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Player Character Spotlight- The Artistic DM

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Player Character Spotlight- The Artistic DM

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.

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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!

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 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. 

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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.

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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

If you enjoyed this interview, please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts. If you would like to be featured as a Player Character, please fill out our application here!

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Player Character Spotlight- The Meta Game Designer

Gamers are all around us, and I was reminded of this when I was chatting with a co-worker of mine from when I was a bartender. Aura and I had known each other for weeks, talking about all sorts of random nonsense, before I even knew they played games. So it seemed perfect that they would be one of the first people I chatted with about prioritizing play in your life. I’m so glad I did, because I was reminded about how problem-solving in games can help you problem-solve in real life, which is a much needed reminder for many. Active players, I present to you my interview with Aura Belle, game designer and podcast producer in Savannah, GA.

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RP: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you into the gaming hobby?

AB: My name is Aura Belle, I'm a non-binary femme (they/she pronouns), and I've been role-playing since I was very, very young. My brother used to play D&D with his friends and I would watch, trying my best to understand a game with no board or pieces, yet dice for some reason. And people just kinda saying whatever they want. I started playing all kinds of games as I got older, then eventually got into the game design scene a few years back, as well as publishing an Actual Play podcast with my group called Vantage Point of Death, which you can find on iTunes, Google podcasts, and most other places.

RP: Cards on the table, you and I know each other from a previous, unrelated job, but you never told me you were in game design! Tell me more.

AB: I made my first official game called Producers back in 2014. I still play it at parties. You play the part of movie idea pitchmen, suggesting movies to the group at large, except the specifics are fed to you by the other players so you get these really stupid, off-the-wall ideas that you have to defend. It's a lot of fun and the success and support of it led me to keep going with other things. I had a long-running Patreon which gave me about 1/3 of my monthly net income. There I made games about queer sex, gender identity, loneliness and connection, and our expectations of each other as people.

In addition to the podcast I've published several games (most under the name Caitlynn Belle) including Our Radios Are Dying (which has been played on multiple podcasts), Singularity, a transhuman and gender non-conforming dating sim released through Ginger Goat Games, and A Real Game, which won the 2016 IGDN Game of the Year award at Gen Con. It's a game rulebook that you print out that instructs you how to play itself, except as time goes on, this stack of paper gets existential dread about its purpose and fear about its inadequacy as a game. It gets really meta. 

RP: Your games sound super unique, where do you get your inspiration?

AB: As I was making games, I was interested in playing with the form of "a game" itself, trying to find new ways to present play and new topics to explore. I talked about my stuff early on in an episode of the Backstory podcast (which is a very good podcast) hosted by Alex Roberts. I took a lot of influence from performance art and works of art that played with their own physical form or demanded special interaction from the viewer. I was looking for something that engaged back instead of simply being on display.

Queerness is a big part of everything I make. I have trouble viewing the world through cishet eyes, so I make characters that see the world how I do. I want beautiful, messy queer entanglement, gender exploration, non-traditional relationship structures, and really just people who look like my wonderful queer friends. A lot of what I make demands that you make it queer and abandons you if you won't. A lot of them require movement, because I need to move to think. And they're all more or less about one person needing to communicate someone with others but not necessarily knowing how, and the problems that arrive from that.

 

RP: What are some of your favorite games and why?

Fall of Magic is a big favorite of mine and my group. We play it once a year in the holiday season, it's become tradition. It's a role-playing game about how magic is dying in the world and this powerful wizard is travelling across the lands and the ocean to the birthplace of magic to try to figure out what's what, and everyone plays their companions accompanying them. You play the game on a large scroll map, unraveling it as you go to explore new lands. It's absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking and conjures such strong visuals. It lets you play with metaphor and imagery naturally and lets you dig into the identities of these characters who start out as vague brush strokes and become just these beautiful, heart-breaking narratives by the end of it all. I've cried so much playing that game.

RP: Are there any types of games you haven’t played that you would like to?

AB: I have a soft spot for games about armies and conquests, things like War of the Ring or even Twilight Struggle. I'm not really a history or military nerd so I don't know why I like them so much, maybe it's just the scale. But I'd really like to dig into more of those. Especially miniature games, I'd love to build and paint squadrons and move them around these big, tactical maps, I'm all about that. 

RP: Do you consider gamer an integral part of your identity?

AB: I consider myself someone who sees "play" as a necessary part of human life, be you child or adult. It's something you need to tease your imagination with. You never stop needing to play, but most people fall out of it. So, in the sense of looking for ways to filter life experiences through mechanics and narrative, I would say so. 

RP: What is the relationship between gaming and your mental health?

AB: A lot of my gaming history and design philosophy comes from the indie publishing scene that surged out in the mid 2000s. This kind DIY ethic of making sad, strange little games that examine what big publishers wouldn't. All of the games I've designed have, in some way, been about myself - about personal trauma, or loneliness, or my need to communicate, but my desire not to. Embodying a character and playing out experiences I can't parse effectively helps me get a new perspective on it, and writing about things I don't know how to talk about has been invaluable. I'm an anxious wreck, but I would be more of one had I not had a bunch of weird game designer friends out here making weird games about queer identity, love, and isolation. 

