This is the second part of our interview with Jenna Katerin Moran. The first part can be found here. We’re continuing in our discussion of her current Kickstarter, Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine.
Haren: Have there been any particularly surprising examples that show off what you are going for from playtesting? Something that is everything you hoped for and more?
JKM: It’s honestly mostly been a stream of little moments from the playtesting that I’ve loved.
The best one was probably from one of the two tabletop sessions that got actually taped so I could hear what went on. See, Chuubo is normally a very peaceful character, but now and then he might tie his tie around his head and rock out.
It’s goofy. It’s not important. It’s just a kind of goofy character thing.
Just . . . you know. Imagine that you have a goofy friend, and sometimes he’ll do that as a kind of friend-circle/personal in-joke for, “OK, time for me to ROCK!”
The great moment was when he was being too placid about something, and one of the other PCs attempted to resolve this by taking Chuubo’s tie off and tying it around Chuubo’s head.
Technically, that could have happened in any game. I just thought that was great.
Dymphna: I imagine that must have been utterly delightful — to see one of your own creations stay true to itself but do something that you didn’t expect at the same time. I suppose that’s the sort of joy that is almost unique to being an RPG author — getting to see all of the fabulous things that people do with the things you’ve created.
Jenna: Indeed! It’s actually very strange sometimes, that weird simultaneous feeling of “I made that!” and “yet *they’re* the ones who made that!”Of course you get that in gaming sometimes even when you don’t write the games, when player and GM intentions suddenly fit together or whatever. Collaboration is a neat and inexplicable phenomenon, like the way berries taste when you mix them with a cloud.
Dymphna: Tell us a bit more about your experiences in the RPG publishing industry. It’s been almost fifteen years since the first edition of Nobilis was released under the ambiguously-gendered pseudonym R. Sean Borgstrom. How have the changes between now and then affected you as an author?
JKM: Hmm! The d20 era was weird because I actually really like d20, but people’s brains would short circuit if I even mentioned the idea of taking any inspiration from it. So I was playing this game a lot—if you look at the games I’ve played the most of, it kinds of goes D&D, Champions, Amber, d20 chronologically—but also aware that nobody actually wanted me to get any of that icky d20 in Nobilis or even Exalted/World of Darkness stuff. ^_^
It’s been nice to see Cam Banks come into his own as a developer. That’s probably kind of skipping around a lot in terms of actual chronological order, but most of my memories of Cam Banks are from back around the time when Nobilis 1 & 2 were coming out.
Economic factors had more to do with my evolution as a writer than gaming community factors for a while—mostly in negative ways, I regret to say. There’s a level of poverty which is actually great for both gaming and gaming writing, because RPGs are great investments in terms of fun per dollar, but I lost a lot of years to . . . not having the resources to deal with writing-impinging things that came up, or to keep up with the zeitgeist, while my circle of friends and acquaintances was hard enough hit by economic storms that even gaming became harder to afford.
I’ve been influenced a lot by Vincent Baker’s work, I think. I’ve tried to more generally keep up on indie games and mainstream games, but it was Dogs in the Vineyard that had the most obvious impact on how I think about games—I don’t even know if I could quantify that! I could just feel it.
—and Apocalypse World has had its influence as well.
Haren: Jenna, how would you describe finding your way in the RPG world, especially as a designer and writer?
JKM: Could you clarify “finding your way in”?
Haren: Ah, well, where you wanted to be and how to get there. As well as the journey itself, of course.
JKM: Ah, I see!I wanted to write for RPGs since I was . . . really quite little. It’s surprising to me, looking back. I was a weird and goofy kid, of
I find it a little amusing that I am actually doing stuff I conceived of as my career when I was nine. However, I do not seem to be getting paid as much in adventurer cosplay materials as I had, back then, expected.
Or as much in general! Somehow I have not wound up with the pile of gold that D&D somehow led me to expect that I, as a game designer, would receive.
I don’t think I ever actually figured out how to get into the business. Like, I spent a lot of time writing RPG stuff between then and when I actually started, a lot of time, but I don’t know that I ever really understood how to become a game writer until suddenly I was. The life lesson I took from that is that if you do a lot of work on something, eventually something happens to contextualize it. Maybe that’s wrong and I was hilariously lucky.
