Six Questions Archive

Back in October, I began picking a person each week to answer six questions. Here’s a roundup of the people who’ve taken part so far…


Six Questions: Anne Wheaton

You may know Anne from her appearance on TableTop. But you SHOULD know Anne from her work with #VandalEyes, which she created along with Bonnie Burton. VandalEyes is a crusade to bring googly eyes to things that need googly eyes. It’s been an inspiration to Jenn and I; here’s one of Jenn’s creations.

But let me let Anne speak for herself…

What’s your story?

At 23 years old, I had already been married, divorced and was living on my own as a single parent with two little boys. I put myself through cosmetology school at night while working as a waitress during the day. It was the hardest time of my life but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It made me a motivated, hard working, independent person. When I was 26, I met a 23 year old named Wil at a New Year’s Eve party a mutual friend of ours was having. We started dating, eventually got married and spent several years working our asses off to keep our family above water while my ex-husband tried his hardest to pull us all under. It is unfortunate that he spent the boys’ childhood doing that but Wil and I raised two fantastic young men out of that situation.

What was the inspiration for #VandalEyes?

As a kid, I would put googly eyes on crafts. I loved how it seemed to bring things to life. I hadn’t done anything with googly eyes in years and was re-introduced to them by Bonnie Burton when she stayed with us while filming an episode of Table Top in December 2011. I was instantly reminded how much I loved them when she put them on a few things around my house so I got my own supply. I came up with #VandalEyes on Twitter before attending a convention in Anaheim in January 2012 because I thought it was a funny way to tag vandalizing things with googly eyes. People always tell me they didn’t get what it meant for a long time until actually saying it out loud. Did I mention I like puns?

What are a few of your favorite #VandalEyes achievements?

The one that made me laugh so hard I had tears down my face was putting quarter sized googly eyes on Levar Burton at San Diego Comicon in 2012. He was so funny about putting these ridiculous eyes on but having a very serious face. On a different note, I am really proud of creating (with the help of my husband because I am the opposite of technology savvy) along with Bonnie Burton. We were posting so many pictures of our own that it seemed to inspire others to do the same. Pictures were constantly being sent to us on Twitter so we decided having a website where all of these pictures could be shared needed to happen. I love clicking on the archive link on the site and seeing page after page of all the pictures posted from all over the world all together. It is hilarious!

If you could vandaleyes anything in the world, what would it be?

The Statue of Liberty with appropriate sized eyes. Now THAT would be a tourist attraction for sure.

You star in an episode of Tabletop, playing Ticket to Ride with Wil, Colin Ferguson, and Amy Dallen. What’s your favorite game?

I love Scrabble. I don’t care about the score, I just love word games. I always play Scrabble when I get together with my girlfriends. It’s our time to visit with each other, have some good food and wine and play a game at our own pace. I’m not a very competitive person. It’s more about spending the time together doing something we all enjoy. I was playing Words with Friends but I had too many games going at once and the pressure to play my turn was too much so I stopped. I’d rather wait and play face to face. Bananagrams and Boggle are fun ones too.

As a Scrabble aficionado, is Words With Friends: The Boardgame a logical way to bring the online audience to the boardgaming world, or a money-grabbing abomination?

It does seem weird to me to make a board game version of Words With Friends but it kind of makes sense. When I first started playing Words With Friends it was really hard to get used to the board because I was so used to the Scrabble board. The generation of people introduced to Scrabble because of playing Words With Friends first must feel the same way about the Scrabble board. I suspect the board game was created to appeal to them which is fine. Scrabble really helped me learn words and learn how to spell when I was a kid. If anything, this is just helping a new generation do the same!

What are you looking forward to in 2013?

In December 2012, I retired from my 17 year career as a hairdresser. Tendinitis in my shoulder and both wrists made it painful and not enjoyable anymore. Plus, I was feeling like I wanted to do something else with my life. We do a lot of fundraising for charities so we decided to start our own charity foundation to fund various projects we have wanted to do for a few years. Within a week of retiring as a hairdresser, I was already working on our first project. It is so fun and so fulfilling to be doing this. We’re keeping each project a secret until it’s completed so this first project will be ready to reveal this upcoming August.

Since our kids are grown and out of the house, this also gives me the opportunity to travel with Wil more. We kind of did things in reverse of most couples. We started out raising kids so we feel like we’re in that honeymoon stage people have when they first get married.Still being relatively young and having the time to spend with our friends and family and have vacations just the two of us has been unbelievably awesome. I always tell people to make your marriage a priority while you’re raising kids because someday those kids will be out of the house. The relationship with your spouse lasts a lifetime so put in the effort!

Six Questions: Russell Morrissey

Groundpug Day is nearly upon us! Will Mister Pants see his shadow tomorrow?

While we wait for the answer, here’s six questions with Russell Morrissey of EN WORLD. In all my years of forum-wandering, I’ve always found EN World to be my favorite source for news, reviews, and discussion, and I’m proud to have an ENnie award on my desk. Over the last few years, much of my forum time has been devoted to the official WotC Eberron forums, but as I start talking more about Codex, I expect to be spending considerably more time on EN World. Recently the site was attacked, and Russell is running a Kickstarter campaign to build a new and better EN World. Now, here’s the man himself!

What’s the story of EN World, and how did you end up as the man behind the curtain?

So, before there was an EN World, there was a website called Eric Noah’s Unofficial D&D 3rd Edition News, run by Eric Noah.  In the lead-up to the release of D&D 3E, Eric reported all the scoops and rumours, and compiled all the information known about the game – his site was very popular.  EN World started compiling d20 news not long before Eric decided to stop maintaining his website, and the two sites merged to become the site you see today.  Over the years it’s changed of course – it’s no longer just a d20 and D&D site; it’s a site for all tabletop gaming (though D&D and Pathfinder are still the most popular topics on the site).

In an internet filled with fantasy forums, what makes EN World stand out from the crowd?

EN World’s one of the older RPG communities out there.  There are some older ones, and some bigger ones, and lots of newer, flashier ones, but I feel that EN World’s combination of age and size works well.  It means that the site is a treasure trove of information —  much of its traffic comes from specific Google searches about very focused questions, which lead folks to a particular thread or topic.

Additionally, EN World is one of the best, most generous communities around.  In fact, I’m constantly surprised by just how amazing this community is, and I’m very grateful for that.  The recent Kickstarter is a testament to the community.

