Blood In The Banquet Hall- An Interview With Banana Chan And Sen-Foong Lim (Game And A Curry And Wet Ink Games)
When the opportunity to speak to Banana Chan (Flatline, Terror Below, Warp’s Edge, and Betrayal at Mystery Mansion) and Sen-Foong Lim (Kids on Bikes, Never Going Home, Gears of Defiance, and The North Sea Epilogues) about their latest tabletop roleplaying game, Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall, I jumped at the chance. They share details about the game, what elements from board games they pulled into this project, and how all gamers can come together at the gaming table regardless of race.
EGG EMBRY (EGG): I’ve reviewed projects you’ve freelanced for, talked to your publishing partner, Wet Ink Games, at various points (here, here, and here), and planned to attend MomoCon 2020 with them before it was cancelled. We’ve been Facebook friends for some time and I’ve wanted to talk to each of you about your design philosophy. Your latest project, Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall, checks all of my boxes. What’s the pitch for this Kickstarter?
SEN-FOONG LIM (SEN): Players take on roles in an intergenerational family unit running a Chinese restaurant in the post gold-rush era. Their struggle to survive in a land that doesn’t want them is only made worse by the nightly Jiangshi attacks! The family must keep their restaurant in good repair, serve their customers, and fight of the chi-sucking undead - all while trying to live out their hopes and dreams in Gam Saan (“Gold Mountain” - what the Chinese called California and British Columbia).
BANANA CHAN (BANANA): Yes! Players can also turn into Jiangshi as they take on stress or physical damage, slowly losing themselves. When they take damage, they take a card that covers up a portion of their character sheet. In this game, the Jiangshi act like a physical manifestation of all the pressures that they face as immigrants. The game uses an original system of a communal pool of d8s. If a 4 gets rolled, it cancels out the highest die roll (the number 4 is bad luck in Chinese culture). Each day, a d8 gets taken away from the pool, making it even harder for them to succeed.
EGG: “[A]t night, hopping vampires (jiangshi) come out and attack.” For those that don’t know, what are jiangshi? Why choose them as the big bad?
BANANA: Jiangshi are hopping vampires! There are different versions of the mythology behind them, but one of the backstories (that I personally really like) is when a monk was too lazy to transport dead bodies to their place of burial, so they enchanted the bodies with paper talismans, making them hop… Unfortunately, the paper talismans fell off and… Well… That’s how Jiangshi were born. I think the idea of hopping vampires is kind of ridiculous, so they work well with sillier games (with a tone similar to Bob’s Burgers), but the mythology surrounding Jiangshi in general is pretty loose—as they get more powerful from stealing qi from living creatures, they do get creepier, working well with scarier games! We liked the idea of letting players choose what kind of tone they want to play with.
SEN: We know that zombies are cool. We know vampires are cool, too. But Zombie Vampires? They’re the coolest!
EGG: While this is a tabletop RPG, it has board game elements. Will it include a straight up game board? Will the character sheets be boards like many RPG-esque board games?
SEN: Not really - they’re more like traditional character sheets but the cards interact with them to cover up areas that cannot be accessed until the card is removed through roleplaying.
BANANA: There is also a board representing the Restaurant that has powers that the players can use, but again, it doesn’t implement the same mechanics that you’d see in a board game.
EGG: What will the cards add to the game?
BANANA: There are three types of cards! For the Jiangshi cards, they cover up parts of a player’s character sheet, rendering their abilities useless, replacing them with a side effect. The Restaurant cards act as tasks that the family has to complete during the Morning, which set up the scene for the day. If at any time they cannot complete a task, it covers up one of the Restaurant’s powers. When all the Restaurant’s powers are covered up, it ends the game and the Restaurant goes into decay. Finally, the Mung cards are nightmares that the characters have the night before that also cover up their character sheet.
SEN: There’s some amazingly simple yet evocative artwork that helps the players roleplay the nightmare they may have had due to the proximity of the psychic leeches.
EGG: Design-wise, why incorporate board game elements into your RPG? What does it improve about the experience?
SEN: I think the board gives us something to mentally anchor our experiences. The board and cards provide a visual/tactile method for tracking the various elements in the game, like the state of the family’s restaurant and all of the bonuses it gives you (or doesn’t as it falls into disrepair).
BANANA: Agreed! I think it’s interesting seeing parts of a character being covered up or rendered useless.
EGG: What are some of the cooler stretch goals for this campaign?
BANANA: Even more writers! I’m so excited to get more scenarios into the game. Though this game is initially written for the Chinese immigrant experience (and we have several other writers who have added their own experiences as people of color already as a part of the main book), we’re inviting even more writers!
