Interview: The Wizard of Oz (AUS) – Joe Sweeney from StoryWeaver Games, Part 1

It’s been a long while since I’ve had an opportunity for an interview! Thankfully, Joe Sweeney of StoryWeaver Games was kind enough to subject himself to a few questions about his gaming career, StoryWeaver, and more…

So let’s get started! (Note that this interview was SO HUGE I had to break it up into two chunks, so bear with me…

This is how we Sweeneys roll!

This is how we Sweeneys roll!

Q: When the world was young, what brought you to the world of RPGs?

I can remember this very well. I was about 10 years old at the time (yes, dinosaurs had just died off) and was invited next door by the rather geeky neighbour. He had the ol’ school Dungeons & Dragons set and told me that he was going to show me how to play. Not knowing any better I agreed and we quickly rolled up a magic user character. I don’t quite remember how the game started, but I do recall how it ended some 90 minutes later: my character was hiding behind a rock while a bunch of orcs passed by. I actually felt the fear of the character that I was playing, and when I realised that I had been sucked into the story to such a degree, I realised that this was a hobby for me! Deciding to face my fears, I popped up from behind the rock and let loose with some magic spell or other – I think was magic missile – only to be clobbered the death by the orcs in short order. I had four hit points. At that point I realised that this was really the hobby for me!

About six years after that I began writing my own games: the first being Knight Errant, a generic fantasy rule set, then a more advanced version of that game built on a matrix of character attributes, before delving into the mad side of game design with Animal Agents, based firmly in the world of danger mouse (how I loved Danger Mouse).

Q: What is your favorite story as a player at the game table?

My favourite story at the game table is pretty much the same as my books. I want them to be character driven stories. I want the characters to suffer, to change, to be steadfast, to learn lessons or remain in ignorance, or better still to fall from grace! For me stories are all about exploring the “human condition,” whatever that is, and there is no better way to do this than taking on new roles within a story. This can be whimsical, or can be deadly serious. Either way, a good cast of characters usually means a good game.

Q: As you grew more powerful in the ways of the StoryWeaver, how did you earn the title of “Award Winning Game Master”?

I got the title of Award Winning Game Master when one of the oldest gaming convention organisers in Sydney presented me with an “Excellence in Gaming” award for all of the game mastering I had been doing with them over the years. It was completely unexpected, and I remember that I was deeply touched. Most of my game mastering at conventions (and other public events) has been a labour of love: I believe that we need to always give something to the gaming community, be that time, mentoring, or even games publishing. Apparently, that love shines though at the table, as my games are usually fully booked at cons, which makes con organisers lives a lot easier. Hence the title of “Award Winning Game Master.” Oh, I also have a bookshelf stacked with RPG trophies… and a prized rubber duck.

Deniable 7.5x5 ad - StoryWeaver GamesQ: For others seeking wisdom at your feet, what are the top three GM tips you can share?

The first, most important, thing to do is understand the motivations of your players, and then bring those motivations into the game for their characters. This may sound a little abstract, but it’s actually pretty basic psychology. Players engage in a game to have fun. Different people obtain fun in different ways (and this changes at different times). Some want to explore their character in detail, others want to embrace a strange new world, while others want to delve into the statistics of the game mechanics itself. Others want to weave stories. Some players even want dominance over the others!

As a GM it’s really important that you give each player the ability to meet their own personal motivations otherwise they will not think the game is “fun”. The only way you can do this is by ensuring that every character at the table has at least one or more scene that their players will feel fully engaged with. The hard part is to do this simultaneously, so that each scene provides opportunity for multiple players to be fully engaged in the game in the way which they deem “fun.”

The second bit of advice, related to the above, is that you need to be able to understand your players really, really well. I mean really REALLY well. You need to know what will upset them, what will make them laugh, what will bring them to tears. The best example of this I have ever seen was in the British TV series The IT Crowd in the episode “Jen the Fredo.” If you’ve not seen it, please grab a copy. It is perfect game mastery. It was also the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on TV!

The final bit of advice is to plan, but not overdo it. Another way of thinking about this is when your players derail your carefully prepared adventure, roll with it. When players go off the rails, they are telling you what sort of adventure they want to have, as opposed what you want to have. As a GM is your job to be of service to the players. Which means, let them get away with some crazy stuff from time to time. Of course you have to balance this with in-game threats, otherwise the games simply fall apart into meaningless wish fulfillment. So it is always a balancing act.

Q: When approaching a virtual table as opposed to an actual one, what must a GM remember?

I’ve only been using virtual table tops for a couple of years now. The first I used was Fantasy Grounds, but now most of my play takes place in hangouts with Roll 20. I find that the virtual table tops are much better for games that are largely tactical, such as D&D, or completely story driven, such as Deniable, and Apocalypse World. To be honest, when I approach virtual table tops, I pretty much steer clear of the tactical games now, and solely go for the story driven games. Does that make be a “story swine?”. Absolutely! Oink oink!


Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow where Joe continues to spill the beans on GMing secrets and his work as a publisher!! (Here’s a link to part 2!)

Want to know more about StoryWeaver Games? Check them out on the web, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+. They’re very busy folks!

Want to interact with Joe and many other folks? Sign up for AetherCon which is a cool online gaming convention happening in November!

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