What film or novel would you be most surprised that a friend had not seen or read?
Nothing really surprises me about film or novel experience. It might be because I game in a college town, where many of my players didn’t grow up with the same media as I did because of our geographical, cultural, or chronological differences. I’ve had players who didn’t know Lord of the Rings was a book before it was a movie, or who didn’t know which jokes came from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and most of them weren’t interested in correcting that. I’d be stunned if a player had never heard of them, but experiencing them as they are intended is another thing altogether. It helps that I tend not to read novels or watch movies myself; most of my references come from television, comics, and video games, so that’s what pops up in my campaigns.
If I have to pick something, I’ll pick The Avengers. It’s recent enough that my players aren’t too young for it, it’s popular enough that everybody’s had a chance to see it, and it’s relevant enough that it falls within the interests of pretty much anybody I know who games.
Describe the most unusual circumstance or location in which you have gamed.
A few years ago, my wife had the opportunity to take a short internship far from home. I could take my work with me as long as I had an Internet connection, so for a little more than five months we lived in a barn in central Florida. But the Internet where we lived was not up to par, so we made inquiries and found a business, associated with the internship, who graciously allowed me to use theirs. However, they really only had one place where I could set up in the relative privacy I needed to do what I did without getting in their way.
As such, I found myself gaming online for half a year from a storage closet, sandwiched between a shelf of home-jarred foodstuffs and enough items to cook them should a hurricane take out power for the better part of a month. I have never had an officemate as quiet and as creepy as a jar of meat two feet from my chair, unless you count the garden statue of a royal frog in the same room:
I don’t think anybody knew how it got there. It just was. Sitting there. Staring. All day. Every day of the week. For five months.
Around that time my players toppled a kingdom. Probably coincidence.
What hobbies go well with RPGs?
Anything that exposes you to ideas. I feel a little bad encouraging watching TV and playing video games over hobbies that involve craftsmanship, but craft hobbies don’t teach you ideas as much as they teach you very specific methods for expressing those ideas. Learning to paint minis will give you great minis to game with. Learning to follow and build stories will give you several campaigns’ worth of characters and plots you can use with pretty much any minis you want. From an investment/return perspective, I don’t see how there’s any comparison.
The trick is to do it actively instead of passively. Don’t just watch television; figure out how a show manages its emotional content based on how far it is into its season. Don’t just play video games; notice what kind of enemies they use and how they contribute to the rhythm of the game and the overall theme. Don’t just read books; focus on how authors introduce and build characters. When you understand how somebody puts something together, you also understand how to take it apart and do what you want with the pieces.
What makes for a good character?
I have strong opinions about what makes a good character, probably strong enough that I can’t do them justice in a post this small. Instead of a series of essays, I’m just going to put some requirements in bullet point format. Maybe in a while I’ll expand on them:
- A good character needs to grow given sufficient time. If the only things that change between L1 and L20 are numbers, you don’t have a character, you have a build.
- Every part of a good character works together. The character should feel like you say they feel, and their build should support that feeling, and you should play them with that feeling in mind.
- A good character works with the group. Lone wolves are for novels, not cooperative tabletop gaming, and a grimdark ranger will not gel with a table of jokers.
- A good character works with the setting and the campaign. They shouldn’t bring you out of the game by their mere existence, and they shouldn’t exist primarily to usurp or frustrate the DM.
- A good character should be unique. They shouldn’t be the same build, personality, name, or miniature you use in every campaign, and they shouldn’t be an obvious bootleg of a pre-existing character.
- A good character is fun. This is the most important part. You can have a one-note samurai Iron Man who constantly undermines the rest of the party, but if everybody thinks he’s hilarious they’ll probably remember that character more fondly than the inoffensive but boring cleric struggling with the family she left behind on her journey to retrieve the artifact her mentor stole. If you’re enjoying yourself and you’re helping everybody else enjoy themselves, that’s the point of the game.
This isn’t some scale I use to measure characters; I don’t compare each build to this list and decide a character who meets five points is better than a character who only meets three. If I did, I’d have several characters of my own who don’t qualify. But if I see a character and I don’t think they’re good, it’s probably because they’re missing more of these than I’d like.
What is the game you are most likely to give to others as a gift?
I feel bad giving people games I have or I want to play. There’s an implicit “we will do this together” in there, so I feel like I’m socially tying them to play the game with me lest they ignore the gift entirely. So the game I’m most likely to give is something I never want to play myself. Usually that’s because it’s designed for local multiplayer; in the last ten years I’ve played exactly five games with people in the same room, and three of those were one-offs. Other people don’t have this problem, so I don’t mind getting them games they can play with each other.
This does occasionally put me in the hilarious state of looking at a game and going “This looks fun. Do I have any friends who have friends? They can tell me stories about it.”