To celebrate Women in Tabletop Gaming Month, Play Without Apology interviewed with some of the very women who contribute to our communities!
Previously, we featured Sin Posadas. Today, we have Che De Leon, Eliza Verzosa, and Jamila R. Nedjadi.
Che is a frustrated artist, actress, and novelist who loves laughter and stupid shit.
Eliza is a Wood Elf rogue stuck in a Human nurse’s body, and has disadvantage on her wisdom saving throws against the sultry aroma of Yellowcab’s Dear Darla pizza. She has, however, a +6 modifier on medicine ability checks. In her free time, she likes to play video and tabletop games.
Jammi is a Reiki-Shaman and professional tarot reader. As a GM, she creates a space for her players to make magic, make terrible choices, and create stories that last a lifetime.
Hi ladies! Thank you for carving out time out of your busy schedules for this interview! Let’s start do a round of introductions, so you can all tell us a bit about yourselves, along with some of the games and systems that you run.
Jammi: Yo! I’m Jammi, I’m a professional tarot reader and Reiki-Shaman. I had a horrible introduction to the hobby as way of boring D&D session when I was a teen, but fully got into the hobby as a young working adult through Star Wars, Saga Edition. Ever since then I was hooked!
I’m very fond of D&D 4th Ed as that was the first system that I ran for a few years. But after having to do so much heavy-lifting with house rules in order to encourage more narrative freedom, I’m more comfortable nowadays with different systems.
Care to name some of your favorites?
Jammi: My favorite structure is Powered by the Apocalypse, and I’ve really enjoyed running Masks A New Generation the most. This is followed closely by Bluebeard’s Bride, Magical Fury, Monsterhearts, and a few others. I also enjoy running FATE from time to time and would love to run that more often, even though it’s more mechanical, just in a different form. Because of my love for Star Wars I also run and play the current FFG system and love my swingy custom dice systems.
Alright, who’d like to go next?
Eliza: Heya! I’m Eliza. I’m a registered nurse and I work mostly in development. I also like to describe myself as a can of Whoop-Ass in short, pudgy girl form. I enjoy video games, board games, and of course, tabletop RPGs.
I’ve been in the tabletop gaming scene since 2013, and ah, I’m still a neophyte, methinks! And so, I consider myself a baby GM with a lot more systems and table management skills to learn (and most importantly, how to pull stuff out of my ass constantly). I’ve run Dungeons & Dragons and FATE in the past. But I have a bit more experience in writing and running Live Action RPs, which include murder mysteries and megagames. Think: Sherlock Holmes-y and inter-country politics/Model UN LARPs.
Right now, I’m really impatient with Vampire: The Masquerade (V:TM) V5’s release. I’d love to run a few games after it releases! The horror! Savory blood! Drama!
How about you, Che? Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Che: I’ve been into tabletop since 2005, but I mostly stuck to homebrew because playing with a new GM and strangers absolutely terrified me.
I started GM-ing just last year and I’ve ran some Scion 1E, the Initiative system, and dipped my toes in D&D 5e and Call of Cthulhu just this year. I plan to run me some FATE system and Pasion de las Pasiones this year.
Alright, now that we’ve covered that: Let’s go into how you were first introduced to tabletop? And also, what continues to fuel your interest in the hobby today.
Jammi: Ooh, I accidentally answered this a bit already, haha!
No worries! Go right ahead and expound a little more if you like!
Jammi: Basically it was a terrible introduction. I remember playing a halfling rogue where the DM was getting upset with a rowdy group that refused to work as a team. When I played Star Wars many years later, I was a twi’lek soldier playing with a hardcore GM that prioritized story and characters.
That really sparked the fire in me, and ever since then I’ve loved this hobby over anything else. The ability to collectively create an organic, messy, emotional, and wonderful story together is what keeps me going. I love being a GM more than a player, because I love facilitating and making my players feel awesome and push them towards greatness.
I will also admit I feel awesome when I can get grown adults to cry over NPCs I made up in my head. It’s both an honor and it tickles that little “slightly evil bone” every GM has. One player told me that after a particularly emotional session, he felt heartbroken for weeks. Sad songs on the radio made him want to cry, even though in real life he’s happily engaged to the love of his life. I love the power of stories!
Eliza: “I will also admit I feel awesome when I can get grown adults to cry over NPCs I made up in my head, it’s both an honor and tickles that little slightly evil bone every GM has.” BUBUY ;~;
Jammi: Huhu, I love Bubuy! Haha! My current record is five grown men outright crying into their hands during a session.
What happened there?
Jammi: Ah, for the five grown men crying, it was a magical girl game! They essentially had to choose between their friendship, their past life romance, and doing the right thing to protect the city. It was a three-way tie, and no matter what, someone was going to get hurt. I didn’t even plan it, it just worked out that way!
How about you, Eliza? How’d you get into the hobby?
Eliza: I was a big fan of the show, Community even before 2013. They had aired an episode called “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”, and it soon became my favorite. I was absolutely fascinated by D&D, but I found that fascination initially fleeting. I didn’t know anyone who played it; my world was pretty small at that time during the first years of college.
