The Glass Cannon Podcast Interview

The Glass Cannon Podcast Interview with Troy Lavallee and Joe O'Brien by Daniel Dacombe, first appearing in the July 2017 edition of the Sword Buyers Digest Online Magazine..

SBG: First of all guys, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedules to do this! So good to have you here.

Joe: It’s my pleasure, Daniel. Thanks a lot for having us!

SBG: Now, for those of our readers who are NOT into tabletop gaming, we have two quick questions – what is Pathfinder, and why is it superior to all other forms of gaming?

Troy: When people ask me what game we're playing, I usually open with, "Well, did you ever play Dungeons & Dragons as a kid? You did? Well, we play a game that's similar to that, but much much more refined." Then I start talking about all the ways in which the current iteration of D&D is inferior to Pathfinder in every single aspect until the person stops paying attention and/or falls asleep. If they NEVER played a tabletop role-playing game before, all I say to them is, "Imagine playing a game where all you need is a pencil, some dice and your imagination. You create a character and literally anything you can think of doing is possible and then rectified by endless amounts of rules that you learn over time. You sit around with your friends and basically improvise a story where fate is represented by the outcome of dice rolls." Who wouldn't want to at least try that once, besides my wife?!?!

Joe: That’s not an easy one to answer quickly. Pathfinder is a roleplaying game (RPG for short) in which the players each control a character in a cooperative campaign, usually with an epic fantasy setting and usually against the master plan of some great villain. Typically, one player called the Game Master controls the Villain and all his/her henchmen and the rest of the players work together and control the “good guys.” The design of the game allows for both classic board game style tactics (“I move 4 spaces and attack with my sword”) as well as extensive rules for story interaction (“I roll a die to see if I can lie my way through the interrogation”). What you end up with is a hilarious and sometimes dramatic series of events that are controlled partially by dice rolls and partially by cooperative storytelling. My greatest Pathfinder games live on in my mind in the same way a great book does. It is superior to all other forms of gaming because it is an amalgamation of all the greatest games: chess, poker, backgammon, and military strategy, all rolled into one, but lives in your mind as a seamless narrative.

Joe: It’s not a simple game. Imagine telling someone that has never played chess, poker, backgammon, or a military strategy game how to start playing in a sentence or two? Not only are there a lot of written rules for these games, there are almost countless pages on unwritten rules. The same goes for Pathfinder. The nice part about Pathfinder though is that it is cooperative. Which means that learning together is a viable option. One player knowing more only helps everyone, it doesn’t poison the legitimacy of the game. There are websites where new players can get introduced to the game and start reading about what they’ll need to play, but I personally recommend just getting the Pathfinder
Beginner’s Box. It’s got everything you’ll need in one box to run a simplified, streamlined version of the game for you and 4 or 5 of your friends that have never played before.

Skyrim

SBG: Video games these days are becoming more and more “sandbox-style” – that is, players can go anywhere and do almost anything, which was one of the original benefits of tabletop gaming. Do you think that tabletop gaming still has advantages over video games, and if so – what are they?

Troy: I think the communal aspect of it is the biggest draw. As technological innovations are making people more and more insular in their connection to the world, I think the human need to get in a room together is what has helped with the resurgence of tabletop RPGs. People don't even talk on the phone anymore, they text.

Teenagers don't tell each other stories of what they did last weekend, they send snaps of them living their innocuous and vapid lives. Now that video games have become so advanced, while there will still never be a substitute for sitting down and playing a Skyrim or a Witcher 3, I think the same can be said for tabletop RPGs.

They're back and they're here to stay because people will always crave the human component. Even with online franchises like League of Legends or online options for tabletops like roll20.net or virtual tabletop, it just can't compare to sitting in the room with your friends, playing make believe and laughing your ass off.

Joe: Video games and tabletop games have a lot of crossover in fans and I’m one of them. I’ve played video games all of my life. I love video games. I didn’t really get into tabletop games until the last 8 years or so and I’ve found that, if given the choice, I will always choose to play a tabletop RPG with friends rather than a video game.

The huge advantage that video games have for me is that they can be played when no one else is available to play with you, which is more and more of the time when all of your friends start having kids and getting promotions. All things being equal, though, the difference between open world style games like The Elder Scrolls Series, which I love, and Pathfinder is the same as the difference between a robot and a human being. The first one sure does the math faster, but the second one is capable of unlimited imagination.

I’ll give you an example.

