2020 Judge – James Surano


Online Nicknames


Introduction and Platform
I started gaming solo game books, such as the Fighting Fantasy books, and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf. Those held me over until I went to college, and met my first gaming groups, starting with Cyberpunk2020 and then, later that summer, with the brand new launch of 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Through the ensuing years, I’ve enjoyed the hobby both as a GM and as a player. I’ve organized game days, made countless friendships and relationships, and previously served as an ENnies Judge during the 2010-2011 submission year. I’m running for Judge this year both to give back some service to the hobby that has defined more than half my life, and out of the desire to increase the visible representation in the hobby. While the hobby has grown significantly over the years, it can always open the doors to people who previously thought it wasn’t for them.


Why do you play/run RPGs?
I run and play games because I think stories are integral to the human experience, and, on the lighter side, sometimes you just need to murderhobo to blow off steam. The hobby has introduced me to, and nurtured some of my most important friendships, which is a benefit that has spread through out my entire life. Finally, the most important part, is when I was younger, and attempting to sort out my identity as a multiracial person in the world, and what that means, and how I choose to interact with the world. That ability to explore your own identity in a way that you can witness is priceless, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today with these games we play.


The ENnies requires a major commitment of time and energy. What resources do you have that will help you discharge these responsibilities? Will your gaming group or other individuals be assisting you? Does your family support you?
The major resources at my disposal are a number of gamers and gaming groups available for play testing, a relatively flexible schedule, and experience having done this job previously. Other than that, the people in my life are very supportive of me judging.


Judging requires a great deal of critical thinking skills, communication with other judges, deadline management, organization, and storage space for the product received. What interests, experience, and skills do you bring that will make you a more effective judge?
I have spent countless hours poring over rule books, both to internalize the rules, as well as to find power gamey loopholes in my youth, and have found that to be a very useful skill. Other than that I have a large amount of work experience working on collaborative projects, and know that the key detail that makes or breaks such a thing is communication between the members of the team. So probably the most useful skill I’ll bring to the ENnies will be my experience keeping everyone talking and communicating when such communication might be breaking down.


What styles and genres of RPGs do you enjoy most? Are there any styles or genres that you do not enjoy? Which games best exemplify what you like? Do you consider yourself a particular system’s, publisher’s, or genre’s “fanboy/fangirl”?
My tastes have truly changed over the years. These days I find myself gravitating more towards rules light, low prep games or other highly narrative systems. Good examples of systems that support those play styles are most of the Powered by the Apocalypse games or any of one page games from Rowan, Rook, and Decard. Genre wise, I will always be a sucker for heist games, as well as games of personal horror.
I don’t currently believe I have any system or publishers that I’m an iconic fan for these days, because most of the companies I used to be major fans of have either fallen off in the quality of their games, or have made political statements that I can not support.


What games have you played in the past year? List up to 10 RPGs you have played the most. Which ones, if any, have you loved or hated?
Hell 4 Leather( the Tarot version)- Probably my go to convention game, with it’s GMless highly narrative play which is all player driven.

Gumshoe variants- it’s gumshoe, they’re investigative games… in the words of Stan Lee, ‘nuf said

Masks: a New Generation I really enjoy coming of age games, I really enjoy supers games, and I really enjoy PBtA games. This game is all three

Legends of the 5 Rings 5th edition- the new edition was really enjoyable, sadly it wasn’t the greatest fit for my usual gaming group for campaign play

Fate accelerated – want to run a game and don’t know what system to use? here ya go

Winterhorn an excellent one shot game exploring the methods used by government agencies to weaken dissident groups

D&D5e You already have your opinions on this game… I’ll just say that as someone who traditionally dislikes class based games, level based games, Tolkien tropes, and Vancian magic, I generally hate D&D and I love 5e!

to Serve Her Wintery Hunger Incredibly intense one shot where you are playing horrible creatures hopefully perpetuating horrible things on a helpless person.. maybe not enjoyable, but seriously intense, and engaging, with a brilliant snowflake mechanic

Honey Heist they don’t get more fun or rules lighter than honey heist. You have 2 stats… Bear and Criminal. it really is as simple as it sounds

Wrath and Glory Grim Dark war torn space opera. The game impressed me with its character creation in that there wasn’t a single genre accurate concept I couldn’t figure out how to make. The combat rules were about as complicated as you’d expect from a game attempting to mimic Warhammer 40k.


Briefly summarize the criteria you will use for judging products in the different categories.
First and biggest criteria will always be “does this bring enjoyment to my tables”.
After that, I’ll look at balance, then professionalism( editing, layout, production quality).
Finally, when through all of that, I will use my sensibilities about representation of marginalized groups to break any ties…

After I’ve gone through with all of that, I will prepare to confer with my fellow judges, and come to a consensus, selecting the best products out of all of the submissions.


How will you judge supplements or adventures for game systems whose core rules you are unfamiliar with or you believe are badly designed?
As I mentioned above, the primary criteria will be ” what enjoyment does this bring to my tables” which is pretty easy to see for adventure supplements. For more technical supplements, I’ll raid my associates gaming libraries or ask for input from people more familiar with the core systems.


How would you like to see the ENnies change? What should remain inviolate?
The most important thing I’d like to see change from the ENnies is to somehow have more members of marginalized groups nominate themselves for judges, to increase the diversity of the judging panel. After that, I’d like to help increase the transparency of the judging process. The thing that should remain inviolate is the community’s attempts to improve after every setback. I have been following and supporting the ENnies since the first one took place in the EN World Chat room, and one thing that has always impressed me, is that even when the awards have misstepped, they have always managed to move forward and attempt to improve.


BONUS: (optional) If you were an RPG, what would it be and would you play it?
Bodegas and Bull$#!+ a quirky game of ridiculous personalities and trying to save the world through food access… if I wasn’t living it, I’d play it, but currently I want my games to be different than my life 😉

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