Gamers tend to be some of the most creative and artistic people around. This week I sat down with Justin Osterling, a comic book artist and recreational Dungeon Master, to chat about using role-play to cope with hard times, and how when you can’t find representation at a table, you make it yourself.
Tell us a little about yourself and what got you into the gaming hobby?
Hi, my name is Justin Osterling and I’m a comic artist and fantasy illustrator currently working on an announced project with Oni Press! Oh man, I think it must have been around 7-8th grade I found an old D&D starter set in my best friends closet and asked if we could play it. We got a few friends together and it just fell super flat with us since we were all obsessed with video games and none of us really understood how to play. For some reason it just really stuck with me and I’d hound him all the time for years about wanting to try again! Eventually, he just gave me the box and it wasn’t until we were in our twenties that we tried again and totally fell in love. I’ve been hooked to tabletop RPG’s ever since!
As an artist, how important is artwork in a game to you? Can you forgive a game’s mechanics for their great art or vice versa?
Personally, all the art really does is draw me in to see what the game is about. I’ve definitely bought games just for their art that I don’t play (it’s sort of like having a painting up) but it’s never the biggest thing for me. At the end of the day, the game actually being fun is always going to be the most important part. The art is there to catch your interest and help communicate the intent of the game. Though I do appreciate that there’s been a really big push from tabletop developers to really go the extra lengths to hire talented artists for their games! We’re in a gaming renaissance and it’s really starting to show visually and creatively.
Are there any specific types of games you look to play or collect?
I’m really into party games where you hold back information from other players or try to scheme your way to victory like Sheriff of Nottingham or One Night Ultimate Werewolf! It’s just a blast to team up with other players only to betray them at the very end to pull ahead for that lead! It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise I normally play rogue in my tabletop games too!
What are some of your favorite games/RPGs?
Dungeons and Dragons (5E) and Shadowrun are definitely some of my favorites. Shadowrun for its setting and D&D for its mechanics (I usually home-brew my setting so it stays fresh for me). Though I’ve been really digging Monster of the Week that’s recently gained popularity and I’ve been dying to play a game of The Dracula Dossier! My non favorite non-RPG’s are currently Dice Forge (though I’m very, very bad) and Unearth, which has some of the most gorgeous art I’ve seen in a tabletop game.
What got you into RPGs?
Growing up I actually had a really rough childhood, between a rough divorce and distant siblings, RPG’s just fascinated me because it was a way for me to escape everything and finally be the hero I had been reading about in fantasy novels. Once I got older, I got really into telling stories and RPG’s became this place where I could experiment with storytelling and see what kind of stories people wanted to hear! Especially as more classical forms of storytelling started getting more and more outdated.
Do you prefer being the Dungeon Master or playing? What have you learned from doing both?
That’s actually a tough question. After 10 years of being a dungeon master, I’m finally getting my chance to be a consistent player, which is way less stressful, but I find myself daydreaming in the middle of games on how I would approach each session. So, I guess DMing is just part of who I am now!
The biggest thing I learned from doing both is to be flexible with the story I want to tell and create characters that fit each campaign. If I know we’re going to play a mystery, I’ll roll up a detective with a backstory that’s at least tied to the events of the mystery. Often times I see players make blanket fantasy adventurers who aren’t connected in any way to the campaign and then get really frustrated when they feel like their character isn’t getting enough attention.
How important is representation in games, both in a general sense and on a personal level? How do you include representation at your table?
Representation has, for a large part of my life, always been important to me. Being naturally drawn to fantasy and sci-fi but never seeing someone who looked like me was a disconnect, I could never really fantasize myself in those worlds. If other people weren’t going to create settings or games that didn’t have people like me, then I was going to do it myself! The Hispanic/Latin community isn’t really one that’s thought about in fantasy, though we do get some representation in more sci-fi settings, though mostly as soldiers (which is an entirely different discussion to be had). So, to bring in as much of a mixing pot of cultures that I could, most of my own settings take place in metropolises. I was raised in Phoenix, which is one of the largest cities in America, which let me meet so many different people with different backgrounds and I loved that energy. I wanted to replicate that same level of energy, so that way anyone could be anything they wanted at my table and do it safely. I’ve never felt the need to be edgy or push boundaries, just let people be who they want to imagine and be the heroes they are.
Do you consider gamer an integral part of your identity?
I mean, I have “Roll 1d20” in Dwarven runes tattooed across my knuckles so I guess you could say that I find it pretty important in my life.
How do you find people to play with?
Walk around outside, shaking a jar of dice, and yelling “WHO WANTS TO PRETEND TO BE AN ELF?!” as loud as possible. If that doesn’t work, I usually just introduce the idea of it to the people in my immediate life. You’d be surprised by the number of people who have either already played D&D or have always wanted to but have no idea how to start. The most interesting characters and people I’ve had the joy to play with were people who know almost nothing about fantasy. They aren’t held back by the stereotypes that we’ve all seen or played as.
You can follow Justin on Instagram at @iamjustino and Twitter at @ohnoJustinO
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