Today, we’re featuring some of the ladies who run games for the Philippine end of Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League – Lanz Frago-Crisostomo, Lynne Cruz, and Marielle Ko, and Marik Rama. Here’s a bit of a briefer on each of them:
Known to have fits of bloodthirst every full moon, Dungeon Master Lanz likes providing a challenge for every kind of player she encounters. By running one Curse of Strahd campaign after another, DM Lanz lived happily ever after. Everyone else around her, however, did not.
Lynne, an ardent collector of orange dice, has her DM reputation precede her thanks to crits she happens to roll when she runs games for newbies. When she’s not playing with the League of Extraordinary Bestfriends, she’s either spending time with her dog or building more Pinterest boards for her next character artwork.
Mari needs to have something to do with animals or creatures in every single TRPG she plays. From cute and fluffy to the kind that will rip you apart to shreds in a matter of seconds. DM Mari loves to voice act. This includes authentic evil laughter and blood curdling screams coming from her minions or players if the venue so permits.
Marik is a content editor by day and a dragon queen by night. One can recognize her by her red hair and lips. It is said that she can be lured out of her lair with free food and good conversation.
Hi ladies! Thank you for sitting down with us for this. How about you all tell us a little bit about yourselves and the games and systems you run?
Mari: Hi! I’m Marielle Ko, normally called “Mari” instead. I have been playing D&D for more than a year, running modules mostly and hardcovers. I run Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed, and I love DMing because it’s a great way to practice voice acting as well. D&D is a tabletop RPG with a fantasy setting.
You can play as a wizard, barbarian or druid for example among the 12 class options as well as choosing the different races like elves, dwarves and Tieflings which are amazing in their own way to make your character. [The system] primarily uses the d20 to roll for skills and attacks, using other dice for other effects in the game such as damage. I haven’t tried DMing other systems since I’m getting used to some so it’s just D&D [so far for me].
Lanz: Hi, my name’s Lanz, and I like laying waste to my enemies, bringing them to heel, surrounded by fire and brimstone. I’ve been playing D&D 5th Edition Adventurer’s League for two to three years, and have recently begun to run Call of Cthulhu scenarios. I’ve tried a bunch of other systems, and I’m hoping to try more as the years go by.
Lynne: Hi! I’m Lynne Cruz, and I’ve been playing D&D 5E since 2016. Oh wow! I’m two years into the hobby! I roll really bad as a player but it seems my dice smell blood when I DM! Haha! Kidding aside, I mostly run games for D&D Adventurers League. I have also started playing Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed recently. It’s refreshing for me because of the no safety net playthrough with its horror themes and the d100 system, unlike D&D which uses the d20 system. But I haven’t really been a Keeper (that’s CoC’s local game term for DM) in CoC.
Marik: Hello, my name is Marik and I’ve developed a sort of reputation as the “dragon queen” of the local D&D Adventurers League community. I mostly play and run D&D 5E, and it’s become a large part of my life. Meeting people and getting to know them, their characters, and their stories is why I’m so in love with the hobby. I’m also affiliated with Adventurers Anonymous!
How were you first introduced to tabletop? And what continues to fuel your interest in the hobby?
Mari: I knew about D&D in highschool. It was the most known TRPG and some friends of mine wanted to play; but we didn’t get to doing it until college. I enjoyed it a lot and have been playing ever since; [and] I really love the story and friends I’ve made since I started. It’s a lot of fun going through a story together as well as being able to do different things using different characters who are different from each other.
The community really helps in continuing my love for the game with the events that are made where everyone has so much fun.
Lanz: My cousins played D&D growing up, and they were fans of Dragonlance. I wasn’t allowed because at that time D&D was thought to be satanic. I promised myself I’d play it someday anyway in the future. A stranger at a bar invited me to play my first D&D game. I realize how sketchy this sounds…
Haha, it might, but it seems to have worked out for the better! Would you be fine to disclose who this was?
Lanz: [It was] Eliza Versoza! She was bar tending in Cubao Expo. I was so socially awkward that I added up a perfect stranger from the bar (I KNOW, I SOUND CREEPY) and then she posted wanting to run D&D, and i joined that!
Eliza is great! We featured her with two other GMs in the interview before this, so I find it very cool! Now, how about what fuels your passion for the hobby?
Lanz: Two things fuel my passion for tabletop roleplaying: the stories I build with my characters, and the belief that table top roleplaying games can truly help people.
Not a lot of people know (or believe, haha) it, but I have trouble connecting to people outside the hobby. Before I started playing, it was so bad that there was a point in my life when I barely spoke to people. Tabletop helped me connect better with people. And I know there are other people out there like me, and I want to help things be better for them, through tabletop RPGs.
What about you, Lynne? What’s your story to share?
Lynne: Ever since I was young, I’ve seen my uncle and brothers playing Magic the Gathering, but I really didn’t pick it up. Later on, a friend introduced me to his D&D homebrew. He brought me and a few other friends to Tavern at the Crossroads (previously known at The Appraisery) at Cubao Expo and ran his game there. Ever since then, I was exposed to more tabletop games, from RPG systems to board and card games!
