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Tobie Abad, Cult Fave Gamemaster: On Role-Playing Games!

December 22, 2015       Meaningful Life
Tobie Abad: On
Role-Playing Games

Image Credit:  Tobie Abad, used with permission.
Tobie Abad, fan-favorite GM, holding some his favorite gaming books:
Changeling the Lost (Chronicles of Darkness) and
Wraith: The Oblivion (World of Darkness), and Houses of
the Blooded (John Wick Presents).


Bad Press on D&D Turns Fanboyz into Gamers

Role playing games got their best PR when Dungeons & Dragons were 'exposed' and vilified by ultra conservative groups like Pat Robertson from the 700 Club for causing teen suicides and for influencing kids to engage in the occult.  More kids flocked to the games and got the best laugh of their lives running adventures while ultra-conservatists looked as delusional as they always do. 


Image Credit:  Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons & Dragons used for review
At a time when sci-fi and fantasy were considered fringe and
low-brow reading and entertainment, images like the one on
Dungeons&Dragons Player's handbook may have incited
ultra-conservative groups like Pat Robertson's to single out
Dungeons & Dragons as a shadowy influence for kids to
avoid during the early 80s.

[  On the 700 Club, they also disparaged heavy metal T-shirts of Iron Maiden
and Metallica...making them indelibly, the coolest thing to HAVE if
Pat robertson says you're going to hell for wearing them.  ]


Beloved children's book and comic book writer Neil Gaiman gave up his career as a journalist in the 1980s for a U.K. newspaper when the editors told him he must write a feature on Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games as a Satanic and evil influence forcing kids to commit suicide and do black magic.  Neil politely declined the offer and moved on to comics.   

Fast forward to 2015.  Role-playing games are a religion of their own, finding a very special niche among fans of storytelling-based adventure games.  Gaming has made structured storytelling as one of the finest creativity and design solutions available for anyone. 


Image Credit:  Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons & Dragons used for review
New Dungeons & Dragons art!  Monsters these days are the coolest.
Fighting them in role-playing games as part of storyteller-managed
adventures created a whole new niche in board games.


Dungeons & Dragons was originally designed to have each player keep track of a stat sheet that influences the abilities of their role-played character within a game.  Their game session itself is managed by a game master-the Dungeon Master-storyteller, who weaves an adventure story based on templates provided by gaming books and manages character interactions of players with events that happen within the game.  From D&D, a wave of dice and paper, modern role playing games have been published and engaged numerous kids into a lifelong hobby of adventure story gaming.

Role-playing games work off a system known as structured storytelling where stat identifiers and dice rolls allow players to manage the entire game experience.  The skill of the Gamemaster-storyteller into weaving all of the details of a very complex game into a riveting and endlessly replayable sessions of narrative interaction makes this kind of gaming unique among tabletop board games.  REACH talks with local fan-favorite gamemaster who hosts a game almost once a month...Tobie Abad.


Image Credit: Rocky Sunico, used with permission
Tobie Abad and his partner, Rocky Sunico, invite interested people
and existing gamers to try out story-driven, role-playing games!


Tobie Abad, Manila's Favorite Game Master (Vampire, Wraith)

Tobie Abad is one of the cult favorite, 'notorious' (people love him because the games he hosts are always unusually entertaining) game masters in Manila who regularly 'hosts' monthly gaming sessions with local gaming fans--his friends mostly--for a wide variety of story-driven games. 

From the ubuiquitous sword and sorcery adventure of Dungeons&Dragons, to the gothic masquerade politics of Vampire, and many other genre-gaming tropes, Tobie Abad is highly recommended as one of the better and engaging game host-slash-gamemaster for a serious gaming fix among his 'victims' (player-fans-friends).


REACH:  Hello Tobie!  Really great to have you as a resource person for our gaming section and we hope our readers get as much out of this as they do from your group's seminar series.

Tobie Abad:  Glad to be here.  I’m always happy to be able to participate in opportunities to share the love for gaming with others.


REACH:  Gaming in Manila has peaked to a point where board game restaurants are sprouting up everywhere and are holding their own as 'tambay-kain-laro' places among young gamers as well as seasoned vets like you.  Are the player communities that run storytelling games aka role playing games different from those that run strategy board games?  

What distinguishes the extreme side of each community?--we know that role-players go for the stat-building player collaboration and long immersive narrative as a start, while board games prefer the shorter time used up and more competitive nature of a board game.  Can you give us a typical rundown of both the hardcore group and the more casual role-playing gamer?

Tobie Abad: I have to admit, I used to believe that there was such a dichotomy between role-playing gamers and board gamers.  But as of the late, both communities and industries have had a shift in their direction.  Both have expanded so much in the experiences they offer and the gaming styles they celebrate.  Just as there are tremendously crunchy, time-consuming games for both (such as Caverna for board gamers and GURPS for role-playing gamers), there are now system-lite and narrative experiences for both (for instance, Werewolf for board gamers and Fate for role-playing gamers).   There have also been role-playing games that have influenced the design of board games (such as the narrative elements in Dead of Winter) and vice versa (such as the dice mechanic used in certain role-playing games.)

