Susanah Grace | @SusanahGrace
This week we have an interview with Susanah Grace! Susanah is a TTRPG streamer, illustrator and the art director for Black Cats Gaming. We spoke to Susanah about representation in the TTRPG industry, how we can make the space more welcoming for women and what her community has meant to her.
Susanah also shared her experience and insights as an illustrator and art director for TTRPGs, with some wonderful advice for newer artists to the scene.
How were you first introduced to TTRPGs?
When I was a kid, I played the D&D videogames (Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, etc) but I didn’t know they were based on the tabletop games until I was at uni. My housemate cracked out his 4th Ed. books and ran a couple of sessions for us, from that moment onwards, I was HOOKED. My first character was, of course, a drow ranger who was similar to yet legally dissimilar from Drizzt. Then a year or so later, I bought Curse of Strahd and GMed for the very first time live on the internet – from that point onwards, I became an actual play performer popping up everywhere and playing everything I could get my hands on!
How could we ensure more women feel comfortable jumping into D&D?
By loudly denouncing folks at the table that make /those/ kind of jokes, by calling out that one guy who always hits on the female players, by showing women through our actions that they are welcome. It’s all fair and well calling this stuff out on social media, but if you allow it at your table, then you’re not doing the work.
What has the TTRPG community come to mean to you?
I don’t necessarily believe in one big TTRPG community, it’s more a bunch of little groups clustered together under one umbrella. But I will say that my little group has changed my life forever. Through tabletop I’ve found my career, lifelong friends, and my husband! I literally would not be where I am today were it not for all the people I’ve sat around a table with.
How has representation changed in the TTRPG space since you first started playing?
I’m fairly new to the scene, but even in the short time I’ve been here I’ve seen, met, and worked with people from every kind of background. Everyone I’ve worked with and played with has made a concerted effort to leave the scene better than we found it. Every day I’m seeing games being made by marginalised peoples, getting to see and experience their stories. I won’t pretend that we’re in a utopia where everyone has the means and opportunities to see themselves represented, there is a lot of work still to be done. I can only hope we enter an era soon where those barriers no longer exist.
As an illustrator in the TTRPG space, we'd love to hear about your inspirations and processes when creating your work.
It very much varies from project to project. Creating an illustration for a TTRPG project goes through a lot of stages with back and forth with art directors/creative leads, and each project has its own needs. Sometimes I will be required to work within a certain style, but often the AD wants me to work in my usual style (a painterly semi-realistic style). Typically, I want to know the mood, the tone, the feeling of the piece before I start – that information alone informs the foundations of the piece, from composition, to pose, to colour palette. I spend a lot of time looking at as much media as possible to expand my creative library, this could be anything from other art works, movies, tv, animation, comics, heck I even pulled design inspiration from food packaging once.
I work in pretty exclusively in Photoshop, and typically I stick to about 3 brushes and as few layers as possible. I’m not one of those people who can work on 90 layers, my brain would explode. Honestly though, I’ve been digitally painting for almost 10 years and I’m still learning new techniques from people half my age on Twitter.
Did you have any advice for newer illustrators out there, looking to break into the TTRPG space?
My number one piece of advice is; no matter how beautiful your portfolio is or how skilled you are, you can’t get booked on a job if no one can contact you. Make sure that you have an email/contact that is easily discoverable. The amount of STUNNING portfolios I see with no contact info is frustrating! Remember that art directors are looking through hundreds of people just as hungry for work as you are, they’re less likely to go hunting for ways to contact you if you make it difficult for them.
What has it been like joining Black Cats Gaming as their Art Director?
It’s been wonderful! As I said earlier, I’m relatively new to the TTRPG world, but Sam and James have made it a fantastic learning experience where I really feel trusted and supported taking on this new role. I’ve been with Black Cats for a few years now as the Media & Marketing Coordinator, so getting a chance to expand my skillset and dig into something from my academic/freelance background has been really exciting. I’m currently working on my second project with them as Art Director for Cursed Captains of Cthulhu, and I would be lying if I said working on a full-sized rulebook isn’t a little scary, but we’ve already got some incredible artwork made and working on the other side of the art brief with so many amazing artists has been fantastic!
As a streamer and actual play performer, did you have any favourite moments you'd be willing to share with us?
Oh goodness, I’ve been doing this for so many years that I could chat your ears off incessantly with all the incredible moments. Definitely in the top though, and this was recent, was the moment in After the Fyre that my Westerosi noblewoman, Lady Myria Sand of Yronwood, well and truly destroyed Game of Thrones canon by killing Prince Maekar in battle. This was a confrontation that had been coming for 5 seasons and 3 real life years. My character had gone from a scared young girl, a ward of the aforementioned Prince, to a fully grown warrior in open rebellion against the crown. It was one of those moments where I had one more turn of combat to kill him before he would have killed me, I made a dark pact with Roll20 to exchange a good roll with my firstborn child, and was rewarded with 5 6s (which is a critical hit and automatic killing blow in the Song of Ice and Fire RPG by Green Ronin). I had been holding my breath the entire time, and the sheer RELIEF and joy I felt when that roll showed up was incredible. I wanted to do a lap of my room with my shirt over my head like a football player celebrating a goal.
Do you have any dice superstitions?
I will only ever use pink dice, and they must be placed on the table with the highest value at the top. It makes absolutely no sense, but the brain goblins are only satisfied when those conditions are met.
What would be your dream TTRPG project?
High society political intrigue with duels for honour, treason, opulence, drama, and torrid affairs. Oh, and vampires. Obviously always vampires. We’re talking the most egregiously over the top, court of Louis XIV, powdered wigs and gilt frame EVERYTHING nonsense. Let me get a pre-emptive TM in there for this one, I need to make it ASAP!
Thank you so much Susanah!!
You can catch Susanah on Twitch: www.twitch.tv/SusanahGrace, and playing live on Black Cats Gaming: www.twitch.tv/followblackcats. You can find the games Susanah works on at the Black Cats Gaming shop: www.blackcatsgamingshop.com
Susanah is smiling at the camera, wearing a black t-shirt. She has long, dark wavy hair and has red eyeshadow and black wing eyeliner.