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: 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: 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.

Six Questions: Jeff LaSala

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 JEFF LASALA. Eberron fans may know Jeff from his many DDI articles or his novel The Darkwood Mask. Others may know him from short fiction or his work with Goodman Games. Over the years I’ve gotten to know Jeff while discussing his Eberron projects, and back in 2011 he invited me to be a part of a intriguing project he was putting together… a cyberpunk anthology called Foreshadows: Ghosts of Zero. Foreshadows brought together writers, authors, and musicians; each writer chose a track of music that had been created for the anthology and wrote a story inspired by it. Other contributors include Ed Greenwood, Ari Marmell, and former Questioneer Don Bassingthwaite. But why don’t I let Jeff speak for himself?  

Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero is a cyberpunk anthology which brings music, art, and fiction together to create a sense of a world. What inspired you to create Foreshadows?

The sheer desire to combine music and the written word—something my brother (a musician) and I (a writer) have talked about for ages. It had always seemed to us that it was something people should do. Why weren’t they doing it? Hey, we should do it! Like adding the Z-axis plane to X and Y, a third dimension of awesomeness manifests when you combine the right sort of media. How different would movies be if they had no music? Or vocals at all? For Foreshadows, we went and combined music, fiction, and illustration. Win-win-win.

Where did “The Ghosts of Zero” come from?

The answer is more or less in the prologue of the book, which is in itself odd. Anthologies don’t generally have a prologue, since they’re a bunch of stand-alone stories. But ours sets the stage for the shared setting: a cyberpunkish, dystopian near future. In the lexicon of the Foreshadows future, zero often means death, defeat, or neutralization. And as for ghosts, well, you’d have to read the prologue to find out!

It’s also a subtitle to uniquely identify this anthology. Should there come a sequel, we can keep the Foreshadows main title.

What brands The Darkwood Mask as an Eberron tale? How would it be different if you placed it in the Forgotten Realms? 

Karrnath, absolutely. It’s a unique culture that feels vaguely familiar—militant, cold, grim, proud—but has some dark elements no one in real life can actually relate to. In Karrnath, if you’re a patriot and you “support the troops” and love your country, it means you’ll let your sons and daughters march off to war, where they might die and become property of the government. They just might be reanimated to bolster the crown’s skeleton and zombie armies; if they’re truly exceptional soldiers, the Ministry of the Dead might make their remains into one of Karrnath’s elite undead. It’s a nation that survived famine and near annihilation during the Last War and now enjoys a fearsome reputation because its king made some tough choices and some dire sacrifices. The Darkwood Mask is an Eberron tale because Karrnath is an Eberron fixture and that’s where both the protagonist and the book’s plot spring from.

In the Forgotten Realms? Tough one. It wouldn’t be the same. There’s cold war, espionage, and a delicate diplomatic climate in The Darkwood Mask that makes the story work. It would feel quite different, but I could see transplanting the character of Tallis (a MacGuyveresque ex-soldier) into a puppet state controlled by the Zhentarim. Soneste (the psionic-using inquisitive) would probably hail from Waterdeep; she’d be a wannabe noble socialite who possesses too much courage and skill to be be satisfied with that life. Maybe she’d become a Harper. And as for the villain of the story? He or she would probably aim to supplant Manshoon in the Zhentarim but not for the obvious reasons.

What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve faced as a gamemaster, and how have you dealt with it?

Meeting all player expectations. I’m a story guy, so the games I run are set up for—I like to think—interesting roleplaying dynamics, moral choices, and character opportunities. But I know not all players get into that so much. Some really just want dungeoncrawling and combat and will only tolerant a certain amount of talkie-talk from the story-based players. And this is just a simplification; there’s a whole spectrum of roleplayers and they’ve been the subject of numerous articles. I simply do my best to make my games diverse. You’ll get to slay monsters in my dungeons, but you’ll also end up in some situations where you’ll have to think hard about your alignment. Oh, and your character’s backstory will come up and be part of the long term campaign.

What’s your dump stat?

Strength, certainly. If you’re even half-decent in everything else, you’re in good shape for the snakes and arrows of life. When I make characters, Charisma usually takes the hit, but not because I play socially inept fighter types. Ironically, while I love deeply complex characters, they’re not usually big on talking—which, it should be noted, is not the same as not acting. I myself am not a natural orator, though, so it works out.

What’s next?

