MARX: Hello, and welcome to Yes Indie’d Pod, a podcast about indie tabletop role-playing games, where I interview creators about their games and inspirations, and about the theory, process, and practice of game design. My name is Marx Shepherd, your host today and always, and your friendly local indie enthusiast. This week, we’re talking to David Blandy, visual artist, music maker, and game designer, about loads of RPGs, including his collaboration project ‘Lost Eons,’ and about TTRPGs as an art form. Now that’s out of my head, and into yours, let’s talk indie.
So, today we’re talking to David Blandy. Hi there David, and welcome to the podcast!
DAVID: Hi there Marx. Yeah, thanks for having me.
MARX: It was great when you reached out the other month and said “I’d like to come on and have a chat about things,” so, you know, here you are! A few months later.
DAVID: *laughs* Magic.
MARX: David, would you like to introduce yourself and let us know what you do in the indie tabletop role-playing games scene?
DAVID: Yeah, I’m David Blandy, I’m a visual artist who also makes tabletop role-playing games. I’ve been working in the scene for the last, I’d say, two and a half years or something? And, prior to that, I’ve played a lot of role-playing games with my kids, and grew up on the red box and Warhammer, et cetera. Yeah, it’s, it’s been a long time coming, but yeah, it’s been a lot of fun learning about both the games, but also the scene, and the community around it.
MARX: Oh, you’ve hit on so many things that I’ve been thinking about recently there. The number one thing that suddenly sprang to mind there was, um, somebody wrote an article for the zine that I run called “Red Box Dawn,” which is all about the vile treachery of the evil wizard Bargle which amused me greatly, having never played the red box.
Whenever I speak to people who play role-playing games in Britain, they always, always mention Warhammer. It’s a really integral part of the scene. How far back does your Warhammer playing go?
DAVID: You couldn’t avoid it when I was growing up. I mean, I was getting the great big boxes, like the stuff like Chainsaw Warrior, and Rogue Trader.
MARX: Ah, Rogue Trader?
DAVID: And Space Hulk, and Bloodbowl. Bloodbowl, when that first came out. I think it had the paper minis then.
MARX: Well, I’ve played Bloodbowl with plastic minis.
DAVID: And yeah, and uh, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but it was one of those games where the book was so daunting, that me and my friends, we were all around, I suppose, 11 or 12 or something, were kinda fascinated by this space, and looking at it know I realize it must’ve looked at the pictures really intensely because they all kinda brought back this intense kind of nostalgia. But, I don’t think we ever actually played. We played the tabletop battle game, a little bit, it was one of those things where no one had quite enough miniatures. So I spent most of my time at that time actually just alone in my room painting miniatures. We kind of graduated into 40K, yeah 40K had just come out. Again, I think I played, total, like 3 games of that or something, where people actually have got all their miniatures together and slept at someone’s house and played, played a game which would go on forever and never actually got anywhere.
MARX: So weirdly similar to my childhood. I think there must be a lot of people from Britain like this.
MARX: I think, of all of my friends who enjoyed Warhammer, mostly they were just like frantically trying to paint miniatures so that they would be able to catch up with one person in particular who did, in fact, have enough miniatures. So we’d have to join forces and we’d have, like, my friend Greenie had a big Orc army and I had collected a few Sisters of Battle miniatures, we’d just throw them together in adversity to my friend’s enormous Necron army.
MARX: It’s really weird to think back to those days now.
DAVID: Yeah, my painting got better and better and I had quite a nicely painted group of terminators, I think I had two squads of five, I think, partly because I really liked Space Hulk, but partly I thought they really looked cool. And then tried to paint up a sort of, enough space wolves, I think you had to have like ten or something, for a crew or something like that. All that model making and painting was very solitary and it sort of went by the wayside. I spent a lot of time in sort of like, there was a Games Workshop on Oxford Street that I’d go to, in, oh god that little shopping center which is really horrible. But then I kind of graduated into the Computer Exchange which is on Rathbone Place round the corner, and kind of started getting more into video games and stuff like that, so that was sort of my journey. And yeah, played a lot of RPGs and things on computer.
