NOTE: the opinions expressed in interviews are those of the guests, not necessarily those of shadomain.com
Today we talk to Brent, AKA Dorkland Canada. Let’s see what he has to say!
- How did you get started in TTRPGs?
I got started in 1980 at the tender age of ten when I noticed a small poster on a bulletin board at my local library for something called “Dungeons & Dragons”. It had pictures of wizards and dragons and ten-year-old Brent was a huge fantasy nerd (nothing has changed), and so I got permission from my parents to walk over to the library that Wednesday night and check it out. And that changed the trajectory of my life.
Since then I’ve been a player and a GM, an essayist, a blogger, a writer and editor, a game store clerk and manager, and a con and game day organizer. But tabletop games have always been a part of my life. I can’t begin to imagine how my life would have turned out had I not answered that ad. Given my already nerdy interests I hope I still would have ended up playing TTRPGs, but I hate considering the alternative.
- What is your current favorite TTRPG?
So my current favourites are always the ones I’m either running or GMing. Right now that would be Wanderhome RPG, Thirsty Sword Lesbians, and Trail of Cthulhu. Three very different games, obviously, but I am running, playing, and getting ready to run (respectively) them all, so currently they my favourites. Ask me again in three months I might have different answers for you.
Having said that, in general my favourite games are ones in which the mechanics support shared storytelling in interesting ways. For example, Wanderhome encourages players to build the world around them as they play through a series of token rewards and spends, while Trail of Cthulhu sets up a very cinematic approach to narrative, encouraging cut scenes and flashbacks. Both want players to tell stories together but come at it from different angles.
And like a lot of folks I became a huge fan of Solo TTRPGs over the course of the pandemic. I think some of the most innovative design work being done in the space right now is happening in solo games. It’s exciting to watch and they’re exciting to play.
- What TTRPG would you recommend to someone looking to try a new game?
Oo, that’s tough! I would start by asking them a whole bunch of questions about what they have played before, what they liked and didn’t like about those, how much time they want to spend getting to table. There is just so much out there for TTRPGs right now, it’s really a matter of what type of game do they want to play and selecting from a menu of what suits their mood, time, and budget.
But if I didn’t have time for all that, or if someone wanted to try TTRPGs and wanted something quick and easy to dip the toe: Under the Floorboards by Chris Bissette. It’s based on The Borrowers, you play as tiny folk living in the walls of a Big Person home, and it’s adorable. It’s also super easy to learn, uses 2d6 to play (which you can steal from pretty much any board game), and if you’re running it you just make the first setting your literal home and you’re good to go. It’s fantastic without forcing fantasy lore on new players and it’s an easy way to gauge if your friends are interested in telling stories together. Everyone should have a copy, if for no other reason than to have a convention game you can put on the table in less than five minutes.
- What made you interested in TTRPG blogging and writing?
I think once I became a game master and started down that path in the hobby, writing for TTRPGs became inevitable. I still have binders of old dungeons, monsters, characters, treasures and so on that I created over the years, right back to when I started GMing at about thirteen or so. So at some point as a GM you start writing all this stuff down, and then I also started really thinking about what worked and doesn’t work in the games I ran. And that led to house rules. And house rules lead to thinking, “Maybe other folks could use this house rule?” I remember in high school, way before there was an internet and blogging wasn’t even a dream yet, I would tell my fellow GMs about things I had come up with and offer to write them out for them, in exchange for a cola. And I got a surprising number of requests! Well, okay, one. But I was expecting zero so one was shocking.
But when blogging became something a person could do, I gravitated to it because it seemed like a perfect introvert tool for talking about TTRPGs. If we had to stand on a box in the park and evangelize TTRPGs, to this day no one would know who I am. But I could hide my face behind my blog and say the things I thought about games and pop culture and folks would agree or disagree.
