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#WomeninTabletop: Jammi Nedjadi of Sword Queen Games

We’re counting down to LacunaCon and Play Without Apology is pleased to partner with Women in Tabletop Gaming as we once again celebrate the incredible women who contribute to our local communities!

We featured Jammi Nedjadi last year and they also joined LacunaCon as both a panelist for a talk on Safe Spaces and Fun and as a GM. Since then, they have designed 13 indie games which you can check out over on Itch.io! But we’ll touch more on that later!


Hey Jammi! We’re really happy to have you back for Women in Tabletop Gaming Month. At last year’s LacunaCon, you participated not only as a GM but as a panelist in a talk about safe spaces in tabletop gaming. Would you mind recapping some of the more memorable moments from that for our readers and also share your thoughts about safety in gaming?

I was so honored to be part of the panel!

We were very happy to have you!

It was great being with other women who are supporting safety in our gaming spaces. I think what really struck home for me was feeling everyone in the room come together and see why safety is so important.

So many of us have stories of feeling unwelcome at the tables if we’re women and/or part of the LGBTQIA+ community. A lot of these stories are unheard, or worse, ignored.

women in tabletop sword queen games
Playsheets from /.BECOME ONE./ by Sword Queen Games | Photo courtesy of Jammi Nedjadi

There are those who insist that “it’s just gaming” or “that doesn’t happen at my table or anyone I know” or even “people are too sensitive”. When the truth is, we’re not being listened to or given space. We are always asked to accommodate and minimize the discomfort, or sometimes outright trauma, that we experience.

A big moment for me was when a woman came up to me and said, “I’ve been gaming for a long time, and I thought safety was something people were making a big deal out of. But hearing you guys talk, it made me realize how much I was putting up with and how unhappy I was. Safety IS important.”

How do you we feel we’re doing as a community in terms of prioritizing safety?

In general, I feel like as a community we still have to work on moving forward towards safety as a priority. By this I mean going out of our way to make spaces for everyone, using social tools of support and safety, and learning together.

I still regularly sit at games with GMs and players who haven’t heard of support tools, and we still have outdated ideas of social contracts and the use of power. And in a lot of ways, I get it! I’ve been gaming for a long while with a lot of people. A lot of my games deal with horror, difficult and challenging themes, etc. So when I first heard about safety, I was skeptical!

But the more I learned, and the more I practiced using these tools, the more I saw how important it was. It made the games better, the social contracts stronger, empowered everyone, and truly served the play and story better. My games are even more horrifying, more difficult, more challenging now!

Everyone plays better and has more fun when safety is a priority. I think it also helps us become more compassionate, intuitive, open, and better storytellers!

You recently set up your Itch.io page, Sword Queen Games and will be running one of the games you developed recently for the event. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yeah! I was really inspired by Ben Chong of Swords and Flowers. He was regularly sharing his games on social media, and I was so impressed with his designs. He and Philip Corpuz, one of my best friends, talked about the Sad Mecha Jam on Itch.io.

So! I learned two things: game jams were a thing for tabletop roleplaying game designers. And Itch.io also hosted tabletop rpgs and had this fast growing community of tabletop game designers.

I admit I’m also just a sucker for mecha stories in general, so I think that was the biggest thing that pushed me to try for it. Since then I’ve been addicted to game jams, and I love the feeling of creation, creativity, and joy that game design provides. I think more of us should be designing games, on whatever scale! I enjoy big games like Masks: A New Generation, as much as I enjoy Arch Angel Dating Simulator, a smaller game that feels like asian dramas with an otherworldly touch!

women in tabletop sword queen games
The Journey to the Whispering Tree by Sword Queen Games | Photo courtesy of Jammi Nedjadi

Oh, and that’s another thing I want to share! Maria is a good friend of mine, and she’s been one of my #1 supporters while I figure out and experiment with Sword Queen Games. She discovered tabletop roleplaying games recently, but she’s already making her own games. And they’re really great! I really do encourage everyone to go out there and create. The support on Twitter and Itch is fantastic, join us at #RPGSEA.

