While searching through TTRPG Twitter, I came across a cute little frog someone had RTed. I searched for the creator and found Nala Wu, artist, student and TTRPG enthusiast. I followed their page for the frog but stayed for their perspective on the hobby, support of sensitivity reading and wonderful art style. I am so excited to share with your our conversation on this edition of Meet Your Makers!
Berry (she/her): General introduction: Who are you and what do you do?
Nala (They/Them): Hey, My name is Nala ! I use they/them pronouns, and I am a queer trans non binary illustrator of color currently doing freelance in the indie TTRPG scene. I specialize in fantasy illustration, character and clothing design, and concept art for animation and games. I aim to increase diversity and positive representation of marginalized groups throughout all of my work.
Besides art, I also do voice acting, sensitivity reading, game design, creative writing, events coordination, and activism.
Berry: That’s fantastic! I didn’t know you also did sensitivity reading. Which topics do you cover?
Nala: Hi y’all! I am a QTPOC, and I am educated and can speak comfortably about the following: (information was taken from a pinned tweet)
adoption & the resulting diaspora
trans narratives, being nonbinary/genderfluid, gender identity
LGBTQ+ issues, especially bi, Pan, queer, labels, coming out
Hormone Replacement Therapy (Testosterone)
living with depression/anxiety/ADHD
my experience surviving a terrorist attack (specifically the Boston marathon bombing) and the resulting trauma
representation of asian characters in modern and sci-fi settings (editing to clarify: i specify modern and sci fi because I am NOT educated about asian or chinese history enough to help with projects relying on historical accuracy)
bdsm and sex positivity
I will be most useful:
reviewing TTRPG games and products
hired to write characters with experiences like mine
being interviewed for research purposes
making sure your art isn’t problematic
talking to you for educational purposes
public speaking on panels and streams
If you are interested in working with me, send me a private message or email along with the details for your project and what specifically you want me to help with! I’ll send you a quote and we can talk further! I reserve the right to refuse work on a project for any reason.
Berry: How did you come to TTRPGs?
Nala: I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in high school because one of my friends was starting a game and I’ve always been curious. I remember playing an extremely watered down version of the game in elementary school. Said friend got into D&D from the The Adventure Zone podcast. Once I went to college, I started playing more often (Like seven hours a week), and it was then that I decided that I wanted to GM. Started GMing winter of Freshman year. At one point I was running 3 campaigns at the same time if I remember correctly.
Unfortunately I got burned out, and took a break from GMing. I joined what would be my final D&D game fall of my junior year. During this time, and due to all of the discourse around Wizards of the Coast and D&D, I decided I would be moving away from that game in favor of games that don’t have racism baked into the design.
Since then, I’ve played so many wonderful non D&D games!! Also since then, I started appearing on twitch streamed games.
Here is a link to my CV !
Berry: There are so many fantastic games out there! What are some of the other TTRPGs you’ve come to play?
Nala: There’s been so many! Some of my favorites include Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall , Star Trek Adventures, This Ship Will Carry Us Home, and this absolutely absurd game of Everyone is John, (Except it was an all-asian cast playing Scarlett Johansson– aka Everyone is ScarJo).
Berry: Everyone is ScarJo is in my queue to watch! It was such a funny premise and there was a LOT of talent in that stream.
Nala: It was honestly iconic! I made so many good memes to advertise for the stream, like this one .
Berry: I can get overwhelmed managing my time between my own projects and watching the content of others. There is some excellent content! How do you decide which projects to dedicate your energy to?
Nala: Oh man, this is a huge struggle of mine. I have ADHD so it’s very hard to figure out what to work on– especially when it comes to my personal projects. I have like two different unfinished games sitting on my computer right now and I’ve waited so long on one of them, it’s no longer relevant.
Berry: I completely feel that!
Nala: But as far as how do I decide: I focus on the stuff that makes me excited! If i’m not super psyched about a project, I know I’m going to complain (to myself) the entire time so I try to only take on work that I’d be excited about doing.
Berry: That is good advice. Work on what you’d like to see in the space.
Nala: I work incredibly fast when I’m excited or hyper fixating on stuff. You’ve seen my stuff about my original character Aditya, yeah? If not, that’s ok!
Berry: I have.
Nala: I’ve been hyper fixated on them for over a year and I have written so much content! (Mostly prose, but I was also trying to make a game too!). This November, my partner and I decided we would write a Vampire AU with Aditya and the rest of our characters.
Berry: Oh that sounds fun!
Nala: This document is … (checks notes) almost 200 pages and 71,000 words!
Berry: Wow! You could put that into a novel!
Nala: It’s a ton of disjointed scenes. Something that’s helping us write is that we don’t intend on publishing this. It’s something we’re writing just for ourselves! There’s no overarching plot, each scene is just exploring our characters’ relationships and interactions.
Berry: I have heard from many people that they are hesitant to make the jump from player to GM. How did you find that transition?
Nala: So much anxiety- I had been playing in a D&D campaign and it was super fun, but I also knew that I wanted a turn in the GM seat so I could tell the kinds of stories that I wanted to explore (Read: Queer). I was really nervous because I was still a fairly new player, and my friends who would be my players were way more experienced with both the rules and the lore. I was worried about them rules-lawyering or whatever, so I decided to throw D&D’s official setting and lore out the window in favor of my own. I have been working on my own fantasy setting since 2016, and my thoughts were “Well: If I set the game in my own setting, then people can’t tell me I’m doing the lore wrong.”.
