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Chatting With Hal

Written by Nicholas - Published on March 5, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

A few months back I got to talk about actual play RPG podcasts and I recommended a site called RPGMP3. RPGMP3 is a vast collection of recorded tabletop game sessions, primarily GMed by the site founder Hal. The site also has a growing number of community podcasts from fans who submit their own recorded campaigns to the site. I had an opportunity to chat with Hal about the process of recording his games, his gaming preferences and the past and future of RPGMP3.

Dungeon Mastering: I guess I’ll start with the big question, why? What made you decide to record your sessions and put them online for public consumption?

Hal: It all started by accident. Lindsay (my wife) had a conference microphone she had been given by the university to record her lectures as she is dyslexic. She wasn’t using it and our friend Paul (who runs www.yog-sothoth.com) said he would take it.

Lindsay brought it down for him to our regular game he decided a good test would be to record the session. So we played and recorded a session somewhere in the middle of Return To The Temple of Elemental Evil. This recording is still available in the Download section of RPGMP3.

Listen to actual game play –
get the feel for a game, or
improve your DMing skills
at RPG MP3

Paul uploaded the audio to Yoggie and got some positive feedback and after some long talks about whether anyone who bother to listen to other gamers gaming, we decided the best place for it was on a website of its own. As Paul was already running a very successful site I decided I would have a crack at it and we set up RPGMP3. We recorded a few things for Call of Cthulhu before the release of the game that really kicked the site off, The World’s Largest Dungeon.

So, overall it was just a happy accident. After the fact I have come to realize that a lot of people listen to the games to reconnect with the hobby, to listen to how a game plays before they decide to buy it or just to be entertained. I have had countless emails about how people have been inspired to run something after listening to me GMing. I guess it has become educational for some people in way.

DMing: Has recording your sessions affected the way that you run a game or even what games you run?
Hal: There were some initial teething issues with game recording but over the years we have worked around them. Things like not speaking directly to the audience so that they can just sit and listen, not cross talking or interrupting other players when they are speaking and not letting there be too much dead air.

To be honest there is generally very little I need to do with most gamers other than try to encourage them to stop fiddling with dice and tapping as that is really bad on the recorder.

I have always thought that most games were fair game to be honest. Everyone I have ever spoken to has been flattered or excited that we have run their game as an audio. Some, particularly Indie designers, have used the recordings on their websites as a way to showcase their rules and let people hear what their game is like to play. I think we have probably encouraged the sales of a good amount of games over the time the site has been open.

The only game systems I steer away from are White Wolf. I love White Wolf but unfortunately they have a terribly cast iron and restrictive fan site policy and it is easier to just not record their games than get involved in any potential wrangling. I am hoping that when WotC release their promised fan site policy that it is nowhere near what White Wolf has.

If anyone had any issues with the audios I would just remove them. They are not audio books and if anything we probably sell more than our fair share of product for the companies involved just by getting people excited about things. I have noticed recently that people have been buying PDFs of Rolemaster on the strength of the audio game.

DMing: You have run a whole variety of systems on audio, Rolemaster, Warhammer, Call of Cthulhu, D&D both 3.5 and 4th edition and some indie titles like My Life with Master and Wilderness of Mirrors. Your games seem to span the whole spectrum of settings and philosophies. So what is it that you look for in a game system and how do you decide what to run?

Hal: I love all games. I have never really met a game I did not like and it is not just restricted to roleplaying. I have wargames and card games and board games aplenty also. It is not that I am competitive. I just love to play games. I guess I have always like contributing and building things and even when an RPG is confrontational you are always building a story.

With regards to the games I run for the site, I really just run what takes my fancy when I come to start a new session. I love indie games and I am trying to get to run more of them as well as supporting them where I can. I love how some of them deal with some pretty serious issues, like Flower for Mara, Steal Away Jordan and Carry; but I also love the off the wall stuff, like Classroom Deathmath, My Life With Master and Shab-al-Hiri Roach.

When I am looking to run something new for the site I consider what is already going on with the other site contributors and what I think my players would enjoy. I also like to push the envelope a little and make them work sometimes. I think my next sessions are going to be Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I have been toying with running the Thousand Thrones campaign for a little while and I think it will make a nice break from DnD 4e for a while. I love the gritty setting and WFRP was the first game I ever ran (I GMed before I played any roleplaying games).

Although I do not run much Sci-Fi I do really like it. I love SLA Industries and have just been reading Battelords of the 23rd Century and 3:16 with great interest so perhaps we might see a short or one off of one or both of those in the future. My absolute favourite setting is Kult (1st Edition) but sadly it is now in the hands of a French company who are only releasing books in French (bah). It is so dark and dangerous and dripping with tension. Its a lovely game.

I think my ideal game has a good balance of physical challenge and roleplaying. I love fantasy as I can make anything happen when I am running it but I prefer a more grounded, gritty kind of fantasy to super high fantasy. I love magic and strange beasts and all that destiny stuff. I am a sucker for a good “farm boy makes good” story. I think when I look at a game to run I really think about the story I am going to be telling. This is especially true with the stuff for the site. I really just want to tell a good story.

DMing: During the lifetime of the site you moved from the UK to Texas. Do you find there is a difference between gamers across the pond?

