Saturday, March 23, 2013

7 Questions with Rafael Romo Mulas

"Friendship is born that moment when one person says to another: What! You too?  I thought I was the only one." - C.S. Lewis

For March, I chose to interview Rafael Romo, who goes by @rrockman on Twitter.  Rafael just happened to start following me on Twitter at the end of last year, and enjoyed commenting on my blog posts about Evil Tide, and using aquatic monsters in general.  He's probably the person that I tweet back and forth with the most, simply because we seem to always find that we're interested in the same things (sahuagin, dinosaurs, etc).  

One of my goals when writing these interviews was taking some time to look at D&D fans as players and adventurers, not as authors who worked on various pieces of work.  The every man (and woman) if you will.  Ultimately, players and DM's make the game, and it is from those experiences that the game becomes better.

I'm extremely grateful to have been allowed to interview Rafael, for although we have yet to meet in person, I feel that we have formed quite the friendship, 160 characters at a time.  I'll leave you all with a little emoticon, since Rafael loves them so much. :)

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.  How did you get into D&D?  How long have you been playing?

Hello, I’m Rafael Romo Mulas, and if you’re a D&D community junkie you may have heard about me under the nickname of Lord Archaon (a very evil character from the Warhammer universe). I’m half-Italian and half-Mexican (and very often Half-Elf too!) and partly due to my origins I tend to be very wordy, as the few readers of my blogs know; so I apologize in advance for the long sentences and paragraphs, but it’s stronger than me! I’ll try to be as concise as possible, I promise… :)

I got into D&D thanks to the (much) older brother of a girl that was my friend during nearly all my childhood. I was 7 years old or 8 when he introduced us to the game, and I remember I played a Halfling, probably using 1st edition rules, since there wasn’t distinction between race and class…
The next thing I asked for my birthday was the mythical Red Box, but it started being always a “theoretical hobby” since I couldn’t find players. This was the start of a trend that continues even now, although not as bad.

I basically lost my interest for years until I picked up Baldur’s Gate, the videogame, when it came out.

After that I decided I wanted to return to tabletop and actually play it for real, and I bought 2nd edition rules to simulate the game, but then  I saw the recently printed 3rd edition ones and they looked too much of an evolution to ignore them, so I brought back 2nd edition and took 3rd instead. Fell in love! I played with two different groups, always as DM, and had quite some fun creating my settings, adventures, monsters, classes, and basically everything.

In 2005-2006 more or less, I started being active in the official community forums with my Lord Archaon persona, and I received some good feedback for my home-brew Classes and Prestige Classes, and then became a judge for the “Official Custom Class Cookie Contest” for quite some time, introducing a sub-contest for Prestige Classes too.

At that point 4th edition was announced and I was very happy because I had already lost my group right because of the increasing prep-time that became the great problem of 3rd edition. I understood very quickly the “feel” of 4th edition and its “lightness” compared to the 3rd, so I easily ignored all the criticism, and I wasn’t at all let down by the edition, if not perhaps because of the continuous errata that came out. Played again with the old group, which recognized the good and the bad of 4th edition, but I must say that the edition was so poorly received nation-wide in Italy (partly due to unwise translations, but I digress), that it became impossible to find new players when my group got disbanded because people couldn’t play anymore for other reasons.

That’s when I started an excellent period of Play-by-Post games in which for nearly the first time, I got to be player, and I went very close to say: “Hey, if it’s so cool I think I won’t DM again!”... :-D
Plus, me and my friend Gonzalo Campoverde (AKA “Veritatis”, in the official community here), which I have to name and link here because through the community he became one my best real-life (although distant) friends of all time, got quite involved in the Zendikar-D&D community project/group (found here) that I kick-started myself (and which now counts more members than the official D&D Italy group! :) ), and we played our Play-by-Post adventures in the wonderful setting that is Zendikar, one of the newest Magic: The Gathering settings. This is perhaps the D&D project I got more fond of in my entire gaming career, so yeah… I had to mention it!

