Interview with Chas Barger, tabletop gaming photographer, and TTRPG DM

For the uninitiated, DnD is a role-playing game where each player creates a character and assumes their identity to act out a story based on an outline created by the Dungeon Master/Game Master and the outcome of dice rolls. I had a chance to sit with my own DM, Chas Barger, and talk about story and character creation.

So, Chas, how did you get involved with DnD?

I first played DnD in high school. My German teacher founded the “Nerd Club”, (real name lol), and it was my first exposure to the game. I got back into it when 5e came out and I missed the feeling of sitting around a table till late with friends vs. sitting on consoles or on PC games at each of our houses.

How many years had you been playing DnD before you gave Dungeon Mastering a try?

I have been a forever DM since 5e came out, pretty much. It was the classic “not having anyone to play with”, so I picked up the DM mantle to try and recruit some friends.

What’s your favorite part of DMing a game?

Definitely watching player reactions to the world, plot-twists, etc. Seeing people buy into a story you’re working on is a great feeling.

As a writer, I’m often asked this question, so I’ll ask you as well How do you come up with your story?

I generally use Wizards of the Coast modules as a general framework, but I heavily homebrew a lot of the events. I like for my players to recognize those in the lore of the official stories, but not be able to anticipate what will happen.

Are you a “Plotter” or a “Pantser?” Do you plan out all your story options and possibilities ahead of time, or do you come up with plot and characters as the game progresses?

I set up a general framework of how the overall story arches will go, but very loosely, because, with DnD, planning can go out the window.

What’s your favorite part of story creation?

Just getting lost in a setting and letting it organically create itself based on player actions. It’s a mix of story discovery and improv.

I think as writers we all have favorite kinds of stories we love to write. Do you have any favorite storylines or certain tropes that you prefer to use?

It depends on the group, honestly. I love to base the storylines on what will motivate the party specifically. It’s generally more about what the party will react to, more than my personal preferred storytelling methods.

What’s your favorite part of character creation?

Adding the flavor to his spells/cantrips/race or class abilities. That, to me, is what really breathes life into characters. It can be the simplest tweak added to a cantrip that makes me fall in love with a character.

Do you have any favorite character types that must be in every game you DM?

There is always the comfort character; the character that the party just feels at ease with, and who can do no wrong to them. Someone who the party can relax around and not constantly be suspicious of their intentions.

When you get to act out a part in the story, which are your favorite characters to role play?

Villains, always. They are the most fun because if done well, your players will loath to hear a certain voice or hear reference to their name.

Writers are always trying to create that one character that will hook the reader. What tips would you give for creating an interesting character?

Try and include something that makes them uniquely yours. A small mannerism, a unique method of spellcasting, or some quirk that adds flavor to combat and adds depth to roleplaying. But most importantly make a character you enjoy playing.

You also take pictures of game dioramas using minis and sets that you’ve painted yourself.  How did you get involved in that?

When I first started I did nothing but hand-drawn maps on graph paper with dice as minis for my players. As time went on it was a gradual evolution into 3d terrain and miniatures. Naturally, the painting came along when I realized some of the best minis were not pre-painted. 3D printing also played a large role in my painting.

And how did the photography part happen?

When the pandemic hit I had all this beautiful terrain and miniatures but nothing to do with them. As almost a coping mechanism with the pandemic, I poured myself into this new hobby of ttrpg photography, and it has been an amazing creative outlet during trying times.

Where can we see some of your diorama photos?

I post new photos to Twitter: @npc_creations or on my website I plan on attending ttrpg cons as well in 2021-2022.