Hal: There are some differences I would say. I think the American gamers I have played with are more forthright and tend to attack a problem head on, whereas the British gamers are more likely to think things through first and perhaps try to work their way around a problem. On the whole, however the games are still entertaining and both groups have caused me to have to think on my feet countless times. Gaming is a much bigger deal over here, with the comics and gaming culture not so much of a social stigma as it is back home I think it attracts a wider audience so you can get a lot more personality types in your group. It makes for some very interesting times.
DMing: On this site we attempt to enrich our readers gaming experience even if just a little bit. You’re obviously quite confidence in your GMing skills to let the world listen it. Do you have any tips you recommend to our readers?

Hal: One of the main things with recording your games is you have to mind your manners. Make sure you do not talk over anyone or dominate the game too much. Also from a GM point of view you have to ensure that everyone gets a fair crack at things and gets a turn. I think this applies to all tables and all groups. It is really just a matter of respecting the people you are playing with and making certain everyone is there to have a good time.

I would also encourage groups to change the rules to suit themselves. If you don’t like something or wish something was different, just house rule it. I don’t think I have run a single long term game that I have not had at least one house rule for. We currently have house rules for magic item creation in DnD 4e and a whole sack load for Rolemaster. It just makes the game personal and that is what it is really all about. Even if you are using a publish scenario you should feel free to tell your own story. Again this is a skill for both GM and player and ties in to having some mutual respect. If you are going to take a game away from what is published the GM should be willing to ad lib some stuff on the fly and the players should be kind enough not to push for too much detail all at once (or even better, should try and contribute some themselves). That way you can really make a game your own. You can start by just throwing in some side plots, some interesting random encounters or some NPCs.

The other thing I have to say is that NPCs need a character. GMs should not be afraid to use stupid voices and craziness to get a character across. You want to make sure they are memorable and different so that the players can relate to them. Most players I have played with are not too keen to give their character a voice, but the ones that have really get more out of the game the are playing. Just making the character different from yourself and giving it a personality of its own that you can play makes the game much more than just sitting around and rolling dice. It makes gaming much more interesting. Obviously if you are not audio recording you sessions you can always adopt physical traits for you character, like hunched shoulders or a facial tick.

But overall, the only real advice is have fun with it and don’t take it too seriously. You are there to have a good time with friends and to tell a great story. Enjoy yourself (and then send me the audio recording)!

DMing: It sounds like RPGMP3 has grown a great deal from its humble beginnings, where do you see it going in the future?

Hal: At the moment we are hosting games from about 8 different groups and I am always happy to take on more. All I ask is that the players and GM contribute to the forums and the general community of the site. I think we have one of the friendliest gaming sites on the net; we talk about all kinds of rubbish and everyone is superb.

For the future I am looking at some pretty sweeping redesign changes but they are going to be a while in coming. Essentially I am hoping to give the site a nice new look as well as providing easier access to the site features for new users as well as some good stuff for the existing folks. I hope to get to some conventions in the next 12 months and I think we currently have plans for an RPGMP3 gathering at Gen Con 2010 so perhaps I might invest in a booth for that, but who knows?

I think I am going to carry on doing what we are doing and see what comes along. All I can do is provide a place for gamers to gather, share their games (on audio) and hang out and feel at home. I think we have done that so far and I hope we can carry on to do it into the future.

DMing: One more question for you. You have built up an extremely loyal and active community around your site. Is there anything you would like to say about them and their works?

Hal: I really only provided an idea and a place to play. It is everyone else; all the forum users, patrons and contributors of stories, filk and audio sessions that make the site as friendly and as much of a community as it is. Without the people I have met over the time the site has been active it would be nowhere near as good as it is. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to provide the site for people to enjoy. I have had many emails from people who have found the site during hard times (such as extended hospital stays) and it has helped them through and to be honest it is a credit to every person who writes in the forums or who contributes an audio file. I feel honoured to facilitate the site but it is the members who make it what it is. The site would be nothing without its users and RPGMP3 has some of the best you could ever find anywhere.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



3 Responses to “Chatting With Hal”
  1. newbiedm says:

    Hal… I love your Splug.
    I heard your entire run of KOTS before I ran it, to get a feel for it. Great work, and your players sound like a fun bunch. It’s funny, since I heard the entire run, I have images of what this people look like in my head, although they probably look nothing like that!

  2. Hal says:

    Thanks :)

    There are pics up on the site and we have a Flickr group ( http://www.flickr.com/groups/rpgmp3/ ) where a few of our groups throw up pictures. There should be some of the Texan gamers, including me there I would think.

    Splug was easy. When I have to voice an NPC I just think of 3 things that define him. Splug was originally Small, Mean and Foul Mouthed. Therefore he gets a high pitched voice, is argumentative and swears a lot. Its a good trick for PCs to use as well. Make the voice a character too essentially.


  3. Riddles says:

    I’ve listened to Hal et al for what seems forever and would thoroughly recommend anyone to try them out!

    And don’t let Hal downgrade his skills in GMing in this medium! I’ve recorded a few of my sessions and the cross talk, off topic (slanderous) slagging off of people and long silences would mean I’d never even think of publishing it.

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