RP: How do you balance gaming with your real life?

AB: Not very well. I used to attend regular board game meetups, but with working multiple jobs and everyone getting older, those fell by the wayside. My podcast group and I basically force ourselves to find time to get together and record, but it's not always easy. It can be hard! That's a running joke about role-playing groups, the hardest part is getting together on a schedule that works for everyone. You have to make concessions one way or the other. 

RP: Do you have any advice for people looking to get started with gaming?

AB: Hit up game stores and meet people and try to go to a local con if you can. Cons can be stressful, but they're also usually fun. You get a lot of energy and inspiration from it. Try different things also - I know several role-players who have never tried any other games besides D&D, for example, and are shocked to find out there's this entire world of millions of cool games out there. Keep yourself open.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this interview, please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts. If you would like to be featured as a Player Character, please fill out our application here!

 

 

 

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Interview: Steve Jackson - Gaming Goliath and Munchkin Mastermind

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Interview: Steve Jackson - Gaming Goliath and Munchkin Mastermind

Legendary Game Designer, Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games

Legendary Game Designer, Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games

Munchkin has been around since 2001 and has worked with countless properties to developing its several serial versions. Back when you were creating the base game, what hole were you trying to fill?

I just wanted to do a simple parody of the dungeon-crawl genre. I had no idea where it would go. We found out, though . . . Munchkin didn’t create the genre of humorous card games, but it lent it a lot of energy.  

What has been the most rewarding thing about designing this game?

Definitely, the personal feedback. The game has touched a lot of people in ways that my other work hasn’t. Players want to make Munchkin part of their lives! We hear all the time about Munchkin-themed birthday parties, and there have been at least three Munchkin weddings and several proposals and “little Munchkin on the way!” baby announcements. 

When you are looking for partners for the various new installments, what’s your criteria?

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 The property has to be one that lends itself to the Munchkin tropes, and the licensor has to be willing to “break the fourth wall” a little bit, and let us be silly even if the property is not primarily humorous. Warhammer 40,000 is a good example; Games Workshop has given John and Andrew a lot of latitude to jump right through the fourth wall and poke gentle fun not just at their game but the players. It's respectful and always, always trying to laugh with, not at, and to me that's an important key to make Munchkin work. We're all in on the joke together, even when we're the butt of a particular giggle.

Is there a partnering property that you would love to work with on a Munchkin game that you haven’t yet?

Yes. Yes, there is  :)

Do you have a favorite card?

I might have a dozen favorites; narrowing it down to one is hard. I do really like the Potted Plant, the Net Troll, the Plutonium Dragon, and the Gazebo from the original set.

Is there a set that you’re most excited about debuting this year?

Yes, absolutely. Munchkin Warhammer 40,000! Aeldar and Death Guards and tanks, oh my. The Games Workshop crew have been very good sports and fun to work with.

Is there a favorite Munchkin game of all time and why?

Well, my very favorites to play are (1) the original set, just because; (2) Munchkin Cthulhu, because we got to do a lot of really silly cards AND put in a good alternate victory condition; (3) Munchkin Booty, because pirates!  Lots of Arrrrr! jokes, and avast wasteland of low pirate humor. And (4) whatever I am working on right now!

How did the now iconic partnership with artist John Kovalic come about?

I think his first game for us was Chez Geek, and we had been regularly working with him on the “Murphy’s Rules” feature for PYRAMID Magazine, and I thought his style would work well with the tone of the cards. Oh, my, it certainly did! He really gets the game, he’s very prolific, and sometimes we read each others’ minds when it comes to developing the look of a card. And we pay a lot of attention to every single card because we know that an important element of the game is the “look at the card and laugh” phase! 

How did the Munchkin CCG come about? Was the concept developed internally from the start, or did the designers come to you with the game and suggest Munchkin as a good fit? Or somewhere in between?

We developed the concept internally but we knew we wanted to get an experienced CCG designer to make it happen. I’m very pleased with the results. The “bluff” mechanic is, as far as I know, unique to the Munchkin CCG, and it adds a lot to play. Eric, Kevin, you done good!

There's been a variety of supplemental Munchkin accessories released, like dice, pins, character pawns, plushes, etc. Is there anything else like this in the works that you can talk about?

We’re coming out with a couple of play mats that will alter the game slightly and provide (yet another) way to keep track of levels. And the Starfinder “I Want It All" box includes a level tracker, a Kill-O-Meter, dice, and metal “credsticks" based on the currency of the Starfinder RPG. The Unicorns and Friends “big box” has Boxes of Holding and a Kill-O-Meter as well. People like Stuff and we are happy to create new Stuff for them!

Munchkin is often cited by fans as being the game that opened the door for them to modern board games. Any good stories about teaching the game to new players?

Just the observation that new players tend to win a lot. I have finally figured out why . . . I think. It’s very important in the beginning and middle game to make a lot of deals, and people tend to help, or accept help from, the new player just to show them the ropes. That advantage adds up!

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