I was playing a Pathfinder game about 5 years ago and after dozens and dozens of sessions over the course of 2 years, 4 friends and I played a heroic tale in which 3 of the characters were childhood friends and now found themselves as adults facing a villain bent on world domination. For 2 years we solved riddles, found and lost allies, battled great beasts, walked the realms of dreams, and all the while stuck by each other’s side. Until the final encounter. The villain had spotted a weakness in one of us; one who had shown that he was a bit greedier than the rest. Before the final fight the Game Master (as the villain) put this player’s character to a choice, “stay with your friends and die, or join me and I will make you an immortal god of one of the realms of hell. You’ll have unimaginable power! All you have to do is accept my offer, and the power is yours.” The player, my buddy, thought about it for about a minute, turned to us and said, “Sorry, guys.”

We said, “WHAT!?” Not only would he be removing his character from the “hero’s tale” after 2 years of play, but he was sentencing the rest of us to death (mechanically) by removing his piece from the board. It would be like losing your queen in a game of chess! In the video game, that villain offering that choice
is flavor, it’s part of a script where the hero says, “Then I shall die by my friend’s side!”. In a tabletop RPG, the player can literally do whatever they believe their character would do. Faced with that choice, he left us, and that was the final session. To this day, 5 years later, that betrayal is still one of our favorite stories
to retell. I still picture his character as an immortal god of hell…and I smile.

SBG: A lot of us in the sword collecting community got our start from fantasy fiction - books, movies, comics, the list goes on. I'm sure that the same would be true of you guys - what were some of your earliest experiences with fantasy fiction? And have you ever tried to "relive" some of those experiences in your role-playing?

Troy: I think my earliest exposure to the genre was with those old Choose Your Own Adventure books. Being a textbook OCD nerd, I would keep a spreadsheet to make sure that I eventually read them cover to cover, going through every possible permutation of quests. That led inevitably to playing D&D 2nd Edition when I was about 11. When I stopped playing at around 16 or 17, my interests were growing in new directions and I missed out on reading some of the great YA fantasy fiction that everyone reads at that age. That being said, I absolutely
bring the books that I'm reading now into the games that I run. I just missed out on a lot of those classics when I was a kid.

Dragonlance

Joe: I started off with Dragonlance. The first fantasy novel I ever remember reading was Kindred Spirits…the start of The Meetings Sextet. I couldn’t tell you anything about it now, but at the time (about 7th grade for me) I remember two things: being totally intimidated by such a large book with such small writing (I was not the reading type), and then, halfway through, thinking that it wasn’t long enough. I absolutely loved the fantasy races and adventure and the companionship. Over the years I went in and out of phases in fantasy sci-fi literature, but my favorites that stand out over the decades would be A Song of Ice and Fire, The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, The Ender Series, Hyperion, The Stormlight Archive, Lord of the Rings, anything from Ursula Leguin, Larry Niven, William Gibson, Carl Sagan (Contact is one of my all-time favorites). I’m currently reading The Dragonbone Chair and it’s the closest thing to Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire that I’ve been able to find in the last 10 years…mostly because Martin was inspired by it when he wrote Game of Thrones! I didn’t know that until just recently of course.

I am always trying to relive these great stories in my roleplaying games.

Whether it be trying to recreate some version of The Hero’s Journey, or just trying to tell a real story of unlikely companions brought together to try, against all odds, to bring down a tyrant. I’m always chasing a game that makes me feel
like I’m playing the Lord of the Rings story, but it’s very difficult. Most people don’t want to just play characters that are good anymore. The cool kids are all playing anti-heros these days, but give me Gandalf and the Hobbits any day!

SBG: What were some of your favourite characters you've ever made for a tabletop RPG (besides the Glass Cannon Characters!)? Did any of those characters ever have a "signature weapon," and if so could you tell us about it?

Troy: I only had one main character when I was a kid. He was a monk/cleric mashup named Yort Elaval, which is just my name loosely spelled backwards. Sadly, that lack of creativity was transferred over to the character as he was primarily a hand-to-hand combat spellcaster i.e. useless. Did I mention he was also blind? I have a tendency to play casters for the most part, but as a kid, the big joke was that everyone wanted a vorpal longsword because if you ever got one and landed a critical hit, you would decapitate your foe. Sadly, I never
lived long enough to get one of those, or to magically heal my blindness for that matter.

