Wendi Yu On Getting Explicitly Queer In “Here, There, Be Monsters!”

by Anton Kromoff

Welcome to the table,

I had a chance to sit down Wendi and talk about her “Explicitly Queer, Antifascist and Anti-capitalist” TTRPG Here, There, Be Monsters!

Anton Kromoff:  Before we dive into game design, would you mind telling our readers a little about yourself?

Wendi Yu: Hello! First of all, thank you very much for the opportunity! I’m a trans/travesti writer and designer from Brazil, and supposedly also a grad student in Cultural Studies. I also work with layout, translation, and sensitivity reading for queer issues. You can find more about me on my page: https://wendiyu.carrd.co/

Anton: How long have you been engaged in tabletop gaming?

Wendi: I’ve been playing or running for 12 or 13 years, I think. I started in school, spent some time away from 2018 to 2021, and when the pandemic started I began playing with people online and found out I could make my own stuff.

Anton: You mention Men in Black and Hellboy in many of the blurbs on Here, There, Be Monsters! as it appears across social spaces. Were those big inspirations for you in the creation of the game?

Wendi: Yeah, I think those and the SCP were the main inspirations for the first spark of an idea, although many other things ended up forming the final monster. I truly love those stories, the whole “secret agency dealing with weird stuff” cliché is totally my shit.

The problem is that they are usually cops, right? And to say “all cops are bastards” means that all cops are bastards. Those groups like the MIB, the SCP, the BPRD, the X-Files, they usually exist in order to protect normalcy and the status quo, the same status quo that marginalizes people like me, that has sought time and again to categorize, pathologize and persecute us out of existence.

The hard truth is that in real life, me and mine are the anomalies that would be contained, the monsters that would be hunted. Queer explorations of monstrosity are by no means a new thing. The game itself begins with a quote by Susan Stryker that was written back in the 90s: “I am a transsexual, and therefore, I am a monster.” I invited Lino Arruda to illustrate the book because he has a great graphic novel called “Monstrans” that deals exactly with queer experience through a monstrous lens.

Claiming monstrosity as power is refusing to be assimilated by the “normal,” refusing to be a part of the status quo that marginalizes us in the first place. It’s not “accepting their framing”, as I’ve seen people say, but exposing how what’s seen as “things as they are” could actually be different, and should be different.

Hellboy is a great example because it’s even treated as a tragedy in the text itself. He sadly files his horns to try to fit in. He keeps on killing creatures that look just like him. And even then many people don’t accept him as an equal. But it’s still treated as a necessary sacrifice since his “monster nature” is supposed to bring the apocalypse and that’s supposed to be a bad thing. I mean, until the very last page of the main series, but I won’t spoil it.

So I wanted something that gave me a similar feeling, but where you didn’t hunt or kill the monsters, but you played as them, or as allies that protected them. And that allowed both me and the players to explore themes of monstrosity, marginalization, and rebellion. As such, it ended up becoming a take on the bigger Urban Fantasy genre as a whole.

Anton: What guided you to use a rules-light system as opposed to a D20 system?

Wendi: Well, there’s the fact that I don’t tend to work well with rules – like, generally, in life – so I try not to bother others with those as well. There’s also the fact that I get stressed with too many specific details, and numbers, and spell lists, and special feats, and skill trees and, and, and… to account for in a game and didn’t want to inflict that on anyone, ever.

Besides, I’m inclined to see game mechanics (in my games, at least) as tools for play, not as a set of defined parameters that need to be strictly followed. I don’t think I am better qualified than the players themselves to decide what is gonna be fun for them, so what I think I can do well is to give them good options in their toolbox. What I also can do is make sure all the tools I provide are there for a reason, that they emphasize a certain aspect of the game that I think is relevant to the experience I expect them to have. And to make the whole thing as easy as possible for anyone to just pick up and start playing.

