Into the Mother Lands: An Interview with the Developers

On Tuesday I talked about an upcoming project, Into the Mother Lands, launching this Sunday at 4pm PST on the Cypher of Tyr Twitch channel. You can check out more details in that article. But I was also privileged to ask some questions of Creative Director Tanya DePass and Creative Team members Gabriel Hicks and Sharang Biswas. They graciously took the time to answer, so you can enjoy a further look at Into the Mother Lands and some of the folx behind the project.

Brent Jans: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer questions for me today! For our readers not yet familiar with Into the Mother Land or the folx involved, could you please tell me a bit about yourself and your background in the TTRPG hobby/industry?

Creative Director Tanya DePass
Creative Director Tanya DePass

Tanya DePass: I’ve been doing diversity and inclusion consulting for the last few years on both TTRPG’s and in the video game industry. I’ve also written for Green Ronin in Modern Age, as well as for the Lost Omens World Guide for Paizo. I did a consulting edit on the Red Nose day adventure focusing on Orcs that was released earlier this year. I’m on the Actual Play D&D show Rivals of Waterdeep which starts their 8th season on October 11th, with me in the DM’s chair.

Gabriel Hicks, Development Team
Gabriel Hicks, Development Team

Gabriel Hicks: So I started out as a hobbyist in college and I loved the ability to tell stories with tabletop games. I was someone who grew up pretty much not around many people, a lot more in like the woodsy area so creating stories and games was a way for me to delve into new worlds and then when I finally got that opportunity in school I loved it. I loved playing the games and then realized that I could create them myself. Ever since then my first Kickstarter was a tabletop role playing game, I’ve written homebrew content for 5e, I’ve written on a recent and announced book The Pathfinder Mwangi Expanse, I’ve done both world building and consulting for the Zweihander system, and occasionally I even work as a GM for hire.

Brent: Is there something you know about the TTRPG hobby and the industry now that you wish you knew when you started?

Tanya: Not really? I knew that creating games wasn’t as easy as some people seem to think or that creating, especially in times of a pandemic is just as hard if not harder.

Brent: How did development on Into the Mother Land come about, and at what point did Twitch become involved? What drew you to the project initially?

Tanya: The project is my idea and in collaboration with B Dave Walters and our team; we came up with the idea of being a Black & POC Centric story that shows us as people without a history of Oppression and Slavery; that are in a new world literally. Twitch became involved early on, and there were conversations about show ideas, other subjects and considering stories besides sci-fi.

Gabriel: So from what I knew twitch was involved right off the bat when Tanya told me about it but the concept of getting to work on a game written by people that look like me of a world that we could create from the bottom up was something I never even considered. I play tabletop games and occasionally there is a black character in the artwork but honestly it’s only occasionally and if there is African influence of any sort it’s not often written by people with the history. I already loved science fiction but the chance to create science fiction with African history was an immediate sell for me.

Brent: I love to see new, original sci-fi settings for RPGs, and Into the Mother Lands seems very firmly in that genre. Was there a reason you chose to go sci-fi instead of fantasy for your setting, and what different opportunities do you feel science fiction offers for story-telling from fantasy?

Tanya: There’s plenty of fantasy out there, and I wanted to stay away from the concept of another flavor of D&D but with an all Black/POC cast & crew; with what we’re doing with Mother Lands. I grew up on TOS (The Original Star Trek), Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and there’s such a wealth of story just waiting to be told, alien cultures waiting to be shaped and explored. I think people get a bit stale with fantasy, relying on tropes and rarely making brand new stories.

Gabriel: I don’t think that science fiction gets enough opportunity and storytelling. If it does we see it in forms of media like movies and TV shows but not often enough in games. With science fiction there is often a bit of, no surprise, science built into it and it can sometimes teach people new things or even teach them the core concepts of things. If we think of fantasy I feel like it’s fairly easy to name a wide variety of different fantasies that exist in tabletop role playing games. When it comes to science fiction it’s usually more specific, it’s mechs or it’s different planets, it’s not science fiction as a whole. I think this gives us a good premise to build a fantastic base and then expand on to it more and more.

Sharang Biswas, Development Team
Sharang Biswas, Development Team

Sharang Biswas: At some level, and unless you’re really going into “hard sci-fi” territory, the difference between sci-fi and fantasy is mere aesthetic. Do we want to call it “magic” or “psionics”. Are these “aliens” or “monsters”. In that regard, we really just wanted to explore sci-fi trappings. But in another sense, while magic is all about flouting what’s real, sci-fi connotes a possibility, an idea that one day in the future, this might happen. We like this for afro-futurism: the possibility or even probability of the power derived from one’s racial history being more prominent than the burdens derived from it.

Brent: What aspect of the setting for Into the Mother Lands are you most eager to build out or explore?

