Interview: Allyson Robinson
A new series of interviews with the Cast & Crew of Encounter Roleplay begins with Allyson Robinson of WanderQuest Podcast!
When did you start playing Tabletop / Role-play Games – and what was your first experience like?
It’s a funny question because it forces me to acknowledge that I’m probably a little bit older than most of the folks that I’m playing with these days. I started playing Table Top in 1985. The first game I ever played was original D&D, the basic game. I was introduced to it by a middle school friend and I immediately fell in love. I had always been a huge fan of just about any fantasy or sci-fi world that I could get my hands on. I read the The Lord of the Rings when I was nine years old and loved anything like that I could find. Having the opportunity to put myself into that world was mind blowing. It was life changing and I never looked back.
It’s creative on a whole other level I think, and I’m obsessed with that.
It’s this fascinating sort of melding of writing with improv and performing that is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. So, we very quickly moved from basic D&D into advanced Dungeons and Dragons which very quickly became second edition. At that point this whole group of friends that were playing suddenly realized that there were all other kinds of worlds that we could play in. Very quickly we were very playing Star Frontiers which was TSR’s attempt at a sci-fi sort of a game. We were playing Call of Cthulhu back in it’s original incarnation. Then at that point or not long after I moved off to college. There it was Shadowrun and all these other amazing things that were hitting the scene in the mid to late nineties. So I have a long history with tabletop games.
What has it been like to see DnD evolve over the years? Because I’m sure it was totally different from the first time you played to how it’s played now. There a many people just getting into it now who don’t know what it was like when it first started.
I think the most bizarre thing about this evolution is how popular Dungeons and Dragons has become. When I first started playing and for the vast majority of the time that I played, being into role playing games was not the fast track to the popular crowd. It was exactly the opposite. You were careful who you told that you played RPGs because of the potential social repercussions. So it’s bizarre to me that today thousands of people will log on just to watch people play, much less to play themselves. The people who lead those games and who plan those games are sort of minor celebrities online and it’s still weird for me to get my head around that.
I think the other thing that really fascinates me is the fact that as a kid I spent probably 100 times as many hours reading my rule books and modules as I ever spent actually playing the game. To play the game you had to, number one, have a group of friends who wanted to play and knew how to play. On top of that you needed them all in the same place at the same time. As a result, actually getting to play for extended periods of time was kind of rare. If you had told me back then when I was twelve years old and had first started playing that someday in the future ‘you are going to play D&D with people on three different continents via a global computer network’, it would have blown my mind.
You wouldn’t have believed them.
Are you kidding me? I never would have believed them. That’s science fiction, right? But I think in many ways the internet fills what has always been the biggest weakness of D&D and other roleplaying games which is that, now, I can always find somebody who wants to play. That used to be the biggest obstacle and now it’s not an obstacle at all.
Every single person I play with is online. I’ve never met 99% of the people that I play with in person. It’s so easy and accessible to play now.
My problem today is really that I have almost have too many games. I do Wanderquest, the podcast that I’m a part of with Encounter Roleplay. I’m about to be a new cast member on Godsfall for this coming season. Then I’m about to step into a streaming roll for the very first time in a Call of Cthulhu game that’s premiering on Twitch in the next few weeks. I plan two live games, we have a home game that I’ve been playing with my kids for six years and then another game that we play live with friends, the DM of that game is Amy who is also a cast member on Wanderquest. It’s kind of hilarious to be in the exact opposite position today.
How do you view the sudden explosion of popularity in Dungeons and Dragons?
I have to admit that at first, honestly, I was a little bit bitter about it. I feel terrible about it now and I realize how silly that is but my gut reaction at first was ‘seriously come on’ because it had been my thing for twenty five years.
It’s like when you love a band that suddenly blows up and you’re like ‘no! They were mine!’
That’s exactly it! But today I’m really thrilled by it, for the same reason I was excited to teach my kids how to play the game. I’ve gotten so much joy and fun and passion out of it over the years. D&D creates the opportunity to participate in this free form collaborative pretending – there are too few opportunities for that kind of wide open and yet, collaborative imagination, I think. To get to see that happen for a whole lot of people is really wonderful.
What makes for a great roleplaying system?
First, I think that this answer is going to be unique to almost every player or GM, because whatever the game is, it lands for each one of us in a unique way. So, what works well for me might not work well for somebody else. The perfect example, of course, is the classic D&D vs. Pathfinder debate. I obviously find myself on the D&D side of that simply because I like for there to be just enough of a rules-foundation to give play a little bit of structure. I, as a GM especially, have an unwritten rule that if in a play session we have to look something up for a third time, I’m gonna blow something up and make something crazy. That’s just to get us out of the books and get us back into the world – back into the play which is the purpose that we’re all there for, right? For others having, being able to go back to the books and doing that head strategy of figuring out how to take all of these rules and all these stats and turn them into the outcome that you want, for some people that’s where they get their joy from. I’m okay with that. I just know that that’s not where I find my joy in playing. So yeah, I like for there to be just enough and I like for us to remember as a group that it’s not about the rules, it’s about having fun.
Every single DM that I talk to, that’s what they all say. At the end of the day, you’re supposed to have fun. When you stop having fun, you need to change the way that you’re looking at it, because at the end of the day it’s a game, and it’s meant to be enjoyed.
