Joe Blankenship

Online Nickname: ‘JoeBlank’


I was introduced to RPGs in 1980, so you can probably guess that my first experiences were with D&D, but we soon branched out to Champions, Villains & Vigilantes, Toon, Traveller, and others. Before too long, I realised how much I enjoyed reading and analysing varying game rules, settings, and other material. For some time I felt guilty when I spent my money and time on material that was not likely to ever be used at the gaming table, but I soon came to enjoy my reading and thinking time without concern for whether, when, or how I might actually put the information to use. Being an ENNIES judge this past year tested limits of this passion, but I am back and ready to do it all again! I would love the opportunity to continue giving back to the wonderful gaming community that has brought me so much.

Why do you play/run RPGs?

Because RPGs are fun! They are also an opportunity to meet and get to know so many diverse, wonderful people. Meeting someone for drinks and idle chit chat may do as an ice breaker, but if you really want to get to know a person then play an RPG with them. How does their unique background and perspective affect their approach to the rules and setting? Can they work with others to find creative solutions? Or are they simply hilarious and enjoyable to be around? Will they steal the treasure? Will they save the prince(ss)? And more importantly, how will they accomplish their character’s goals. As fond as I am of reading and thinking about games, seeing them come to life in the hands and minds of others is a truly fulfilling experience.

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?

In recent years, I have changed careers to one that is much less time-consuming, giving me the free time to enjoy my wife and three grown children, and of course more time for gaming, which includes reading and thinking about gaming. I get together with friends for small conventions, and house cons, several times a year, where there is almost always a willing group to try out a new game or to playtest one in progress. In other words, this is already what I do with much of my free time, so becoming an ENNIES judge has simply provided structure and more purpose to how I spend that time.

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?

As an attorney, much of my work life has required critical thinking, communication, deadline management and organization. Now I am a mediator, which has allowed me to put some of my gaming skills and cooperative problem solving to use. We will be empty nesters soon, so I’m sure my sons won’t mind if I use their rooms to store ENNIES submissions. In fact, I bought two new bookcases this past year to accommodate the volume of submissions.

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’ve been lucky to get the opportunity to play a wide variety of games in the last few years, and have enjoyed expanding my horizons. I gravitate towards games that are lighter on rules, and I like open, sandbox games for campaigns.

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?

First off, I am more likely to be drawn to a game due to the person running it and the other players involved. If the GM knows and likes the game then they are likely to put more into it. Of course, if a friend is running a game I’d like to try, with people I’d like to get to know better, that is the perfect mix.
Vaesen and Monster of the Week are similar in focus and base rules, but with different settings. I’ve enjoyed both, and like the flexibility and fail-forward structure. Ten Candles offers a type of uncommon gameplay that makes for a unique experience. Wanderhome evoked some real emotions (again, credit to the players as well). Swords of the Serpentine is an incredible setting with rules that make social combat as viable as physical combat. I also recently got to revisit a couple of old favorites (Old School Hack and Paranoia).

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?

When I run a game it is usually of the old school variety, as that is my comfort zone. In the past two years I have run Old School Essentials (B/X D&D), Pirate Borg and Into the Odd. Each of these has just enough rules to keep the game together, but allow for plenty of creativity and out-of-the-box innovation. If I am running the game, I don’t want too much of my mental energy to be spent on looking up, interpreting, and applying rules, when it could be better spent interacting with, and reacting to, the players.

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

Does it do what it set out to do? Do the rules support the genre and style of play intended? Does it communicate the rules and other information in a way that is clear and understandable? Does it offer something new and different? Does it make me smile?

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

Summaries of most game systems are readily available these days, moreso than ever before. It has not been too difficult to do a little online research to become familiar with a game system. I would judge the supplements or adventures on their own merit, but would also take into account how well they mesh with the intended base system.

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

The ENNIES are ever-evolving, in response to changes in the industry. This past year I saw a few areas where I thought things could be done differently, but the more experienced judges and staff had already considered the issues and thought through the options. Change happens when needed, but has to come after careful consideration and not as a knee-jerk reaction. I trust those running the ENNIES to continue to keep up with our growing TTRPG world, while maintaining tradition and integrity. However, it seems to me that voting by the fan base, for both the judges and the awards, is a core part of the ENNIES that should remain.