Friday, October 9, 2015

The Man with the Wizard Van: An Interview with Wayne Snyder

My theory is that we just don't pay attention to the regular gamer and what he or she has to say about their hobby. I don't remember when or where I first started chatting with Wayne Snyder, but man, this is a guy that just seems to be in it for the fun. He's got it right.

Q: I feel bad for the rest of the gaming world because I own the best piece of art to come out of the DIY gaming scene: the picture you drew for the cover of Devilmount. Can you give us a bit of your background in art? How did you get started and what inspires your work?

I grew up drawing all the time. There was a lot of down time as a kid. Time spent waiting around while my mother took care of something or other. I remember drawing chainsaw armed robots on the back of the church program during Sunday services, using the back of a hymnal as a drawing board. I found my way to D&D the summer I turned 9 and it has been on my mind ever since. Fantasy art has filled my life. As a lad I learned a lot from Wormy comics in the back of Dragon mags. I spent long hours just staring at the illustrations in my game books. There is no separation for me between game and art. If a game doesn’t have engaging art, I won’t play it no matter how great the system is. Back in the 80s you didn’t have 40 reviews of a game available even before it came out. You walked into Walden Books once a month to see what was up and if a new book was on the shelf you took it down and flipped through it. You didn’t really have time to read and understand the core rules. I just looked at the pictures and made my decision based almost solely on the art, same with comics. Early on the 80s TSR art department became my pantheon of saints. I wanted to be Larry Elmore. Later it was Savage Sword of Conan comics and the European artists in Heavy Metal mixed with the grim dark of newly discovered Rogue Trader and Warhammer Fantasy. I took all the art classes available in high school and even took some of them twice and then trucked off to art school after that. But I had no idea what I was doing. I went to a really theory heavy fine arts program and they didn’t have much to say about my bugbears and castles. I was really na├»ve. I didn’t know enough to transfer to a different school, I just buckled down and made a bunch of conceptual art and graduated in 4 years with a BFA and a professional grade drinking habit and trucked off to the south with no greater aspirations than to sit on a porch and drink all the PBR.  I didn’t make much art for a long time. It wasn’t until I found G+ in 2012 that I really started producing again. That cover for Devilmount is one of the first pieces I had made in a really long time. The G+ rpg community is so inspiring, it really moved me to get back on the horse and reclaim a lost skill I really enjoy employing. I still make it my business to know all about fantasy artists and their bodies of work. It’s a hobby unto itself. I usually know more about the person who painted an rpg book cover than I do about the game itself. 
Q: You're a fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics. What is it about that particular fantasy rpg that drew you in initially, and what about it keeps you interested in it?

When I first stepped on the G+ scene back in 2012 I didn’t know anything about DCC. I believe it was Edgar Johnson who first posted an invite to the Metal Gods game. His blurb was brilliant and totally heavy metal. It sounded like everything I ever wanted in a game. I realized I had to play in that game. I had never played online and I was a bit worried but that went out the window five minutes in. I played DCC online for six months before I got around to buying the rulebook. The game is intuitive to me after years and years of D&D. DCC has a lot of things going on, but they don’t require constant book reference ruining the immersion and slowing down the action. The most entertaining part of any RPG is the people you play with, the smart, funny, clever fuckers, who make it all go round. DCC gives you room to play. It offers a swift coherent frame work to keep things rolling along, but it is an open field of player driven fun times beyond that. Now it takes a certain clever brand of person to really get on with a system like this. DCC has removed the rewards of power gaming and math hammering, which I’ve seen bloat some other games down, and through that, has created a self-selecting community of true fun seekers. Folks who want to min-max or “win D&D” don’t seem to want to play this game. It isn’t balanced, in fact it’s often completely haywire and that’s why I love it.  This play style has aggregated a super creative community (see all the zines) and you’ll rarely meet a player who you wouldn’t love to have back to the table. The amount of awesome new friends I’ve made in the last three years because of DCC is incredible and something I never would have expected to occur in my adult life.

Q: You're part of the triumvirate behind the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad 'zine. What's the hardest part of publishing a gaming 'zine? What's the most rewarding part?

