Since 2015, the DovahQueen has been taking your questions and giving advice to improve your games. Now the tables are turned in this DovahQueen series; Loren is asking the questions and a panel of guests answers. It’s time to Bend the Knee!
First, let’s meet today’s guests.
Guests – Hideous Laughter Podcast
Hideous Laughter Productions
Hideous Laughter Productions is a group of friends who have come together to share our games with the world! Our goal is to bring characters and action to life by providing high-quality Pathfinder-centric TTRPG entertainment that makes the listener feel like they’re sitting right there with us at our table! We originally began in 2018 with our flagship show, The Hideous Laughter Podcast, an actual play podcast of Paizo’s Carrion Crown Adventure Path but have grown considerably since then!
As of today, we are deep into book four of this adventure and have multiple other shows to offer! Love the Hideous Laughter Podcast, but want to see behind the screens and hear exclusive interviews and product reviews? Check out our bi-weekly podcast on the main podcast feed “The Zone of Truth”! Want more premium 1e content? Check out The Linked Legacy Podcast! This anthology series departs from HLP tradition, putting different members of the HLP into the GM seat to tell new stories set against the backdrop of classic pathfinder modules. Available to all subscribers to the HLP Patreon at the $5 tier or above, the Linked Legacy podcast is sure to surprise and delight new and longtime listeners of the show alike. Finally, on June 4th 2021 we will be producing and launching a brand new, Pathfinder 2e-converted podcast titled Bestow Curse that will be an actual play of classic Pathfinder adventure Curse of the Crimson Throne! We can’t wait to share this show with the world and are so excited to bring the city of Korvosa to life with Paizo’s new 2e ruleset and character options!
If all of that sounds good to you, please feel free to find us everywhere you get your podcasts or at our website hideouslaughterpodcast.com. We can’t wait to share our adventures with you!
I am Griffin Norman, the primary Gamemaster for Hideous Laughter Productions. I dabbled in tabletop gaming with a short D&D 3.5 campaign in highschool but then didn’t come back to the hobby until 5 years ago post college. My primary system ever since has been Pathfinder 1e in which I’ve been a player in several Paizo campaigns as well as GMed many others. I have also played and run Starfinder and Pathfinder 2e along with other less rules-heavy systems. I’m fortunate that tabletop is how I’ve made many of the friends I have, and I’m even more fortunate that many members of my friend group enjoy both playing and GMing. I’ve never felt like a perpetual GM despite running most of the recorded games we produce on HLP.
When I’m not rolling dice you can usually find me in my weightroom (a COVID necessity) or putting food on the smoker and cracking open a cold beer. I am also a big fan of horror media and I use it to inspire my games. In my day job I work in finance as well as strategic retail planning, so number crunching follows me from work to play. My fiancée and I also share a love for animals. Together we have two cats and two dogs who, despite our best efforts, you might see or hear on some of our live streams!
Hey folks, my name’s Steven Straple and I’m a proud member of Hideous Laughter Productions! I’ve been playing TTRPG’s for about five years now and that’s included everything from full Paizo Pathfinder First Edition Adventure Path runs, to Starfinder Society one-shots and everything in between. Though I tend to spend considerably more time as a player than a GM, I certainly enjoy sitting on both sides of the screen! I’m originally from Chicago, but when work brought me out to Columbus, Ohio, Paizo’s pantheon of games was a fundamental part of how I made all the great friends that are a part of Hideous Laughter Productions today! When I’m not rolling natural 1’s in pivotal, game changing encounters, you can catch me at my day job helping provide electronic visibility to stuff in my company’s supply chain or consuming every bit of Star Wars media out there. Oh, and I also enjoy a good beer or shot of Malort from time to time!
I’m a player on the Hideous Laughter Podcast and will be playing on our new Bestow Curse Podcast coming soon! My favorite system is Pathfinder 1E but I’ve also GM’d or played in other systems over these five years since I first learned about TTRPGs. I really enjoy a mix of playing and GMing, but I end up as a player most often!
Outside of TTRPGs, I enjoy reading high fantasy books, knitting, arts/crafts, painting, and painting miniatures for our games. I generally like to use my creative side at home whether for games or for other hobbies since my job is more technical. In warmer weather, we spend a ton of time outdoors in our yard with our dogs and friends. As an animal lover, I spend a lot of time cuddling with our four pets! In my day job, I am a Logistics Manager for a department of around twenty for an architectural specialty building materials manufacturing plant. We do a lot of specialty acoustical and artistic jobs in a variety of places which is cool to be able to see installed all over the world.
I started playing TTRPGs in graduate school around five years ago. A friend started us with the Pathfinder 1e Beginner Box and we were hooked! Since then I’ve played scenarios, modules, adventure paths and have been a player in Hideous Laughter productions podcasts for almost three years. I have primarily played Pathfinder 1e but am excited to start playing Pathfinder 2e very soon. Outside of TTRPGs I am passionate about food and crafting! During the day I work as a Food Scientist in Product Development. On nights and weekends, when I am not playing Pathfinder, I’m knitting or crocheting. I love to make adventure and/or character specific items!
