Roll up, roll up! It’s time for another #ComedyScribeMonday — a weekly Twitter chat where comedy writers gather in a supportive environment to share and expand their craft.
This week we spoke with Eric Silver (@El_Silvero) of the exciting and hilarious real-play Dungeons & Dragons podcast Join the Party. Eric is the show’s Dungeon Master, with Amanda McLoughlin (@shessomickey) playing budding assassin Inara, Michael Fische (@MichaelFische) as Light-obsessed warlock Johnny B. Goodlight, and Brandon Grugle (@BrandonGrugle) as robot barbarian TR8c.
A Brief History of the Concentric States
Sean: Eric, Can you talk about where Join the Party came from? What brought about this world? Do you remember the moment of gestation?
Eric: Brandon, Fish and I used to work together, and we were all really into D&D podcasts (especially The Adventure Zone). I also listened to a WHOLE LOT of D&D pods as part of my job, and I wanted to make something as open and immersive and caring as TAZ.
Once we got started (and convinced Amanda that we weren’t insane), I thought about how states/regional people work and live together, and a piece of Greek history city-states stuck in my mind.
City-states always felt like a last result to me, the way the Confederacy of southern states around the Civil War did. So, in fantasy, how does an Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend government start? And that’s playing out now.
We have the Concentric States:
- Concentra, the capital
- Fidapolis (holy city)
- Antipolis (built across a river from ruins)
- Cronopolis (city of time)
- Tortipolis (city underground)
- Infropolis (the twisted city)
Sean: You are making my history teachers all proud, but more in a “we told you so” sort of way. :)
Eric: TEACHERS ARE GREAT. You can quote me on that.
Sean: I love the fertile ground and this explains some of the depth of the world we are experiencing. What role did the other players have in the formation of this world, if any?
Eric: I took on a lot of the worldbuilding myself. That’s my burden to bear as the storyteller DM. And I wanted that! As you can see from Johnny, Inara, and TR8c, the characters are complex.
It was melding their backstories to the history of the world. I know the forest where Inara comes from, the vague place where Johnny grew up and studied, and where the hell TR8c came from.
It also helps that Michael is a master mapmaker and Brandon can make any world sound real. So I could let my mind unspool.
Sean: I think I want to take TR8c home. Brandon has created such a compelling character. I love his enthusiasm but also his mood swings and his confusion and struggles. It makes my week.
Trusting in the players
Sean: You put a good number of storytelling moments on your players. This is not normal in a campaign. I’m interested in how this has evolved and developed and what you are learning works better/best?
Eric: Yes! Being a DM and being a DM on mic is a whole different beast. I trust my players to follow me into the dark at this point, so I want to reward their character choices and creation.
I’ve learned so much from Griffin McElroy (@griffinmcelroy) in TAZ and Austin Walker in Friends at the Table. I want to give them choices and ways to respond and grow. And as these new eps come out, I hope my growth as a DM is showing through.
Sean: In Political Party I, the end of this episode has you saying, “Have you ever been at a High School during summer? You know how it’s like oddly quiet? Like it shouldn’t be quiet, but it is… […] What do you all look like when you look at the stars?”
You create these moments of reflection with deep moods, like the end of Political Party I on the rooftop. How do you go about creating the space for the characters to have these moments? Is this discussed at the table? Set up in any special way?
Eric: That was one of my favorite moments up to now. (Context: we were gliding along on a boat and I gave them a moment of rest and reflection by asking pointed questions.) It was like a story/poetry prompt. Everyone loves questions about themselves, even fictional characters.
We did not talk about this moment before, and I wrote down some questions beforehand. But I just asked them. The magic of audio!
Sean: This. Is. Brilliant. Thank you.
Eli: Something I like about JTP is that the comedic moments feel like they arise organically from the action and characters. What do you do to encourage this? What goes into creating comical NPCs for you?
Eric: So happy you picked up on that! When the four of us started the show, we made Tenets of Good D&D Shows:
- easy to learn for newbies
- accessible to all gender/sexuality/race/etc
- don’t be gross
- jokes come from the action
We REALLY think about that as we play.