Each group has specific interests which draw them together.  Some might hunger for the challenge of competition.  Others might be drawn to one another due to the mutual hunger for drama and emotional catharsis.  Some might define hard core gamers to be those who love having maps, measuring distances and pages upon pages of stats for units.  But then again, others might define hardcore as gamers who literally tear up during sessions as they cry out for vengeance and weep for murdered allies.  So yeah, nowadays it can be hard to define what counts as hardcore across the board.


Image Credit:  Fabs Fabon, Used with permission
Tobie with a bunch of players eager to learn a new gaming experience.
Shown playing a tabletop game called Dread which uses
blocks instead of dice.


REACH:  Tobie, your circle of gaming friends are now promoting a series of gaming seminars in Makati to promote all the available options to interested people who want to experience how 'gaming for feels' can be--aka the rewards of an immersive and interactive game-storytelling session.  You have a nice secret gathering nook (Makati B&B) where serious gamers log in time to feed their gaming fix for the week, every week, every month, for the entire year.  How did the place come together?  ‘

Tobie Abad:  To be honest, when it all began last January 2015, I was just invited to be a guest speaker.  From what I can recall, the true brainchild of the event was Marc Reyes who wanted to address the concern of having way too many people wanting to game but not that many ready to run the sessions.   From that GM Seminar (as it was called then), many of us volunteered to play a bigger role in the events to come.

REACH:  Your gaming seminars themselves introduce the kind of role playing games available among a very expansive list, and the playing circles that run them, plus advice on how to manage and run a role-playing game by yourself with insights from various hardcore storytelling game aficionados.  How has the response been so far for the Makati B&B get-togethers?  How do the walk-in gamers, curious about the more immersive play style, respond  to what they learn from your sessions?

Tobie Abad:  I’ve heard from some attendees how they’ve expanded on the game systems they play, after being introduced to them either in one of our talks, or after playing in one of the game sessions we have run.  We even have heard from attendees who have started their own gaming groups and have even taken the task of handling the game master duties!  

With the number of new attendees growing, I feel this a good sign that we’re doing the right thing.

We are even hoping to expand the offerings in the coming months to include mentorship programs for those hoping for more intensive learning sessions on running games  and the like.   A lot of them, of course, would be accomplished sooner with the influx of more volunteers.

REACH:  You are more popular for the way you run Vampire, the White Wolf role playing game among many other games that you run.  Tell us how you make gothic and horror themed gaming environments as riveting a gaming experience as you can manage--we know you also run Wraith, and a few more rigs, even Ravenloft? (Rifts and Shadowrun too? the sci fi games, Is Earthdawn still alive?) How do you run each as your own unique gaming session?


Tobie is 'beloved' for running this very riveting White Wolf
game.  It is about the afterlife, where what is left of you is trying
not to dissipate into nothingness and holding on for dear
'life.'  Tobie creates very unusual gaming experiences from
this story-driven gothic game.


Tobie Abad:  I honestly still get a bit embarrassed when people tell me about that… reputation I seem to have.  All I know is I just love gaming and making sure my players have an awesome time.  I think I personally had the advantage of time and education – time because I literally have been running at least one game to the very least once a month for more than twenty years of my life, and education in the sense that I was interested in both film, theater and writing and attended seminars, participated in productions, and dove into workshops during my high school and college years.  And so, when I run my games, I tend to draw from all those elements and combine them into a more personal game experience.  

That includes me using light, sound, pacing, body language, and at times even smell and flavors to enhance my game sessions.  It sounds crazy, but yeah, I like making the experience be as fulfilling and immersive as possible.  I don’t believe they’re things only I do (or can do), but I guess I just have to be grateful for the support and praise I am given.


REACH:  What role playing games would you recommend to players right now and what makes those games really good as far as world and character resource material goes?  For a Lovecraftian gaming adventure?  For steampunk and/or cyberpunk alternative worlds?  For sword and sorcery adventure?  For a noir crime mystery story if there is one?

Tobie Abad:  This is a tough question.  Tough because there just are so many to suggest.  Lovecraftian horror is tricky since some approach it as a monster to face off again (Cthulhutech) or a mystery to explore (Trail of Cthulhu) but I personally prefer it being an unstoppable force that just happened to smother you in its passing. 


Image Credit:  from cthulutech.com, used for review purposes only
Cthulutech is a new RPG based on the Cthulu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft:
otherwordly monsters infused with cyberpunk worldbuilding



Image Credit: from Pelgrane Press, used for review purposes only
For Noir and Crime role playing with a supernatural twist:  Trail of Cthulu

For alternative worlds, Blades in the Dark is a delicious world of thievery and Victorian steampunk with touches of the macabre. 

Houses of the Blooded, on the other hand, is just such a wonderful anti-D&D game in so many ways that I recommend people try it to the very least to expand their horizons on how gaming can be different.  For noir crime mystery games, the Gumshoe system of games is pretty good.   

