If you’ve ever seen AGemOrSomething’s work on Etsy, then you’ve seen the colorful creations of Felix Van Der Sluys. This pro GM of Dungeons of Dragons 5e, Honey Heist, and Monster of the Week brings the energy of her detailed physical creations to their games. Imagine the kind of NPC you’d get from a “bubblegum wizard” miniature decked out in color-shifting paint! Felix’s players praise the “tremendous voices” and “high energy” she embodies their characters with.
For this week’s highlight, we talked with Felix about where they get inspiration from and how she handles the physical challenges of the job as a chronically ill pro GM.
What are your favorite TTRPGs to run and play in? Why?
As much as I love D&D, there are so many rules! It's a lot of books to read through. I'd have to say that my favorite is probably Monster of the Week. You can get really crazy with what's going on, and honestly if you do it right you can lift plots and monsters straight from things like Supernatural or Buffy or any number of popular media- the monster creation system is super simple and straight to the point without worrying about fussy dice rolls with an unnecessary amount of modifiers.
I love playing in weird, one off short TTRPGs. Grant Howitt does some fantastic one-page RPGS like Crash Pandas, Honey Heist, Goat Crashers and Sexy Battle Wizards. They're only one page so it's really, REALLY easy to just pick it up and go with it, and making a goat or a raccoon or a bear or a Sexy Battle Wizard is really easy. It makes for some memorable moments when taking a break from a long-form campaign.
How did you get started in TTRPGs?
My best friend in high school was super into all the weird nerdy things that I was into. We used to go over to each other's houses and play video games on whatever laptops or consoles we had and ignore each other for hours on end, that's what we called a good time.
I think about sophomore year or around that time (2016-ish?) her dad had given her one of his D&D books he had when he played in high school. She shortly after bought the starter set and invited me to play through Lost Mines of Phandelver, her as the DM and me playing four PCs (we didn't have many other friends outside of us two). We eventually picked up more players and started our year-long campaign running through Curse of Strahd and I just fell in love with the game. Shortly after I was playing in probably 6 or 7 games a week for a good 6-7 months.
Where do you gather your inspiration from?
Most inspiration for characters usually comes from memes that I find funny, but sometimes I'll get a player where I can just bounce ideas back and forth off of each other and we come up with some crazy backstories! Relatively frequently as well I'll paint a miniature that's lying around and suddenly once it's painted I've got this great idea for a character. Painting miniatures keeps my brain thinking about what context the monster or creature is going to be in, which helps me in turn think about random encounters.
My miniatures for in-person games are always a little spunky! My favorite that I've painted so far that I just love showing off is my bubblegum wizard which I painted using TurboDork color-shifting paints. Customizing tokens for my players is fun too! I like to have the borders all be different colors (usually I have them pick their favorite color) so it's easy to differentiate between PCs and NPCs.
I also take a lot of inspiration from my husband who's been doing this a lot longer than I have. He's got great ideas that are sometimes off the wall but when they're executed right they make for memorable moments for our players. Bouncing ideas back and forth off of him has been such a huge help in getting some of the less fleshed out campaigns I run to go a bit more smoothly.
What is your best advice for new players? And For GMs?
Don't be afraid to ask questions and speak up for yourself. I've seen new players (not even necessarily new to a game, but new to a group) get steamrolled over by a dominant personality and not have fun playing. If you don't know a rule and the GM is busy there's probably at least one other person in the group at least somewhat familiar with the rules that you could ask!
Not advocating for yourself, or putting too much on your shoulders, can be a major GM mistake. One of the things I struggle with is feeling like I'm not doing enough for my players, especially on days where my body just cannot handle sitting down for longer than 30 minutes. Taking breaks as you need them is okay, and more likely than not your players will be understanding! I'm super lucky that there are only a few days a week where I'm feeling out of it enough that the only hindrance is needing to move about while narrating, and not everyone has that luxury.
Being honest about accessibility needs is super important, so advocate for yourself and your players that may need it! Some sessions I end up having 3-4 breaks in a game just because sitting for hours on end and not stretching can ruin your back (not to mention your butt hurts after a while).
What is one of the best moments of your GMing career?
I had just run the first session of Curse of Strahd online for a new group, and they all got on pretty well so there wasn't really any problems or player conflict that needed to be resolved before the next session. I woke up a day or so after to a message in the discord chat for the group, and one of the players was asking if it was Friday yet.
After only one session, two days later he was so excited to play again with me and the group. That's when I felt like I made it as a GM. Knowing that one of my players was brimming with anticipation for a game that wasn't going to happen for another five days was just such a joy to wake up to and it really made the rest of my week. I still love when players talk and chitter with excitement for the next session but nothing is as special as that first time you know your players are revving to go and kill some monsters, and they want to be doing it with you leading the way.
What do you love about StartPlaying Games?
It's so easy to advertise games, and find ones that you're looking for. Of course the platform tends to be dominated with D&D but you can find other systems! It's a great place to go if you're looking for something that you know is going to be good and your run-of-the-mill game at your friendly local game store isn't just cutting it.
You know you're getting people that are pretty serious about playing because they're actively seeking out paid games so they can play with like minded people. Everyone that I have encountered so far has been pleasant to talk to and totally understanding of any scheduling issues that may occur. It's a great site full of awesome people!
As a queer woman herself, Felix runs many LGBTQ+ friendly games that welcome beginners and experienced players alike. Take a look at her StartPlaying profile to see what she’s currently running or to request one of their one-page specialties. You can see their painted minis and other works on Twitter and Instagram @AGemOrSomething.