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Nerd Watching: The Tycho Brahe Talks

Written by Nicholas - Published on April 6, 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.

Hello and welcome to the very first Nerd Watching! Nerd Watching is our new column where discuss all the latest news, important figures, tools and sites in the tabletop RPG community.

We have a very special treat for our maiden voyage, an interview with Tycho Brahe (the webcomic author, not the 16th century geocentric astronomer). Tycho Brahe, aka Jerry Holkins, is one half of the duo which created the overwhelmingly popular comic, Penny Arcade. He is also heavily involved with the RPG community, having produced a number of comics on the subject, participating in an official Wizards of the Coast actual play podcast series and most recently creating the hilarious April Fool’s preview class, the Witchalok. I had a chance to correspond with Tycho about all things tabletop game related:

Lets start at the beginning. How and when did you get your start in tabletop gaming?

When I was six years old, I played Dungeons & Dragons with my uncles and aunts when I was staying over at my Grandma’s house. It blew me away. I told my mother about the experience, which went poorly. We attended the sort of church where playing D&D was virtually synonymous with Devil worship. Even as a child, I sensed that this was incorrect: during the course of our adventure, we’d done *battle* with demons! How could I possibly have served the Devil by doing so?

At fourteen or so, I had the bug pretty bad – but I thought that D&D was more or less my only option. Kevin Siembieda thought differently, and our ragtag band began to explore Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then Heroes Unlimited, then Ninjas and Superspies, then Robotech, and then – then – we began playing D&D in secret during sleepovers.

You made a comic joking about how the harshness of the older games has been toned down, something we have discussed here as well. What are your true feelings on the matter?

As a general rule, I think the “game” element of Fourth Edition is much improved for new players – particularly if you make use of the Character Creator. More than anything else, giving our PCs access to that thing has put most of the system right in front of them. I know it’s anathema to some players, but the “card” format for powers allowed Gabe to switch his Friday CCG group right over to D&D with almost no hitch.

In general, the most important thing is to get around the table and play. If Fourth gets you and your people together, good. I like it, as you know – but it was also a well-timed excuse to reclaim the pastime. If an earlier version of the system works for your group, or if you guys are playing Rifts or whatever, I couldn’t care less. The main thing is to get around that table and make up a story.

As the second series of PA/PvP/Wil Wheaton/WotC podcasts wraps up people are already craving more. Are there any more in the works and can we expect anyone new joining the Acquisitions Incorporated crew?

I think that Wizards has been a little surprised by the results, actually – but I can’t imagine why. They made a game so fun that it is even fun to hear other people playing it. I’d like to do them once a quarter, or so – set them up like “season” of a television program. I hope they bite.

You recently created an April fool’s day class preview of the eldritch powerhouse witchaloks. Any similar materials in the works?

Not really. We had the idea, asked them if they wanted it, and they said yes – the whole process took about a week, all told. It came out of nowhere, and anything else in that vein would probably be just as serendipitous.

Moving on to your more personal experience, in your comics and podcasts you have expressed experience in a diverse range of tabletop games. What games do you play and what do you look for in a game system?

I’ve got my weekly game now, on Fridays typically, where I play a Rogue in an ongoing campaign. Sometimes during the week I have a good time helping Gabe with the long range plotting for his own game, which for me is a kind of play as well.

I’m not really on the number-crunching side of the equation when it comes to systems. I respect those who are, and I want to have a person like that at the table, but I want a system I can navigate intuitively and still find success as a player and as a character.

What is your personal favorite moment at the game table? What about your worst moment in tabletop gaming?

As for favorite table moments, getting back to Athas from Ravenloft (after a year of play spent in that haunted, sentient realm) definitely ranks high – though coming back to our evil Planescape party after an extended absence is also up there.

Killing a friend’s character in TMNT as a young man was pretty bad times.

We do a series called “The Setting Less Traveled” where we explore all the potential backdrops that tend to get ignored by RPG makers. Is there any special setting you would like to see represented in a game?

I’m fond of the classic settings, actually – I’ve had extraordinary experiences in Dark Sun, Ravenloft, and especially Planescape. That’s just D&D, though. Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands, Mage: The Awakening, Horus Heresy, and Paranoia are also huge favorites. The places you can play are so diverse that most of my secret desires have already been laid before me.

What is the best piece of advice you would offer to a DM trying to run a game?

Well, my friend Mike handles most of the dungeonmaster’s duties these days, so I may be a bit rusty on this score. I’m building a scenario for this weekend, though, and I think I may be planning it a little *too* much. I need to be ready for anything, not just the linear track I’ve embroidered here beyond all reason. I think that if I go deep on the NPCs, their motivations, and the environment itself, I’ll know what happens there naturally. That’s my plan, anyway.

Finally, how awesome are red dragons?

*So* awesome.

There you have it folks! Tycho Brahe and the very first Nerd Watching! If you have a cool link, tool or product you think should be discussed in Nerd Watching, leave a comment or email me at nicholas@dungeonmastering.com

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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.



7 Responses to “Nerd Watching: The Tycho Brahe Talks”
  1. Trung says:

    Efing awesome. I remember seeing your tweets about this and I’ve been looking forward to it for some time, great to finally see it. Excellent work.

  2. Great article! I would have liked to hear more about what went on behind the scenes at the WOTC podcasts though.

  3. Jessi B says:

    I really loved reading this, especially how important it is just to get people around the table. If people lose interest in the current game, you can always run something else or do a one-shot to refresh everyone.

  4. GroovyTaxi says:

    The witchalok was seriously awesome, good work guys! XD

  5. How do I <3 Penny Arcade, let me count the ways. :-) And HEYYYYYYYYY, now that I’m not a teacher anymore, I can actually buy the Jesus is f’in metal shirt I’ve been wanting forever.

  6. Matt says:

    I loved reading this interview. A great addition to the site and I can’t wait to see more.

  7. jackmo says:

    great interview
    penny arcarde rocks so hardd

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