Some solo projects, I think. I’m exhausted with collaboration, even though I love it and will never stop doing it. Also, an eventual fantasy series with sci-fi and horror elements. That’s totally coming out of me in the—I hope—near future. And oh yeah, more DDI articles, as long as they keep letting me write them.

For more about Foreshadows, along with samples of the music, check out this post at SF Signal!

Six Questions: Matt Forbeck

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 my guest is MATT FORBECK. I turned to Matt for advice when I was just getting started out as a freelancer, and his words of wisdom helped me get to where I am today. You might know Matt from his work with TSR, Pinnacle, AEG, Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, Games Workshop, White Wolf, Human Head, Reaper Miniatures, or an appalling number of other companies. Prior to 2012, Matt had written over a dozen novels, including The Lost Mark trilogy of Eberron novels. In 2012 he decided to up the ante and get Kickstarter support to write twelve novels in the course of the year. But let me speak for himself…

Hi Matt! So… what’s your story?

Which one? I got lots of ’em.

Oh, you mean this crazy project I’m working on in which I’m writing a dozen novels this year? I call it 12 for ’12 (a dozen books in 2012, see?), and it’s a way for me to get a whole lot of self-published books out fast. I’m a fast writer, and I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but I didn’t know how I could take the time out of my schedule of writing books for regular publishers to do it. Then Kickstarter came along.

Kickstarter’s a crowdfunding platform on which you can post an idea for a project and ask people to back it with pledges of cash. If you hit your minimum goal for the project, you’re off and running. I decided to break 12 for ’12 up into four trilogies to make it a bit more manageable, and I ran a Kickstarter drive for each of them. They all went way past their goals, and I’m writing the books now as fast as I can.

How do you top it in 2013? Or do you just keep going with 24 for 24?

I think I’m going to top it with something entirely different. In addition to writing novels, I also design tabletop games, create toys, work on video games, and write comics. After a year of mostly focusing on novels, I may just go back to mixing it all up again.

Or I’ll do 13 for ’13 and work my way up to 24 to ’24. That gives me a dozen years, right?

What was the inspiration for the different trilogies? Did you sit down and brainstorm them all at once, or does each one have its own history?

Each has their own history. Like most writers, I have more ideas than I can possibly tackle. I always find it funny when people ask me where I get my ideas? I wonder how come they don’t have them, or what did they do to make them stop?

Let me run through the trilogies in order.

Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World. I created a tabletop roleplaying game back in 1999 called Brave New World, which has been out of print for a while, although you can now get PDFs and even the core rulebook in print through I hadn’t worked much in that world — a dystopian USA In which superheroes have been outlawed unless the works for the government — for years, with the exception of a script for a feature film that’s currently searching for funding. I wanted to get back to it and tell the stories it demanded.

Shotguns & Sorcery. This was originally a setting for the d20 RPG that I’d licensed to Mongoose Publishing back in 2001. My wife got pregnant with quadruplets in 2002, and that threw the plans for that out the window. I decided I want to return to it in novels and explore this fantasy noir setting in which the Dragon Emperor has set up a walled city that he protects from the hordes of zombies that scratch at its walls, all in exchange for his subjects’ fealty. It’s been a load of fun.

Dangerous Games. I made my living as a freelance game designer for many years, and I still go to Gen Con — the largest tabletop gaming convention in America — every August. As writers often do, I’d often wondered what would happen if things went horribly, terribly wrong there. That’s what Dangerous Games is: a trilogy of thrillers set at Gen Con, my favorite event of the year.

Monster Academy. I created the first YA series of novels for Dungeons & Dragons back in 2004 or so. As that wound down Wizards asked me to pitch them some ideas for new series. I came up with this one about a reform school for young monsters based in the center of a kingdom in which good has triumphed over evil. I decided to keep it for myself and pitch it around to other publishers, but I never got around to actually writing any of the books. Now I finally get to do that.

You’ve written in many, many shared universes. Which one was the greatest challenge for you?

The Guild Wars universe, I think. I had a wonderful time working on Guild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon, but when I was writing it, the game wasn’t even close to finished. Things seemed to change on a daily basis. I’ve often said it wasn’t like trying to hit a moving target so much as an exploding target.

Fortunately, my pal Jeff Grubb was one of the main lore creators at ArenaNet, which develops the Guild Wars games. They brought him in as a co-author to help with the details I didn’t have a prayer of getting right, and it’s a much better book for all his efforts.

You’ve managed multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns. What challenges have you faced? Do you have any advice for people who want to dive into the Kickstarter pond?