Eventually though even with Play-by-Post and despite the great DM and setting, it became apparent that the extremely long encounters typical of 4th edition were its biggest flaw and diluted the interest of most players and DMs.

So basically, when D&D Next got announced, I got positively psyched again, because again I had recognized the limits of the previous edition and I was quick to recognize the spirit of Next and what it tried to accomplish. I blogged the hell out of my official community profile, and eventually started a new blog too when playtest material actually came out to the public.
I then started being a #dndnext Twitter hashtag animal too, and the rest is history, or better yet the present! :)

2. From all our tweeting back and forth, it is well known that you love aquatic monsters.  Why is this?  Do you play a lot of aquatic themed games with ships?  What should all DM's know about aquatic monsters?  Do you have any amazing game stories from them?

Oh my, it’s not something about aquatic monsters only: I’d ALWAYS play aquatic adventures and settings in D&D! :-D It’s something of a personal taste that goes beyond fantasy and RPGs obviously, but let’s stay on-topic… Speaking of D&D, I always tried to include aquatic encounters in all my adventures as a DM and I must say I always enjoyed the three-dimensional tactical combat, which I nearly always simplified to three basic layers (upper, middle, lower). Plus, most of the time it was a way to add a time-limit suspense to combat: Waterbreathing wasn’t often available! 
Plus, I love to see my seas and aquatic environments a lot as most settings see the Underdark: the place from which all kinds of ancient, alien, and destructive evil come out! I’m a big fan of Lovecraft and in particular the Dagon-related stuff. Dagon is in fact my favorite demon prince and thus favorite monster and personality in the whole D&D universe. It’s basically all an aesthetic fetish that I have! :)


3. Your wrote a blog post detailing your thoughts on the D&DNext Warlord.  Why is the Warlord, as a class, so important to you?  What experiences have you had in D&D (and life) that make it so vital?

The Warlord is extremely important as a concept (more than as a class) to me for basically two reasons. First of all because it represented the first time in the history of the game in which you could play a character that could aid his/her allies using neither spells nor actual combat. So basically because of its “I didn’t know how much I needed this until I saw it” nature.
Then also because it represents the “committed warrior” archetype better than the Fighter ever could. The focus of the Warlord on both knowledge of warfare and actual physical competence in it is what every warrior that would want to be better than a common one should have. And this in my mind rings like “this is was every D&D “warrior” should be”; hence my blog post (here) which tries to prove my point about the Warlord archetype actually including the archetype of the Fighter, and not the other way around.

To better drive home my point here, I will mention the movie I mentioned on my blog too: 300. With 300, the world saw on the big screen perhaps for the first time a good representation of an archaic and a bit fantastic but very cool “ideal warrior”. The Spartans and in particular King Leonidas became the great icons they are today in popular culture, and they proved the difference between “fighting man” and “True Warrior”, with their whole combination of underlying “warrior philosophy”, knowledge of warfare, but also very strong physicality, competence, and “grunt feel”. 


I think D&D began to include this “new and improved” idea of warrior in 4e, but kind of contaminated it with the highly un-orthodox (for D&D standards) AEDU mechanics.
Plus, since Fighter and Warlord were distinct and their roles fixed, it was difficult to build a coherent “True Warrior”, until Hybrid character creation rules came out. At that point, it was mechanically possible, but it felt a bit like mechanical overkill to build what should be a very simple concept, all basically because classes were too restricted in their scope and identity.

D&D Next, with its current proposal of a more warlord-esque Fighter, and the simpler mechanics, has me all psyched because it basically make me think: “Wow: now everyone can finally play a True Warrior, without the hassle of having tens of powers and taking hours to build the character.”

     4. Your tweets about the D&DNext Rogue haven't been as passionate, but you've very concerned with how the Rogue turns out.  Is there a story behind this?  What does the Rogue need in order for it to feel correct for you? 

