Tanya Floaker is a game author living in Scotland. She is active in the indie gaming scene and crowdfunded a project titled Lo! Thy Dread Emperor over the summer.
Question. You are active in the Edinburgh, Scotland, indie gaming scene. Can you talk a bit about what the scene is like? I know there's an indie gaming collective that puts out a zine. How did the collective come into being?
Answer. Edinburgh has a lot of long-standing games clubs. We have several friendly local gaming stores, with Black Lion Games being the longest running (having started life a long long time ago as a concession in the basement of a cool cloths shop). ORC and GEAS are foundational to the city, with the latter running Scotland's longest running convention every year. Several other ttRPG clubs abound. Of those, Edinburgh Indie Gamers exists to provide a space for small press and indie games, especially those from a storygame or other non-trad design/play style. An oral history of the club appears in our first club zine, though today we have one online and one in-person game night per month. These are spaces for people to pitch one-shot games that need no prep beforehand by those attending. The culture at the club is really amazing, with most new attendees sticking around. The atmosphere lends itself to folks running and designing games very quickly, often for the first time, and really bringing down the hierarchy that can form from Player to GM to Designer. The pick-up game nights have also spawned a 2-player games night, an indie wargames group, and lots of social activities and friendship.
Q. I'm going to ask a pretty mundane question about Lo, thy Dread Emperor. I'm curious about the decision to incorporate wargaming aspects into it. It's a facet of ttrps that one doesn't see that much anymore -- especially in the indie sphere -- but role-playing itself sprang from wargames. What made you think that the particular style of play fit with the message you wanted to get across?
A. Lo, the seeds for L!TDE were planted many years ago.
I grew up as a gamer in eighties and nineties in the UK, which means I grew up with Fighting Fantasy and Games Workshop. From the latter I played warband campaigns from the hardback Realms of Chaos books and then later Necromunda (and it's predecessor Confrontation). Narrative skirmish gaming really sits in the liminal space between a ttRPG and wargame, and in many ways is only differentiated from D&D in terms of player expectation and marketing. Along with these, I LOVED the battle reports you could find in White Dwarf magazine. For those that don't know them, two members of GW staff would play a wargame, writing down what happened on each move and roll of the dice, along with their plans and thoughts and feelings. They would turn these into narrativised recollections of the battle they had played. I wanted a game that created that same narrative arc directly, without having to play a separate game first. Along with that, the of Story Games Forum had several threads talking about what storygaming could learn from wargames. One in particular asked that if we took the view that trad wargames were the precursors to trad ttRPGs, and that a storygame design ethos was different from a trad design ethos, what would a wargame backwards engineered from a storygame perspective look like? L!TDE is my answer, some 10-15yrs later. What I've ended up with is a wargame that doesn't need most of the supposed requirements for a wargame. Measurements, minis, dice rolls - all can be gone! You could play it much like any ttRPG with just a pen and paper (though I still love seeing it played with minis and terrain). While it still creates the story of a sweeping fight, it has that greater emphasis on narrative that you find in skirmish games. I really think that myself and Julia Nevalienen have put together something unique that all kinds of roleplay gamer and wargamer could look at and get something useful. Also, who doesn't want to play out a war between undead forces seeking to liberate life & death, and the death cults of capitalism?!? Q. A lot of pushback from older gamers one sees revolves around "no politics in gaming". You use your games explicitly to explore your political views and encourage others to do the same. The indie game culture has its roots in the punk movement, and punk is nothing if not political. Can you talk about your approach to melding politics and gaming, both generally and specifically? What political thoughts do you think games allow one to explore in unique ways? A. I grew up on punk music. A lot of the music I listen to is politically charged. I'm a queer anarchist communist. A lot of issues in my life and those around me are highly politicized. As I see it, history has clearly shown that Liberalism (as in both left wing and right wing mainstream politics) and a capitalist economy creates violence in the form of class conflict, racism, ableism and a host of other social ills. The threat of poverty, homelessness, starvation, and want forces us to undertake actions which ultimately damage us and everything around us. Liberalism is hierarchal, meaning that most people are dispossessed, robbed of stability in order that a small group retain power and wealth. When it comes under threat, police and criminal justice are brought to bear on us. Those with power in the Liberal state will sooner nationalism and fascism take hold than cede power. This is playing out around us all the time, in almost every facet of our lives. I can't put aside my politics when I design a game any more than Gary Gygax could stop himself from adding racist, sexist, and capitalist crap into his. The great thing about ttRPGs as an art is that they can provide an imaginative space where we are given permission to transgress the normal social constraints and investigate different ways of being. From a design perspective, I can help a group create a fruitful void - a space where I provide tools to ask a question or focus on a particular theme. The magic circle of gameplay allows the people involved to find out what that means to them. It is the difference between being given instructions to read that you must obey and being given some speculative fiction that helps you explore an issue for yourself, or more accurately helps us explore it together. I hope my games do the latter. Q. Finally, tell us about what is on the horizon for you? Do you have anything specific that you're working on? A. Yeah, I've got several projects coming up. Lo! Thy Dread Empire is set for full release in June of 2023. However, before then, I will be Kickstarting The Connection Machine this February as part of ZineQuest.