Tanya: Giving the characters we’ve built a home on this planet, and in the world we’re building. Leaving the planet to check out moons, and other nearby planets. Looking at cultures instead of race; professions instead of classes. To get away from those ideas that are so woven into RPG culture; we want to change the game.

Gabriel: As the different character types evolve I’m excited to build out new archetypes of what characters are and can be so that there’s even more variety not just focused on dealing with encounters that are combat but encounters that could be solved in a variety of different ways and there are archetypes to emphasize that point. Diplomacy, cunning, critical thinking; making those decor focus of an archetype rather than just how to fight through something and adding more and more of them I feel like reinforces that.

Sharang: I’m really excited to see the various cultures of the Mother Lands in play. By moving away from the RPG trope of “race” in favour of “culture”, we very specifically decided to focus more on cultural practices stemming from technological and societal advances, and how these affect the way a player character approaches the world. While we do, of course, still have fantastical aliens and robots with unusual anatomy, our lens will be more on sociology than biology.

Brent: The actual play will use the Cortex Prime system from Fandom. Why did that system seem like a good fit for the way you wanted to tell stories?

Tanya: It fits better for a narrative driven game and stream. Instead of I roll one thing to see if I succeed, and then another to see the scale of success or failure. You’ll see how it works on the 4th but it fit wanting to tell a collaborative story more than a D20 or D6 based OGL system; or trying to come up with a whole new mechanics system whole cloth in a short time.

Gabriel: The system has a large focus on narrative. I talked about having a good foundation and this system pretty much emphasizes that verbatim. There are plenty of extra rules you can add to your gameplay but none of them are required. It’s about what you want as the players, you want as the storyteller, you want as the party member, to have extra. The system says here are the core rules, and here a bunch of extras that you can add to it as you would like. That idea alone is very newcomer friendly to tabletop role playing games but if you’re not a newcomer those extra rules might be ones that you’ve already played with in other games.

Brent: Pulling back a bit to look at the project as a whole, what excites you the most about Into the Mother Lands and your role in the project?

Tanya: Seeing an idea that I created, collaborated on with the amazing team that’s come together for this come alive with our cast. To get to work with people I respect and adore; that I’m honored enough to call friends.

Gabriel: I’ve been given the opportunity to help build a world from the ground up and it’s been less about make these types of things and more of what ideas do you have for any of these subjects make them and then let’s define them and then let’s refine them and let’s give them to the world. Sometimes it sounds a bit overwhelming because you have so many options but this has been a project where having all these options has never been a burden, it’s genuinely just been a gift.

Brent: There is no question that we need to see more stories and games by Black and POC creators out in the TTRPG hobby and industry. Do you hope the success of Into the Mother Lands will help drive that forward, inspire other creators and storytellers?

Tanya: I hope so! The thing is, there’s no lack of folks out there to tell stories, but lack of access, time, funds to do a thing and also getting the visibility that Mother Lands has due to the collective communities of everyone involved. What I hope is that folks with funding and space will empower more Black & POC Creators to be able to create their stories without having to rely on crowd funding or other uncertain means of getting their work out there.

Brent: Switching gears a bit, I know I will search out music that helps fire up my creativity when I’m working on a game or a character. What music, if any, fed into your work for Into the Mother Lands? Is there a specific song that has to be part of the Mother Lands soundtrack for you?

Tanya: I listened to the Black Panther Soundtrack, Hamilton, some 90’s era hip hop. Kings Dead from the Black Panther OST would be the one that fits best for me.

Gabriel: For this it’s actually been a lot of movie soundtracks. Movie soundtracks are made to evoke emotion and it can be a variety of emotions, going through the different scenes are usually going to have different reactions and they might bring you back to something that is intense or powerful or sad or emotional and then the end song might be a resolution and depending on which movie soundtrack you pick it’ll give you a whole different vibe. When I’m writing character types or abilities or locations I work really well when I’m given an emotion to work with so I’ll seek out different movies that I enjoyed that have specific vibes to help me create that. Creating a Badlands like area with the Batman soundtrack is fantastic. It’s no surprise I feel that listening to the Black Panther soundtrack as I am creating a city or an expansive world and writing about the inhabitants just feels right and natural. It’s creating something for people to play in inspired by the worlds that I wanted to play in.

Brent: When you aren’t working on a project like Into the Mother Lands, what TTRPGs are you most likely to play or run for fun?

Tanya: Me? I play Dragon Age by Green Ronin, or D&D (outside of Rivals).

Brent: Thank you all so much for taking the time to talk with me! I’m excited for the premiere and I’ll see you Sunday!

Thank you so much to Tanya, Gabriel, and Sharang for taking the time to answer my questions! Into the Mother Lands premieres this Sunday, October 4 at 4pm PST on the Cypher of Tyr Twitch channel. Don’t be late!