I’ve been playing Pathfinder 1e for about five years. I started my experience with TTRPGs with Pathfinder 1e. Started playing with friends and the group kept growing. I’ve been a player in Hideous Laughter Productions podcasts for almost three years. I really like coffee and very much enjoy making and drinking coffee. I like being active and playing sports outside, especially golf. I play golf whenever I get the chance in any weather. I am a chemical engineer by education, process quality engineer currently. I work in a manufacturing plant.
“Your paperwork is set and ready to go. All the material is on-hand and ready. Sometime in the next hour, all of your friends will arrive and the fun will begin. Tonight, you’ve got something extra special planned for your gaming group; you’d be nervous if you didn’t have a wealth of experience under your belt.”
Are you more of a GM or a player? What’s unique about your style as such, and what’s your style look like when you go above and beyond in it?
This is a difficult question for me to answer because I’ve spent nearly equal amounts of time in front of and behind the GM screen. Fortunately, that perspective has allowed me to become better at both!
As a Gamemaster I like to describe myself as an atmospheric GM and perpetual host. What I mean by this is I cater my prep to both the atmosphere of the story I’m trying to tell as well as the unique composition of the group I’m playing with. Is my Sunday game a lighthearted hack-n-slash dungeon crawl with a lot of jokes at the table? You’ll find me upping the ante with increasingly funny NPCs and providing situations where my players can show off how badass their characters are. All of this with the backdrop of goofy tavern tunes or pump-up battle rock. On the other hand, I might be running a more serious horror campaign like I do on the Hideous Laughter Podcast. In that case, I’m setting the scene with ominous lighting and unsettling music. That ritual the characters found to summon a Great Old One? I have a worn-looking handout with the ritual details and symbolism ready. That disgusting flesh golem abomination about to attack? I’m describing every gory detail of it from the creak of its bones to the sickly-sweet smell of its aged flesh all while dropping a huge custom printed and painted mini on the battle map.
I emphasize portraying my NPCs and setting authentically so that players can experience a world that feels real. Every character in my world has a unique voice (sometimes at the expense of my vocal chords) and personality no matter how minor a part they play. Every locale has a story, whether it comes from the back matter of a Paizo module or from my own head. I do this because it always impressed and delighted me as a player to feel transported to the story my GM was telling, and providing the right ambiance and creating realism in a fantasy world does that.
As the perpetual host I make my house an inviting gaming space. I’ve built a custom gaming table (with cup holders, dice trays, and outlets at every station), invested in lighting and music to set the tone, and gotten into 3D printing to provide all my players with custom character minis and make encounters that much more visually appealing. When my group decided we wanted to share our game with the world I made the game room into a studio that could easily accommodate the podcast as well as our ongoing home games. As a result, my house is the hub of all of my tabletop gaming and I take a lot of pride in how it elevates our games. It feeds into my GM style and allows me to prepare the scene to appeal not just to the characters’ senses, but to the players’ senses as well.
When I get the chance to play instead of GM I am continually looking for ways to better interact with the setting and other characters. I know how important player investment is in a campaign, so my characters are usually the type to move the plot forward through their actions or roleplay. That’s not to say my characters don’t take moments for self-reflection or have “side quest” goals, but I’m usually trying to prop up the story being told or giving other characters spotlight. When I initiate roleplay with another character or one of the GM’s NPCs it’s to bring something up in their backstory or in the overarching narrative. Because I don’t play as often as I did before starting a podcast, I usually fill the gap in the party. We need a ranged attacker? I’m all over it with a ranged inquisitor. We’re having trouble staying alive? How about I bring a chirurgeon alchemist to the table. I enjoy using my GM experience to create nonstandard character builds that fit the role I need to fill.
The most fascinating & enticing thing to me about playing either side of the GM screen is the opportunity to inject as much juicy lore as I can into the game! I’d say that’s emblematic of my game style. For example: Am I playing a kobold PC this time? Cool! What might a typical kobold do in their day to day and what would make them pursue a life of adventure? What do the differences in scale color mean? Who do they pray to before bedtime? These are all the things I’m looking up online and in deep Paizo lore supplements to try and get a gauge on what I should be doing. Start online. Google your class, ancestry, home country, etc. Most everything has been thought of and written about and those simple online searches will take you to hyper-specific lore supplements and fantastic recommended reading. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t just conform to a perceived social ruleset for my characters, but understanding their assumed and perceived place in the world can go a long, long way to making a character that truly feels like they belong, whether or not they conform to or diverge from what others may expect of them! Understanding the historical precedents for your ancestry, skills, location, homeland, powers, etc. in your game’s continuity will truly help your character stand out among the cookie-cutter base builds out there!
