The Reckless Play Guild Interviews – Hem Cleveland!

Welcome to The Reckless Play Guild interview show, I’ll be your interviewer Russ More… First, thank you for taking the time to interview all of us knuckleheads! We will try to do justice to you and the amazing show, The Lucky Die, which you create!

A show that rivals the backlog of Dumbgeons, so for anyone who hasn’t listened yet, there is plenty of amazing content that you’re going to want to add to your podcast feed.

Russ: For those that don’t know, let’s kick off by you telling us who you are, which podcast you create and which hats you wear when putting that show together?

Volonda: It was a pleasure chatting with each one of you. Thank you for being my guinea pigs!

My name is Hem Cleveland, but I’m also known as Volonda on the show or Volly or V-eeeeeee. I produce audiobooks as well as voice act in a variety of different podcasts.

I am the Games Mistress, Web mistress and the producer of the Lucky Die. that basically means I prep the game, run the game, do quality control and give ideas on the audio, arrange for voice overs/guest players, keep the trains running on time and anything back ground that we need doing to expand and keep making good content.

AKA I have the biggest whip for organisation.

Russ: Haha! Whatever you need to keep everyone in line, right?!

I love speaking with other creators, especially show runners and hearing all the things that they do to put out the best show possible! Definitely will also be coming back around to your audiobook production and voice acting because that’s where I was first introduced to you, and audiobooks fascinate me to no end.

BUT! With all the tasks that come with being a GM/producer/showrunner for a podcast, what are one or two things that you love about the process as well as push you the most day-to-day?

Volonda: For being a GM, it’s always the players, because DAMN I LOVE THEM. Someone once told me that you should be a fan of your players and of their characters, and I really took that to heart. They come up with such crazy off the wall things, it keeps me on my toes.

As for the process, I love organizing the whole thing; listening back, suggesting ideas, creating things like Press Kits, investigating Patreon and marketing, making Youtube overlays for our monthly AMAs… I just love all these small little things.

Basically, I enjoy the whole process. Apart from legal type paperwork. No one enjoys that.

Waking up in the morning and seeing that someone has enjoyed all this work we do behind the scenes really makes it worth it to me.

Russ: That is always such an amazing feeling for sure!

There are so many small pieces that most people don’t think about when they see or listen to a final product, that when we lay them out in a list like that it’s amazing there is enough time in the day to get them all done! But, so very rewarding when they all come together!

All that said, what inspired you to travel down this road and start a podcast of your own?

Volonda: I was looking for a new D&D game that I could play online, and found this advert on Reddit for a voice actor or the such like, to be a player for a D&D game that would become a podcast. I applied and boom, I got into it.

A little bit later, I started thinking about a new campaign to play with my home group using an rpg system myself and my friend had designed, and making that a podcast. I was thinking about who I wanted to play with me: Arch and Neil were at the top of the list, along with a couple of others.

As it was, the Reddit game fell apart shortly after and I said ‘hey, I got a dumb idea, i was going to make my own anyway, wanna do one with me?’.

The rest is, as you would say, history.

Russ: Were you doing voice acting before, or did your voice acting come from the reddit D&D post?

Volonda: I was listening to We’re Alive and I thought to myself ‘I really wanna BE in something like that’, so I was already beginning to look into how to do voices, where to look for auditions. which home microphones to get.

But everything has really grown form answering that Reddit post really.

Russ: There’s definitely something special that comes from hearing something that drives you to say “I want THAT!” And then going out and achieving it!

What was it in listening to We’re Alive (great podcast BTW) that hooked you into the the voice acting world? Did you have previous dramatic or acting experience?

Volonda: I took some drama classes at school and then I was pulled into amateur dramatics when I was in my early teenagers, did a few roles here and there, some lead, some not, but ended up behind the stage as a technical stage manager (telling the lights, sound, visual effects and actors when to go, starting the show, curtains etc).

My first time on the stage, treading the boards, I was 14 and I played the lead male role, and he had broken his arm – which meant I had to wear a sling, in which I hid all my props. It became a running gag we did in rehearsal and just left it in. My first night I was so scared, but the technical crew left the haze/smoke machine on too long and I couldn’t see the audience when the show started. I was very thankful!

After a while, I got known more for my backstage technical work, from running the show to projector effects, and I stopped getting cast for roles. Eventually I gave all that up when I got an apprenticeship and had to make that a priority.

I really got into listening to podcasts after I graduated and it was really We’re Alive that woke me up to the idea that I could try my hand in the audio medium, rather than the stage. It just spiraled from there really.

Russ: It’s funny how once people realize a person is proficient in something technical, they latch onto them and never let them go!