DAVID: Was obsessed with Elite, which to me is quite a, it was kind of in a RPG, you know, like kind of space form.
MARX: My goodness, I was also low key obsessed with Elite. I played it on the Amstrad.
MARX: I think people in America will not be aware of.
DAVID: That was my machine, my dad would not condone a console or anything like that so I had an Amstrad 6128 with built-in disc drive.
MARX: Me too. And then the disc drive stopped working.
DAVID: And the souped-up version you played something like R-Type and you’d have to load up each level and then, like, it would crash, just as you were getting to the final boss. It was like, yeah, good times.
MARX: It was, yeah. When the disc drive broke we’d replace it with a tape drive, and, like, playing R-Type on tape is, it’s the worst experience imaginable. I’m kind of glad those days are over.
DAVID: It led to a lifetime fascination with R-Type, actually. I ended up buying it on the PCB, ‘cause I worked at Computer Exchange when I was a bit older. And ran the retro department there. Yeah, they sold like, virtual arcade circuits, what you’d put inside an arcade machine.
MARX: My goodness.
DAVID: Things called “super guns,” which were, like, how you put an arcade board onto your television.
MARX: Oh, yeah yeah.
DAVID: So, I had like, Street Fighter, Alpha 2 was my prized possession. It was like, the whole arcade board with a joystick and stuff, and you’d play it on your telly.
MARX: That’s amazing! Wow, that’s so cool.
DAVID: That was, yeah, one of my real community fascinations, with the fighting game community before tabletop role-playing games. The communities that would form around places like Casino, which was an arcade just next to Goodge Street Station, it’s closed down now, of course. You’d go down into the basement and on Friday nights, like, all the big players would be there and, yeah. It got pretty rowdy. Just a really fascinating kind of scene that just couldn’t exist in the internet world I think.
MARX: I agree.
DAVID: It’s so much about that kind of, I don’t know, local intensity, local rivalries, and now everyone’s so global that it’s like, you know, we’re having conversations in the TTRPG scene with people in the Philippines, and New Zealand, and yeah, it’s a global thing. You find your people in a much, kind of easier way somehow. Yeah, that kind of really hyper-local thing, I think, it’s just not possible really. ‘Cause now they’re kind of too exposed to the global reality.
MARX: I kind of feel like the obvious analogy for me, is the community that develops around speedrunning a specific game. It sounds really similar to that. That’s an aside, it’s really interesting actually because I speak to people from Britain very infrequently, like I’m not sure, there are that many British people in my TTRPG circles. And as you say, it’s like, people from the Philippines, people from Latin America, obviously people from the States, that’s an enormous part of it as well.
DAVID: Yeah, no, absolutely.
MARX: I think there is a lot to be said for interacting with the scene that operates through your local gaming shop, which is kind of something that Warhammer will, like, always be a big instigator of, because it’s very difficult to play Warhammer not at the table.
DAVID: Yeah, I mean we’ve got, down in Brighton we’ve got a place called Dice Saloon, which has been open for a few years. That was where I played my first game with the DND group that I’ve been running for the last, I want to say three, four years? Something like that, it’s with a friend of mine. An illustrator called Dan Locke, he’s also in the TTRPG scene, he just did a Kickstarter for a zine called “Helms of the Multiverse.”
MARX: Oh yeah, yeah.
DAVID: But primarily a kind of comic artist, illustrator, graphic novelist, we made a graphic novel together a few years ago, called “Out of Nothing,” which kind of documented the history of knowledge through time leading up to kind of a future on Mars.
MARX: Woah, cool.