I’m also proud of the news page, which is a daily updated news digest that’s been going strong for 12 years now, and is still the busiest area of the site to this day by an order of magnitude.  It’s changed format over the years, but it’s been diligently reporting RPG news for as long as anybody else in the industry, and longer than most – with an additional focus not just on large announcements, but community news, blogs, fan creations, and the like.

EN World also tries to keep busy and *do* stuff.  Some more successfully than others, but the site stays active: we’re responsible for the ENnies, we make adventure paths, we have spin-off communities, we’re even making cartoons these days!  I’ve never been content to just sit there and watch it bumble along, and I always like to try new things. Some of those things don’t work so well, while others work out very well indeed, and that’s down to that wonderful community of active, vibrant people.  I feel it’s important that EN World be more than just some messageboard software and a news page – it should be doing things.

What’s the strangest story that has come out of EN World?

Yikes. There are stories of generosity – just look at the current Kickstarter; of opportunity, like the day Peter Adkison contacted me and said “Hey, would you like to hold the ENnies at Gen Con?”; many stories of insanity (you should see some of the rants the moderators get in their inboxes!); stories of disaster; stories of wonderful friends I’ve made across an ocean who have welcomed me into their homes; bizarre stories of people who write lengthy blog posts calling me mean names because they don’t like how I run a little D&D website; odd legal threats with no grounding in reality; hacking attempts on the website. You name it, it’s happened!  Where do I start?

There’s more to EN World than forums and news. EN Publishing has produced a range of products, from the War of the Burning Sky campaign to Space Fight! What product are you proudest of, and what are you looking forward in the future?

Is this where I get to blow my own trumpet?  I honestly think that our ZEITGEIST adventure path is astonishing; right at the very top-tier of fantasy adventure-writing.  Of course, I’m going to be biased, but it’s so good (I can say that because I’m not writing it personally!)  It’s also very brave, and is very much targeted at the experienced GM, a group that I always feel could use more complex, challenging, rewarding material.  It’s consistently gotten glowing reviews and critical acclaim, and that makes me very proud indeed.  When we originally produced the War of the Burning Sky adventure path, we determined to do something different to what existed already; what WotC or Paizo was doing already so well in their own right.  Emulating them would be pointless.  So we started a journey of sorts with WotBS, and went even further with ZEITGEIST in a different kind of experience for a dedicated group of gamers looking for something new.  It’s more of a niche market than the stuff the bigger companies are producing, but for those within that niche it’s so rewarding.

In 2012 EN World began hosting video content. Where do you want to go with this?
I don’t know what the future holds for the internet, or for websites like mine. It has changed *massively* in the last decade, and it will change massively in the next decade.  One part of that is ensuring that you’re not left behind.  I got onto the social networking thing too slowly, and a bit too late.  The video aspect is another example of that – I don’t know for sure that video will be more, less, or equally important to the web in five years’ time, but I want to be in a position to handle it whichever.  So we’re essentially “training” ourselves to do it; it’s new to us, requires a very different skill-set, and has technical challenges, but it’s also the sort of thing a “grown up” news entity should be able to handle easily.  We did a trial run at Dragonmeet (a small convention in London) in December, which went well.  We put together a cartoon last year which was our way of starting to learn an entirely new skillset, and we’ll be doing that again this year. I hope to bring video coverage of Gen Con to EN World this year.  Essentially, right now, it’s about getting ducks in a row for the future. One area I wish I had covered is audio podcasts; and that’s another challenge again!
Currently you’re involved in a Kickstarter to help support EN World after the site was brought down by an attack. What happened? What will you do with the funds if the campaign exceeds expectations?

In December, EN World was attacked (and then a bit later my other site, Circvs Maximvs, was attacked). The hackers brought down both sites, and I was forced to rebuild EN World — the existing code clearly was no longer secure.  The Kickstarter is accomplishing that — in fact, it’s already exceeded expectation by a degree which is astonishing to me. So first of all, I’m rebuilding, securing, optimizing, and hardware-upgrading the site – that’s the primary goal.  Then I’m adding cool functionality or additional ways to conveniently access the site’s resources (mobile apps, for example – I’ve already put an Android app into place, and an iOS one is awaiting Apple approval).    I’m offering swag in the form of PDFs, apps, even exclusive dice.  The long-term result is going to be a fast, powerful EN World positioned for the next ten years with awesome functionality and resources.

Six Questions: Javier Grillo-Marxuach

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

This week I’m talking with JAVIER GRILLO-MARXUACH. Javi is the creator of one of my favorite television shows ever: The Middleman. He also wrote the comic the show was based on, and has done writing for such diverse shows as Lost, Charmed, Medium, The Pretender, and many more. He’s written comics! He’s created short films! He is one of the smartest people in the room, and if you’re not familiar with his work, you should get right on it.

What’s your story? Do you already know how it’s going to end, or are you just making it up as you go and hoping you get renewed for another season?

Though some days it feels like my story is the product of a writers room where lunch has not yet arrived, everyone is snapping at each other in hypoglycemic shock, the ratings arrived wrapped in fish and the dailies have become indelible proof that our once-irresistible-but-now-crotchety, dialogue-rewriting leading man has been spending too much time at the craft services table…those days aside, my story is pleasantly open-ended and I have made my peace with the truth that such uncertainty is far more conducive to fun, surprising opportunities than a relentless drive toward a dramatic conclusion.

You’ve worked on a host of shows and comics, but you’ve also created your own original characters and stories, such as The Middleman and Ramiel: The Wrath of God. What inspires your original work?

Let me answer this question with my favorite anecdote from the set of The Middleman. I was hanging out with our leading lady – Wendy Watson herself – Natalie Morales, and the actor who played her boyfriend Tyler – Brendan Hines. We were shooting the second-to-last episode and I answered a question about Brendan’s character by telling him that “Tyler is me on my best day.” Natalie looked at me in abject shock and horror and exclaimed that “But you said Wendy was also you!” I replied that indeed, she was. Natalie followed that up with the slightly repulsed statement “But… Wendy and Tyler are having sex!” In the difficult and awkward pause that ensued, I realized that there is probably no better way to summarize the relationship of creators and their work.

Tell me about The Middleman. How would you sum it up for a complete newb? What makes it unique?

