Tom Cantwell

Online Nickname(s): BeskarTom


I play TTRPGs, run TTRPGs, teach TTRPGs, read TTRPGs, and do just about everything else with TTRPGs. I have been playing games for the last decade starting with D&D 5th edition, but I quickly realized the long lineage of TTRPGs and started making my way back and forward through the plethora of game systems and sourcebooks that have been realized and were in the process of being realized. I was a cohost on the RPG Academy Podcast from 2017-2023, and only recently stepped away to focus on running games in my local IRL community and playing more games with my kids. With the RPG Academy, I was in charge of our Show and Tell series where I interviewed creators and publishers about their upcoming releases. When it came to creator interviews my goal was not to only learn what they created but instead why they created it. I have always loved the small mundane stories of inspiration that have fueled so much RPG development. Along with the interview series I was also in charge of our review episode production and outlining.

Why do you play/run RPGs?

I play and run RPGs to hang out with my friends. RPGs are the perfect medium to bring a group of people together. I’m a natural extrovert and love getting people together to hang out. With so many of my friends being introverts it can be difficult for them to want to meet new people, but if offered a chance to come play an RPG they will jump at a hat to do it. RPGs offer a social shield for those who may not be comfortable getting out there and as the Game Master and event organizer I enjoy getting a chance to make others happy.

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 an amazing family that lets me have dedicated time each week for games. I am also reading lots of games regularly anyway because I travel quite a bit for work. While I am on the road I have a lot of time to just read!

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?

First and foremost I spent 6 years reviewing and reading RPGs on a professional level with The RPG Academy podcast. Second, my day job is as an engineering project manager for a green energy design company where I am responsible for setting personnel schedules, product delivery timelines, and handling meetings with customers through the design process. Before becoming the engineering project manager I was a senior system design engineer designing software and hardware for large-scale utility plants. My job requires me to be highly analytical and organized.

On the creative front, I am an amateur mead maker which requires a great deal of precision and note taking. Translating smell and taste into usable data to replicate and scale recipes has taken practice.

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??

The style and genre I enjoy seems to change on a yearly basis. I started out enjoying large grand epic stories that you could tell through systems like D&D, Pendragon, or 13th Age. After that, I wanted something more approachable so I shifted into light indie games before moving onto surreal indie games such as Nibiru and Into the Odd. For the last couple of years though I think I have really found my bread and butter with crunchy hex crawls and OSR-style games. From a game masters perspective, I have found hex crawls to be so rewarding because there is an element of mystery that even I do not know what will come next. I have been running a consistent group through Forbidden Lands for the last 2 years and we are close to wrapping up this campaign. I think I would say I am a Free League fan thanks to Forbidden Lands. Being a Free League fan has made me decide that the next genre of games that I will be playing regularly will cinematic licensed games such as Alien and Blade Runner. The ability to play through the short 2-3 session modules that Free League publishes is very appealing.

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?

1. Call of Cthulhu. CoC is a game I have always been interested in due to my love of Fantasy Flights Arkham LCG. CoC has always been extremely intimidating to try running and teaching to my players who weren’t really into the genre as much as I was. I have gone out of my way to play it at conventions though, and have not been disappointed. Playing a game set in a “historical” setting was part of the draw as well. I know the world I live in so it was fun to pull from elements that were recognizable and honestly somewhat mundane.

2. Legends of the Five Rings 5e. I have always wanted to play L5R but I found it unapproachable. When the new system came out I jumped on the chance to try it out. I loved the Genesys system, and the simplification that was down with the dice-rolling mechanics for L5R was very welcome.

3. Beam Saber. I love mecha anime and when I saw that someone had made a mech anime RPG using the Forged in the Dark system I was so excited. More so than any other game I’ve played Beam Saber was able to use it’s rules to emulate the genre it was using to tell a story. Every rule felt intentional and added to making you think you were a mech pilot.

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?

1. Forbidden Lands. As I stated previously the hex crawl exploration element of this game sucked me right in. It felt like I was participating with my players through the adventure thanks to the plethora of random tables.

2. Paranoia. When I discovered Paranoia I knew I had found my favorite party RPG and RPG to use with people who have never played an RPG. The game encourages the GM to go off the rails and facilitates this. You can create absolutely amazing one-shots that no one will forget using Paranoia.

3. Nibiru. From the first time I saw the cover of Nibiru I knew I needed to run the game. The darkness and mystery that runs through the rules and setting is like nothing else. As I read the sourcebook I was filled with ideas for campaigns ranging from surreal sci-fi to ancient and terrible horror. I love systems that make you feel creative just for thinking about them.

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

For a game to deserve best game it would need to have the following:

– Readability. How easy is it to understand and parse through the information in order to not only run the game but also teach the game. This may include layout but also editing.
– Engagibilty. How do the players and GM interact with the rule set? Are all the rules used and do they feel intentional?
– Thought Provoking. How well do the rules and system make think and engage with them? How easy is it to think how this game would play out at my table and does the game prompt me to even think about running it at my table?
– Cohesiveness. How well-contained is this game and does this game feel like a complete experience?

These are the criteria I use now to determine if I want to play or run a game. I want games created in an intentional way where the designer has actually thought about how people would engage with their game.

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

Supplements and adventures should either serve an extremely specific purpose or be beautiful. By this, I mean that any supplement can be a good supplement if it is added to a game in a very specific way that enhances the game play experience. If a supplement is not adding something specifically to modify the game play experience in positive way it should at least be something that is so well made or beautiful that everyone at the table wants a chance to see or touch it. If a supplement can do both of these things it perfect!

When it comes to supplements even if I do not play the particular game they are supplementing I can ascertain if they are adding to the game they are intended for. That is what’s most important.

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

It is the elephant in the room, but the Ennies still feel like a popularity contest after the primary judging process. This is somewhat a part of what makes the Ennies the Ennies though I do not think it is something that should be changed completely. It would be nice to see a separate winner from each group that is a judge’s choice or industry choice. The people’s choice and judges’ choice may be the same, but they may not. I think this would add nuance and excitement to the awards again.