John M Stephens

Online Nickname: DenverZeppo


I am the part-owner of Total Escape Games, one of the premier stores in Colorado, a former member of the GAMA Retail Board of Directors, and a gamer since my middle school years. I have volunteered as a judge for the Origins Awards, and worked as a volunteer advisor on a variety of boards and committess in the gaming industry. The gaming industry is in my lifeblood, blood that is old and finally allows me some freedom with my time.

Why do you play/run RPGs?

My sister is six years older than me, and was finishing up high school when I was a middle schooler in Colorado. She brought the D&D red box into the house during those formative years, and I was hooked. We played D&D, AD&D, and then 2.0, and 3.0, and 3.5, and Star Wars, and GURPS, and Mage/Vampire/Ghost. We dabbled in every RPG we could get our hands on, and then in 1993 she brought the first Magic cards into our lives, and we added that to the things we did on RPG nights. These days I play and run RPGs for two reasons, the camraderie, and the stories. The abilty of a great RPG to take you somewhere else is something unmatched.

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 the part owner of a small business who lives 600 miles from the business and works 20 hours a week. I get a lot of time to read RPG books, to gather with my friends, and to spend time enjoying the things I love.

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 a recovered journalist I long ago learned two important skills for a judge; how to do research, and how to meet deadlines. I read rapidly, I take copious notes, and I excel at turning those notes into cogent arguments for and against a variety of things, even learning to take both sides in any argument to better understand the realities of multiple viewpoints. As a retail store owner I also follow trends in RPGs and have experience with many systems, even it is just reading a book to better understand why my customers love or hate 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 still love old stuff. My absolute favorite RPG is Dungeon Crawl Classics (Goodman Games). I’ll admit that part of it is the shiny math rocks in weird shapes, but mostly it’s that it is crunchy, the rules are easy to use but dense, and that it’s fatal. There is no joy like a Level 0 character funnel that results in massive amounts of barely named and never remembered deaths. Beyond that there has been some Eat the Reich lately, and dabbles into a variety of small press RPGs that we get from IndiePressRevolution.

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?

Dungeon Crawl Classics – I’ll always play, it’s my favorite.
Eat the Reich – I love history, and I love the oppurtunity to change it. As an old Buffy fan I also love watching vampires do good.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – After we played Eat the Reich for the first time several people asked about maybe playing the old Buffy RPG. I still had my books.

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?

Dungeon Crawl Classics – still my favorite.
5th Ed D&D – it’s still the place I want to introduce new gamers to RPGs. It’s accessible, it’s familiar, and it’s a best seller for a reason.

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

Is everyone having fun?

Some games are fun for the players. Some are fun for the game master. A great game is fun for everyone.

This means it’s easy to run, and easy to play, with enough rules to provide structure and enough freedom to provide for great storytelling.

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

Read them. A great supplement or adventure isn’t dependant on knowing the game rules, it’s dependant on being able to judge if people will have fun. If you’re reading a great adventure, even without running it, you’re laughing at a great joke, or being horrified at a disturbing description. Reading a great adventure means feeling like you’re in the story.

Reading a great supplement means finding ideas. If page after page of a great supplement makes you think “Oh, I could use something like this in X game I’m running.” A great supplement gets the brain juices flowing.

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

I’ve followed the ENNIES for years, but have never really thought about things I would change. I think this is something best done AFTER understanding the full process, and you can’t understand the full process from the outside.