Charles, known online as Master Epyon or Shalazah, was basically the dude who corrupted me, bringing me into the dark cult of RPG games one fateful day over MSN Messenger. He basically told me that an RPG was like playing out a story but with rules, kinda like if I could write my own RPG video game. I signed up pretty much immediately as the Half Elf Wizard Wyatt Salazar and the rest was history. He helped me roll up (actually roll up, 4d6 drop lowest) my first character for D&D 3.5. I’ve been wanting to write something about him on the blog for a while, and so I hit him up over an online chat to get an interview going.
BOLD text indicates my questions and normal text indicates his answers.
When did you start playing TRPGs? What system?
My first RPG overall was Super Mario RPG; if one doesn’t count the gruelling tactics needed to beat Culex as a Tactical RPG I’d say that would go to Fire Emblem, and Tabletop was actually Heroquest.
Ed Note: I actually meant tabletop not tactical, but this answer is cool anyway!
Heroquest? That’s interesting. What was it like?
HeroQuest is a pretty old game similar to D&D, but it never really satisfied me as much as the latter. It’s almost more of a mix between a board game and an rpg more than anything. I would be interested to try it again, it’s just not the kind of game that has the same depth as most Tabletop RPG games.
From there you moved on to D&D?
From trying a few games of that I was told I should try D&D and so eventually I created my first character for it, a neutral evil dwarven pirate (a barbarian with altered flavor text and such).
What tabletop games are you playing now?
I’ve been trying my hand at Legend of the Five Rings 4th edition, a very well-designed game from what I’ve seen. Other than that I’m playing Pathfinder at my friend’s house once a week and I have a 4th edition D&D game that one of my other friends still runs.
What would you say is your approach when you decide to start a campaign?
My first idea is always to think of a kind of interesting world and what the players would probably come up with for it. Even if it’s a premade setting I like imagining how they’ll interact with a setting.
The whole railroading vs not railroading is a big issue for people: how have you thought about and handled player choice vs the setting and “story” as it were?
It’s a good idea to give the players at least 3 choices about what they want to do, though I think some people focus a bit too much on railroading. If you’re all enjoying yourselves it won’t matter that much. The story as it were should always exist for the players to interact with and tackle at anytime, or be used as a stepping stone for them to forge their own story. This helps in another way as well in that the party always feels like they can set a reasonable pace for themselves.
You had some pretty demanding players back in our campaigns, especially me. What ran through your head when I justified some of my antics, and how did you overall handle them?
It was pretty difficult to try to accomodate to everyone at the same time, but it’s also what I had to do so I tried my best to satisfy the players. When I first started GM’ing it was a lot more stressful to me personally than when I did it later, as I got more used to everyone.
I know I came up with some crazy stuff, but you always rolled with it (I had a habit of making my own nemesis). Was that kind of a thing a source of stress, and how did you pull through in the end?
I don’t think it ever specifically caused me a lot of trouble, it was just coming up with the kind of ideas that’d encourage all the players to work together that made me have to think a few times.
There were a couple of times when we had some in-character conflict. Do you think that overall made the game more interesting (when we DIDN’T work together) in certain ways or was it kind of just annoying.
I kind of like in-character conflict as long as it stays in-game and people don’t take it personally. It’s hard to draw a line for when it’s being disruptive or not, but I also find it realistic that individual characters would disagree with each other.
What do you think about the kind of online play that we did back then? Do you think online is a viable media for “tabletop” rpg play?
Online play is certainly viable with the right players. The hardest part of it was, and still is, scheduling. Online games make things very convenient in a lot of ways, and due to programs such as Skype I actually think it could be even more interesting than it used to be, removing one of the few obstacles that was in the way during online games (lack of human interaction). Also online play allows players to focus their attention elsewhere if absolutely needed, whereas around a table it’s somewhat rude to just leave and do your own thing.
Looking back at your old campaigns with our group, is there anything you’d have done differently overall, or gone about in a different style?
Overall I’d have done a few different things, such as add more detail to worlds. I could say I’d want to redo them entirely, but it was some early goofs that caused a few legendary encounters such as Glubby the Sewer Aboleth that people at the time found hilarious. Not that I wish to imply that one should actively make mistakes, but as a GM it’s ok to make some mistakes as long as everyone is enjoying themselves.
You’re not currently GMing anything, if I remember correctly. Do you sometimes go “Oh, I have this great idea now, I’d like to get back into it!” Or are you more of a player now?
I am trying L5R 4th Edition IRL now, though it’s on hold until I can order in some books. I find your question kind of ironic, as I was just explaining to a friend last night about a campaign setting idea I had that I’d want to run in the future. Other than that, I just play at the moment.
If you could only give one tip to an aspiring GM, what would you tell him or her?
My first thought flew back to a quote from Mort by Terry Pratchett where Mort correctly guesses that Death is up to his knees in horsecrap with the kind of profession he has.
So I suppose that would mean that even if things go bad, you can always find a way to make a game fun for everyone. Don’t confuse your players, but try to be imaginative with what you implement. They’ll really appreciate it.