We spoke with Morri Robbins, one of our professional Game Masters about their experience as a TRPG enthusiast and designer.


StartPlaying:

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Devon Chulick:

How did you get started with Tabletop RPGs?  


Morri Robbins:

I got started in Tabletop RPGs because a guy who had a crush on me asked me to play in one. 


Devon Chulick:

I love that, it's so cute.


Morri Robbins:

Well, it would have been if the group hadn't consisted of that guy who had a crush on me, my boyfriend at the time, and the DM was a guy who I had a crush on for a long time, before I started dating my boyfriend at the time.


Devon Chulick:

Oh wow! Where was this?


Morri Robbins:

It was in an institutionalized foster home environment. That actually leads me back towards kind of the more serious side of the story. I grew up kind of like low income, there was home stuff and in high school I ended up in the foster care system. When I was 14 years old, I was at this one group home where for years and years and years it had been an only boys group home. And then they decided to open up one dormitory for girls. So, they had 70 boys and nine girls. 

I was "girl" number seven. Gender was not a thing I was thinking about back then. And after a few months, I started hanging out with the boys a lot more than the people I lived with, the girls there. We just didn't have a lot in common. First I started playing Magic. I kicked this guy's butt at Magic who I knew had a huge crush on me. And he was like, "Hey, you know we're starting a D&D game, do you wanna play?" 

So, I went over to that dormitory afterwards during our free time. And they pitched me the game like, "D&D is a game where you could do anything?" And I'm like, "Can you kill Justin Bieber because my roommate keeps playing Justin Bieber very, very loud?" And that's all I was thinking about, was murdering Justin Bieber. That is my short story of how I started playing Tabletop games. 


Devon Chulick:

Oh my gosh, haha. So you started as a player, do you prefer being a player or do you prefer being a GM? 


Morri Robbins:

I prefer being a GM. That game actually never ended up launching. 

Planned it, made the characters. I think I made a Druid. But, because we were planning for it, I ended up like, "Okay, I need the books. I need dice and stuff." So, the books were bought for me and again, it was this institutionalized environment. I wasn't getting along with a lot of peers and stuff, so I ended up reading a lot of RPG books, cover to cover, before actually getting into them. 

One of the staff members there was actually a woman who was a super geek and we talked about this all the time because there wasn't a lot of femme people for me to connect with who had the same interests as me. And she was like, "I really love World of Darkness and I'm in this Changeling LARP thing" and that was the first time I heard the term "LARP". So, I went, and I bought, at the time, the new WoD stuff was coming out, so I went and bought the Requiem book and Mage the Awakening and read those cover to cover. Then somebody was like, "Did you know there's D&D novels?" Then I started reading the Drizzt books and got really into Forgotten Realms lore. So, it was a lot of reading and not playing up until I was about 17. 

When that group home I was at shut down, I moved to another one, which actually brought me back to my home city of San Francisco. There, I had a lot more freedom to go out and do things and there was a lot more things to do in a big urban environment like that. One, I was two blocks away from a game store that had Magic tournaments every single day.


Devon Chulick:

Can I ask what the games store was? What it's name is?


Morri Robbins:

So that one was called Versus Games. Then the one that is really close and dear to my heart is called Gamescape. 


Devon Chulick:

That's my game store!


Morri Robbins:

That's your game store? So, when I was 17, the very first time I walked into Gamescape, was actually for a Friday night Magic. I remember the exact day too, it was Black Friday, Friday Night Magic and some people brought pumpkin pie there. So, it was a lot of fun and then I saw on the board they did D&D on Wednesdays. So, every Wednesday I started going to their D&D night. You're probably familiar with Aaron Teixeira.


Devon Chulick:

Yeah!


Morri Robbins:

Yeah, Aaron Teixeira was my GM for years. 


Devon Chulick:

No way!


Morri Robbins:

Yeah.


Devon Chulick:

That's amazing. I gave him one of my Dungeon Master hats. 


Morri Robbins:

Oh no way! So, Aaron is the person who made me fall in love with the game. Aaron is the person who basically mentored me. He became a father figure to me. Being in Aaron's games ended up showing me that D&D wasn't just something that was great for escapism and fantasy while I was going through this really weird turmoil in my life. It ended up becoming the thing that really motivated me afterwards. 