Joe: I’m still playing a character in a long running campaign with an eastern theme that we started about 3 years ago. He started out as a druid (a creature based in Irish myth I think, which is a pagan sorcerer of the forest that can summon animals for aid, or brings the plants up around your feet to trip you), and ended up traveling to the other side of the world. During the journey, deep in a mountain cave, he found an ancient katana which belonged to a royal family in a fantasy version of feudal Japan. The weapon speaks to him and trains him in the arts of bushido. As he learns and grows, the weapon unlocks more and more magical abilities, it’s incredibly fun. He’s now part druid, part samurai and acts as the head guard in the entourage of someone that seeks to return the rightful heir to the seat of the Emperor. As a fan of Clavell’s Shogun, playing this character is like living in the book, and the weapon immerses me into the story even more. Plus, outside the game it’s made me more interested in the katana. In the game, its damage output is rather mediocre from swing to swing, but it has a greater chance than most other weapons of having a shockingly deadly strike and dropping an opponent in one swing. I’ve found it is smarter to fight in a more defensive way, blocking and deflecting blows until you find the right moment to strike, rather than just hacking away like you would with a bastard sword. It’s been a fun experience playing with an eastern weapon. The game’s rules implement it seamlessly and it just feels different. That’s why I love this game.

SBG: It’s no secret that your podcast has been extremely popular. How did the idea for the Glass Cannon Podcast come about?

Troy:  I came into podcasts way after they were a "thing." As a comedian, I discovered a few podcasts by up and coming comedians and, as I was playing a lot of Pathfinder at the time, started seeking out some tabletop RPG podcasts. After listening to the most popular ones out there, all I could think is that my friends and I should be doing this. I really believed if we did it right, we could take it to the next level. I brought the idea to Joe and Skid and the rest is history.
Joe: Troy and I were on the road somewhere in the car, I can’t remember where we were headed and Troy suggested we start a new game and record it. It was as simple as that. We’d already been playing the game for a while and we’re always ready to start a new one. The idea of recording it was a novel one
to us, we didn’t really know anyone that was recording Pathfinder games at the time, so it seemed like a good idea; mostly because it would be something we’d be doing anyway. In the beginning we even said that if it didn’t work out and no one listens to it, which was the most likely outcome (Troy and I both had
separate podcasts in the past that didn’t last past about 20 or so episodes), it would still be great to have a recording of one of our games.

The idea was simple, but the execution was not. We started drawing out a plan and we didn’t release the first episode for another 6 months. It took a long time to get it right.

SBG: One of the most fantasy-like elements in the Glass Cannon Podcast is, in my opinion, the fact that five thirtysomethings in New York City actually get together once a week without fail. How the heck do you manage that?

Troy: Excellent question. I have no idea. Sometimes I'm posting up a new episode while laughing to myself thinking that the fans have no clue it was a miracle that it even got recorded. Thankfully, we have never missed a week since day one for over 100 weeks and that consistency has been so key to our success. At the end of the day, it all comes down to us realizing the need to prioritize the podcast, sometimes at the expense of other things. I think we all really believed from the start that we were on to something, so not having an episode ready every week is just not an option in any of our minds.

Joe: Well, partially it’s because we schedule out sessions well in advance and they are much shorter than most normal Pathfinder sessions…which tend to take a whole afternoon. We only need to release content at a rate of one hour per week, which means weeknights after work are the go-to method and
we’re still home at a reasonable time. The other part is that we’ve all but stopped playing any of our other games. We didn’t know or expect that would happen at first, but that’s how things evolved. When we added Cannon Fodder and the Patreon rewards, the amount of work just meant that any other social
activity would take a backseat. Also, inevitably one or more of us have to travel for work or go on vacations; we plan these out in advance so that we know when we need to play more than one episode in a week to keep us covered for the next one.

SBG: Were there any barriers you faced early on in starting up the podcast?

Troy: Surprisingly no. Just the same barrier we face every time we record - not letting the fantasy slip over so we actually start killing each other.

Joe: I wouldn’t call them barriers, more like hurdles. Things that did not threaten at all to stop the launch of the show, but definitely delayed it a bit. Things like graphic design (which none of us do), procuring royalty-free music (which none of us did before), recording on 5 separate mics and then adding in a 6th
channel for Syrinscape (which again, none of us did before), all conspired to raise more and more questions before we could launch. That’s why it took so long to just get the first 3 episodes out. Luckily, knocking on wood here, we’ve never lost any data or had to re-record anything. I find our early episodes to be weaker than later ones in sound design because I learned more and more as we went, but at least we still have the recordings! We always record to two separate digital devices at the same time to limit the chance of ever losing a genuine session. I have Grant to thank for realizing that that was a must from
the beginning.