I think the hardest part is laying out each issue, making it fit together coherently, and the business end of it, the production of physical copies and shipping logistics and internet store fronts. But Adam Muszkiewicz is a hero and he does all that unpleasantness for us. So for me the biggest hurdle is everyday life. Just having enough gusto left to draw or even come up with good ideas after a full day of landscaping work is getting harder and harder as age catches up with me. The most rewarding thing is having people enjoy the fruits of our labors. The zine makes people happy, and that makes me happy.

Q: Speaking of metal, I always associate you with crushing riffs. What are the last three albums that blew your mind? How does metal intersect with your love of gaming?

Satan Worshipping Doom by Bongripper is still making ripples in my brain juice with its all instrumental brutal crushing doom. Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno - Anthem of the Space is a real experience. I recently got to see them live and couldn’t get the smile off my face for a week. Ancient Japanese space hippies know where it’s at. I don’t think they have ever played the same song twice and that is perfect. Estron by Slomatics is an album I just can’t get enough of. It is a concept album, really a single 40 minute song. It sounds like the things Lovecraft talks about when he uses the term cyclopean. It would make a good soundtrack to the Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath motion picture.

Metal intersects with every aspect of my life. Metal is a lifestyle for me. It inspires my art and my gaming. It keeps me on point while I’m fighting dirt for a living. Like most good sci-fi and fantasy novels, there is a lot of philosophical truths under all the genre trappings, the skulls, and chains, and fire. Metal is my anthem for whatever I’m about at the time.

Q: You recently posted about how old-school miniatures, especially John Blanche's stuff, continues to move you. What is it about that style that speaks to you, and what advice would you give someone interesting in getting into the minis hobby?

John Blanche may be the longest working art director on any single gaming IP. He has been crafting the dual worlds of the gothic retro-future Warhammer 40k and the sodden moss shrouded medieval heap that is Warhammer Fantasy almost as long as I’ve been alive. It is in his blood. It is made of his blood. He crafts miniatures the same way he crafts his artworks. He builds them from the ground up, creates a story, and defines a mood. He has always been a kit basher and DIY miniature modeler, taking parts from any number of model kits and piecing them together to form something completely new. His mini painting style is reflective of his 2D works. He splashes on paint and inks, working over the surfaces in layers of colors and textures, letting the materials do the work for him. It’s grimy and corroded, stained, patinaed and beautiful. I’ve fallen in love with his miniature creations and the works of an ever growing group of artists who see his work as inspiration for their own. They work in the medium of tiny plastic, metal, or resin figures, where each miniature is a work of art in its own right. It is a far stretch from batch painting 100 space ork boyz to get them on the table by next Saturday. It’s the art in it, making it personal, which keeps me coming back, same as the DIY table top game scene.

My advice, to someone just stepping into the miniatures hobby, is start slow. Check out some skirmish games. Buy two or three minis at a time and work on them until they are done. See how long it takes you to do the work before you buy 200 of them. Having boxes and boxes of unpainted miniatures you’ll probably never have time to assemble and paint can be kind of depressing and you can easily tie up a hefty amount of cash that way. But if you’re trying to play some sort of huge wargame with 100s of little dudes on the table, all I can say is good luck with that.

Q: If you could command the DIY gaming braintrust to create one product for your use, what would you demand? 

Wow… I have trouble keeping up with the flood of great stuff people are putting out already. Something I would find useful would be a book of dungeon puzzles of varying difficulties, like a ZORK reference book.

Q: What's next for Wayne Snyder?

I’m working on a third issue of Dark Ruins, a mini adventure zine I’ve been putting out. I’m signed up to write and illustrate five monsters for Mike Evans' Hubris kickstarter, coming soon. I’ve got Metal Gods #4 in the works and some other illustration work for some indie folks. I’m really looking forward to being able to climb into the wizard van I’ve been working on and set off on a strange and exciting odyssey across the USA, meeting up with awesome gaming folks, playing games, do some camping and really make the most of this crazy hobby we all love.