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Player Character Spotlight- The Storytelling Specialist

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Player Character Spotlight- The Storytelling Specialist

I’m constantly reminded of how many different ways there are to “play”, and I love getting to talk with people who game in different ways than I do. Today’s interview is with Ian Magnusson, who specializes in RPGs of all kinds, from tabletop, to video games, to LARPs. 

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RP: Tell me a little about yourself!

IM: My name is Ian Magnusson, I am a New Jersey transplant living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have been gaming since the summer of 2000, unless you are counting video games which I have been playing since the mid-90s. My day job is at the up-and-coming Milwaukee Brewing company, but I am more excited for my weekends working as an actor for Renaissance Entertainment Productions at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. 

 

RP: What got you into gaming?

IM: As far back as I can remember I have enjoyed video games, specifically adventure and RPG games deep with story, but in the summer of 2000 I was working as a camp counselor when I got my first opportunity to play in a game of D&D and that changed my focus forever. At the end of my freshman year of college, I was invited to try out a LARP and ever since I have devoted as much time and energy to the worlds we create in games as possible. I have dabbled in online gaming of several kinds, mostly MMORPG's and MOBA's.

 

RP: Tell me a little bit about that first D&D game you ever played. Were you excited? Nervous? 

IM: My first game of D&D was very exciting. It was my first year as a camp counselor and the game was being run and played by some of the coolest older staff members and I was the youngest person allowed to join. The whole process was so exciting. It was a simple homebrew game where we were impetuous adventurers investigating strange occurrences in the sewers below a small city. I was playing a chaotic good elf cleric of the God of the Elves, Corellon Larethian. The character was little more than a bolder version of myself in a lot of ways, but it taught me so much about making choices. The game started a little after our season started and ended at the end of season unfinished, but it will always be one of my most fond memories of gaming.

RP: What are some of your favorite games to play now?

IM: There are so many different kinds of games I love, so to keep it simple I will name only a few from three major categories: electronic, tabletop, and live action. 

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time will always hold a special place in my heart, and Star Wars: Knights of the old Republic showed how much story and choice can mean to a game.

For Tabletop, I thoroughly enjoy Pathfinder for all its customizability, Fate system for how open it is, and Betrayal at the House on the Hill for its replayable zaniness.

Live action I love Nocturne LARP for its rich story, Oblivion LARP for its unique rules system, and Vampire: the Masquerade for politics.

 

RP: Based on your game selections I can tell storytelling is huge for you. What makes a good story? 

IM: A good story should make you think. Either you should question why you act, believe, or do the things you do, or they should make you feel reassured about them. Sometimes a good twist in the story can really take it up a notch, but subverting expectations solely for the purpose of subverting them is pointless. There is a reason that we tell the same few stories over and over again in new ways. Morality and virtues examined through narrative are powerful tools.

There are many aspects and directions that make for a "good" story. I often prefer stories that have strong archetypal characters, stories that examine what is important. Another hugely important part of a good story is a consistent, well-fleshed out world. Personally, I don't have a lot of need for "realism," just believability. Stories that focus on a world of grey where there is no good and evil are not nearly as interesting as stories with more stark contrast. That is not to say that heroes should not be flawed, and villains should not have redeeming qualities, but that those aspects of them should not outweigh their more core facets. Also, I like to like characters. It is hard for me to care about what is going to happen next in a story if I don't care about who it is happening to.

 

RP: How is storytelling different in an RPG or LARP versus a video game?

IM: For me, one of the most important differences in storytelling between tabletop RPGs, LARPs, and video games is how defined your "walls" are. When running a tabletop game, I try to leave the options for what happens next as wide open as possible. Alternatively, I find with video games when I have too many options, I don't feel drawn to do any of them. I much prefer games that have a robust set of side quests with a clear central story to true sandboxes. It's hard to get a good feeling of pace when the game does not instill any sense of urgency and just lets you wander. Ironically, the exact opposite is true of the tabletop games I enjoy most. I like the opportunity to explore a world unfettered with the mind of a person guiding the flow of the story as you go is just better. Maybe someday a computer will be able to keep up with the story, but that day is not today. 

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

IM: I do, I love games and they comprise a lot of who I am. I feel that escaping the doldrums of working at a job I don't love, paying taxes, and the like, to worlds where good and evil clash,and the fate of the world is decided by me, is necessary for my sanity. 

 

RP: Doldrums is an excellent word and I am 100% going to borrow it. Do you find that working through difficult themes in a game helps you deal with difficult things in your real life?

The feelings that I get when gaming really do a lot to help me get through the hard times. The feeling of accomplishment I get when I get through a particularly hard aspect of a video game that was giving me trouble. The feeling of hope that I get when giving or hearing a rousing speech at a LARP before a big battle. The feeling of importance when the king sends the party out on an epic quest to save the world in a D&D campaign. I guess for me it is less about direct correlation between my real-life issues to what I accomplish with my gaming, and more about what gaming helps to bring out in myself to deal with daily troubles.

