Every other Sunday I game with the Chief Bottle Washer of RPG Geek, Dave Bernazzani, in his Sunday Mornings in Hell, Labyrinth Lord game. Last year I also volunteered to help organize VirtuaCon and I got to know Dave, the person and not just Dave, the admin. I also got the chance to see a little behind the curtain of RPG Geek; it’s a fascinating place and I am proud to call it home! Dave is a great guy and fun to chat with, but more importantly, he’s a pillar of the RPG Geek community. His volunteerism in the community and the hobby are hands down a shining example for many folks, myself included. I have a lot of respect for Dave and what he does for the community. Over the past two years we have had many chances to chat about all things gaming and I thought it was high time to properly interview him. Without further ado, let me introduce to you Dave or as he is better know at RPG Geek, Wavemotion.
RB: Dave, let’s start this interview off a serious note. How did you become involved as the managing director if I may use that title, of RPG Geek?
DB: I like that title! I might just steal it though it’s not quite accurate. I am granted no special title on the site so I usually just describe myself as “Chief Bottle Washer” and leave it at that.
In 2009 Aldie (the owner of Board Game Geek) asked me to help with the classic video game section of a new site he had envisioned called Video Game Geek (VGG). He knew my love for all the classic consoles of the early 80s which I collect. I wasn’t sure what form the helping out would entail but decided I’d give it a try. Prior to launching VGG, Aldie decided to test the waters with what he felt was a smaller challenge – a spin-off of BGG that was specific to Role-Playing Games. RPG Geek was developed and the alpha test was, quite frankly, a bit of a mess. There seemed to be serious confusion as to how to catalog and categorize role-playing games. The taxonomy and hierarchy was significantly different than boardgames. Some games had just one core book (think of your typical Indie or small-press game). Some had a series of books (with the extreme of, say, Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder). Some game systems were borrowed from different genres (Fudge, Fate and Apocalypse World spring to mind). Third party products muddied the waters further. As the existing BGG database structure wasn’t a good fit for the role-playing hobby, I started to doodle a structure on the back of some napkins and presented these rough ideas to the Alpha Team. For some reason, I was rewarded with more and more authority to define the data structure. I then put in place the first draft of what has now become our venerable (and daunting!) Guide to Data Entry (http://rpggeek.com/wiki/page/Guide_to_Data_Entry). So while I’ve never been given any sort of official capacity with the site, the site principals haven’t exactly blocked my help … so I found myself in a sort of unofficial leadership capacity with RPG Geek. I am given top-level admin privileges, but I carry no Admin banner over my username nor do I belong to the private admin email list. As such I’m a unique blend of outsider and insider – but with one purpose: to provide legendary service to the role-playing community through leadership and by setting a strong example. At least that’s what I tell people. In reality I mostly just want a place where I feel I belong and can discuss cool geeky ideas with cool people.
RB: Rumor has it your involvement with RPG Geek is all glitz and glamor, is there any truth to this rumor? What exactly do you do to keep the site a pillar of excellence?
DB: It takes quite a bit of my time (which I volunteer) to help out with site management. Much of this comes in the form of empowerment and some semblance of organization. My goal is to let anyone in the community who wants to help do so in the most efficient way possible. If someone has an idea for a contest? Great! Let’s get some prizes behind that, make sure our twitter account (@rpggeek which I handle) gets the word spread, ensure we advertise on the appropriate G+ communities to spread the word. Community members wanted a way to log all of the magazines and zines related to our great hobby – so I worked as a liaison to the site owners to get a system in place to handle periodicals. I created a consortium of interested folks who help make decisions on where things get cataloged in our database (there are lots of fringe cases – don’t get me started on the great miniature debate of 2010!). Mostly I consider myself a lead-by-example member of the community with just enough access to the site developers to get some back-end support for the things we need.
RB: Let’s talk more about RPG Geek for minute. I know there are lots of great things happening there that are not happening at other RPG related sites on the internet. Can you tell our readers some of the things that set RPG Geek apart from other sites. Is there anything specific you are most proud of?