SBG: What does a typical recording session look like for you guys - set up, process, and production?

Troy: (I'm sure Joe's answer tackles this one perfectly.)

Joe: I could talk about this for hours. The amount that goes into all of it is really surprising at this point. There are so many hours of work split out between the guys to produce a single show…it’s crazy. Usually we get together in one of our apartments, set up all the audio equipment, sound test, and play. But before we get there, Troy has to spend several hours just prepping that one hour of play. Once we’re set up and sound checked (usually about 30-40 minutes of work) we record for about 70-80 minutes for a 1 hour episode. We pack up and either Troy or myself edits the raw audio and we usually just shave around 10 minutes off…mostly just dead air from looking up a rule, a joke falling flat, or me shouting
inappropriate language at a pair of dice. During that time, Matthew or myself pulls out the highlights, cuts a tease, and sends it to our VO artist AJ Allen to voice. While that is happening, whoever is up that week is looking at GCP business (announcements for fans, events, requests, contests) and writes and
records an intro at home for that week’s episode. Everything is sent to Troy who puts all the pieces together before Grant finally mixes all the audio to give it that crisp clear quality, then Troy uploads it.

Just after that, or just before, I sit down and record about 30-40 minutes of Troy and I discussing what happened that week (which we call Cannon Fodder). We bring up general game questions that anyone might be interested in talking about (not just out particular story) and we debate some of the things we did right or did wrong. I then edit that, slap a generic open and close onto it, mix the audio, and then it’s off to Troy for final episode description and upload. That’s not to even to mention the supporting tumblr articles, facebook posts, or the secret stuff we’re working on creating right now for the next content that
will be released to Patreon subscribers. Whew. Sorry if that was long and boring, but that’s as fast as I could sum it up!

SBG: So, let's say one of our readers finishes this interview, listens to your podcast, gets HOOKED on the idea of tabletop gaming, and wants to try it out. But - they don't know anyone else who does. Maybe they live in a rural area without a major city nearby. How could they still get involved in tabletop gaming? Are there any online platforms for tabletop gaming (as weird as that sounds)?

Troy: We pride ourselves on the community building aspect that has come with the success of the show. Fans from all over have begun connecting with each other over their love for the show and starting gaming groups.

We have recently begun sanctioning GCP meet-ups where Glass Cannon fans can get together for a whole day to game, make new friends and, oftentimes, learn how to play Pathfinder. Our subreddit and discord channel have become one-stop shops for finding like-minded players who might live nearby. With innumerable fans in over 115 countries, odds are GCP fans are never more than a couple hours drive away from each other.

Now, for those who fear strangers and want to create games amongst their own established group of friends, there's a good chance at least one of them played when they were a kid. Otherwise, welcome to your new addiction! If they live far apart from each other now and still want to play, websites like roll20.net make it
possible to translate the game experience online with all the maps and dice represented digitally and the players communicating via a Google hangout. The hobby is blowing up again so, luckily, these days people don't have to go far to find a group and, as we continue to grow, we want to help facilitating the creation of these groups amongst our fans all over the world.

By Sargoth - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Joe: If they get hooked and make it to the start of Cannon Fodder, we talk about this question, or a variation of it, a lot in Cannon Fodder. We really want people to be playing this game, because most people just don’t know about it and they really should. It’s such an absurd amount of fun…I wonder if it might be illegal one day…that’s how fun it is.  

As far as getting started, yes, there are online platforms, such as Roll20.net, where you can meet and play with people online with a video/audio feed and a shared “tabletop” board on the screen. If you live in or near a city, game stores tend to be a great hub of nerds trying to find people to play games with.

If you’re hesitant to sit with randos and act like a wizard princess based on the main character from Frozen, you’re not alone. Sometimes what you need is to meld into a larger group, that’s what conventions are for. I never would have thought I’d find them so fun, but I’ve been to a few gaming conventions now and
they happen all over the US (not sure about Canada obviously) and I know that PAX now has an Australia expo each year. I will credit the PAX East convention in Boston with the reason I’m here doing this interview with you today. I went up there because I thought it was just about new video games coming out in 2010, and found out that half of the event, if not more, was board games and RPGs. I jumped right in and never ended up setting foot on the video game show floor. I met so many people that were nerds like me, but were totally social and nice and fun and I just had a blast. I can’t recommend conventions or expos highly enough. I’m going to GenCon 50 with the Glass Cannon this August and I’m out of my mind excited. I’ve never been and I can’t get there soon enough!