DAVID: It’s got an all-encompassing, utterly batshit thing. Yeah, it’s worth having a flick through. This kind of blue-skinned girl kind of travelling through all these different spaces like, where the first writing cuneiform, discovery of DNA, et cetera, so it’s going through all these kind of moments of change in humanity, and how knowledge moves through. I suppose it was some of that thinking around that that led me into some of the subject matter for the role-playing games that I’ve been making.
MARX: Perfect segue.
DAVID: Thinking about the climate crisis has been kind of central to my artistic practice for the last few years. It kind of came out of a sort of dark place that I got myself into, where I was thinking about the end of the world, I was thinking about the changes wrought by Brexit, and Trump coming in, this was obviously 2016, and also, various things that were happening in my personal life and how those feelings of grief and powerlessness were kind of, it became hard to distinguish whether they were political angst, or personal angst. And so, I wanted to start making something that was more, in a weird way, optimistic. But, at the same time faced where we are. You know, this thing is coming, change is coming, and horrible things are coming, but we have to try and hope for a better place in the future. That’s where The World After came from. It was inspired by a place called Canvey Wick, which is on Canvey Island in Essex. It’s a kind of quite notorious place for many reasons, but Canvey Wick was set to be an oil reserve, for kind of tankers that were coming in from the sea and then they would kind of dump their oil there before it was moved on to other places. But then the 1970s oil crash happened, and it was just this whole big site, it was just left to nature. Now it’s one of the most biodiverse spaces in the UK, and it’s a site of special scientific interest so it felt like, you know, isn’t this an interesting allegory for how the world could heal itself if we just got out of the way a bit? So I kind of thought, and I’d been reading a lot of Ursula Le Guin, and Octavia Butler, and various other sci-fi, Philip K. Dick of course, and thought about creating a sci-fi fantasy space of this idea, the climate cataclysm gets really severe, and people retreat into underground havens, and kind of have to seal themselves off from the outside world. There’s that weird film with Matt Damon, where he becomes really small?
MARX: I thought you were gonna say Logan’s Run, to be honest. That kind of feels a similar mood.
DAVID: I know, absolutely. But, inside that film, there’s this idea that they’re gonna wait it out for eight thousand years, and then, kind of come out into a new world, and so, kind of eight thousand years stuck with me as kind of a correct time period. And then I thought I’d inject a little bit of fantasy, magic into it. And the idea that the earth, Gaia, would release some sort of substance to try and heal itself, which would increase genetic mutation, and allow some sort of essential manipulation of the elements. And, that, yeah that was a thing called essence, so it became, like a way of reimagining kind of fantasy role play, but in the future, and thinking of our present as kind of a site of archaeology. And also, a way of getting away from all those kind of tropes that are around things like orcs, and elves, and kind of essentially white coded space ideas around alignment…. In the beginning, I was thinking, oh, you know, I’ll just make it like a D&D hack because it makes sense, but then the more I thought about it the more I realized the mechanics and those sorts of legacies are just impossible to erase while you’re still playing inside that system.
DAVID: So, then the hubris to think I could create my own system, and create a whole world around it, and it is a hardback book, like kind of D&D style thing, and it’s, for me now, I feel like it’s an object that you’ll find at a car boot sale or in a secondhand shop, and it’s like you find this weird RPG you hadn’t ever heard of, and it’s got this incredible setting, and the mechanics just make no sense, but it’s really cool? You know, just ‘cause of how it looks and the ideas it holds within it, and it kind of becomes the star of something. Yeah, when I realized that it was maybe, like, a bit too clunky, and it didn’t quite feel like an RPG that was happening now. I kind of started it before I really got into the scene, and I started really getting into the FKR scene. Free Kriegsspiel, roleplay, it’s from the old, is it Germanic or Austrian? I cannot remember. Battles, where, rather than having rules, you have a referee, and they sort of try and work out what’s most likely to happen in this situation, realistically. So it’s kind of freeform, but at the same time, it’s sort of accounting for the fact not everything can be bound by rules. Yeah, it’s playing the setting, really, rather than playing to the rules, so it’s not so much about min-maxing things, and trying to create the perfect character using this rule set, but just getting lost in the actual fiction and thinking about where this space you’re inhabiting could go, and that’s where Lost Eons came from, which is the books that I’m working on right now. Kind of a love poem to the TTRPG scene as it is, things like it’s an A5 zine, so it’s not one of these big hard back books, well it’s three A5 zines, but it’s, the central book is one A5 zine and then, which has kind of all the players guide stuff. Ended up working with Laurie O’Connell, who is a really amazing TTRPG maker, made things like Lichcraft and-
MARX: Stolen Crown, currently on Kickstarter.