DB: I’m most proud of our community. Really the friendliest place I’ve been to discuss gaming of any kind. Very few flare-ups – we have a group of more than 100 self-volunteers known as the RPG Geek Heroes who really set the tone for the site (yes, anyone can join the RPGG Heroes even if you’re new to the site!). We don’t cater to one game – our database and forum structure gives even the smallest niche games the same forum power as the big-hitters. Beyond the community we have well-supported play-by-forum capabilities (complete with one of the most sophisticated die-rollers around which has been adapted to play every RPG imaginable – even the one that uses the Magic-8 ball for conflict resolution). We have a database which supports not only games and supplements but also links in reviews, session reports, podcast coverage and periodical articles – it’s a one-stop shop in finding out everything and anything related to a game (our off-site links make sure we get you everything you need to research a game even if it’s not specifically contained on RPG Geek directly).
RB: Let’s switch gears a little and talk about VirtuaCon. Labeled as “The Best Three Days in Virtual Gaming”, how did the event come about? What makes it tick and succeed for two years now? What does the future hold for VirtuaCon?
DB: The idea was to bring a full-scale convention that could be attended from the comfort of your own home. Someone suggested it in our RPG Gee anonymous suggestion box (and nobody has stepped forward to claim credit) and we ran with the idea. The model we used was loosely inspired by ConTessa. Our first year we had some growing pains – some unanticipated issues and some technical glitches but it was still an amazingly successful 3 days of virtual gaming. The name is a sort of bastardization and homage to the old 3D fighting game called Virtua Fighter and is so named because the tabletop is all virtualized. The second year we applied much of what we had learned – we had industry guests, speaking panels on a variety of geeky topics, contests, puzzles, tons of sponsors and prizes and, of course, piles of games that ran in time-slots world-wide! We have averaged 60 games with a wide-variety of genres and systems. We have settled on using Google Hangouts (with Roll20 or DiceStream apps) to run our games – had plenty of teaching sessions to get people up to speed and we’re really stoked at the direction we’re headed in coming years. Virtuacon 2015 will take place in October – it costs nothing to attend and we would love to see attendance grow this year (we had roughly 350 people “attend” last year).
RB: In your opinion, why does VirtuaCon succeed where others have struggled?
DB: Part of the answer is simple – we saw what others were doing and did more of the things that seemed to work. If we have seen further, it is only because we have stood on the shoulders of Stone Giants. The other part of the answer is that we have a stable community behind the event – our GMs (and the majority of our players) are people we interact with on a regular basis. They are highly likely to be reliable – showing up for their games on time and they are going to be prepared (both for the game and the technology). In short, the event succeeds because of the community behind it.
RB: Do you have any advice for our reader that might be considering attending VirtuaCon, virtually that is, this year? Maybe some advice for those that might be interested in being GMs?
DB: The best advice I can give is to urge people to jump in and come for some part (no matter how small) of the virtual weekend. People who were on the fence and decided to come were surprised at how much fun they had – how close it felt to a real convention and the new friendships that followed. The people you meet have a home base back on RPG Geek – so you can, if you choose, interact with those you got along with again. The event can only succeed with participation and everyone who attends helps ensure that there will be future endeavours.
As far as running a game at Virtuacon – my advice would be to join RPG Geek first and get integrated and established with the community before running a game. A large number of the players come from RPG Geek (though we welcome any interested folks) and having an established presence is a sure way to have your game get the requisite number of players to run.
RB: Now, let’s talk about Dave, the gamer. When did you begin gaming and what are some of your fondest gaming memories?
