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0: Welcome

Welcome to The End of Time and Other Bothers! It’s our brand new improvised fantasy roleplaying game set in the world of Alba Salix.

In this introductory episode, our Game Master Sean Howard sits down with Michael Howie, the voice of Eggerton, to give a bit of background on the setting, on the game system we’re using (Dungeon World), and what we’re hoping to achieve with our improv-based approach.

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Episode Transcript

THE END OF TIME AND OTHER BOTHERS—EPISODE 0

Theme music plays

ANNOUNCER (ELI)

The End of Time and Other Bothers: an improvised fantasy roleplaying game set in the world of Alba Salix. Your Game Master is Sean Howard.

SEAN

Welcome to The End of Time and Other Bothers, Episode Zero. I’m here with Michael who plays Eggerton the flightless fairy. And I’m going to introduce him in a minute.

This podcast is an improvised fantasy roleplaing game that takes place in the world of Alba Salix. If you want to get right into the story, go ahead and jump to Episode 1 right now. This episode is just here to help explain some of the mechanics of the game system we’re using, and how we went about using improv to create the show.

But the show is story-first. So you really don’t have to listen to this; this is just here if you really want to know that stuff. And we’re happy to tell you.

So. I’m here with Michael Howie. He plays Eggerton the flightless fairy. And Michael Howie is also a professional journalist, so we thought what would be a fun way to get an Episode 0 out would be just to have Michael interview me and go through a series of questions so we can help explain some of the decisions we made together.

And there’s a full cast but they’re not here today. So it’s just me and Michael for Episode 0.

MICHAEL

And Eli.

SEAN

Yeah. And Eli in the background, recording.

MICHAEL

All right. So let’s get started. You use a lot of words in describing what we are doing. It’s not just a roleplaying game; it’s not just a fantasy podcast; and it’s not just improv.

SEAN

Right.

MICHAEL

So what is this world that we’re creating?

SEAN

I have no idea how to answer the first question.

Eli and I wanted to set out to create something a little different. There are a lot of great roleplaying-based podcasts out there. And I have to mention TAZ. The Adventure Zone is sort of what got me addicted to this idea. And then there’s been some amazing other shows that have launched, like Join the Party is another one that I really adore. All of these shows took that next step of editing and putting together a cohesive roleplay story.

And what we wanted to do is sort of to try and take another step forward. And whether we succeed or not is up for everyone’s interpretation. But the idea was to find a way to tell a story that could explore things like an A/B/C structure, still using a roleplay mechanism.

So it’s still four people sitting around a table playing a roleplaying game, but we’re introducing a couple things. The first is, we’re using improv to make offers back and forth. So it’s not just the GM telling you what’s happening, and it’s not just the players suddenly saying, this is what’s happening. We’re making offers back and forth, which is an improv technique.

The second thing we’re doing is we’re trying to play with an A/B and sometimes an A/B/C structure. So in audio drama, if you listen to Alba or any of our shows, you’ll hear that. You’ll hear there’s a main storyline, and then we’ll interweave a secondary or tertiary storyline. In a roleplaying game, it’s hard to do that because generally you’re just bringing the players and their characters through a storyline linearly together. And neither Eli nor I wanted to have scenes where it’s me the GM, the Game Master, talking to myself.

(silly voices speaking gibberish to each other)

“Hiya! Um muh vuh!” “How you doin’?” “Um doin’ fine!”

We didn’t want to do that. So it’s been a really interesting challenge to see how we do that third part. So that’s what we sat down to do. But at the end of the day we wanted a story that you could just listen to and enjoy and get really into the characters.

MIKE

All right. And as part of that, the mechanism, or the mechanics of the game are probably extra important in this way. And you guys settled on Dungeon World as the system for us to use as we build the world, as we play the game. What was the decision-making process that led you to Dungeon World?

SEAN

It was chaos.

MIKE

(laughs)

SEAN

We have… Stephen Smith is our roommate and our game consultant, because we’re up here recording in our third floor where we have 470 games. And so Stephen was sort of proposing different systems that he had, and walking through them with us, and trying to also research other system. I’m an old-time Advanced D&D 2 guy. And the first thing we did is we ran a test game in 5e, so we just did Dungeons & Dragons, the latest edition, and just got up to speed on those rules. And when we started to explore this idea of story-first, there were a lot of things in D&D that didn’t work for me. And other GMs out there have chosen to sort of change, sort of homeify… what’s it called when you—

MIKE

Homebrew.