DAVID: Currently on Kickstarter, you should back it today. If it’s not too late, Laurie’s amazing, and he was so open to both having a conversation about the work, but also working with me on this thing, kind of being skeptical of my stupid ideas and encouraging my slightly better ones. And it was, it kind of turned into kind of smashing together 24XX or 2 4XX, or however you wanna call it, system, and “Blades In The Dark,” so it’s like kind of the idea of a dice pool, but instead of you increase the number of dice, you increase the number of sides of one of the dice, so.
MARX: It’s a neat little twist, actually. I’ve been lucky enough to be looking for the quick start for this.
DAVID: Oh cool.
MARX: It kind of blew me away with, kind of, how you’d manage to condense “Blades In The Dark” into basically a single spread. I just thought that was very impressive, considering that it is generally considered to be one of the crunchiest systems out there.
DAVID: I guess, but you know, the core of the system is that dice pool, and I think, I feel I’ve gotten through sort of a MA in de-crunchifying games through being on the FKR community Discord for so long. Just reading all the posts and kind of understanding how people are thinking through it. Worked a bit with Nakade on this, I don’t actually know how you say Nakade, is it Nakade? RPG maker, made Dungeon Soul and lots of other great games. And also Shaun Smith, who’s quite regular on that Discord, and of course Oz Browning, who runs Rook’s Press in Manchester. And I guess it was actually through engagement with Oz that I got into that, which was, I made Babel, which was a Wretched and Alone hack. It was part of Laurie O’Connell’s jam, the painting jam, it was Bruegel’s “Tower of Babel.” Yeah, incredible painting. And there was also existed in the public domain an incredibly high resolution version of the painting, so I thought, “wow, this is something interesting to work with.” Yeah, kind of laid it out, kind of started putting prompts together and it became a journey of self-discovery, so, as well as the Jenga tower, and the die that decides how many cards you draw each day, playing cards, which define what the prompts are, I added in a set of letter tiles, like you’d have in Scrabble, and you would set aside your actual name, and you would be trying to search for your name in this tower. One letter at a time. And, some of the prompts say that you find a letter, and then at the same time you’re also looking for the universal language, sort of combined as all before the tower fell, as a way of kind of searching for something impossible. It’s quite an existential journey, much like The Wretched really, except rather than it’s horror, it’s sort of more-
MARX: It kinda sounds kinda theological.
DAVID: Yeah, I guess philosophical and sublime, maybe?
MARX: Yeah, they’ve got your own word.
DAVID: Well, I mean I’m more thinking in the technical term rather than kinda “yeah, this is sublime, baby.”
MARX: Eh, why not both?
DAVID: *laughs* Thanks!
MARX: I mean that sounds really cool, I’m very into that. I really really like Wretched and Alone games.
DAVID: It’s an incredible system, it’s so tight?
MARX: It’s so clever.
DAVID: It gets you straight into it, ‘cause the thing that’s really hard to create in a solo game I think is that sense of an outside agency, and I think the Jenga tower really does that, it’s kind of this thing that you’re constantly aware of and anxious about, even when you’re not touching it it’s sort of you know, wobbling there and it gives us kind of an extra intensity to engage with it.
MARX: I guess the game that classically originally did this, Dread?
DAVID: Oh yeah yeah, that’s true.