The real trick is guessing how much you can line up in the way of pledges before you start. This helps define everything about the drive, from the kinds of rewards you can offer to your stretch goals to the length of the drive. It’s almost impossible to get exactly right, but some basic research and comparisons with other projects in the same category that are similar to yours can shed a lot of light.

As for advice, I have metric tons of it, and I get asked to share it all the time. I’m happy to do so, but I could hold forth about it for several chapters of a book. In fact, the final stretch goal for my last 12 for ’12 drive was to get me to write such a book about writing those books and running the Kickstarter, so look for that in 2013, after I’m done with the novels.

Finally, given the season… what are you thankful for?

I have a lot to be thankful for, not least of which is the fact I get to entertain people for a living, but in the end I always come back to my wife and kids. Ann and I struggled for years to have kids at all, and when they came, they were a bit more challenging than we could have expected — especially since four of them arrived at the same time as quadruplets.

Even in the hardest moments, though, I focused on the fact of how lucky we were to have them at all. While raising them has been the greatest challenge in my life, it’s also been by far the most rewarding and has given me a sense of purpose that nothing else ever has. I’m more thankful for that than I could ever express in words, so I spend a good part of my day trying to show them that instead.

Now look. I’ve gone and got something in my eye.

Six Questions: Lee Moyer

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 next guest is Chesley Award winning illustrator, designer and art director LEE MOYER. You may have encountered his work in any one of the numerous RPG sourcebooks or card games he’s worked on, or in such diverse places as the National Zoo and the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. You’ve probably seen some of his posters or book covers; one of my personal favorites is the poster/cover he created for the silent movie of Call of Cthulhu. Lee and I have collaborated on a wide range of projects over the years; thanks to him, I’m on collectible trading cards in Mythos and On The Edge. Recently he just finished work on Check These Out 2013, a literary pin-up calender (his second) created in coordination with author Patrick Rothfuss’s Worldbuilders charity.

We’ve collaborated on many projects over the last twenty years. What’s your personal favorite?

At Your ServiceAt Your Service – A sourcebook for the brilliant Over the Edge RPG.

This compendium of Mediterranean madness is not entirely our work of course (the redoubtable Doc Cross, Joughin & Spey, Neil Laughlin, and the Nephews joined in), but still holds a place of pride for me. As happy as I am with the wraparound cover design, illustrations, map, and logo I designed therein, our collaborations are what I most enjoy. Some highlights? It’s all highlights! The Midwich Family inside the Rose Hotel with their appropriate homage to John Wyndham and anagrams; the Lakshmis and the surprising appearance of an angry Lo Pan; the secrets of Marzipan and Morphine and its Painter of Light and Darkness ™; Gernsbach and Malloy who haven’t both been good guys since The Mask of Dimitrios, The Old Sods Club transporting the Junior Ganymede to Al Amarja: a voodoo-infused gang of nadsat malchicks too cool for skolliwoll; the mysterious shrieking prayer wheels of the Wind Farm; and the possible romance between a fallen angel and an accidentally incarnadine Golem: that adorable little girl from Venus; A macaroni factory that never made macaroni; and a restaurant that serves only fortune cookies.

Any similarities I might bear to Rose Hotel resident Dr. James Harris is a case of life imitating art, not the other way around.

What’s the story behind Check These Out? Why Literary Pin-Ups?

Check This Out: GaimanMy pin-up style poster for Moby Dick! The Musical proved the most popular piece I’d ever painted. I was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reaction, especially among women, who were if anything more effusive than men. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to bring old-school pin-ups back in the service of something well worth advertising: Literacy! I wanted to honor the old, but freak the system from within if I could. The strictures placed on the early greats (George Petty, Gil Elvgren, Joyce Ballantyne, et al) could be ignored. I hope that what I’ve done with books, tattoos, ethnicities, muscles, humanity and even underarm hair pushes the stale old envelope in interesting ways.

Representing authors living and dead is a great challenge and honor (Ray Bradbury was my hero growing up, and his inclusion here still feels miraculous to me).

And it’s all for the amazing charity Heifer International!

You can pre-order them here!

Which pin-up was the most challenging, and which was the easiest for you?