It’s like having your brain smashed with a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick. No, wait, that was a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. They blend. OK, The Middleman…it’s basically a brightly-colored superhero fantasia where good is rewarded with victory and sustaining friendships, where doing the Right Thing results not in burden, compromise and tragedy, but in knowledge, wisdom and renewed optimism, and in which evil is not an unstoppable force without end, but the simple consequence of a lunk-headed refusal to behave with what we shamelessly earnest sentimentalists refer to as “simple human decency.” Those of us who made the show, quite simply, went to work every day with the humble goal of creating a televisual version of the Platonic Ideal of the Fisher Price garage we all had as children: an endlessly playful structure full of bright and shining things all leading to a good time. Whether we succeeded is up to you – the viewer – to decide.

The Middleman can always be counted on for a colorful exclamation, be it “Mutual of Omaha!” or “Eyes without a face!” What’s your favorite Middle-expression, and what was your criteria for coming up with them?

Because The Middleman transformed himself from a snot-punchin’ hellion into a clean-livin’ man who renounced profanity, the scripts continually called for more – and more colorful – expressions to articulate what ordinary people would normally do with an expletive. To fill that need, we had a dedicated white board in the writer’s room for Middleman exclamations (coming up with them became such a pervasive obsession that, to this day, the writers will email me new ones on a regular basis, even though the show has been off the air for some four years). You know, it’s hard to have a bad day at work when every time you turn your head in a certain direction, you see a board full of bon-mots like: Abs of Steel! Band of Brothers! Lhasa Apso! Land of the lost! Abe Lincoln’s mule! Breakfast of champions! Misfits of science! Easy-bake oven! Gods and monsters! Corinthian leather! Non-dairy creamer! Star 69! Door number three! My little pony! – and, of course – In-a-gadda-da-vida! As for my favorite Middle-exclamation, I have to say that while most recently, I truly enjoyed having the Big Green Cheese exclaim “Sons of Anarchy!” (in my traditional Christmas card Middleman short story that I do for the fans), I prefer the sheer elegance of simplicity to be found in heaving out a good, loud “OH PHOOEY!”

We met at a D&D game. How did you get into gaming, and what do you enjoy about it?

Dungeons and Dragons is like geek Esperanto: a shared language for people who love living out loud in a realm of imagination. I got into it when I was ten and the first edition came out…and it was like nerd-nirvana for me and my friends (that and VCRs and the Atari 2600). I love the social aspect of role-play gaming, the creativity, and – of course – the Mountain Dew and pizza. The best way I can describe D&D is how I explained it to the five year-old son of my current Dungeon Master…the little guy asked “what’s D&D?” and I said “you know how you have a video game system? It’s like that, only your dad is the console and the television.”

What are your plans for 2013?

I am incredibly blessed and lucky in that I get to do for a living something that I love dearly. Someone in my position should never take that for granted, so I plan on doing exactly what I always do, make things and hope they get out to anyone who might enjoy them: I have a new comic series “Unfathomable” coming out in the summer through APE Entertainment (the best way I can describe the premise is “Transformers with fish”)…I am also creating a pilot for the SyFy channel and doing some work on a new series created by Naren Shankar of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” – with whom I worked on seaQuest – and Luc Besson, who directed “The Fifth Element” among many others. Truly, all I want is to continue to have the privilege and opportunity to put these weird little objects from my mind into the world and see if they survive!

Six Questions: Ryan Macklin

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

Today I’m talking to RYAN MACKLIN. You may know Ryan from his blog or his podcast, Master Plan (by curious coincidence, the most recent episode of Master Plan is an old interview with me!). As a game designer, Ryan is everywhere you want to be. He’s been involved in the design and development of a host of games ranging from the Leverage RPG, the Dresden Files RPG, A Penny for my Thoughts and more. He’s contributed a series pitch to Robin D. Laws‘ Hillfolk system, and has a piece in the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide. Beyond any of these, he’s just released an entirely new system of his own design. It’s called  MYTHENDER, it lets you bake Odin’s ravens into a pie, and it’s absolutely free. So what are you waiting for? Follow that link and check it out. And then come back and see what Ryan has to say about it!

Ryan Macklin, what’s your Master Plan?

As you might imagine, I get this question often. My answer for it has changed over time. I’ve joked about world domination (as have some of my guests on Master Plan), but right now the truth is: my Master Plan is to survive and help a few people along the way. And when it comes that second bit, I take a shotgun approach: I write on my blog about the creative process to help those who are new to it. I speak openly about struggles with mental health in the gaming community to help those who need to hear someone tell their story. And I suppose that even games I make help people to enjoy a moment in time, either to unwind or to think about something they wouldn’t otherwise.

This holiday season, I saw you run a game in which the players set out to crush Santa and hear the lamentation of his reindeer. Now that experience is available to everyone. Tell me about MYTHENDER.

Man, Mythender. My pitch is always: DO YOU WANT TO STAB THOR IN THE FACE?

That question has changed in visual meaning since Chris Hemsworth’ take on the Marvel character. SO THANKS UNIVERSE. Anyway, it’s my take on the idea of what truly mythic stories are about: power and hubris.

Much of the design is focused around two things: the emotional brain will hook deeper into language and tactile elements than the rational brain will in mathematical puzzles. And because the game is about telling a story of raging power and corruption, the emotional brain takes priority. So all the things in the game are worded deliberately to trigger a certain emotional space, and the large number of dice the game requires is about feeling the weight of your power in your hand and feeling how that diminishes when you’re hit.

I wanted to make a game the fulfilled the promise I thought Exalted had, and I wanted to play with ideas in Nobilis. I just didn’t realize I would be doing them in the same game. Of course, I’ve pretty much down the “here’s the pitch for game designers” for the last two paragraphs. So, BACK TO LET’S STAB ODIN IN HIS GOOD EYE and try to not become gods in the process, lest our friends End us.

What do you consider to be your finest creation?

That’s a damned hard question. If we stick to gaming, then when it comes to mechanical engines, certainly Mythender. The Game Creation chapter of Fate Core is my finest bit on campaign creation advice/procedure. Or the $15,000 I helped make in a few days for someone’s cancer treatment bills. But I’m hedging by breaking down into categories and whatnot, and the real answer is none of those.

Truthfully, there’s an uncomfortable finality in “finest.” So I’ll say my finest creation is years ahead, at minimum. It’s the one I’m chasing, the one bends like reeds in the wind, whose flaws are like cherry blossoms–for if nothing can be perfect, then let ones flaws be intentional and desirable.

After you die, you are dispatched to a special level of the afterlife in which you must run RPGs for the rest of eternity. What three systems do you take with you?