These recommendations are lovely! Thanks so much, Jammi!

But bringing it back to Lacuna, I’m really excited to facilitate Their Love Destroyed This Land. It’s inspired by games like The Quiet Year and uses the tarot as an intuitive tool for storytelling. It also explores colonization, which is a big deal for us Asians, yeah?

I didn’t go into the game intending that would be one of the main themes, it just came out unbidden as I designed. I thought it was just going to be a tragic love story about how power tears apart a land and its people but… yup, colonialism.

But the great thing about games is that you can take impossibly big concepts, that are hard for us to talk about. But when you apply the structure of gaming, empower people to be creative, it gives us a chance to safely engage with these challenging topics and learn from each other.

Can you share with us your process as a designer; and also talk about how you incorporate safety tools and your experience with them—as a player, as a GM and now as a gamer designer? How do you feel it facilitates play?

Sure! Usually I’ll come across something and think hmmm how could I take some of these themes/experiences/ideas/interactions and turn them into a game? Would it be fun? What would the players be doing? What system would suit this? Do I make new mechanics?

While these ideas percolate in the back of my head, I write down a few things. Then I just leave it alone, for a few hours, days, weeks, whatever is needed. When I get the nudge or inspiration to start working on fleshing out the idea, I pull a tarot card or two to help me focus on what goals to set, what frame to design from.

Then I just carve out the time, sit down in front of the computer, lovingly ignore the voice that is doubtful, and get to work! Everything is quite fluid, I often end up writing/designing things completely unplanned. It’s key for me to just go with the flow and trust the process!

women in tabletop sword queen games
Take My Revolution by Sword Queen Games is heavily inspired by the anime Revolutionary Girl Utena | Photo courtesy of Jammi Nedjadi

But while everything is quite fluid and intuitive, there are some important things I try to keep in mind:

  1. What are the central themes, emotions, and narratives that I want the players to engage with?    
       
  2. Am I empowering everyone at the table? Do they feel an equal amount of responsibility to each other that comes with that power?    
       
  3. Am I building safety, support, consent, and compassion into my game and its mechanics?
       
  4. Is the game fun? Is it easy to pick up and play? Does it offer good replay value?

Another thing I have to say real quick is that for me, it’s important to be both player and GM.

In my ten years of ridiculously active gaming, I’ve been a GM like 90% of the time. I just really enjoy being a GM! But as I started designing, I felt it was essential to be a player more often. I try to experience as many types of games and systems from both a player and as a GM. It really helps!

So that’s where safety comes in. I know support/safety tools like the x-card have become more popular. But I don’t think safety starts and ends with the x-card. For one thing, the x-card doesn’t work for every table: it can be worse for people with trauma who go through a triggering experience. Even with more tools in place, I don’t think that replaces the intention of designing with safety and support in mind.

Some of my games purposefully and lovingly go through some challenging concepts and ideas.

We love that you’re incredibly passionate about safety. Would you say that your vocation plays a part in that?

This is important to me, because I think games are a powerful medium for reflection, growth, healing, and acceptance. But a lot of it is subconscious, right? Easier to engage with, because we’re having fun, we’re thrilled, we’re intrigued, we’re eager to collaborate and create a story together.

women in tabletop sword queen games
Stories of Love in Manila by Sword Queen Games featuring The Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law | Photo courtesy of Jammi Nedjadi

So to best support that I’m currently focusing on the following ideas:

  • The power of creativity and narrative are shared equally between Game Master and player. In a lot of my games, no GM is required. That, or you just need a facilitator.
       
  • Safety tools are built into the game, the intention to take care of each other and have fun is made clear. I ask players to clearly communicate with each other through the mechanics.

I actively explore safety and support in my games, and I try my best to provide solid mechanics that reflect this!

For this year’s LacunaCon, you’re running a workshop about the use of the Tarot in game design?

Yes! I’m really excited about this. I know a lot of people are drawn to the tarot, and for good reason! It’s a beautiful tool of creativity and intuition, and there are so many decks to reflect our inner voice and themes we’d like to explore.

