Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Warlock's Exclusive: An Interview with the Journeyman GM!

While I've mentioned him numerous times on here, it occurs to me that most of you readers might not know much about The Journeyman GM, better known as Will Herrmann.  So, this October, Will and I are engaging in something of a "cross-blog interview".  My interview with him is below, while his interview of me is here:  An Interview with the PlatinumWarlock.


The Journeyman GM himself,
as The Doctor!
First off, tell us a little about yourself: who are you?
My name is Will Herrmann. I'm the president of Journeyman Games and the author of The Journeyman GM. I recently moved to St. Paul, MN as part of an AmeriCorps service year and I do independent computer programming as well.

Tell our readers a little about our experiences together.
My Freshman year at Wittenberg University, I joined the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild, which was founded by Andy. As an alumnus still living in the area, he still actively participated in Guild events and I got to know him from there. He helped me prep for the very first game I ever GMed and since then I've been both a player and gamemaster for Andy. More recently, we've been trading advice back and forth as we're forming our companies.

What upcoming RPG products do you have your eye on?
This summer I bought way too many RPG products, so I'm trying not to buy too many things! I think I'd just like to get my PDF of Deadlands Noir and my hardback copy of Hell on Earth Reloaded, both of which I've preordered.

What are you playing/running right now?
Just started a campaign for Deadlands: The Last Sons with some people I met in Minnesota. Not playing anything right now sadly.

If you could be a gaming die, which one would you be and why?
The d6. So simple, yet so versatile.

Will and Will and Will and Will...all hard at work on
the Wild Card Creator!
What are you working on currently?
I'm working on Wild Card Creator: a character creator for the Savage Worlds roleplaying game that lets you import content from any published PDF. The Kickstarter drive for it just ended, but I'm still taking PayPal backers!

What’s exciting about your current project?
This isn't the first character creator, or even the first Savage Worlds character creator, but it's got lots of innovative features that nobody has ever developed before. The big one is the ability to import Edges, Hindrances, Gear, etc. straight from the text in the PDF. There's other great stuff too like being able to export characters onto any form-fillable PDF character sheet. Plus I've got full support from Pinnacle and 20 third party companies.

Where do you pull inspiration for your games and designs?
For my programs, I get a lot of inspiration by asking myself "what sort of features do I want?" There's a saying in computer programming that you should "eat your own dog food" to see if what you're making is a good product. To continue the analogy, I often start by being hungry for dog food and then creating my own brand of dog food to my tastes, which I figure will then probably taste good to others.

Apple is a big inspiration too because they put a whole lot of effort into making things easy for the user, even if it means a whole lot more work for the programmer. The book The Design of Everyday Things has been great for me as well because it really points out that there really is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to create intuitive programs for a user.

For gaming, inspiration comes from all sorts of things: books, video games, movies, TV shows, you name it. Sometimes I produce things that are directly inspired by those sources (like my Savage Worlds conversions  and the scenarios I've run for them) and sometimes they are more indirect (like my Pulp campaign about finding Atlantis which was primarily inspired by Indiana Jones and National Treasure).

What would be your dream RPG design gig?
I'd love to write a campaign for Doctor Who:  Adventures in Time and Space tentatively called "Children of Gallifrey".  It's for a party of at least one Time Lord and companions who survived the Time War, but don't know that The Doctor is still out there.  There will be a whole bunch of scenarios that can be played in any order (some of which have links to each other, creating lots of timey-wimey, wibbley-wobbly fun!).  Many of these scenarios will take place in distinctly British locations that haven't been seen before, like India during the British Raj and King Arthur's court.  Ultimately, the campaign will end with the discovery of Gallifrey in a parllel universe where The Master took command of the Time Lords to win the Time War, but he committed unspeakable atrocities to do it.  Ultimately, they'll have to decide if they want to stay in this universe where the Time Lords are alive, albeit broken, or their home universe where Gallifrey is but a memory.

Also, I'd love to turn The Elder Scrolls into a bona fide tabletop roleplaying game.  I've got a Savage Worlds conversion here, but I'd love to see something like it in print.

What’s your favorite system?
If you haven't guessed by now, it's Savage Worlds. It has everything I want in a system: simple, fast, and customizable. That said, the D6 System will always hold a special place in my heart for being a system that is dead simple and infinitely customizable (plus it had the best version of a Star Wars RPG in my opinion).

What is your favorite campaign (as a GM and as a player)?
As a GM, I think my favorite was probably Star Wars: Infinity run using a hybrid of Star Wars D6 and D6 Space. The whole premise is that C-3P0 and R2-D2 get shot on the Tantive IV, so they never make it to Tatooine, Luke never finds Ben Kenobi, and the group never hires Han. Looks like the Galaxy needs new heroes to destroy the Death Star and defeat the Empire!