EGG: If Gen Con 2020 hadn’t been canceled, this crowdfunding campaign would have run during the in-person event. If Gen Con had happened, did you have any promotion planned for this project?
SEN: I would have loved to GM the game for people at Gen Con!
BANANA: We’ve actually talked with a few Chinese restaurants to host livestreams as well, but that might have to wait until 2021!
EGG: During Gen Con’s virtual convention, do you plan to run any demos or participate in panels to promote the game?
BANANA: We’ll probably be on some panels! (We’re a bit behind in getting panels in to be honest!)
SEN: I’ll be joining in with Banana if needed. I have another panel planned about inclusion in gaming.
EGG: When I first read the pitch, this line stood out, “Chinese family running a restaurant in 1920's Chinatown.” That timeframe orbits near-pinnacle anti-Asian racism in the United States. How is the era’s racism addressed in Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall?
SEN: We use the Jiangshi as a stand-in for overt racism in many ways; they are the oppressive force that weigh down on the family at night. While white customers at the restaurant may be casually racist during the day and while the GM may wish to bring in overt racism (with the players’ consent, of course), the Jiangshi represent that soul-crushing, life-draining experience of being hated for merely trying to exist. Through consultation with James Mendez, we included a section in the rules to discuss what constitutes casual racism. We also have other sections that discuss the anti-Chinese racism that permeated the Americas at the time. This is stuff that actually happened and just doesn’t get talked about at all. In one of the short adventures, for example, I wrote about the Chinese head tax and the need for characters to have their documents on them at all times.
BANANA: It was such a pleasure working with Mendez. We added in safety tools and a guide on setting expectations before running the game, as well as a guide on how to be an antagonizing character, avoiding anything that could hurt the table—the players are always more important than the game.
EGG: In an interview I did, Jerry D. Grayson said, “I know people that are uncomfortable playing a PoC but are perfectly fine playing an Elf or tentacled alien.” For your game, James Mendez Hodes is writing a section that you referred to, “How to play an Asian Character”. What can white gamers do to make gaming more inclusive?
BANANA: Inviting gamers that don’t look like them to the table, would be great! And when they do, they may wish to get comfortable with using safety tools and listening to the players’ experiences.
SEN: Yes! Safety tools can be used so everyone can have an enjoyable session. Playing with sensitivity to the culture their character is portraying is important. People should rely less on harmful tropes and more on normative characters, but with an understanding and an appreciation for the things that make us different. Also, there’s no need to use an accent or bow while playing this game. Ever. And if you as a player, of any ethnicity, get called out or called in about how your roleplaying negatively affected someone, use that as an opportunity to reflect and grow. Don’t double down on the bad things in life.
EGG: Beyond Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall, what other projects are you working on?
BANANA: Coincidentally, both Sen and I have Scooby-Doo games! Scooby-Doo: Betrayal at Mystery Mansion will be out soon (it was a pleasure working with Brian Neff, Noah Cohen and Rob Daviau). I’m working with Mabel Harper on a secret thing, and Jason Slingerland and I have a couple of games that we’re developing. I’m also working on a psychological horror paper dollhouse TTRPG called Nutshells (title pending), based on the Nutshell Studies by Frances Glessner Lee.
SEN: Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion, the first of the Coded Chronicles “escape-room-in-a-box” games, just released. That was designed by me and Jay Cromier and published by The Op. Kingdom Rush (designed by me, Jessey Wright, and Helana Hope; published by Lucky Duck Games) will be out soon and Mind MGMT (designed by me and Jay Cormier; published by Off The Page Games) will be out early next year. I’m working on the third game in the Code Chronicles series right now and I just signed a few contracts for some smaller card games. On the RPG side of things, I’m working on adventures for Jon Gilmour and Doug Levandowski’s Kids on Bikes system. Banana and I have another full RPG in the works, but it’s on the down low at the moment. We’ve always got something on the back burner. It just depends on how many podcasts I’ve listened to!
EGG: Thank you for talking with me. For fans interested in following your work, where can they go?
BANANA: You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @bananachangames and you can find my company, Game and a Curry, on Twitter and Facebook @gameandacurry
SEN: People can always follow me on Twitter @senfoonglim or they can watch the weekly webcast that I host live about game design at Facebook.
Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall from Game and a Curry and Wet Ink Games
End Date: Thu, Aug 13, 2020
“An RPG of Chinese immigrants running the family restaurant by day, and dealing with the hauntings of Jiangshi by night!”
Special thanks to Beth Rimmels for arranging this interview.
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All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games