     Well actually, as of now the Rogue is my FAVORITE class in D&D Next, but the blog in which I expressed my newly-found happiness about it has gone a little unseen for some reason, probably because I put “Terence Hill” in the title..! :-D

My problem with the Rogue is that, call me presumptuous, I always felt like I understood the identity of the class better than the game designers!! And I always felt it more comprehensive and wide, a bit like for the Fighter-Warlord thing.
How can I build my Indiana Jones? How can I build my Terence Hill-like trickster/bruiser character? How can I build my “street boy that causes havoc just by messing around” character? All these archetypes clearly belonged to the Rogue class, but until the latest playtest packet they were absolutely unbuildable. The very fact that the Rogue needed to attack in combat to defeat enemies was off to me. Rogues should differ from Fighters rightly because fighting is not their favorite way of dealing with things. The Warlord taught us that a non-magical character can be useful in combat without actually hitting anything. I wanted the same for the Rogue, and I’m finally getting it with Next, so again I’m super-excited by what the designers are doing!

I point you to my post about the D&D Next Rogue if you’re interested in reading more about my point of view on the class.
:) Here!

      5. I've noticed that you are multilingual.  How many languages do you speak total, and how does this influence your D&D games?

      Ok if I want to brag a bit, adding my knowledge of Sardinian language (a language spoke in the Italian island of Sardinia), another minor European language that is Catalan, learned from my year studying in Barcelona, and my smatterings of Bulgarian, a country which I visited four times, I would say I speak 6 languages, but of course it would be quite a lie. J I basically only speak correctly Italian, Spanish, and English (although the latter with many external influences in my way of writing as you may or may not notice).
However, in Italy we also have a lot of dialects which I know smatterings of, so adding all these stuff together and relating it to the D&D experience has always been quite fun. Things like “Elves speak French, Dwarves speak German/Russian or Sardinian (because of their character, but you wouldn’t understand…), Gnomes speak “Napoletano” (because it’s got to be the language of the master tricksters! :D ), Halflings speak Gypsy-influenced-Spanish” and so on, are common fun assumptions of my campaigns with Italian friends, which add a bit of pseudo-realism to the acting of characters of different races/cultures.

Actually, the biggest problem with languages and D&D is that to correctly role-play one must not just know a language, but must be very very fluent and quick-witted with it, so for example I had a lot of trouble roleplaying in English, even if my English is considered quite good by most. I guess when I’ll (hopefully) live in an English-speaking country, I’ll catch up enough on the language to be able to play D&D with it well; and will finally find more players too given the higher diffusion of the hobby in English-speaking countries.
      6. What was the best D&D session that you were a part of, either as a player or a DM?

      This is a very difficult question, because as I said my true D&D gaming experiences have been actually quite few and distanced in time…
I must say I really appreciated being a DM to people over their 20s when I was only 15, one summer, when we played in a campaign of my creation set in Chult, in the Forgotten Realms. They were all quite happy with it and we had tons of fun since they were a bunch of crazy people and it was vacation time so we could play at all the hours of the night and sometimes even dawn! Classical good D&D times, and many complaints for all the noise we made at those hours… Let’s say it was the highest example of the social aspect of D&D.

As a player though, I must mention again my favorite DM, Gonzalo Campoverde, and his incredibly well thought and mastered adventures set in Zendikar and played-by-post in the Community page of our Zendikar-D&D group. There the social aspect was technically absent, but as for true gaming and story fun, it was awesome. We also ended up focusing on cooperative story-telling, which I think is a less known aspect of D&D that is incredibly stimulating, and which I hope D&D Next will emphasize a bit more than its predecessors, at least in the Dungeon Master’s Guide or its equivalent, and perhaps also in whatever kind of “Basic Box” we’ll eventually get.

7. What are your D&D goals for the future?  Do you want to write more and continue your blog?  Get a pitch accepted by WotC?  Or are you involved in the community for the sake of involvement and helping other gamers?

      Oh well, let’s see... I certainly would like to continue writing on my blog my usual ramblings, perhaps finishing detailing my custom cosmology as of now called Cthon, or World of Cthon when defined as a full-fledged setting. The whole hobby must be set aside most of the time though, against my will, because I must really invest much more time in more urgent things such as studies and work.