All the rest is arguably unnecessary – I think that’s how I ended up with a rules-light system. Not because I wanted it to be rules-light from the start, but because all the things I thought were important to include in it amounted to a “rules-light” system in the end. I don’t have specific rules for combat, for example, because that’s not an aspect I thought should be more important than other kinds of conflict in this game.

On the other hand, the mechanics for using Magic were made the way they are to prioritize a certain kind of playing experience and help establish how Magic itself is portrayed in the setting. About the dice, specifically, it’s because in Brazil polyhedral dice sets are absurdly expensive, so I knew from the start all my games would be d6-only as much as I could make it work.

Anton: You can purchase “Here, There Be Monsters!” at this link. In the bio of the game, it’s mentioned that it is an “Explicitly queer, antifascist and anti-capitalist game about the monstrous and the weird, in any flavor you want, not as something to be feared, but to be cherished and protected.” While I know that is an amazing summation of the intent, could you please expand upon how the game promotes those core concepts?

Wendi: I came to games first as a writer in other media, and in comparison, I think TTRPGs’ biggest strength is the unique way they allow us to explore themes in an immersive and always-personal way. And as I said, everything in a game is there to emphasize some aspect someone thought was important to the playing experience.

Those themes you mentioned are at the core of the game itself, so they flow through everything in it, from the “lightness” of the rules to the way they are presented to the reader, both verbally and visually. But I think I can give you some more concrete examples. The “meat” of the game are the tools to create your own version of its implied setting from the start. Like the 100-character background suggestions.

Each of those backgrounds is there to allow people to play through their experiences of monstrosity in different ways, maybe even somehow have a cathartic experience, which is inherently political, and is written with a clear anti-capitalist, antifascist, and queer perspective. Or the antagonist factions: all of them allow the players to have different experiences and explorations of the themes they represent – The Bureau are cops who want to maintain normalcy, your usual monster hunters; the Watchers are neo-nazi occultists; the Brotherhood are rich people who hoard magical stuff and abuse anomalous beings etc.

Engaging each of those will lead to very different games, themes, conversations, which I tried to exemplify in their encounter suggestions. It allows you not only to fight back against those things but to explore their complexity if you want. Except for the nazis, which are the only antagonist which I explicitly wrote is not meant to be “complex” or to “have a point” or to be “morally ambiguous”, but to be only punched and nothing else. Although it is written and designed as a very punk game, so I’d expect players to punch all those groups without a second thought.

Anton: If there was a standout mechanic or aspect of the game you want people to know the most about, what would that be?

Wendi: I love this game, so it’s hard to choose only one aspect, as the person who made it. But I’m very proud of having written and done the layout for 100 character backgrounds, although I’ll probably never do it again. hahaha But I had the opportunity to experience it as a player sometimes, and if I had to pick a standout I’d say I particularly enjoy character generation and the magic system. Both use language in ways I find fun.

 

Anton: Is there a possibility for print on Demand or physical print copies of this in the near future?

Wendi: Print version is coming to SoulMuppet store next week! (it may have already been released by the time this goes live!)

Anton: As we wrap up I wanted to take a moment a thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you. Before we close can you give us any insight on what is next on the horizon for you, future projects that we should be keeping our eyes out for, and also let our readers know where they can keep up with you across the digital spaces?

Wendi: Right now I gotta focus on finishing my Master’s so I can try to get the hell outta my country, as I’m sure many people will relate. I’m also finishing the first draft of my first prose fiction in English, a horror novella.

In the tabletop RPGs side, I’m currently working on 3 projects: a response to CthulhuTech that can also be described as a queer take on Lovecraftian media after watching too much Evangelion; a game inspired by and maybe set in the world of Gretchen Felker-Martin’s brilliant novel Manhunt (with the author’s approval!); and a horror game for sad people, around something we’re so far calling “personal horror”.

Anton: Thank you again, I really do appreciate the time you took to talk to me.

You can follow Wendi on Twitter at @wen_di_yu

Until next time, may the dice be ever in your favor.

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