A PHP Error was encountered

Severity: Notice

Message: Only variable references should be returned by reference

Filename: core/Common.php

Line Number: 257

The Fairgame Archive

 the Fairgame Archive
 

2006-02-27: Interview with Judd (aka Paka)
by Emily

This is the first of something we're trying out at Fair Game: asynchronous interviews with folks that we want to hear talk about various aspects of rpg.

The format is simple, we'll take the stage for the first part and ask our guests some questions.  During this part, please feel free to make comments in the marginalia. We'll moderate any misplaced posts there too.  Then, after the official interview segment is done we'll open the floor and let anyone who wants to ask the guest more questions or make comments in the main thread.

Capice? Let's get started.

I'd like to introduce Judd Karlman.  Judd is a prolific Game Master and Game Player based in Ithaca, NY where he is part of the Ithaca Gamers group. Judd is half of the [edited to read:](at least 2) Sons of Kryos, who podcast interviews with various indie game designers acquired via Skype and real time (that is face to face) at gaming cons. He has written a Sorcerer mini-supplement called Dictionary of Mu, and is working on another game 1st Quest, that is inspired by Clinton R. Nixon's The Shadow of Yesterday. In his civilian guise, Judd is working towards becoming a librarian and—belying the stereotypes—is apparently twice the sporting brute as most of the characters we run.

Hi Judd! Welcome to Fair Game. Thanks for being willing to be our first vict—I mean guest. Why don't you start us off by telling us briefly what your history is with this hobby we so love, rpg.


2006-02-27 20:31:49 Judd

Sporting brute?  Ha.

I started gaming when I was 12, introduced by a buddy, Rob, who actually just spent the weekend in my apartment this past weekend.  Back in the day, he had a copy of the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG and we played that.

Everyone else in the group was way more rules savvy, so I just kind of learned by watching and picked it up as we went.  The rule books didn't make much sense to me.

A new older guy in the group, Jim, kind of mentored me through my first bouts of DMing.  He and I would sit out on the hill next to my mom's house and talk about gaming all night after games.  I think that hill with Jim was my first gaming forum, really.  We still talk for hours on the phone about what's happening in our games, brainstorming this and that.

My parents were great through my childhood gaming too and I hope to get them at the table in the next year or so and show them what I was doing at all hours through junior high and high school.

And since then its been a year off here and there when the gaming well was dry but Ithaca's been a good gaming town for me.  I have been really lucky and blessed in this town.

Hope that's a solid and brief enough start, Fair Gamers.


2006-02-27 20:43:11 Emily

That's great, Judd. I wanted to ask you about what were your major influences for gaming and gming and it sounds like your friend Jim was a major one.

What other people, or games that you have played have made a similar impact on you? What do you think may have gone into helping you develop your particular style for gming?


2006-02-27 20:49:12 Judd

Jim was certainly a huge influence.  He really taught me to play off of the players and base the games on their reactions.

Playing bad games at cons, really dreadful and awful boring games has been eye-opening every couple of years or so.  It almost feels like re-finding my GMing mission statement and realizing the little things about gaming that I like.  So, yeah, those bad games are good learning experiences, no doubt.  I'm not sure how much room for many more of those I have in me, though.  Oy.

I ran an Ars Magica game in college and it was where I first really played with the idea of giving more control to the players.  I'd give them control of NPC's, give them aspects of a scene to control when one PC was isolated.  The group was a dysfunctional mess but it was my first experience with handing more over to the players and it was really exciting.

And a few games in the past five years, Ben's Unknown Armies game and the way he played with an episodic and mission-based structure to set the tone and then made it more player-driven and an open sandbox for us to do our vehicular manslaughter in.

Robert Ahrens did some things in his 7th Sea game that I don't think I would honestly be able to pull off.  He'd turn off the music, light his cigarette and narrate an intro before every game.  It was often stuff our characters didn't know but it was cool that the playes did.  It was riveting and we all sat there spellbound.

