Elizabeth Jane Van Couvering

Online Nickname: Patchwork Paladin


Hi, I’m Elizabeth! I’ve been playing RPGs since I first found Basic D&D in 1981; I played a lot in the 90s then got back into them about 10 years ago with D&D 5e. I publish adventure guides and adventures and blogs about roleplaying at http://www.patchworkpaladin.com. By profession I am an academic, specialising in media studies and the politics of online platforms. Besides writing about and playing roleplaying games I draw, paint, and create textile art as a hobby, especially working with antique textile machinery. I think I would make a good ENNIES judge because I am open-minded but have trained my critical skills professionally, both as an academic and writer of guides and review, and can evaluate writing, design, and art. Furthermore, I am both a player and a GM and have played many different systems with many different groups over the years. Finally, I participate actively in online communities where the voices of many different GMs and players are shared.

Why do you play/run RPGs?

It’s a love affair, I think. I’m entranced by human creativity. At their best, RPGs lead to rollicking fun and deep emotional moments both; they build bonds; they help people through rough spots. They also provide food for thought. And I’m really interested in how they are written and designed as part instructional textbook, part inspirational art. As a player, I love to create characters that pose dramatic questions but also lift up others; as a GM I’m a big fan of imaginative settings.

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 am in the fortunate position that I work half time, and am able to devote the rest of my time to my hobbies. My children are old enough not to need full-time care, and I have the good fortune to have a wide network of players and GMs, both in person and online. My husband and my older son also GM, play, and in the case of my husband, write about role-playing games so I have a very supportive environment.

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 feel like this literally describes my day job as a university teacher! Since I teach on our visual communication and design program within the media & communications program, I am very experienced in setting benchmarks, evaluating work with colleagues, and giving constructive feedback and fair evaluations, in terms of writing, user interfaces, and design. I teach data visualisation and assess final year projects in electronic communications and graphic design.

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 a range of different kinds of RPGs, although horror and grimdark genres tend not to be my cup of tea. I most like systems that allow DMs and players both to broaden their imagination and work together at world building; but I also enjoy the crunch and tactical thinking of combat. I was thinking the other day about the games that have influenced how I play and run RPGs: first, D&D with a special influence 5e: classes, skills, advantage, random encounters and the whole d&d culture have been; second, 1990s alternative history games like Castle Falkenstein and Ars Magica and pulp Champions made me think about how our own world might be full of magic and heroes, how dice don’t tell the story at all; Paranoia deserves special for its absurdism, something that pokes its head into all the games I run. I absolutely adore Mausritter for its conciseness, design, tactile qualities and rich fantastic setting.

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?

I’ve played D&D 5e, both in published and home-brew campaigns (Rime of the Frostmaiden, Theros, Ixalan and WakeSong settings); and one-shots or mini-campaigns in Call of Cthulhu (home-brew set in 1930s Egypt); Mothership, Maze Rats, and Ironsworn among others. Sometimes I play because of social factors (in my home game, we play what the DM wants); sometimes I really wanted to play with a particular group of people; sometimes I have been interested in the system and I wanted to broaden my understanding of how different games play. The games I’ve liked playing best are the longer-term campaigns with a lot of role-play and wonderful fantastic elements, something that is not typical fantasy but which broadens my understanding of the fantastic. And I *love* the games where the DM and the players are both on fire. My current favourite system is 5e, because it is very flexible but provides a good structure for a range of different games.

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?

Yes! I’m running a campaign of *Wild Beyond the Witchlight* for my home group, and a short campaign of the Lego adventure “Red Dragon’s Tale” for a bunch of autistic teens, which I hope to transition into “Kobold Capers” from the Action Economists on DMs Guild. I’ve also run a few one shots for other GMs: Mausritter (the Wizard of Arms and Armor and Mush Rush), some Brindlewood Bay (Dad Overboard and the Great Brindlewood Bay Bake Off). Finally at my game camp every summer I’ve run both published scenarios (like “Stygian Gambit” for 5e) and some adventures I’ve written myself (like “Swallowed!” and “Black Lotus,” both on DMs Guild); and some less finished stuff like my own setting of Brightshore and my short campaign set in the roots of a tree. All of these have a quirky take on the genre and enable me to run the whimsical games I love – with fairy tales, talking animals, and weird monsters and environments.

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

When I review adventures, I focus on the 1) content (a variety of encounter types, the opportunity for player agency, the fantastic settings, good block text, good hooks); 2) well-rounded NPCs with clear goals and monsters with useful stat blocks; 3) design, including evocative artwork, design that allows GMs to pick out relevant information, and the availability of an accessible version; 4) cartography and digital assets – are they provided and useful; 5) editing and information design, in terms of the amount of information and the quantity of typographical an other errors. For games, in addition to these, I want additional content such as clear player guidelines and the inclusion of a section to share with players; a clear statement of the game’s tone and genre; and an example of play. To be Best Game, I also want a game that makes me think about things differently and as a whole represents the hobby moving forward.

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

Although I would use the criteria I outlined above, for games whose rules and “pain points” I was unfamiliar with, I would seek out the advice of other DMs who had run these games before, in terms of anything extra I should be looking for. If I believe an adventure is badly designed, I’d in general mark it down. If it’s a good adventure or supplement for a badly designed game, I would look to see how it plugs the holes in the game design.

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

Like everyone, we will have to have a position on AI and what it means for the creative field. I’d like to see a category for best community outreach program, and perhaps a scholarship to highlight young creators. What should remain inviolate? We should continue to focus on the best creations in all aspects of the hobby, and continue to be open to new games and new aspects of the hobby.