This has been interesting. Speaking about playing with my kids – you know, I have one of my kids who’s a bit of a rules lawyer, and that came up in our playing in some really interesting ways. It eventually lead to this sort of conflict moment of, we finished the game and we walked away – and we had to have this long conversation of “wow, this wasn’t fun for me” and they were like “yeah that wasn’t fun for me either.” We had to talk through that and figure out what we could do. Of course it’s a little bit different when you’re playing with your kids or with people that you’ve had long term friendships with than it is when you’re playing with people that you just met or people you don’t know very well – so I guess that’s another thing that matters to me a lot too; when it’s all over and we fold up the maps and close up the books and put the dice away, we have got to all still be friends. That to me is pretty much the most important thing to me of all of this. It’s been the greatest thing about taking my play online, the friendships that I’ve been able to form with the people that I play with. The women that I play Wanderquest with, I just love them dearly. I really deeply care about them and it’s been such a joy to create something together with them. That’s pretty important to me too.
So speaking of bringing this gameplay online, how were you introduced to Encounter Roleplay?
So, I got into the D&D twitter sphere a couple of years ago. Originally, I just wanted to post some pictures of the world that I was creating and some ideas and get some feedback. I was deeply inspired there by Aram Vartian and the cast of Godsfall and the way that they were working together to create this world in full view in all of us, right? It was through twitter that I began to bump into people who were connected with Encounter Role-play. The connection finally clicked for me when one afternoon last spring, Sydney posted a tweet that was something like, “I would really love to play a game that was a group of women” and how much fun she thought that would be. I just kind of quoted the tweet and said “same” and pushed it back out into the world. About an hour later she DM’d me to say “really?” I was like “Yeah, really, what about you?”, and she was like “yeah, really.” So suddenly it was like, yeah let’s do this thing, and that was what drew me in. That was how I discovered for the very first time that there’s all kinds of people who are coming together. It’s not just the “famous people” who are streaming this stuff, there are people all over the world that are streaming their games all the time and that are finding ways for us as an audience to participate – and it was really exciting to me to discover that.
What is your favorite D&D memory?
We’d been playing our family campaign for a couple of years. I started my kids playing basic D&D just like I learned because it’s a much more basic system and easier to learn. So we’d been playing Basic D&D and had been adventuring in the Keep on the Borderlands – the original module that came with the box set. They had been slowly building the reputation of their characters and they’d been getting these more and more complex quests. They were on a quest where they were trying to track down the source of some kidnappings that had been happening at the Keep. We sat down to play one night and slowly but surely it all began to unravel. One by one they were captured and they were taken back to these caves. There they were tortured and put on the rack and locked up. Slowly I killed them all. They all died. TPK. When we were just finishing up and the last character’s death – and they were just sitting there, completely stunned. I had never gone that dark before. Then I said “I think we’ll end there. Oh wait, one more thing. Suddenly, you all wake up in your rooms back at the keep and you realize that it was all a terrible dream – and that today is April Fool’s Day.” It was, it was April Fool’s, and they hadn’t realized. They all started yelling and their eyes got big, I must have laughed for an hour. Just watching them react to the whole thing fall apart, it’s a bit of a family legend around here.
Do you have any tips for new players or new DMs?
I think that for DMs and GMs recognizing that more than anyone else at the table it’s your responsibility to make sure that everyone is having fun, and that’s especially true with a homebrew setting – the setting that we’ve been playing in now for the last three or four years is a homebrew setting and I’ve poured hundreds and hundreds of hours – I’m a classic over prepare-er as a DM, because I enjoy it. It’s fun for me to do all that, even if we never play it. But recognizing that even though this is my world and even though I have an idea of where this might go, that if my players don’t walk away having really enjoyed the time that they spent in my world, then I’ve missed the mark. That was a huge wake up call for me.
As a player, the one piece of advice that I give to new players is invest in your backstory and fall in love with your character. Fall in love with your character to the point that if and when the time comes that your character dies, shed some tears. Have invested so much that when that happens, that you feel the loss. Because having fun isn’t just the jokes, it’s not just about the things that we laugh at. It’s not just about the epic moments where you get that nat 20 at the moment that you needed it most. It’s about feeling something that you might not get a chance to feel in the mundane world that we all live in. When I create a character, I create pages and pages of backstory – of course that isn’t going to be fun for everyone in the way that is is for me. But I have so much fun creating enough story around a character that when I step up to the table I can really be that person, even if that person is very very different than who I am in day to day life.
Astrid is a great example of a character I’ve fallen in love with. It started with a random book cover I came across in a used book store earlier this year. It’s a fantasy novel about a young woman who is an assassin, and on the cover, it shows her getting off a ship and she has a wicked looking curved knife in one hand, but you can see slung across her chest is a baby. On her back is another older child as well. So I saw this image and was like – as a mom, what would make a young mom leave whatever her life was behind and step out to become an assassin. That was the genesis of the character that became Astrid Dane.
Encounter Roleplay is growing quickly, what do you want it to be in the next five years and how do you fall into that?
I see Encounter Role-play becoming even more of what it is today. A place where all kinds of people from all over the world can come together around these games that we love. Whether they’re playing for the very first time or the thousandth time, to be able to come together and share that experience is awesome. Encounter Roleplay has been an innovator in this space, and continues to innovate with this relaunch – the leading edge of how we do a gaming community around a tabletop game. It has in many ways, fills in a gap in twitch – twitch provides the infrastructure but you need more than that to fulfill the promise of the game. You need the community, and that’s what Encounter Role-play has provided in a really special way. l sincerely hope I get to be a part of that. I’m just here to offer anything I can to help see that vision become a reality.
Thank you. Thanks for all these amazing questions. Thanks for watching, listening, playing and contributing. Please reach out and connect with me. I’m always willing, able and happy to geek out with somebody whether it’s on twitter or twitch or discord or wherever. Reach out and connect with me and let’s be friends.