INTERVIEW With Kat Faye, Dungeon Master of D&D podcast, Dames and Dragons
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of sitting down to interview Kat Faye, the Dungeon Master of a D&D podcast called Dames and Dragons. I got the chance to talk to her about some of the creative challenges of writing a campaign for not only a roleplaying game like Dungeons and Dragons, but also for a podcast with a listening audience.
(Some basic aspects Dungeons and Dragons to keep in mind: Players roll 20 sided dice to decide the outcome of actions they want to perform in the game. Rolling a 20 means you complete the action, no matter how crazy it is. Rolling a 1 means you critically fail at performing the action, and you may even end up taking damage. For those of you who may need to brush up on what Dungeons and Dragons is and what it entails, creatively, you can get the long and short of it here.)
Kat, Thank you for meeting with me today!
To start, tell me a little bit about your podcast, Dames and Dragons.
Dames and Dragons is what we call an actual play podcast. We sit down and we play Dungeons and Dragons together for… a long time every several weeks. It’s not scripted, we don’t have that many rules about what goes on. So we’re playing an actual D&D game and just recording it and editing it and making it more consumable for listeners.
So the Dungeons and Dragons game that you play, it’s not just Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a story that’s also being crafted for a listening audience. So how is it different crafting a D&D story for a listening audience, as opposed to just your players?
It’s a little bit more of a balancing act, because a lot of things that I would love to do for my players to make it a very interesting game would also make for a very boring podcast. That’s something I’ve seen that’s a pitfall that you have to be very careful to avoid when you’re doing an actual play podcast because what you end up with is a very meandering story without much sense of plot or structure. But at the same time, you also don’t want to get so deep into your plot and your structure that it becomes not fun for your players.
Right, or inorganic for the audience.
Yeah! Because a big part of doing an actual play podcast is that you want to present something that feels like a very natural and organic experience. A lot of it is just… letting go of your ego and rolling with the punches. You’re going to get punched in the face a lot.
So, there’s obviously a large amount of improv that’s involved. How much do you try to predict what your players are going to do, or have you given up on doing that?
I’ve more or less given up, but there’s a certain amount of what’s called leading that I do. There are a lot of articles written about leading your players. You don’t want to put them on a track and railroad them, but you want their journey to make enough sense that they will naturally want to go a certain way. So I try to do that.
So then, in terms of story, it seems you have the most control over world building. How much world building did you do before the podcast actually started and how much did you leave open for malleability?
Yeah, I’m not sure where the players are going to go. I’m not sure what’s going to be important, and the more world I have built, the more I have to draw on when I get asked a question I’m not prepared for. So even if I get asked details about a god I don’t know, I have the full pantheon of gods that I’ve created. If I know Fenrir is the wolf god, then I’m able to take that and say, “okay, we’re looking for a myth about Fenrir off the top of my head. I know he’s about these 3 things. Let’s make something up!”
So that’s the kind of world building I do. It’s really as preparation for the improv I’m going to have to do later.
So, one last question. Talk to me about the way that the rules of Dungeons & Dragons can affect both the storytelling of the actual game and also the narrative appeal for an audience when you are recording your game for a podcast.
Oh, that’s a big question.
Yeah, I know. Sorry, haha.
When you’re building a story what you’re using the rules for is basically creating consequences. So your player characters – and yourself too – can’t just do something and have no consequence or risk. So you’re creating risk. Sometimes I’ll say, “Well, if my villain rolls a 13 or higher they’ll be able to do this and if they don’t, they can’t,” and that forces me to think on my feet if they fail that roll. Or I lie.
Yes. Yes I will admit that as a DM.
How often do you lie?
Not as much as you would think. I really try to stick with the roll, but if something happens where it’s like, “Oh they rolled a 1. They can’t roll a 1 here,” I have to lie.
Like narratively it can’t happen?
Yeah, narratively, it would be like, if Torva, the main villain, rolled a 1, I would have had to just go, “Okay, it can’t be a 1. It can be low but it can’t be a 1.”
Right like, Torva rolls a 1, he spontaneously combusts and dies, the podcast is over.
