22 January 2012

Everybody’s Doing it: GM Questionnaire

Zach S. over at Playing D&D with Porn Stars posted a GM questionnaire that we thought it might be fun to answer in tandem.  So Matt will take the plain text and Nykki will take the italics, and we’ll see what happens.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

It’s not an invention, per se, but I’m pretty proud of the Meadow.  There’s something about knowing that experienced parties will go hundreds of miles out of their way to avoid a prairieland that is immensely satisfying.

For my case, I think I would have to pick something that required a lot of player participation to pull off. I got one of our players to play a lawful good cleric of the sun god in my world. The campaign revolved around demonic influences in his church. I got Nykki to play a spy (half-demon) following the party on their journey. The players did most of the actual implementation, and each played their part brilliantly. The half-demon needed to eat a sentient being once a week, mostly as a balance requirement (Since she was following the LG cleric, this means she had to keep it hidden.) Months into the campaign, the party did not suspect that she was the cause of the terror that would pop up every time they stopped somewhere. Theories ranged from “she’s a werewolf” to “she is being stalked.” In the end, at the great reveal, she had managed to get the LG cleric to promise to protect her before she told him she killed his wife (which happened in the first session). I did the setup for it, but it really played out so well because of my players, so I suppose I can’t claim all the credit.

I don’t know – I think your greatest accomplishment was as a player, when you rallied the goblins to follow your halfling and turned him into a god.  You invented a whole religion that time.

Well, yes, I am proud of that one, too. The Lightning-bringer will yet raise up the goblins to join civil society!

2. When was the last time you GMed?

Since we had to cancel the last session of my campaign due to player emergencies?  New Year’s Eve.
Last night, actually.

3. When was the last time you played?

Last night, actually.
Night before last, in the Homicidal Transients hangout.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.

Have you seen the brief TV series Jericho? I have a modern (or perhaps Victorian Era Steampunk) game based basically around being members of a small town who witness the nuclear destruction of virtually every major city (US in modern, Europe in Victorian Steampunk). Originally, I was thinking of using the nWOD Mage system, the characters awakening all at once as the bombs go off. If I did Victorian Steampunk, I’d likely run it in the Hollow Earth/Ubiquity system.

That’s not one sentence.

Details. Then just stick with “Have you seen the brief TV series Jericho?” if you’re going to get technical with me.

Mine: The king is dead, and the army is gone.  It’s up to the common folk to decide: will you be heroes or slaves?

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

Look up rules, sometimes – try to get my monsters statted up.  Browse the news if it is getting particularly long.  Write down what they’re saying.

Prod my players to do things. Recap what happened. If it’s an online game, I skim news/blogs.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

With live sessions, it varies a lot, really depending on what was brought. Whoever’s place we’re at has usually provided lunch/dinner. There’s not really one snack “just” for gaming.
I haven’t got anything to add.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

Physically? Not except that we sometimes stay up ridiculously late.  Mentally, it’s sometimes a battle.

Not really. I tend to end up energized, usually, afterwards. Unless we’re up super late.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?

I have a character in the current party who has some dragon blood and breathes acid.  He tends to do this without regard for who is in the splash zone.  He took out 2 of the 3 NPC escorts in the current dungeon singlehandedly.  Almost a shame it was too dark to tell at the time.

One of the more amusing incidents involved what was supposed to be a fairly tough fight with a dragon. There was a halfling fighter in the party out to prove that halflings were not all sneaky thieves, but could be actual fighters. He had engaged the dragon in some verbal banter before we got to Initiative. Then, he beat the dragon on init when combat started. His action? Set his spear against a charge and use his racial Taunt ability to make the dragon charge him. Despite what physics might have said, the dragon impaled itself, taking massive amounts of damage in the process. I am uncertain if it one-shot killed it or just really wounded it, but either way it took a lot of chutzpah.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?

My players, and my settings, are kind of a mix: we have high drama and total ludicrosity in varying amounts.   I have had good luck with keeping my serious games mostly serious and my light games fluffy. 

