Most of us have the bad fortune of not being able to spend our entire waking lives playing TTRPGS, and instead have to go out and work to survive. Welcome to Nice Job, DM! where we interview cool DMs with cool day jobs.
What's cooler than being coal? Being a paleontologist! Today, we interview Trevor Valle, who can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @TattoosAndBones.
Can you please introduce yourself?
Hi! I'm Trevor Valle!
What is your day job?
Well, it depends on the day... occasionally it's being a professional DM! But most days, I'm a paleontologist.
What’s your favorite part of being a paleontologist?
When I'm working on a construction site, or out on a field expedition, when a fossil is discovered, I'm the first human to ever see that bone.
When I'm looking at these fossils, at the sediment they're found in, I'm looking back in time, possibly millions or even hundreds of millions of years.
What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a paleontologist?
Oh, wow. Well, you certainly have to love it. Natural history museums and such are critically underfunded, so the pay isn't always great, even in the private sector. Work can be sporadic and seasonal.
If you really want to get into it, DEFINITELY get into geology and sedimentology. Volunteer at a local museum if they have any fossil cleaning programs or fieldwork. Heck, even take online courses or in-person classes on osteology - the study of bones and skeletal elements - and how to discern different kinds of teeth (carnivore vs. herbivore, etc.). And most importantly, get comfortable with camping and getting really, really dirty.
When and why did you start DMing, and for what systems?
I'm an old-time DM. I started playing when I was just a kid in 1982. Started with the D&D Basic Set, AD&D "First Edition", etc. I started DMing that same year, because I wanted to be the one telling the stories. I also learned very quickly that the DM isn't telling the story. The players are, with their characters. D&D hooked me, but I really quickly went into Call of Cthulhu. Star Frontiers. Paranoia. Heroes. The original Star Trek: The Role-Playing Game. The early 80s into the 90s were the wild west of TTRPGs.
How often do you DM?
As a professional DM, I do it whenever I can or when I'm needed. I have a D&D 5e home game every two weeks which has been going for over 2 years, and I am also the GM every Wednesday for Leverage: Los Angeles on the Open Circuit Studios Twitch Channel, with a bunch of other things coming down the pipe. I am kind of a Forever DM, so I cherish the times I can be a player.
What is your favorite part of DMing?
The players. Hard stop.
The ideas, characters, stories, and emotions that the players bring to games is the greatest thing.
Can you tell us your best memory from the table?
All my best memories are the times my players are really into a scene among themselves, deep into the roleplay, making strategies.
I can get up from the table, go refill my tea, grab a snack, and when I come back the story is still grooving and turning, and I can just sit back and watch the fireworks.
There was this one time, in the home game, where the emotions ran really hot: the party had just come back to their village, and found it destroyed; burned to cinders and melted stone from dragonfire. Except for one home, the home of the gnome wizard of the party. The magical wards her father placed on the home protected it. It was a massive emotional gutcheck, and the party was really worried she would stay behind. It was really, REALLY intense for a while. I just sat there and watched. Gasped. Cried. Wondered.
She stayed with the party.
Do any skills you use for your day job help you when you DM?
Sure do! And vice versa! Having to be a science communicator, talking with crews, being interviewed for shows, or even just being asked questions, it's necessary to be descriptive.
You have to present complex ideas in ways that are understandable. Also, taking my knowledge of paleontology into my games... let's just say my dinosaurs and prehistoric critters are terrifying.
I also bring the narrative aspects, the storytelling I do as a DM, into work, describing the animals. How they lived. Interacted with the environment. Even how they may have died.
What advice or house rules would you share with new DMs?
Let the players play.
I like to say that the characters are the story. Their levels, their advancement and the encounters, are the chapters. The dice are the plot twists. I'm just the introduction.
As for house rules or tips... make your animals scary. So many people play them as simple animals. Huge animals know how to use their bodies. Have a Tyrannosaur bite a target, and then whip its head and throw them. Birds are intelligent; they use tools like sticks to pry things out of holes. Imagine a party tucked under an overhang, hiding, as a massive eagle, or even a roc, tries to get them. Suddenly it hops away... and brings back a fallen tree to use as a stick, and starts slamming it under the overhang, trying to stab or drive the party out. Keep the party on their toes!