Yeah! There are some times where it just can’t happen, and there’s some times where it will be like, “Okay, it didn’t hit, but at this point, I really do want to raise the stakes.” So I try and – when I cheat, I’m doing it because I’m trying to direct the story in an interesting way.
And I assume that’s something that wouldn’t really happen if you were just playing D&D outside of a podcast?
Yeah, when we were just playing for fun, I never cheated on rolls. If for some reason the villain rolls a 1, that’s cool, this is going to be hilarious, we’re all going to laugh about this. But it’s very different when you’re doing it for an audience because you’re trying to think of how people are going to interpret this.
That’s so awesome. Well, Kat, thank you for joining me today.
You’re welcome, Kaitlin. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you.
Meet the contributor:
KAITLIN HATMAN is an extraterrestrial living in secret on planet earth. She is a poet and fiction writer, occasional artist, and smalltime podcaster who loves dogs and D&D. One time she met Hulk Hogan at a Perkins.
As writer, you’re always told to read, read, read. You’re told to steal and learn from fellow authors. For some, this gives the impression that one can only learn how to write from written words. Wrong! You can learn a lot from watching TV shows. I tend to watch TV more than I read, and I still learn a lot of the important aspects of storytelling. What are TV shows and movies? Stories.
Character Development: A 12-year stretch
One of the best examples of character development is Bones on FOX. When we first meet Temperance Brennen, the character comes off as a very cold, methodical person. She rigidly only believes in what science says, and gets annoyed when anyone tries to tell her anything about emotions or instinct. She doesn’t believe in God and makes fun of her partner, FBI Special Agent Seely Booth, for being Catholic.
By the time the show ended its 12-year run, Brennen and Booth are married and have two children. We see a very affectionate Brennen who can be very silly, yet she still firmly believes in logic and scientific fact. Her change is believable and not a total 180. Studying the series just for notes on this development is important. The change is realistic and mirrors the evolution actual humans, changing over time and impacted by circumstances.
Sometimes the actors themselves have a big impact on the relational roles in series. Some of the most successful shows are successful because the actors have fantastic on-screen chemistry. Not just on-screen chemistry, either. Jared Padalecki from Supernatural (on the CW) has said he’d be playing a different Sam Winchester if Jensen Ackles wasn’t Dean Winchester.
However, if the relationship on the page isn’t there, how can the actors bring that relationship to life? Going back to Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester are so close people assume they’re a couple. They both literally go to hell and back for each other. When one calls, the other drops everything and comes running. If the Supernatural writers wrote Sam and Dean’s relationship differently, like Sam and Dean hate each other’s guts, it would be a very different show. It is worth noting how the relationships between characters impact the plot and the overall success of your writing.
Of course, the perimeters of pacing is different for movies and television. When I think about pacing and timing I like to equate TV shows to novels and movies to short stories.
In TV shows like Bones and Supernatural, writers have more time to develop the story line. They maybe only have a hand full of episodes that actually tie together to form an overarching plot line for the season, ending in a cliffhanger to get the viewer to come back for the next season. In a novel, you have to show the progression of the plot, but you can throw in chapters that focus more on building character relationships then moving the plot along.
In movies, like Wonder Woman , writers had both condense years of comic books into one two hour episode. They had to introduce character relationships while getting the character to grow and move the plot along all at the same time. Similar to a short story. Diana Prince and Steve go from to what seems to like just meeting to possibly having sex just a couple of days later. By the end of the movie, Diana has changed from the almost naïve Princess of the Amazons to a more realistic woman of the world; optimism intact, of course. Why else would she still be fighting?
Allowing yourself to deconstruct the writing you see in your favorite television series or movies is good mental practice for the page. Identify what is at play with the character and plot development, note the pacing of the action, and try it out in your own writing.
Meet the blogger:
ASH FLAIM is a Minnesotan born and bred. She discovered writing in 7th grade and hasn’t looked back, completing a BFA in creative writing from Hamline University. Her passion is fiction, though she also enjoys poetry. When she’s not writing, reading, or working, you’ll find her in front of the TV.
When it comes to writer’s block, we authors, poets, and the like, tend to avoid the subject like a fatal disease. As if when we talk about it, it will catch us. The mere thought of locking up with a pencil in hand, blank computer screen, or empty mind, frightens writers to no end. But perhaps we’re making this out to be a bigger monster than it really is. True, there may be no single way to beat writer’s block forever, but perhaps we can take solace in knowing that even the most famous of authors have been through it as well (and may have a tip or two).
1. “If your wife locks you out of the house, you don’t have a problem with your door. The word block suggests you’re constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty.” –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
2. “I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.” -Barbara Kingslover
3. “If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.” -Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing
4. “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” –Ernest Hemingway
5. “When all else fails, give up and go to the library.” –Stephen King
6. “I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90 percent of my first drafts … so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90 percent chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating. I also like to remind myself of something my dad said in [response] to writers’ block: ‘Coal miners don’t get coal miners’ block.’” –John Green
7. “Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” -Charles Bukowski
Though this list is short, it in no way encompasses the plague that eventually catches up to us all. But at least it’s proof. Proof that they lived. And proof that you will too.
Meet the blogger:
LIV KRESSLER is a student in her final year at Hamline University, studying creative writing and digital media arts. She enjoys reading all genres, but focuses her writing on creative non-fiction and poetry. Post-graduation, she hopes to remain in the cities and utilize both of her degrees. She enjoys being active, and is a member of Hamline’s track and field team, as well as a former member of the gymnastics team. In her free time, she enjoys outdoor activities, cleaning, crafts, making coffee, and writing. When she’s not at school, she loves heading home to Chanhassen, MN to spend time her with parents and brother.
Writers need to be able to speak in front of an audience if they ever hope to get their work read. For many of us this is a daunting task not easily achieved. Many prefer the seclusion of a coffee shop to being center stage, but eventually you may have to read your work in front of an audience.
Why not start working on your fear of public speaking by watching others who want to do it for a living? Who knows, maybe that funny piece you wrote the other day will give you the courage to mount the stage and try to get some laughs yourself!
The first few times I did standup I made sure to write out every single word that I was going to use. While I didn’t bring the paper up with me, I did make sure to practice and bring up note cards with key words written on them. Even the more professional comedians will bring up a notebook of some sort if they’re still workshopping their bits.
There are countless places around the Twin Cities where you can “cut your teeth” as a comedian. Some require you to sign up online, some you have to know the host, and others have no rules whatsoever. Here are the top five open mics I’ve personally performed at.
- Grumpy’s Downtown, Minneapolis Wednesday 10pm 21+
This open mic is generally inhabited by comedians only, which takes some of the anxiety of performing away. It is hosted by Chris Maddock and the only requisite for performing is putting your name on a list.. The show starts at 10, but if you want to perform make sure to get there around 9-9:30. Talent ranges from veterans of the open mic scene to the timid just trying to get their feet wet. https://www.facebook.com/GrumpysDeathComedyJam/
- The Monday Night Comedy Show, Club Underground @ Springstreet Tavern, Minneapolis Monday 8pm 21+
This is where I performed my first show. It’s a long-running open mic that always has a great turnout. Shows are always started by the evisceration of the Monday Night Comedy Bear, so don’t get there late. Unlike Grumpy’s, there is a small cover charge of $5. Andrew Brynildson hosts and you must sign up with him weeks before to get on the list. But do not fear, for there is always one wildcard spot where those not performing can get a chance to shine for 3-5 minutes. Make sure to say hi to Josh behind the bar. https://www.facebook.com/themncs/
- Acme Comedy Club, Minneapolis Monday 8pm 21+
While they have great professional comedy during the weekends, on Monday’s you can watch hopefuls try their luck at what is generally a packed crowd. To sign up, make sure to get there before 7 and put a star by your name if it’s your first time. First timers are usually given a spot and given 3 minutes. http://acmecomedycompany.com/the-club/open-mic-night/
- The Comedy Corner Underground @ The Corner Bar, Minneapolis Friday 10:15 21+
Right down the road from Grumpy’s is another little spot for comedy. To sign up for this one you need only go online and put your name on a list on the Friday of the show. First timers are almost always given a 3 minute spot. The greatest thing about this open mic is getting to sit in the back room with other comedians, who are generally always funnier than you. Also, there’s a timer that tells you exactly how much time you have so you don’t have to guess when the light’s going to shine to get you off the stage. http://comedycornerunderground.com/
- The Lack of Beards Show, The Terminal Bar, Minneapolis Thursday 7:30 21+
Although you can have a beard and perform at this show, its host Earl Elliott has never sported a beard since I met him some years ago. Maybe he is a meticulous groomer, although some claim he doesn’t have the ability to grow one. Signup starts at 7pm, but, like with any open mic, knowing the host helps get you a spot. https://www.facebook.com/events/664157497018843
So you’ve been going to the shows and are feeling the call of the stage, but you don’t know how to go about writing for a direct audience. Don’t worry, everyone’s nervous their first time and most people bomb terribly. If you can get one or two laughs, consider the night a smashing success.