SEAN

So the other GMs have, yeah, attempted to homebrew solutions to some of the problems in D&D. One of the biggest challenges in D&D is it’s just battle-based. And battle is very monotonous. We roll initiative. Whose turn is it? You hit, then another character hits, another character, then they all attack—and it’s not great story.

MIKE

Uh huh.

SEAN

So that was my first problem with D&D. And the second problem with D&D is that it’s about creating gods. Characters just keep going up in level, up in level, up in level and have more and more HP, until basically, you have to bring in dragons before it’ll be any kind of a challenge for them.

I wanted to find a system that would not be battle-based as its core mechanism, would fit better with the story and improv mechanism, and three, would get rid of that, and keep that element of danger.

One of the shows that I heard was The Infinite Bad. And they had homebrewed a system where nobody had a lot of HP—Hit Points, just to explain what that is. So it raised the danger stakes.

And then I listened to The Adventure Zone. They were in their off season, and he [Griffin McElroy] ran everyone through a Monster of the Week system, which is based on the Apocalypse system. A lot of words you don’t need to know, but… I loved it. I loved that system. I loved the idea.

Now, Monster of the Week is very specific to… you’re always just fighting monsters, and we wanted to move away from just fighting all the time. But that led me down the Apocalypse path and I started looking at different Apocalypse systems. Dungeon World is basically Dungeons & Dragons ported over to the Apocalypse system. And it’s super fun. And I loved it. So that’s the one we ended up choosing.

MIKE

And along the way, I was one of the many people who lived through your tirades about Perception checks.

SEAN

(groans)

MIKE

And we’re going to get into dice rolls a bit later, but this is fun for me to relive. It is Sean literally ranting about Perception rolls as we were just out and about. So we will get into that. I just had to remember that.

SEAN

Can you see the paper you’re referencing now, Michael? You’d better roll to check.

MIKE

(laughs)

Is that car coming towards us while we’re driving? I don’t know.

SEAN

(gasps)

Perception check! Yeah, I wanted to get rid of Perception checks.

MIKE

It got a little dangerous for all of us. Eli and I have had to form a support group, in fact.

Player sheets are an integral part of roleplaying games. Let’s talk about what player sheets are, and what the player sheets in Dungeon World generally look like, as they are all unique.

SEAN

I think with all the Apocalypse system games, the ones based on the Apocalypse system, the player sheet is far more of the game than most roleplaying games. In Dungeon World, the player sheets that every character has outline pretty much all of your abilities. And the idea is that as you level up, or you get better at something, you can select or get new “Moves”. Dungeon World is broken into moves, and all of those moves are listed on the individual player sheets. So you’ll hear sometimes we’ll reference a player sheet.

The thing I really liked about Dungeon World was, it’s not all defined and there’s a lot of people out there creating their own player sheets. So rather than changing the system, which we’ve done a little, you can just create a new player sheet.

So we have Blat, who’s a half-demon, and I basically found someone who had created a demon and used that as inspiration, and created a whole new player sheet specific to Blat and his abilities.

One of the things that we did with this campaign is we started everyone off as Level 0. So I created a version—which was, in hindsight, way more work than I needed to do—but I created a version of everyone’s player sheets that didn’t have a class. So, like, a job. So, to translate that: in D&D you’d have a fighter or a ranger or a paladin, and that defines what you can do. It’s the same thing in Dungeon World. But that would be called your class.

So nobody had a class and everyone had no level. But you had some innate moves that were specific to your race.

I love the fairy cake, so I’ll read it. And I think we read it in Episode 1 or 2.

MIKE

It comes up pretty quickly.

SEAN

It might be 3 now, based on what’s all come down.

So one of the moves that’s on Eggerton’s sheet is called Fairy Cakes. “When you feed someone one of your fairy cakes, sweets or nom-noms, roll +Wisdom.”

On a 10+ you heal them for a certain number of points. So you’re healing them on a 10+ roll. On a 7 to 9 roll—which is called a partial success, which we’ll explain in a minute—you heal them… but with a side effect. Like, drunken, blindness, tripping.

