Online Nickname: ‘Explorers’


My name is Clayton Notestine. I’m a graphic designer, reviewer, and educator in tabletop roleplaying games. I also run the educational website Explorers Design. If you’re an indie designer excited to make your first zine, my articles on “layout and the grid” will likely appear in most tabletop rpg reading lists.

Why do you play/run RPGs?

Roleplaying games are fun. It’s a distinct kind of entertainment that rewards us for playing, running, or studying it.

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’ve judged in previous award shows. It is a massive commitment. Thankfully, my family is well aware of my commitment to this industry.

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 designed, run, and assisted with programs like this before. Years ago, I was the programming coordinator of a small regional convention. Just two years ago, I designed the bookkeeping and voting system for a different tabletop rpg award show. In my professional life, I’m a senior copywriter and designer in branding and advertising. I’m confident I have the necessary skills to perform this job and enjoy doing 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?

Indie roleplaying games. My favorite genres are sci-fi, horror, cozy pastoral games, and classic dungeon-crawling fantasy. I don’t consider myself a fan of any particular genre. It’s roleplaying games themselves I consistently return to.

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 and run Dungeons & Dragons, Mausritter, Mothership, Wanderhome, and Brindlewood Bay this past year. They’re all very unique. Some of them communicate with each other. Others feel like watershed moments in the industry. Of this partial list, Mausritter and Brindlewood Bay were the most compelling.

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 game master 75% of the time and have run all five of the games I listed above. I usually pick my games based on their originality, diversity, and playstyle, but it depends on the table I’m running. I’ll tailor the games I run based on the interests and passions of the people I play with.

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

What is the creative idea of the game, how do they execute that idea, and what impact does that game have on a player, a table, or the industry at large?

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

A system-specific supplement should have elements that rely on the game’s unique qualities. If I could take the supplement and use it for another system without any edits or loss of experience—that supplement would be better suited as a system-agnostic product. A Mausritter adventure should lean on Mausritter’s strengths. A Dungeons & Dragons adventure should expertly use the D&D 5E rules. A great Call of Cthulhu mystery can’t just be a good mystery—it must be a great cosmic horror mystery.

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

Fewer streamers and YouTubers as judges. Those platforms encourage certain kinds of games, systems, and styles for views and virality. A few game designers, industry publishers, or convention coordinators could increase the diversity of nominations to vote for.