What keeps me playing in this hobby is my relationship with the many players I meet, and the memories I make with them (and their characters).
Even though it’s just a fantasy world, you get through thick and thin with these people. I find it fascinating that the world gets smaller when you meet people within the hobby. Also, it’s nice to get to know more people through the characters they play and their play-styles. It’s very interesting as well to know these people inside and outside the table, because you never know who you’re sitting beside!
What I also like that this hobby is that it allows my creative side to keep growing. I draw my characters, customize character sheets and the like. Also, I have met and seen with the various artists and art styles and media within the community. From stickers to dice bags to customized sheets to minis and terrains, it’s really exciting to see the artistry the community has to offer.
And you, Marik? How did you fall into the hobby?
Marik: I’ve always loved reading and writing stories, and roleplaying in general. Forum-based text roleplaying is something I’ve been doing for almost a decade now, but I didn’t get into tabletop gaming until a couple of years ago. It was actually my boyfriend who finally pushed me to get into tabletop gaming. He’d been playing D&D for years, so when one of my friends’ campaigns had an opening, I signed up.
A little over two years later and my interest hasn’t waned, though I have tried other systems like World of Darkness, and Deathwatch, which is a Warhammer 40k RPG. All in all, it’s creating characters and writing stories that keeps me playing and running games. It’s pretty fun to be able to participate rather than read or watch.
It’s also nice to be able to pretend you’re someone else for a while!
Since you ladies are all active in the local Adventurers League community. Can you talk a bit about how the format works for our readers who are unfamiliar?
Lanz: Simply put, AL has specific rules set down. [This makes] transferring PCs – player characters – from one table to another table easy, since everyone abides by these rules. It’s organized game play.
So, in essence, players can hop from table to table?
Lanz: Yep! And the DM has no problem with your PC because you’re AL-legal, with logs and all that. They can still turn you away, mind you, if there’s something sketchy about the logs. But the whole point of it is if that your DM signed it, then that means they’ve briefed you on AL rules, and you abide by them.
Women in Tabletop Gaming Month was established because of the desire to recognize, respect, and empower women in the tabletop gaming community. Can you share with us some of the challenges that you’ve faced; as well as your personal philosophy on how better to encourage a culture of inclusivity?
Mari: There aren’t a lot of women in TRPG communities. It’s still a community dominated by men. When I started I was expected to play healer because I was a woman. There were a lot of bad jokes being thrown around which you have to really steel yourself from. It was a lot of tolerating with the sexist jokes where I showed I was more than just a healer.
It’s difficult being a woman in a male dominated community. But it has also given me the opportunity to show how strong women are in and out of game; and how we’re on equal footing with everyone.
My philosophy to encourage inclusivity is that I really believe that biases should be left outside the table. Games are made for fun and everyone should have fun. No one should be left out. We can be whoever we want to be in game and everyone should work on making the game an amazing memory for everybody.
[Also], don’t define a person by what their label is, but what they do and how great they are at kicking butt in game. You may not like how that person identifies themselves but then you might learn that they’re amazing at being a great partymate or roleplay really well.
Lanz: When I first began playing D&D, I heard a lot of the usual stereotypes – mostly “Did your boyfriend drag you into D&D?” and “Wow, a girl!” But what hurt the most was when I decided to start playing Dungeon Master for Curse of Strahd, people doubted I could bring justice to the horror that Curse of Strahd brought upon players. In fact, they expected me to focus on ‘the romance’.
It was unfair to be judged so. And while it pushed me to do my best, I don’t wish that experience on any other GM.
As a player, I think the best way to encourage a culture of inclusiveness is to stop labeling things like “girl gamers”, “LGBT+ gamers”, “male gamers”. They unfortunately come with stereotypes – such as male gamers only wanting to hack and slash, female gamers more prone to using diplomacy and the like. We play roleplaying games. And we have the freedom to create whatever role we want to create – in a sense, I’d like to think that we’re all just gamers, and that’s it.
As a GM though, I believe that GMs have the power over the table; and that it is our duty a GMs to make our tables places that everyone feels comfortable in. I like asking my players if they would be comfortable with sexism, racism – all of the ‘isms’ that may come up on my table, when the story calls for it. I think it helps set expectations and avoid offending people needlessly.
Lynne: When I started playing, DM and players were all guys. I could feel this somewhat of a gender barrier as players, since it was a male dominated table. I tolerated their ‘male antics’ and green jokes since I was invited to the table, the outsider. But I stayed because they were my friends and I was really liking how a tabletop RPG ran! It felt so new and fresh to me. So I started was looking for females who could play too.
I later invited a female friend to join that party, and it went okay for awhile. However, in another session, my DM didn’t handle an encounter very well and I felt very violated with the oversexualized occurrences set up. My female friend felt the same. I didn’t attend another game, and so did she. I haven’t played with them since then. Having no closure with that character made me feel sad, since she was my first ever character, but I left for the better of me.