By the end of the workshop we should at least have the bones of a tarot story game. I plan on spiffing it up and releasing it on my Itch.io page! I’m excited to see what we create together.

How is using Tarot cards to explore a story different from rolling dice to resolve conflict in games?

Oh this is fantastic! First, two quick things.

I actually do like using a tarot deck for resolving conflict for some games! The game that inspired me, Royal Blood does this beautifully. I borrowed that task resolution mechanic but put a more intuitive spin on it; players draw cards for character creation and intuitively create their summoner’s abilities and their daemon. You can also check out Summoner’s Fate!

I bring this up because while rolling dice is still super fun – I do that for most games – there’s this breathlessness that comes with drawing a tarot card for it. As you draw cards the deck’s probabilities shift dramatically, and it makes the entire game so nerve wracking! I highly recommend trying it at least once.

Conveniently, both Royal Blood and Summoner’s Fate are excellent one-shot experiences!

We did a bit of research and found that as an age-old tool, the tarot not only has roots in divination but also in play. How do you use them for storytelling?

The tarot is most famous for its divining abilities. But it is essentially just a tool to connect to our intuition. Our intuition can guide us through our daily life in lots of ways. But it can also help us be more creative, open, expansive, and inspired. The cards are built on narratives and archetypes we can all relate to, and the imagery can be really powerful!

women in tabletop sword queen games
Stories of Love in Manila by Sword Queen Games | Photo courtesy of Jammi Nedjadi

I think the most fun thing about the tarot is that it can bring the story to unexpected ways. You can think a story is going one way and them WOAH this card shows up! As we work around this unexpected twist, the story gets even better. It’s a lot of fun for everyone at the table to tell this story together and ride the waves of intuition.

Can you tell us about how the Tarot has impacted your play?

Gosh, the tarot is a big part of my life. I’ve been a tarot reader for almost twenty years now. It’s mystical and magical, for sure. But, it’s also incredibly grounding for me and I use it as a tool to reflect, gain objectivity, empower myself and those around me. I really believe everyone can become intuitive and tap into their inner magic.

I’m also a professional tarot reader, and have been blessed to be able to work with a lot of people from different backgrounds. The tarot has also made me more open minded, compassionate, and happier.

Because of that, as a Game Master I tend to be more trusting of my players. I trust the stories they want to tell, the themes that come up naturally for them. As long as we’re playing safe and supporting each other, we can explore some really fascinating topics! I can be intuitive, facilitate the stories they want to tell, help maintain the illusion that this story was planned from the start. And while it may not have been planned, I do believe the story did exist, inside us, and we worked on bringing that to life.

As a player, it’s made me more flexible, and more ready to create stories that are grounded by real human experience. I think our games are much better when we include narratives that reflect the real spectrum of our reality. The best way to smash tropes and predictable stories is to draw in real life experiences from as many different people as possible!

That’s wonderful insight, Jammi! Thank you for sharing that with us. Before we let you go: do you have any last words you’d like to share to our readers?

Aside from my sincere call to action for everyone to try designing games, I want to also say: support the indie and local community! There are a lot of great mainstream games that we can all enjoy, but finding these fun niches is really rewarding. We get to uplift each other and support a more diverse set of voices, and increase representation. Also, it’s just really fun!

And when I say support I don’t just mean financial support (though that’s great too!). Talk to us, engage with us, join us! Let’s play each others’ games and have a good time. Let’s take care of each, be kind to each other, and cheer each other on.


Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Many thanks to Jammi for the beautiful photos.

This article has been updated to reflect Jammi’s preferred pronouns. 

#LacunaCon2019 is this June 22 and Jammi will be running Their Love Destroyed This Land! Interested to attend? Hop on over to our official Facebook event page and invite your friends as well!

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Noey Pico
Noey Pico is a tiny Ball of Feelings™ and an audioromantic with a passion for writing, and all things geek. A former contributing editor at What’s a Geek, she has an ongoing love affair with tabletop gaming because it’s the closest thing she's got to being a jaeger pilot. She also writes music, you can check her work out over on her Bandcamp page.

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