He has this delightful Scottish accent, so that could have had something to do with it too.

And then enter a long line of indie RPG games but the most influential at the table have been: Dust Devils, Sorcerer, Riddle of Steel, Burning Wheel, Dogs in the Vineyard, Primetime Adventures.

And a long line of con games with indie RPG folks: Luke's BW games at Gen Con '04, Ben Lehman's PTA game at Dexcon '05, and Tim's late night Mountain Witch game at Dreamation '05 all have had a big effect.

It has been a great five years of gaming.


2006-02-27 22:19:32 Meguey

You mentioned a GMing mission statement; do you actually have one and if so what is it?

Also, what books were most influential to you as a child/youth/young adult and why?


2006-02-28 01:12:41 Judd

A mission statement?  Y'know, I think there was a thread on RPG.net about writing one and I'm sure what I wrote would make me wince now, probably some hooey that took way too much responsibility onto the GM as a leader at the table.

Now I'd just say that I want to contribute to the fun just like any other gamer at the table and do the job the GM is supposed to do as detailed in the rule book (if said book is doing its job).

Influential books...huh.

Dune was the book that really knocked me on my ass and I re-read periodically every year or so for a long, long time from about the age of 14 on.  It is a book that changed each time I read it.  When I first read it I wanted to be Paul and it was just a power fantasy and then it just changed and grew with me.

The Elric saga, even though Jim spoiled the end of the series for me during one of our hill talks, was the first fantasy series that I can recall finishing and it was great stuff, as was Hawkmoon and Corum and several other Eternal Champion books.

Like everyone I went through a Piers Anthony summer and came out the other side.

The first novel I ever read, in first grade, was one of my dad's and it was this terrible military science fiction novel with lots of sex in it.  It is on my shelves somewhere.  It was awful but I think I realized that I could read adult stuff and no one would mind and that kept me reading for quite a while.  I think it was called Armada.

And stories from Hebrew School have got to be lurking in my head.  I hadn't even noticed how biblically influenced so many of the Dictionary of Mu's characters and stories were until I was deep into it.


2006-02-28 03:11:14 Emily

Can I quote you, Judd? You wrote this in your blog:

I wish that everyone knew that the most creative force they will ever meet in gaming isn't a game designer or a writer but the people they are sitting next to every week.

I wish all gaming experiences harvested the creative powers of our friends and helped us create and learn and destroy and explore beautiful, terrible and just plain cool-ass shit together.

I'd like to take that as my mission statement for it all: play, design, you name it.

I know this, I've lived this, it's what keeps me coming back.

What inspired this for you?


2006-02-28 03:54:58 Meguey

I'm going to keep on the books thing for one more question.

What's the most interesting book you've read in the last three months, gaming and non-gaming? Why?


2006-02-28 05:53:05 Judd

To Emily:

Watching shows come together from pitch to game in Primetime Adventures and reading the World Burner in Burning Wheel's Jihad setting both had a big impact on what I wrote in the -I Wish- thread.  Yeah, it does work as a mission statement, no doubt.

To Meg:

I just finished Sabriel by Garth Nix, a book that Clinton suggested when I mentioned that I wanted to model young adult fantasy fiction for 1st Quest and now I'm about fifteen pages from finishing the first Earthsea book.  It was really fun to read some great fantasy novels again.


2006-02-28 06:23:21 Judd

One thing has been bugging me from the intro:

Judd is (at least) half of the Sons of Kryos, who podcast interviews with various indie game designers acquired via Skype and in real time (that is face to face) at gaming cons.

Jeff and I have a partnership there and without Jeff, there is no show, none at all.  I just wanted to make that clear.  It sounds like I am more than I am when Jeff is a huge collaborator on every idea, making every segment stronger and he is %100 percent of the technical stuff that gets us out to people's computers.

Thassall.  It was irking me and I had to address it.