Fast forward to 2013, a friend introduced me to D&D 4e with a homebrewed one-shot. Fun fact: it took us an hour to solve a puzzle in that game. It was an enjoyable experience, but it still wasn’t enough to hook me in.
What did eventually hook you?
Eliza: In the years following that, I’ve had the absolute privilege to meet the nerds (endearingly) of Cubao Expo. [They] often occupied The Appraisery – now called the Tavern at the Crossroads – one of the earliest gaming cafes locally. In there you could find a treasure trove of miniature war-gamers, boardgamers, GMs and RPG enthusiasts. It was with these nerds that I got to be exposed to the wide variety of RPGs other than D&D. [They had] Legend of the Five Rings, the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, and Vampire: The Masquerade to name a few.
Today, what keeps me going in playing and running these RPGs are a lot of things. Something I openly discuss is my struggle with depression. I found that I was happiest in a world that wasn’t my own. [With games] I found some sort of secret door to Narnia where I could just run away and be lost in, you know?
It’s a form of coping for me. I’m drawn to video games like The Witcher, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect because I felt immersed. This rings true for roleplaying games.
Gaming was an escape for me, so I could come back and be a productive Filipino citizen. It taught me how to be sociable and outgoing again, and it got the rusted cogs of my brain to work again. Heck, it gave me reasons to get out of my bed when it was difficult to do so, because “Oh my God, I’m going to miss out on the nth session of our campaign today!”
I caught a couple of articles on that, and they were pretty inspiring to read! This must dovetail nicely with the fact that you’re in the medical profession.
Eliza: This interests me particularly, as a nurse, and [also] a patient. Decades ago, tabletop RPGs were called a tool of Satan. Weapons of mass-indoctrination of youths into doing the devil’s bidding. Because—Ah, dragons! Ah, ghosts! Ah, magic! But really, recent studies have shown that playing tabletop RPGs are indeed therapeutic and provide safe spaces for developmentally, socially, emotionally and mentally-challenged people to experiment on what it means to treat other people respectfully. On what it means to cope with repercussions when your character goes murder hobo and is sent to jail.
Stuff like that. This is another reason why I continue to play. I can see the potential of tabletop RPGs to be therapeutic tools and hopefully I can marry health and RPGs. It’s a pipe dream as of now. But I hope that, I can start a program, an NGO or whatever to have roleplaying games as a form of therapy locally. Much needs to be studied, of course!
And lastly, the community. The community fuels me, too. My friends who I’ve met along the way from Cubao Expo, Gamers and GMs, Philippine Tabletop RPG… are the ones who are also my support system, in and out of tables. Roleplaying builds friendships, magically. Sit with strangers as a game starts, and it will end as a table of friends. I’m so thankful for my gaming friends. They are my clerics when I need words of healing, my bards when I need inspiration; my paladins when I need protection. They are also my rogues when I need someone stabbed??? Kidding on the last one!
And that, kids, is why you all should go into tabletop RPGs.
And Che – how about your entry into tabletop and what you consider to be fuel for your love of the hobby?
Che: I am a frustrated theater actress. I also didn’t have much friends during that time but I did love writing stories. I was getting over someone that time and needed a new hobby to occupy me. So a friend introduced me to a friend who played tabletop games and the rest is history.
I love creating stories and shared worlds; unraveling mysteries and connecting the dots. I like challenging myself to come up with solutions to problems. And brainstorming with people on what to do or what to say. I am, also, a frustrated novelist this time so that’s that.
As a writer, would you say that your background in Literature impacts your GM-ing style?
Che: Yes, it does. It’s like a shared writing exercise for me. I’m blind to what [my players] will do and will have to write a response to their entry. As much as possible, I give the players their agency and let them do their actions. I treat it as a shared narrative where player agency is key and their choices affect the narrative and ending (like a choose your own adventure). It’s exhilarating as I have to be quick on my toes while at the same time give rhyme and reason to the story, as you would read a work of fiction. Organic unity is important – and that involves consequences. And consequences make the best drama.
Of course, it’s not easy—you have to be familiar with A LOT of genres so you can come up with a myriad of ideas. That requires lots and lots of reading, both fiction and nonfiction, from high fantasy to social realism. Read, read, read!
Women in Tabletop Gaming Month was established because of the desire to recognize, respect, and empower women in the tabletop gaming community. Can you share with us some of the challenges that you’ve faced; as well as your personal philosophy on how better to encourage a culture of inclusivity?
Jammi: Gosh, where do I begin? I think the biggest challenge is dealing with male players who don’t realize the kind of privilege they have and how unfair it is for women sometimes in this hobby. I’ve powered my way through a lot of emotional and mental strain, and stress. It took me a long time to realize what I was putting up with and making excuses for.
I’m really lucky and grateful that despite a few male friends that have (unintentionally) made me feel unwelcome or weird, I have had way more male friends that have been accepting. [They] have really encouraged me to actively take part in this hobby. [And also] looked out for me and helped me grow as a Game Master.
