For the readers out there, who are you and what do you do?
I’m Misha Bushyager. I’m a writer, designer, editor, and sensitivity reader for TTRPGs and larps. I’m one of the founders of New Agenda Publishing and one of the curators for More Seats at the Table.
How did you first get into roleplaying?
Fun story. A buddy and I were hanging out in a mall food court waiting for a movie to start when we saw these guys pull out dice and books at a table next to us. We asked what they were doing and they invited us to join them. We did character creation in Earthdawn that night, went to the movie (that they were also waiting for), then went and played with them the next day.
Earthdawn is a fun game to get into the hobby with. Most people in the hobby end up mentioning D&D. Do you think that gave you a broader perspective of what games could be thematically or mechanically? (I suppose most people in the US. a lot of UK gamers end up saying Warhammer)
Absolutely. I played for years in other games before I ever played D&D. Rolemaster, Deadlands, Gurps, Rifts, Warhammer FRPG, Vampire, Mage, Werewolf, Shadowrun 7th Sea. All had a far bigger role in developing me as a gamer than D&D.
How did you go from being just a fan to an editor?
I’ve always written and helped other people tweak their own work. When #feminism was hatched, I didn’t have a good idea for a game of my own, but I wanted to support the project how I could. I ended up being one of the 3 main editors, which meant reading a lot of REALLY heavy games (and a few light hearted ones) the weekend before Thanksgiving and trying not to cry over the pies I was making. Helping a work become the best version of itself is a great feeling.
Working as one of 3 primary editors as your first time must have been an interesting experience. How did you think about splitting the work?
We each gave every work a pass looking for different things. I was looking for clarity and the usual spelling and grammar corrections. The others were looking from a more developmental standpoint, how could this be played better.
In a lot of rpg books, order of information matters as far as balancing the book as teaching tool vs the book as reference. For #feminism, it was a lot of little games, so that wouldn’t be an issue. How did you think about organization? Was it more like balancing the emotional flow in a music playlist, trying to fit where sad or happy songs are most impactful?
We first grouped the games by theme, so sex, dating, workplace, abortion, etc. Then within each category we went lightest to heaviest. We ended up coming up with a teardrop scale to indicate how emotionally heavy each game was likely to be for players.
Thats clever. You mentioned you didn’t do much developmental editing on that project. How has your role changed as you’ve worked on more projects?
I’m still easing my way into more developmental work. For Orun I worked with my partners, each of us taking a different focus. Mine was guiding the writers through world building, fleshing out the different planets in the world. Eloy headed up mechanics and Jerry took history and art direction. I still do a lot of making sure the right homophone is used and tweaking word choice for clarity, but that’s the easy part.
How do you think about world building within the project? Do you let the mechanics guide your thinking on what should be possible, or the sort of outer limits of capabilities, or do you tend to think about things within their own realm and leave the mechanical implications with Eloy?
We brainstormed the species together, then split to work on things separately. For example, we had an aquatic species, so I let Eloy handle what their special abilities would be while I worked out what their society would look like and what their cities would feel like. We did tweak a few things after we brought the two halves together, but generally it was split.
I imagine there has to be a lot of trust and respect to make that work.
There is. We had worked together before on Part Time Gods 2 so we were used to each other’s style.
In the intro you mentioned that you’ve worked as a designer and sensitivity reader as well. How does that experience impact your work as an editor, or the way you communicate with a writer?
Being a freelancer gave me a lot of insight into what feedback is useful. In general, more specific is better (to a point). Too little and you can easily fall into blank page syndrome, where you’ve got a million directions you could go and no way to decide which to choose. As a sensitivity reader (and a Black woman who’s queer) I always have at least part of my head making sure that more people are seeing themselves reflected in what I put my name on than just the same straight white guys I was raised on and I try to bring that out of the writers I work with as well.
What does that look like when dealing with a sci fi game with lots of aliens? Is there more of a shift to looking for things like racial coding?
In Orun we specifically set out to make a world with no humans. The aliens are truly alien. We wanted to shake up the usual human centric model most space games use. We also made a shift to culture based bonuses rather than species based ones. So a B’Bocci raised on the Ako’Ibirin homeworld has as much in common with other beings there as they might with a B’Bocci raised on the B’Bocci homeworld. We also tried not to have earth culture analogs either, just letting the worlds be weird and wonderful.
So looking at new worlds and cultures. One issue you sometimes find with sci fi games is the Neil Stephenson problem(and I will preempt followups from readers with yes, I get he is super successful that isn’t my point). There can be so much new terminology on top of the just learning the game part that it can be a barrier to entry. How do you maintain a balance between alien-ness and accessibility?
We used plain language for most thing and made sure to compile a glossary of key terms and tried to keep new terms to a minimum. We also ran it through the best test I know: explain it to a kid. If they could follow along, we figured it was pretty good.
Thats a really good trick!
I recommend a kid you know and whose parents you have permission from.
Wise words. On that note, what advice would you give to people just starting out as editors in the industry?
Trust your gut. If someone has haired you to do the job, they want your feedback so give it to them. Be honest but kind. Be specific in your feedback.
And on the other side of things, what would you recommend to a publisher or writer looking to hire an editor?
Pick someone you trust, someone who is a fan of you and your work. Give them a test chapter (paid of course) to get a feel for how you’ll work together.
Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with me. Before we get going, are there any projects you’re working on now, editing or otherwise you want people to keep an eye out for?
We’re finishing up Orun, hopefully in time for Pax Unplugged and the winter holidays. That’s the only one I can currently talk about.
Well that hints at exciting things! And where can people find you on social media?
I’m on twitter @bggameworks and I have a blog BlackGirlGameworks.com. You can also sign up for More Seats at the Table a bi weekly newsletter highlighting analog games by gender-marginalized people at http://tinyurl.com/MSatTheTSU
Last but not least, if people are interested in hiring an editor, how should they get in contact with you?
My blog is the best place.