Interview with Author & Dungeon Master Gregory Wunderlin

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The Geek Post is excited to have discovered the work of Gregory Wunderlin. As we were geeking out about his novel “Litanies of the Lost Star: Soul of Chaos” we discovered he has also created supplemental materials within the fantasy TTRPG sphere. We of course set out to get more information and an interview. Within he talks about his insights and experiences that helped to shape his love of the fantasy genre.

GeekPost: Can you share your journey into writing fantasy and designing TTRPGs, and what inspired you to pursue this path despite early challenges?

Gregory: Without even realizing it, I’ve been training for this as a career since I was ten. I created my first play-by-post website around then with a janky RPG structure and didn’t ever stop. That fusion of online play—which requires clear writing, ya know—and RPG structure was the perfect tool to sharpen skills you couldn’t exactly take classes for. I did everything, from fantasy games to Naruto RPGs, to a complete restructure of WEG Star Wars with a small group of friends. And all that probably accounted for hundreds of thousands of words, maybe even millions, over decades. When COVID hit, and my sales job was no longer sustainable, a friend of mine turned me onto a new company called Camp Dragon, which was hiring DMs for 5th Ed. D&D. I realized that holy crap, you can actually get paid to do this. Everything else stemmed from that one realization, and now, I get to pay my rent by running games, designing mechanics, and writing stories. To be fair, the pay isn’t amazing, but I’d trade the misery of a desk job for being handed cash for writing about swords any day.

GeekPost: In your debut novel, “Litanies of the Lost Star: Soul of Chaos”, how did your own life experiences and interests influence your writing?

Gregory: SoC covers a lot. From characters struggling with addiction and depression to a world attempting to find its own identity; all of that comes from everyone’s favorite adage “write what you know”. Personally, I’m a huge history buff, love anthropology, and made some terrible decisions in my 20s, which has the makings for fantasy world building! A lot of the struggles I’ve managed make their way into my writing to give fictional characters very real flaws, even against a backdrop of the fantastic. Add all those hours spent reading dry history texts and old fantasy books, and you get a voice that strives to bring action-oriented realism to worlds with hints of our own but are uniquely themselves.

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GeekPost: What would you want a new reader to know about the setting and plot of your novel? Why should they read it?

Gregory: Oh, so much. The world itself operates on its own physics and has a massively deep trove of lore and magic. Now, I can’t stand a lore dump, so details are revealed via context or action rather than drawn-out exposition and that requires a bit of attention and trust in the text. You start in a realm that is evidently fantasy, embracing Renaissance era tech (gunpowder, plate armor, and Age of Sail vessels). But as you go, you realize that there’s a vast amount of technology lost within until it culminates in a genre mash of sci-fantasy. The plot takes that theme and runs with it—epic stakes that unravel around a mystery that our characters don’t quite understand until the end. If you like those lost technology tropes, fast-paced action, explosive magic, and epic duels, then SoC has you covered. Also, you get scenes of sorcerers dueling arquebus wielding soldiers and knights, so that’s cool.

GeekPost: What is your philosophy when designing TTRPG adventures and mechanics, especially for 5th edition D&D?

Gregory: First and foremost? Choice. A lot of games are linear. You’re the hero, sure, but in all there’s a specific route you follow to become that hero. Any choice you make serves to get you from A to B, and while the details of how can give you some flavor, they often don’t have any kind of alternative outcome. For me, from the start of an adventure to the end, your actions stack until they construct the ending. One of my favorite adventures I’ve written, Embers of Wrath, is a level 5 to 10 adventure for 5e, and it has multiple diverging paths at any point that can coalesce into a dozen different endings. Your choices really do matter, and the ending rewards you for that, whether you follow a traditionally good or selfish path. 

That doesn’t change for mechanics, either. The reason I’ve always preferred TTRPGs (or RPGs in general) is that deep level of customization. Being able to craft the character I want to play, especially with supporting mechanics, is my absolute jam, and so most of what I create allows you a host of options. My most recent 5e release, The Heritage Companion, has hundreds of traits to let you create your own race and even craft a completely custom background, letting you jump outside the standard Elf or Halfling. Some people just want to play a half-dragon half-ooze, or maybe a human that’s got a few more tricks up their sleeves than an extra skill. It’s all about that choice.