I considered submitting a pitch to WotC for quite some time, but never did, so that’s something I could do sometime in the future when I’ll have more time. And again after I’ll settle my real-life issues a bit more, I will surely look forward to play and/or DM in a live group, as we all love… One thing I plan to continue doing regularly is eagerly reading all the D&D Next news and material we get (again, as we all love), and submitting all the feedback I can to WotC.
Oh, and reading more of Artificer’s Intuition posts, of course..! ;-)

Thanks again for the interview Rafael!  To the readers, be sure to check out his blog, Lord Archaon's Grimoire (here) and follow him on Twitter @rrockman  Leave your comments below, and you can always find me on Twitter @artificeralf

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Digging Up Fossils

"Don't move!  He can't see us if we don't move."
- Alan Grant, Jurassic Park

Lately, my imagination has gone back to dinosaurs.  I've been a big fan of these amazing creatures since I was a child, and really enjoy the fact that they have been giving as an option in the D&D game under the term behemoth (another name for the creatures).  One of the first Lair Assault modules I was able to purchase off of ebay was Attack of the Tyrantclaw, a module I wanted specifically because I wanted some appropriate dinosaur stat blocks, and monster tokens.
As I've ready other people's blogs and comments about their games, some of them use dinosaurs in them, but as creatures that exist in magical locations, or places that have special attributes to them.  As I've worked on creating my own campaign world, I've taken this notion of dinosaurs and thrown it out of the window.  My Creationist worldviews that dinosaurs and man existed together have led me to place many of these extinct creatures in my natural world ecosystems.  (For the record, before the term dinosaur was coined, these terrible lizards were referred to as dragons in most writings.  There are many writings of dragon sightings, from Marco Polo to Alexander the Great, and the descriptions of these beasts indicate dinosaurs.  Check them out.)
And so, in my collection of dinosaur monster tokens, I've thrown them into my "Natural Creatures" bag.  The T-Rex stands at the top of the food chain there, and is easily the largest of the monster tokens in that group.

Because these creatures exist in various locations in my campaign world, they are easily accessible as mounts and beasts of burden.  What would a goblin tribe be like that ride triceratops into battle?  What would fighting among the clouds be like using pterodactyls?  The questions and the possibilities there are endless, and I think the whole concept breathes new life into the games.

As a world builder, one is seeking to create a living, breathing location for the players to interact in.  This includes natural creatures as much as it includes the fantastic ones.  So why are we limiting ourselves to thinking that extinct species could not exist again?  I think that form of thinking is incorrect, and encourage other world builders to seek new ideas.

The Vellyn campaign that I have written about extensively has sabre-tooth cats and giant mammoths that roam the landscapes with other creatures like yaks.  I plan on having some tribes ride these great beasts.  These are creatures that my players may guess exist, but I'm fairly certain that when I describe their encounters with them at the table, they will become even more excited as they picture what is going on in their minds (or when I put the monster tokens down).

My fascination with dinosaurs led me to try and pitch a few articles concerning them to Wizards of the Coast.  These ideas were shot down, but I still plan on using some of those concepts to flesh out my own designs for the great behemoths in my home campaign world, refusing to let these ideas become fossils (pun intended).

What kind of creatures are other DM's using in their campaigns?    Do you like the idea of putting more dinosaurs into your campaigns?  Please let me know if the comments below, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Monday, March 11, 2013

Catch Up

"So you run and you run to catch up to the sun, but it's sinking"
- Pink Floyd, Time

The last two weeks have been crazy busy for me.  I've also been working on a few D&D side projects.  As such, my blog has fallen somewhat by the wayside, and for that, I apologize.  I think I should start having a better control of managing my time, and as such, we should be getting back into the swing of things rather quickly.  Let's begin, shall we?

I need to start using my Monster Tokens more.

Lately, I've been scrambling to purchase miniatures and get certain monsters that I need.  For some, like the sahuagin, that's fine.  There are no sahuagin monster tokens, unless you count the two medium sized and one large Baron from the Lair Assault Talon of Umberlee.  I've also purchased some cheap Star Wars miniatures to use for my Vellyn campaign.  Sometimes, you do what you gotta do.