I wasn’t always great at it. Like many white cis male bloggers, never mind TTRPG bloggers, I thought every word was gold and the sun shone from my…keyboard. But I got better (I hope, I guess other folks can decide that) and I learned what was going to connect as well as connect with people. You can write a thousand words on something, but if no one wants to read it because you alienate or exclude them in the first sentence, then you may as well have written nothing. I think a lot of bloggers assume their opinions have equal worth to everyone else’s and that’s just not true. We’re all allowed to have opinions, their worthiness is something we have to demonstrate.
- You’re also credited as an editor, what’s your philosophy on editing, and do you have any advice for writers and editors?
Back around the time DriveThruRPG was starting up, there was a huge swell of independent creators writing and publishing their own work, some for the first time ever. And there was some uniquely imaginative stuff coming out, because the sudden ease with which PDFs could be created meant all these designers weren’t stimied by the cost of printing their books before they could sell them. But I noticed most of it was poorly edited, if it was edited at all. I had been doing a bit of freelance editing as a speculative fiction editor at that point, and as far as I could see in the “Professional” threads on the message boards and forums, there were a lot of people advertising themselves as writers, artists, layout designers…but no editors. So I hung out my shingle in a few places, got some interest, and started editing games and adventures.
I think there is a conception, common when I started freelancing, that editors are either a glorified spellcheck or a frustrated writer, too lazy to make their own words. And while there are certainly editors which help enforce those concepts, for the most part any decently skilled editor is interested in taking the ideas, feelings, or settings a writer has created and finding ways for them to shine. And this isn’t because a writer is “bad” or any such nonsense. But every creator writes things that make sense to them because they have the luxury of picturing it in their head. They know details in Chapter 1 the reader may not get until Chapter 8. In fiction that can work but in a TTRPG setting, rulebook, or adventure, that can lead to players and GMs fundamentally misunderstanding your game.
As an editor I consider myself to have two main jobs: understand as fully as possible what the creator wants to communicate, so that I can then help them polish their writing in such a way that their work becomes a window and not a prism.
As for advice, for writers: don’t settle. Talk and work with many editors until you find the one or ones who best understand what you want from your work, then trust them. For editors: be curious. Ask questions, want to understand what the writer is trying to do. You serve them and you can’t do that without information.
- You’ve done many reviews for The Rat Hole , what got you interested in that?
Reviews were something that Dave (my editor) asked me to do later on. He originally asked me if I wanted to come and do a weekly editorial post about whatever I thought was interesting in the TTRPG world. So I wrote about issues in the space, gave GM and player advice, shared recipes and house rules. After about a year he asked me if I would write a few reviews, of games he had picked up but wasn’t going to have time to look at himself. I said sure, and wrote them, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily a strong point of mine. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading TTRPGs and talking about them. But my tendency, if I read a game or supplement I don’t enjoy, is to not talk about it online. I would much rather spend my time discussing the games I enjoy rather than the ones I don’t. So having to write something up for a game I might not have enjoyed didn’t feel great.
- You’ve also done many interviews, what was your favorite interview?
Yes, that was a relatively new addition, and one I enjoy much more than writing reviews. That came about when I was trying to set-up a video interview with someone and we couldn’t make our schedules line up. But I really wanted to ask them some questions, so I asked if I could share a Google doc with them and get their answers that way. And it turned out okay, so I did it again, and again, and then with more people at a time, AP casts and production teams and the like.
As for a favourite, I don’t really have a specific interview that’s above the rest, I feel like that would go against the spirit of how I approach them. But my favourite ones to do are with folks not normally selected for interviews, which usually means outside North America. There seem to be about a dozen or twenty key figures who get interviewed on a regular basis, whether that’s print, podcast, or video. But there are creators in Central and South America, South East Asia, Continental Africa, who are doing wonderfully new things with TTRPGs. Those are the folks I want to talk to, so more eyes get on their work.
I don’t exclude North America and Europe of course. But even then, I try to look for creators to talk with who aren’t normally featured in other places.
- You’ve also got a YouTube channel, can you tell us about its content, and any future plans for it?
