I’m really very happy to have Ron and Veronica Blessing of The Game’s The Thing and Smilin’ Jack’s Bar & Grill podcasts as my guests this time. We’ve been trying to get this posted for a while. Well, it’s finally here.
Tom: Hi guys. I’m so glad you both are my guests. It’s been fun getting to know you through Pulp Gamer and your podcasts. Speaking of podcasts, you’re both very busy podcasters. Tell us about your shows.
Ron: We’ve gotten less busy–some by design, some by accident–but we’ve worked on several shows for Pulp Studios. Right now we have The Game’s the Thing, which is our roleplaying show. We have Smiling Jack’s Bar & Grill, which is our Savage Worlds fan show, but that show is ending for various reasons. There will be one last show, and that’s it.
Veronica: Yeah, we’re almost down to one podcast these days, but TGTT is still going strong. The Game’s the Thing is a roleplaying podcast that focuses primarily on the games and the people who make them.
Tom: I’m sad to see Smilin’ Jack’s fade. I like Savage Worlds and you all are the experts. It is really helpful to heard about it. But I’m sure that you will continue talking SW on TGTT in addition to many other games. Why podcasting?
Ron: I got into podcasting to talk games and hopefully get some free stuff, initially. But it became so much more. It’s become my doorway into the roleplaying industry, and it’s allowed me to really hammer out my thoughts on game mastering and design. The real benefit is the friendships I’ve made. I’ve met some awesome people. And these days, if I get a free game I really like, I buy it anyway, just to support the designers.
Veronica: I started podcasting because Ron bribed me. Really. He had started TGTT with a few friends of ours. They talked about boardgames mostly and I wanted no part of it. Then Ron decided he wanted to shift the show’s focus and talk about more roleplaying games. The problem was, that to do that he needed a new co-host. So he asked me. I said no. Then he told me that he had already set up the first interview with…::drum roll please::….Shane Hensley. Now Ron, the big jerk, did that on purpose because he knew that I had a rather large geek-crush on Shane. He told me the only way I’d get to help with the interview was if I agreed to become the permanent co-host. What else could I do? I had to agree! I stuck with it because I like meeting new people in the industry. A game really takes on a new feel for me once I’ve had the chance to talk to the writer or creator. The roleplaying world is more personable then any other fan oriented industry and I just love that. Everybody is so friendly and easy to talk to. In fact, most of them are gamer geeks just like you and me. I love putting a face with a book. I love picking up a book in a store, reading the author’s name, and knowing that person. Most of all, I love sharing that feeling with people who may not have realized that the creators of their favorite hobby are so incredibly accessible.
Tom: I really appreciate your stories about your gaming experiences. I can really see how the podcasts can build friendships. Those relationships are very evident on your shows. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and ideas about game mastering. On to the next question. Why do you play games?
Ron: I love the interaction. It’s great exercise for the mind. It’s also a huge creative outlet for me, especially RPGs.
Veronica: Board games or RPGs? I play boardgames mostly because Ron tells me to. I play RPG’s because I love the stories. Deep dramatic character interaction with intense scenes that make you cry and give you butterflies in your belly until you find out how it’s all going to work out next week. Yeah, that’s what it’s all about.
Tom: I agree. RPG’s and game design are my creative outlets. Creating stories is so awesome. Not knowing where they are going, the sense of discovery, tension and anxiety solving puzzles. I play for the same reasons. It’s social. It’s fun. And it’s good for my mind. Ok. Standard question – What makes a great game?
Ron: That’s tough to quantify. A strong, consistent paradigm is key, I think. More than anything else, I think a great group makes a great game.
Veronica: Any game can be a great game if you’ve got the right group. Communication is the key. Keep your group on the same page. Talk about what you want and what you don’t want, change what you need to, then go for it. If everyone is having fun, then it’s a great game.
Tom: Those are interesting answers. A different take on the question from most. Yeah, communication is so very important. I know you do some playtesting. What is the hardest part about playtesting?
Ron: For me, it’s the pressure of presenting the game “right” to the players, so I can get the best possible feedback for the designers.
