This story has been updated to contain a response from the Diana Jones committee.
Black Excellence in Gaming has won the 2020 Diana Jones Award. In its 20th year, the annual award is known for stepping out occasionally to recognize important industry trends.
“For our community to continue to grow and improve, we must do better to mend the rifts that pull us apart in our industry and the world at large. Thus, rather than announce a shortlist and a winner, we choose to award the concept of Black Excellence in Gaming,” the Committee said on their website.
The award committee said they wanted to give overdue recognition the often-overlooked Black professionals throughout tabletop gaming’s history. The committee thanked each of them for their contributions to the industry in the face of systemic racism.
Over two dozen professionals in the game industry, listed below, were chosen as honorees representative of Black Excellence in Gaming.
The Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming was first awarded in 2001, and is presented annually to the person, product, company, event, movement, concept or any other thing that has, in the opinion of its committee, best demonstrated the quality of “excellence” in the world of hobby-gaming in the previous year.
Past winners of the Award include Peter Adkison, Jordan Weisman, and Eric Lang, the board-games Dominion and Ticket to Ride, the roleplaying game Fiasco, the YouTube show Tabletop with Wil Wheaton, and the concept of streaming tabletop RPGs known as Actual Play. Last year’s winner was Star Crossed by Alex Roberts.
The Diana Jones Committee is a mostly anonymous group of individuals from the tabletop industry, including designers, publishers, creatives, and consultants.
Matt Forbeck, one of two public members of the committee, said they were not at liberty to say how many committee members were Black due to the anonymous nature of the group. They also declined to say if any of the honorees would be invited to join. Forbeck said, “James Wallis and I have revealed ourselves, but neither of us are people of color.”
The committee did provide frequently asked questions on their website.
The honorees include
Omari Akil is a North Carolina based game designer, content creator, and gaming community advocate. He is the lead designer and co-founder at Board Game Brothas, a contributor on the Tabletop Backer Party media team, and a leadership team member of the Pathways Fellowship (a support and mentoring program for marginalized game designers).
With a dozen novels and nearly 100 short stories in print, his gaming work includes writing for the Marvel Super-Heroes, Leverage, and Firefly role-playing games and the Storium online game. He’s worked as a consultant for Watch Dogs 2 and Dungeons & Dragons. His tie-in fiction includes stories in Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition: The Dark Ages (Onyx Path), Pugmire (Onyx Path), Powered Up! (Green Ronin) and Knaves: A Blackguard (Outland Entertainment).
Allie Bustion is an independent and freelance narrative and tabletop game designer, working for companies like Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Guildhall Studios, and Green Ronin as well as their own projects. Much of their work touches on harder topics, such as marginalization, societal privilege, grief, and loss, while also shining a light on things that bring joy, like friends and family, community, and hope. Not everything has to stay dark forever.
Tanya is the founder of the non-profit I Need Diverse Games, which sends marginalized developers to the Game Developers Conference, with passes provided by the GDC Scholarship program. She’s a former games journalist, partnered Twitch broadcaster, Diversity Liaison & Programming coordinator for OrcaCon and GaymerX. She’s also a RPG dev & editor, with credits at Monte Cook Games, Paizo, WotC and Green Ronin. She’s also a founding cast member and producer of Rivals of Waterdeep, an Actual Play stream on the WotC official Twitch channel. A recent accomplishment is that during the George Floyd protests, Tanya ran a charity stream that raised $140k for The Bail Project in a single day and led a team that raised almost $350K total for the cause.
Jerry D. Grayson, who is this Autobot, and what does he do?
Jerry has designed and published games since 2002. Flattered that others find his small efforts amusing, his proudest industry works are GODSEND Agenda, HELLAS: Worlds of Sun and Stone, and ATLANTIS: The Second Age. When not creating games that have all uppercase letters in the title, Jerry works on becoming a better human being through acts of civility and kindness to others.
Shareef Jackson is a founding member of Rivals of Waterdeep, an actual play D&D show that features an all POC cast and gives everyone a chance to be the dungeon master. He is an adjunct professor at University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, specializing in diversity in gaming and how it affects narrative. Shareef has also participated as a speaker at conferences such as PAX East, C2E2, and DragonCon.
Cliff “CJ” Jones
CJ became a professional in the world of tabletop gaming as a co-founder of Wizards of the Coast and as one of the authors of its first publication, The Primal Order. CJ worked in technical support for WotC throughout the ’90s until Gen Con was acquired in 2001. At that time, CJ transferred to the new Gen Con LLC business, where he led the technical services department — most notably the registration system and website — for Gen Con until his passing in 2014. He is deeply missed.
Eric, the Game Director of CMON, has been designing games for the last 20 years. Games based on cool licenses such as Marvel Universe, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, as well as original titles such as Blood Rage, Rising Sun, Arcadia Quest, Victorian Masterminds, Cthulhu: Death May Die and many more. After several years in tropical paradise in Singapore, he has returned to his home in Toronto Canada.
Rich is a long-time tabletop gamer turned RPG designer, writer, and graphic artist. His work includes design for Wizards of the Coast and Green Ronin, writing and graphic design for several D&D Adventurers League titles, and is a founding member of the Dungeon Masters Guild Adepts. He is co-owner of Alligator Alley Entertainment, in which he’s creator and lead designer of Esper Genesis, the 5th Edition powered sci-fi RPG.
