Fantasy Setting Search Closes In on Finalists

(l-r): Nathan Toomey, Fantasy Setting Search Finalist; Anthony Valterra, Category Manager for Tabletop Roleplaying Games; Peter Archer, Editorial Director of Book Publishing; and Nathan's giant, $10,000 check.

Nathan Toomey
Age: 33
Residence: Washington, D.C. area
Occupation: Graduate Student

Wizards: How long have you been playing RPGs, and how long have you been playing D&D?

Nathan: Because my first experience playing RPGs was with D&D, the answer is the same for both: since I was twelve. I have played continuously since then until the last couple of years when I moved away from my gaming group to begin my graduate studies. Now I play [Neverwinter Nights] online with my old gaming group as we all now live in different parts of the country. My grad studies have kept me too busy to find a new local group with which to play tabletop.

Wizards: What first interested you in gaming and D&D?

Nathan: I had just begun reading J.R.R. Tolkien at the time that I first played, and the game’s similarity to that world, i.e. the fantasy genre, really engaged my imagination. The fact that the game was open-ended, without boundaries, and really freed one’s imagination to explore was the most important aspects of the game. Also, the fact that the games and adventures took place in a medieval-like world also greatly excited me. From an even earlier age, I had been fascinated with the middle ages, knights, castles, swords, etc.

Wizards: What are your favorite games/settings, and why do you like them?

Nathan: Dark Sun, because the land is so inhospitable. That had a lot of original and clever things in it. What DM does not secretly like the idea of running a party through a harsh world in which the players have to scrape and struggle for every scrap of equipment, treasure, and survival itself?

Forgotten Realms -- This was and still is the quintessential gaming world. It is generous with its creative landscapes, cultures, and history. It would be hard to not find a place for your own campaign story in this huge and wonderful place.

Planescape -- Though I never really got to venture far into this setting, this is the one setting in which I wanted to play the most. The art, the vision, the sheer, horrifying complexity and alien hugeness of Planescape is all just wonderful stuff, truly wonderful stuff.

Wizards: Do you have a particular experience or situation from gaming that stands out in your memory? Something funny, or exciting, or weird?

Nathan: Here is one experience that exemplifies how badly things can go wrong. Our party was exploring the ruins of an ancient city when Grath -- our aspiring but not yet achieved paladin -- became annoyed by how long Daggo -- our intrepid dwarf fighter-thief -- was taking to search for traps. In his impatience, Grath decided to kick open a door at random, breaking a warded circle that contained a demon. After stomping on our party for a while, the demon grew bored when we withdrew into a holy sanctuary. His taste for death not near sated, the demon left the ruins for the surface to begin his career of world destruction. Battered, bruised, humbled, and thinking ourselves trapped in the sanctuary, we looked for another way to get back into the ruins besides opening the only door we thought was guarded by the demon. We found a secret passage leading to a section of the ruins we had not yet explored. Upon entering this passage our dwarven thief set off a ward of pain that afflicted most of the party. Wracked with pain, Daggo pleaded with Spiro, the party’s only mage, to dispel the effect. Having spent most of his arcane power on the demon, Spiro remembered a recently acquired scroll of dispel magic. Excited and feeling useful, Spiro hurriedly whipped out the scroll and read the runes scribed thereon. Instead of releasing the pain and agony of his comrades, he released a 10d6 fireball, which not only almost finished off the party, but also destroyed over half the party’s magic items. Hunkered over the crispy remains of the unrolled scroll, only sputtering smoke coming out of his mouth when he tried to speak, Spiro dared not return the blank stares of his party members. Moreover, the ward of pain was still in effect.

Wizards: Do you have a favorite designer? If so, who?

Nathan: This is truly cruel limiting me to just one, but if you insist, then I must say Tracy and Laura Hickman for the original Ravenloft module. That was such a wonderful and visionary module at that time. I still have wonderful memories of DMing that game, several times.

Wizards: What got you interested in fantasy as a genre?

Nathan: That would have to be the master of fantasy himself, J.R.R. Tolkien. But perhaps even before him, my interest in mythology and fairytales probably led to my love of the fantasy genre. Some other important writers that got me interested in the genre were Michael Moorcock and Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books.

Wizards: Who's your favorite fantasy author, and what's your favorite fantasy novel or series of fantasy novels?

Nathan: Again, J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings. I hate to be so predictable.

Wizards: Of Wizards/TSR's authors or books, who/what's your favorite?

Nathan: I hate to admit that I have never read any Wizards/TSR books, but this is more because by the time they were hitting the big time, I was too engrossed in school and had very little time to read anything that my professors didn’t tell me to read.

Wizards: What interested you in submitting to the fantasy setting search?

Nathan: The primary reason is the chance to contribute something to a gaming community that has meant so much to me, inspired me, sparked my creativity, given me so much enjoyment, and introduced me to my best friends. And, I would be dishonest if I did not admit to liking the proposition of getting to work with Wizards for either a short or long time period. Oh, and the monetary size of the reward was not just an afterthought.

Wizards: Is your setting one that you've been working on for some time, or did you devise it just for the fantasy setting search?

Nathan: The setting as a whole was created for the Fantasy Setting Search, though it is comprised of pieces, themes, and storylines that I have either DMed myself or have had kicking around in the back of my head for some time.

Wizards: Without revealing too many specific details, do you work on your setting alone, or are you part of a team?

Nathan: The original idea was my own, and I developed the framework in isolation. Since being notified of my acceptance into the final round, however, I have employed the help of two of my best friends and long-time gaming buddies, whose imagination, knowledge of history and human civilization, writing ability, and knowledge of the gaming and fantasy fiction genres are a tremendous benefit.

Wizards: How did you feel when you found out that your setting was chosen as one of the 11 best out of almost 11,000 submissions? What about being chosen as one of the 3 best out of those 11?

Nathan: I was very amazed and excited when I discovered that I had made it to the second round. For one thing, I was stunned that my submission had even been found among the 11,000 received by Wizards. On the day that they notified me of the good news, I left for a short vacation not knowing anything. By the time that I got back home and checked my email, I had almost missed the deadline to respond.

I was extremely anxious after I sent off my submission for the second round. Leaving class one night almost exactly two weeks later, my phone alerted me that I had voice mail. There it was, a message from Peter Archer telling me that he had some news that would interest me. I could have died. "News that would interest me" had to be good, so I was bubbling over with excitement feeling fairly confident that I knew what it meant. The next day, when I did finally reach him and he confirmed my suspicions, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. I had done it!

Wizards: What do you currently do for a living?

Nathan: I am in the last semester of my graduate school program in national security studies. I have been employed in this career field for the last two years while getting my masters degree. Since May of this year I have been employed as a contractor to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons and Counterproliferation Agency at the Pentagon.

Wizards: What do you plan to do if your setting is chosen and you receive the $100,000 contract?

Nathan: Take a vacation to Italy.

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