And that’s just an example of—and that’s it, that’s what’s written. And it’s a very simple move, but it’s a lot of fun in-game to play with that, that these fairy cakes are so powerful that they come with sometimes a side effect.

And so what I love about Dungeon World is that we’re able to use these player sheets and customize them to the world and the game.

MIKE

And the player sheets still do have the traditional RPG Strength, Wisdom, Charisma, Dexterity, Constitution…

SEAN

Yeah. Which we should explain, if somebody’s new and like, “Oh, what is all this stuff?” Strength is how strong you are, athletic. Intelligence is how smart you are, used by wizards to cast spells in Dungeons & Dragons. Dexterity is how dextrous you are, like an acrobatic move would be based on your Dexterity score. Wisdom, I like to think of it as street smarts. Constitution is how hardy you are—are you sickly or really hardy? And Charisma is your charisma. It’s how good you are at interacting with people or influencing people.

And so yeah, it has the same ones as D&D.

MIKE

The way the rolls work is, for me, the big difference between Dungeon World—well, there’s a lot of differences, but this is the one that as a game player, jumps out the most.

SEAN

Yeah.

MIKE

In Dungeons & Dragons, as we’ve already mentioned, you roll for pretty much everything you want to do. And you’ve got several different types of dice…

SEAN

But you’re almost always rolling the 20-sided die.

MIKE

Yeah. In Dungeon World, and in our game particularly, all of us have two 6-sided dice in front of us, and there are some times when we have to roll, but it’s not the same as “Do you succeed or fail?”

I think the best way to do it then is to explain—we can use the fairy cakes as the example. How do we use these two dice to determine what happens?

SEAN

Yeah. So what I like about Dungeon World is it’s built for action first. So in the game you’re going to hear a scene where Eggerton, Michael, you bring out your fairy cakes and Marisa, who’s playing Darcy, says “Actually, I could use a fairy cake right now…”

MIKE

That’s a very good Marisa impression.

SEAN

Thank you. And she’s been having a hard time, and she accepts this fairy cake. Basically, the story came first and said, OK, someone’s going to eat a fairy cake. And then Michael would roll 2d6, because it’s his fairy move.

Sean rolls two dice.

SEAN

So he would roll the… I’ll do it again.

MIKE

(laughs)

SEAN

You’re laughing while I roll the dice!

MIKE

Because you keep rolling ones!

SEAN

I know. I’m rolling really bad, everyone.

He tries again.

SEAN

Michael would roll the dice, and because the roll says “+Wisdom”, he would add his Wisdom modifier. So he rolled 2d6. In this case I rolled a 7. I would add +1, because that’s what Eggerton’s modifier is for Wisdom. So I would have an 8.

And the way it works is very simple. 1 to 6 is a failure. 7 to 9 is a partial success. 10+ is absolute success. So in a roleplaying game, if I rolled an 8, Darcy would be healed, but she would have some kind of effect happen to her. She might be blind—I think that happens to somebody, I won’t say who, in Episode 2 or 3.

So what’s really fun about Dungeon World—and it’s difficult for me, and I’m struggling with it as a GM—is I’m used to playing games where there is success or failure, and then there’s super-success or super-failure, like a “critical fail”, a roll of 1. They’re funny because you did it so badly. Or 20 is a super-success.

In Dungeon World, there’s failure, which is basically, I make a hard move: something doesn’t go well. Maybe she has an allergic reaction to it. Who knows what happens?

A partial success is where something doesn’t go the way you want. But it is a success, so you have to allow the success to happen, then you have to introduce what the cost is. Sometimes that’s a choice you have to make, and I’m finding that it takes a while as a GM to get your head wrapped around that mixed-success idea because it’s new, it’s different, even though it sounds simple.

And then on a 10+, it’s like a super-success. Often you’ll hear in the game, I’ll say, “What happens?” because… the story continues. If you were trying to climb a wall, you not only climbed it, you vaulted over it, and whatever you want.

So that’s how the dice roll.

MIKE

A really interesting situation, is that in conflict situations, in battle, because battle still does exist, those who are familiar with Dungeons & Dragons know you first roll to try and hit, and if your roll is higher than the Armor Class of what you’re trying to hit, it’s successful.

