Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Interview with a DM: Christopher Riese

Shannon: “So, Chris, how long have you been a DM, approximately? And other than D&D, what games have you run?”

Chris: “I have been running D&D for roughly 12 years now and Dark heresy for perhaps the last 2 or 3. I can’t be sure anymore.”

Shannon: “How did you get into Dungeons & Dragons?”

Chris: “Well, Shannon, it was the year 2000. I was but a young lad of 14, wide eyed and full of youth perusing the PC games section at Target when I discovered something that would change my life. I passed my first search check and found 'A small blue box with a golden trim and a strange sigil on the cover depicting two elf heads. One light, one dark, merged above and below each other like a ying yang'.

It was Baldurs gate 2, and within a few weeks of its addictive, deep, intuitive game play - all my friends were into it as well - I found myself heading into the city to a now closed down RPG bookstore to buy the Core 3 for DND 3.0 and a Starter box containing some pre-generated characters, cardboard tokens covered with depictions of various monster portraits and a book of missions... I intuitively knew that I wanted to run the game, as I had always been the creative sort - spending endless hours scribbling RPG ideas and drawing map lay outs to create on Unreal Editor when I should have been doing homework.

It seemed that within no time we were slaying goblins, saving unicorns and sneaking past sleeping ogres (though in later years the old sleeping ogre was no longer very scary, and could be quickly destroyed with a coup-de-grace). I had found a game that fit me and my friends like a glove, and I still game with those same 3 friends to this day (albeit many new faces, including that of Shannon and her spouse Mr. Adomo have been a part of the story).”

Shannon: “What is it about D&D that continues to appeal to you?”

Chris: “Well despite the obvious sex appeal that comes with being a Veteran of many dnd campaigns *cough* I would have to say that there is a definite charm to the "Great-Grand-daddy-of-them-all" that appeals to me. (Alright, maybe 1st ed is probably the grand daddy ... let’s call 3.5 the great, great, grand foetus of them all). I just love making dungeons and writing missions. I love rolling up new towns, fleshing them out and spending long hours into the night bringing everything to life like a painter. It’s my Art and my hobby, one I love sharing with everyone I meet. And I’m not ashamed of it ... within a minutes of meeting someone new, I usually fish to see if they have ever role-played. I have found many new players in doing so.

The game can be as deep or as shallow as you want it to be. Whether you want a Beer and Pretzel style "Force the door and Smash the Ogres" night with a high character turnover and many good times to laugh about - or a Deep, complex series of intertwining character interplay in a dangerous world where every place has its story, ever nation has its politics and every monster has its niche. You can do it with DND. You can make it your own.”

Hard At Play

Shannon: “Well, it’s been awhile since I last played with you, but by my recollection, you’ve always had tremendous skill in describing combat in a way that is both slick and epic. Any tricks to the trade?”

Chris: “I’d like to think I've only learned and improved over time. The days of role-playing with you and Adam are sorely missed :) but I have 2 places that are always open should you ever choose to return (sneaky plug). But I digress, I take inspiration from movies, TV, games and recycle whatever cool imagery I have seen and use it to make combat scenes both visceral and satisfying. Such as the no holds barred violence of Sparticus, ludicrous action scenes in Xena or spell effects from Harry Potter.

People WANT to feel potent, but they should also be reminded that they are not "drunken gods". Thus, my character deaths are equally visceral. I have seen players disintegrated, torn limb from limb, chased down and eaten, sucked dry or enslaved by vampires, dissolved by gelatinous cubes, turned to stone and shattered apart, turned to salt, exploded, throttled to death, have their soul destroyed, thrown off a mountain, devoured by scarabs, turned into a chaos beast, killed by the party clerics’ own healing magic, hand-mashed by a giant demon, die from starvation down a pit trap, and much, much more... I seem to recall you being diced apart by your own blade barrier spell at one point as well. :) RIP Linda the cleric.

I guess the Tip in all this is not to baby the players. Let them live and die by their own dice rolls. Don’t be slack, cater to every skill and make sure if a player has taken it that you have covered it. Communicate! This is the most important one, make sure EVERYONE knows that you understand what their character is all about and how they fit in your world. If necessary ADAPT TO SUIT THEM. Don’t control the game with narrow options. Give them a selection of options and take their ideas onboard. If they are too out there, explain what you’re angling for. It really helps.

Finally don’t play the "hand of god" to keep your game running... If players will escalate to PVP for legitimate in-character role-play reasons - there is nothing that should stop them short of a legitimate distraction or talking them down in game through an NPC.

The final tip is learning to say no to people, and following it up by explaining why. Also, be open to debate but do not do it at the table. People who aren’t used to hearing the word can ruin your game if you don’t nip it in the bud early.”

Shannon: “Where do you get your inspiration when designing adventures, encounters, and the like?”

Chris: “I read a lot of source books and constantly find more inspiration relevant to what I am currently doing through my ample Stack of Dragon/Dungeon Mags from way back when. I also perused forums, use generators (both hand rolled and online) and borrow heavily from ideas I have used in the past to create fresher ideas. I love my dungeons to be Fair.

I don’t purpose build anything or purpose place anything to suit anyone in particular - often I will make sure that an encounter is tailored to the background information given for specific creatures.

Oh and steer away from making small dungeon rooms. Bottlenecked combats are never fun, always give the players and the monsters space for strategy unless it’s part of the encounter (such as an ever shifting maze with a crypt thing and a 2 displacer beasts).”

Just Another Evening

Shannon: “What’s been one of your favorite moments while running the game?”

Chris: “I have many... Most recently I would say running a serious D&D campaign for the first time with my nephew and niece. In one scene they were overrun by a hoard of water rats. During the fight my niece, suffering many rat bites and scratches to her forearms and hands, grappled and stuffed a rat into her backpack before handing it to her brother - who then messily power-slammed it into a wall. Violent but effective. But for nostalgia sake, I would have to say my favourite moments would have to be when my players add to my game world not only with content, but with in-game jokes (such as the devout sorceress who blessed her dice by ritually intoning "Shar you whoar!" before casting spells, or the deep imaskari ninja who could hide so well we all said "She's hiding in the sandwich" (literally, she could make SNIPE attacks in melee whilst hiding in plain sight).

It is the things players contribute, that i find are so much more important than what you yourself write. The game is never just about the DM. It’s about cooperative fantasy.

Shannon: “So many true words spoken there. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.”

So, everyone, there’s an interview with an old DM of mine. By the way, he has an old play-by-post over here if anyone’s interested. It was finished awhile ago but you might like to take a look.

If you have any further questions for him, you can post them in the comments section and I’ll see if I can get some answers for you.

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