If you’re going to perform you must remember two things: if you go over your time they will grab the long cane and pull you off stage, and comedians have a terrible health plan.
Meet the blogger:
DANNY ANDREWS is a senior at Hamline University. He loves writing political satire, performing stand-up comedy at various open mics, hats, and acting. His poetry has appeared in his university’s journal, The Fulcrum. If he could be any kind of animal he would be a lobster that is blue.
While reading through our creative nonfiction submissions, the topic of emotional distance of the author from their work, is brought up more than anything else. Sometimes we feel a piece is too emotionally close to the subject matter; other times it feels too distant and stony. So, what, then, is the appropriate amount of distance when it comes to writing about difficult subject matter? How can a writer tell that they’re in the right range to channel the right amount of emotion into a piece?
When a piece feels too close to the subject, or as readers we feel as though the issue is still too recent, it can feel like the writer hasn’t quite worked through things out yet. One common trait I’ve noticed is that the writer relies on a lot of abstract words that don’t carry much meaning on their own, such as soul, pain, or thoughts. This makes it seem too personal and specific to the writer’s experience – they know what they mean by using these words, but the reader will have different notions about the meaning of “soul”, and as a result the meaning the reader gets will be different.
Another sign a writer is too close to the event or subject is an over-reliance on words focusing on emotion. This runs into a similar problem–each reader will have a different idea of what it means to be angry or sad or devastated. There is also usually a lack of concrete, tangible detail as well as a roughness to the writing that suggests the topic is still floating around in the writer’s head and they just need to write everything out as a way to process what’s going on in their mind. This isn’t a bad thing but what comes of this will need revision. It will need to be looked over again when the issue isn’t as charged with emotion and there’s been some time to move on and think about what the piece is trying to convey.
On the other side, it’s also possible to be too far removed from the emotional intensity of an event when writing. Sometimes emotionality is derided since it can’t be proven, but maintaining a good amount can strengthen creative pieces because it makes it more relatable to a reader. Pieces too far removed from emotion can be harder to spot; there usually has been some revision done already so the piece will probably feel more complete.
The first sign that a piece is too distant is an almost analytical tone, for example, “this happened because of this; I should have done this; this has had x effects on my life”. The writer has moved far enough away from the emotional reaction to what they’re writing about that they turn to an opposite strategy: looking at everything rationally, which often sacrifices a feeling of the piece being “genuine” and makes it read like a lab report – everything feels just a tad too constructed for it to feel entirely natural. Maybe the person ignores talking about themselves and focuses on what they do know such as time and place. Either way, the whole piece ends up feeling very impersonal, like they’re looking back on their time with the aforementioned emotionalism and trying to pack it neatly into the bottom of their luggage.
Ideally a piece should work in the area in-between these two, eliciting a personal and emotional reaction in the reader without being soppy or too analytical; leaving some room for the reader to interact with the piece. Using well-placed words and a mix of the concrete while working to define the meaning of the abstract usually serves a piece well. Emotional distance can be a tricky thing, and the best way to figure it out is simply through practice.
Meet the blogger:
CONNOR BYRNE says despite his endless study of literature he still don’t know how to introduce himself. He is constantly lost in the world of words, words, words and not enough in the physical, but in this field that’s probably a good thing. Connor wants to be a fiction writer but generally ends up being more into poetry. Weird how that works out.