SBG: You are both (Joe and Troy) experienced “game leaders.” Where should a new or inexperienced game leaders go to learn the ropes above and beyond the rule books? Are there any online communities that are especially accessible?  

Troy:  We prefer the nomenclature Gamemaster actually. (Snorts. Pushes glasses up bridge of nose.) That's the Pathfinder term that we go by. The best way to begin to learn to GM is to buy the Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide and give it a read through, but the only real way to learn is to sit down and start playing. There are countless message boards, websites and YouTube videos with tips and tricks as well. Google "How to be a Gamemaster" and everything you need to know to get started is a click away. Ultimately, though, the real
learning can only come through sitting down, playing, making mistakes and learning with your group. People should also just pop into their local game stores. They probably have a Pathfinder night at least once a week, if not more. There are also organized play events happening all the time through the Pathfinder Society. Check out paizo.com for more details.

Joe: Honestly, if you’ve never checked it out, you need to read the Game Master’s Guide published by Paizo. It’s not another rulebook. There are rules in there of course, but it’s really very meta. It’s all about dealing with a layer of complexity outside of the mathematical rules of the game. Things like players that are not satisfied with the game, distractions in real life that take away from the gameplay, and notes on writer’s tactics to create better conflict in a story. I couldn’t even begin to list the amount of valuable information in that book. We mention it over and over on Cannon Fodder. I regularly just get it out and open to a random page and start reading and I remember things I’ve forgotten that make me a better GM the next session. It talks about fooling your players, finding the right energy in the room, what to each and during a long session, what music would set the tone for the players. It’s simply the best guide there is for exactly this question.  

That said, nothing is as valuable as experience. GMing is very personal…you have to learn what works best for you. It’s an intimating prospect, but don’t let that stop you! At some point you’ve just got to jump in and take your lumps. Eventually, you’ll get the hand of it and before you know it, you’ll be running games with your books closed, straight from memory.

SBG: This question is for Joe - a recurring theme on the Podcast is Troy's neon green 20-sided die, which seems to roll a disproportionate amount of natural 20's. How come you guys haven't tossed it in the microwave yet?

Joe: Because it’s a sham. I’ll give you a peek behind the curtain here. The notorious Neon Green d20 is not weighted. It’s Troy that’s one of the luckiest people I’ve ever met. The Neon Green is only so lucky because it’s the die that Troy rolls the most. If we microwaved it, the first mundane white d20 he picked
up would roll an absurd about of natural 20s. I’ve played dozens of games with Troy besides Pathfinder and I can attest that his luck runs through all manner, color, and size of dice. I hate him.

SBG: Your Patreon campaign was, I'm going to say, wildly successful - and fans like us are so happy for you. What are some of the benefits new fans could have from supporting your Patreon page, and what does the future of the Glass Cannon Podcast look like?

Troy: The world of gaming entertainment is the Wild West right now. With online shows like Critical Role and HarmonQuest gaining popularity and exposing tabletop role-playing games to a larger audience, I feel like we're coming in at the perfect time. Ideally, we will continue to grow into a network of podcasts, one for every day of the week, and eventually expand into video content that becomes so popular, we can just walk into Netflix and say, "Give us a deal!"
Joe: Not only will supporters get free collectible Glass Cannon merchandise, but probably most importantly to me, they will get additional content! I can’t say yet what that content will be, but I can tease that it will be new games, new characters, new GMs, new players, and more. And there will be our first ever professionally produced video content, which I’m also really excited about. At higher tiers we actually jump online and play Pathfinder WITH you, running you through a game just as if you were on the show…but this time a much longer 4-5 hour game!  

As for the future, we’ll take it as it comes. Right now, we’re focusing on getting our donors the content and merchandise they deserve for so generously supporting us. Once that train is rolling, though, it’s onto the next thing, which I hope will be new additional one hour weekly stories that run in addition to
our Giantslayer story and hopefully down the line a whole network of high quality roleplaying entertainment.

SBG: Thanks so much for doing this with us! Best of luck on the rest of your adventures!

Joe: Thanks for having us, Daniel. I truly hope your readers give the show a chance. As a low budget operation from the start, we’ve never been able to market the show and we’ve only relied on word of mouth and generous outreach from publications like yours that are willing to spread the word for us.
We’re confident that once someone gives us a try, they’ll realize that the fun we’re having is infectious.

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