Ronin Round Table: Interview with McG

Mutants & Masterminds Interviews: Christopher McGlothlin

We’ve covered a lot of different topics in our weekly Round Table columns, from new releases and convention appearances to introducing new staff members and information about joining our Freebooter program. This time around, though, I thought it might be nice to talk to one of our freelancers.

Freelancers may not be on the payroll, but they’re definitely members of the Green Ronin team. In fact, the subject of today’s interview has been a member of the team longer than most of our staff because he created the first supplement (an adventure) for Mutants & Masterminds that wasn’t written by Steve Kenson. And he did it more than a decade ago!

His list of credits for M&M include: Time of Crisis, Time of Vengeance, Time of the Apes, Emerald City, The Cosmic Handbook, Golden Age, Silver Age, Worlds of Freedom, Freedom’s Most Wanted, Annual 1 & 2, Gamemaster’s Guide, and Noir.

That’s right, I’m talking about Professor Christopher McGlothlin, M.Ed. He’s agreed to answer some of my questions as well as some questions posted to the Atomic Think Tank by M&M fans.

JonL: First, can you explain all those terms and abbreviations surrounding your name?

McG: I’m an Adjunct Professor of Political Science, which rather makes me a Master of the Dark Arts. "M.Ed." is from the Master’s of Education degree I won in a fistfight with Albert Shanker.

JonL: Related to gaming, what was your first work as a writer in gaming? And how did you get that assignment?

McG: I first wrote part of the Deadlands supplement Tales o’ Terror: 1877, a gig I got after the guy who owned my local comics shop started a game company. I…just…well, asked him…and that was it. All the published writers who had to rack up a pile of rejection letters first now get to punch me. (But seriously—Thank you, Shane Hensley!)

JonL: Do you have any good stories about any NPCs or other characters who have shown up in a published product? Where they came from? Why you used them?

McG: My NPCs are based on real people that have made a lasting impression. Friends, colleagues, former students, my pets and family—Odds are if I know you semi-well, you’re already in, or on your way into, an M&M book. I just came from a department meeting with the colleague who inspired Jenni Rocket from Time of Vengeance, and posted a Facebook comment to Adam Jury, game-industry graphic designer extraordinaire, who appears as The Mad Maple in all three Time adventures.

I’m always surprised how many people take "I want to base a supervillain on you!" as high praise. All four of my sisters-in-law have inspired M&M characters—three of them baddies. I was expecting years of awkward holiday dinners after that, but they couldn’t be happier at how terrible I made their namesakes.

The most interesting genesis belongs to Troublemakers, Inc. from the second Annual. Creating them was a way of fighting through a nasty writer’s block on Time of Vengeance. The more I worked on them, the more I loved them. I still adore the idea of D-list villains forming a weird little family unit, like the misfits surrounding the titular figure in Ed Wood (a film I treasure).

JonL: What product you’ve worked on is your favorite and why?

McG: I can only narrow it to three—sorry!: Golden Age, because it nearly killed me… but didn’t, and comes as close to perfect as anything I’ll ever create. Time of Vengeance, because I strove to tell a story with real emotional heft in a genre and format not known for it. I’m very proud of the degree to which I succeeded <stops to polish Ennie Award>. Freedom’s Most Wanted was the most fun thing ever, and possibly my best work. I wrote it after surgery while high on painkillers, so I’m amazed it doesn’t read like a Hunter S. Thompson piece.

JonL: What do you consider the most challenging thing you’ve ever worked on, or what are some ideas you struggled with? And how did you manage to finish the work?

McG: Silver Age was a nightmare from page one to publication. I had to fit two epochs (the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics) in a single book, almost certainly angering fans of either era, and all while struggling to support my family on one income. I’m pretty sure the stress actually killed me and everything since then is just a dream, like Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

I finished SA by simply refusing to quit, because there’s good stuff in the book I wanted people to enjoy, my friends/publishers were promised a manuscript, and my family needed money.

JonL: Of the three fandoms from which you pull inspiration for your writing, which have you drawn the most from for M&M Third Edition: pro wrestling, Mystery Science Theater 3000, or the Venture Bros.?

McG: I haven’t watched pro wrestling since ’06, so… no effect on my 3rd edition work. Venture Bros., on the other hand, is the keystone for Emerald City. Once we had EC‘s central conceit of "gated community for supervillains" down, writing it with TVB‘s sublime intermingling of comic-book heroes and mundane life was a natural.

Everything I create is informed by MST3K‘s gentle irreverence and penchant for wild connections across high and pop culture. The MST-inspired humorous referential elements in my M&M work are what I’m known for because I hope they make game text a little less dry and a little more fun to read.

JonL: What other roleplaying game would you like to write for and what would you like to do for it?

McG: There’s seriously no better job than writing for M&M, and I’m very blessed to be working currently on a dream project for it with the great folks at Atomic Overmind Press.

Besides that, I always wanted to write a sequel to Savage Worlds’ Necessary Evil… and then was asked to do it. Have I mentioned other writers get to punch me?

JonL: What’s your writing process like? Meaning, what time of day and where do you write? Do you need any other creature comforts or habits to get you in the mood for writing?

McG: I’m at my best writing from midnight to dawn, with iced tea and a snoring English bulldog nearby (the best inspiration) and a movie in the background to shut down the logic centers of my brain and let the creativity run amok, like something from MST3K or The Werewolf of Woodstock.

JonL: Do you have any advice for aspiring game writers or creators?

McG: It’s a relatively tiny industry, so knowing people helps more than usual. Come to Gen Con, talk to the companies you want to work for, and more than anything else, show how professional you are. Acting like someone who can hit a deadline and take criticism is way better than, say, telling the publisher how you can totally fix his crappy game for him. Even if you just want to Kickstart your own stuff, talking to actual publishers first will net you some free yet priceless advice.

JonL: Thanks for doing this!

McG: You’re most welcome, good sir. Thank you for not punching me!

Thanks to everyone on the Atomic Think Thank (the M&M Forum) for suggesting questions. If you’d like to suggest someone for me to interview and questions you’d like me to ask, please visit the forum.

Thank you,

Jon Leitheusser, M&M Line Developer