Cloud Empress’ writers rip open their spore-filled hearts over Life & Death zines

Co-creators Em Matson and watt talk balance, intentionality in language, and post-post-apocalyptic Minneapolis.

Cloud Empress’ writers rip open their spore-filled hearts over Life & Death zines
Credit: watt

Even among the vibrant third-party creations surrounding the Mothership tabletop RPG, Cloud Empress felt unique. Confidently eschewing the claustrophobic terror of deep space, creator watt constructed their ecological science fiction setting around a more nebulous fear–survival after near-total climate collapse and the subsequent rebuilding of anything resembling life from the wreckage of humanity’s abject failure.

 Equal parts Dune’s fascination with how power isolates us from nature and Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind’s plaintive urge to temper fear with respect, Cloud Empress was confident. It was gorgeous, weird, and esoteric in a way that invited you to play in its worldbuilding vagaries. Now, watt is planning an expansion, Life & Death, that spans two new books co-created alongside Em Matson, a two spirit Sault Ste. Marie Ojibwe writer whose previous tabletop work includes the award-winning Coyote & Crow RPG.

Rascal caught up with both creators ahead of Life & Death’s Kickstarter campaign to discuss writing indigeneity from a lived experience, ecoterrorism via mushroom-infested corpses, and interdependent community as a direct answer to colonial violence. The pair expressed a mutual fascination with speculative fiction’s capacity to reveal escape routes from our current destructive cycles. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length (I promise–it was so much longer before).