SEAN

Yeah.

MIKE

And then you roll damage, and then either the DM/GM or the player says, “And this is what happens”. And that is really convoluted, and as you said earlier, that is one of the things that can really get monotonous in Dungeons & Dragons. How does it work in Dungeon World? Is it the same type of—try and hit, and then if you hit…?

SEAN

No. It’s all story-first. So the really cool thing is that in Dungeon World, the players and the GM, as we’re improvving, are in control of how zoomed-in or zoomed-out we are. In Dungeons & Dragons, if you’re following the rules and not homebrewing, you’re basically doing every six seconds of a battle. And everybody gets a turn every six seconds. Everyone. And if you have a lot of players, it can get really monotonous.

In Dungeon World, the players are able to just tell a story. And if the players want to do something that would put them in harm’s way, or that would call on one of the moves on their sheet, then we look at rolling.

But as you’re going to see as you listen, it’s not a lot of rolling. If a player says, “I want to see if can see where the enemy is, and I’m going to yell at someone, and I’m going to move over to this location,” and you’re not in harm’s way—then it just happens. The story continues. Everyone’s playing.

You’ll hear this in the game, that when a player attempts to do something where danger’s involved, that there’s a common roll called Defy Danger. So the story would happen first, and then we’ll roll really quickly, and then we’ll resolve in-story.

There’s also Hack & Slash, which is if you do go to fight… but unlike being “You hit, you hit, you hit,” you can do a complex move as a character. You can be like, “I wrench the goblin away from the catapult so I can reach the lever,” and that might be a Hack & Slash move.

So it’s a lot more fluid, and there’s less rolling, and there’s no initiative. It’s what makes sense in the story. Which I really like.

MIKE

Talking about the story and how we then resolve a situation leads into a note you have, which is: What is improvised? And I know this did come up with a beta listener. The improvisation of this show is mixed in with mechanics and with other elements. What parts actually are improvised?

SEAN

The entire show we are using improv tools that you won’t even hear or notice. So the roleplaying is how we move through the world, and we have moves, and that’s the mechanism by which we’re running this story.

Improv is how we’re running the story. So in the opening of Episode 1, I won’t give too much away here, but there’s a back-and-forth between myself and Blat around pneumatic tubes and an unsticking-stick that he came up with, and a high-pitched scream of the whistle, and… all of this back-and-forth we constructed that space, his job, what happens, all without stopping to go, “OK, wait, what happens next? Who’s doing what?” It was all by doing offers back and forth.

So there’s a scene that people—the beta listener—couldn’t believe was improvved, where Eggerton, your character—you had no idea where you were starting.

MIKE

No. Yeah.

SEAN

Right. So suddenly I say, “We cut. And the camera moves, and we move in on a building and we’re coming in on a boardroom…” Michael’s eyes were just getting wide when I was doing it live, when he realized, “Oh god, this is me!”

MIKE

Yep.

SEAN

And I set up a scene, and then there’s a moment where you had a slide, you had a bunch of slides prepared, ’cause that’s what you introduced. So you introduced, based on what I’d set up, that you were preparing slides for a presentation, and then I gave you what the title of that slide was, just in flow. I’m like, “Oh, and the title of the slide is X,” and… I did it better than that, but…

And you just went with it.

MIKE

Yeah.

SEAN

And that’s improv. So improv is making offers. And if we if we do it well, you don’t even realize that offers are being made. And it’s just a flow. And it’s not easy to do. And so a lot of work went into selecting the players around the table.

We wanted some people that were—well, I’ll be honest: I wanted one person that was an expert improvver. I wanted one person that had a really strong acting background, that was interested in improv. And I wanted another person that was a roleplaying geek. And I wanted this all to mix together, and I wanted us to have fun, and it seems to be working.

So everyone is improvving, though. Everyone is learning and improvving and making offers. There’s a really funny scene where I start blocking offers with a character, that’s what he does…

MIKE

(groans, laughs)

SEAN

And your character, Eggerton, sort of called me out in-game. It was really funny.

