Stay on target Hands-On: ‘Oninaki’ Is an Emotional Action RPG ExperienceFan-Made ‘Zelda’ Tabletop Game Returns You to the Wild A few months ago I got to hang out with the absolutely amazing Travis McElroy. Look, all the McElroys are great, but Travis is my favorite. So obviously Magnus Burnsides is also my favorite on The Adventure Zone. All four of our favorite McElroys recently put their collective talents together, along with artist Carey Pietsch, to bring their RPG characters to life in graphic novel form. The Adventure Zone book will be out in a few weeks (we’ll have a fresh review for you also), and we couldn’t be more excited.It’s definitely a labor of love for the McElroy brothers and anyone who has listened to the podcast can hear that. Travis and I talked about that passion for fantasy and RPGs. But also how games like these bond you with those you play with and how immersing your self in the worlds can positively impact your life.Travis is an absolute joy and his enthusiasm for this world he has created with his brothers is infectious. I’m so glad I got to spend a little time with him and nerd out about all things RPG.Sheilah: Everyone at Geek are huge fans of you, and your brothers and everything you guys do.Travis: Well… Thank you!Sheilah: It’s funny. When you messaged me about this interview, I was actually in the middle of gathering my thoughts on a piece about how I’m in our RPG group at work, and it’s sort of really helped me deal with some pretty intense life stuff. And it’s really helped me find myself again. So that’s what I’d actually like to talk about.Travis: Awesome! Go for it!Sheilah: How has RPG affected your life? How did you come to it? Were you always into it?Travis: Well… okay, I’ll give you the full rundown! So… growing up, we played a lot… So, there was a game called HeroQuest. No, not HeroQuest… Was that it? Oh no, now I have to remember the name of it. I think it was HeroCraft… Wait, I’m gonna look it up now. Everyone stop what you’re doing.Yes! Okay! I was right! HeroQuest! It was kind of like D&D lite where it was… you got the board and you all these different pieces you popped out of the thing and the characters and the bad guys. They were prescripted adventures, and we went through all of them, and then we got bored, so we started making up new ones. Griffin would lay out the tiles differently, and this was when we were like seven, ten and thirteen, so we were kinda making it up. Then, at some point, we stopped doing that.Me and Travis at C2E2It wasn’t until… we started getting into like… MMORPGs so we were playing EverQuest and World of Warcraft and Star Wars Galaxy and all these games. We were playing online. Then… I think I was in my early twenties, 23, 24, I met a friend named Charlie. Charlie was really into board games. I was like, “Let’s do a board game night” from that point on, I got into board games through him. I started watching Wil Wheaton’s TableTop. So I played D&D a couple of times. I really liked it, but I liked it because I like doing weird stunts and that kind of thing. How can I metagame this? Basic gaming the game and that was fun for me.It wasn’t until we started doing The Adventure Zone that I think I really developed a much deeper appreciation for the storytelling you can do in RPGs. And not… I started listening to other actual play podcasts and really appreciating ‘Well they’re not just having a good time and it’s not just entertaining. I also find myself getting really interested in the characters.’ Playing The Adventure Zone balance and creating the characters that we did, it was amazing to me how cathartic it was. Both, for me, and for the people listening then while we were playing we’re doing The Adventure Zone.I had my daughter Bebe, and it was a very traumatic birthing experience that turned out fine. She’s absolutely great. She’s fine now. SPOILER ALERT. She’s doing fine. But, for ten days it was really scary. Then we’d go to record episodes, and we would be in positions where someone was in dangers, and I found it like REALLY hitting me in a really hard way. Or like, a lot of the Magnus backstory stuff is about his wife Julia, and I have a wife who… I based Julia off of her, and I based Magnus off of myself. Anytime I would talk about that the person I would picture in my head would be my wife, Teresa.So, it was like… it hit me in the way of like ‘Oh wow.’ It’s like when you’re watching a Pixar movie, and suddenly you’re crying. ‘Wait? Why am I so invested in this?!’ It felt like that. It was really weird to be playing D&D, a silly, silly game that we called The Adventure Zone and be bawling and crying.The thing is, I don’t think that that’s unique to us playing the game. I think it’s really incredible… it’s one of the things I tell people now. ‘I’m going to be playing an RPG for the first time, any advice?’ One of them is like get into character. Cause I think you can really hobble yourself a little bit by trying to be cool or funny or ‘Oh, I don’t wanna get TOO deep in.’That’s not what the game is cause really there is no winning or losing in D&D. I mean, you can fail a fight or win a fight. Fail a roll or win a roll. You’re really just trying to enjoy the experience, and I think anybody who keeps themselves one step removed from enjoying the experience isn’t getting out of D&D or any roleplaying game… they’re not getting it. They’re not getting the point. Cause you can have fun playing D&D.You can have fun playing Urban Shadows like we did for Adventure Zone Dust or Monster of the Week you can have fun doing it, but I think it’s when you get a little bit lost in it. Just for a second! It’s not like Mazes and Monsters, not the Tom Hanks version! Just get a little lost in it, and it finishes, and everyone at the table kinda has a simultaneous deep breath of like ‘Well… Okay… But… That was gre… I never….’That, I think is when… There’s a moment in Dust that I’m especially proud of. I finished like… revealing something… a line of dialogue and Griffin said, “Oh damn…” and I was like “Oh cool! I just literally got that reaction from Griffin in real time.” It wasn’t him reacting to like “You are doing a good job building the story.” It was like he was having a visceral ‘Oh shit’ reaction to it.That was very satisfying for me both as a storyteller and… I also have a background in theater. I got my degree in theater so… It’s really nice to both get to do this funny show that we do, but it is also like doing a theatrical production every two weeks. It also satisfies this kind of theater need for us too, and it’s really nice.Sheilah: Yeah. It’s funny that you say that because we play under Fate Accelerated. They’ve all been playing a few years together, and I’m new, only in a few months. The intimidation aspect of coming into a group that’s so bonded and everyone has these amazing arcs and I’m like “Oh, here I am.” It’s kind of uncomfortable at first.Travis: Just so you know, I actually think that’s better. Because if you play a game… I think it’s one of the things we enjoyed about doing the mini-arcs is just even switching out whose DM’ing and changing up the mix of whose playing. Because you can play forever and ever with ‘Oh this is great!’ and you don’t even realize you’re a little bit in a rut until somebody new comes in.Sheilah: That’s what they said!Travis: Then it’s like ‘WHOA! That’s brilliant! I never would have thought of doing that! Ah! That’s amazing!’Sheilah: That’s actually what they said. They were able to reset everything and bring [me] in.Travis: It’s great. I love it so much.Sheilah: I never thought I was really gonna fall in love with it. But I did.Travis: Yeah! It’s also one of those things… I find this with a lot of… There’s a huge chunk of both board games, table games, RPGs where when you try to explain rules to people or how to play the game, it sounds so dense…Sheilah: Yeah! I was like I don’t knowwww…Travis: Right! Once you start playing, you’re like ‘oh it’s just the…’ That’s the thing with when we started playing with our dad for D&D for TAZ: Balance. He’d never played D&D before. We were like “All you do, is you say what you wanna do and then the DM tells you if you just do it or you need to roll something for it. That’s it! That’s the game.” Yes, there are these big thick books and all these things. Yes, that’s all in there. All the game is ‘You say what you wanna do, or you do… ‘I walk up to it…’ That’s another thing… some people. The biggest intimidation is being too [deep in] like “No! No! Say it in character!” Like, “‘I walk up to the table, and I say.’ Oh, that feels weird!” Yeah, yeah, yeah but its GREAT.There’s a lot of games you kinda just have to start playing to get it. That’s why I love actual play podcasts and love stuff like Table Top and everything because it’s not just the rules, but it also recreates the experience of it. Rules often times can also be a thing where people start to be like ‘That sounds boring.’ ‘That sounds difficult.’ No, no, no. It sounds that way, but trust me when we play its fun!Then you listen to an actual play podcast where you watch youtube actual play stuff, and you’re like ‘Oh, I wanna be doing that, that’s the fun part.’ And you start to find games, for example, there’s a game called Sheriff of Nottingham. Yeah, there’s game mechanics to it where you sneak stuff across the border, blah blah blah. But, the game is can you bluff your friends and blackmail your friends, that’s the game. That’s the ACTUAL game. That’s hard to explain until you play it. Where like ‘Oh this is really a conversational game’ or ‘this is a party game.’ Yes, absolutely, ya know?Sheilah: Yeah, I did have that moment last week where I just… did whatever and [my character] like “You didn’t ask anyone how to do that you just did it.” I’m like “Oh my god, I know what I’m doing now!”Travis: I’ve made it!!Sheilah: I’ve made it!!Travis: I’ve done it!! That’s the thing too. I think too often like I was saying having new people in the mix really change that up because… you’ll have someone who’s like, ‘I would like to roll to kick in the door.’ Everyone else is like ‘Oh… Oh yeah totally!’ We were just talking about this on The Adventure Zone.We wanted to play in Dust, we were trying to be like ‘It’s gritty! Our players aren’t likable.’ Justin really tried to create a non-likable character. We just couldn’t do it. That’s not about us. That’s not us like ‘We’re so great.’ We didn’t know how to. Justin started talking about this Georgian… Southern Georgian accent and he was goes “I can’t be a jerk and do this accent.” It would be so great to have somebody roll him and be like “I know exactly how to play a jerk character.” And then be like “Okay cool! Yeah, what they said.”That’s the other thing. I don’t know anybody that plays RPGs that if a friend came to them and said, “I’d like to learn how to do this.” That their eyes wouldn’t light up, begin to twinkle and be like “Yes, more!” Because here’s the secret about D&D and any RPG, you’re always looking for someone available to play.I worked at a Shakespeare theater in Cincinnati, I built what I called a league where basically it was twelve people and then it was whoever was free could play. Then we could level people up to have them catch up. So long as five out of twelve were available, we could play the game. The idea was that this trope of people that was like I’m sending you four on a mission. It was just an excuse for us to actually get to play together. It worked out very well. Highly recommend it.Sheilah: Yeah. We have about… six, but I love it… my favorite is when we have mini quests. It’s just three of us go off, and those are always really weird and fun.Travis: There’s a podcast called Crit Juice where they will have guests come in and what they do, if anyone needs to miss a session, they’ll just be like, “In the downtime, he was cursed with a silent spell, but he’s still totally here.” Then they would like roll for him and level him up and everything, but they’ll have guests come in to play one episode then, in the end, be like “Oh, sorry you died. Okay bye!” That character never comes back again. It’s such… It’s great. [Crit Juice] plays it as a drinking game where if you roll a 20, you get to assign a drink, but if you roll a one, you have to take a drink. Every time you complete a quest, everybody finishes their beer. It’s really really fun, it’s really great.Sheilah: I’m definitely going to check that out. I missed a session because I was here. They were like “You knocked yourself out with a grenade.”Travis: That’s great! I love that stuff!Sheilah: It’s funny how you say how cathartic it can be and getting into character and seeing your friends. It’s really bonded us too.Travis: Right, it’s one of those things that I really enjoy because like I said, I missed it from theater. There’s something about when you are a layer removed from yourself, you are able to third person see and deal with a thing that maybe you’re worried about. But you say it in terms of your character. It’s a lot easier to address issues in third person talking about your character than it for you. I’m not saying that every D&D session is therapy but sometimes!For example, I have friends that you’ll have a really intimate moment with, not like “intimate” but share a moment of “that was a very nice moment of these two adventurers together getting each other backs, that actually make you have positive warm feelings about the people you’re playing with. Right? It’s really weird how that will all kind of roll itself up into becoming closer friends with people because your character becomes closer friends. It’s very nice.Sheilah: That’s exactly what I’ve noticed. It’s such a weird world that I never thought I would fall in love with.Travis: It’s so great.Sheilah: Right? I’m so glad I’m apart of it.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.