Brandon O’Brien is a writer, performance poet, teaching artist and game designer from Trinidad and Tobago. His work has been shortlisted for the 2014 Alice Yard Prize for Art Writing and the 2014 and 2015 Small Axe Literary Competitions, and is published in Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, and New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, among others. He is also the poetry editor of FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction.
Cody Pondsmith joined R. Talsorian Games years ago, entering in the deep dark depth of the mail room and working his way up from the bottom all the way to the prestigious position of General Manager. Tutored by his father, Mike Pondsmith, Cody was well prepared when, at the age of 16, he traveled to Poland and made a pitch for The Witcher license. He won the day and since become the line developer and principal designer on the bestselling Witcher TRPG line.
Appearing as a Mild Mannered Game Designer, Mike Pondsmith is in reality a Time Lord from the Far Future, here to warn all of us of a reality involving Giant Robots, cyber-enhanced Boostergangers, and an Invasion of Teenagers From Outer Space. When not involved in his day job of Saving The Future of Humanity, he can also be found in the nearest gravel pit, digging up million year old dead things with waaaay too many teeth and claws. He calls this relaxation.
Marcus Ross & Cara Michele Ryan
Marcus Ross and Cara Michele Ryan are the design & illustration team behind Water Bear Games. The duo is best known for their absurd costumes, elaborate prototypes and knack at winning design competitions. The company’s goal is to make modern gateway games with themes that invite in a larger audience. It’s going well so far: their published catalog includes Discount Salmon, BEEEEES! and Letter GO!
Laura Simpson (Sweet Potato Press) is an award winning game designer and the creator of Companions’ Tale, an ENnie nominated, Indie Groundbreaker Game of the Year winner. She has also designed Driving to Reunion, part of the IndiCade-nominated anthology #Feminism. Her next game, Distant Stars, will be released Fall 2020 in the The Ultimate Micro-RPG Book, published by Simon & Schuster.
Chris Spivey is a veteran, writer, game designer, and developer who has a decades-old love of gaming, horror, and history, and a mission to create a more inclusive gaming world. His groundbreaking and critically acclaimed game Harlem Unbound won 3 Gold ENnie Awards and the IGDN Groundbreaker Award.
Bryan Tillman is a 20-year professional comic/game artist as well as an educator of the arts. He has conducted many panels and lectures for convention such as, AwesomeCon, MegaCon, GenCon, and San Diego Comic Con. During his tenure, Bryan has published three instructional books: Creative Character Design Vol.1 for Focal Press, Vol. 2 for CRC Press and The 30 Day Pitch Bible for Kaiser Studio Productions. Bryan also created and illustrated a tabletop RPG TCG, Dark Legacy, which was released by UpperDeck in late 2018.
A game designer, storyteller, artist, dancer, and author of Black/Lakota/Irish descent, Allen Turner believes in the power of play and story as fundamental, powerful medicines which shape our sense of self. Allen creates experiences pulling from the myths and folklore of indigenous and tribal peoples worldwide, while exploring allegorical battles with depression, solitude, identity, and erasure. He continues exploring the conversations initiated in Ehdrigohr on his blog via fiction, musings, photography, and introspective gaming.
Aaron Trammell is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Analog Game Studies and an Assistant Professor of Informatics at UC Irvine. He has published seven co-edited collections, sixteen journal articles, and eleven book chapters on games and culture, including several critical essays about the representation of race, gender, and sexuality in Dungeons & Dragons. He is presently hard at work completing his book about the influence of hobbyists on geek identity today. To learn more about Aaron’s work, email him: trammell [at] uci [dot] edu.
Jabari Weathers is an illustrator and upcoming tabletop game designer and writer from Baltimore, Maryland. You may have seen their work on many indie RPGs from 7th Sea to Bluebeard’s Bride. They are unsure what project in particular they are being recognized for by the DJA beyond being black and in the industry—which shouldn’t be regarded as a project.
Travis Williams began his career in entertainment in 1990 as one of the co-creators of the “World of Darkness” (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage) roleplaying games from White Wolf. As a game producer, Travis has worked on popular fighting games (Street Fighter, X-Men Children of the Atom) to adventure games (Hell, Bureau 13, Sanitarium) to MMOs (The Matrix Online, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, DC Universe) to sandbox gaming (PAIN) on the PlayStation. Travis is currently the Vice President of Digital Gaming at Lightstorm Entertainment where he is responsible for Titanic, Alita, and Avatar games across all media.
Camdon Wright (He/Him) is a TTRPG designer, first-generation American, biracial Ethiopian, and co-owner of Unicorn Motorcycle Games. He serves as the Diversity Coordinator for the IGDN where he leads their yearly Diversity Sponsorship, mentorship program, and sits on the leadership team fighting for a future where a diverse spectrum of creators will be seen as more than their marginalizations. His games include the 200-word RPG Secret Person of Color and the recently released One Child’s Heart. Camdon has also written for Ulisses North America, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Darker Hue Studios, and Gnome Stew.