Arjunbai is a non eurocentric fantasy setting that has been designed from the ground up to give Queer, Transgender, and BIMPOC characters the spotlight. A lot of my focus has been on developing a religion featuring a major pantheon of 8 goddesses, and a minor pantheon of many other deities.
Berry: Well you have jumped right into my next question regarding advice on making TTRPG settings inclusive and welcoming!
Nala: My main Goddess, Haleakalā, is canonically trans. My logo is also the symbol of Haleakala. She’s got it as a tattoo on both her shoulders and most religious folks will also have it tattooed somewhere
Early Art from 2018
Berry: Did you create the setting you wished to see or did you create the setting as a backdrop to the stories you wanted to tell?
Nala: It was a mixture of both. Originally, Arjunbai came out of my frustration that I didn’t see people like me in fantasy. I looked at things like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones being heralded as the pinnacle of fantasy, and I was just frustrated. They’re so exhaustingly white. So Arjunbai was first born out of this frustration; I wanted a setting with no white people! And then, once I started writing I made sure to make it explicitly queer and trans as well. I wanted it to be everything Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones wasn’t.
Once I decided to DM for D&D, it just fit so perfectly. I finally got to explore this world I made with other people, and my writing and passion for it increased exponentially as the players explored the setting. I developed so many other aspects of the world building because of the games I ran.
Berry: I think so many people borrow from what they have already seen done. It must have been refreshing to use that as inspiration for what wasn’t out there!
Nala: For sure! I’ve been told by past players that the setting is very unique, and I think a large part of that is because I don’t know Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, or Dungeons and Dragons lore. When I was younger, I never consumed much fantasy media, again, because it was boring to me (Read: there weren’t any POC).
Instead, I relied on my own experiences, namely my complicated experience with religion, which I used to write my own religion– one that I would be proud to be a part of.
Berry: That is so wonderful you were able to find the energy and words to create this world! What are your plans for your creation?
Nala: Good question! I really need to write stuff down, because right now it’s just all up in my head. I don’t really plan on publishing currently, but I would love to GM a public stream set in this world. I just need to find a game system that I could use to tell stories in Arjunbai (pronounced ARE-roon-bye).
Berry: What do you use for safety tools at your table? What works to keep you and your players comfortable?
Nala: I haven’t GM’d in forever , but when I do start again I will employ the use of lines and veils discussion during session 0, as well as discussing what everyone is looking to get out of the game topic and tone wise. Then during the game, I use X, N, and O cards to check in with players throughout. After the game, I love asking the players for something they loved or want to spend more time doing, and something they didn’t like or want to spend less time doing (Also called Thorns & Roses).
Berry: Excellent tips!
Nala: Additionally, each player gets a one-on-one Session 0 with me to go over character creation in addition to the group’s session 0. Sometimes there’s also a one-on-one session of the game to help the player get into character and solidify how they got to where the game will start
Berry: Very important!
Nala: There’s a lot of work with this. But for me, I love character focused games with lots of role play, and I spend a ton of time on character creation so that the players and I feel comfortable with the characters (And so that I can make sure the characters are woven amongst the threads of my world!). In my opinion character backstories should matter, and should be relevant to the plot!
Berry: That is a beautiful gift to your players
Nala: I just like making sure they feel like their characters matter, both to the story we’re telling and to the world as a whole.
Berry: That is important! Spending your time and effort on something should matter! If you are a GM or a player, you are giving your table (or possibly the internet) the gift of your time. When you stack on the responsibility of telling stories you wish you saw more of, it is all the more important to take that time to represent something or someone in your game.
Nala: I feel like the ultimate manifestation of this philosophy is this one game I was running. I had only three players, which meant I could really focus on each of their backstories. At one point, two of the three characters’ families were present. The third character was freaking out because their mother, a renowned scientist for a neighboring queendom, was going to be coming. The problem was she believes her child is dead. The Found Family vibes were strong with this game!
Berry: That sounds wonderful! I have seen a number of people comment that they don’t want to be disrespectful when portraying a character that is different from them (for example, a white player playing a non white player character in a non white setting). Any advice for those players concerned about stepping into any of these settings, like yours or Into the Motherlands ?
Nala: I’m actually running a panel about this tonight for my school’s TTRPG club. I’ll be publishing the Zoom recording after! As far as my own stance– there’s a stark difference between a white person being invited in to partake in these diverse settings and a bunch of white people doing a “ Japanese inspired” game for no reason.
When diverse creators create diverse settings, of course we want everyone to partake! I think a well written diverse setting will also be educational to its readers so people feel empowered to tell these stories, rather than being terrified of screwing up.
Berry: I will absolutely be checking that panel out!
Berry: How did Ferne the Frog come about?
Nala: Oh my god! Ferne was actually created as an NPC for my games set in Arjunbai! Specifically, they were created for the aforementioned game with those three players. We all collectively fell in love with this frog! They’ve also been extremely popular online (Who doesn’t love a cute, fat froggie?).
Berry: Ferne is adorable!
Nala: I recently made a Twitter for her!
Berry: Oh, I follow Ferne’s Twitter!
Berry: My interviews all end with the same question. At VV we are very focused on the community at large. What charity/non profit can we help you signal boost?
Nala: The Okra Project brings free meals to Black trans folks!
Art Twitter: @naladraws
Bio & links: https://naladraws.carrd.co/
*Photo and art credit: Nala Wu
Related: Meet Your Makers: Peter Jung M.Ed