Veronica: I don’t like saying bad things about people’s games. People put so much heart and soul into these things and then when I have to tell them that something doesn’t work, or worse, that the concept or the system is lousy I just feel horrible. That’s why I make Ron do that part.
Tom: Ha! I agree with you Ron. I get that feeling introducing any game new to a group. Standard question #2 – What makes a great player?
Ron: Speaking of natural talent, I would say the ability to balance character perception with the fact that you’re playing a cooperative game. A little bit of improv ability doesn’t hurt either. For a player who wants to improve their art, I’d recommend reading Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley, and try some of that stuff.
Veronica: Agreed. Play Unsafe is a must read. I think a great player is defined by how much they’re willing to make a total fool of themselves at the table. Props, cheesy accents, lots of speaking in character, stuff like that. You don’t need to be a good actor, just have a willingness to throw yourself into a role head first and darn the consequences. A great player also remembers that their best assets are the people sitting around them. The greatest gamers I have played with always made me feel like a better roleplayer just by being at the same table as them. Draw your fellow players into scenes and really get things going.
Tom: I really need to buy Play Unsafe. I like using things to immerse people in a game setting. Accents particularly, as you may have figured out. I really like your answer Veronica – ‘A great player also remembers that their best assets are the people sitting around them.’ That is awesome. What is your most memorable gaming moment?
Ron: Probably getting a legitimate cry out of my players when I put them in a situation where they had to re-kill a loved one in a Deadlands Classic campaign.
Veronica: Those were totally stage tears. Really. Okay maybe not. I think my most memorable moment was probably when my character in the same Deadlands Classic campaign realized that she was an alcoholic after almost killing her best friend. There was shouting, there were tears, it was great. I also had several really awesome moments during a homebrew savage supers campaign as my android character gradually came to the realization that she could be more than her initial programming. It was a really great character transformation that totally took on a life of its own as we went.
Tom: Awesome, awesome! Veronica, those sound like really powerful stories. That’s what is so great about role playing – building stories. Whether they are funny, touching, or oddball, creating a cool story speaks to me in such a strong way. Seeing your character change through the story is so very cool. What’s next for each of your shows?
Ron: TGTT will roll on–five years (this past) July. We’re trying to do more topical shows, but in the end, we just like talking to creators about their games. So from a format perspective, the main thing to expect is just that–us talking to folks about their cool game.
Veronica: What’s next? Well, I think we’re recording next weekend…oh, you mean in general! Ron and I have developed a very complicated and technical system for choosing the format for TGTT. I’ll share the secret. We do what amuses us at the time. Right now, we are finding that doing themed shows is very amusing. That could change. Roll the die.
Tom: I like the format or lack of, very much. It is very relaxed and conversational. It’s comfortable. You always put your guest at ease and we all have fun with you. Almost like I’m there with you. And you get awesome guests. Really top-notch.
Out of the blue question: What out of print game would you like to see reprinted?.
Ron: The Dragonlance and Marvel Saga games from TSR. I wasn’t in a place where I understood their beauty when they came out, and now, of course, I can’t find them!
Veronica: That’s harder for me because Ron was the one who got me into gaming, so I’ve only been gaming for 13 (it is 13, right?) years. Most of the games I’ve really enjoyed are still around, in some fashion. Oddly enough, I don’t tend to get too nostalgic about old games. I don’t have cherished childhood memories of primary colored D&D boxes. I’m always looking forward to the next edition or rules update. Deadlands is the perfect example; I fondly remember Deadlands Classic (we have the complete set in the basement), but Reloaded is totally what I’d play now.
Tom: Well Ron one of your wishes is coming true. Margaret Weis is doing a Marvel rpg. I’m hoping you guys will get them on TGTT about this soon. Give us some perspective on the industry and where you see things going in the next few years.
Ron: I don’t see much change in board games, but I do in roleplaying. With gadgets like the iPad, I see the industry learning to truly take advantage of digital. The barrier for new creators is continuing to thin, and I think we’ll continue to see more “indie” stuff. Because of that, I see bigger companies shrinking more, as the “big” piece of the pie is getting smaller. I see the better local game stores coming to terms with digital–Bits & Mortar and various company PDF bundling initiatives proves that they’ll need to for survival. I already don’t buy games at local stores that refuse to participate in stuff like Bits & Mortar, once they’ve been educated.