MARX: But I love, like, The Wretched so much more than Dread. I love reading people’s playthroughs of The Wretched because it just has so much tension in it. Somehow, playing Jenga by yourself just makes it really intense. There is no chance that somebody else is gonna knock the tower down, that’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s definitely going to be you. That sounds really interesting, maybe we went down a bit of a rabbit hole.
DAVID: That’s right. Rabbit holes are good, so.
MARX: So, Lost Eons is a project that you worked on with Laurie O’Connell, and it’s ongoing I guess? What kind of stage are you at with that?
DAVID: It’s a funny kind of stage right now, the first three books are basically completely finished. They were created as part of a project that I was doing in Cambridge, and so it’s based around the Cambridgeshire Fens, I really like kind of making things site-specific, basically. And looking at what would happen with even a little bit of sea rise in that area. Cambridge and that area is especially vulnerable, as you probably know from your day job.
MARX: Oh, yeah.
DAVID: It’s only gonna take a little bit for really most of, especially northern Norfolk and that sort of area to be inundated. So yeah, it’s very much a kind of a water world with kind of bits of land. It was made through a workshop system, I was working with people in the area to create the space and create ideas of what societies might exist in the future, so, yeah, a lot of the process of it is actually kind of a world-building, imagining different societies like, how could we rebuild society in a more effective way. Yeah, this sort of often becomes aiming towards sort of, utopias in some ways. But then, of course, there’s always conflict between these different groups and it sort of becomes more complex and that. But that’s sort of a starting point. Worked also with an amazing illustrator that I came across just through this process, he was interested in working on something local and, called Jacob Barry, and he kind of made some really beautiful images of things like a floating city over the fens, and these crab-like people, or kind of people who have merged with crab types called the Cambrians, and the *Kallix, who are part plant. Off on a start with kind of suggesting merging with various flora and fauna in the area as a sort of way of creating new ideas of what people could be in a kind of post-human world.
DAVID: There was a librarian in the group who was making it, and they wanted to have this kind of great archive of knowledge going back over the last 8,000 years
MARX: And there’s that 8,000 years
DAVID: Yeah, and in that 8,000 years in that floating city, so it is kind of a reimagining of The World After but in this kind of much tighter space. Everything kind of pared down to, kind of prompts that you can use at the table rather than long screens of text, it’s sort of taking that Electric Bastionland, Chris McDowell idea of the 3 essential things and kind of applying that to places, kind of characters you might meet. It’s kind of quite powerful once you start sort of getting in the rhythm of it.
MARX: It’s really cool and the quick start is available at Amazon isn’t it? And it’s something I think people would really, it’s got a really really nice aesthetic, it’s got really good color schemes and the art is incredible. And like, the game plays really nicely but those prompts that you have scattered throughout that document are really neat and get you into a scene really quickly, so pulling tricks from Electric Bastionland and, that’s really worked out.
DAVID: And yeah, the three books do that well, and really expand on that kind of divided into three sections, you’ve got the players, kind of guide, you’ve got the GM’s tools, which is more kind of procedural things for how to create environments and spaces on the fly.
DAVID: And then the setting which is sort of, gives more kind of lore, if you want to use it, as in, it’s kind of like, there’s this already made space for you to explore there. There’s something I also kind of played around with a bit in a recent jam that I did in Brighton, we created a little one of these pocket zines that Oz and Roz put together, a jam for pocket places 2021 I think.
MARX: Yeah, is that one of those pocket- I love those.
DAVID: Yeah it’s like, it’s just, you kind of fold down an A4 sheet and have eight pages to play with. Yeah, it’s kind of boiling it down to super simplicity, no kind of gameplay as in, kind of rules, but plenty of setting, so, yeah, we managed to eke out kind of a map of the new Bright Helm, and then kind of an underground area and also an overground area, all with creatures, complications and atmospheres, fitting to each space. And you kind of roll on these different charts, and then you’ve got your next encounter, as you explore this map that’s inside. Yeah, that was really fun to do.