2006-02-28 11:44:28 Emily

Thanks. What I meant by it was that I didn't know if there were more than just you & Jeff who fell under that name—not at all that he does less than you. As I understand it he's the genius behind getting it all up on the air, and I don't even know what all else.  (Hi Jeff!)

I meant it as a nod to my ignorance actually. Would you mind telling us more about how the show got started, and what it's been like to do it?


2006-02-28 16:15:13 Judd

Thanks for changing the intro, Emily.  Appreciated.

The show got started because, if I remember correctly, Jeff looked into how to do a podcast and asked if I'd be interested in recording a show with him.  I thought it sounded like a whole lot of fun and we talked about what kind of show we'd like to do.

We had dinner and talked about what kind of show we'd do and brainstormed over a name.

Hm, that whole beginning point is hazy in my mind.

And since then it has been a blast.  The reception has been great and hardly two days go by without getting an e-mail from someone about how much they dig the show and their thoughts on what they would like to see.  Those e-mails really help to keep ideas for segments.

When we got back from Dreamation '06 and recorded two shows back to back it felt like our strongest effort yet.  So, a dozen shows in and it feels like we are finally hitting our stride.

Another cool thing that has happened with that is we recorded a whole show or most of a show that was terribly weak and Jeff was smart enough to just throw it away.  That was a big deal and a real committment to keep the show up to a certain standard.

It has been a really fun way to talk about what is going on in our gaming on a medium that isn't a forum or a gaming table and in general, sitting and talking with Jeff is just always a fun way to spend time.


2006-02-28 18:08:03 Emily

Thanks for pointing it out, Judd. I'm very glad to make the change.

From small beginnings... It was great to get to meet & get to game with Jeff at Dreamation, he is an awesome guy. Watching the show get recorded was extremely fun, too from both sides of the mic. You two have a great dynamic & seem to work really well together.  Podcasting is a pretty new technology, though, have you guys had to sort out a lot of kinks in getting shows done? I seem to remember hearing something about using skype for one show...

It also seems like a total blast to be able to get to chat with each other & game designers about all manner of gaming topics.  What is your favorite show, or shows?  And where does the name come from?


2006-02-28 18:21:35 anon.

...have you guys had to sort out a lot of kinks in getting shows done?

Jeff has had to learn XML and figure out how to record off of Skype.  He's entirely self-taught with this stuff and I'm in awe of him.

One of our best shows was recorded poorly because we were just figuring out how Skype worked and a beautiful interview with Luke is just about useless.  I think it would have been our best show too.

What is your favorite show, or shows?

The two shows when we got back from Dreamation...I think they were 11 and 12, recorded back to back.  We were so full of energy and had taken time off for the holidays and it just felt right to be back in front of the mic.  I think those shows really captured the energy we were feeling.  Those two are my favorites so far.

And where does the name come from?

We talk about the name during the first show.  Jeff and I met at a game store in Ithaca that a few friends of mine opened called The Dragon's Hearth.  It was a storefront in a property that used to be a house but was offices and retail space.

My buddy, Jim, the same one who mentored me into GMing, was one of the founders of the store and he hung up this dragon's head above a fireplace in the store.  He had a contest to see what the name of the dragon would be and it was named Kryos, which is ice or crystal in Latin, I believe.

So, Jeff and I are Sons of Kryos, in that a whole lot of our gaming to this day is spawned from the people we met and friends we made at the Hearth.

For years I tried to track down who ended up with Kryos and by the time I found him, in hopes of returning him to Jim, the old dragon-head had deteriorated beyond repair.

Bummer.


2006-02-28 20:09:49 Emily

Awesome story.  I love how Jim is a thread running through so much of what is good and valuable for you in gaming. I hope that dragon head turns up some day.

So, I've got just one more question for you, though it's kind of long. After you answer it Meg might have one, then we can open it up to anyone else and general conversation. So here goes:

Tell us a bit about your games. What's it been like transitioning from playing games to designing them? Or is that new? Are there things you learned from running games that you are putting into practice in your designs? Things that get in your way?

