The first of our Dungeons Master spotlight interviews goes to Russ! He was gracious enough to let us co-parent the Dumbgeons and Dragons Facebook group into the Reckless Play, so the honor (and guinea pig status) should 100% go to him! Russ has hidden nerdy depths beyond Dungeons and Dragons itself, which I look forward to exploring.
Alright, let’s get this going.
Volonda: Hello Russ!
First of all, I love the hell out of Dumbgeons and Dragons. I’m slowly making my way through your epic backlog! Holy hannah! I can see why you have the recaps. Ok gushing over, onto being serious. Yup, totally serious interview.
Firstly, for those who don’t know you here in the group: who are you, from what podcast, and what role, or roles do you have within your podcast?
Russ: Haha! Thank you so much for gushing!
Super serious time!
I’m your Dungeon Master Russ More from Dumbgeons & Dragons, a D&D 5th Edition Actual Play Podcast!
I am the Dungeon Master, Co-Host and producer for the show.
Volonda: Ho ho ho, a fellow DM and producer. What does producing Dumbgeons and Dragons actually involve?
Russ: You got it!
Producing Dumbgeons can be a lengthy but always rewarding process! Being the DM, all story prep, plot points, hooks, driving questions and interactions are planned pre-game.
Then there’s the physical running of the game, in which I am always mentally aware of the time it takes to get into and out of “scenes”, how much time is taken up by out of game chatter, what works and doesn’t work for the flow of not only the game, but also what i envision to be the episode that will come from this specific session.
After the game, everyone sends me their individual tracks and I put them together! I edit everything down to be as concise, yet “on brand” as possible, which means to leave in some funny side chatter, leave in the various jokes made at my expense (being the butt of a lot of the players jokes, there are often a few), add in markers for potential sound and music cues, and make sure the general flow of the show is pleasing to listen to without too much time to get board or miss the point of a scene (sometimes harder than it sounds, hahah!).
After the initial pass is done, I go back and add any music or sound effects cues only to enhance what is happening, from the beginning of the show till now, there are huge variations of the amount of overall production that goes into each episode, but I like to think that anything that has been added in post-production, adds to the general feel of the show to help immerse anyone listening to it, bringing them deeper and connecting with the characters even more.
After all that is done and polished it as much as feels right, it’s uploaded/scheduled to send out to all of our wonderful and amazing subscribers. And then lather, rinse, repeat for the following week!
Volonda: Oh boy! That’s a lot of work for one just one soul! You’re a hero.
DM, Editor… Hero.
Speaking of DMing…. what got you into it? From ‘hey, here’s life without roleplaying to ‘hey I’m now behind the screen’?
Basically your RPG origin story.
Everyone loves a good origin story.
Russ: Hero, I like that! But I’m too modest to say it myself.
DMing with this group kind of fell to me, because I had the most experience (not a whole lot) with TTRPGs. I played the Palladium”Rifts” game growing up in elementary/Jr High School with a group of friends, where after being introduced to the game, got my first taste of game running. I wasn’t very good at it, so I thought, so another friend of mine often ran most of the games for us.
Then life happened, moved around and no longer had a group to play with. Fast forward to a couple years before Dumbgeons actually launched (January 2017), and I was working with Tom and Carla, and we all started listening to The Adventure Zone around the same time. I, as I often do when I’m passionate about a game and see an opening in conversation, said that I had run and played TTRPG’s before and how would everyone like to play a game?!
Everyone knew just enough about it (having listened to TAZ) and were just nerdy enough to say “Sure! Let’s give it a try!”
So, I bought a Players Handbook, invited everyone over, told Amy we were trying this and then spent 3+ hours building our first characters (the characters they still play today). I thought I had scared them all off with the amount of time it took, but they came back!
After that, I had gone to the library and picked up the 4e D&D DM and monster manuals (not realizing a lot of the differences at the time), and we started playing The Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Part 1 to Rise of Tiamat).
From there, for me, it was a super fun and exciting way to stretch my creativity and try to one-up myself session to session.
Volonda: So many questions off of that! So. Many. Questions! (*furiously makes notes, TAZ, 4e…). It seems to happen a lot that DM’s just step into the breach because no one wants to do it, and that our first games are…. Suspect? Glad I’m not the only one!