Mythender, because it amuses me. And I think implied in this answer is “all the stuff to run the game,” which means I’ll have a couple hundred d6s of various colors, as well as two different styles of tokens. So that’s awesome.

Man, it’s hubris to mention two games I’ve been involved in, but I really like what we did with Fate Core. Only I would probably want to also take Cortex Plus. They’re similar enough that I wouldn’t want to take both, so I guess I would take Fate Cor…tex Plus. Sure, I’ll make that hack before I die, so that it exists.

And finally, whatever is the most recent game from Jason Morningstar at the time of my death. If there is a god, that game would be Nine Roosevelts Against the Impossible.

You worked on the Leverage RPG, and you’re currently working on Margaret Weis Productions’ Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide. Tell me about the Guide and your piece of it.

Well, I can do better; you can actually read a rough draft of my article on my blog:

But it’s a treatise on language design in games. I have both a mathematical and creative writing background, so I feel like I can say with a decent amount of authority that language design is a stronger and more important component to creative game mechanics than the math. Some people call this “theme,” which is fair. And for those who would say “what about visuals?” I agree — that’s another aspect of communication/language/whatever you want to call it.

Anyway, my article is about showing how changing what you call Stress traits in Smallville can do for your game. Since in Smallville, how you suffer and deal with detriment is prescribed with language, that’s a really fascinating hack point that I think few considered.

A freak wormhole drops you into Gen Con 2018. What do you find there?

First of all, me without my pants on. PUT YOUR DAMN PANTS ON, FUTURE SELF.

I ohh and ahh at the next iteration of board games that make deckbuilders look antiquated. Like, I can’t fathom what that is, but knowing it’s there excites me right now. And the number of vendors selling phone/tablet games at Gen Con is pretty awesome.

Naturally, I swing by the very impressive booth that Daniel Solis has for his games, and I remark about how I’m entirely unsurprised at his success.

Leonard Balsera is sitting at the bar waiting for me, with a “where have you been, you bastard?” look and a manhattan waiting for me.

Later, after the exhibit hall winds down, I will come up to you and ask you what sort of wizard you are that you knew this would happen. I would beg you to show me the way home. But not without a few pages of notes I’ve taken about upcoming trends in gaming. Still, I intentionally don’t look at anything I’ve worked on — spoilers, after all.

Six Questions: Wolfgang Baur

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

Today I’ve got WOLFGANG BAUR on the spot. You may know Wolfgang as the co-creator of Dark*Matter, the founder of Open Design, the chief kobold at Kobold Quarterly, or for the Midgard Campaign Setting or the host of other RPG material he’s created over the years. This week he released the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding, which includes a few essays by your truly… along with a few other folks such as Monte Cook, Jeff Grubb, Chris Pramas. If you want to get the guide, you can pick it up from Amazon, Drivethru RPG, Createspace, or the Kobold Quarterly store. Now on with the questions!

How did you get started with gaming, and how did you end up where you are today?

I started with a blue box and some friends, then found some submission guidelines for Dungeon Magazine. I published a few adventures, just a trickle back in the days when Dungeon was bi-monthly. Then one day a friend told me TSR was hiring. I never had a careful strategy to work in games, but I was very hardworking and very lucky. Both helped.

I left Wizards of the Coast to strike out on my own, but have kept good relationships with Paizo, the WotC old guard, and others because I admire what they do for the hobby. I have found new friends and co-workers both at the big firms, and by working with freelancers for Kobold Press. Gamers have a good community.

Why kobolds?

Because they are the underdog. My whole career in RPG was in working for the big guys, first TSR, then WotC. And they have a lot to offer, in terms of art, editing, distribution, quality, creativity–not to mention the ability to pay the rent.

But when I struck out on my own, I felt like one little guy in a room full of giants, firms with deeper pockets, bigger networks, larger audiences, everything. So, the small-but-fierce credo of the Kobold Press was forged from necessity. Over time, we’ve grown, but in the larger picture, we’re still a small firm that survives by its wits. And a few well-laid ambushes and traps. Small means vulnerable, but also nimble, and that’s kobolds.

Your latest release is the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. Tell me about the guide. If I’m just sitting down to create a world, how will it help me?  

The guide is split out into sections on different topics, covering all the essential elements for building a world.

To provide the best advice, almost a dozen different industry veterans tackle different topics, from mapping to working in an established world to how to design a useful fantasy society or a new pantheon. The authors have been done worldbuilding for Guild Wars, Battletech, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Midgard, Magic: the Gathering, Star Wars, and Westeros. It’s advice built on real experience and real success.

The cartographical advice, for instance, comes from Jonathan Roberts, the cartographer for George Martin’s Game of Thrones setting, Westeros. The pantheon advice comes from pantheon authors for D&D and Pathfinder RPG. The discussion is directed at showing you what your main decision-points are, and where different worlds choose different styles or paths. The examples help make the arguments, in other words, but there’s enough meat here to engage even long-time RPG veterans.

To my mind, some of the most interesting discussion comes from those people whose names you might not know. Scott Hungerford, one of the men responsible for the worldbuilding of Magic: the Gathering and many other major properties, talks about how to keep your world straight with a setting bible. I don’t think it gets any better than advice from people who do this professionally, and written to make your home game better, faster, and more engaging for players.

What’s the Guide got to offer gamemasters who already have a homebrew setting or use an established world?

Absolutely tons of great advice to enrich and expand your setting or an established setting! Who wouldn’t want some worldbuilding advice from Monte Cook or Chris Pramas or Jeff Grubb–or Keith Baker?

The Guide describes how to create a tribal society and how to create a secret society, how to generate adventure and conflict with mystery cults, how to think about the role of technology and how to deploy magic to create a sense of wonder. It tackles the value (or lack of value) of long historical timetables. The Guide to Worldbuilding isn’t just about the basics; it about the trade-offs, and how to expand an existing setting is definitely part of the package.

The Guide to Worldbuilding talks about what to leave out of your setting, and why, in a way that should give any worldbuilder food for thought. Not to mention, the chapter on how a freelancer might approach writing for a licensed setting such as Star Wars or Game of Thrones.

Well before Kickstarter became ubiquitous, you started Open Design as a way to have patrons directly fund RPG projects. In Open Design, senior patrons directly contribute ideas to the projects. What inspired you to create Open Design? What’s an example of a critical idea provided by a patron? 

