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23 Answers

Wherein I respond to Zak

Because I’m a super-current and on top of things, here are my responses to Zak’s thought-provoking questions. I’d like to say that my delayed entry is due to careful consideration of each answer. But no. In fact, my “delayed entry” is because I’m experiencing not-insignificant time management challenges as work grows super-crazy-busy. If only corporate America would realise that there’s more to life than web property management…

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
Wand of Tears for Fears: This is a white ivory bar with raised black stripes. The wand is activated by a command word, which is the title of any Tears for Fear song. The effect is implied by the title, with details described by the player (subject to GM approval, with damage or duration limits based on the wielder’s level). Targets are allowed a saving throw to avoid the wand’s effects, but if the player sings any of the song’s lyrics or the complete chorus, effects are halved even if the save is made. The wand does not use charges; instead, each command word works only once. When all titles have been exhausted, the wand transforms into 2d4 pearl-like Orzaballs, which, if individually consumed, grant a +1 to reaction rolls, but at the cost of acrimony from party members for 1 round per Orzaball created.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
About a year ago, playtesting Chimera 3.0. I want to get a regular online game via ScreenMonkey or possibly Google+, but no joy yet on that front.

3. When was the last time you played?
Sometime in 2000. It was Call of C’thulhu and I ran a dilettante named Major Lord Trevor Percy Von Bottomton III, Esq.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven’t run but would like to.
Baron Karhonnen offers gold and titles to any who help him retake the Lost City of Morssk from the Skeleptron sub-men and resurrect it to its former glory.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
Depends on my mood. If I’m annoyed with them for prolonged and pointless argument, I roll copiously for wandering monsters and describe threatening things. If their confusion amuses me, I try to spin as many simultaneous d10s as I possibly can.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
The trick is having something you can (1) eat with one hand, (2) doesn’t leave a mess on your fingers, and (3) can be consumed in 3 bites or less. This includes peanut M&Ms, Sour Patch Kids, Ritz crackers with Easy Cheese, cocktail weenies, and Bagel Bites. Also, there must be nachos.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
Just the opposite – it’s energetic socialising with dice.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
Trying to hire an assassin in a really seedy corner of an unfriendly city, and not knowing how to ask without making more enemies, Scabbous walks into the tavern, stabs the bar with his dagger, and asks the innkeeper, “Do you know anyone who knows how to use this?” At least it got the conversation rolling…

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
Depends on our mood. The setting has elements of both, so there’s opportunity for serious things for when we want grave storytelling, and silly things when we want to blow off steam.

10. What do you do with goblins?
They are the guerrilla fodder of Chaos, and they harass the crap out of PCs. Goblins attack to wound, never engage in a stand-up fight, and are found in every environment. They’re easily startled but always come back in greater numbers.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
A map of the NYC subway system. Three words: Five-Borough Megadungeon. [1]

12. What’s the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
We tried a rule where you only got monster XP for landing the death blow. Rick the Druid ran around attacking any foe who was down to 10hp or less, basically poaching the XP from the PC who did all the work. He would yell “POACHED!” when he did this, and then came up with variations like “POICHED!” “PACHED!” “PEACHED!” and PO-ACHED!” After the 3rd or 4th time, the rest of the party turned on him. Ironic End: during the battle, Black Dangle the thief couldn’t resist temptation, did a backstab, and yelled “PUCHED!” (with a “K” sound) as he stole the XP from the other PCs. And so it goes…


Why not?

13. What was the last game book you looked at–aside from things you referenced in a game–why were you looking at it?
Avalon Hill’s Eldarad: The Lost City. I love the concept of an entire city in ruins; settled by bandits, monsters, and other riff-raff; and being slowly reclaimed by adventurers and their red-shirted allies hired by greedy nobles.

(I’m surprised to learn that Eldarad is so apparently reviled by the Runequest community—I look forward to using it as a model for a new Chimera island mini-setting I want to launch.)

14. Who’s your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
Probably the nostalgia talking, but I have to go with Erol Otis. Possibly Holloway, who I realise has a completely different style.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
I don’t think genuinely afraid. But sometimes definitely anxious that there’s a TPK on the immediate horizon. Heh.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn’t write? (If ever)
Keep on the Borderlands with my college group in the early 90s. Re-skinned for Greyhawk and AD&D…the PCs cleared out everything—my girlfriend at the time (playing a ranger) was genuinely upset about what to do with the orc babies.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
I have this fantasy about re-doing the attic with lots of bookshelves, an entire wall devoted to displaying minis, a projection table, sound system, mood lights, and comfy chairs with swing-out writing surfaces and built-in (felt-lined) dice rolling troughs. Possibly wood paneling or shag carpet for just a touch of 70s.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
I’m sure there are lots, but looking at my bookshelf, I’d say Moldvay Basic and Savage Worlds. Such different approaches to infinite options…

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
Moorcock’s Elric saga and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. [2] Though, while the genres are quite disparate, it’s true that they both thrive on “random.”

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
One who’s willing to take risks. I realise that (subconsciously, perhaps) I tend to reward risk-takers more often than not. Maybe because they make the game more entertaining? Or maybe I’m just more amused at the desperate and cloying nonsense that inevitably results…

21. What’s a real life experience you’ve translated into game terms?
In my Boy Scout days, I was very much into camping, hiking, wilderness survival, and making fire out of eyeglass lenses and orange peels. These things tend to colour my hex crawls…

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn’t?
Why isn’t there a version of HyperCard specifically for RPGs? I mean, yes, I know there are lots of software packages for campaign management, character generation, combat tracking, treasure and encounter creation, etc. But they’re all separate, too specialised, and they don’t talk with each other. I want a single platform that’s easy to extend, with any media type, a simple scripting language, and portability so we can all write and share in the same format.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn’t play? How do those conversations go?
My wife, who recognises  (and supports the fact) that I get a lot out of the hobby, but doesn’t necessarily understand the attraction. When I talk about it, she very patiently pats my head and says, “That’s nice, dear.” Occasionally, she makes a face, but hey, I love her still.


  1. Transport to and from Staten Island via teleport only.
  2. The episode with the “Belt of Foreigner” inspired the Wand of Tears for Fears.

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