A few months later, I was still craving for the gaming rush. I randomly found the D&D Adventurers League Philippines Facebook page – read the posts, found and joined a game nearby and the rest is history! Haha, sorry if this sounds like an advertisement for D&D AL PH, but really, it changed me.
Oh, no need to apologize! Visibility is important in a community, so plugs that these spaces exist are absolutely great. But yes, you were saying about discovering D&D AL PH.
Lynne: I’ve met more female players, and even LGBT players! I’ve also learned how to play with AL rulings, which eventually lead me to DMing. I’m still learning the art of balancing encounters on my players APL, RPing, building characters and worlds, and a lot more. There’s even things I didn’t imagine I could do and places to go to, if not for this hobby.
At the end of the day, I’m happy to say that I found friends for life, thanks to this hobby. I’m glad that I found this open community.
So what’s your personal philosophy on encouraging inclusivity?
Lynne: To encourage a better culture of inclusivity, communication is key! Speak out and be heard! I believe that both parties, players and DMs, should have a moment of setting boundaries, on what’s okay and not okay, their red flags and the like.
As a DM, before I start a game, I do point out what are my weaknesses and strengths so that the table can help me out. I also forewarn if the games I run will be lethal so that there would be no blaming or whatever conflict post-game. After the game, if I find anything that should be improved for the player, I tell them. I really like it if players settle in-game challenges with RP. I believe I am a very lenient DM.
I’ve encountered on some tables that if people don’t like other people’s play-styles, they’ve agreed to disagree and they don’t play on the same table; it’s that simple and the mature thing to do. Also from experience, I hope that the DM does the job of attaining their players consent if they want to do something beyond the player’s expectations; that just shows the DM’s respect for their players.
What about your experience, Marik? What challenges have you faced in the hobby, and what’s your insight on inclusive community building?
Marik: Aside from a few sexist comments here and there, I’m pretty fortunate in that I’ve experienced very few struggles in the local community. Though I understand that that may not be the case for other people.
What I can say is that you shouldn’t be afraid to defend yourself and let people know you’re uncomfortable. I have a number of great friends who’ve taught me that silence helps nobody: communication is everything. Things like letting your DM or other players know; and explaining to them why you’re uncomfortable will help everyone in the long run.
A lot of people prefer to play in private rather than going to events, because you don’t really get to choose who you play with or under. It’s amazing that the event organizing groups prioritize making sure participants are in a safe place. I hope this encourages people to try going to them.
One more thing: a saying I like to go by is “No D&D is better than bad D&D.” Don’t stress yourself out by putting yourself in a situation you won’t like. Your emotional and mental well-being are far more important than magic items and experience points. Take care of yourself first! Of course this extends not just to D&D, but to other systems and situations as well!
This was such an awesome sit-down, thank you again for your time! Now, before we go, do you have any last words for our readers and anyone interested in helping their own gaming communities?
Mari: I encourage everyone to make memorable stories. I’ve seen people learn to cope with D&D and a way to channel who they are. I believe in showcasing your individuality but also working towards a great show of teamwork. In a community, it’s best to really communicate properly and make sure that everyone has fun. I hope that TRPGs continue to grow and more people try it. I’m certain there’s a TRPG for everyone.
Lanz: Finally, I’d like to say there’s strength in being a female GM. I run 1920s Call of Cthulhu, which involves a lot of sexism, that I feel is important to the setting. A lot of players have told me that they feel more comfortable playing under a female Game Master when it comes to these things, and for that, I’m glad. There will always be naysayers, and while you, as a GM, might not be for everyone, more often than not, there will be people who need your style of GM-ing, so just keep at it.
Lynne: Last words huh? I would like to open that door… BAM! Haha just kidding! Here are my nuggets of wisdom throughout playing in two years: First is anyone can play anything they want to be. You definitely can you do you but of course don’t be a douche to other people to the table. With that, also know your rules – in game and table rules – before breaking them! You don’t want to be picking a fight just because of a ruling. I mean, come on, at the end of the day it’s just a game. We’re all adults here on the table, but having a fight just because of rulings? It’s silly for me.
With that, know your table mates as well. Know what they’re comfortable with (and with not). Get to know them as they are also people with through their characters. Everyone has a different definition of fun. Make sure everyone’s on the same page to avoid misunderstandings.
Also, self-care is important! Don’t burn out yourself from playing the same games over and over again! Try other games and systems to refresh your mind. Lastly, don’t forget to have fun!
Marik: The best way to help a gaming community is to play games and let people know you’re doing it! Social media has gone a long way in widening the reach of the tabletop system communities in the country. Looking for a game these days is as easy as making a post on Facebook or getting on Discord. Just play, be mindful of other people, and have fun while you do so. Remember, it’s just a game!
We’d like to thank the girls for the use of their photographs, as well as Adventurers Anonymous for letting us dig a bit through their albums! Women in Tabletop Gaming Month might be wrapping up – but this interview series isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for more this coming July in preparation for LacunaCon2018!