I founded Open Design (the company) as a self-publishing effort, to put forward my designs and ideas. I quickly discovered that the fans who funded the work had lots of great ideas themselves, and that the conversation with the patrons and backers helped fine-tune, develop, and expand the best ideas. So that method, while time-consuming, has become a key element in creating better, award-winning work.

An example of a critical idea? Sure, a dwarven mines project some time ago was going to be a straight-up Mines of Moria sort of riff until a patron named Brandon Hodge said “Why not give the dwarves a secret society, sort of like Freemasons?” That was a great twist, and the designers and backers of the project played with it, enriched it, and made it concrete, from titles to robes to key plot points. That one suggestion led to lots of interesting plot and setting elements, so we ran with it. That one suggestion reshaped the entire final product in a way that was more exciting, more original, and more playable.

In other words, it might be more work to do it this way, but 50 minds are definitely better than one. The results have been impressive.

Through Open Design, you’ve produced the Midgard campaign setting. Tell me about Midgard. Given the choice of Golarion, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Greyhawk and more, what makes Midgard unique and interesting?

While there are many fine settings, Midgard stands alone by placing a premium on presenting real myths and legends with a fantasy twist (the ravenfolk, the world trees, the ley lines) and it offers new roleplaying elements such as Status rules and the Deep Magic of shadow roads and ley lines. It’s not a wildly weird setting, but a paean to European fantasy traditions put through a Pathfinder lens.

It’s also the only complete fantasy setting written expressly for Pathfinder RPG—well, other than the Paizo house setting of Golarion. It is the only fantasy setting that gives its fans so many chances to publish their adventures in it. Midgard is a truly shared world, because of its collaborative design approach. That makes it powerful stuff. One reviewer called it “without doubt or hyperbole the very best fantasy RPG campaign setting that I have ever read (and I’ve read many!).”

Sometimes, not being first means that you learn from what other settings did right, or did wrong. Midgard clearly did.

Six Questions: Molly Lewis

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

My guest this week is ukulele sensation MOLLY LEWIS. I first heard Molly’s music at W00tstock, then got to know her at PAX and JoCoCruise Crazy II. Her music addresses such timeless topics as the Lincoln Assassination and the immortal wisdom of Mister T; she’s also a brilliant gamer who plays a mean hand of Pit. If you aren’t familiar with her work, YouTube is here to help you out, and I suggest you go there IMMEDIATELY. We’ll still be here when you get back! In addition, Molly is just about to embark on a West Coast tour with nerd-folk duo The Doubleclicks. If you’re on the west coast, check the schedule for a local show!

If someone made a quirky primetime sitcom based on your life, what would we see in the first episode? 

I’m picturing an old-fashioned expository theme song and title sequence, sort of like That Girl. (“Who’s that? Doesn’t know how to drive a car / la la la lalala la / Who’s that? Eating kimchi straight out of the jar / la la la lala la / She loves board games, she’s kind of arty-farty / She’s a party animal! in that she talks to cats at parties / She’s MOLLY.”)

In Seinfeld, the original premise they pitched was you watch a comedian go through his day and gather material for his standup show, which you see at the end of each episode. It would be way taxing on me as a songwriter if I adopted this premise and then had to crank out a song every week, but if I have a sweatshop of other songwriters to help me, it might be plausible.

In the first episode I think we’d follow me getting ready for an upcoming Dammit Liz show. The primary sets that my sitcom would use the most would be My House, My Home Office, and Cafe Mox (Central Perk : Friends :: Cafe Mox : my sitcom). The first episode of my sitcom would have to establish all these sets.

We’d open up at INT – Molly’s House – DAY, where Ben and I are in our living room. He is playing Darksiders II or looking at pictures of shoes on his phone or something. I’m sorting through my Cards Against Humanity set to create a sanitized set I can take home to play with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday. After I reduce my whole pack down to about 10 useable white cards, I declare Mission Accomplished and decide to go upstairs to get some work done.

So we cut to INT – Molly’s Home Office – DAY. I get a Skype call from Dammit Liz (IRL I would get an email but Skype makes for better television) inviting me to the “Dammit Liz Presents A Guy Fawkes Day Musical Fireworks Celebration” or something. But uh oh! it’s been 6 months since I’ve written a new song, and I don’t have any material appropriate for Guy Fawkes Day. 🙁

I go to INT – Cafe Mox – DAY to meet up with my fellow nerdy songwriter friends The Doubleclicks and Marian Call. (By warped sitcom physics, Juneau Portland and Seattle will all be very close together.) We talk about my songwriter troubs and they suggest ideas that are well-meaning and clever but very distinctively their style, and I feel bad stealing ideas from my friends.

The pilot episode would probably end up at some Dammit Liz production, because we need to establish (1) that I’m a professional ukulelist, and (2) it would be a quick & easy way to introduce all my friends that might make appearances later in the series. Look, it’s the hilarious duo Kris & Scott (spinoff??), OMG the Loading Ready Run people, oh Logan Bonner you lovable scamp LOL.

The show would end with me singing my new song about Guy Fawkes Day (“My Parliamentary Heart Bursts For You” or something).

What are your favorite songs… that you’ve written, and that you haven’t?  

Right now I am mainlining some “Ballad of Booth” from Assassins, something fierce. As someone who has written a songbit about the Lincoln assassination from Booth’s perspective, it is SO choice. The whole reason I wrote my Lincoln song is because I read Assassination Vacation immediately before I got that prompt, and found the portion about JWBooth fascinating – He honestly thought he was being the Good Guy, a liberator and patriot, and wrote as much in his diary post-assassination.

I judge the quality of song rhymes based on whether or not I can tell which rhyming phrase was put down first; sometimes you can just smell when someone went “Oh crap, what rhymes with ‘call me MAYBE’? ‘This is CRAZY?’ Pffft, that’s fine.” If the rhyme works into the song naturally, and if you have command of the language, the anal-retentive listener shouldn’t be able to tell which phrase you put to paper first – or the rhyme has to be so cheekily clever that it comes around the other side. (Tom Lehrer does this a lot; he’s the inspiration for the “commuter bus / uterus” rhyme in my Mr. T song.) Sondheim rhymes are so tight that you can’t pick out where the thought even started. (Some say it was your voice had gone / Some say it was booze / Some say you killed a country, John / because of bad reviews.)  I’m pretty sure he could crush me between the lobes of his brain.

And it’s weird because he’s my friend and stuff, but “I’m Your Moon” by Jonathan Coulton is a fantastic song. That was the song that made me go “Just who is this Jonathan Coulton guy??”

