5 Questions with Michael Lawson, MACE 2014 GM of Brain Case Trophies Events!
Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in gaming?
Hello! My name is Michael Lawson. I am 48 years old and I currently live in the Atlanta Metro Area. I am originally from the Detroit/Ann Arbor area and that’s where I started gaming in… oh, 1980 or so. AD&D, Gamma World, Boot Hill, Top Secret – all the TSR games from back in the day. Other games include Traveller and Space Opera. And Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. I guess that makes it about 34 years of gaming. Still having fun!
What is Novus Ordo Seclorum? How did you get involved?
Novus Ordo Seclorum is a Chicago based group of gamers who have been bringing their “A”-game to Gen Con since 1985. My first Novus round was back in Milwaukee, the last year Gen Con was in Milwaukee (2001?). The experience forever changed me and showed me what horror role-playing was all about – or what it could be. Every year after that event (held in the locker room of the ice arena where the RPGA games were held, across from the main convention hall!), I have tried my best to get into their games. And it’s hard to do considering there are more people who want to play than open slots. They run the Cthulhu Masters tournament, and in some years, a Novus Round (both elimination style tournaments, where 1 or 2 players from each session advance to the next round, until there is a final round and a winner proclaimed). Other Novus games come up occasionally that are not run tourney-style. I can tell you this, if you see one, get a ticket if you can. You will have great fun and role-play with some of the best RPG’ers out there! I got to the point where the only games I go to play at Gen Con are Novus rounds. For me, others just don’t compare… with the exception of the “You Too Can Cthulhu” games. They’re run by folks from Minneapolis/St. Paul MN who have ran the Masters a time or two as well. The year before last, I made it to the finals for the Masters. Awesome fun, but the Mi-Go Brain Case Trophy still eludes me! Last year I tried my hand at helping out to run the Novus games. I realized how much hard work it is! I think going forward, I will play Novus rounds at GenCon, and that is why I’ve started to look for events like MACE, where I can run a CoC game and to help “pay it forward”. By that I mean, take what I have learned on how and why Novus rounds are such a blast, and try to create a similar experience for other players. Above all, it has to be fun for everyone.
How would you describe the perfect game for you as a player?
Perfect game? I’ll say it again: it has to be fun for everyone at the table. Then, I suppose the best games I’ve been in is where the players are able to carry the story forward. A GM can stage the scene, but the particular script is best when it comes from each player as their character. The perfect game for me is one where the story takes on a life of its own… and becomes a shared collective experience for players as well as the GM. Each player stays in character 100% of the time (because they want to and just are in character, 1st person) and table-talk and meta-gaming is kept to a minimum. You know you’ve been in a great role playing game when everyone stays at the table, talking about their shared experience, their characters, the story… it just is apparent when the game has transcended and become more of an experience then an event at a convention. Atmosphere, props… music… anything that helps to craft that experience goes a long way in helping with the suspension of belief which is I believe is core to “my perfect game as a player”.
What makes the Lovecraftian Horror most appealing to you?
Good question. I guess it has to do with how precarious our existence is… how chaotic, random, cold and indifferent the universe is, in my opinion. Despite all our technology and hubris, we really don’t know what’s out there, do we? Or what the “true nature” of reality is. People say, “Every thing happens for a reason”. Malarkey. Most everything is the result of an innumerable number of events that came before it that set things in motion… in combination with even more random factors that simply happen for no reason. Lovecraftian horror admits to the reader the truth that our minds and our capability of understanding the true nature of the Universe – is limited. Very limited. As a protagonist in a Call of Cthulhu scenario – at the game table, or as a character in a story – characters most often start out as “regular” people… who for various reasons, get caught up in some horrible fate that gives them insight into this “horror of knowing” and/or glimpses of some awful “thing which should not be”. Characters become “tainted” by this knowledge and most often pay a price for it. Remember, Call of Cthulhu is the only game I know of where you can have a great time and still see your character go insane, die… or worse…
What other games are you involved with?
Sadly, since moving to Atlanta I don’t get to play much (hint: I’m always on the look out for a good group of RPG’ers to play with in the Atlanta area!). Other games I like to play: Pathfinder. Hated DND 4. Excited to try DND 5, I hear they fixed it. Traveller is a classic game I still enjoy. I’ll try any role-playing game. My buddy in Atlanta is teaching me to play StarFleet Battles (a board game – I probably got the name wrong). “Are you a werewolf” is fun. I just bought the card game “Gloom” at GenCon – hoping to get my family to play as they don’t enjoy role-playing like I do. I can say I’ve had some of the best time gaming ever in LARPS at cons. I’ve also had the worst time ever playing in LARPS at cons… so I know they can be very fun… you just have to know which ones to sign up for. Oh! One of the best RPG games I have ever played campaign style (non-con, regular weekend schedule with friends) was a Star Wars game, which is no longer in print. I have come to learn there have been several versions of Star Wars RPG… wish I could remember the exact name/version of that one! The game system was awesome and I was so surprised at how well the game mechanics for being a Jedi worked. It was fun! I want to play again. I have to say one of the biggest reasons I love classic Call of Cthulhu is the game system. Its so light-weight, it doesn’t get in the way… and puts the emphasis on role-playing, and of course, having fun.