Independent, together: the IWGB opens its membership to tabletop creators

A handful of RPG designers join UK-based IWGB in a small but critical step towards growing union solidarity.

Independent, together: the IWGB opens its membership to tabletop creators
Credit: IWGB

The United States has benefited from an upswell of union adoption over the past several years, and tabletop is no exception. Pathfinder and Starfinder RPG creators founded the United Paizo Workers, trading card game staff at Card Kingdom and TCGPlayer won their own fights, and several hobby shops and retail locations are currently locked in negotiations against ownership that don’t always agree with the need.

Across the Atlantic, tabletop workers have won a different victory. The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain recently voted to amend their constitution and allow tabletop designers, artists, editors, and all other precarious workers (meaning non-staff) to join their ranks. While the inclusion of fix or six individuals might seem small, IWGB organizer Eryk Sawicki told Rascal via email that this open door is a critical step towards informing and protecting a swath of creatives without much career security.

“We know we can’t change the industry overnight, so our initial meetings have been about finding ways to help now,” Sawicki said. “We've increased our efforts to take stock of the tabletop games industry.” He mentioned the similarities between tabletop and video game workers—skilled creatives with transferable skills such as narrative and game design, concept art and illustration who also tend to serve overlapping audience interest (look at the success of Baldur’s Gate 3 at introducing Dungeons & Dragons to a largely digital audience)—as evidence of a natural camaraderie and obvious inclusion in the union that also counts many gig workers among their ranks such as video game development contractors, drivers, cleaners, foster care workers and yoga instructors.

Those same creative gig workers face similar industry challenges. “Low wages, exploitation of passion, and crunch are just some of the oft-maligned issues faced by video game devs which are tragically common in tabletop game development, too,” Sawicki said. “There’s been a huge sense of excitement and camaraderie from all the new tabletop devs joining lately. It’s been great to find that we can understand and support each other through all the good times and bad that come with the job.” Sawicki said the IWGB aims to provide its tabletop members pay transparency, compiled legal resources and job opportunities, and continued efforts to shift the public perception of unions away from its historically maligned roots. 

Rascal sat down with one of the first tabletop workers to join the IWGB, designer of We Deal in Lead and RuneCairn Colin Le Sueur, in order to discuss their initial steps and grand goals. Few in number but stalwart in purpose, Le Sueur and his cohort don’t plan to immediately swing for the fences. Their fight is one of bridge-building and outreach, spreading word of a better path throughout an industry of tabletop workers woefully unaccustomed to solidarity.