Discover more from The Adventure Gaming Periodical
The AGP - Issue #8 - An Infinity of Ships - An Interview With Adam Good and Jess Levine
Gay as Hell With Hyperspace Engines
I’m back after an unexpected week off from The Adventure Gaming Periodical. A combination of busy work days with my day job, sheer exhaustion, time change, and the mental health issues that go with all of those things meant that I needed some time to recharge. I have been working with my editors on Advanced Rules and Orgy of the Blood Leeches and have been working with Lone Archivist to develop an in-universe corporate logo for Orgy of the Blood Leeches, so I haven’t been holding still, just keeping a low profile.
The Adventure Gaming Periodical is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Paid subscribers gain access to print and play Microgames and other exclusive content.
Interview With Adam Good and Jess Levine
This is a tremendous interview that I held with Adam Good and Jess Levine, members of the team making An Infinity of Ships. We discuss the fact that An Infinity of Ships will contain ships with genders and sexualities including lesbian spaceships. This leads to a discussion of what it means to be an ally, the history of intelligent spaceships in speculative fiction, and the cultural implications of the existence of a lesbian spaceship. This mix of game design and Queer cultural critique is my vision for The AGP, so I’m very happy to be sharing this interview with our readers!
Tell me about An Infinity of Ships. What is your elevator pitch?
Adam: An Infinity of Ships is an expansive toolkit for creating truly unique spaceships for your sci-fi tabletop roleplaying games. Featuring evocative ship illustrations by Rob Turpin (aka thisnorthernboy) and over 100 pages of tables, generators and adventures, this gorgeous hardcover book and accompanying card deck is the perfect resource for spacefaring GMs and players alike.
How did you develop and conceive the idea for this book?
Adam: It actually started out as a playlist I made, of song titles that sounded like they’d be cool spaceship names. Around the same time, I also made a d100 table of spaceship names inspired by the Culture books. I just got really into spaceship names, honestly, as these amazingly compact little bursts of flavor and worldbuilding. I added some classes and ship-types to little generators I was making, and had these instant ship combos that really opened up new hyperspace lanes in my mind.
Then I read Thriftomancer’s excellent d6666 list of miens and thought, yeah, this could totally be a zine, just a BIG ASS LIST of cool spaceship names. While I was starting to think of it as a proper book, I got introduced to Rob Turpin’s amazing spaceship illustrations and writing, and we connected about the possibility of him doing a cover for the book. We really hit it off and I realized we could do much more than just a list of ship names.
So from there, we’ve really expanded the toolkit in a couple of key ways:
We added in LOTS of tables, so GMs and players could really jam a lot of flavor into their ships, really leaning into bits of worldbuilding that aren’t necessarily standard spaceship building fare, things like far-future music genres, AI personalities, bumperstickers, stuff like that.
Ship profiles. With Rob’s illustrations and all our tables, we’ve created instant ship profiles that have just enough flavor and detail to make them compelling for folks to pick up and drop into their games, or build out their own worlds from.
Adventures. We’ve brought on some of our favorite writers (like Evlyn Moreau, Chris Airiau, and Alfred Valley) to create playable material (one-shots, encounter tables, deck crawls, etc) that are as unique, diverse and unexpected as the rest of the book.
One of our guidestars has been to make the book a simple, instant shot of inspiration, as well as a deep resource for more nuanced ship crafting and storytelling. Just need a quick ship name? Check. Want to create a unique ship with experimental tech, a detailed backstory and crew, piloted by a rogue AI with its own agenda? Go for it.
What made you decide to make this book system neutral instead of focusing on a specific system like Mothership, Traveller, or Stars Without Number?
Adam: Pretty simply, we wanted to make a resource that provided a really, really wide range of possibilities for space sci-fi, without tying us down to any particular universe or series of mechanics and expectations for what ships are and can be. The systems you mention, and most others, have highly detailed spaceship mechanics and worldbuilding assumptions, as well as plentiful resources for creating and utilizing ships. They also tend to dial in more on specific styles, tones, genres, universes.
The universes of sci-fi are vast, multiple, diverse, contradictory, terrifying, hilarious and beautiful. We wanted to provide a source of inspiration that reflects that range, and that people could use to inject unexpected elements into their games.