MARX: I love that format so much, and I love the zine format in general. But pocket ones, I don’t have many of them but I do have a couple, and I remember buying some years and years ago, like, I don’t know, 2004, and I bought a couple of tiny zines which I didn’t realize were zines at the time. And printed them out and folded them into a pocket one and just carried them around in my wallet. I loved it, you know? They’re so cool.
DAVID: Yeah, it’s incredibly rich really, ‘cause you have to be so concise that every word counts. And I think that’s a really exciting space to work with, it kind of suits me better than trying to fill screens of text.
MARX: Absolutely. Do more with less, you know.
MARX: It’s a good mood to get into, it’s like the 200 word game jam, which is appearing, looks really fun. Everyone enjoys that, everyone I’ve ever spoken to said they’ve tried to submit something to that. Whether they’ve succeeded or not.
DAVID: It’s a really great limit.
MARX: And then James Chip,
DAVID: Oh, yeah.
MARX: Last year, did a single tweet game jam. Nano games. That was really fun, and that was hard, but it led to a lot of creativity in that, you know, you just use emojis, saves you on words.
DAVID: Oh, that’s genius.
MARX: So that was really fun. And then there was, it must have been Oz, did the business card jam.
DAVID: Pleasure cards.
MARX: The pleasure card jam and that was, the amount of creativity that came out of that was incredible, I absolutely loved that. So many cool things that come out of that, like Tiny Library, that Ash of Long Tail Games did after that.
DAVID: Yeah, really impressive what, how that kind of turned into such a massive thing. It’s like a deck of 52 cards, or something.
MARX: Yeah, it’s a deck of 52 single card games. It’s gonna be incredible.
DAVID: That’d be a good format to work with one day.
MARX: It’s so achievable, like I did a couple of them and just sort of turned it round in half a day, and it’s just really entertaining. It’s really stimulating as a designer to kind of work with so little space and try to achieve so much.
DAVID: Yeah I did two tiny ones, one was for an idea of Magic that you would use tarot to find your spells, rather than, well it’s tarot magic. Also, Towards Utopia was my other one, which wasn’t really a game, it was more of a poem. But it fitted on a business card, so yeah. And I’m hoping to put this together for a Kickstarter soon, so, yeah, look out for that. I’ll be doing that with Daniel Locke, I think we’re gonna be taking that to Mars, it’s gonna be working with the Lost Eons core books but also a new Mars supplement.
MARX: Oh, wow.
DAVID: ‘Cause of course, everyone else went underground, the rather more wealthy of us,
MARX: The Elon Musks of the world
DAVID: Exactly, went to Mars, and decided to try to terraform it, and 8,000 years later, things aren’t going so well. They live in this kind of weird mobile city, trying to hunt down the last bits of usable material.
MARX: That sounds fun.
DAVID: It’s getting close to sort of space horror, kind of mothership sort of vibes. But it’s a space that you could explore with your characters from, sort of a last dungeon crawl, to see how it all ends.
MARX: That sounds amazing, yeah definitely look out for the Kickstarter of that, which I guess’ll be some time next year.
DAVID: It must be next year, early next year now, it’s far too late to be this year, so yeah.
MARX: I think a lot of what you’re talking about there, people will go away and listen to that and be like definitely somebody who works very intensively in an artistic way. How’d you kind of reconcile the idea of working as a visual artist, which I don’t have any direct experience of, I know people who are full-time artists, and this kind of weird cottage industry that’s developed around the indie TTRPG scene?
DAVID: Cottage industry is a good name for it. I think what I find kind of the artistic kernel of TTRPGs is really the, for want of a better word, magic that happens around the table. So it’s that moment where you’re actually sitting with other people, maybe if it’s a solo game just with the document and it’s kind of, it’s that space that it takes you into, this kind of super intense collaborative, almost virtual environment that you enter into through just collective imagining.