I certainly get to flex these muscles less often, but on the GM side I like to do much of the same. Is the introductory hook for this adventure a little lackluster? No problem! What would compel the characters to be there? How can I make this seem natural? What stakes can I introduce to get their buy-in? For me, the answer to those questions is context. Perhaps a mysterious eldritch terror lurks in the shadows. Or a wily contract devil is talking our heroes into getting a job done while the menace of their infernal boss pulls the strings. Read about the bad guys in the world. Read other adventures that take place in the same area. I’m a big proponent of low-DC contextual knowledge checks. If it’s not plot-crucial but will give your players that “ohhhh this is way cool because I know this whatever” feeling, by all means, give them knowledge, give them lore. Anyone can roll dice against a party and keep track of monsters’ hit points. My favorite GM’s put me in the moment and help me understand WHY things matter in the bigger picture.
I guess my whole theory here is simple – Constructive dissatisfaction. Don’t be satisfied by your two-sentence backstory or your adventure’s stock baddies. Whatever role you’re trying to fill at the table, do the homework until you’re proud of what you’re bringing, I promise it’ll pay off.
I’m certainly more of a player! I enjoy GMing, but generally am a pretty lax GM who likes to make those more fun/lighthearted games. I think it’s fun to let my players be goofballs or try something out that they wouldn’t commit to long term. I generally like playing something/someone that I can’t do/be in real life so I tend to play the more unusual characters. Part of the enjoyment for me is not being myself for a few hours and becoming this character with their own trials, tribulations, and emotions. I love when my character is developed somewhat on the fly because it feels more natural to how someone grows and adapts to what has happened around and to them. I spend a ton of time in the beginning of building my character working to explain in my head why my character would have particular abilities. I tend to ask a lot of questions of the character sheet to build the personality/background of the character. Some of the questions are things like what made this character learn to wield an axe over a sword? What point in their life did the magic of the elements become their strong suit? Who did they protect for so long to become a buff based caster? I think diving into those types of questions get at the nature of the character and help to build a backstory.
Going above and beyond in my style is going full force into this character’s head. How do I think and make decisions like that character? This changes so much based on my character’s play but one thing that usually stays consistent for me is that I like classes/archetypes with versatility. Some of my characters are highly focused on one speciality but usually, I like to have a character that can flex so that as my character, I can make the right decision for the job! When I’m the GM instead, I think the same way. Who is this character? What are their motivations or what drives them? Getting inside their head is the best way for me to make them real which in turn, makes the world real for everyone else. Sometimes it doesn’t lead to the best strategic actions but it leads to what feels more real to me!
Going above and beyond at the table as a group and bringing that feel to the party is all about working as a team to create a story and develop a world! I think a huge way to help is to understand what the rest of the party does to feel engaged in the world and help bring that to the table! I love good visuals so awesome lighting, maps, minis, dice that go to the character, and other props help bring the entire world alive inside and outside of combat.
I am primarily a player in pathfinder 1e games. I am lucky enough to have multiple wonderful friends who are great GMs! My general mindset going into these games is one of collaborative storytelling. This helps me keep the emotions with the characters so, for example, I can love to hate my NPC archnemesis! My overarching goal in playing with my friends to tell a story together where every character gets their chance to shine! For my own characters my inspiration often comes from Disney princesses and more recently Disney villains. These inspirations give me a good starting point, but my best characters also have a piece of my personality within them. It helps me understand their motivations and give them more depth. I enjoy playing a variety of classes, but I always seem to gravitate toward playing a bard. I love the bardic performance, multitude of skills and synergizing with the party.
To play my best in Pathfinder games I come prepared with more than just my character sheet. I work with my GM on backstory, giving plenty of details but also leaving room for story related elements to be woven in. Going further to get the character’s personality down I curate a list of puns, pathfinder jokes or witty insults. These are so fun to sprinkle in and help me stay in character! These preparations help get me invested in the game so I want to succeed in game. I take notes and track loot to progress the story and utilize resources. You never know when a specific potion or partial wand may come in handy! When I play my best, I get invested in the story and the inspiration from our adventures leaks out to my other hobbies. I love creating custom adventure dice bags or custom amigurumi of other player characters. Creating real live items inspired from the game helps bring the story to life!
I am primarily a player in pathfinder 1e. I don’t have the improv skills to GM the way I would like. I prefer to play a support character but am also comfortable with melee and spellcasters when needed. I like to play in the moment. Whether that is the character does something daring or is slaying enemies. I put myself in my characters shoes to decide what needs to happen in the moment. This keeps the story and game dynamic and reactive. I like it when my character has background but has room to be molded by the story. The character can fit perfectly in the moment if you leave room for the character to grow into it.
When I am playing my best I have good flashbacks for my characters. They are difficult for me to describe the way I imagine them because language is not my strong suit. I love what they can do for a character’s backstory. They make the characters come alive.
I’ve heard from my guests; now I want to hear from you. What’s your style? Leave a comment below, on our Discord, or on Know Direction’s Facebook page.