I became very interested in this project when I heard about how it contains ships that have gender identities and sexualities. Hearing about the idea of lesbian ships made my trans lesbian heart flutter a little. How have you approached presenting this idea since you are not Queer yourself? What is your approach to being a strong, inclusive ally?
Adam: A big goal of the book is to radically expand the design space for what spaceships can be, and to provide GMs and players with tools, frameworks and material to make ships as diverse and interesting as the far far future(s) will (always, hopefully) be. As a fan of sci-fi that explores gender and sexuality, and as a sexual educator myself, I knew I wanted to explore the idea of ships having “gender” and “sexuality” as an aspect of their identities, and what that would imply for relationships between ships, and also between Ship AIs and their crews. So I started, as I normally do, with tables, just to start getting ideas down. So a table for genders, expressions and orientations. Another table for types of relationships between ships. The tables started as a mix of known/common human terms for gender and orientation, and I started working in more technical / abstract / science-y terms. I was also reading Monica Byrne’s The Actual Star and was really taken by her nomenclature of sexual preference in a far future in which everyone is engineered to have both sets of sexual organs (to assist in the propagation of humanity in the face of massive environmental pressures and de-population). So, I was kind of exploring ideas.
Then, Jess Levine expressed interest in An Infinity of Ships, somewhere on social media or Discord or somewhere; something along the lines of “this project looks cool!” And I thought, yes, Jess should really do this part. As a straight cis male, I realize that a lot of these ideas are abstractions to me, not really lived experience, and that the only way I could responsibly include them in the book was to give the controls to someone for whom these considerations are not abstract, but real and lived.
So I’d say my approach to being an ally is two-fold. First, I have the intent, interest and desire to proclaim, very clearly, that gender and sexuality have a place in explorations of what spaceships can be. And more importantly, that I give that space to others to explore from their experience, perspective and expertise.
How are you approaching writing these gendered ships? Are there ways that you are hoping to shape things to be more inclusive and informed by Queer perspectives?
Jess: When Adam approached me about writing gender and orientation for spaceships, I was simultaneously delighted, and as confused as many of the people we tell about it. How can a ship have a gender? How can a ship be a lesbian? At the same time, as someone with a lifelong love of spaceships who describes her writing speciality as “scifi & lesbians,” I was delighted by the idea of puzzling out answers those questions. After sitting with it, I realized it wasn’t without precedent: from Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series (and the exploration of whether “ships can love other ships” in Ancillary Mercy) to Arkady Martine’s short story “When the Fall Is All That’s Left,” queer readings of and even explicitly gay relationships told through intelligent spaceships is very much tread ground. The questions for me, then, were:
What would a new and interesting take on gay spaceships look like?
How do I concisely convey the meaning and implications of gay spaceships to an audience of TTRPG players who may or may not be LGBTQ, and who will be taking these stories into their own hands?
Discussing these questions with Adam, I laid down some basic expectations. First, for spaceships to have gender and orientation, they must have enough intelligence to communicate—this might be through an AI (even if that AI and their communication looks totally different than human intelligence), or a human mind uploaded to the ship, like Martine’s story. Second, these ships must have some opinionated relationship to human culture.
Using lesbianism specifically as an example, there is a common misunderstanding of homosexuality as an essential, almost biological property of human beings—that if you find any example of two women loving each other throughout history, that is lesbianism. While there is a cultural and emotional value to painting history and ancestry in that way, the truth is that lesbianism is culturally specific. The concept of a lesbian as we know it now is just over a century old, evolving out of women’s “romantic friendships” and sexologists early attempts to categorize human sexualities—rarely did women or non-binary people self-identify as lesbians until the 1950s. Other cultures with different languages use different terms to describe love between women, which may be related to lesbianism, but have their own distinct cultures and way of conceptualizing themselves and their orientation. To be a lesbian is to say that you are in a cultural and communal lineage of people who have called themselves lesbians.
All speculative fiction parallels and comments on reality—whether the author recognizes this fact or not—and to say that a ship is a lesbian (something I am very interested in doing in this project) is to say that lesbianism as we conceptualize it in reality exists in this fictional universe, and that the ship has some relationship to this concept of lesbianism. In adding the fictional elements, we could say that lesbian culture originated with ships, but for my take, I am interested in asking what it means for intelligent ships to say: “I see humans practicing lesbianism, I like and identify with that cultural phenomenon, and I would like to be a part of it too.” As a non-binary trans women & lesbian—who finds her gender more accurately described as lesbian than woman—I actually identify very personally with that relationship to lesbianism. From there, it’s easy to explore other in-fiction implications of this idea: some ships may decide they too want genders and orientations, but “woman” or “lesbian” doesn’t work for them, or they may find that human genders and orientations in general don’t suit them. They might invent all sorts of gender expressions and orientation labels that better fit the sort of expressions and relationships available to and between ships.
