Monday, March 15, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM Adam

I've gamed with Adam once before, if I recall correctly: a one-shot Pulp Hero game. That aside, I chat with him from time to time and we always fall into a discussion about game settings, game systems, new and old news (often peppered with discussions about DC Heroes/MEGS and Legend of the Five Rings).

Here are his responses to the questionnaire:

What was the first RPG you remember playing?
You mean besides "Play Pretend" as a child? I remember being about 8 or 9 and playing with a kid who lived across the street from my grandmother. He always got the newest toys first and had the Dungeons and Dragons boxed set. Once we played, I was completely hooked. I returned home, I sought out the varying boxed sets and taught all my neighborhood friends how to play. Eventually the hardbacks for "Advanced" Dungeons and Dragons came out and I got each of those.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?
One thing that has drawn me to RPGs is the ability to create drama for anyone. I have been involved with theatre most of my life and I really find RPGs to be a form of theatre. Normally, when we watch TV or a movie, we see others having adventures and creating stories. Role-playing games puts all of that in the hands of the player and allows them to be both performer and audience all in one.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?
I've always enjoyed creating stories and casts of unusual characters. When I'm running a game, I don't just create and play one character like players do. I get to create dozens with little personality traits, goals and abilities. When you GM, you get to be the rest of the world the players have to explore and interact with.

I also love watching how players can suddenly take a story in a direction you never conceived it going towards. Scrambling to figure out what will happen when the main character does something totally unique can give a much more rewarding story and experience. Comparing it to online games, you generally are limited to boxed in area that has been created. Deciding what happens when characters take a jack hammer and pulverize one of those walls that weren't supposed to be able to is a lot of fun.

What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Everything I've ever read has had some influence. One series that has had a lot of influence over my fantasy worlds was the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. It's a series about a young orphan who eventually becomes the hero of a kingdom and more. The Disney movie The Black Cauldron is based on one of the books but didn't even come close to the original story. It's based very much from Welsh mythology and the Arthurian tales which have always appealed to me. One thing I drew from here is that NPCs are not always what they seem and every hero needs a good bad guy.

Geoffrey Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain certainly has to be cited as a source of inspiration, directly and indirectly. Written to be a historical work (though many historians question its veracity), it is the first written account of Arthur and Merlin. In his tale, Gawain was the mightiest knight and Arthur single-handedly fought battles with hundreds of giants and won. All of the Arthurian tales we know of started here. So when I read TH White, Mallory, and others, I often think of Monmouth. One thing this has always reminded me in an RPG, is that while the players can have other heroic characters and an intricate world around them, the story (if it's going to be good) must be about them. If it's a classic good vs. evil story, this means that they must be necessary to defeat the evil.

For the third, let me pick the Mistress/Servant/Daughter of the Empire series by Jannie Wurts and Raymond Fiest. This is about Mara of the Acoma Clan and her ascent into power of a feudalistic fantasy Asian Empire. Considering one of my most recent campaigns was a Legend of the Five rings game; this series was invaluable as a source of inspiration and understanding how to run a game of political intrigue in a setting of Bushido based honor.

Overall though, I'd say inspiration can come from any book. Many good science fiction stories are actually fantasy stories or political beliefs wrapped in science fiction trappings and vice versa. Using inspiration from one type of story and seeing how it would work in a completely different type of setting can result in some great tales. I even once ran a super hero campaign based loosely on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Farscape was a wonderful show. It was very character driven and many episodes revolved as much around how the characters interacted with one another as it did with them interacting with any outside threats. This is a great example of how to make and play with a group dynamic within a party.

As a teen, I watched everything to do with GI JOE. One thing that's interesting about this show from a Gming perspective is how they had dozens of "Joes" but they were each powerful in their own way. They each had a niche to fill and each had their occasional moments of character development and time in the spotlight. A lot is made in games about "game balance." While game balance is important, it's really just a tool to drive towards characters getting their time to shine in their own way.

I'll add Kindred: The Embraced as the third since it was probably the first real TV show (not counting the Saturday morning cartoons) actually based on a role-playing game. Certainly you could learn a lot wbout White Wolf's world and the dramatic tensions in that world from the show. But the most important lesson of the show was that RPGs were, in fact, cool and they really could inspire success in a mainstream audience (a lesson that the video game industry has learned from quite well).

What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?
Star Wars has to be at the top of this list (the original trilogy, of course). It has such wonderful characters and inspired my love of spirit and belief in trying to do what's right. It also echoes what I said about the Prydain Chronicles and the need for a great villain. It also inspired a couple of campaigns in the excellent WEG d6 system. The soundtracks created by John Williams are a must have for any gamer.