However, as I'm going through and planning other games and playing them, I realize I need to start depending more on my Monster Token collection.  It's made up of all the tokens from the DM Kit, Monster Vault 1, Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentire Vale, The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond, Gardmore Abbey, and two Lair Assaults, Attack of the Tyrantclaw, Talon of Umberlee, and most recently, Temple of the Sky God.  That's a lot of tokens.  The big question is, why am I not really using them to their full extent?

When I first started playing D&D, we had no maps and no minis, and this was 4E (some of you may find this impossible).  As I've written about in various other blog posts, it didn't matter.  We used our imagination.  Somewhere along the way, I longed for tokens/representations.  When the DM Kit and the Monster Vault came out, I was ecstatic.  However, as my income increased, I began prowling ebay for the use of certain miniatures.  So now I have a large collection of miniatures and a ton of tokens.

I've always had a theory about miniatures: make sure your players have them, and as the DM, never take away a miniature from a player.  By saying that, I mean that if you have a wolf miniature and you have a Druid player who wants to transform into the wolf, give him the miniature!  There is nothing worse than having your miniature on the board while the player plops down a token.  As a player, it takes away the magic of the game, and almost sends the message that the DM thinks that the players aren't as important.  Remember, as a DM, your players always come first.

Next, I've been using Pinterest a lot, trying to collect various images and artwork that inspire me and the various areas of exploration I would want to use in my D&D Campaigns and world building.  My goal is to create something that the D&D community can browse for various adventure ideas, PC pictures, and just a place that inspires them to create awe-inspiring stories for their players.  As I've been building up the entire Vellyn campaign, my fiancee told me that she loves my Ice & Snow board, which is all pictures that make me think about Vellyn and how the world should feel.  Since she told me that, I'm pretty sure she'll get even more excited as the game comes closer.

My pinterest boards can be found here.

I've also been trying to get an assembled collection of the Lair Assault D&D adventures.  For those that don't know, Lair Assault is basically a survive at all costs encounter.  From battling pirates to surviving attacks against dinosaurs, Lair Assault comes with some awesome maps and extra tokens.  For me, the biggest selling point is the maps.  The maps to me are the biggest selling point and why I try to find the right bid in order to secure them.

I won Talon of Umberlee, which I wanted specifically for the ship map and the ship fortress map.  I bought Attack of the Tyrantclaw because I wanted a ton of awesome dinosaur tokens.  In my opinion, the map on that one isn't anything super special, as it's just a lot of tar pits.  However, poster maps are always worthwhile, so I won't complain too much.

The last Lair Assault, Temple of the Sky God, probably had two of the coolest maps I have ever seen.  Remember when I blogged about using air elements and battling in the sky? (Hint, I wrote about it a year ago).  Well, now I have the one of the coolest maps ever.  Let me show you some solid pictures of them.

These map pictures came courtesy of, so many thanks to him!  These maps, in my opinion, would look great with some 3D terrain thrown on top of them (which I plan on doing at some point).  So many ideas, so little time.

I'm trying to snag me a copy of the current Lair Assault, Into the Pit of Madness, but I'm having trouble securing a copy from my FLGS.  I plan on jumping in and playing once, so maybe that will get me a chance to DM afterwards.  For those interested, I'm planning on playing a Warforged Artificer.

I'm getting my next round of pitches together for Wizards of the Coast.  I have about 15 days until the submissions window opens, and I plan on submitting some pitches on the first day, just like what I always do.  Waiting to hear back drives me nuts, but this time around, with my wedding right around the corner, I probably won't think twice about it.  Dragon magazine came out for March today, and I hadn't even been paying attention.

I've also been spending a lot of time reading and understanding how other players and DM's are running their games.  By looking into what other people do, I can better understand myself and my games and what I want to do.  It has definitely been inspiring, and has made me think about my own games differently.

Let me know what you've been up to in your own campaigns in the comments below, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf