DAVID: How would you like to introduce yourself?
MABEL: I’m Mabel Harper, a musician, writer, graphic designer, and trans Filipina woman with a bad case of being extremely online. I’m also a game designer who specializes in horror, vampires, old-school D&D, and spells that turn dicks into snakes.
How did you first get involved with tabletop RPGs?
I’d see Dungeons & Dragons referenced in TV shows and cartoons, and I was already familiar with the D&D Capcom fighting games. So I really wanted to play, but I couldn’t afford any of the books. So, what I did instead was, when I was in 4th grade and we had indoor recess, I would run my own imagined version of the game for my friends using the dice from the board games that we kept around class. After months of doing that, when by birthday rolled around, I begged my mom to buy me what I think was the 2004 D&D Basic game set. The following Christmas, I asked for the Player’s Handbook, and the rest is history.
What inspires your games, the ones you play and the ones you run?
Things that go bump in the night. Monsters, imagined or real (and how they’re not really that different). The deconstruction of power fantasy. Communism. Transfiguring the painful and confusing aspects of our shared existence into something we can more easily process—and punch, if necessary.
How do those themes play into the dungeon you’ve written?
I mean, it’s an adventure about looting a bunch of old, pale monster nobles that hoard riches and possess dark powers that can easily turn you into a monster if you’re not careful with it (which players, by their nature, never are). I love seducing players with the potential for power and riches, and then dealing with the dangers and fallout inherent to that journey. I hope there’s a lesson to be learned from that… but also, if not, it’s a kickass dungeon with vampires.
Most creators seem driven to design the sort of dungeon they’d like to run. If you could distill your GMing style down to a single sentence, what would it be?
I try to meet my players where they’re at and have the world react accordingly—which usually means chaos.
Outside of RPGs, what would you say is the biggest influence on your creative process?
Black metal taught me to totally immerse myself within an aesthetic. I actually don’t really listen to or make that kind of music all that much these days, but I’ve carried that same sense of aesthetic commitment into everything I do, whether that be really sensual pop music or gritty-ass dungeon crawls.
I don’t know how RPGs have changed the way I’ve approached music, but I will say the worldbuilding that goes into tabletop RPGs is impressive as hell. I think I’m a way better worldbuilder for something like Form and Void because of how much time I’ve spent poring over RPG tomes as a child. a lot of these thick-ass RPG books are so good at putting you in a different place, with entirely different myths, histories, and societies. It’s hard to estimate just how influential they’ve been in that regard. I can’t extricate that component from my creative process. It’s that ingrained.
Okay, last one: are there any other creators who are making the sort of thing you want to see more of?
Is it cheating if i say everyone in the zine we’re putting out?
Okay, okay. Well, there are a bunch, but i wanna specifically focus on Zedeck Siew, who makes amazing southeast Asian-inspired horror and fantasy. his book with Mun Kao, A Thousand Thousand Islands, whips ass. it’s so evocative and really puts you in this whole other world that its creators very intimately know. and they help you get to know it too.
Mabel Harper is on twitter, has a gaming blog called Blog Full of Demons (Patreon), co-creates a web serial called Form and Void (Patreon), and makes music under several labels, notably Don’t Do It, Neil and NO ANTI. She’s also a freelance writer and designer.
The Demon Collective, Vol 1. Kickstarter ends March 2nd.