Gregory Wunderlin can be found on Dungeon Master’s Guild as well. Interview continues below the photos.

GeekPost: How do you manage balancing the different facets of your career – author, TTRPG designer, and “professional nerd”?

Gregory: Short answer? I don’t, hah. All of it tends to fuse together, but if the question is how do I manage to complete projects? I tend to obsess over something until it’s done. I mentioned The Heritage Companion above—it’s an 80,000-word supplement, which I worked on near constantly during my downtime for about a month and a half. Not exactly healthy, but writing can be a long, arduous process, and sometimes that dedication is what you need to push a few projects over the edge. I’m fortunate that all those are related, though, and that my TTRPG design feeds my writing, and both of those give me near limitless content to fuel that nerdery. What’s the entrepreneur’s dilemma? Work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends? I tend to sacrifice that sleep bit.

GeekPost: Do the adventure modules that you write come from your own game sessions. Do you have any stories that you would like to share?

Gregory: I go out of my way to avoid this! Using your own games as modules can lead to a whole lot of bias in the outcome, and maybe even color the choices by what’s already been done. It helps me to focus on fresh material and maybe use my past games for encounter ideas or how to balance something. As far as stories go? I can recount the tale of Goat Farming Hydra, Rumble, and his Cheese-Monger nemesis: Sweeney McSwaggins, but some stories are better left shrouded in the mystery of their grandeur. 

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GeekPost: Do you consider yourself a geek? What does that mean to you?

Gregory: I’m pretty sure the definition of geek revolves around being obsessive over an area of knowledge, and hot damn, is that a perfect descriptor. I absolutely am a geek, and I love it. Obsessiveness tends to precede expertise, and if anything makes you feel like an accomplished adult, it’s being able to wax indefinitely on a subject of your fancy. Sure, it got me ostracized as a kid from more than a few cool lunch tables, but all those topics of geekery landed me an amazing partner, a career that I can work on from my couch, and an irreplaceable sense of self. Also, it’s cool to be a geek now, apparently, so that’s nice.

GeekPost: What advice would you give to aspiring fantasy authors and TTRPG designers, especially those balancing personal and professional life?

Gregory: Get ready to grind. It’s not an easy industry to exist in, and you’re in constant competition with much larger forces with massive budgets and reach. A lot of this world, both the TTRPG and literary industry, require perseverance above all—it can take years to carve out a niche for yourself, and finding steady, paid work is a task in and of itself. Foster connections, be kind and open to others in your field, and please, please, make use of your nepotism or any advantages you might happen to luck upon. Without those, you’re at the mercy of luck and persistence, and I can tell from experience that I’d prefer nepotism. 

Also, don’t put advertising costs on a credit card. That’s a terrible idea.

GeekPost: Reflecting on your career and life goals, how do you feel about the journey so far?

Gregory: As a millennial at the mercy of the rental market, I have a pretty simple life goal: buy a house. And, yikes, that’s still pretty far off, but I can see some burgeoning success on the horizon, and that’s incredible. The fact that I can even participate in an interview like this is astounding, really. There’s a long road ahead, especially when it comes to authoring—most (even famous) authors don’t experience that kind of success they’d like until their second, or even fourth, series, so I’m happy to even be on that course. A lot of people don’t even reach the publishing phase, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have that chance.

GeekPost: Is there anything else that you would like the readers to know about you and your work?

Gregory: It’s all passion! Everything I write comes from a place of appreciation. Yeah, I could’ve written a trendy novel and shopped it for maximum popular success, but you can tell when something comes out of corporate poise or a commercial push. From game supplements, to novels, to even this interview, I can’t stand superficiality, so you get my voice, and a desire to truly entertain and amuse anyone who wants to engage with it. That, and I’d love for more people to be vocal in these communities—reach out to your third-party creators and favorite authors! Let them know how much you appreciate their work, or even what you’d like to see improved, it’s always a blast to interact with people who know what you do. 

And, for the love of all authors everywhere, remember to leave a review. Every time you leave a 3-star or higher review on an author’s (or game designer!) work, Hollywood puts another dollar towards letting Henry Cavil create another fantasy series.

Gregory’s journey in the realms of fantasy and design is a profound demonstration of unwavering dedication and creative innovation. The Geek Post would like to thank him for taking the time to give us a chance to pick his brain. Make sure to check him out at his website and leave a comment below!

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