I love stage shows, and secretly wish I had the time to get into community theatre. Relive the glory days of highschool!

Okay! Shifting gears, we’ll get back to the podcast next, first though when did you get into producing audiobooks and what’s the DEAL (in Seinfeld’s delivery) with Hem and audiobooks?

Volonda: Audiobooks came about when I realized I had a good enough setup for it. I was also strapped for cash. I just googled how to get into it, asked my friend Neil (who does all the audio on TLD) for advice on editing, and bam, here I producing books on a fairly regular basis.

I have a good mix between pay per hour produced projects, and projects which give me a royalty share on those audiobooks sold.

It is a long grueling process though, somewhere between 2-4 times longer than the finished audio time, depending on complexity of the book – so count an initial read & record, add re-recordings, editing and meeting audio requirements. Sometimes the author might ask for a slightly different read or a different voice for a character. Its a lot longer process than I first thought. But ultimately worth it I think.

Out of the dozen or so I’ve done/doing, I’ve only really had one negative experience, so on the whole, it’s pretty good fun.

Russ: Sounds like a super fun set up! And coincidentally perfectly paired to a very cleanly edited show in The Lucky Die!

Let’s dive back into the show, I love listening to stories with well thought out world’s and your world is one of the things that hooked me when I was first listening to the show.

Where did the origins of Bikron (the world within The Lucky Die) come from?

Volonda: It came from me trying to make the world a little easier on my end, and for the listener. Keeping it as accessible as possible to start with – keeping the continent the game starts on as Tolkien type races, with anything else being ‘hard mode’.

Most of it comes from the fact I actually know very little about established lore for people, places and pests within the D&D worlds. I wanted to make a fantasy world that I knew 100% so I could confidently make the world feel as believable as a fantasy world can feel – I am playing the world, I should know it.

It also really adds to the feeling that a new thing for the character, really is new since the player doesn’t know it either. It also forces us at the table to describe and learn everything we encounter, so we aren’t tempted to skip over something ‘obvious’ to us, and thus our audience gets that discovery too.

I developed our own world with a new planar system, a different look at Dragonborns and I messed around with politics – the inter continent war and two very different ways of governing, The Dawn and The Dusk.

And of course added in a very real need to always be armed when travelling – demons and celestials.

I spent about 2-3 weeks in my studio only writing up the world before my players even got a proper look in. I worked on death, places and people. Each of the important NPCS has somewhere between 2 lines and an entire page of backstory. It can include purpose, voice notes (accents, ages, unique characteristics) or future implications.

Much of what we experience in game, I could never have prepared for however, and I rely heavily on my improvising ability to either create entirely, or to add finishing touches to characters and to the world as we come across them.

Russ: I love everything about this! It’s very different coming up with a new uncharted land than stepping into a decades old setting that has been handled over and over again by so many different authors and creators.

Both definitely have their pros and cons, but it sounds like you hit the nail on the head with making the world accessible not just for your players but for listeners as well.

Knowing that your knowledge of D&D and the worlds within them aren’t your forte, where and how did you get your start in the wide and wonderful world of TTRPG’s?

Volonda: I actually got started through a play by post forum a friend of mine setup in school. He made this forum, and we’d just roleplay this adventure. I remember being on their on Christmas day one year. I loved those characters and that story – dumbly I still remember all those characters’ names – it got shut down after we finished a couple of major story arcs as the guy wanted his website for something else.

One of those players ended up going to university and coming back during the holidays with a D&D DM guide and a module. In one form or another, I’ve been playing a TTRPG ever since, from White Wolf warhammer things, to D&D, to complete homebrew systems, to Blades in the Dark, to Call of Cthulhu for well over 12 years now, and roleplaying for 17.

Russ: That’s super interesting, I’ve been hearing that more and more, that a lot of people’s first introduction to the world of roleplaying was on online forums (or equivalent). Doesn’t matter where it starts, it usually seems to stick for most people!

One of the favourite parts of playing the game for me (mostly because I am often the game runner, as opposed to palying) is creating NPCs and bringing them to life! Do you have a favourite NPC or NPCs in your show? And once they are there, have you gone out of your way to include them in more of the story?

Volonda: Tayless, Demi, Bourgim and Aema for sure. Actually, I love almost all of the NPC’s we come across.

Tayless, a 7 year old human girl, is the cutest and most adorable little thing I have ever made. She was created a little bit by accident – I knew that Kaeden would be a single father, originally triplets but I bottled! So I adapted three into one and thus Tayless was born. She’s my representation of the potential in the world. I love her.

