Today I interview GM HumAnnoyd about his awesome DFRPG game “The Emerald City”. So sit down and take a peek into yet another amazingly creative campaign being ran by our community, brace yourself for awesomeness!
First off, feel free to tell us about the man behind the GM screen. What do you do both aside from gaming? Alter Ego’s? Wife and kids? Where can we find you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!
I first started playing RPGs in 1977 right after Star Wars first came out. As a kid I spent so much time drawing my characters that over time got good enough that all my friends were asking me to draw their characters as well. This eventually led me to going to a fine arts high school and getting a BFA in painting in college. I had some success selling paintings but spent most of my time doing the starving artist routine. After moving to Seattle I found a career as a background artist and animator for a small video game company and have spent the last ten years in that field. So it is fair to say that RPGs had a very positive impact on me as a person and an artist.
I have quite a few interests outside of RPGs. I am a huge music fan and sing karaoke. I have done quite well in some contests which has even led to me singing with a local band. I am an avid follower of politics as well as football (go Seahawks!) and read constantly. Mostly Sci Fi and Urban Fantasy but I can on occasion be found reading a history or philosophy book. I have also been collecting comics since the late 70’s. I am currently unmarried but not for a lack of trying as I have been engaged twice. I figure the third time will be the charm.
Tell us about The Emerald City in a nutshell. How did it come to be?
When the Dresden Files RPG came out in 2010 I jumped on it immediately. I love the novels and while I had hoped it would be released for Witchcraft (even Butcher said that it was the first game he thought of for his books) I was blown away by the Evil Hat FATE version. I tried to get my current gaming group to give FATE a go and they were completely uninterested.
I was determined that DFRPG would not be yet another game that I lovingly read over and over and yet never got play. I went on several forums and put out some feelers to see if I could get a group started to play such a fantastic game. Luckily, several others had the same idea. We met at a FLGS and discussed City Creation as presented in the rules. From there the Emerald City was born.
We meet on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of every month at my office. Luckily my company has a conference room that they allow me to use for the games. It has a huge white board covering one wall and the table is really perfect for our needs.
What are your favorite parts of using DFRPG for your game?
Perhaps the most amazing thing in the DFRPG is that it gives the players a sense of ownership of the game world. City Creation is a collaborative process and the beauty of it is that it allows the players to inform the GM of the kind of stories they are looking to play by giving them a chance to create neighborhoods and populate them with NPC Faces that can drive the story. Also, the game is flexible enough to allow players to come up with virtually any type of character they can imagine. That kind of creative freedom allows for a game that is constantly reinventing itself and feeds off the imaginations of the participants. I also love how FATE allows players to have creative control with Declarations and Aspects. When I ran my own story I had it outlined somewhat but it really changed due to what the players were doing. Nearly destroying the city of Seattle with an earthquake was never in my original plans and came about in the middle of a session because of player action.
Aside from DFRPG used in The Emerald City, do you play/run any other systems often?
I have run or played almost every game out there at one point or another. I started with D&D and have played Traveller, CoC, Paranoia, Twilight 2000, Chill, Pendragon, MERP, 2300AD, Blue Planet, Shadowrun, WoD, Delta Green, Ars Magica, WEG Star Wars and Wild Talents/Godlike just to name a few. Because I have never been a huge fan of Class and Levels my first love was Champions and I ran a Dragonlance campaign using Fantasy Hero that lasted for several years. Then the Cyberpunk 2013 box set came out and I was hooked. I ran a seven year Cyberpunk campaign that only ended when I moved to Seattle. I still miss that game.
Then I discovered Unisystem (which has a lot in common with CP2020s Interlock) playing and running everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to AFMBE, Witchcraft and Armageddon. I love Unisystem and even made my own Lord of the Rings conversion that I GM’ed for several years. It is only lately that Unisystem has been supplanted by FATE in my heart. Right now I am in the planning stages of running a FATE Mass Effect game using a Bulldogs!/Diaspora/Dresden Files hybrid.
How long have you known your players? How long has your group been together?
Our group formed in the Summer of 2010 right after the DFRPG was released. Several of the original members have since moved on over the years but we have been fortunate to find some great folk to replace them. It has been really nice to meet new people through the game.
It has been going strong for two and a half years at this point.
Are you new to Obsidian Portal? If so, what brought you to the site? If you’re not, how long have you been hangin’ around?
When our group first got together I had been trying to keep a word document with all of the Locations and NPCs we had created but it was really unwieldy and disorganized not to mention hard for everyone to access and edit. Luckily one of the original members suggested Obsidian Portal as a way to compile all the information we had come up with during City Creation. I fell in love with it immediately and started using it heavily.
Your wiki looks great, lots of custom character portraits too. You’ve got a real unified look going on with all of your artwork. How is it created and who creates it?