I turned 18, I had this brief stint in Michigan. I came back after a failed engagement with a Trump supporter. Oh, fun fact, he wanted to work in games, and I was like, "You know what, maybe I could do that one day." And he was like, "No." and I was like, "Ha ha ha ha. Finger guns!"

So, I came back and Aaron was the first one who said, "You should publish on the DMs Guild. You should apply for these internships and stuff." So, honestly, I would not be where I am today without Aaron. I always say this, there are three types of people in this world where you may end up having other people who fill the same role, but they're never going to be your person. 

I've had other Dungeon Masters, but Aaron Teixeira is my Dungeon Master. The other types of people who I think are also like that are Rabbis and comic book recommenders. So, you go into your local comic book shop and there's that one person who you know knows your taste in comics and is going to recommend them to you. I only have one person who is going to do that and her name is Emma and she used to work at the comic shop next to Gamescape. Gamescape is a big part of my story of how I got here. 


Devon Chulick:

You said something that's further down on my list of questions, but it's a good point to get to here. You were saying that you really started diving into the Forgotten Realms Lore. 

It started with the books and then I'm sure it carried over when you were playing. But you also consulted on a corporate game we were running on the Forgotten Realms Lore. You're kind of a Master of it. You've actually done some stuff, outside of your work in gaming, or your work at writing adventures. What else have you been doing with Lore? You mentioned this to me once. 


Morri Robbins:

It's really funny that I consulted on the Lore for the corporate game that you were doing because I also consulted for the Lore for that game that they're producing. The internship that I applied to at Wizards of the Coast was called the World Building Internship in Magic the Gathering. As it was coming to a close, I basically had a choice of moving back to San Francisco and going back to college. I was, at the time, pursuing a screenwriting degree, or I could try and find another department at WotC that was going to hire me. 

Before I even approached them, I had the D&D Department ask me, "Hey, we have this temporary research position. We have a developer that is producing this really big game for us and we need someone to just dive into the product archive and create lore cheat sheets." And inadvertently because I was doing that work, I ended up actually doing a lot of lore consultation on other things Wizards was working on at the time.

I knew a lot of stuff already, but then I had it at my fingertips, my job was reading D&D lore. There was one time where they were like, "We're going to do something with the Underdark, which I can't go into, but we're going to do something with the Underdark. So, find us, what we really need is what are some physical descriptions? What does it look like? What are some important environmental factors about the Underdark? And I ended up delivering them a three-page treatise on all of the different fungi that are in the Underdark. 


Devon Chulick:

So, this job exists at Star Wars, Marvel, all these massive properties spanning so much content, they have these archivists, right? 


Morri Robbins:

Yeah, there'll be archivists. D&D used to have that with Matt Sernett, but they don't really have a role for that right now. They were kind of, while I was working there, in a transitionary period organizationally, so I don't think they were looking for that. I was hired very specifically for a certain product in development.

But the Star Wars thing you actually mentioned. So, I went to a conference while I was still in my screenwriting program in October of 2018, the October before I got the Wizards of the Coast internship at D&D. This was just when I had started getting the inkling of, "I think I want to work in games. I think I want to work on Tabletop games." I met Leland Chee, who is the lead of that department there, who got that job because he was doing lore archival for the Wizards Star Wars game. That's why they have that department at all is because of the Wizards Star Wars game, fun fact.  

I asked him a bunch of questions and then we broke for lunch and I actually walked straight up to him and we ended up having lunch together and we had this great chat. One thing I told him was, "I would love to do what you do for Wizards of the Coast on D&D." And little did I know, I would do that in less than a year's time, mind blown.


Devon Chulick:

I mean, it's really important, if you've ever seen a movie, you realize there's a reason there's a Script Supervisor to make sure there's no inconsistencies.  


Morri Robbins:

 Oh yeah, that continuity. It's so important. They use that script for editing and things like that. You can notice when stuff like that falls through. And it can be as small as like last time we were looking at her, her purse was on this side, so why is it on the other side now? To big lore gaps. Actually, I made a joke. At one point somebody misspoke my online moniker and they called me "Lore Butter" and it's become this ongoing meme. And I was like, "I figured out what the Lore Butter does you guys" and they were like, "What?" and I'm like, "It fills plot holes." 


Devon Chulick:

That kind of leads in, because that's a pretty proud moment of a joke. In your professional GM insight, what's your proudest GMing moment?