That’s the art space, that kind of, how to create that perfect environment together just with some words. That’s kind of magic isn’t it? Taking a bunch of words and suddenly everyone’s scared, or excited, or rolling around in fits of laughter. It’s just because of this idea of a space that exists. I was playing a game last night with, it was Tales of the Loot, but it was a setting that Daniel Locke had created for our group. It was set in Brighton in the 1980s, in ‘88, so it was when all of us were the age that those kids are in Tales of the Loot. And I was basically my 12-year-old self, obsessed with Michael Jackson and a total weirdo geek. Just exploring that space, it really did suddenly take you into that kind of childlike space of seeing the world fresh again. And TTRPGs really give you a space for both empathy, for kind of getting into someone else’s skin in a weird way, but also for reimagining the world as it exists so, it exists like this now, but if we just change this and this, what would it feel like to live in? You know, you kind of get some literature, say Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed or something, you really get a sense of what it would feel like, to live in like a communal anarchist society, and how that’s both a great thing, really exciting kind of sharing environment, but also some of the strictures that are put on you, like they’re not supposed to get close to each other emotionally, like being a couple is frowned upon, these kinds of things are seen as selfish. So, it’s sort of, it’s a rounded idea, and I think TTRPGs can really get you into that space, where it’s not just you’re theorizing this thing, you’re actually living in it, and seeing, poking at the edges of it, and thinking about what that actually would mean. Even something like gradient descent, that really gets into that anxiety over, “am I human, or am I something other?” And you don’t know, and you’re not sure, that’s kind of, the sorts of spaces that become really artistic. You know, the TTRPG scene is such a spectrum, it’s from the kind of world-dominating Wizards of the Coast of the world, through to someone scribbling on an A4 pad in their bedroom, and deciding to play a game with this person. It’s that whole gamut, and I think, as with all art forms, the really kind of vibrant stuff happens almost out of sight. It’s just those four people round the table, they experience it, but they’ve experienced it and then they’re always trying to experience that thing again with another group, and that’s exciting.
MARX: I think that’s really interesting, and it sort of reminds me of that sort of space of collaborative flow that you get yourself into. I do wonder sometimes if that’s what it feels like to have a really religious experience. Like a shared religious experience.
DAVID: You know, when I said “sublime” about Babel, that’s kind of what I’m thinking about. Those moments where you lose almost your present reality and enter into something else, it’s almost like a meditative state I think. But it’s a collective one, it’s not just you on a mountainside, it’s you with four other people, and you’re lost in that moment. You’re actually really present, even though you’re kind of living in a fantasy world, or whatever. It’s a moment of really being, and that’s a powerful thing.
MARX: Obviously it’s very similar to what I think the audience experiences as part of being in theater. When you see a play, you are immersed in that environment, and obviously the actors probably have that to some extent, although I think actors can be more detached from it than the audience can be, in kind of a weird way. But you’re also contributing to that, and that’s really interesting, I thought that’s an extremely interesting intersection.
DAVID: I think you’re right. I think theater is probably the closest art form, it’s the easiest to draw parallels.
MARX: You know, a lot of people say that video games have that same ability to draw parallels with role-playing games. Probably not multiplayer video games. I think more single-player video games, and especially the ones where you take on a role, which is more than just “go around and shoot things.”
DAVID: Oh yeah, I’m not arguing against the artistic possibilities of video games, they’re an essential part of my life.
MARX: The two parallels, then, I guess that are easiest to draw, are theater and video games, and it’s kind of that combination of the two. But also, it’s analog, and it’s something that you do just by talking to each other, and that very human thing of connecting and storytelling and pattern searching, and things like that. It’s very interesting, and it’s always felt really weird to me that this is not a thing that more people do.
