Inclusion and Diversity in Tabletop Games: An Interview with Randy Knapp

Tabletop roleplaying games are more popular than ever. With the wide appeal of streaming shows like Critical Role and the resurgence in popularity of Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, tons of people are getting into RPGs. With the industry in such a golden age, diversity and inclusion in tabletop games is vital.

Introducing Randy Knapp, a video-games industry programmer and indie game designer. Randy is the lead designer of Zafir Games, bringing Zafir: Tactical Roleplaying Game to Kickstarter on June 11th. We were lucky to have some time to speak to Randy, not only about his inspiration for his game design, but also about his stance on representation of diversity in the board game community.

What is Zafir: Tactical Roleplaying Game?

Zafir: Tactical Roleplaying Game is a pen-and-paper RPG in the same vein as Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. It’s set in a middle-eastern inspired world of magic and technology. Imagine a world like ours in the 1930’s. It’s been a decade or so since the end of a major world war, and now the instigator of that war is starting to engage in conflict again. The world is run on machines like trains and airships, but instead of being powered by oil and coal, they’re powered by magic crystals and enthralled spirits.

It’s also got a unique combat system that’s more strategic and tactical than most other RPGs. Combat in Zafir plays a lot more like a skirmish wargame than traditional RPGs.

Where did the idea come from?

Honestly, the world of Zafir has been kicking around in the back of my head for like a decade. I’ve got notes going back at least that far for a modern world of airships, gunfighting, and magic. One of the biggest inspirations for me is the Final Fantasy series, especially Final Fantasy XII, one of my favorite games. You’ll see touches of that game in a lot of the magitech design in Zafir.

I just love mythology and finding a mythology that’s less celebrated in modern media was fun for me, so a lot of Zafir is based on Persian and Zoroastrian mythology. The dragons of Zafir are great flying serpents called the “azi” from ancient Zoroastrian legend. The demons of the Nether (one of the spirit realms in Zafir) are called “daeva” from Zoroastrianism.

As for the game mechanics and combat system, there was influence and inspiration drawn from some of my favourite games. I’m a huge strategy gamer who loves turn-based grand strategy or tactical combat video games. Civilization and XCOM are some of my favourites.

When I set out to create the combat system, I was responding to my own experience playing traditional RPGs. Zafir’s system is designed to give the players multiple tactical options every turn.

What do your thoughts about gender and sexuality representation in the board gaming community?

That’s a really good question. I feel that with the growing popularity of tabletop roleplaying games, inclusion into the board game community is important as ever. I think being a part of this community and seeing how so many people can have so much fun enjoying similar interests, it is vital for us to be welcoming and inclusive to those new players who want to join.

I want to be really clear here, I’m a cis-het, white, male, middle-class American. I have a lot of privilege in this society. I don’t claim to speak for those that are marginalized by patriarchy or racism in the world. If you want really good opinions on those things there are awesome black folks, women, and LGBT folks out there that can share with more authority than I can.

But in general I think that there’s a pretty distinct lack of diversity in games, not only in gender and sexuality but in race and abledness as well.

What do you aim to do to help the cause? Relating to Inclusion and Representation?

What I care about is using my privilege and allyship to prioritize inclusion in my projects. The very last thing that the games industry needs is yet another euro-centric, white-centric, male-centric game. There are tons of those out there already. My hope is that when people see Zafir, they see a lot of people in the game that are like themselves, no matter who they are. It’s intentional that the first thing most people see about the game is a black woman. It’s important that when people see characters introduced on social media that those characters are also introduced with their pronouns, helping to normalize that kind of introduction. When you’re reading the rules of the game, you will see gay characters, non-binary characters, disabled characters, and characters with a wide variety of skin colors and body types.

You can back Zafir: Tactical Roleplaying Game on Kickstarter from June 11th to July 19th. Visit www.zafirgame.com to see the campaign!

Article published on www.fourtato.com.

Tiny crew of board game designers! Four potatoes trying to make their ideas come to life!