As for NPCs, I make the people who I want to see! I think a gargoyle who sounds like Danny Zuko is my goddamn favorite thing ever.
Actually, Brandon asked me this yesterday. My NPCs aren’t my Mary Sues. They’re parts of me, or representations of ideas I want the characters to wrestle with.
I don’t have a favorite NPC. But I have soft spots for my soft boys and characters I just want Inara, Johnny and TR8c to trust.
Eli: I have to add: the turn from “OMG Greg sabotaged us, what a dick!” to That Letter — daaamn.
Eric: GREGGGG, you wonderful divisive cuttlefish.
That’s another part that I really wanted to show — relationships in fantasy! Everything from Greg was “what would I do if my significant other was in trouble?”
Everyone has a story
Sean: I got to ask! I spend every episode wanting to see Inara find love but also dreading her emerging class and what that will entail. Is this a tension you are consciously playing with? You or Amanda?
Eric: Amanda is the queer teen assassin we deserve. It grew out of two things: 1) Amanda wanting to represent as a queer lady and 2) Amanda figuring out the rogue class along with Inara. Both are amazing and hilarious.
All Amanda asked for was an assassin’s guild to aspire to — everything else grew really organically from there.
Amanda: There’s a lot of me as a baby queer in Inara; I also crushed on unavailable women because the idea of a Real Life Date with a Real Life Lady was terrifying. So, I dunno what Inara would do if faced with an actual romantic possibility!
Sean: OMG! This HAS to happen now, Eric !!!! :)
Amanda: We already know what Inara does when faced with the real possibility of murder! ;)
Sean: True true! I still get chills from that scene!
Eric: Inara does murders. It’s her job!!
Eli: Inara’s speech after her first (I think?) kill — vanquishing that shadow still makes me giggle.
Eric: Amanda makes me giggle. Fish makes me groan from puns. Brandon makes me think what to do next. These are all VERY important qualities in players/friends/co-producers.
Sean: I really like how you are building the story arcs for each of the characters. Can you talk about the moment with Johnny and the lantern and the Light? Such a powerful FEELS moment and also an interesting arc built off what I assumed was just a quirk prior.
Eric: This is 50% Michael Fische Dad Realness and 50% [creative consultant] Connor McLoughlin (@ccmcloughlin). Connor came up with the item/stats for the Undying Lantern. All I had to do was put the pieces together.
Wizards of the Coast came up with a new type of warlock in Unearthed Arcana — a warlock of positivity! So we ran with it.
This is also character meshing into the world. There’s a tri-force pantheon in Concentric States! Where does the Undying Light come in?
Sean: Great segue! You are one of the first roleplaying podcasts that I’ve seen with consultants. Can you speak to the role that they play? Do you have pre-production meetings per story arc? How does all that work?
Eric: DMing is lonely. You can’t tell your players anything because it’ll spoil the surprise. I wanted to give the people who help their due.
Julia (@JuliaSchifini) is my god expert. Connor is my game guru. And Heddy (roommate & best friend) tells me if I’m too close to LotR.
If I didn’t have them, I would feel claustrophobic and anxious. I need someone to tell me “AW SWEET” before I go on mic.
You wouldn’t write an audio drama or play alone, right?
Sean: lol. priceless! And can so relate!
We can’t thank Eric enough. Everyone needs to follow and listen to Join The Party if they haven’t yet. Eric, what’s coming up? Where can people find more? Time to pitch!
Eric: We’re finishing up the Pool Party arc very shortly. The next one is coming soon and GODDAMN I’m so excited about it.
Eli: And I have heard tell there might also be a Radio Drama Revival interview coming very soon.
Eric: This is true! Amanda and I will be on RDR in the near future, talking gaming, storytelling, and doing better. SO EXCITED for that to come out.
Thanks again to Eric and Amanda for joining us. On top of being a great story, Join the Party is one of the best ways to discover tabletop role-playing. They’re all over social media, too—check it all out at jointhepartypod.com.
#ComedyScribeMondays are brought to you by Sean and Eli, the writers of Alba Salix, Royal Physician. Join us on Twitter every Monday at noon ET / 9 PT in North America, or 1700h UTC, wherever you are!