Demi, a human ‘witch’ (because her class is not properly revealed yet) and she is just chaotic fun. She’s effing crazy and I have genuinely let too much slip because she just doesn’t stop talking!

Now Tayless, I have written her in a little more than I had originally thought because we all respond so well to her! And Demi, well….. I try to limit her exposure to the story because… damn.

But honestly, I want to play Aema (Rhal’s mate) and Bougrim (Rhal’s dwarven best friend) more than anything, but their specific roles in the story mean I can’t play them more, in fact I almost need to keep them out.

Russ: They’re all so fun! I love how committed everyone is to the characters while you’re playing/recording. Really makes for a very immersive show!

Behind the scenes, how “on-point” is everyone while playing, or do they take a lot of wrangling? And are there ever times when you’ve had to go back and re-record anything that perhaps wasn’t working out within an episode?

Volonda: When we haven’t recorded for a long time, it sometimes takes a little bit of time to get back into it, but generally on the whole, we’re pretty much as you hear: there’s very little cutting of content.

But we have had to go back and re-record a single scene. It was a fight scene between myself a single player. It was mostly down to the fact we forget a big bunch of really key things and abilities and overall it just sounded really bad – a lot of meta and little good description.

The two of us just recorded that one scene, and if the fight went the other way, then c’est la vie – I’d have to re-record two other lines to make it cannon again, but as it was the outcome was the same, and it sounded WAY better.

Russ: Definitely nice when it works out like that. From speedily trying to catch up. you all sound like you have amazing chemistry, and you not only care about the show, but each other. Such a lovely dynamic!

Now, before we move on to some questions from The Reckless Play Guild, for those that haven’t begun The Lucky Die journey yet, what’s the best way for them to get immersed? And as spoiler-free as you can be, what’s next for The Lucky Die, the adventurers of Diskora and your new look into Kino?

Volonda: I think we work so well together because we’re friends. I genuinely love all of them and I want to see them succeed. Also IRL hugs with each of them was amazing.
How to get immersed? Hmm. Well, TLDR is on it’s way (The Lucky Die Recaps) but until then, get stuck in with “Before the Beginning” where we do a little backstory episode with each of them prior to going to jail, or start with Episode 1 proper.

What’s next for TLD? The four of us sat down last weekend and talked about what The Lucky Die looks like in the future, and I’m excited for new shows in the pipeline. Some RPG related… some not But they still have a few kinks to work out before we announce anything officially.

For Diskora and Kino – More discovery as to the cause of the apocalypse, more thwarting my attempts to destroy their world and continued laughing with pun runs extraordinaire. Added to that, our Patron’s funded a couple of audio drama shorts about some of our favourite NPC’s! I’m looking forward to, and very nervous about, writing and producing those too.

Russ: Sounds like so much awesome stuff on the way for The Luck Die fans! Thank you so much for answering MY questions!

But now, let us move on to some amazing questions from The Reckless Play Guild community. So many questions, so let’s start working our way down.
This first one is from:

Darryl Johnson: Volanda or Hem? Sooo confused.

Volonda: Volonda is the handle I tend to use online; gaming, twitter, twitch, that kind of thing.

When I started voice acting and making audiobooks, I used my preferred name, Hem Cleveland. As it was, I used Hem Cleveland when I did the White Vault, and then Dark Dice happened.

So now both are used online. Happens that way I guess. Also, incidentally, my given name isn’t Hem either, that’s also a nickname, but one I prefer.

Russ: Travis has a bunch of questions for you (almost like he should have run this interview  – first:

Travis Vengroff: What TTRPG pods did you listen to before starting your own?

Volonda: Mostly The Adventure Zone and Taking Initiative. The latter guys are massively unappreciated, hilariously funny and really good friends. I didn’t really listen to a whole lot of TTRPGs before The Lucky Die, but I’ve expanded out since then.

Travis Vengroff: How much prep goes into each session or episode?

Volonda: Massively depends, somewhere between 0.5-2x the length of the session.

The world and main story is pretty well prepped, so I can copy paste and do minor edits, but sometimes specific locales or events need a lot of care for me to feel comfortable to go with.
And fairly often the crew rp so much between them that I end up with whole sessions prepped without lifting a finger.

Travis Vengroff: Is there something you would change about your main story, or a roll you wish you could have maybe lied about and said was something else?

Volonda: I don’t think so, no.

Everything that has happened that is a deviation from what I had planned has been way too interesting, and the players messing with me usually results in really cool things for the characters.

They’re my plot twists as much as I am theirs.

Travis Vengroff: How do you measure the success of a session, and what do you value in your games (as a DM, and as a player)?

