May Come by Pam Punzalan discusses the building of queer games through emphatic, inclusive, and safe design.

Change Is Constant, As Is Learning Through Gaming

If you’ve ever played tabletop, you’d likely have encountered a campaign or even a session with a lesson. This can be in the form of a simple lesson – like, don’t steal, or help one another. Others can be in the form of insights into our personalities, or reflections in the way life works that we can think about even after the session. And tabletop can only help us achieve these insights through safe spaces.

And in terms of organizing LacunaCon in itself, Denice and G&GMs have good thoughts to share on the matter of safe spaces.

“Okay, here’s the thing: in all honesty, you have to take care of yourself in order to create a safe space,” Denice said. “You can’t create a safe space when your brain and yourself is not okay. In LacunaCon: Dauntless, we’re putting ourselves as the front lines for these people. We’re taking that risk. And it’s not easy, but it’s something that’s worth doing.”

“There’s a lot more at stake when it comes to our participants’ welfare in an event whose marketing includes the LGBT+,” G&GMs said. “We had to consult on how to revise our registration and photography policies to protect people’s identity, especially if they are not ‘out.’ We also had to be more upfront with our Code of Conduct, which reminds people to be good to each other during our events.”

Show We’re Dauntless On June 22!

Fact of the matter is, we have a long way to go to achieve truly safe spaces for everyone. That’s the fact today, though, but not the point. For LacunaCon 2019, the point remains: be stalwart, be ever-vigilant, and be ready to fight for the capacity to share stories. Because if we truly love tabletop, and if we truly want tabletop to make a difference in the lives of everyone, then we need to actively provide safe spaces.

Remember, you may want to register while there are slots! Registration has been open since May 27, and there are a ton of games to play. LacunaCon 2019 has a FAQs page for some questions we might have, but for a quick rundown:

  • Everyone can attend LacunaCon! Women and LGBT+ gamers will be GMing and staffing the event, but everyone can come and play.
  • Early Birds have an entrance fee of 350PHP, while Walk-Ins have entrance fees of 400PHP. Remember to bring a valid ID to the event!
  • If you’re attending as a group, players still have to register individually.
  • Yes, we can bring food (yay!) and you can also order from places as well. Please do observe CLAYGO (Clean As You Go), and there are also food places nearby to eat hot food!

LacunaCon 2019: Dauntless goes live on June 22 at Lumiere Residences. It’s located at Shaw Blvd. corner Pasig Blvd. in Barangay Bagong Ilog, Pasig City. See you there!

Rhenn Taguiam

Rhenn Taguiam is a frustrated journalist with a knack for comic books and video games. He likes pizza and pasta, and has an uncontrollable urge to gush over anything Super Sentai, Star Trek or X-Men. He is currently on his way to get his Master's Degree - unless he creates his own video game or graphic novel first.

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