DAVID: Yeah, I mean I do find that fascinating. There’s kind of this aversion to doing it because of all the associations. And also, I think there’s an element of trust that has to be gained before you can start into this world, somehow. Like it’s about letting go of something, leaving yourself a little bit vulnerable. And I think some people just don’t like to do that. So yeah, it’s sad. I think that’s true with all art forms, actually. Someone can go into a painting show and go “pff, it’s just a load of paintings on the wall,” and someone else will be having a quasi-religious experience with that same painting. ‘Cause they’ve opened themselves up to it. So I think there is always kind of this state of mind of allowing yourself to actually engage with these things. It’s kind of like when some people see theater, and it’s like, “well, it’s a bunch of people, it’s not even realistic,” you know?
MARX: Yeah, putting on silly costumes and silly voices.
DAVID: It’s a black box with a few props and they’re just talking to each other in quite mannered ways. It’s letting us all fall into that, and suddenly this whole world opens up.
MARX: It does. I think it’s incredible, it’s something that I am genuinely surprised that more people don’t get involved with because it feels so natural and human to connect with people in this classic storytelling kind of way. It’s probably how everybody originally connected to each other, you know?
DAVID: Absolutely. We’re storytelling machines, that’s how we understand our world really, is through the stories that we tell ourselves about the world, but also about ourselves. You know, what are we but the story we tell ourselves about who we are? That’s a very kind of lacanian idea. I guess, one of the things that drew me into TTRPGs after working with the video game space for so long, ‘cause lots of my art is based on video games and stuff, was really that way of being outside the screen again, of connecting and creating community in the space where we can actually breathe and touch one another. And that’s one of the most awful things about pandemic times really, that curtailing of that, it’s become a virtual space which has been incredible, I’ve played so many games over lockdown, and met so many people that I may not have met if I had not gotten so into the scene, which I may not have done if it hadn’t have been the pandemic. So that’s been a real positive, but what if some of these experiences could have been in the same room? There’s a real something extremely intense about in-person roleplay, which I have to say I’m dearly looking forward to doing again, ‘cause I haven’t done it for a long time, ‘cause I’m still scared.
MARX: Likewise. Well, that’s it, we need to get back to that I think, but I do enjoy playing games over the internet, I enjoy talking to people, I actually find doing it through audio rather than video it’s kind of better for me, ‘cause I’m less distracted. But I don’t think, as you said, that you can beat the magic of sitting around a table. It sounds really daft when I say it, you put it much more eloquently. But sitting around a table telling a story together, it’s as simple as that and it’s as satisfying as that. David, would you like to tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
DAVID: Yeah, I’m on Twitter @davidblandy , and on Instagram @david_blandy_ , and on itch.io, it’s davidblandy.itch.io. And that’s me, I guess. I’ve got a website too, but yeah it’s pretty much my name.
MARX: Brilliant, well thank you very much again for coming on Yes Indie’d Pod and talking to us about, well all of that cool stuff, I enjoyed the warren of rabbit holes that we ended up exploring.
DAVID: Thank you very much Marx, it was a very enjoyable evening.
MARX: Thanks for listening! And thanks again to David for the interview. As always, you can find all of the links in the episode description. Next time, I’ll be talking to Jay Dragon of Possum Creek Games, creator of Sleepaway and Wanderhome, and someone with a lot of interesting things to say about tabletop roleplaying games, and the scene as it stands. Tune in next time to find out more!
This week, an advert from former guest and friend of the show, Tanya Floaker. Be Seeing You is a tabletop role-playing game about independence, control, freedom, and compliance. Ideal for games of dystopian science fiction, social allegory, and psychological drama. It’s influenced by fiction in the vein of The Prisoner, Stalker, and Utopia, and real struggles against mass surveillance, the U.K. government’s hostile environment, and the alienating effects of capitalism. Be Seeing You is seeking funding right now as part of Side Quest 2021. Follow and back on Kickstarter now! Search for Be Seeing You on Kickstarter or follow the link in the episode description.
And, as always, I’d like to thank some of my Patreon backers. Alex Reinhart and Samantha Leigh, who are always delightful to hear from, and to talk to. Thank you so very much to both of you.
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