Volonda: If everyone is laughing, or moved, or desperate to find out more, and if things were fun and interesting. You get that little rush when you know it was a good session.

For me as a player, I value adaptability. I like do off the cuff things on occasion and a DM who can cope with that is awesome to me.

But it also depends on the game itself – sometimes I want experiences I think about for days afterwards, Other times I just want to smile knowing we had an epic tale our characters can talk about. In certain games, being able to craft the story with the DM and help direct the characters along the paths that would make the whole story more interesting is fun.

Russ: What’s more fun for you playing the game or running the game?

Volonda: I think running the game, if I’m honest with myself. I’ve played a lot of games, but very few occupy my mind like running the game. Now there have been exceptions (Dark Dice is one, I’m left emotionally wrought after most sessions) and I love the heck out of those, but my true love I think is running the game.

Alesix Gee: What is the funniest thing that has been edited out?

Volonda: We don’t actually edit that much out, and anything really funny tends to be slid to the end of an episode as a blooper. What you hear, is genuinely what you get, less some ‘oh crap I better get the handbook out and check’ moments.

Bobby Cardoso: How long have you been working on the LD world?

Volonda: Initially 2-3 weeks non stop, then I chatted with the players to build their characters and then spent probably another 2 weeks fine tuning and adapting it around the characters. I got a friend of mine to read over it (Andi Lawley, decent bloke), and that was the world really. I’ve been working on it off and on ever since really.

Sean Howard: Where did the idea of a prison come from?

Volonda: Probably spoilers, but it happens in episode 2 so…
I had so, so many games where characters met randomly in a bar or answered a Lord’s Call to go on an adventure, I just didn’t want to do that again at that point, so I jumped at this idea I had stuck in my head for a real long time.

I read this book a while back called Shadow of a Dark Queen, in which two of the characters are hung – but the hanging is faked. The single idea of being hung, and yet not… I thought would make a great ending for a really early episode.

I wanted the world to experience blood rain and earthquakes. So if I made the reason they didn’t get hung properly the apocalypse, it would be really memorable

The correctional facility was clearly the best option and really fleshed out the characters they presented to me. I let the players know we were starting in a prison, and I just wanted a reason for them to be there. I was fairly certain at least one of them would choose to be a prisoner, I just didn’t expect them all to be in prison… for murder.

Russ, Amy More and Alexis Gee: Dun dun dun!!

This next one, is a joint one. First part from my lovely wife, Amy, “What’s your favourite deciduous tree?” Followed by by Alexis Gee, “What is your favourite type of paper (once essential to gaming, less so now)?”

Volonda: Hmmm.

Cherry Blossom trees because I have so many memories of walking home with pink petal leaf things just showering down on me.

Really narrow ruled paper, so I can write a ton of notes on a single page

Russ: Sean’s back with another good one!

Sean Howard: What is your favourite moment so far, that you didn’t see coming in your prep for a session?

Volonda: When our Brave Adventurers all hugged Balance.
I was not ready for that moment, and it had nothing to do with me. I loved all four of them (we had a guest too) at that point.

Russ: So lovely! Alexis Gee, diggin’ deep into the patreon side of things.

Alexis Gee: Are there any plans to make TLD world resources available on Patreon, the way Fool & Scholar does?

Volonda: We had a big talk between the four of us about that actually. We’re thinking about releasing my world lore book as a resource and Neil’s music for folks to download, but we’re not exactly sure about how we’ll be able to do that yet. It’s definitely on our ‘To Do’ list.

Russ: Finally, a couple more hard-hitting questions from the Dumbgeons crew.

Amy More: Pie or Cake? …also on a D&D note. Are you for or against eating while playing?

Volonda: Cake. Carrot cake more specifically (the sweet way to my heart).

Eat and drink during home games 100%! Bringing snacks like sausage rolls (the savory way to my heart) and trying home made beer or cider is the best!

But please, no eating at my recorded table. I transcribed a certain actual play (*cough Dark Dice) where certain people were eating apples and I just wanted to murder my ears.

Russ: Truth! And the final question.

Tom Laird: Glass half-empty, or half-full? Or did you finish it already and need a refill? Also, what was in that glass?

Volonda: The glass is twice as big as it needs to be, which it should be. I’m almost finished, I would like a refill if you’re offering and currently it’s a berry smoothie.

Normally it’s water, cola or coffee

Mostly coffee. Like 90% of times it’s coffee.

Russ: Yay!

Hem, we did it!

We made it to the end!

Thank you for all of your hard work on The Lucky Die, The Reckless Play Guild and everything else amazing that you have going on in your life.

We’ll see you in the game!

Volonda: Thanks Russ! Was a blast.