Game Lab – Convention MetaGame

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by Matthew Surber and C. Steven Ross

This next look behind the curtain of our gaming designs offers a glimpse into the workings of Defy Danger East, our yearly long-weekend get-together. We hesitate to call it a con, as it’s more like a well-organized, nerdy house party, but you can think of it that way if you like.

For this coming year, we were inspired by a definitive gaming convention, namely Big Bad Con out in Bay Area California. The people who run it seem absolutely top notch and have a lot of overlap with us in terms of gaming philosophy. We both have a big focus on being different, being inclusive, and striving to be the best we can. Quality, not quantity.

This past autumn, Big Bad Con developed a meta game, named Big Bad World, that ran in the background of the entire convention as a whole. In it, attendees earned XP by doing various tasks that the con organizers wanted to encourage, generally creating a more welcoming atmosphere in a massive crowd of strangers. This is a great idea, so we stole it.

The Defy Danger East meta game follows a similar pattern as Big Bad World, but splits the focus into three distinct categories and applies a more tangible incentive system. Our differences here do not reflect badly in any way on Big Bad Con – we’re just trying something a little different, because we’re tabletop gamers and we can’t not fiddle around with rules.

Each category of behavior that we wish to encourage comes with an associated title. With that title, we also include the reward of getting a coveted Defy Danger skull die, marked in gold. Though all attendees will get a complementary white die, it is only the elite who earn the gold. The behaviors we wish to encourage can be summarized as:

  • Create an atmosphere of teamwork and inclusiveness outside of games
  • Push players to master the technical aspects of their games
  • Enhance the immersion, storytelling, and roleplaying elements at every table

In order to obtain a title and the associated gold die, an attendee must complete both primary items in each category and at least three of the four bonus items. See below for the detailed descriptions!

You can also read about Big Bad Con’s meta game here.



To become a Master of the Societal Arts one must take care and responsibility of those around them. Gamer life is nasty, brutish, and short so we must seek peaceful cohabitation to create an environment free of angst and garbage.

Primary Items
Champion of the Skullery – Help prepare at least two meals
Warden of the Waste – Help clean up after at least two meals (dishes or trash)
Bonus Items
Butler Of Hope – Help at least three people find their game’s location
Concierge – Help at least two people set up their game
Sommelier – Get a drink for at least five different people
Night’s Watch – Walk someone’s drunk ass back to their house safely


The Munchkin of Destiny seeks to be a master of the mundane and mechanical. They know the ins and outs of the systems they play and work with their group to squeeze as much juice out of every roll possible. But like a rising tide, they seek to bring every one with them and help others see the joy of being a dice-chucking badass.

Primary Items
Arbiter of Justice – Land the killing blow on the BBEG

Resurrectionist – Bring back at least three allies from the brink of death

Bonus Items
Corrective Directive – Help at least three players squeeze out more damage by pointing out extra bonuses they missed

Dealer of Dice – Take an action requiring the rolling of ten or more dice at once

Trilogist – Play at least three separate characters in a single game

Builder of Teams – Devise and coordinate a strategy that requires each member to succeed on their own individual action


The Devotee of Design strives to deepen the story of each and every game around them. Nameless villains and bland descriptions vex them, so they wax fiction around these elements to build a richer, bolder world in which the characters live, fight, and conquer.

Primary Items
No Fate but What We Make – Push the GM outside of the prepared materials

No Words… No Words – Produce actual, physical sketches of characters or scenes within the game world you are playing

Bonus Items
Witness Me! – Deliver a riveting eulogy for the death of a party member

Some Part Yet to Play – Give the BBEG a backstory that makes them pitiable and deliver this to the table

Definitely. Definitely. – Create non-mechanical compulsions for at least three of your characters that help define who they are

A One-Sided Account – Go into detail about a major event in the history of at least one game you’re playing

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