Steve Keller started a website and podcast with short interviews with people telling him about their favorite character. The site launched in April, 2016, so is fast approaching its first year online. He is lining up interviews for Season 3. I volunteered to be an interview subject when I asked to interview him for Multiverse. You can find my interview here.
What was your own start in RPGs?
When my older brother was 15 or 16 he came home with the Holmes D&D box and I fell in love with the artwork. But his group played really super serious D&D and that was a bit of a turnoff for me – I was more interested in Wormy and Phil & Dixie – so I didn’t play much. Then T.W.E.R.P.S. came out the year I started high school and my friends and I fell in love with how silly it was. That got me into other goofy games like TOON and Attack of the Humans, and now I’ll play just about anything.
What is your favorite character?
I played a Bretonnian knight in game that was set in the Warhammer Fantasy world using C&S 3ed rules. Not only was it terribly fun to cut bad guys in half with a chivalric great blow, but he had a great personal arc – he started off a lawful stupid egomaniac, but whatever ideas I’d had when I rolled him up went right out the window when, in his introductory scene, he fell down a well. My dice hated that character and he failed spectacularly at several crucial story moments. The GM wasn’t a fan of story by dice and kept offering me work-arounds but his failures became such a part of his ethos I just ran with it until he worked himself into a bitter, frustrated failure of a knight with no honor or prestige.
Do you still play that character?
No, he got his perfect ending. By the time the campaign ended he’d lost his knighthood, lost his family lands, and become something of a scoundrel. But he got a chance to redeem himself when the campaign reached its climax in Naggaroth; when it came down to making a decision, he opted for the suicidally noble gesture over cowardice.
What is your preferred/go to rpg?
I will play whatever the GM wants us to use, but when I’m running the game I generally turn to my own home-brew Palladium heartbreaker, which I’ve slowly been putting into a reasonably usable format and giving away at PlayAARG.com. [AARG is an RPG that is designed to be one set of rules for any style of game or genre one wishes.]
Talking about one’s characters and adventures is usually frowned on and often leads to much rolling of eyes from listeners. RPG authors and old guard really don’t like those stories because they usually lack helpful context. Why or how did you settle on interviewing people about their characters?
Well, it’s only frowned upon because it’s become part of the stereotype of the socially awkward “nerd”. If you paint role-playing as a hobby for social misfits, then of course anyone who expresses enthusiasm about playing ends up looking like a social misfit. And you can internalize that if you believe the stereotype, but the fact is all kinds of people play RPGs.
I had the idea for the podcast after spending 20 minutes in my kitchen listening to a friend who’s a burlesque artist telling me about her elven ranger. Here was this brash, outgoing antithesis of the social misfit stereotype and she’s talking about polyhedral dice. And she may have been framing the story about the character but what she was actually telling me was that she was having *fun*. I knew if they were presented as being more about the fun than the mechanics, then people would want to listen to these stories.
I had a website coded about 2 weeks later and started asking around on G+ for people to let me interview them. I had no real idea how to go about it, but I struck gold by ended up with Arlene Medder as my first interview; she had no hesitation and the structure of that conversation ended up being the template I would follow for all the rest.[I found this to be a very good point. It’s all about the fun. I’d suggest trying to learn how to tell one’s story with enough context, they get it along with the enthusiasm.]
You’re getting ready to start season 3, so you must not have trouble finding interview subjects. Do you foresee this lasting several years, or do you think it will run out of steam?
Well, season 1 was easy. I decided on doing a 6-episode proof-of-concept and found enough people to fill that pretty easily. Season 2 was tough. It was hard getting people to respond and those who did would disappear before we could nail down a time. I added Twitter and Facebook accounts for the podcast and that’s increased the number of people reaching out through the website. As long as I can find the people, I can’t see the podcast ending. In fact, I’ve got ideas for expanding it if I can keep growing the audience.
Have you ever found a story too hard to follow or enjoy?
Not of the interviews I’ve posted. Everyone apologizes for rambling but that’s really what I want, that off-the-cuff, excited meander. The few times I’ve been annoyed were the folks who approach me with structured sales pitches for their character stories, like they just want a place to read fan-fic they’ve written for their own characters. I’m not interested in that.
Have you had any interviews that just didn’t come together for an episode?
Not of the episodes I’ve recorded. As I said, that first interview helped me develop a solid structure. I’ve use a handful of prompts now to guide the episode, but mostly I try to stay out of the way and let the interviewee go where they want. I haven’t yet had a problem filling 10 minutes.
Have you found any common thread about how a character becomes a favorite?
The common thread is that this hobby for social misfits is actually very social. There’s always an “I had a great time with my friends while playing this character” element to these stories, even if what makes for a “great time” varies from person to person.
Steve makes valid points that we all have a story, and for those into RPGs, some of our stories revolve around the antics at the table. I know that I find it hard not to talk about some epic things. For those not there, lacking context can make it hard for them to hear. If we don’t have our group of friends around who shared in that moment, we seek to relive those epic moments with others. I think there is a place for this. It is an anthropological project of sorts. While some have written books about the beginnings of the RPG hobby, and others are making movies about it, Steve is delving into what it is about the game that impacts those who play it.