As a co-host of the podcast DMs of Vancouver, you have interviewed a lot of D&D players and DMs. Has your experience of D&D changed as a result of the podcast?
Yes, and for multiple reasons. Making the show and talking to people is a really valuable experience because you get to hear people talk about how they run a game. I always try to approach each episode with the perspective that there are very few wrong ways to run a game, other than “Don’t be terrible to your players” and “Don’t abuse your players.” I try to come in with an open mind. It helps that when we started the show, I really wanted to learn from people, both how to play and how to DM.
Of course, sometimes I learn useful skills from our guests that I would never want to put into practice. One of our guests (Jane Perella, episode here) is a school teacher who runs a D&D Club for fifteen children! I never want to do that exactly, but I still learned a lot from her. In fact, that’s one of my favorite episodes, and she is going to be on a follow up episode soon!
The other reason my experience of D&D has changed is because I’m on social media so much for the podcast. I keep track of the TTRPG Twitter sphere, and I see a lot of different generational differences. I once saw someone say, “If your DM ever says no to you, that’s bad.” I don’t agree with that, but I also tried to look at it, consider it, and figure out where they were coming from.
Are there any specific examples of things you’ve changed in your D&D style over time?
I learned to use online tools from Sean. Honestly, it’s hard to know how I’ve changed, because I don’t notice when it’s happening. I’m starting a new campaign after a long pandemic pause, so maybe I’ll notice that I’m a completely different DM because it’s been a while.
I do still think about something that Milo Applejohn said about representing neurodivergent characters in your games. They said to include those characters but don’t make that characteristic the whole character. Especially if you’re not a part of that group, make it a detail, but don’t play it a stereotype. Always keep in mind that people are much more than just being neurodivergent, LGBTQ+, etc.
You are a straight white cis man, but you have included many LGBTQ+ guests on DMs of Vancouver. I have been very impressed with how you intentionally create safe and welcoming spaces for queer people. How did you cultivate this attitude and awareness?
Honestly, when Sean and I interviewed our friends for early episodes, we sometimes didn’t know they were queer. As people come out as trans, I try to go back and change their dead names in the episode titles. I also became friends with people who are openly queer as my wife Haley and I became involved with the Vancouver comics community.
When it comes to creating a safe space, we really just want the podcast to be welcoming to everyone who isn’t a raging asshole. We are constantly trying to do better. For instance, during the Black Lives Matter movement, we took a look through our list of guests and realized that we don’t have many POC guests. We want to change that moving forward. It’s funny, when we mentioned this in an episode, someone messaged and asked if we were called out. We weren’t! I’m just on Twitter in leftist spaces, and I paid attention to the conversations people were having. It’s a joke that the old guard of D&D are all straight white cis guys. We are straight white cis men, but we always want to be improving.
What advice do you have for other DMs about how to create safe spaces for queer players at their tables?
I never want to do anything homophobic or transphobic anyway, and most of my regular players are queer. If I do something shitty, I hope that they’ll tell me, “That sucked. Don’t do that.” I think DMs should listen to their players, both verbally and nonverbally. Pay attention if they’re obviously uncomfortable. And if you’re a straight white cis guy, do your research! Find trans or queer creators and read and watch their stuff. People think it’s harder than it is. Just listen, learn, and try.
Specifically, I recommend Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk’s TTRPG Safety Toolkit.
In general, what are some of your favorite DM tips and tricks?
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m starting a new campaign. For the first time, I sat down with my players beforehand to create the world together. I gave them some general details and big picture stuff, but we made the setting as a group. That won’t work for everybody, but if you’re open, I think you should give it a try! You get some really interesting ideas.
Our campaign will be in a post-apocalyptic setting where magic faded with the advancement of technology, but that fell apart and now magic is re-emerging. It’s mostly a desert, but there is a single snowy mountain in the middle of it all. They really helped me put together a complex interesting world. Because it’s the desert, we decided most people would live underground, and someone had the idea that people would live in abandoned parking garages, with property divvied up by the lines there.
When we were creating together, there were a lot of moments when I was thinking, “I’m mad I didn’t think of that; that’s amazing!” I would have come up with something more like a stock fantasy town, and now it’s going to be way more interesting. Of course, I still have a lot of work to do to tie together some disparate ideas, but now my players are already invested in the campaign.
DM Advice from Jessy:
- Talk to your players and ask if they’re enjoying the game. If no one is having fun, it’s okay to just stop the campaign! It sucks, but it’s better than dragging on too long. My first campaign ended with me being super burnt out and not wanting to play or DM again. That feeling ended pretty quickly, but there’s no need for it to get to that point.
- If you hear an idea that everyone seems to use or love, but you don’t like it, don’t feel like you ought to. I don’t like critical fumble/hit tables, so I don’t use them.
- If you are going to use homebrew rules, let your players know before you begin the session or campaign. If you make something up on the spot while playing, talk to the players to agree and then give everyone a grace period to get used to the new rule.
What can we expect from DMs of Vancouver in the future?
Our 100th episode will air in late October. We’re still deciding how we want to celebrate, so stay tuned!
As we move forward, one of the things we want to focus on is playing more games and reviewing them. It’s been a lot of fun when we’ve done it in the past, but they take a lot of work.
- Rolling with Rainbows is an actual play podcast by GM Sophie (Curio on YouTube) where they play a Call of Cthulhu TTRPG, and their episodes are only about an hour long.
- Faerie Fire and Witch+Craft are 5e supplements by Astrolago Press. Shan Campbell @wordweasel and Dhillon MacPherson @dhillonjmac.
- DMTK: Chef’s Night and The Human Exception are two great podcasts created by Nate and Kayla, a queer couple.
Thank you for taking the time to share your stories with Roar Cat Reads, Jessy! Everyone should head over to DMs of Vancouver and check out their nearly 100 episodes.