My players have always known when it is time for High Drama and when they can be silly. While I have had some players that were on the loonier side of things, they almost never interrupted something serious happening. While my long term games tend to be Serious Business, my one-shots and shorter adventures tend to move quickly in silly-territory.

10. What do you do with goblins?

I talk circles around them until either they give up and start stabbing me or give up and do what I was trying to tell them to do. This is how my halfling wizard got the goblins to follow a Chaotic Good religion (focused around him, but, well, these things start somewhere).

As a GM, I have organized all of the traditionally Chaotic Small races into a hierarchy of the Small, which starts with Kobolds as the kings of the Small and ends with goblins and hobgoblins as the Least of the Small.   This means, of course, that since kobolds are so naturally superior that they have to follow all the rules of anyone in the Small who is taller than them.  Goblins only have to follow goblin rules. 
Goblins also have a complex family and societal tribal structure, which involves a rule of retribution by ten’s: if you defeat a goblin and his family learns of it, his ten nearest relatives are obligated to come and take revenge for his death.  Parties usually figure out that not killing all of the goblins is a bad idea about the second combat.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?

New Year’s: game system is RPG-13 (B-Movie); this year I borrowed characters from Firefly and Star Trek and put them on a spaceship with a homicidal Siri-9000 computer.  Hilarity ensued.

Not sure here. Several of my names for characters come from languages that I’m studying (I’m a PhD student). I’ve an idea for a game based off Jericho. I don’t always trace where some of my ideas come from, so I’m sure there’s something in my current game that wasn’t lifted whole-hog from a “game” source.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

The New Year’s game I ran this year was Hollowpoint in your Standard Fantasy RPG-World. The first group I ran through created Sesame Street-inspired characters. Yeah, and it wasn’t that late at night yet.

B-Movie a few years back: I was a lazy GM and just rolled up stats for the pregen characters without paying attention to what they actually were.  As a result the Stoner wound up with a Clumsiness of 4.  B-Movie requires you to roll over your flaw on 2d6 to accomplish anything, while the opponent needs to roll under or equal to.  The setting was every Evil Dead inspired movie ever, and as the zombie hordes (attack penalty of 2) rolled in, the Stoner got the munchies.  The climactic final battle took place with a spatula at the grill in between burger flips.  The stoner won. 

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?

Jade Regent: Brinewall Legacy.  I’m planning to run an online campaign for some friends, and we’re going to work off of that adventure path.  If we’re talking about things I am not running at all, then it was probably Toypocalypse, which I am scanning over because I hear it’s fun.

The last book I read was Homicidal Transients, which is short. It’s an interesting satire of the fantasy-adventurer trope in RPGs. (Though, at first glance, it looks like you’re playing mentally disturbed hobos.) If you count things I’ve been flipping through for character gen, it might be also Ultimate Magic.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

I’m afraid I don’t know many current RPG illustrators. At least, not by name.
Stumped here, sorry.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

Good question.  I think I’ve creeped them out a few times (vampire kittens, little girls in faux distress) but I don’t know about genuinely afraid…although apparently my GladOS voice one year had players treading very very carefully.

I know I have disturbed them. (Fountain in the castle of the villian, shaped like a hero pierced with spears, water flowing from the wounds. The water was iron-heavy and tinted itself and the statue red.) As far as scared? I don’t know, I’d have to poll my players.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)

I’m not sure here, as I usually run my own adventures. There have been a few times we intended to run a pre-made, but I’m not sure it stayed on the rails well enough or if we ever actually got started.

D&D 3rd edition came with a little intro adventure.  I has a group of tipsy college roleplayers who wanted to run through it.  It didn’t stay on the rails, but we had a blast storming the castle.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

No budget constraints?  I want a GeekChic table with a Surface built into it for maps so we don’t ever have to set up or tear down or draw out the dungeon.  I want it to have its own room, with a sound system.  I need wifi; I can’t GM effectively without a computer any more.  I want big comfy chairs.

See above. Also, with a separate (but monitored) room for the kids to play in while we game.