The Princess Bride has inspired so many gamers I think it must be mentioned whenever talking about movies. The structure of the plot, and weaving the group together along with the clever situations and dialogue in this movie add to its charm. It provides a blueprint to adventure and comedy that every gamer can use to add to their game.

Finally, I would have mention Superman. This is one of the first comic book movies and could arguably be said to have inspired the rest of the comic book movies that have come after it. One thing this move does demonstrably well is showing our hero beating up on a couple of "average" opponents to get him used to his powers as well as showing us how powerful he really is. The first time we see the "S," he saves Lois (as always), catches a cat-burglar halfway up the side of a sky-scraper, rescues a kitten from a tree, and  catches some other random robbers. This reminds us to give the heroes time to feel badass before we introduce the villains (Luthor and Zod) that will give them a real challenge which builds the dramatic tension. Let your heroes have small battles every now and then to remind them that they are the heroes.

What is your favorite published RPG of all time, and why?
Probably DC Heroes by Mayfair games, sometimes referred to as "Mayfair's Exponential Game System" or MEGS. I used to read comic books a lot during college (I worked part time in a comic shop during college and was paid only in store credit -the guy running the shop was smart). So during this time, I enjoyed running games based on comics. When using this as a tool to introduce people to RPGs, I found similar success to the current glut of comic book movies and TV shows.

At first, I was running Marvel Super Heroes by TSR (which is another really good system). Generally, I could ask people if they could have any super power, what  would it be? Give them a character with that power and let them get a feel for the game. Marvel's system was good, but very random and very simplistic. DC could do most of the things the Marvel system could do, but also gave people detailed control over their own character. It also did "Batman" types much better than Marvel did. DC also implemented a number of techniques that were revolutionary at the time which are carried over in many RPGs today that gave players cinematic abilities to recover at dramatically appropriate moments, subplots, and generally was one of the first systems that significantly encouraged playing the role of the character as opposed to just blasting whatever got in your way.

What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time, and why?
I don't usually use pre-fabricated adventures, preferring to make up my own. That being said, I think one of the greatest series of supplements was the Otosan Uchi set and the Winter Court books by AEG for their Legend of the Five Rings line. They basically introduced the main characters and locations within the place and proposed varying different potential ways to use those settings. Some you might use, others you might ignore.

In these books, they introduced a wonderful series of hooks in a "Challenge, Focus, Strike" format. Sometimes I call this the "Bait, Hook, Strike" format. The Bait or Challenge portion is a scenario that may draw the PCs interest in the situation, for example the PCs could see NPC X wandering the halls at night outside NPC Y's quarters suspiciously. The Focus (Hook) section usually details more of the background that the PCs will only know if they take the bait, NPC X is secretly in love with NPC Y and has been delivering poems to her as a secret admirer. Then the Strike portion has details of how a GM might handle potential fallout if the PCs get involved and details that may impact that fallout. NPC X's uncle betrayed NPC Y's father 20 years ago and he has not trusted anyone of that clan since. He would be much happier if someone else were courting his daughter. Whether the PCs help X win over the father or they woo Y in place of X helps give them enemies and friends for the future. One thing that was especially handy about this is you could realistically drop out the bait to several potential subplots at once and have each of them progress realistically with or without the PC's intervention.

What RPG have you always wanted to play, but never got a chance to?
I've played in Con games and tournaments of Shadowrun but I've never gotten to play in a full campaign. I've always wanted to explore this system more since it seems to have a lot of potential and possibilities. It seems like a very fun game.  Also, one of my friends in college ran a legendary Shadowrun campaign (he even contributed to a couple of modules), but my schedule never seemed to match the times/days he was running.

What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?
Naturally, I'm looking forward to the 4th edition of Legend of the Five Rings with bated breath. I hope that it will include some stuff for the 7th Sea setting since the main rules are supposed to be more "setting generic" and allow for expansions like Burning Sands without re-writing the main rules.

Also, John Wick recently announced he's working on an entirely new samurai based game system. That will be interesting to see. I still think his first edition of L5R is one of the best editions.

One thing I'm looking forward to that isn't necessarily an "RPG Release" but I think will greatly impact the way we (especially I) play table-top RPGs is the iPad and the Microsoft Courier and the rest of the e-reader/web-browser hybrids. The problem with the current e-readers is that they don't do PDF well or color. With this next generation of readers, PDF format will be much more accessible at a gaming table. It will be nice to store my entire gaming library in a digital, portable device.

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