But yeah. The improvised, you won’t really notice it. It’s the fact that we are just going. We’re creating a story together. And we’re using a lot of “yes, and”. The idea of “yes, and” is you take an offer, even if it’s not what you expected, like the food scene…

MIKE

(laughs)

SEAN

And you go with it. Or “yes, but”: you take it and you turn it. Or a “no, but”. You can also do a “no, but” where you say no, and you’re turning the scene, but that’s more difficult to do. And there are offers being made by the players that are shaking the very foundations of the show.

So one of the things that we haven’t talked about is, we’re trying to put this show into the Alba Salix universe. Alba Salix is our first show, our first podcast, it’s a fairy-tale medical sitcom with a full cast. So that presented us with a few challenges on how to integrate into the world—a world where there’s already canon.

And so Eli and I have had to spend months creating maps, and backgdrounds and stories and coming up with how these four characters can have the freedom to improvise and tell a story without being told, “Oh, no, no, demons can’t do that” or “Fairies can’t do that in the Alba world”.

But the funny part is that yeah, some of the things that happen in Episode 1 made us have to rethink core, critical parts of the major arc that we’re working on—but in a cool way.

So it’s been fun. It’s been really fun. And the characters, you guys have no idea. You’re just trying to get through your scene and have fun.

MIKE

And the thing that jumps out at me in this, and I’ve mentioned this to a few people, is every time we have recorded so far, at some point—whether it’s involved in the actual game, or it is in a pause in between scenes—I have laughed so hard I have cried at least once. One time I think we delayed starting because Carter was making faces at me, and it took me ten minutes to settle down again.

SEAN

Yeah, it was good.

MIKE

The End Notes sessions are very interesting. And sometimes you end up taking a lot of flak, as people will hear. What are End Notes sessions, and what is the value of them to a listener and to us as the players and the Game Master?

SEAN

Well, first I have to give credit where credit is due. Join the Party has something called the Afterparty, and we are directly stealing from them. It’s a great concept. They do it really well—theirs is more structured. Right now ours is a little chaotic.

So our End Notes sessions are where people can sit back and go, “What the friggin’ you-know-what was that?” or “What were you thinking?” But we can also explore things like, “Did you expect us to go this direction?” Because part of my job as GM is to keep it moving and fluid. And sometimes I’m able to do that, and there’s some cases where around the table, people are like, “That wasn’t planned?” Because you guys just gave me something and I had to accept the offer.

So the idea of the End Notes is just to be able to have that conversation. So what I’ve started doing is giving out little green cards to everyone where everyone can write down questions, including Eli on the engineer table, to say, what are some questions we want to go over?

We’re going to put the first one or two End Notes up for everyone, but moving forward the End Notes will be for patrons. Supporters on Patreon will get access to the End Notes sessions where they can hear about Michael’s experience with the food…

MIKE

I actually wrote “WHAT THE F?” in big letters on my note.

SEAN

It’s a great scene.

MIKE

(laughs)

It’s gonna haunt me forever.

How can people learn more about the show? How can they get involved? What is the best way for them to both show support and stay up to date on what’s going on?

SEAN

Well, everyone can go to OtherBothers.com or AlbaSalix.com and you can access the show from there. So you can access The End of Time & Other Bothers.

Reviews are so, so important to us as story creators and podcasters. Sharing with a friend using the hashtag #OtherBothers is also a great way you can also get the word out about this show. And for those can afford to do so, you can support us with even a dollar a month at patreon.com/albasalix. There’s some great perks that are available, and that’s always really appreciated.

But any love that you can show for this show and get the word out there is super appreciated. And with time, as we get more and more episodes out, there’s going to be the opportunity to send questions in for the End Notes, and maybe even participate in different ways.

MIKE

Long live Boltius.

SEAN

Long live Boltius.

So thanks everyone for tuning in to Episode 0. We hope you enjoyed it, and we are super excited to hear what you think of the show. So please go ahead and listen to Episode 1, and be sure to drop us a note or a tweet, and let us know what you thought.

Theme music plays

OUTTAKE

SEAN

What’s that warmup?

MIKE

Which one?

SEAN

“Which which whatever what what whatever what whether…”?

MIKE

(laughs)

“Whether the weather be good or whether the weather be cold, whatever the weather, we’ll weather the weather.”

SEAN

Yeah. OK. That. I just did that.

MIKE

Uh huh.