Then again, tools that I develop in gaming can assist with other aspects of my life. Things like developing clear, concise communication with a team, learning resource management, troubleshooting issues with out-of-the-box thinking, and what makes a good leader, are all skills I have honed through gaming.

 

RP: Are there any Friendly Local Game Stores you frequent?

We actually have a really cool place called Board Game Barrister that my fiancée like to frequent. They have a few locations, a nice selection of games with awide variety of play types, a knowledgeable friendly staff, and most importantly they are welcoming to all. I am much happier giving my business to them knowing that they take as good care of their customers as possible, regardless of gender, age, or experience.

 

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

IM: Find communities that promote being a nerd in any fashion and you will find they harbor people who game.

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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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Player Character Spotlight - The Professor

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Julie Sutton hadn’t really played games before meeting her (now) husband. The first modern title she ever learned was Uwe Rosenberg’s famed worker-placement game Agricola… and she was only 1 point short of a victory in a five-player game! It’s safe to say she enjoys finding ways to navigate and problem solve, and that tabletop gaming has allowed her to flex that muscle in new and creative ways.

“I’m a math professor at a University in Texas. We’re real nerdy at our institution; there’s an official ‘D&D at school’ event and a big gamer community there.”

With a busy work schedule and home life centered around raising her young daughter, Julie doesn’t have a surplus of extra time for gaming, but about once a quarter, she hosts anywhere from 15-50 people at her house, closes off the garage door, and sets up tables for gaming. She hires neighborhood “kid-wranglers” (babysitters) and orders a mountain of barbecue, allowing the crowd she and her husband introduced to the hobby to game all day and night while relishing in each others’ company.

“We’ve had a bounce-house, a water slide, everyone brings a side-dish. I consider it a personal victory when people ask me when we’re having another game party at our house, or when they offer to host one themselves.”

Above all-else, Julie finds value in the relationships and bonds forged over the game-table. Hosting gatherings has allowed her to foster community among people who might never have spoken or spent time together otherwise, and she firmly believes that gaming enhances social skills that have begun to show atrophy in the digital age.

“I like the fact that we can all sit around a table, learn something new, engage our brains, and when it ends: we’re all closer together. Food brings people to the table. We talk about gathering and breaking bread together, and that’s great – but when it ends, it ends. With a game, we can come together even when we don’t have other hobbies in common, or political ideologies in common, or sexual orientation, or preference, or looks, or ANYTHING: we’re all the same when we sit at the table. We’re all equal, and even though all you’re doing is playing a game, it means so much to everybody.”

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Gettin' Mini with It: Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures from WizKids

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Gettin' Mini with It: Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures from WizKids

There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing D&D miniatures from player characters to monsters, but by far the best option when it comes to accessibility, quality, price, and variety is the Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures line from Wizkids. Here are 7 things you should know about these minis!

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  • There are over 100 varieties to choose from in different combinations of gender, class, and race so it's unlikely that you'll end your search empty handed.
  • The detail in this plastic line is second to none.
  • You'll also find this grade of plastic much harder than their pre-painted line with affordable prices that will make you want to collect them all!
  • Some even feature spell effects in clear plastic which colored wash brings to life in the blink of an eye.
  • Each miniature is pre-primed with a grey Vallejo primer so they're truly ready to paint right out of the box.
  • These miniatures usually come with two to a package, so when you get your female human barbarian, you have two versions in different positions and slightly different gear to select from or to share with a friend.
  • Each has a molded base and a flat circular standard medium creature sized base to glue the miniature to when it is complete.

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Quest Accepted: Player Starter Kit

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Quest Accepted: Player Starter Kit

Yesterday we covered everything a DM needs to start their journey, but what about the players? Let's run through what our heroes need before their epic saga can commence!

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The very first thing you'll need is a Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition Player's Handbook from Wizards of the Coast. This is your guide to choosing your race (ie. Dwarf, Human, Elf, etc.), selecting your class (ie. Paladin, Monk, Wizard, Bard, Fighter, etc.) and leveling up throughout the game. If you're new to role playing, it has insightful tips, backgrounds, and traits for you to choose from that will help you bring your new character to life at the table. You'll also have a quick reference for spells and rules to keep you on the road to victory!

One of the best things I can recommend for you in to get yourself a Character Folio from Ultra Pro. This paper character sheet could be with you for a night or five years and you want to make sure that you're keeping it fresh and out of harms way. While you can absolutely find resources for phone apps to house your character sheet, Dungeons & Dragons is about being together and unplugging from the outside world so you can go on an adventure. Each of these folios comes with clear sleeves for your character sheet and notes. Erasing your HP during combat and the repeated wear and tear of changing your stats as you gain levels can cause you to have to refresh your character sheet and re-write in all of your stats on fresh paper. You can reduce that by using the folio and tracking your combat stats with wet erase marker on the plastic sleeve, meaning you only have to erase or add notes when you're leveling up or gaining/selling/losing magical items. These folios come with all sorts of art from the D&D books, so you can choose something that inspires you and get rolling!

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