Adam commissioned me to write tables of ship genders, expressions, and orientations, and to explain their meanings. I plan to fill these tables with both human genders and orientations these ships might want to adopt, and those which other ships decide to create for themselves. Gender and orientation are evolving and inter-linked to the society they exist within—I can’t wait to explore what sort of gender a ship might desire (or even feel trapped in) in the society implied by the tables and example ships of An Infinity of Ships.
I am still nervous about handing all of this over to players who may not have the knowledge or lived experience to treat these ideas with respect. In the end, I can’t control that. Instead, I see it as my task to communicate what I have here: that to say that a ship has a gender and orientation is to say that the ship exists within a society somewhat like our’s, and the ship’s intelligence is struggling to find its own place and identity within that society. This is a subject that any good story of artificial intelligence explores. I am excited to make this exploration gay as hell—and to give it hyperspace engines.
There is one line from Jess that highlights a reoccurring theme as I talk to Queer creators, including in our earlier interview with Noora Rose.
I am still nervous about handing all of this over to players who may not have the knowledge or lived experience to treat these ideas with respect. In the end, I can’t control that.
I had a recent discussion about my own work with my editor on Advanced Rules, Roz Leahy. In my initial manuscript, I spend a lot of time making arguments for why the rules I am writing are “correct,” by arguing against ways people might critique them. This great in my academic writing where this argument and conversation is the point of the writing; however, it gets in the way of the book being a useful book for referencing rules. Roz told me “they’ve already bought your book, you don’t need to convince them.” And, like editors do, this unlocked something in me, so I needed to process this emotionally. This is where this story links with what Jess said above along with comments from Noora. Personally, I’m so worried about being critiqued or misunderstood that I’m over explaining, and well, this is my default trauma response as someone who is Queer and neurodivergent. I’ve felt so misunderstood and punished for being misunderstood so many times in my life that I try to seal off all areas of misunderstanding. However, this ends up diluting and convoluting the work, addressing every possible misunderstanding and angle. Instead of spending time crafting what I want to say and letting it stand on its own, I spend time theory crafting against myself, which is a quick road to an “I’m not writing” shame spiral.
I think this general urge to over explain and to focus on design intent comes from this nervousness and fear of giving up agency of the work. Words need to be able to have their impact without foot notes and asterisks and subclauses attached to every little detail. Even friends and family who have known each other for decades have misunderstandings and misplaced words, so it’s foolish to think that you can proof your work against all possible interpretations through the printed word alone. And that’s why we need more people who are willing to make things gay as hell with hyperspace engines, who put that kind of pure thought and madness into the world and let folks respond how they’re going to respond.
Upcoming in The AGP
11/15 - Issue #9 - A Design Essay Featuring Warped Beyond Recognition and Turbulence for Mothership 1e
11/22 - Thanksgiving Week - No Issue
11/29 - Issue #10 - An Interview With Brenden Carlson of Hammer City Games About Earth: After Death
12/6 - Issue #11 - A Review of Altar Shock by Disaster Tourism
November 14-December 12
A Microgame inspired by the classic Metagaming Microgame Hot Spot. It is the Floor Meets Lava turned into a Combined Arms Hex and Counters wargame.
Free rules are available.
A set of print-on-demand counters is also available.
January 16-February 13
This is our community compendium of house rules for Mothership 1eincluding a full solo and wardenless methodology inspired by the Cloud Empress Solo Protocol.
The print book and pdf is a work in progress, but you can access the draft rules for free online. I recently went through a round of dev editing with Roz Leahy, and I am now working on a more streamlined, complete draft.
A toolkit and selection of space ships with art by Rob Turpin. It also features Lesbean Ships! This has a stacked roster also including Holly Jencka, Luka Rejec, Evlyn Moreau, Jess Levine, Chris Airiau, and Alfred Valley.
A Troika! compatible adventure about a chaotic post office run by goblins full of whimsy that's infested with gremlins and all sorts of freaky lil' creatures.