Morri Robbins:

Okay. Sometimes the story and the mechanics and the right things will just line up. What ended up happening was, I was running Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. Probably one of the best games I've ever played, fantastic roleplayers that I have in there. One of them is one of the most talented, up and coming third-party designers we have, who is Andrew Welker and also some streaming friends of mine. This is a really, really fun group. One of the characters, because you know in Icewind Dale they have secrets, had a Slaad egg inside of them and so at some point it was going to burst. 

There's been this kind of build up to that and where she's been eating a lot and everybody was like, "Oh, she's just hungry" or "Maybe she's pregnant" and they were wondering all these things. We get to this point where they're about fourth level and there's this point where you go down into the mines and you have to talk to a Kobold that is possessed by a ghost. Based on the way that they were interacting story wise, I was like, "Okay, this ghost is going to possess you." So, I had the ghost possess her. But nobody really sees this happening. So, fails. She fails the check. Then I'm like, "Okay, you're possessed by a ghost and you also have a Slaad tadpole inside of you." I just as a GM am thinking the Slaad tadpole probably wants to get out. So, I frantically go private message them, "Are you okay with this being the moment your character may die depending on what the party does..." And they're like, "This is awesome, let's do it." 

So, that happens. Eventually, they figure out that she's possessed. Basically, the Slaad tadpole  bursts out and she dies instantaneously. The ghost is expelled. But here's the thing, ghosts have an ability that if you fail the saving throw things age rapidly. So, a Slaad tadpole facing off a bunch of characters that are fourth level, okay. Everyone made the save, except the Slaad tadpole.

So, now they have this adult Red Slaad that they're dealing with. But it just worked so narratively because there was a character who acting kind of like an older sister to this character and she just basically…because the cave that they're in, there's this shaft that just goes down into the Underdark, just tackled the Red Slaad across the cliff and we ended up halfway to a TPK. 


Devon Chulick:

I think there's something special when you messaged a player, "Are you okay with this?" And they're like, "Yes, this is the best, do it." There's definitely something very special about those moments. 


Morri Robbins:

Yeah. And so I've never had a TPK, I think that was only my third time ever killing players at all. And it was one of the best D&D sessions I've ever run because everything just kind of fit together. Both the story, the mechanics being in the right place at the right time and it was just…I love Dungeons & Dragons. I've told that story before to other people and they were like, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"  


Devon Chulick:

Home brewed adventures or Pre-written adventures?


Morri Robbins:

It depends on what the game is. I think that there's a lot of people who have preferences. But I, as a professional GM, every once in a while, I might be called to do a corporate game or things like where I'm like, "Oh, there's just not a lot of time" so I'll maybe reskin a module or something, so you can't tell. But I also think that there are some really great modules written out there and I love testing them out. I am currently running three homebrew games set in my own worlds.

I love worldbuilding, that's really close and dear to me, so don't get me wrong, that's my happy place. 

But I think there's something to be said for a really well constructed campaign and adventure. Especially some of the more recent ones that have come out by Wizards of the Coast. I think that Curse of Strahd is amazing, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is probably the best thing to pick up if you're looking for one of the hardbacks for a new GM. It just reads so well, and the flowcharts are so well defined. I think Icewind Dale is great and I'm not just speaking as myself. Because I honestly had nothing to do with anything outside of my own portion of the book. So, everything comes together so cohesively, works together really well, there's nice flow to it. You can go as serious and gritty as you want or as silly and wacky as you want with it. It's really flexible for people who want to get more mechanically inclined or people who are fresh and new and such. 


Devon Chulick:

As you bring up Icewind Dale, that's a great segue into, you've done a lot of writing for D&D. You've contributed to a number of books, that is so cool. What are the projects you've worked on and what's your biggest takeaways from those? 


Morri Robbin:

So, while I was working at D&D I had the opportunity to lend my pen to some of the books. I am responsible for the design side, I didn't actually write it, but I basically came up with a lot of the ideas and structure that went into the Divine assistant section in Mystic Odysseys of Theros. So, the one that's all about advice on how to use Gods in your game. Which I think can apply to so many different games. I've seen reviews that say this should be in the DMG, which I completely agree with. 

That entire section was just on spec. I walked up to Wes and I was like, "Hey, I think we should have a section on omens." And then he was like, "Write something for me on spec." And then I wrote something, and it turned out to be more than just a section on omens. 