I haven't played in nearly as many campaigns as I've run (a few too many fell apart soon after they started), but my favorite is probably Andy's Shadows of the Cold War campaign (a precursor to Cold Steel Wardens). It was the first campaign I was in where it wasn't just about killing the monsters and there were so many great moments in it that I still talk about years later (including how our party of superheroes died in a car crash).

What's your favorite settings for Dungeons & DragonsSavage Worlds, and any one other system?
For D&D, definitely Urban Arcana, which is D&D in the modern world (technically it's a d20 Modern setting). All of the classic D&D tropes are turned on their head where you've got dragons running the board rooms, bugbears roaming the streets, and mindflayers heading the mafia!

It's probably no surprise that Deadlands is my favorite Savage Worlds setting. It's based on history, but it's got lots of interesting twists to it. And who doesn't love card-slinging sorcerers?

My favorite setting for another system is one that I've actually never run or played: Torg. This setting has sparked my imagination like no other setting has. Basically, a whole bunch of "invading realities" are overtaking Earth as we know it to create pocket realities at various points on the globe, which you can travel to. Some fun realities include The Cyberpapacy (medieval theocracy plus cyberpunk covering France), The New Nile Empire (pulp plus ancient Egypt covering…well, Egypt), the Living Land (caveman and dinosaurs, covering much of the US), and Orrosh (Lovecraftian horror in Victorian Indonesia, where player characters go to die). Characters can be from any of many these realities and more, so you can have a holy knight, a dino-riding caveman, a vampire, a ninja hacker, and a Navy SEAL all in the same party!

What's a setting and/or system that you've always thought was underrated?
The Cortex System. It had some really great mechanics, like pairing an attribute with a skill (want to convince the Dwarf you mean business by challenging him to a drinking contest? Roll your Vitality die plus your Persuasion die)! It even includes a sample setting that is basically Law & Order: The Roleplaying Game, which I don't think any other RPG has ever come close to trying.

The system was used for the Serenity RPG as well as Supernatural, but I think it was deemed to be "too generic" without any exceptionally innovative mechanics and has been replaced by "Cortex Plus" used in Leverage, Smallville, and more recently the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game. Too bad.

How would you describe your GM style?
Freewheeling, challenge-dealing, and epic. I'm known for making up enemy stats up in my head and improvising entire plotlines when the players go off the rails, but it generally works out well for me. I enjoy presenting huge challenges, but love it when the players actually overcome them. And I'm a big sucker for epic adventures involving larger than life characters and events. In general, I think I'm more of a narrativist GM in that I'm always looking for the most fulfilling story.

What’s the best advice you could give a budding GM or player?
Learn to improvise. It's the most useful skill in your GM arsenal. As a second piece of advice, try to say yes as often as possible, even if there's a "but" attached to it.

What’s your ideal player like?
One who enjoys the narration, plans ahead when approaching combat, and shares my desire to see huge challenges surmounted by a really close call.

What's something different that you've always wanted to run, but haven’t?
I've always wanted to run a game where the player characters are Disney heroes and they're fighting against a team-up of Disney villains like Jafar, Maleficent, Ursula, and Captain Hook. Kind of like Kingdom Hearts, I guess. Trouble is, I don't know of a good system to do it with and I feel like I'd need the right group of players in order to have it turn out right.

Who was your first character and how did they turn out?
That would be Paelias, the Eladrin Warlord. In his quest to explore the Keep on the Shadowfell, he bravely fought toe to toe with Kalarel, but perished along with his comrades. Oh, and Andy was playing Kalarel at the time (this was the first of many characters of mine that Andy killed).

How would you describe your player style (and is it different from your GM style)?
I think I'm a bit more of a powergamer and less of a narrativist than I am as a GM. I still love a good story, but I think I enjoy reveling in the power a bit more when I'm playing.

What's a gaming quirk that you have at the table?
My characters must have birthdays (randomly rolled by a d12 for the month and a d30 for the day, roll odds or evens if you roll a 30 and there's 31 days in the month).

Anything else you’d like to share?
Despite the fact that I'm a Savage Worlds fanboy, I love trying out new systems and will regularly try them at cons. I also love running Traveller and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.

And Andy has killed every single one of my player characters in a campaign he has been in. Paelias, Manifesto, Rev. Elijah Jacobson, and Cpt. Jason Cauldwell, you shall all be remembered fondly for your heroic sacrifices in the face of Andy's evil GM tyranny!

Thanks, Will, for such a great interview!

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