In my job I work with Photoshop every day. We release two games a year with numerous deadlines always looming on the horizon and I have learned how create artwork with a great deal of speed. This served me well with the Emerald City. When a new character is introduced I try to consider what their general demeanor and personality is and then search for some reference on the web. I then use several fast and dirty Photoshop techniques that I have kind of standardized thematically based on who the character is and what they are about to finalize the portraits. I use similar techniques for the pictures found in the Adventure Logs as well.
How does Obsidian Portal help you the most? Do your players get involved on the wiki or is it tough to pull them in and participate?
Obsidian Portal has been invaluable in organizing our city locations and numerous NPCs (over 80 of them!). Having access to the locations and NPCs is really important for the GM as they consider their own storylines When we have had to fill in vacancies as people moved on the Adventure Logs have been great for introducing new members to the game. I also found all the other amazing campaigns on Obsidian Portal to be quite inspirational. The encouragement provided by several of the other members of the Obsidian Portal community, most especially Wolfhound who was extremely gracious with his time, has been wonderful.
We all have busy lives so it isn’t always easy for everyone to add to the Wiki. However, the initial work done in City Creation has really informed the game and allowed everyone to participate more than I have ever seen in any of the countless campaigns I have run or played in over the last 30 years. The Emerald City is a living document that is constantly being added to or changed as events take place in the game. I have also been encouraged that some of the newer players have added their own ideas to the game giving it an infusion of imagination to build on. The access that Obsidian Portal gives us is wonderful for empowering everyone involved.
What and where do you draw your inspiration from for The Emerald City (aside from Seattle).
When I GM the game I found my greatest inspiration to be the Emerald City itself. Because of all the work everyone had done during City Creation my “Book” ended up writing itself. I used a historical monster I had always found to be horrifying as my main villain, added a bit of supernatural to his story and then tried to figure out how and why he would end up threatening the Emerald City and my players. It was amazingly easy to do so because all the information I needed was right there at my fingertips.
One of the most amazing moments of the game in my opinion was when one of the PCs developed a niggling suspicion that not everyone was what they seemed in the game. He suspected that someone was betraying all the group’s secrets to the enemy they were desperately trying to stop. He just wasn’t sure who it was. While all the other players were upstairs in the kitchen eating the food that his apprentice had just made for them he asked her to join him in his workshop in the basement. He took her to the magic circle he kept in his sanctum and asked her to step into it.
I don’t think he really suspected that she was the one that had been possessed by a 500 year old spirit that was working for the Big Bad. After all there were a couple of other suspects who seemed to be more likely targets. When that spirit attacked him and tried to possess him I think he realized that he had made a big mistake. He knew he didn’t have a chance against the Spirit. She was just too powerful and the struggle to possess him was completely silent and the rest of the party upstairs would have no clue if he was taken over. As a GM I was desperately trying to figure out what the far reaching ramifications of the Senior Warden of Seattle being possessed by a servant of the Mad Gods would be both to my story and to the overall campaign.
Luckily the player, thinking fast on his feet, spent a FATE point invoking his Aspect: IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE POWER, YOU NEED TO BE TWICE AS CLEVER and made a declaration that he had rigged his workshop with emergency sprinklers in case one of his magical experiments ever got out of his control. He hit the emergency button causing a deluge of running water which drove the spirit away right through the kitchen where the rest of the group was happily devouring the apprentices’ food. Zeb ran up the stairs into the kitchen and told them to stop eating. Black Agnes had prepared the food while in possession of Karolynn! Everyone’s reaction was priceless.
No maps!? Why no maps?
I had a map at one point but it really didn’t fit in with the rest of the overall visual presentation that I had developed for the site so I took it down. One of the other players is working on a map for the game but isn’t quite done with it yet.
I see that your wiki contains “books”, how long does it usually take to get through one? Do you plan them in ahead or just finish one book when it feels right?
Our game has revolving GMs with everyone who is interested in running a story getting a chance to try their hand at it. So far we have had four different GMs who have run the game. Each GM’s story arc becomes a different “Book”. Calling them Books just seems natural given the source of the original material. Some books last 2 sessions while others have been as long as 10 sessions. It all depends on the GM and the story he has in mind.
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.
I guess the biggest piece of advice I have is to listen to your players. They will let you know exactly what they are looking for in the game if you keep the lines of communication open between you. Listen to them when they are proposing theories about the current story line or when they make up a back story for their character. If you stay open minded and humble you might discover that they could offer you a better option for the storyline than what you originally planned on. Nothing should be set in stone when you GM.
That’s it for this month guys, stay tuned for December and be sure to nominate yourselves or those you think are worthy of Campaign of the Month! See you next time!