Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Mike Welham

Here's the third runner-up interview: Mike Welham! I'm very glad to interview him, not only because he was a finalist in Here Be Monsters, but also because he won RPG Superstar a few years back. Welcome, Mike!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi, I'm Mike Welham, and I've been a gamer since 1981, when I got the "Blue Box" as a birthday present and then followed that up with the purchase of the Fiend Folio (which may take some responsibility for my monster design philosophy). I've mostly played D&D and Pathfinder, but I've taken some detours through GURPS, Savage Worlds, Gamma World, Champions, and Alternity. I am a recent freelancer, starting with Rite Publishing's Book of Monster Templates in 2010, and I've had the opportunity to work for Rite Publishing, Kobold Press, Raging Swan Press, Legendary Games, Rogue Genius Games, Christina Stiles Presents, Zombie Sky Press, Purple Duck Games, and TPK Games in an apparent attempt to get all the Pathfinder third-party publishers on my resume. I've also done some work for Paizo, and I managed to win the 2012 RPG Superstar contest despite a rough start. I've shared my love of gaming with my children, and my daughter and I have gone to GenCon three years in a row (alas, my son's college schedule conflicts with GenCon). My traditionally non-roleplaying-gamer wife is also thinking about giving Pathfinder a try. 

Have you designed a lot of monsters before?

I have designed quite a few monsters in the past, starting with Monday Monsters at Kobold Press's website. My first submission was the crimson drake, a mean-spirited offshoot of the pseudodragon. From there, I submitted a few more drakes and some very odd monsters (such as the dire turkey, the charnel cow, and the krenshar-pei). To my surprise, I found out that Adam Daigle had worked on several drakes as well, and that led to a collaboration on the Book of Drakes, for which I designed half the drakes. Currently, I publish a monster on a (mostly) weekly basis at a friend's blog. You can find those here: 

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

When I read through the Bestiary 5 wish list thread, the name splintercat caught my eye. I did a little bit of spot research on it and discovered that it was a folkloric beast that destroyed trees by bashing them with its head in its hunt for food. It also had a constant headache as a result, making the cat disagreeable with everyone. Despite promising myself that I would avoid a monster with a somewhat suspect concept, it immediately endeared itself to me, as I thought about how it would impact a fantasy world. Since I figured this would be a great animal companion for a ranger with plants as a favored enemy (admittedly, there aren't many of those), I wanted to make it an animal rather than a magical beast. I knew an animal would be a tough sell, so I wanted to give the splintercat enough cool mundane abilities, careful not to push it over into magical beast territory, and the hard-headed nature of the cat gave me enough material to work with. I did some further research, which allowed me to cement its ecology in my mind, and this is where I hoped to generate the most interest in the creature. I thoroughly enjoyed coming up with its relationship with the forests it calls home, especially with druids who might not be happy with such a destructive animal. There are a couple of things I would have done differently, especially in light of the judges' comments, but I am happy with the splintercat. 

In your opinion, what makes a good monster?

In my opinion, a good monster challenges the characters and the players. Additionally, a monster should be more than just a physical threat for the characters. There is certainly a place for the random orc or whatnot for the characters to blow off some steam. However, I think a monster that garners a local or regional legend that compels the characters to investigate it makes for a more satisfying encounter when they eventually encounter (or hunt down) the monster. I also tend to enjoy monsters that have more than one way to deal with it or more than one way to encounter it (as a potential ally or a source of information, for example). 

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

My favorites shift around depending on what monsters I need when I'm running my home game or when I'm working on a freelance assignment. Some perennial favorites are the pseudodragon (I've always liked the idea of a draconic creature that acts as a companion, but not a subordinate, to the characters), the dark folk (they have a mysterious origin and a lot of untapped potential for stories—I'm glad Paizo expanded their role in Bestiary 4), the bulette (a guilty pleasure, for the sheer delight of tossing an engine of destruction at the characters), and daemons (they were an awesome alternative to the typical devils and demons, and I really like Paizo's take on them). I'll most likely regret not mentioning other favorites when I see this in published form.


  1. I had, and still have, a Fiend Folio from around that time, too. I appreciate that link to the weekly monsters—gotta bookmark that one.

    When I read 'bulette' in Mike's answer, I regret not mentioning that monster in my own answer.

  2. Thanks, Joe! I hope you enjoy the monsters. I've had a lot of fun working on them, and they provide a nice diversion from other freelance work.

    Thanks also, Mikko! I appreciate you conducting these interviews. It's great to see other perspectives on monster design.


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