In answer to Zak’s GM Questionnaire. His words in bold.
Repost and answer. Or, if you don’t have a blog, answer in the comments. Or be a big rebel and do neither.
1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
I used to run an introductory adventure for 1st ed. Star Wars in which a Rebel base on an otherwise uninhabited planet was so well hidden that the Imperials set up a base on the same planet without knowing the Rebels were there. The PCs then had to sneak into the Imperial base and knock out their ion cannon so the Rebel base could be evacuated. I was always inordinately proud of that idea, that camouflage could work so well it could bite you in the ass.
2. When was the last time you GMed?
Two days ago.
3. When was the last time you played?
Ditto. It was a D&D session with just one other person, so I ran a PC, too. Basically the other guy’s sidekick.
4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven’t run but would like to.
PCs wake up on the ceiling (not roof) of a goblin-infested cathedral; the goblins are on the floor.
5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
Do an inventory check to make sure I have pencils, dice, books, etc. ready to hand. I do this continuously through the game, sort of an OCD thing. If there’s a long wait, I draw maps or stat up monsters.
6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
Stuff that doesn’t get my fingers gross. Dry snacks without cheeto dust.
7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
Not while I’m doing it–too keyed up. But afterward I am often wiped out.
8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
A PC threw a double handful of money in the air to facilitate the group’s escape from a cantina brawl. Only interesting because the character was a Jedi. Edit: Whoops, that was my brother’s move. I mistook ‘you were running’ for ‘in a game you were running’. For one of my own PCs: lighting a very large barrel of flammable goblin liquor on fire and rolling it down a long staircase…onto some goblins.
9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
In Star Wars, they usually take the serious setting and make it unserious. In D&D, they often take slightly gonzo setting and treat it seriously (more seriously than I do, anyway).
10. What do you do with goblins?
Try to figure out how a colony of sentient ants would take advantage of the city above them. I usually assume the goblins were there first, and the humans/dwarves/whatever came along and built cities on top of them, possibly without knowing the goblins were there. Until things go bad…
11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
I stole a particularly gruesome monster portal for my D&D game from John Scalzi’s The God Engines.
12. What’s the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
A player roleplaying an attempted romantic pickup and flubbing a line so badly that most of us had to walk away from the table in tears.
13. What was the last game book you looked at–aside from things you referenced in a game–why were you looking at it?
The Miscellaneum of Cinder, which just came in the mail, to see which tables fit the tone of my D&D game (and which ones could be hacked for Star Wars).
14. Who’s your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
Somebody who puts new thoughts in my head, or (re)inspires me on what the game is about. When I first started playing Star Wars, I was really attracted to the exploration aspect, the idea that if you have a starship you can essentially go anywhere and do anything. There’s a pen-and-ink illustration in The Twin Stars of Kira supplement that shows a Millennium Falcon-type freighter heading out into a starfield. When I saw that, I thought, “Wow, yeah, that’s what this is about!” It was something that had been missing from my game for a while.
Or something over the top that makes me think, “Hey, why the hell not?” One of the Star Wars adventure compilations had a picture of a guy jumping onto an AT-AT from a ruined building. I thought it was so badass, I built a scenario where my PCs had the opportunity to do just that. And they did.
15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
Probably. One time I had my Star Wars group run into Darth Vader. That certainly put the fear in them, especially since we’d had a character death in the previous session. They knew it was time to run, hide, or die. They ran.
With D&D, I think it is the fact that my run-of-the-mill opponents are mostly standard–goblins, frost giants, and so on–but the ‘boss’ monsters are usually stuff I made up myself, drawing on whatever wacked-out stuff I’ve been reading. The deeper they go, the more serious the confrontation, the less they know what to expect. Keeps them on their toes.
16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn’t write? (If ever)
No question, it was Riders of the Maelstrom for Star Wars. Everything just clicked, we all really got into it, and it was not just the best time we ever had with a published adventure, it was our best-ever session, period.
17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
For me, a bare kitchen table with one light on overhead and everything else dark. It’s not quite the same as huddling around the campfire telling a ghost story, but it’s about as close as I can get and still have all the creature comforts I need (no wind, no bugs, proximity to the fridge, etc.). It should be night outside, and everyone in the house should either be roleplaying (ideally) or asleep in a distant room (if necessary).
18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
The ‘that you like’ really narrows it down. I guess it would be the Bloodshadows boxed set for the old WEG Masterbook system, and Vornheim. Both gave me a really strong sense of atmosphere, Bloodshadows in a big sprawling setup with lots of fluff or descriptive text or what have you, and Vornheim in a very economical little book that is still bursting with useful stuff. (Perhaps ironically, I only ever ran one session of Bloodshadows. Loved the idea, though.)
19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
The Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and CGI concept art of space fighters. I go through periodic bouts of infatuation with both.
20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
Someone who’s engaged enough to want to explore all the easter eggs I have hidden around the game world, but who can also step back and laugh when things go awry. A better way to say it is probably unserious players running serious PCs.
21. What’s a real life experience you’ve translated into game terms?
I honestly can’t think of any. Possibly I have done this and just wasn’t aware of it.
22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn’t?
I’d kill for some kind of sourcebook that tied together all of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fictional worlds. ERB tied Barsoom, Pellucidar, Amtor, and Earth (surface of) with the Gridley radio. I’ve always thought there should be an RPG product that does the same thing. I know there are fan-hacked attempts at this, or at least pieces thereof, floating around, but I’d like to see something polished. I said ‘sourcebook’ rather than ‘RPG’ because it would be nice if it was system-neutral. I can stat up Tharks myself, what I need is something that lets me compare lost cities in Barsoom and Pellucidar.
23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn’t play? How do those conversations go?
Not really. I’ve talked a bit with the one of the few guys who probably reads this blog regularly, but we haven’t covered anything deep (yet). I find it hard to talk about game stuff with non-gamers, or rather I should say that I am usually afraid to, because I worry that it will either sound stupid or be boring. IME, there are few things less interesting than someone else’s RPG stories. But I would like to talk with certain non-gamers about things like what makes a good setting or why some sessions work better than others, stuff that I think might be of broad(er) interest.