Devon Chulick:

I want to talk about the Theros for a second. When I read Theros, the Gods part was the part that had me the most wrapped. The omens, how the relationship with those Gods work, is hands down, I was like, this changes my perception about how to use Gods in your game.


Morri Robbins:

Mm-hmm. Yeah, and that was what I wanted. Because Theros is great as a setting but understanding Theros is a setting where the Gods are incredibly active is important. So, knowing that and being able to internalize that, you need to have some care with Divine assistance. That can apply to so many other worlds that other people have created, published settings out there either by Wizards of the Coast or third-party publishers. There are several settings where the Gods are much more active than they are in let's say The Forgotten Realms. 

Beyond that, I'm working on a lot of other projects right now. Some of which I can talk about, some of which I can't. But I am on the team for EN World's Level Up 5E Advanced 5th Edition Project, which I'm super excited about. 


Devon Chulick:

You have so many projects going on, you are so busy. How many games are you running a week right now?


Morri Robbins: 

So, I run four games a week. Three with SPG and one that's my home game. Then I play in two. 


Devon Chulick:

Now, you're also on an actual play.


Morri Robbins:

I'm not on an actual play, I'm the Producer of an actual play.


Devon Chulick:

Producer, that's right, sorry. ComeDy&D. 


Morri Robbins:

Yes. I produce a group of comedians called ComeDy&D. They are fantastic. They are San Francisco Bay Area Comedians, friends of mine. Yeah, and Gamescape folks actually. They are currently running this amazing adventure that I consulted on the Worldbuilding and campaign management for. I also mod for them and do stuff, all kinds of odd and ends stuff, project manage-y stuff. Make sure the Dungeon Master is not getting too crazy.

The thing is producing for actual play and producing for a game that's just played with friends is so different because you also have to think about what appeases an audience. So, I helped the DM who is creating most of the world, come up with a kind of television style structure. I have a little bit of that training from my background in screenwriting.

Their current campaign…the reason why I think it's super cool is that it's an homage to a legendary, experimental band called The Residents, who are most known in San Francisco, but they have toured globally and such. 

They're an anonymous artist collective and have been that way for years. The fantasy world that we've created is entirely inspired by their work. It's been a lot of fun. It's very weird, very musical and the whole theme of this story, which I think is super relevant today in this world that we live in, is about how art can be so healing in times of crisis. 


Devon Chulick:

I totally agree. This is probably one of the best interviews I've ever done. There's so much amazing stuff I get to learn about you today, I'm really excited about it. 


Morri Robbins:

Thank you. I feel like I'm talking a little too fast and tangenting all over the place. 


Devon Chulick:

No, it's amazing. It's great. This is a joy. If you could go back in time and find your young self, what advice would you tell young Loremother when it comes to when you first start GMing? What advice would you give? 


Morri Robbins:

Plan more than you think you need to, but also don't over plan. 

I think for me, I go one way or the other every single time. I usually get really excited about an upcoming campaign and I'm doing a lot of world building. The first session is amazing because everything is crafted, and I have all these notes and stuff and I spend all of this time getting hyped up for it. But most of that stuff will not be used, and I don't really need to do all of that stuff. But on the flip side, I've also had a session crash because I haven't done any prep and I've just lived on improv, which I can do. 

Improv is a great tool, I have a background in theater as well. But I think that for me, at least with my style, I benefit from a balance. Learning that balance earlier on would have been very helpful for some of the earlier campaigns that I ran. Also, I would say, don't be afraid to kick people from your table. As hard as you think it is to find D&D people, it's not as hard as it was in high school. 



Devon Chulick:

I agree. If someone's not working the table for a number of reasons, you don't need to keep them at the table. 


Morri Robbins:

Yeah, it took me a while to learn that one. I've had a game suffer from that. It's not even to say that those people aren't good friends, just sometimes personalities don't mix well and that's okay. I have a game that I've run for my partner and he really likes a murder hobo type of game, and that would not work with a lot of the people that I tend to play D&D with. But that's okay. It's a totally valid play style and it just means I have to find a group that works with that. 


Devon Chulick:

Are there any women in the community that inspire you that you'd like to shout out?


Morri Robbins:

Lysa Penrose and Hannah Rose. 


