Monday, October 13, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Joe Kondrak

I'll be posting the remaining four interviews in the order I received the answers, and here's the first one! Among other things, Joe Kondrak tells us more about the sianach, whose bone-shaking rattle everyone remembers, I'm sure. Please also check out, where you can see examples of Joe's creative work.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I live in Minneapolis with my wife Mary and work as a freelance production artist and graphic designer. Besides playing in several Pathfinder campaigns, and running a couple, I occupy myself by engaging in a handful of creative hobbies. I have a constant drive to create, and produce so much work that I have trouble managing it all. I also like to play basketball.

As a kid, I played a ton of AD&D, but didn't keep up with RPGs during my years as a young adult. A few years ago, my group of friends started playing again, and it didn't take us long to settle on Pathfinder. The players and GMs in our group span a pretty wide range of rules mastery. I consider myself to be in the middle in that regard. I confess that I haven't read the CRB cover to cover yet. Currently, I'm in the middle of the spell descriptions. 

Have you designed a lot of monsters before?

I haven't designed very many at all. My first RPG design was my wondrous item entry for RPGSS 2014. It didn't make the cut. In case my entry did advance, I had prepared for round 2 by designing my very first monster. Shortly after the contest, I read about Wayfinder, so I polished and adapted that monster, the flue hag, and submitted it to Paizo Fans United for Wayfinder #11. My second monster was a quick write-up that I hope you'll see in Wayfinder #12. The sianach is the third monster I've designed.

Why did you choose the sianach and what thinking went into your design?

Of the various specific monsters listed in the Bestiary 5 Wish List thread, I found the sianach the most compelling and aesthetically interesting—it really grabbed my attention.

Before seeing the sianach in that thread, I had started work on another monster based on requests of a generic nature. After several hours of work, I changed my mind and decided I'd rather work within tighter constraints. So, I returned to the thread and found the sianach. In general, I believe working within certain constraints can aid creativity rather than hinder it.

Once I settled on the sianach, I aimed to produce something that incorporated my own new ideas with traits requested in the thread, while still adhering to the flavor of the myth. I also wanted to design a monster whose CR could be adjusted without using a template. Finally, I liked the idea of a monster associated with another monster (hags), to help evoke imaginative encounters in the minds of GMs.

In your opinion, what makes a good monster?

A good monster is one that enhances immersion and leaves players and GMs with a vivid picture in their mind's eye. It helps if a monster is easy for GMs to run. Great monsters are ones that stir the imagination and are entertaining to read even when they're not seeing action on the table.

Another thing that makes a good monster is if it's strongly identified with its primary ability. A lot of classic monsters have this, and though it may be difficult to achieve, it is something to aim for when designing a new monster. Here's some examples of what I'm talking about: manticore = tail spikes, cave fisher = pull, gargoyle = hiding in plain sight, medusa = petrifying gaze. I'm hoping that there's a connection like that for the sianach's antler talismans and/or bone-shaking rattle. 

What are your favorite monsters in the Pathfinder RPG (including monsters in 3rd-party products), and why?

That's a tough question, because the more I think about it, the more monsters I think of. I love almost all of the classics because they made an impression during my formative years: minotaurs, sphinxes, demons, devils, gargoyles, and too many more to list. I like undead as a type, too, because they're dangerous and their motivations are usually clear and simple. Though I can't offer specific reasons, I also like otyughs, mimics, and giant mantises.

1 comment :

  1. Nice interview, Joe! I like your approach to monsters, and I hope to see more of your designs in Wayfinder and elsewhere. Your photography is awesome, and I've subscribed to your site through my RSS reader.


A Sword for Hire