Clayton Notestine

Online Nickname: @ClayNotestine & @ExplorersDesign


Hello! My name is Clayton Notestine (“Klay-tun Note-Styne”). I’m a writer, designer, and critic at Explorers Design (, a studio that explores, celebrates, and teaches the art and design of tabletop roleplaying games. I bring my experience as a professional non-RPG designer to the judges’ panel alongside my perspective as an autistic, aphasia-recovering person.

Why do you play/run RPGs?

The short answer is that I enjoy making silly voices with my friends and family. The long answer is that I enjoy roleplaying games for everything they offer beyond the table. History, perspectives, theory, cultural insights—everything. RPGs are an art form. If they had museums, I’d read every plaque and attend every seminar.

The ENNIES requires a major commitment of time and energy. What resources do you have that will help you discharge these responsibilities? Will your gaming group or other individuals be assisting you? Does your family support you?

I have supportive friends who love playing new games and an incredible family who’ll be unperturbed by my sudden collection of books.

Judging requires a great deal of critical thinking skills, communication with other judges, deadline management, organization, and storage space for the product received. What interests, experience, and skills do you bring that will make you a more effective judge?

I’ve made my entire RPG persona about exploring the creative ideas and executions behind roleplaying games. I’ve been a judge for other award shows, including one for RPGs, and I’ve never defended one of my decisions with the phrase, “I just like it.” I care about the idea behind someone’s work, and I’m fortunate to have the experience and learned vocabulary in graphic design, typography, fine arts, and roleplaying games to share it.

What styles and genres of RPGs do you enjoy most? Are there any styles or genres that you do not enjoy? Which games best exemplify what you like? Do you consider yourself a fan of a particular system, publisher, or genre?

I like lots of styles: old-school, new-school, lyrical, LARP, and traditional, to name a few. I’m currently playing Mothership 1E, hacking Pendragon, and reading a lot about Nordic LARP. If I had to summarize my interests, the answer would be indie. Half of my love for roleplaying games comes from discovering new ideas and voices in the community.

List (up to 5) games you’ve played in the last 2 years. What drew you to playing them? Which did you like best and why?

Mothership, Mörk Borg, This Discord Has Ghosts in It, Trophy, and Wanderhome. I probably enjoyed Wanderhome the most. The one game I played was on the page—a rare feat for a roleplaying game! Jay Dragon’s writing and overall tone were the standouts. The other games also had that, but there’s usually a disconnect in the design and themes that emergent gameplay bridges or steamrolls over. That didn’t happen with Wanderhome.

Have you been a game master in the past 2 years? If yes, what games have you run? What made you decide to run those games?

I’m a forever GM. I’ve run Mothership, FIST, Trophy, Prole, Agon, and countless others. Something unique about a game usually draws me to it. The deciding factor is my table, who’s playing that week, what excites them, and how they want to spend their evening.

Summarize the criteria you would use to determine if a game deserves to be nominated for Best Game.

What’s the idea? How’s the execution? What’s the context? The game of the year should have a voice, an execution that matches that voice, and something to say about ourselves, the community, or our world. It doesn’t have to be big, expensive, or popular.

How will you judge supplements or adventures for game systems whose core rules you are unfamiliar with or you believe are badly designed?

Games and people contain multitudes. An adventure built on the “world’s worst game system” can still have an excellent idea, beautiful art, or evocative writing. The only time core rules are a disqualifier is when they’re hateful. Otherwise, it’s just another challenge for the entree to overcome.

How would you like to see the ENNIEs change? What should remain inviolate?

I want the ENNIES to continue expanding its representation while remaining relatively divorced from actual plays. This is not for any malicious reason, except that some games don’t do well on stream and probably never will. Those games still deserve our attention despite lacking an algorithm. I believe the primary purpose of any award show is to showcase new talent and provoke conversations. The ENNIES, as our community’s biggest award show, has the opportunity to do that better than anyone.