Devon Chulick:

They're both amazing. 


Morri Robbins:

I'll start with Hannah. I met Hannah right around the time when I was just starting to get into games. Basically, what happened is, I get into working for games, I accidentally crashed a Wizard's release party at PAX 2018. And I didn't know what party it was. I met Kate Welch at a bar and we talked about our grandmothers. It was very emotional and wonderful and great. And I will treasure that moment and memory forever. 

Then I was talking about how I've been considering taking the leap into games and she was like, "There's a party you should go to. I may or may not go to it" and she gave me the address and I went and it turned out to be the release party for Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. So, I'm like there's this couple sitting at a table and I'm like, I don't know anybody here. Oh my gosh, that's Satine Phoenix. Then they asked me to sit down, and they were like, "Do you need a place to sit?" And I sit down and it's James Haeck and Hannah Rose and I was like, "He wrote the book. You wrote Waterdeep, Joey." 

We ended up having a great conversation and Hannah asked me to be one of the play testers on one of the first things that she published, and we had a Twitter back and forth for‚Ķactually she was probably one of the first people to follow me on Twitter back then. I made a whole new Twitter account right before I went to PAX 2018. Anyways, we just had this back and forth, we had this great conversation over Twitter, and she kept encouraging me, I sent her ideas and stuff as I was formulating things. She also encouraged me to apply for stuff at WotC. Now, she's honestly not just one of my best contacts, but also one of my best friends in the industry. Piggybacking off of that, Hannah Rose also is the one who recommended to me the ‚ÄúBehold Her‚ÄĚ Podcast.


Devon Chulick:

Yes, great Podcast. 


Morri Robbins:

Fantastic Podcast which I started listening to back in 2018. Then I started working at Wizards and I would see Lysa, and I was like, "Oh, my gosh that's Lysa, I love her and her green hair." It was just great. She's just such a light and the thing is that Lysa and I, we both have this thing where we get very excited about things very easily and want to do all kinds of projects. She has been able to channel that energy and actually produce some amazing work for the industry both as a creative and as a community member. I would love to be able to learn that skill, so that's what I want to emulate from Lysa. 


Devon Chulick:

I love that. If you could say one thing to the Tabletop RPG Community, what would you like to tell them?


Morri Robbins:

One of the things that I think is the most important about Role Playing Games, whether you're more into the mechanics of it and the power fantasy or you're more into the Role Play and stuff. At the end of the day, it's all escapism. D&D is important because it's a place where we can be the heroes that we've always wanted to be or safely be the villains we don't want to see ourselves become. 


Devon Chulick:

That's really well put. Now, is there anything that you want to promote? Anything that you want to shout out?


Morri Robbins:

Well, we've talked about ComeDy&D. Let's see, promotions…my Twitch channel. I stream on Twitch. Right now, I'm not doing a lot personally. I mean I guess my games on SPG. Reach out to me, talk to me about games and we'll get stuff running. I guess my World Anvil for Pastoria is kind of my ongoing big project right now. I'm hoping to eventually develop it into an actual campaign setting. But I have a living world. All of my ongoing D&D games on StartPlaying.Games take place in it and it is an absurdist fantasy world inspired by the works of Lyman Frank Baum, the man who wrote The Wizard of Oz, as well as with an extra dose of political theory and surrealist horror. 


Devon Chulick:

Oh, my gosh Loremother, that sounds amazing. 


Morri Robbins:

We're having a lot of fun with it. I think one of the things that I said was that it can start off like a normal D&D realm, but every once in a while, things take a turn for the wacky, strange or just plain horrific. 


Devon Chulick:

Oh, my gosh, I've got like Twin Peaks shivers right now. 


Morri Robbins:

Yeah, it's a little Twin Peaks-y, but it's also like absurdist. I think the best way I would put it is, if David Lynch wrote Terry Pratchett. 


Devon Chulick:

Oh, my gosh, that's amazing. Loremother, thank you so much for sharing this. 


Morri Robbins:

Yeah, I'm happy to be here. 


Devon Chulick:

You can of course find Lore Mother with the profile link that's right here in the bottom of the article.

‚Äć

Follow Morri on Twitter and Twitch.

Check out their GM Profile to book a game.

To learn more about their work in game design, check out their website.

Posted 
Apr 22, 2021
 in 
Game Masters
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