Ok, right, an actual question. What made your group decide to transition between doing a home game, into a podcast? Has anything changed about the way that all of you play?
Russ: That is definitely a story I hear from a lot of DMs, someone always just needs to be the brave one and jump into the fray, otherwise NO ONE would play!
That said, it’s not as hard as it might look, while there is extra prep work, if you have a good group, everyone will carry the weight of the narrative and game, so you never need to plan everyone’s happiness around the table, just find ways to give everyone their moment to shine. Let’s get more DMs out there!
Actual answer to the actual question now!
The decision from moving from around the table to a podcast was almost out of necessity. Amy and I moved out family to South Korea, for what ended up being a year. This was after a year and a half or so of playing every 2 weeks around the table with Tom and Carla, and we all wanted to find a way to continue playing. Thus, the technology of the world became out friend! We said as soon as we were settled we would try to play on Skype and see if it would work out.
Now, if you listen to the first episode, it did work out. But, could’ve sounded better.
We had kind of joked about turning this into a podcast when we were playing around the table, but playing online, then put 3 radio people in front of microphones, and all we really had to do from that point was hit record. And we did! The first episode of Dumbgeons was our first online game once Amy and I were settled in South Korea. It was recorded off a single microphone with Tom and Carla’s feed coming off of my cheap laptop speakers into the mic. Hindsight being 20/20, a little more planning might have gone a long way, but it is what it is, and people got on board with it! Crazy, right?!
Anyways, playing the game was something we wanted to do, and I, because I was at home with our daughter not working, wanted a project to keep me in audio production while we were overseas. Gotta keep up those editing chops!
Tangent over, second part of the question! When we were around the table and even in early episodes of the show, we did use a lot of battle maps, relying on minis and tokens in battle. What I found doing the podcast was, we weren’t creating a narrative around player movement, so I made the decision to go strictly theatre of the mind, which I think has helped the overall sound of the show and Tom, Carla and Amy’s ownership of the characters they play. Giving them a greater opportunity to RP scenes, not only in battle, but I tried very hard once we started recording to encourage less ‘Player Talk’ and more ‘Character interaction’ in order to make more of a story out of what we’re doing.
It’s really easy around table for everyone to talk as themselves to figure out what to do next, but even now in the games I play even outside of any podcast, to encourage the players to embody their characters and try to stay in character as often as possible to get the most out of the game!
It feels like I might’ve answered your questions there…
TL;DR – Moved to South Korea, Russ needed something to do. Less maps/minis, more RP.
Volonda: Scheduling is a nightmare normally with us being in 3 or even 4 different timezones, but adding in South Korea at 14 hours ahead of EST – YOWZERS!
I’m also a huge fan of theatre of the mind, even in home games, for exactly those reasons you said: It allows players to describe with a degree of more freedom, and especially for us in the audio medium, in a way that is interesting for a listener!
Being a DM is definitely hard, lots of unseen hours into prep, and having a good group really helps that process, but it is totally worth it! I’m sure you’ve had this, so tell us about your proudest moment as a DM? What really made you sit back and go “wow, these guys are awesome”?
Russ: You’re definitely right, being a DM can be time consuming, I never really call it hard, because I love what I do to plan for each session and story so much, but my proudest moment were around episode 32 (I think of everything in terms of episodes now). It was just after a major NPC had died, and the characters were sitting around a campfire and I hadn’t really planned a whole lot, some interesting backstory pieces for the NPC in question but otherwise, I was putting the narrative of the session in their hands.
Up till that point, a big hurdle for each of them in playing the game had been NPC interaction. The “what do we say after hello”, was a big mental roadblock at least.
But in that scene, they had decided to treat the moment as if they were sitting down themselves with another person, (there was another character in this scene providing these backstory details) and realizing that everyone in the game around them has their own story going on.
Much like real life which is often hard for people in regular day-to-day moments to realize, but to have that click for them in character, I knew that we would now be able to take more interesting and emotional narrative turns in the story to fill out not only their characters, but the world around them.
It was an awesome moment to have everyone on board for the story surrounding the game. And since then I feel like we keep pushing each character a little further towards something that can and hopefully will feel impactful.