All I know is that one day instead of having an audience limited to random friends, I had an audience of random friends including a few game designers and publishers, and while that didn’t immediately lead to the magical princess fantasy (“oh, Jenna! Or ‘Rebecca’ as we call you in these archaic, brutal, and primeval times! At last we have found the lost daughter of the Magical Writing Empire!”) it did lead to a chance to pitch Nobilis to Pharos Press and to submit a 5k piece to one of White Wolf’s “see if anyone who’s been bugging us to write for us is useful at all” books. And more generally it led me to being alert to opportunities, which is how I wound up doing some In Nomine stuff and . . . whatever else I did early on. I’m not quite sure.
The next big step was precipitated by the collapse of the economy. It turns out that being a Ph.D. with a year of experience wasn’t a good thing to be when the tech economy fell apart; too underqualified and overqualified at once; and at the same time, Nobilis was suddenly making a rather surprising amount of money. It led me to think that maybe this was actually what I was supposed to be doing with my life and really shift my focus and attention to gaming writing; and by the time that Hogshead unexpectedly closed its doors, I’d pretty solidly committed…
There was really only a month or two in which that decision really seemed to make obvious and blatant economic sense, you understand. Only a month or two! Before that I’d had hope that the economic collapse wouldn’t take a tech career down with it, and after that Hogshead was closing its doors and the long wait to have Guardians of Order start . . . adjusting my economic paradigm in its particular and inimitable fashion . . . began.
But! In the meantime, I’d chosen, and I’m really stubborn, so once I’d set my path I wound up mostly staying on it. It’s kind of sad, or possibly inspiring, or possibly even sadspiring.
Once the chaos around Guardians of Order stuff—it’s one of those dialectical things—put Nobilis supplements on what seemed at the time to be a permanent hiatus (and in fact those particular supplements are still on hiatus, and still on the queue, so I dunno) I wound up focusing more on freelancing. The two highlights of that period are probably my work on Exalted and my work on Weapons of the Gods. There’s no really cool story about the Exalted work, though: I’d met Geoff back around when I started doing gaming stuff, so I did some stuff for him, some of which I’m unambiguously proud of and some of which I regret not being able to do better on. As for Weapons of the Gods . . .
I wound up connecting with Eos because Brad (at the time of Eos) was a Nobilis fan, and working on Weapons of the Gods. I was originally just doing the setting material. Apparently before I came in there’d been one underlying rules system, and something created licensing issues there, so they’d switched to using another. When the people doing the replacement system decided to withdraw it from consideration, and submitted a third system that IMO wasn’t up to snuff, I got angry and built a new system. Later, Eos invited me to China!
. . . which has been difficult in many respects, and cool in others, but seriously, if one is a writer and one is invited to travel to the other side of the world and live there a while, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity.
Anyway, the lesson is, if you just get out there and write, write for the love of it, write not because you want to get something or be something or be published or make contacts in the industry, if you just write because you must, because it is a jewel of fire in you, because it is necessary, then you will become a published professional by magic but also the world economy will collapse and you will get shipped to Asia on a secret boat and sometimes when there is a typhoon you will get soaked to the bone while walking like three blocks WITH AN UMBRELLA because that is just exactly how magical the power of the human heart can be.
Haren: Jenna, you’ve been a part of the gaming community for a good time now, so I was wondering how you would characterize the views towards and growth of women gamers?
JKM: Dang! I really want to say something super-cool here, because you’re about to wrap up, but it’s rough. :/ You’re talking about something that’s almost literally on the other side of the world from me right now; I have this narrow window on it. One day I’m noticing that there are more metaphorical and literal forums for women to talk about their experiences in gaming these days; the next, I’m catching a bit of the same old stupid debates about pronouns and exploitative art, complete with all the usual roster of participants. Some days I remember that the line developer for one of the first games I ever worked on was a woman (Elizabeth McCoy); other days I remember that not counting myself she may have been the only one. I’ve been stressing over the ongoing rollback of equal rights in Ohio and Texas and thinking troubled thoughts about the state of the world in general, but I don’t know if that has anything directly to do with tabletop gaming and it is, like I’ve said, on the other side of the world. I have been lucky in that I’ve never been really isolated in the gaming world; I’ve never been stuck without at least one or two more women in the groups I’ve played in, at least, not for any long-running games. I don’t know. I’m sorry! I’d rather have cooler things to say. :/
Haren: Thank you so very much for taking the time to be interviewed. I think I speak for us both that we really appreciate it and hope you pass the 80K mark for the complete campaign.