Veronica: What he said. Ron’s kinda the industry guy. Me? I see changes in people. The internet has brought fans closer to game creators and each other in a way we’ve never been able to do before. GMs can share ideas across the globe. Players can find other gamers in their area more easily. Got a rule question? Hop on a forum and ask away! Roleplaying is one of the few areas of entertainment that I think really has nothing to fear from the internet and everything to gain. Think about it. You have access to a wealth of information and ideas that can make your game awesome, but you still have to sit around your dining room table to play. Best of both worlds.
Tom: I totally agree with all your points Ron. Anyone can be a creator and have someone play their game now. I really like how you drilled down on one of the cool things about all this Veronica. Fans are closer to the game creators, for good or bad. And I think you are right – role playing does not have to worry about the internet.
Next question: What is your current ‘hot’ game, both boardgame and rpg?
Ron: For boardgames, I’ve been itching to play A Game of Thrones again–one of my all-time favorites. Roleplaying games are tougher to quantify that way, but I have been playing a lot of Savage Worlds lately.
Veronica: As boardgames go, I kind of adore just about anything Flying Frog Productions puts out. Last Night on Earth is the first boardgame I ever publicly claimed to love, and for me, that’s saying a lot. On the roleplaying front, I’m a Savage Sister all the way. That said, I’m still all starry-eyed over the Dresden Files RPG and am just dying to give the Leverage RPG a good long run.
Tom: Well you guys are kinda known as the Savage Worlds folks. You moved to Denver last year. How are things in the Denver area, gaming wise?
Ron: Gaming in Denver rocks. Denver has GenghisCon, which we enjoyed immensely. Later in the year, there’s TactiCon (on Veronica’s birthday) , which is slightly smaller but run by the same folks. There are various mini-cons throughout the year as well, and sci-fi cons with gaming areas. There are several RPG groups, including the Rocky Mountain Savages and Tabletop Roleplayers’ Network. Finally, there are several local game stores.
Veronica: Meh. We’ll see. Denver has great cons and some awesome groups, don’t get me wrong, but I’m the kind of girl that thrives on the weekly game. Ron’s new work schedule has been a nightmare and I don’t know very many people yet. I left a truly awesome gaming group to come here and was getting some great gaming action three times a week. In my opinion, Denver has a bit of living up to do yet.
Tom: Any chance of seeing you at MACE this year? Veronica, we share something – cons on our birthdays!! MACE for me and TactiCon for you.
Ron: With the recent move, I don’t see us affording to fly anywhere this year. Good thing gaming is good here! We have reason to believe we’ll want to do some con travelling next year, though.
Tom: I’m sad too. I will miss you. I’ll roll some 6’s for you. A bonus question just for you – you knew it was coming – What is something about you that the general gaming public would not know?
Ron: For the most part, I’m an open book–perfectly willing to share! I’ll keep it clean for you, Tom. I have been meditating since the age of five. It was taught to me by my allergist, who was treating me for asthma. I always made it worse by freaking out, so she taught me to control my breathing and go to a different place.
Veronica: My favorite question! Funny, it always seems more fun when I’m the one doing the asking. Hmmm…okay, got it! I’m secretly a writer. Seriously, I’ve got dozens and dozens of stories hidden away on my computer. All fiction, no porn, and NOBODY gets to read them. Not even Ron.
Tom: Sweet. It’s neat that you are able to control your asthma Ron. And Veronica is a closet writer. You really should let some of them out Veronica. I’d bet they are really good.
Guys, it has been so fun ‘talking’ to you both. I have always felt like one of the crew with you, especially after meeting and gaming with you. TGTT is such a fun AND informative show. I’ve made several purchases based on your shows. You both make it a unique thing. Thanks for being my guests and thanks for The Game’s The Thing.
You can find The Game’s The Thing and listen to why I think this is one of the top three rpg podcasts at http://www.thegamesthething.com/. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call and leave a message at 720-515-2257. Please listen. You will not regret it. And let them know that you read Go Forth.
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