But at the same time, I’d highly recommend people check out GMless systems such as Fiasco and the Protocol system games, as well as try other games such as those powered by the Apocalypse Engine (Dungeon World), the Cortex system (Marvel Heroic Roleplaying), and of course, Fate.


REACH:  What Vampire clan is your favorite from the old Masquerade-era clans and what makes this vampire class most endearing to you?  We go for Nosferatu (mofo-ugly monsters) and Toreador (from watching Vampire the Embraced on TV).

Tobie Abad:  I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Malkavian Clan, although I was never a fan of the Fish Malks which others celebrate in their games (the name refers to Malkavians with stupid or humorous ideas of madness and the term stems from that one artwork of a Malkavian kissing a fish).


Anniversary Edition Cover with art by comic book legend Tim Bradstreet

I liked the idea of vampires whose immortality is saddled with madness.  Alternately, I was also a huge fan of the Toreador Clans as well.  Yes, Lilly Langtrey is a huge reason for that, but I also loved their willingness to complicate their own lives due to their Weakness.   Great weaknesses add to the story, not inhibit it.

REACH: Kids are slowly getting into gaming as a more mainstream entertainment experience whereas, a decade or so ago, kids either sneaked into an internet cafe for Starcraft all-nighters or a pool hall, but today, they flock to board game restaurants and places like your secret nook in Makati.  How do you see the future for kids and gaming?  Will it be as rabid as card floppers (we who play magic the gathering) or as a more evolved niche?

Tobie Abad:    With tabletop games evolving at such a rapid rate, I do hope to see gaming as welcome and as celebrated as other hobbies such as sports and the arts.  As of this writing, I am aware of at least four groups currently pushing for self-published table top creations to be released, as well as movement in the roleplaying game community to have even bigger events.  Who knows, maybe someday we can see more local creators attending events such as Essen and Gencon to be recognized for their contributions to the hobby?  

On the consumer side of things, the internet has greatly helped in making the stigma of table top gaming less powerful.  The damage done in the past might still slightly linger, but many web and television shows have contributed to making the idea of playing games much more welcome nowadays.  I am happy to already be gaming at a time when people are interested in trying more.  And I do hope we reach a point where parents introducing their kids to boardgames and other table top fun has become the norm.

REACH:  Of course, the biggest question in most kids' minds is, how much does a gaming hobby cost for the most worthwhile experience?  If a young hobbyist or playgroup of friends wanted a reasonably long term engagement with any gaming rig, how much would that run them?  For both the main gaming resource book and for essential supplements?  For just a small number of board games?  What would you recommend that's new for these options?

Tobie Abad:  To be frank, getting into table top gaming can be very affordable if you’re willing to look for the variety of indie options that are out there.  There are so many other alternatives to the more expensive “official” Dungeons and Dragons books, for example, and one can even find legal and well-written free material online nowadays in places like Drivethrurpg.com

Some feel the barrier to gaming is the cost to acquire all the rulebooks and fancy dice needed, but you’d be surprised how there are some games that are not only absolutely legally free but don’t even require anything more than the standard six-sided dice that normally comes with any other board game.  Some even don’t use dice at all!

Casual gamers would do well to try the System Reference Document (SRD) versions of the rules that tend to be easy to find online.  They give a nice clean version of the system that works well enough to have your own games.  And while there is much fun to be had in attending “official” sessions (as some companies have taken to hosting “official sessions with all them certificate gifts and such” perhaps to make the games feel more special), I come from the school of thinking that believes the main focus should always be the fun happening at the table itself.  No matter how accurate or not the rules are run, whether or not the narrative is in depth or completely off-kilter, or whether the combat gives a true fair challenge or an insane battle that leads to a daily TPK session, if the group playing is having fun and each member of that session leaves the table with fond, vivid memories of how much they enjoyed it, then that’s fine.    Just a quick check on Free and Pay What You Want options online already offer a huge host of games to try.

Enjoying gaming need not be expensive.  I’d love to list a number of free games here, but given there’s always the chance of some lines shifting towards a paid approach, it might be better to check online outlets for what is free that moment.  There have been special celebrations where whole game systems have even become available for free.

On the board game side, the same can be said if one peruses Board Game Geek.  Many Print and Play games can be found there for those interested in exploring more without paying too much.  

In the end, it is always fantastic for game creators and developers to hear from people who enjoyed their work.  And even more to if they learn others are paying for their work.  We all want to earn from the work we love to do, after all.  


Image Credit:  Fabs Fabon, Used with permission
Tobie, Rocky, and other players playing Blood and Honor, a
pen-and-paper, tabletop role-playing game during the
G&Gm Philippines mini-con at Makati B&B.


REACH:  Thank you Tobie for the chance to interview you about gaming and role-playing games. We hope we can get more talks with you about specific gaming systems, role-playing games and board games in the future.

Tobie Abad: Great! If anyone wants to reach me, feel free to do so via http://tagsessions.blogspot.com or my Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/tagsessions. Thank you again!

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