And going back to what you said before, what are the biblical overtones of Dictionary of Mu? Sorcerer and the bible is a potent mix. :) I'd also like to hear what it is it about playing young people in times of trouble that grabbed your interest for 1st Quest. Where does that game idea come from for you?


2006-02-28 20:36:51 Judd

1) What's it been like transitioning from playing games to designing them?

Designing is far more difficult if for no other reason, because I haven't been designing since I was 13 years old.  I have to figure out what we do at the table that makes for successful games and try to put it down for others to use.

I also want to balance the instinct to just write down every cool idea and just put down enough for the game's user to latch on with their own ideas.  Despite being a frustrated writer, that doesn't mean I want to put out game design that is frustrated writing.

Or is that new?

Two of the three things I have on my plate, Mu and a d20 Project, have been on my plate for a number of years now.  1st Quest is pretty recent and barely started.  I'd love for all of them to be ready for Gen Con.  We'll see, I haven't been productive lately at all.

Though the Dictionary of Mu has been on and off for a few years now.  Ron was great about feedback and then Luke stepped up and began mentoring me through the rest of the process, which has been invaluable.

I think if these questions have shown me anything is the amazing mentors I have had throughout my gaming life, from Jim to the other older players who were cool with a 13 year old punk-ass kid GMing on to college where I was again the youngest in the group and GMing again and on to Ron and Luke and Brennan all giving me input whenever I ask.  Neat.

Are there things you learned from running games that you are putting into practice in your designs?

Things that work for me at the table are certainly coming through in my game design.  Dictionary of Mu has a whole lot of what I like in settings, including having players making the setting their own written into the rules.

1st Quest uses what I know of PTA pitch and Burning Wheel world burning into a series of questions that make the setting in a collaborative way.

Things that get in your way?

In the early drafts of Mu Ron would write me e-mails that pretty much said, "I know there are things you are doing at the table that aren't in this supplement yet."  That has echoed in my head quite a bit as I've written gaming material since.

And going back to what you said before, what are the biblical overtones of Dictionary of Mu?

There are entries in the dictionary that are pretty obviously biblical swords and sorcery, from the Damsel Messiah, a kind of Jesus-as-a-fourteen-year-old girl with a zealot army and plenty of others.

I'd also like to hear what it is it about playing young people in times of trouble that grabbed your interest for 1st Quest. Where does that game idea come from for you?

I worked with kids for a number of years, as a youth advocate and as a after-school site coordinator.  Those jobs really gave me an appreciation for what kids can live through and cope with.  I don't want to make angels or demons out of kids.  And I wanted to capture that young adult fantasy feel that so shaped my own teen years.

I don't want to just make a grand statement about youth but I want to bring on the cool and write a text that helps people bring out the awesome ideas they've got brewing.

And I also wanted a game that my friends could play with their kids, or maybe the game I wish was there when I was a kid or the game I'd want to play with kids...I'm not exactly sure but my feelings about children is pretty well tied into that game and I think its a stronger design for it.


2006-02-28 21:27:44 Emily

Despite being a frustrated writer, that doesn't mean I want to put out game design that is frustrated writing.

Words to live by! And the mentoring process is critical in learning to design—and by extension gm well, I think since in many games what really makes a game be all that it can be is in the invisible rules that are passed on hand to hand, by experience & hard knocks around the table. Having somebody there makes all the difference.

...who were cool with a 13 year old punk-ass kid GMing on to college where I was again the youngest in the group...

With 1st Quest, it's like that kid has grown up and is turning back to see where he came from, and is giving other young punks a better shot at coming through the same trials. The way it sounds like the Banners will work is like a life lesson wrapped up in major ass-kicking. Way, way cool.  I look forward to playing it with Sebastian, Elliot & Tovey some day.