I’d especially like to thank Phil Corpuz and Erich Von Lichnowsky for helping me out in the community. And my husband Matthew Arcilla who continues to teach me to be a modern feminist.
The challenge I continue to face is playing and connecting to more female GMs. I know they’re out there. But in my current circles it’s a little difficult to make time and really hang out. I’d love to change that though, and it’s something I’m working on!
How about your personal philosophies?
Jammi: A philosophy that has helped me is breaking down the bullshit of how men and women are inherently different and somehow possess genetic markers that instruct their gaming style.
We are not binary beings and gender is a social construct. So this is a ridiculous notion that harms women and coddles men.
Another is to get men involved! Change won’t continue or be sustained if we don’t involve the privileged who can help us, listen to us. And make space for us as leaders and instigators of change. We need our allies and we can’t do this alone.
How about you, Eliza? What are the challenges you’ve dealt with as someone who enjoys the hobby?
Eliza: Okay, I’ll talk about tabletop gaming in general, which covers boardgaming, cardgaming, and roleplaying. I’ll [also] speak as a cis-hetero female.
I grew up an only child and most of the hobbies I have are influenced by my male cousins; so I grew up a girl in male-dominated hobbies. I can get pretty dense. And micro-aggressions made against me by male gamers just because I’m female goes pretty much above my head, because, wow, I am denser than corn syrup.
The one thing that [does leave me uncomfortable] no matter how dense I am, it’s the “Oh wow, a shiny unicorn!” reaction when I walk into gaming events, cafes or shops. Thankfully, more and more of the events and gaming places I go to are becoming a heterogenous mix of genders. But there are still shops that are male-dominated.
Ah, yes, the Mythical Unicorn Reaction.
Eliza: Like, man, I’m just here to check out your new boardgames. Can your swarm of male Friday Night Magic players not do double-takes and stare as I walk in and browse? I know, I’m a rare and beautiful creature, but please – it’s going to cost you to keep on staring.
Seriously, it can get so uncomfortable because it feels like being scrutinized for, God forbid—my physical appearance. The Shiny Unicorn dilemma isn’t palpable in tabletop RPG on my end. I’m thankful that my male GMs and male players are feminists as well.
Generally, my ruling, in any table, is that I don’t care what you think it meant, or how funny it was, or how morally correct it was in your book. If someone’s feelings got hurt, or if you are violating the dignity of any group of people, in or out of the table, you have to make it right.
Of course, we’re not perfect. We have our own prejudices brought about by our culture, our personalities, beliefs and values. We will slip once in a while.
Even I am still learning on being excellently inclusive. What we must look forward to is acknowledging our own fallacious beliefs and correcting them. Sharpen your bullshit senses on a whetstone. I owe my recovery to the inclusive communities of tabletop gaming. And so, upholding that inclusivity means so much to me.
How about from your end, Che? What challenges have you experienced as a gamer and a GM?
Che: Well, the most challenging so far has been trying to convince my parents that spending the night in the homes of strangers with unknown men is safe. They usually reason that I’m a woman. So, I had to bend over backwards and do backflips (not literally) in order to gain their permission to game. I do understand where they are coming from and I would love if games would start on time so it won’t end late.
Another obstacle is the men deciding my actions for me. Or thinking that I cannot be clever, or [even] sometimes speaking over me. At times [they also use] their size to block me from the GM when I try to justify my actions. I would like to be treated as an equal. I would like to be seen as smart, capable and an equal.
My personal philosophy is that gaming is blind. We’re all equal. I’m a gamer, you’re a gamer. Treat me as one. I’m not just a vagina. I have a brain that is on par with yours. Let’s all just have fun.
It’s been great catching up with you ladies, and in the spirit of what Jammi mentioned earlier, I do hope we see more of you! Now before we close off: do you have any last words for our readers, and others interested in helping out their own gaming communities?
Jammi: I think the best thing one can do is get involved and be part of the community. I have a lot of friends who I game regularly with but don’t really engage with the overall community. To a certain extent I understand this; the natural tendency of the geek is to stay in our small circles of comfort and stick to the friends we know. But please, come join us! We’re ridiculously friendly and we would love to have your input and your unique spark. You have so much to offer us and the community, and by simply showing up you’re making a huge difference. Support your local events and be inspired to set up your own!
Eliza: Ha! I think I’ve said so much already. You might be asking: “How can I further cultivate a safer, more inclusive gaming community?” If you’ve been granted a voice, speak for those who don’t have the privilege of a loud one. Let’s protect each other, like how our characters protect each other in-game. Let’s allot points to our Empathy trait. And with that, I end my case!
Che: Aim to create an environment of equality where everyone can have fun. Games are supposed to be fun. And it starts with you.
Once again we’d like to shout out our thanks to the lovely Bim Canoza of momatoes.com for the use of her photographs! We’ve got a couple more spotlights to shine, so do check back in for the rest of this interview series!