Watt (they/them) is an indie rpg designer currently fundraising for their project "Cloud Empress, a Naussica-inspired science fantasy ecological rpg."
Question: First, I'd like to visit your other work. You've written supplements for other games -- Mothership, Lay on Hands, Troika -- as well as some stand-alone mini-games. For someone unfamiliar with your work, can you give a broad outline of what you do? Not only do you write for a number of different systems, but you also explore different genres and themes. What made you pick Mothership as the system to use for Cloud Empress?
Answer: I seem to keep writing about the environment, artificial intelligence, body horror, and my own queer experience. These specific subjects don't always arise intentionally but are preoccupations that work their way in. I add humor to my games because these subjects can be rather depressing. I’m not particularly tied to one system or another. Many of my previous titles were created during game jams. I find myself gravitating to rules-light systems though.
I’m a big fan of Mothership because of the way the game mechanisms reflect human frailty and create real stakes in instances of violence. Mothership’s character sheet is a phenomenal way to roll up characters in five minutes and get new players started. Mothership is also great for single-session game experiences. I’m usually playing one-shots and shorter adventures because the hardest part of roleplaying is getting a group of adults together regularly.
Q: Talk about how you see the intersection of politics and gaming. Cloud Empress is billed as "ecological science fiction", Werewolves of Wall Street is "Capitalist Punk", two themes that don't necessarily seem to go together. I'm intrigued to hear how you view your writing as an expression of your politics. I just interviewed Tanya Floaker of Lo! Thy Dread Emperor, who is immersed in the punk scene, and she said how for her, "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."
A: It seems like a heated, “are games political?" discussion starts a few times a year. Most of my games explicitly address political topics. We live in a very particular time period. The art of each time period is imprinted by the politics, economics, world views, social values, and technologies of that period. Sometimes the impressions are explicit, other times something can only be noted by its absence in a work entirely. What we choose to create, what stories we choose to tell, and who we center these stories on also say a lot about us. I am a reflection of the moment I live in, and the world is constantly changing.
“Capitalist punk” is meant to be tongue and cheek. "Steampunk" games use an industrial aesthetic without advocating for the use of coal for example. Werewolves of Wall Street has a hyper 1980s setting called 1980x inspired by the films Wall Street, American Psycho, and the Wolves of Wall Street. Werewolves of Wall Streets' tone harkens back to RoboCop, They Live, Nixon’s portrayal in The Watchmen and the Dead Kennedys.
I try my best to make games that intentionally and explicitly critique forms of oppression. Cloud Empress is an expression of some foundational questions I have about humanity in our environment. I’m torn between the feeling that human beings may not have brains and social networks capable of addressing the rapid changes in weather patterns, natural disasters, food scarcity, and reduced natural resources. At the same time, it’s clear to me that there are significant political, economic, and social forces constantly reinforcing my beliefs that things can't change.
My favorite science fiction and fantasy works fundamentally examine different ways of being – author Ursula LeGuin is a genius in this regard. Some of my least favorite sci-fi/fantasy works uncritically transport all the social mores of the period they were created into the future. When I’m writing Cloud Empress I try to hold the phrase, ‘No easy answers.’ No one likes to be told what to think. Artwork, including tabletop roleplaying games, can create spaces for important questions to be explored, and for our answers to these questions to develop organically through play.
Q: Okay, so, Cloud Empress. The art I've seen for it so far is gorgeous -- and it looks you have Evlyn Moreau lined up as one of the artists, as well as Amanda Lee Franck and others -- and you've got quite the roster of talent in the wings to work on adventures and stretch goals. What are some of the facets of this project that you're most excited about? If you could distill your KS page down to a paragraph to sell it to those unfamiliar with the idea, what would you say?
A: I’ll be using some supplemental spot art from Evlyn Moreau and Amanda Lee Franck. Both have amazing subscription-based art libraries (through Patreon and Comradery respectfully) that I recommend folks check out. There is so much high-quality art that creators can use inexpensively. The primary artists for the project are called pbbeta and Garin (of Kattapulka) and Juan Gee.
Cloud Empress is an expansive, Nausicaa-inspired science fantasy campaign setting for the Mothership RPG. The Cloud Empress Kickstarter includes both a rulebook and a setting book meaning that this release is stand-alone and also fully compatible with the rules of Mothership's first (current) edition.
Commissioning evocative artwork is one of my favorite aspects of the Cloud Empress project. I work very hard to make sure the writing and the game design match the high-quality visuals.
I’m probably the most excited by the weird and haunting world of Cloud Empress though. I’ve seen interviews with George R. Martin answering questions about Westeros where it seems like he's reciting history rather than recalling his fictional creation. I think about the world of Cloud Empress five to six hours a week (on top of all the other work I do for the project). The Hereafter (the name for the world in Cloud Empress) is starting to become a living place I can call to mind quite easily.
Q: Finally, I'd like to hear about the Actual Play you've got linked to on the KS, and how you feel your vision translated to the play experience. You talk about how fast character creation is a must, because the world is a deadly place and death is almost certain. I haven't seen many crowdfunding projects that link to an actual play, and I think it is a really cool concept.
There’s a high bar set in the Mothership 3rd party publishing community. Other Mothership creators are putting out high-quality books and many include actual plays in their Kickstarter campaigns. My inclusion of two actual plays on the Cloud Empress Kickstarter mirrors other successful creators and also reflects a general business/creative practice of mine. As a newer creator, I’ve had an imposter syndrome that someone will buy something I make and be disappointed. To combat my imposter syndrome, I’ve tried to share examples of my work wherever possible before someone makes a purchase. Over the last two years as a publisher, I’m more confident in the work I publish, but my interest in showing people what they’ll be buying has stayed. The Cloud Empress rulebook and introductory adventure are both free on my page worldsbywatt.itch.io. Actual plays showcase my games in action.
You can find more information about Cloud Empress at: