Zak plays 23 questions

These can be fun.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
I assume you mean something I invented. I’m pretty proud of this monastery that I made called the Monastery of Everlasting Hope. You walk in and things seem okay, they invite you to stay the night, dinner, etc. But the abbot and monks are all the ghosts of the mental patients who died there – this place was an asylum. If the PCs do stay the night they get trapped, the rooms move around, there are awesome scary hallucinations, and the basement rooms are the cells of the dangerous ghosts.
I like it because I made it up on the fly based on the song “Hotel California”, ran it without notes, the players really enjoyed it and were genuinely freaked out at times, and it was well structured. That is to say, players could have gotten out early easily, and there were plenty of ways out even for low-level low-resource parties to escape.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
Last Sunday, 1E AD&D in a campaign setting I cooked up inspired loosely by Pool of Radiance. I run the game weekly.

3. When was the last time you played?
Oh man, spring 2011, in a stripped 2E Dwellers of the Forbidden City. Need to find some way of playing more.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven’t run but would like to.
A Sci-Fi Western: Destroy the Overlord of the Iron City. Inspired by Dark Sun and Gamma World.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
Flesh out the dungeon level they’re on. I try not to have NPCs in the group so I don’t have to pay so much attention to stuff like treasure division and planning.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
Sometimes nothing. Last game I ate veggie sushi, cole slaw, and cold tortellini in cream sauce, and diet coke.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
Some nights I’m tired after, but mostly I’m exhilarated. Same goes for mental status.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
Trying to scheme a way to make magic guns. DM had already added automatic weapons to his game. I was trying to get ammo that had propellant powerful enough that you couldn’t use it else your gun would explode. Then sheathe the gun parts with permanent Walls of Force.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
They like to make fun of the names I come up with for NPCs, but I’m purposely trying to make stupid names now (Slumgullion and his dog Barxamillian). What matters to me is that the NPC is memorable. I like dieties such as Tritus, punisher of cliches, or Lawl the Mirthful. I have a mushroom cult, the members of which carry special magical mushrooms instead of potions, which I suddenly decided one night would call its proto-dynasty the Mushroom Kingdom. This is all pretty much throwaway stuff I do because I don’t want the players to think I’m at all stuffy about my campaign or NPCs or whatever. My players tend to be just about as serious, or a little bit moreso šŸ˜›

10. What do you do with goblins?
My goblins are like Dwarf Fortress goblins: stabby hopeless hobo thieves. They look just like the 1E MM1 Goblin illustration, with green-yellow skin, 4′ tall and gangly. They steal other people’s language, culture, clothes, food, tools, treasure, babies, etc. When they speak Common they mix it up a bit: “What’s a matter for you?” or “Why come the rums are gone?” Each tribe has very different little quirks which I tend to make up right then and note for later. They’re scheming and toadying and the easiest humanoid to get as servants – but really not the easiest to keep loyal. If a place is empty for too long, there’s a good bet either Goblins or rats will move in.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
I can’t remember that last thing, but one thing I think is cool is tuned coins. You blow on the coin and it rings. So hard to cointerfeit unless you know the secrets! I think I got the idea from the movie Red Violin. In my game, elven coins are tuned just because it totally doesn’t sound like something dwarves would bother with.

12. What’s the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
I can never remember them. Every single game we end up with stuff that is just so hilarious, but a lot of it is “you had to be there” stuff too.

13. What was the last game book you looked at–aside from things you referenced in a game–why were you looking at it?
I was just looking over Aurora’s Whole Realms Catalogue. It’s a nice piece of work, but I was just grabbing ideas from it for an equipment list. I would prefer something with better pictures so players can see what some item looks like in diagram, sitting on the ground, and in use.

14. Who’s your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
Dave Trampier. First, it’s black and white, which cuts down on printing costs. The forms of his subjects were well-shaped and solid-looking, with excellent perspective and shading / lighting. His choice of subjects was excellent: a rat on a shelf, adventurers interrogating a magic mouth, scruffy dudes with spears and torches exploring dungeons. The art looks so simple but there is so much quality there.
I’d compare him to David Sutherland, who to my tastes seems to have just drawn cape-and-cowl superheroes. Too clean. Too swagger-posey.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
I’d classify this as terror, horror, or tactical dismay. I think many referees can achieve tactical dismay. That’s when things are simply not going well, and while you have a slim chance of success you know you might totally bite it. Terror is hard to do without antics like suddenly shouting to scare the players. I think a lot of instances of terror for players really just amount to tactical dismay. I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a player terrified. Horror is achievable at the gaming table, if the players are “in the game” enough, but it’s hard to do. I’ve managed a couple times. The Monastery of Everlasting Hope was one. A certain uneasiness was maintained for an hour or so, followed by maybe a fleeting moment of terror when they realized they couldn’t just walk out, followed by maybe an hour of low-level horror. They seemed relieved and exhausted for a few minutes after, and they weren’t sure they were really free until the end of the session.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn’t write? (If ever)
I don’t think I’ve ever just run a module straight. The closest I’ve come is taking the general theme and making my own thing, stealing a bunch of ideas from a whole lot of places that seem to fit.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
A well-insulated and temperature-regulated finished attic. You can keep all your gaming stuff lying around or on shelves without bothering anybody, it isn’t a walk-through space like a living room, it isn’t dank or cold like a basement. Potential for natural light. Ability to modify the space permanently unlike your living room etc. if you wanted a REALLY NICE gaming table, projector setup, maps on the walls, figurine shelves, bookshelves, audio equipment, mini-fridge, microwave.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
Car Wars. You basically play your car in a post-apoc demolition derby with lasers, machine guns, flamethrowers, flaming oil slicks, and chemical ice slicks. It’s a wargame really.

My idealized Microlite74. That is, removal of all the 3E crap that dude still kept and stripped down to the barest essentials. Vancian spell rarity for M-Us. Include Thief, but on d6s instead of percentages and start him out with at least 2 in 6 on everything (equivalent to 36%). Max level 14. You want to do a whirlwind attack? There’s a magic sword out there that does it. You’re gonna come across all kinds of cool traps and monsters and magic items and stuff because your DM is gonna make it all up, but the book contains the basic types. That’s why it’s actually fine for the players to read the whole thing.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
Philotomy, Jeff Rients, Ars Ludi (esp. West Marches)
These three are very much alike in what I take from them.
I can’t think of a lot of other direct influences on my game. There are novels, movies, songs, but those end up filtering through my “D&D lens” to come out the other side as gamable material. Now that I think about it that way, I wonder if that’s holding me back?

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
Someone who wants to interact, who wants to play make-believe, who wants to get along with the other people around the table, who is generally laid-back, and shows up regularly and around the game’s start time. I guess a player like me, except I still argue too much :/ It is a thing I try to work on. Shrug and let it go, I say to myself, because the worst that can happen is you’re back to 3d6 six times on a fresh sheet of goldenrod cardstock, right?

21. What’s a real life experience you’ve translated into game terms?
I use my dreams in the game all the time. I sometimes daydream things that are just so weird and visceral that I have to put it in the game. As for real-life stuff, I try not to make a big deal out of my own experiences. I know a little karate, but I’m not about to write a different combat system – the current one works really well. If I get heatstroke, I’m not going to suddenly make the weather a big deal for the adventurers. I do like to inject a lot of flavor in the game, descriptions and stuff, so if I come across cool ideas I try to find someplace to put them.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn’t?
Dungeon geomorphs, playing card style. A deck of them, 55 per deck, double-sided for extra usefulness. You shuffle in a way that mixes them and rotates them and BAM you’ve got 110 geomorphs. They need to be 10×10 squares with side exits that match with the standard geomorph format – but you don’t need all eight exits per geomorph. Below each geomorph, because you have a little spare space on that rectangular card, you put a custom QR code for the card. It detects orientation as well as which side of which card of which set you have.
Then you have a smart phone which has a program with a custom QR reader just for these geomorphs and a program to arrange the geomorphs IN THE PROGRAM as you scan them. So you can shuffle and arrange as you like in person, then scan one by one. Or you could swap and rotate in the program using your smartphone. Then you output it as a .png and email it to your PC. You can use various “texture packs” to change how the output map looks (blue and white? sepia? hand-drawn?).
Card sets should NOT be collectible because that’s a stupid idea. They should include various dungeon sets, town, caves, world-map, etc. You could even make a single map with cards from multiple sets since the reader can understand what’s going on.
The phone program should be able to generate a random dungeon from any geomorph sets, assigning numerical weights to each set to determine how likely those cards are to appear in the dungeon, and size of the rectangle.
There should be a provision for including a “black block” of solid rock instead of a geomorph, and a choice of shaving off the unnecessary dungeon side exits immediately before export to .png.

Right now the best I’ve got is a plan to draw geomorphs in Paint, print, and laminate each in clear packing tape.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn’t play? How do those conversations go?
Nope. I’m self-conscious about boring someone to tears, so I’ll mention that I play D&D but if they aren’t genuinely interested I don’t talk about it much.

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