Most Challenging: Neil Gaiman  

Why? Having a model before having a concept is unusual. Knowing that Amanda Palmer was the model, who among Neil’s roster of splendid characters, would we cast her as? Yvaine?  Coraline? Door? Delirium? Death warmed over? No. Amanda had been saying (and showing) for years that she WAS Media and who was I to disagree? And how does one show the fractal omnipresence of Media – with a very complicated and recursive image. And how would we arrange to get the reference shots we needed in a timely fashion? Happily I was invited to Readercon in Boston this year, and so was my friend, photographer extraordinaire Kyle Cassidy who’d already scheduled a shoot with his old chum Amanda in the window of time we’d need. But she didn’t have the time or costume for the second costume reference we needed. So I shot Venetia Charles in a Busytown costume that we borrowed from my friends and clients The Northwest Childrens Theatre. And to create the comic strip that fills most of the first week of June, I had to get more hints from Neil about what Shadow himself should look like. And then do the comic strip!

It was complicated. But as with most complicated projects, also deeply rewarding. Going in, I would never have even imagined doing an American Gods comic…. Easiest: Terry Pratchett

If I told you we’d shot Seth Green’s wife, that wouldn’t sound so good, would it?

But it’s true.

We went to LA and had the talented Allan Amato shoot reference photos of the Team Unicorn’s own Clare Grant. She was not only talented, but maybe the only model who comes with a large selection of wands to choose from (in addition to the big fluffy old bath robe I’d requested). The reference shoot was surreally short and the painting was very straightforward, in part because Terry Pratchett hadn’t asked for a specific character. So, as with Ray Bradbury and all the classic authors of the 2012 calendar, I had the leeway to paint an old-school pin-up in the Gil Elvgren tradition.

If you were trapped on a remote asteroid with only three pieces of your artwork for company, which would you choose?

1. 2013 Check These Out – Literary Pin-Up Calendar (See the previous questions)

2. Starstruck – I spent more than a year painting over the sublime inkwork of Michael Wm. Kaluta

3. 13th Age – the RPG I’ve just completed with Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet and Aaron McConnell.

Oh, you just mean artwork?

Given a choice, I would much rather be trapped with three pieces of someone else’s artwork – like the Paul Komoda sculptures, Stephen Hickman painting and all those Mucha prints that grace my living space. But if it absolutely has to be my artwork, the clearest choice is Theora. This good luck charm was created by the quixotic urging of photographer Kyle Cassidy with the help of model and costumer Megan Skye Hale. Art Director (and Hugo-winning Author) Mary Robinette Kowal placed it on the cover of Weird Tales, which in turn won me the 2012 Chesley Award for best magazine cover. My Art Nouveau poster for Smashing Pumpkins and Hole bassist Melissa Auf de Mar would probably come next – not least because we signed it with Sandman artist Michael Zulli’s accidentally-purloined (and clearly magical) pencil. And then, there’s the tall thin mural call Past Go which features lots of great games (from Dark Omens to Cosmic Wimpout) in one comparatively small space. It was commissioned for Looney Labs World Headquarters, and the gala at its premiere is one I’ll always remember. 

You’ve designed many of the most iconic symbols in Eberron, from the mask of the Undying Court to the symbol of the Silver Flame. You created the most important symbols of all: the thirteen dragonmarks. How did you come up with the look and feel of the Dragonmarks?

Art Director Robert Rapier had some very clear notions about what he wanted, and the colors and tones outside the designs were all him. But the biggest influence of the designs themselves came from Katherine Hanna. She and I had lived together for many years in Virginia and I was deeply familiar with a style of drawing she used wherein the shapes were indicated with short curvilinear line segments. While the lines I used were generally longer, more contiguous, and arguably more Nouveau-inspired, it was her example that stayed with me.

Can I stray for a moment here and talk about how happy I was to finally be able to map Eberron properly in the 4th edition books? What’s next?

A couple book covers for Pyr and Subterranean Press.

A painting for the wondrous Kennedy School. I don’t yet know exactly where it will be placed, but it cant be much more than 50 paces from where you (that is, Keith) got married!

Lots of travel. Two splendid Art Guest of Honor gigs: One at Norwescon (Seattle in March), the other at Keycon (Winnipeg in May); a seminar or two in Roanoke Virginia next summer; a trip to Brighton in a year’s time for World Fantasy Con; and the yearly choice twixt Readercon and the almighty San Diego Comic Con.

A Kickstarter more peculiar than any yet. It bears the tentative title of “There and Back Again” and promises excitement and adventure and really wild things! More details soon (I hope).

And lest I forget, a holiday card that I hope will answer all those difficult questions about Santa, temporality and causality.