GM Survey courtesy of Zak S.
1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
I think I’m pretty proud of the magic system I’ve hacked together for my most recent campaign, marrying concepts of Vancian magic, Ars Magica magic and Cortex-system mechanics to make something that makes magic both challenging and rewarding. On a smaller level, I like that the method for entering an Avian Temple peaceably is to wave a pole with a dead cat on the end (the party was convinced it was because something would eat the cat when in fact the ravens just find dead cats pleasurable in general).
2. When was the last time you GMed?
Last Sunday, the Fenrecz campaign group got together in person and visited Nightwing Temple.
3. When was the last time you played?
Sometime around August, I think. Before then it has been a couple years. I’d like to get in on ConstantCon; between both me and my wife working at startups and having a young kid, there really hasn’t been any time where it would work out.
4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven’t run but would like to.
The party investigates the disappearance (and occasional reappearance) of the fabled city of Abi-Dal, northernmost trade center of the Celestial Caliphate.
5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
Flesh out any half-done sketches of stuff that they might get into in a couple steps i.e. if they start talking about going into The Warrens, I make sure I have appropriate random encounter tables and stats for monsters involved as well as hopefully a couple of potential adventure hooks that they could stumble across.
6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
The couple that hosts usually provide some sort of home-cooked meal for the rest of the group, then we snack on fruit and chocolate/baked goods during the game itself. There’s a number of bakers in the group and they will usually bring cookies/brownies/some sort of cake, especially if it’s close to somebody’s birthday. There’s also a fair amount of beer-drinking.
7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
Yes. I have some medical issues that make it a little difficult and I also find my mind racing afterwards to the point where I need 1-2 hours of “downtime” before I can truly relax and sleep, which can be a problem as we usually play from around 9-midnight.
8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
I was running a priest of Boccob in a D&D Type Three campaign where I devised my own “consulting the bones” system for determining what I thought we should do, which led to an extremely unlikely roll causing my priest to advise the party to turn around and head straight into the territory of the yuan-ti we were fleeing from. That wound up getting pretty interesting.
9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
Yes, no, N/A. I’ve learned to just roll with it and not try for gravitas. If it comes, it’ll come naturally.
10. What do you do with goblins?
I’ve actually been trying to follow the Zak S. method of reclaiming goblins as something more akin to the scary fairy-type monsters that do weird magical things and steal children at night as opposed to the untermensch cannon fodder role that they generally play in D&D universes. In the current campaign the players haven’t left the large city they started in and while there are some goblins hidden away here and there, the vast bulk of them are rural/are in their own cities to the East.
11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
The Danish legend of the Valravn, a monster formed when a raven eats the heart of a powerful man, creating a being that can appear as that man, a giant raven or a giant wolf and who enjoys tricking humans, especially in terms of getting them to do wicked things for them, is just about perfect for my setting and I think most D&D campaigns in general.
12. What’s the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
When the party found out that they needed the afore-mentioned dead cat on a stick in order to enter Nightwing Temple peaceably, the dwarf set about building an elaborate trap in an alleyway, involving a sack, raw meat, a bag, a stick, a length of rope and the dwarf hiding inside a barrel. The mage found a nearby bar, walked in and said that somebody had bet him that he wouldn’t come in and ask for a dead cat on a stick and that he was willing to split the 5 gold bet 50-50 with the barkeep. Twenty seconds later he had a dead cat on the end of a broom.
13. What was the last game book you looked at–aside from things you referenced in a game–why were you looking at it?
Ars Magica 4th edition main rulebook, my hacked-together system uses a similar magic system and I was figuring out what kind of new spells I wanted to bring into the campaign.
14. Who’s your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
This is a tough call. I really like both Trampier and Russ Nicholson. At gunpoint, I would go with Nicholson, just because of Trampier’s goblin illustration and because I generally prefer the early GW aesthetic.
15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
I don’t think so. I think I had a few Ravenloft adventures that I ran in high school that got some people freaked out; these days, I think we all deal with enough legitimately scary stuff that getting the flesh creeping is much tougher. The generally light and irreverent tone our group has works against it as well.
16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn’t write? (If ever)
By default, I guess the original Temple of Elemental Evil module? It quickly degenerated into the group ignoring the main module and going off into the wilderness though.
17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
I used to run games in classrooms that we had access to as one of our players worked for the college, meaning he had a key and we could go in at night when nobody else was around. So we had tons of whiteboards, an overhead projector, a long table that we could all pull chairs up to and best of all, it minimized potential distractions. Plus, with no couches, it was harder for players to get sleepy.
18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
Probably original D&D and the various World of Darkness systems and in terms of disparity, I’m mainly thinking of mechanics. I’ve tried to bring elements of both that I like into my hacked-together system.
19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
To go with literary references, I’d have to say Terry Pratchett and M. John Harrison. Pratchett tends to come out in my NPCs, who are generally outsize comic caricatures, something that isn’t helped by the interactions favored by my party, which generally involve a lot of nonsense (if I played “serious” NPCs, they’d probably attack the players every time the party opened their mouths). The settings and overall mood of the world is much more influenced by Harrison and tend to be dream-like and bleak. It’s an odd edge to straddle and leads to situations like that of the party having comedy interactions with Valravn knights, then scrabbling for their lives against a group of undead that the Valravns thought it would be fun for them to encounter.
20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
Inquisitive ones. I don’t like to feel like I’m railroading my players, so it makes things easier for me and more exciting for everybody if the players are constantly sticking their noses where they probably shouldn’t be. I also hate the “so what are you guys going to do?” “I dunno” dialogue, especially as it leads to me having things happen by fiat just so something happens and then the players aren’t sufficiently invested.
21. What’s a real life experience you’ve translated into game terms?
As a kid, I went on a ton of backpacking trips with my family. Real hardcore, 10,000+ft. elevation, over rough terrain, heavy packs, not-even-bringing-tents-because-tents-are-heavy trips. So I’ve leveraged that experience into overland travel and encounters, pack animals determining which routes you can use, having to drop your pack in combat encounters (with all the risks of breakage or worse, having it soaked/swept away), what the odds are of procuring food from your surroundings/how much time you’ll have to spend to do so, what random weather conditions you’re likely to encounter and what will mean logisitically, etc.
22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn’t?
A real nice dungeon random generator, something like the AD&D Type One DMG Random Dungeon Generator that doesn’t devolve into me discarding 80% of the rolls and then giving up and doing it from scratch halfway through.
23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn’t play? How do those conversations go?
Not really. Everybody I talk to about them has played at some point or another, it seems.