…while still keeping in all the dick and fart jokes of course!
Volonda: That’s awesome! It’s great when things come together like that. Dick and fart jokes, gotta love them!
Alright, onto the less RP and more Russ related questions. The Adventure Zone – I gotta know, favourite arc? I’m torn between 11th hours and suffering game. I love those guys.
Russ: Haha! I love both of those arcs but Petals to the Metal is probably still my favourite over all the Balance stories!
Loved the whole Fast and Furious motif they had going on! It was brilliant, and how it went on way too long but they still kept it super exciting! Loved it!
I’m a huge fan of their new Amnesty story too! The whole Monster of the Week game sounds like a ton of fun to play!
Volonda: Petals to Metal had such a beautiful ending. Long, yes, boring? NEVER.
Do I see that another nerdy interest of your is Magic the Gathering? Any other cool fandoms or nerdy things you’re really into as well?
We’re really into the short rapid fire questions now!
Russ: Right!? Never boring at all!
Yup, big into Magic. Been playing Magic Arena, the newer online platform semi regularly lately.
Other nerdy stuff, I’m big into Spider-Man, hands down the best super hero. I have a bit so secret, sometimes forgotten love of the Austin Powers movies. And love playing Nintendo games! Also, Monty Python, love anything from those crazy guys! Just listened to Eric Idle’s autobiography which is a must read/listen and now I’m onto John Cleese’s. So good!
Volonda: Austin Powers.
Feck me it’s been a REAL long time since I saw those last. Saw me through my late teens.
Before I get too far off the beaten track, your twitter says voice over for @musicrcreative – what’s that all about?!
Russ: It’s no real secret, Tom, Carla and I come from a radio background.
When Amy and I moved overseas, I wanted to keep up with not only production, but try to break into the voiceover industry as well. Now, I’m not one who makes a living off of voiceover (I’ll leave that to Carla) but I applied to be a part of Music Radio Creatives voice roster, they are an audio production house based out of the UK, and I was accepted into their family!
MRC creates radio, internet radio and podcast jingles, ids and anything else you might classify under those umbrellas including voiceover and full production. I am one of their voices. I have done intros for a few different podcasts and internet radio stations anong other jobs and am available for hire through their website. It’s a fun little side gig that keeps tying back into other facets of the podcast world.
Volonda: *makes note to look into mrc. Ah something in my own backyard… So to speak.
Alrighty then, onto my last question before we unleash the adventurers of The Reckless Play Guild upon this interview: Anything good on your podcast app or tv watching device you’d recommend?
Russ: Absolutley there are! There isn’t as much TV lately in my life, what with all the podcast creation, but we’ve been catching up on a couple different shows, Brooklyn Nine Nine is back for its final season, and as sad as that makes me, it is very good!
Also been catching up on Outlander (on Netflix) which I remember wanting to jump on with when it first aired, but that’s what Netflix is for right? Anyways, if you don’t know, woman travels through time, dramatic shenanigans ensue! (I’m very good at synopsizing TV shows…)
Onto podcasts! Aside from all of the amazing shows in The Reckless Play Guild (which everyone should listen to all of them ;)) I have been listening to quite a few others.
My regular rotation always includes a ton of actual play and/or D&D info podcasts, The Adventure Zone, Drunks and Dragons The Broadswords and The Dungeoncast.
Some Audio Dramas I’ve bene digging on are The White Vault, Voyage to the Stars (new improv sci fi comedy one, super great!), Liberty and Alba Salix.
And then some comedy/interview/history types that I listen to are; David Tennant Does a Podcast with…, Mbmbam, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History and Tales from the Fandom.
Those are just the ones in regular rotation… see why I don’t have time for much TV!
Volonda: Oh those are some choice choices (also, we have scarily similar tastes). David Tennent Does a Podcast with… is on my list to next.
And of course, Mbmbam is ALWAYS on my list.
Alrighty Russ, you’re almost free from my grasp.
Russ: FREEEEEEEOOOOOOM!!!! (as a cool gif)
Volonda: We’re onto the Audience Participation section of the interview: First off:
Holly Billingshurst – What do you prefer: player or DM?