I generally think love songs are boring cultural excess, but “I’m Your Moon” works for me on so many levels because the most romantic bits about it are based on actual scientific facts about Pluto’s relationship with its moon (they’re very similar in size and so Pluto’s center of orbit is between them, and their rotational orbits are synched so that they are constantly facing each other, like dancers), and it also gave the whole Pluto Isn’t A Planet thing some closure (at least in my heart). It took these inert space bodies and gave them personhood, gave them pathos. It was just everything you wanted to tell Pluto after it got demoted, from the only celestial being qualified to really console Pluto on anything. It’s really a very lovely, thoughtful, and well-constructed thing.

When I was in high school we had to write an Elizabethan sonnet for my English class; everybody else wrote sonnets about love or teenage angst, and I wrote about Pluto lamenting that it wasn’t a planet anymore. It remains an issue close to my heart.

Another recent acquisition is Let’s Misbehave / Irving Aaronson – A fantastic song for ukulele, I might add. It’s the kind of mischief that I want associated with the ukulele.

What led you to the ukulele?

The sheer novelty of it. No, really. I had gone through guitar, mandolin, and banjo in the span of 2.5 years. Guitar was too big for my tiny frame, mandolin was tough on my fingers (two of each string, ouch), and banjo was inherently fragile and dorky in a way I couldn’t work with. So one day my dad is coming home from the office and he sees this weird looking tiny stringed instrument in the window of a shop and says “That thing looks dumb, maybe Molly can play it.” So he brings it home and I go “Whaaa?” but it ended up incorporating all the advantages of the other 3 instruments while doing away with the disadvantages.

I played guitar for about 3 years before ditching it for ukulele, because I was reasonably good enough at it and it’s important for me to be able to sing while playing my instrument. I always got squirmy though because when a girl gets onstage with a guitar, especially a teenage girl, people are really quick to compare her to other lady singer-songwriters. People were eager to put me in a box, and they thought it was a compliment when they told me that I reminded them of Michelle Branch or Jewel or The Dixie Chicks or something. I found it insulting for some reason.

I picked up ukulele in 2004, sort of as it was starting to crest into trendiness, and there were no ukulele playing ladies that anybody could compare me to. I liked people asking “What IS that thing?” when I brought it out and played it. So I stuck with it.

If you were kidnapped by animatronic presidents and forced to work at a Disney Park, what would you want your job to be?

I’d love to play with Billy Hill & The Hillbillies, but I don’t think they have any openings. 

If I worked at the Dole booth outside the Tiki Room I could eat pineapple whip all day. I’d like that.

I definitely want to be the person who loads people on and off the Matterhorn. I’ve always envied their sweet wooly jackets. They’re long, kind of gray and forest green – they might even be reversible? Ben tells me they’re called toggle coats, because they have these horn things instead of buttons. The people that load the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride also get pretty cool outfits. They get to wear orange and burgundy striped socks, and the ladies get this suedey bodice thing – and pants. Most Disney ride operator ladies have to wear dresses of some kind.

When I was a kid I really wanted to be a skipper on the Jungle Cruise because I thought they had the most creative freedom of all the Disney employees? and then learned as I grew up that they actually have to submit their jokes for approval before they can use them on the job. So, that’s boring.

When you enter the Haunted Mansion, there’s this haunted stretchy gallery room you start in before you get into the boarding area. You’re supposed to stand in the middle of the room to get the full effect, and so there’s an employee (also with a great costume) who says “Ladies and gentlemen, kindly drag your bodies away from the walls to the dead center of the gallery,” their emphasis. This one time we had this lady who did not get where the jokes were in that spiel, and so she said “kindly move your cadavers away from the scary walls to the dead center of the haunted gallery.” I wanted to school her about how I was 12 and could do her job better than she could, but didn’t.

What’s your favorite game at the moment? 

Earlier this week I played Cash & Guns for the first time, the game mechanic of which involves pointing foam orange pistols at other players; I worried it would be sort of a gimmicky game mechanic that doesn’t add much, like the inflatable clubs in Ugg Tect, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a good and easy pickup game.

I really like team games that involve more bluffing and talking than, uh, actual strategizing. So Fiasco is a favorite, Werewolves is good (The Resistance is also in the same vein, but has more structure). Deck-building and turn-based games are touchy for me because I had some roommates in college who really loved Dominion but weren’t good about talking the other players through what they were doing in their turn. You only spent 1/4 of the game enjoying yourself, and the rest waiting for it to be your turn; there was a lot of “[nudge] Is your turn over?” “…Oh. Yes.” (They also didn’t like to put out that involved any kind of intrigue or stealing cards from other people, which is half the fun of Dominion.) Games like Fluxx or We Didn’t Playtest This or Gloom keep everybody involved in the game even when it isn’t their turn, and Dominion should be like that, but I wasn’t playing with the right people.

And I’m normally sort of unenthused with iPhone games, but I’ve recently discovered Spaceteam, which involves barking nonsense commands at your friends and twiddling knobs and switches on your phone screen. I love games you can spontaneously break out when you and your friends are waiting in line for something, or sitting around a table in a bar. (I carry Zombie Dice in my purse for this reason.)

If you were trapped on a desert island with only three Cards Against Humanity questions, what would they be?

“Why am I sticky?” Seems like a question I’d ask myself often on a desert island.

“In a pinch, [blank] can be a suitable substitute for [blank].” because that’s the sort of resourcefulness one needs on a desert island.

“[blank]. High five, bro.” You need to keep morale up when you’re stuck on a desert island.


Six Questions: Will Hindmarch

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

My guest this week is designer WILL HINDMARCH. He does an excellent job of covering his career at his website. In short, he is a writer, gamer designer, and extremely clever person. Over the years we have collaborated on a number of things. We worked together on the Feng Shui sourcebook Friends of the Dragon, which may (absolutely no guarantees) be one of the first places where flashbacks are suggested as an RPG story mechanic. Years later Will invited me to take part in his anthology The Bones: Us and Our Dice. Later still I had a chance to play in his cyberpunk adventure Always/Never/Now, which was one of the most entertaining roleplaying experiences I can recall. This doesn’t begin to touch on the scope of his work… like I said, check his bio. And now, let’s get to the questions!

Who are you? Please answer in exactly five words. 

Writer, designer, gamer, mooncalf? Word.