DB: My family grew up playing games – checkers, chess, cribbage and various forms of Rummy. I recall playing Trivial Pursuit every Friday night with the family – super fun at least until someone questioned the validity of the answer and a family argument would ensue that would sometimes derail the game. In 1980 I saw my first Dungeons and Dragons book. In 1981 I got my very own Box Set (the Tom Moldvay box / Erol Otus cover). I had a mix of Basic and Advanced D&D and never really understood the difference sufficiently (I mixed and matched rules as was my whim). I was almost always the Dungeon Master though I did play in some other games that were beyond silly (players starting at or near god-level). I remember one munchkin player who had a country full of arrows and a portable hole that he could reach into to pull any one specific arrow out. I was more of a low level player – looking to stay alive when dog-faced kobolds came charging! To each, their own. In 1983 we tried some other systems – Gamma World and Star Frontiers were favorites. We liked Star Frontiers enough that some friends and I developed a game called Strike Force which we played for almost 2 decades (the 9th Edition is up on RPG Geek now). By the time 2nd edition AD&D came along I was not playing much anymore – and I didn’t get back into the hobby until Wizards released 3rd edition (I read the 3e books but didn’t start playing/GMing again until 3.5). My D&D group is still going strong a decade later playing every other Thursday. We have since switched to Pathfinder and are enjoying channeling our 12-year-old-selves again.
RB: What are some of your favorite RPGs, new or old?
DB: Pathfinder. Basic D&D (anything from the early 80s or earlier), Dungeon World. Gamma World. Dungeon Crawl Classics. Prime Time Adventures. FATE. Mutants & Masterminds. Star Frontiers. System isn’t all that important – a good GM and fun players make the game. Similarly, a bad GM or uninterested players can kill even the best system. I’ll play almost anything with the right group. I’ll avoid my favorites with the wrong group.
RB: Do you enjoy playing board games? If so, what type of games and why? If not, why?
DB: As mentioned, I grew up playing lots of traditional boardgames and cardgames. Cribbage, Monopoly, Chess, Rummy of all kinds, Stop Thief, Risk among others. I became heavily involved in the German/Euro boardgame scene in the late 90s and had amassed quite a collection of newer games (some favorites include Union Pacific, RA, Liar’s Dice, Princes of Florence, I’m the Boss, Shadow Hunters, Lost Cities, Castle Ravenloft, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride). My current favorite boardgame is Riichi (Japanese) Mahjong which I’ve been enamored with for a few years now. I’m happy to play almost any boardgame so long as it’s not overly long – my cutoff is about 120 minutes tops (and prefer 90 minutes or less). With RPGs I can play all day long!
RB: Others have mused that board games do not give them the same satisfaction that playing a roleplaying game gives them. Do you find this to be the case as well?
DB: There are plenty of boardgames that provide RPG-like elements. Shadow Hunters, The D&D boardgames (Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt), Shadows over Camelot and the like, but generally those games don’t provide the same level of freedom of choice that a wide-open RPG can provide. With a boardgame you can explore what’s on the board. In an RPG you can always say, “What’s over that next hill?” and the GM can say “Let’s go find out!”.
RB: How often do you get to game these days and is the gaming face to face, virtually or a little of both? Which medium do you prefer and why?
DB: My Pathfinder group meets every other week. My Sunday OSR group meets every other Sunday Morning (we are playing “Sunday Mornings in Hell” as we romp through Michael Curtis’ Stonehell Dungeon). I play boardgames only at big events now – which is a few times a year.
RB: What do you enjoy playing these days?
DB: Anything, really. So long as it’s with the right people. A near perfect day would be a morning of Riichi Mahjong followed by lunch and then RPGs from afternoon into early evening.
RB: Please tell our readers what three industry or hobby personalities you would love to see interviewed by Rolling Boxcars and why.
DB: Really hard to choose… but I’ll go (without explanation) with: Michael Curtis. Frank Mentzer. Alan Moon. Have fun with those three 🙂
Dave, thank you for taking the time to allow me to interview you. You are very kind to entertain the request. I hope our readers have gotten a little insight into what makes the ‘Geek” tick and who Dave is. Also, thank you for the advice about VirtuaCon; it is sounds and on point! Dave knows I have a special affinity for VirtuaCon. Virtuacon saved my interest in RPGs at time when I could not game locally! I know I would love to see the “Geek”, the community we call home grow and continue to be even more prosperous.
Want to learn more about RPG Geek? Come on over and visit us here! The site is very well organized, but as with everything these days, there is a slight learning curve. There are folks like Dave, myself and all the other volunteers at RPG Geek that are standing by to help new folks get acclimated and enjoy all the aspects of the site. Need help, just ask!