Russ: Oooh! Good question Holly! I’m probably going to be all wishy washy and say something like, “I love them both equally”, or “it’s like choosing your favourite child”… but…
I love DMing probably the most, I love setting up the world and playing MANY different characters and being able to play off the people I am playing with and planning for.
However, I feel like the more I get to be a player, the better DM I become, because I get to experience how other DMs play their games, and I get to see how they handle (or don’t handle) a player (me) going “off the rails” and leaning into a more… open world concept of story telling.
So, long and short of it, DMing is my favourite, but I don’t think I would be as comfortable DMing without having been a player and continuing to be a player. Which means being a player is a very close second.
Travis Vengroff – Where do you draw comedic inspiration from?
Russ: (subtext – read; What do I have to watch to anticipate what you’re going to do next)
I love absurdist and off the wall comedy, Monty Python probably topping that list. Mannerisms and flow (or lack of flow) from the Pythons is something that I often find myself falling into, especially in the character work that I do for Dumbgeons & Dragons and other characters I play and have played.
I love some of the greats, like Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld (stories about nothing are amazing), Jim Carrey and Steve Martin are all brilliant and when I’m in need of not just comedic, but story inspiration, I will often go to their stand up and movies to give the creativity a jump start.
Volonda: HAHA omg yeah, maybe we shouldn’t tell Travis this
Russ: Haha! Travis! Don’t read!
Volonda: TRAVIS – DON’T READ THIS!!! Difficult, though, cause he’s the next two questions
Travis Vengroff – Do you plan for your players to act a certain way in your GM plotting?
Russ: Haha! Yes and no, early on in playing with the Dumbgeons crew, I could pretty much guarantee they were going to take whatever hook I put in front of them.
I’ve since encouraged them, by telling them I have “nothing” or “very little” planned, to be open to finding their own way in the story.
This has given me the chance to practice a more “on the fly” style of story telling while still having a framework running in the background to keep the general narrative on course.
But do I plan for them to act a certain way, no. I have an idea of how they might interact with a character or plot piece, but I’ve been caught many times before not know what to do next because they said or did something that I didn’t expect.
To prep for that, I have an idea of the next 3-5 pieces in a story that COULD happen, so if they decide that they don’t want to take the bait of the story I have planned, I’m not always going in blind.
It’s easier right now for me than some because we are working through the Rise of Tiamat module, so there are things that in one way or another kind of HAVE to happen . But after we’re done this module, we have kind of teased that we are going more open world, home brewed story, so I can see it becoming more something that I might be caught up by and have to prep in the moment for.
But I try to never expect them to act a certain way, because they see that coming now, and their instinct is to go the other way. Which is what I really wanted them to do the whole time!!!
Man… D&D is just a big game of reverse psychology, isn’t it!
Volonda: I think you basically answered Travis’ next question so….
Sean Howard – Is it true that you face three charges of aggravated assault on your party involving mazes?
Russ: Only three? I thought it would be more!
Yeah, there’s something about a maze style dungeon that I haven’t been able to translate well to online play. And as such I think it makes it more difficult for my players to wrap their heads around.
We may soon find out that mazes in all of Faerun will be burned to the ground in the name of The Decimators of Dragons.
Volonda: And finally, the last and most important questions:
Amy More – Is it true that you’re married to the funniest person you know and draw so much inspiration from her?
Can you confirm the rumour that you’re the absolute worst about leaving cupboard doors open wherever you go?
Russ: It is the most true thing ever said! Super funny and inspiration seeps from her pores!
And I can confirm that I am the worst about leaving cupboard doors open wherever I go… the worst. But I mean, it’s not the worst thing to be the worst at. So, there’s that!
Volonda: Well there we go Russ, you made. I made it. WE made.
Thanks for being the guinea pig on this!
So many beautiful insights there. Thank you so much for agreeing to this, and good luck with attacking…. ambushing… surprising… tricking your players through mazes.
Thanks Russ! You’re free now. Enjoy it!
If you want to find more out about Russ, check out his Twitter here.
If you’re now interested in Dumbgeons and Dragons (because you should be!) then check out the podcast here
And if you wanna get involved with the Reckless Play Guild and ask questions of the next interviewee, then, follow this link to the Facebook group!