What have you done over the last decade?

Not enough. Since 2002, either on staff or as a freelancer, I’ve put a fingerprint on something like 100+ publications, mostly in the game sector, and it still feels like I’m lagging behind prized contemporaries and luminaries.

In the past decade, I’ve gotten married, moved from city to city a few times, and learned a lot about writing, design, development, and production from some of the gaming hobby’s most-skilled people. I’ve achieved a few long-term goals from my past but I have a lot more still waiting to be realized. I’ve sailed on the surface and I’ve scraped the bottom of the sea, but at least I’m still here, chasing new goals. Advance, setback, pirouette, onward.

The big thing that I’ve done in the past ten years and get to know some of my favorite game designers, writers, and other creative folk in a way that goes beyond fan mail or a handshake. I count myself incredibly lucky for the company I’m allowed to keep. I’m surrounded by intimidating talents and wonderful hearts and cunning minds and while I haven’t yet made the mark (or all the games and books) that I so desperately wanted to make by this point, I am better primed to do those things now than I was before. I remain hopeful, most days.

Always, Never, or Now?

I wish the answer was “always.” I fear the answer is “never.” I know it isn’t “now.”

What’s your favorite game you didn’t create?

Tricky, this one. I have created a number of games close to zero. Most of my work has been on other people’s games, expansions, and supplements. Vexing.

Truth is, I am near-sighted when it comes to favorites—my favorite game is often the one that I am obsessed with in the moment, so not only does my favoritism juke and weave, it often doubles back and leads me through the woods to familiar groves after years away. Which is to say, I don’t know. I’ve singled out Castle Falkenstein as an answer to this question a few times, but there have been times when my favorite game was Wraith: The Oblivion, the Saga system (whether it’s powering fantastical or super-heroic roleplaying), and I’m plainly a sucker for the confluence of mechanics that make up Lady Blackbird. I’ve been playing a whole lot of 7 Wonders for the last year or so, too; I admire that game rather a lot.

But my favorite game? It’s probably Thief: The Dark Project. That’s the most engaged and captivated I have ever been in actual play, and I was engaged and captivated something close to my maximum amount by that game. It builds a terrific world, tells a great tale, features wonderful characterization and mechanics, and is probably the most frightening game I have ever played.

If you were trapped on a desert island, what three dice would you take?

Probably 2d6 and 1d10. I can play a whole lot of my favorite RPGs with the sweet curve of 2d6 and the nice simple determination of a single ten-sider. Plus, if I can tally in the sand or make tick-marks on the tree(s), I can track successes and play all manner of great games calling for more dice. The sand will become a record of adventure, grooved all over with the scrap measurements of play, maybe even gridded out with a simple board for tracking coconut goblins and sea-smoothed stones standing in for bold adventurers.

When the sailors finally row up to rescue us, I’ll hold up my finger and be like, “Let’s just finish this round to see if we can save the lost treasure.”

What’s one of your favorite ways to set the mood when you’re running an RPG?

Music. I use a lot of tricks and techniques, from small talk to cadence to lighting, but music is one of my favorites because it’s like getting a whole secondary channel of mood and information into the play space. I can say one thing and let the music support or confound those words and create a situation or atmosphere that much more nuanced than I could do with just words alone. I’ve written a fair bit about this and hope to write more. A lot of what I do with music at the game table is intuitive but I’m eager to externalize it as actionable advice one day.

Six Questions: The Doubleclicks!

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

The Doubleclicks: Aubrey (L) and Angela (R)

My guests today are THE DOUBLECLICKS, Portland’s hottest comedy/nerd/folk sister band. In their own words, they “write songs about Dungeons & Dragons, beatboxing, and lots and lots of heartbreak.” You may know them from W00tstock or the Ladies of Ragnarok, or you may not know them at all, in which case you should stream some music right now.

On to the questions!

How did you get started? What drove you to dive into the cutthroat, Smaug-eat-Smaug world of Nerd-Folk music?

Angela: Growing up and through school, my favorite music has always been stuff with lyrics that have something to say – usually something funny – like They Might Be Giants or Jonathan Coulton. I started playing guitar during college, because, despite having a very musical family, it wasn’t until I left home that I realized that playing guitar actually “makes you cool.” Aubrey moved out to Portland toward the end of my college career, and encouraged me to write songs and perform them with her at a local open mic night – and, when it came to songwriting, I immediately jumped to emulate my influences – with songs that are more about lyrics and storytelling than anything else. That was almost 4 years ago now. We officially started the band in 2011, and we’ve had just an amazing time.

Aubrey: Angela started writing songs and playing the guitar for her friends, and I dragged her out to open mics around Portland because I knew other people would be delighted by her performances. Then we started playing little shows for our friends and found a band name, started writing more songs… and have been meeting amazing people ever since!

If you were taken to a zoo on a distant planet and forced to perform three of your songs for the rest of your lives, which three would you choose?

Angela: Oh, how I hope this doesn’t happen. For the first, I’d choose Oh, Mr. Darcy, because it’s a true story that has shaped who I am. For the second, I’d choose Imposter (the song about Mars Curiosity), because it’s also got true sentiments, plus it’s about space, so that might help us gain some sympathy with our alien zoo-keepers. For the third, it seems like I should choose a happy one, but I think I’d choose “A Song about EVE Online,” because it’s hard to play, and if we had to perform the same songs for the rest of our lives, we might as well be improving.

Aubrey: Setting the mood, Imposter, and Clever Girl.

Is “This Fantasy World” based on a true story? How did you get started with gaming, and what are some of your favorites?

Angela: “This Fantasy World” is about meeting someone in a Dungeons and Dragons game and falling in love. It is, in fact, based on a true story – it’s about the D&D game in college, in which I met my boyfriend. I got started with gaming in high school – my friends and I would play D&D with dice and graph paper in the foyer of our school, while I waited for my mom, who taught at my school, to be finished, so I could go home. My experience, through high school and college, was pretty limited to D&D, occasional tries at Werewolf or Mage, and some board games like Twilight Imperium (I didn’t know any better, ok?). It wasn’t really until we started the band that our worlds were expanded to see awesome indie RPGs like Lady Blackbird and Dungeon World, and fantastic board games – my current favorites being Ticket to Ride and Lords of Waterdeep (I’m a sucker for victory points).

You’ve just released a holiday album, Christmas Ain’t About Me. What makes it different from the average holiday collection?