This has been totally awesome. Thanks, again, Judd. Meg, if you have any other questions for Judd or closing words, please go ahead.


2006-03-01 12:28:09 Emily

The thread's now open, if anybody has anything else to add. Thanks to everyone for commenting in marginalia, thanks to Meg for your great questions, and thanks for sharing all this, Judd. You're completely welcome. 'twas very cool.

You know, I do have one question that I forgot about. Where does "Paka" come from? Was that a character you played?


2006-03-01 15:04:30 Ben Lehman

You mentioned being a frustrated writer.  I realize it might be a sensitive issue, but I'd be really curious about what sort of stories you write.  Do you find that you cover similar topics in your writing and your gaming, or different ones?


2006-03-01 16:20:32 Judd

Where does "Paka" come from? Was that a character you played?

Yeah, Paka was a character I played in junior high.  When I started using forums I never considered that I'd actually meet any of these people.

Ah well...

...I'd be really curious about what sort of stories you write. Do you find that you cover similar topics in your writing and your gaming, or different ones?

No, it isn't a sensitive issue at all.  When I write it is mostly fantasy short stories and the beginnings of novels.  I have the first four chapters of a novel about two apprentices and their hopes to become arch-wizards and about a third of a novel done about a lost son of Elvis Presley called Elvis Pendragon but both are stalled.

Once the three game projects on my plate get out into the world at this Gen Con I am hoping to put away game writing for a while and concentrate on fiction writing again.


2006-03-01 22:07:20 Jye Nicolson

Judd,

On the fiction writing/game writing theme, what do you see as the main differences in competency demanded by the two disciplines, and where is there synergy?


2006-03-01 22:14:57 Judd

On the fiction writing/game writing theme, what do you see as the main differences in competency demanded by the two disciplines, and where is there synergy?

Wow, good question, Jye.  Like any frustrated writer, I am going to answer in a shoddy metaphor.  Let me know if it works for you.

With game writing you want to push the dramatic boulder right up to the edge of the hill, so that when play starts, the players can just nudge that boulder, that represents dramatic stuff happening, and it rolls in the directions the players take it.

Dogs in the Vineyard, Trollbabe, Sorcerer, Polaris, and Burning Wheel are all good texts that I have had experience with that come to mind with good boulder-at-the-edge potential.

With fiction writing that boulder's entire journey is in your hands.

I think there is a real instinct, when game writing, to tell too much about the boulder, to write stuff that the game designer should leave to play.

So, taking the metaphor too far, if it isn't there already, Dictionary of Mu is a series of little boulders, little vignettes as dictionary entries that don't tell a complete story but help the players get into the mindset of the same place and get excited about it.

The synergy between the two is that in both you have to capture the readers' imagination and hold it with both hands.

Hm, hope that helps and answers, if not, I can give another go at it and be more concrete.


2006-03-01 23:20:05 Jye Nicolson

OK, here's a hypothetical, a riff off a similar thread on Story Games:

Your day job is at WotC - Lead Developer of Dungeons and Dragons.  You're putting 4th Ed together.  Your task is to a) make at least as much money as 3.5 did, b) enhance the play experience for a majority of exisitng D&D players.

Within those constraints, how would you use what you've learned about roleplaying to achieve those goals, and your own agenda with the game?  I realise D&D probably isn't really your game - in fact that's why I think the answer would be interesting :)


2006-03-02 00:10:52 Judd

Your day job is at WotC - Lead Developer of Dungeons and Dragons. You're putting 4th Ed together. Your task is to a) make at least as much money as 3.5 did, b) enhance the play experience for a majority of exisitng D&D players.

I'd hire Mike Mearls and Monte Cook to tell me what to do.  d20, even when I ran it and even when I wrote for it, kind of baffled me in many ways.

I can make up PrC's that work if I have a solid system editor and I can fiddle with the rules in little ways but all in all I wouldn't be the man for that job.


Back to ToC