Khairul Hisham is a gamer geek living and working in Malaysia’s northernmost state, Perlis. In addition to his work as a freelance illustrator for the gaming industry, Hisham works hard as a university academic, using roleplaying games to teach. And he’s the most kickass Star Wars gamemaster I know.
Khairul Hisham the Gamemaster
What was your first RPG? First owned, and first as a GM?
The first RPG I ever owned and gamemastered was West End Games’ Star Wars The Roleplaying Game back in the late 80s. There was a fantastic Gamemaster’s Section chapter in the rulebook that taught you comprehensively (well, very comprehensive for the late ’80s) how to craft and GM your own Star Wars adventures, so I ran a short scenario with my sister as my first ever player.
Some of Hisham’s fan-made sourcebooks and GM screen, alongside the original Star Wars RPG.
I met Hisham as a member of the Gamers of KL group way back during the first decade of the 2000s, when we played in various Star Wars RPGs, including the original West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game as well as the newer games from Fantasy Flight Games.
What RPG sessions do you run, and what is your favourite game?
Being first and foremost a Star Wars fan from the first time I saw the first movie when it was first released, I’ve mostly run various versions of the Star Wars RPG. Which also probably answers the latter question! Also, I’ve ran Call of Cthulhu, The Laundry, Bare Bones Fantasy and Mini Six. I would definitely want to run more variety of RPGs.
Hisham has always been the best Star Wars GM I know. This is a Hisham’s-eye view of myself and Razzman Khaliff.
Hisham uses Mini Six, a variant of the OpenD6 game system, to teach his students.
Among the adventures you have created, do you have some favourites? What characters, settings and situations are you most proud of?
I started GMing with no actual mentor, so at that age I subconsciously (and probably consciously at some parts) emulated Saturday morning cartoon adventures, like Transformers and GI Joe. Every session was a standalone game with one-off NPCs and locations. After a year or so of running the campaign, I collected all the original NPCs and locations, made it so that their backstories are connected.
On the last leg of the campaign, brought up some destiny-slash-legacy background to the characters which put all their one-shot adventures into perspective where ultimately they had to defeat an ancient threat. Well, it wasn’t that ancient, just 200 years old. Also, the concept smells much better than the execution.
Running the Star Wars RPG for friends in Sitiawan.
At a gaming session during Eid 2013, in Pandan Indah, Kuala Lumpur.
Reuniting with the Gamers of KL group to play Star Wars: Edge of the Empire at Wira Games & Hobbies.
Khairul Hisham the Educator
Tell us about how you run RPGs in an education context. How do you introduce the concept, and how long does it take players to catch on?
Introducing the concept in an education context is an uphill battle. Although gamification is a current trend in education, it does sound like to a layman that a tabletop game — which has this side effect of getting people to read, write and speak as well as be creative — sounds so very too-good-to-be-true.
In this class, the topic was “natural disasters,” as experienced through a roleplaying game!
Another engaging classroom roleplaying exercise using the Mini Six RPG.
Most would greet this notion with skepticism. I would then have to explain to them very carefully why and how RPGs can be beneficial in language learning. The simple reason why most people have not heard of this is because it is a highly niche hobby.
The Star Wars: Force and Destiny RPG was the basis for a roleplaying exercise in theatre class. What lucky students.
The Mini Six RPG has been used for an ongoing campaign of game sessions as part of this class.
In my classes and workshops, it takes the new players some time to get used to the fact that all they have to do is speak, take notes and roll dice to have fun while developing language skills. Again, too good to be true for them that their first reaction would be, “This can’t be right.”
Hisham has been able to involve twice the normal number of participants in a single RPG session. Half the students speak and play, the other half observe and take notes on the RPG session.
Sometimes, Hisham has run the same scenario for two classes of students in one day to see how they receive it differently.
What advice would you give to language educators using RPGs and other games in class?
Learn to gamemaster a game for your students. One of the most difficult thing to do is to provide students with enough immersion and engagement. RPGs will get them to be invested in their characters and the story enough for them to speak, read and write (when the game is structured to account for language learning) for them to improve.
Get them to create. Write their background. Write descriptions and histories of places, people and things they encounter in the sessions.
One benefit of using a university classroom is being able to use the whiteboard to track RPG gameplay.
Hisham’s visual presentation for this classroom roleplaying session about the Fukushima tsunami disaster.
Who is Khairul Hisham by day? Who is Khairul Hisham by night?
I can’t even tell which one is day Hisham and which is night Hisham anymore. I can probably safely say one Hisham is a lifelong dice-rolling tabletop gamer who loves the creativity put into designing and playing role-playing games.
The other Khairul Hisham through an unlikely twist of fate found himself to be a language teacher who also discovered that there is a possibility of helping others in the field of education using RPGs.
Running the RPG Workshop at the 2018 Symposium for International Languages and Knowledge which was held at Walailak University at Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand.
Programme book entry for the RPG Workshop at SILK 2018.
Running RPG demos at the Geomatics Carnival 2018 event in UiTM Arau, Perlis.
Khairul Hisham the Illustrator
Tell us about the artist Khairul Hisham!
That Hisham is the Hisham that’s always been there since I was born, drawing when I was old enough to hold a pencil. Though as I grew up, many authority figures discouraged me from doing any art because of the standard “no money in it” belief they subscribe to. But for some reason I just kept drawing. I joke that my persistence in drawing might be result of a minor mental disorder.
Then suddenly, when I found myself jobless and broke I fell back on my drawings to feed my family! Thankfully I kept practicing and developing my skills and began dabbling in digital drawings. I approached many a publishing company, but it turned out the tabletop RPG industry was the one who took me in as a freelance illustrator to keep us afloat.
What projects have you worked on?
I’ve did a number of cover and interior work for various companies, such as Azamar and Westward for Wicked North Games, BareBones Fantasy and Covert Ops for DwD Studios, Invulnerable for Imperfekt Gammes, several sourcebooks for Chris Perrin’s Mecha RPG for Heroic Journey Publishing and Void Vultures for Kallisti Press. Besides RPGs I’ve also worked on board games such as Salvage Ops for DwD Studios.
What gaming art project have you found most challenging and interesting lately?
Oh wow. Recently I did three books back to back for DwD Studios for their FrontierSpace line. It was challenging in that I had not enough time in the weekday (and weekends) to draw at the rate I used to be able to.
So much work to do as a language teacher at a university, which included developing a co-curricular theatre arts syllabus! Ultimately I was able to finish them all though my wrists were sore.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
Don’t stop drawing even if everyone tells you to. Be nice to people. Use the internet tools available to aid you in your business when you begin.
What would be the strangest occasion you ran a game as a teacher?
Remember that co-curricular theatre class I mentioned I developed? I ran a session of Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire RPG as one of the acting exercises for my students. I am in a position to play RPGs at work and that is just nuts.
Running a Mini Six horror adventure to engage students and get them to speak in English.
What would be the strangest occasion you ran a game otherwise?
I once ran West End Games’ Star Wars RPG for my secondary school buddies at a deserted beach on Pangkor Island by firelight at midnight, crafting terrain using beach sand.
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