Angela: Christmas Ain’t About Me is our take on Christmas. There are a couple of songs that are specific to this year’s holiday – about the old man with the white beard who makes the season great (Gandalf), and what happens on December 21 (The End Of The World.) We also took some of the classic Christmas Song Types – the love song, the travel song, and the song from a kid’s perspective – and twisted them to our own experiences. The making of this album was a great experience in getting-something-done-and-out-there-quickly – and we’re very proud of how it turned out.

Aubrey: There are several holiday themes- children, elves, presents, travel, being with friends… but we based it off our personal experiences which makes it a bit nerdier than average.

In honor of your song “Worst Superpower Ever”, I have to ask: Would you rather have Superman’s super-ventriloquism or Batman’s bat-thermal-underwear?

Angela: That is a tough choice – both of those seem *amazing.* I’d probably go with bat-thermal-underwear though, because super-ventriloquism seems like it go horribly wrong more often than not.

Aubrey: I want the thermal underwear! Being warm when it’s freezing outside makes me unstoppable!

What’s next?

This Friday, we are prepping for the apocalypse with a live-streamed bunker concert on Molly Lewis’ YouTube Channel at 7:30 pm PST. If we survive, in 2013, we will hit the road for a West Coast tour through Seattle, Portland and most of California – playing in a lot of game and comic stores. We’re planning to make a new album in the first half of 2013, and then tour all over the place, because touring is awesome.

Six Questions: Erin Evans

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

Looking to my own novels, my favorites are the Thorn of Breland series. This is partially due to the excellent work of my editor, ERIN EVANS. You may know Erin from her own Forgotten Realm fiction, including The God Catcher and Brimstone Angels. Her most recent release is Lesser Evils, the second Brimstone Angels book.

What have you done over the last decade?

Met this guy. Graduated college. Bought an RV. Named it the Chairman. Drove east. Wrote. Drove West. Wrote. Worried. Became an ezine columnist. Lived in National Parks. Lived in Vegas. Wrote a little better. Landed, finally, in Seattle. Sold the Chairman. Got an internship with a small press (Per Aspera Press). Got a crash course on publishing. Wrote a little better. Bought a townhouse. Got a “real job” as an editor for Wizards of the Coast. Got married to that guy. Become Eberron line editor. Edited you three times. Wrote The God Catcher. Wrote a lot better. Got laid off. Had crisis.Wrote Brimstone Angels. Became freelancer. Worked on TERA. Told people they should at the very least play through to the quests with Fraya, because I wrote all her dialogue and I’m really proud of it. Had a baby. Wrote Lesser Evils. Was chosen for the Sundering series, the relaunch of the Forgotten Realms for D&DNext. Got this email. Bought a house. Forgot this email. Found it again. Answered.

The protagonist of Brimstone Angels is a tiefling – a horned humanoid with fiendish characteristics. Why drove you to write about tieflings? What’s appealing or alien about them? 

I have this thing about “ugly” characters. My therapist would probably have things to say about it (that I would probably turn around and use in a story!), but it boils down to the fact that I feel like if your character is going to be “weird” you should go all in–I don’t want to read about how hard your elf has it for having odd ears. I don’t buy it. I love 4E style tieflings, because you can’t pull your narrative punch and opt for a human with teeny sexy horns and a faintly unsettling air. They have to deal with their heritage and how it makes people react–whether that’s internalizing those preconceptions or raging against them or throwing themselves headlong into fulfilling them. There are a lot of very relatable character options created by those big horns and tail.

And it makes a lot of story options too. One thing I love about fantasy is that you can talk about real world issues in a way that feels “safe.” A lot of people who might feel uncomfortable confronting their own biases head-on can think about them more easily when you’re talking about people who aren’t real–and then you can make that leap to real-world. I know that helped me a lot. So things like having Brin, one of the main characters of Brimstone Angels and a human, react in a very expected, kind of bigoted way when he first meets the tiefling twins, and then reconsider his opinions when he hears other people taking those assumptions to places the girls didn’t earn, and reconsider further when he gets to know them–I love that.

What character from fantasy fiction would you like to punch in the face? 

Isn’t everyone’s answer Joffrey Baratheon? I know he’s a kid, but come on.

My second answer is a shameless plug: One of the villains in my next book Lesser Evils is a Netherese wizard called Adolican Rhand. Normally, I like writing villains that you sort of sympathize with–complex people who are making choices you can understand, until you get to thepart where they want to wipe out all the elves or blow up the moon or just burn down an orphanage. I think those villains are more interesting and, on a certain level, scarier–if you’re agreeing with them or feeling sorry for them, it’s a reminder that you too could have made a similar path.

But for Lesser Evils, I ended up with one villain who is meant to embody what’s scary about Shade–they feel entitled to an empire, and what lies between them and that goal isn’t something they really consider. And as a result Rhand became the creepy embodiment of a very visceral fear. I hate writing about him, because all I want Farideh to do is run like the wind. I have said before that if someone came up to me at a con cosplaying as Adolican Rhand, I would punch them in the face and run away, and apologize later from a distance. He just ooks me out that much.

What’s your favorite scene from one of your stories?

I still really love the scene in The God Catcher where Nestrix is buying a cloak and starts having flashbacks to what she remembers during the Spellplague. That was one of those scenes that came out whole cloth, and said everything I wanted it to in a very immersive way. But I have a lot of runners up: the prologue from Brimstone Angels, the fight with the gravehounds from “The Resurrection Agent,” and there’s a flashback scene with Brin in Lesser Evils that I really love. I think what they all have in common is that these are scenes that I feel managed to be the kind of thing that sucks you in as a reader and put you in the POV character’s mindset exactly how I want.

If you were sent to a desert island and only allowed to take three books, which would be the last one you’d burn to stay warm?

I’ve said it over and over, but To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis is just my favorite book bar none. To me, it hits a wonderful balance between concept and plot and character. And it’s hilarious. So I would hold onto that for as long as I could. Also, my copy is a mass market paperback, so it wouldn’t last long in a fire.

What are you looking forward to?

Finishing the first draft of my next book The Adversary. I’m really excited to be included in the lineup for The Sundering (along with R.A. Salvatore, Paul S. Kemp, Richard Lee Byers, Troy Denning, and Ed Greenwood), but I also like getting through the first draft. Partly because I’m at the stage now where I’m noticing things that need to be changed and debating changing them now or later, but also, once it’s done, you can see the whole shape of the piece and find the rest of the places it can be made even better.