I do have a YouTube channel, though I haven’t done anything there for a while. As with many projects, it started at the beginning of the pandemic. I found myself at home with more time on my hands. At around the same time there was this hashtag going around on Twitter, #ReadtheDMG, with short vids from folks reading parts of the D&D 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide aloud. I thought it was a cool idea, but also that D&D really didn’t need viral marketing.
So I recorded quick and dirty videos every morning before I started work and posted them to YouTube, sharing them on Twitter with the hashtag #ReadIndieRPGs. It was just me at my desk, reading a bit from whatever Indie TTRPG I liked that day and talking about why I liked it, trying to get more eyes on Indie creators. Very rough, minimal editing, and in the end I don’t know how many folks watched them. I did a second round of them six months later in December. Besides those, mostly my channel is where I put the VODs from my brief streaming stint on Twitch, and a Sonnet project I’m slowly working on, reading through all the sonnets of Shakespeare. So right now it’s not very focused, or refined, but I do have plans for it when I have time.
- You’ve been involved in several actual play streams, do you prefer being a player or GM for actual plays? Do you have any favorite memories from these streams?
Yes, that’s been something of a slow progression, not something I was ever sure I would find my footing in, if I’m honest. But I’m grateful to the GMs that took a chance on me as a player early on, especially Honey of Honey & Dice who cast me in her Clockwork Vines APs. That was my first time on an actual play season as opposed to a one shot, and I couldn’t have had a better GM to play with and learn from.
I think if I have a preference, it’s to be a player. I love GMing and I think I do an okay job as an AP GM, but it’s definitely something I have had to learn and get better at. Of course, as I say that I’m getting ready to GM a season on Exquisite Corpse Presents starting in October. But that came out of getting to play on La Naissance d’une Reine, ECP’s Thirsty Sword Lesbians campaign set after the death of King Arthur. Abadonne and the team at ECP made the whole experience so comfortable, I felt good pitching my Fae horror idea to them.
As for favourite memories, well, everything we’ve done with Ways and Wanderings, our Wanderhome RPG actual play on The Bardic Inspiration Network. Because of the nature of Wanderhome I’m more one of the players, even though I’m acting as the Guide (GM) in our first two seasons. But it’s wonderfully collaborative and feels like the best kind of playing pretend with friends. And then all out of nowhere we won an award at Rainbow Roll Fest, which got us in to New Jersey Web Fest, where we’re nominated for five more awards! Pretty cool for a cozy show about animal friends looking for a home.
- Where can people find you and your content?
I’m on the internet pretty much everywhere as DorklordCanada and you can find links to all my active socials, as well as my personal blog, at dorklordcanada.ca. You can find my articles and interviews at The Rat Hole. And if you definitely want to stay on top of everything I’m up to, I have a monthly newsletter, signup on my webpage.
- Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to let us in on?
As I mentioned above, I’m GMing and co-producing a campaign on Exquisite Corpse Presents called “Thorns and Rust.” It’s an urban fantasy Faerie horror game using the Gumshoe system; think of it as combining the best parts of Alien and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s set to go for twelve pre-recorded and produced episodes starting in October.
At the same time I’m continuing to play my Disaster Demisexual, Malcolm, on La Naissance d’une Reine for another eight episodes, streaming Sunday mornings at 10am PST on Exquisite Corpse Presents’ Twitch.
And we’re hard at work recording the second season of Ways and Wanderings. We have the first episode down and we’re recording the next two in November. Those will air in December so everyone can enjoy some cozy actual play viewing in a lead up to the Holidays. We’ll announce specific dates soon, but you can watch Season One on YouTube.
Beyond that, I don’t have anything with enough details settled that I feel confident sharing. I’m editing a few things but nothing I can talk about yet, and I am always looking for more TTRPGs and supplements to edit. Keeping busy, which is actually strange for me.
- What else should we know about, that we haven’t already asked?
Hmm, I’m not sure. I’m an amazing cook? I make a mean omelet and my special chili recipe is to die for. I guess also, if you have the choice to be kind, be kind? Almost always things will be better if you do.