Oh, yeah. Kids.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

The two most disparate games… I think might be anything White Wolf (where RP is Serious Business) and HOL (Human Occupied Landfill – you play convicts sentenced to a planet of garbage).

B-movie is sort of the bottom of the barrel when it comes to serious, as noted above; I would probably contrast that with Vampire, where I once made an angst-resistant Toreador and almost got booted out of the game for it.  I’m with Matt on the White Wolf stuff, especially the LARPing.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

As for influences, I suspect they would be things from my schoolwork (Ancient Israel, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt) and modern TV series. I’m pretty sure bits of everything get merged together, as I tend to put my players (and my characters) into moral dilemmas that I don’t have a clear answer for either. The dilemmas tend to come from anywhere, though, source wise.

 I come from a long line of draft-dodging hippies, which has definitely influenced my game world and the societal structure therein – there’s a lot of puzzle and conflict resolution.  On the other end of the spectrum, I’m fascinated by human psychology, and I love turning the “good guys” into homicidal agents of evil.  I find it very interesting to watch the interplay when you have a good roleplayer or two with an evil character in a party.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

I want players who are there for the story and the interactions; people who understand that not all rewards are tangible.  I want folks who are willing to let the rules be bent on occasion, but who understand what kind of occasion that is.  I want people who also realize that real life sometimes trumps the best of plans.  I want people who blue book and let me watch, who write character journals and session summaries so I don’t have to.

I want players who are invested in the story we’re creating. While I want them to remember it’s a game and they should be having fun, I want players who are completely fine with, say, selling their souls to a demoness to free their friends or loading up on everything explosive the party has and jumping into the mouth of a dragon. So, I want them to respect the story we’re trying to tell while at the same time being all right with taking things a bit less-than-seriously.

Okay, the explosives-into-the-mouth-of-a-dragon was an awesome player moment, I will grant that.  I just don’t want them getting the idea that’s the best way to beat a dragon.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?

The one that comes to mind for me would be having a character go through becoming a father. While I’m not sure how close his experience and mine were (I didn’t have healing magic to help my wife give birth), I would like to think my own experiences at becoming a father informed how I approached it with my character.

I would have liked healing magic.  That would have been extra cool.  For me, I don’t know that I’ve taken a lot of real life experiences to game terms – other than Matt and I always having to negotiate our characters’ relationships beforehand.

And that doesn’t always mean “are we already lovers/married.” Since our characters usually end up allying with each other, we have to establish how they know each other already: are they siblings, friends, what have you. And then we have to work out where we think things will go.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?

Beyond an affordable Microsoft Surface table? I’d like a way to use my xBox’s fancy Kinect and the TV it’s attached to for remote gaming. More of my “table top” sessions are ending up in the computer these days, so I’d like to use the technology we have to do cool things.

I’m with that.  Also: I want dice that you can roll physically on a table that transmit the rolls to a computer server/program.  There’s something about dice – physical dice – that I just can’t give up (it’s like books), but the more Internet resources we use for gaming the more we rely on virtual dice.  It’s so unsatisfying.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?

Everyone in my profession?  Once in residency I embarrassedly confessed to an orthopedic surgeon that for Father’s Day I got our D&D group together as a present to Matt.  He got so excited: “You play D&D?!?!”  We had a great time ever after.  Most of the time, though, I just have gotten the reputation for being a nerd: my office staff all thinks cosplaying and gaming tournaments are sort of cute.  My teenage patients can relate, though.

I don’t have much chance to, sadly. While at school I don’t often have time to talk much gaming, though there are a few fellow students who are nerds with me. Most of that conversation revolves around Dr. Who and other sources, though. Gaming conversations, when they do happen, are usually brief and go well enough.


  1. You know, I have never played! I would love to, just never knew anyone locally to figure it all out or get started! I'm a total nerd/geekish sort, and would probably love it and be addicted if I ever started. Thanks for leaving a G+ link for folks to find you!

    1. Hee! You know, we might have observer space in one of our online campaigns sometime if I can clear it with the players :D