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D&D 5E Travis Vengroff Talks Jeff Goldblum & D&D

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Earlier, it was announced that Jeff Goldblum would be guesting on the D&D podast Dark Dice. Travis Vengroff of Fool & Scholar Productions was kind enough to have a quick chat with me about the experience! The show itself is highly polished, with a voice cast, choir, and immersive music. The news of Jeff Goldblum's participation spread around like wildfire today, hitting sites like Deadline, IGN, and Hollywood Reporter.

The new season beings on May 12th, and is called The Long March.

You can buy Domain of the Nameless God, their first season campaign from DMs Guild. Also the Circle of Void druid subclass will be released on Arbor day (which in the US is the last Friday in April).

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Artist: Allen Morris

First things first. The question on everybody's lips -- HOW? How did you manage to get a Hollywood legend to guest on your podcast?

"Dice... uh, finds a way."

If i'm being completely honest, I'm not entirely sure. We were just looking for a 5th player for our game. We're not well connected, we're not related to someone, we don't have corporate sponsors, and we're not with a network. I'm literally recording episodes from my mother-in-law's sewing closet. Kaitlin and myself are a two person independant podcast team that have been working hard at our trade for the last 6 years. We have been very lucky, but we also have worked incredibly hard (weekends, long nights) for every small success in our journey as full-time creators. I'd like to believe that our work ethic, our quirky style of storytelling, the level of detail we commit to in our worldbuilding, and our fundraising efforts with organizations like The Trevor Project & Polar Bears International (with whom we have no formal affiliation) may have contributed to his decision to join our show.There are many invisible hours that go into planning something like this, MONTHS worth, and we're still in disbelief that it's happening.

How do you guys feel about having him on the show? Nervous? Excited? Terrified?

Excitement! Jeff is fantastic and he's the kind of person who is genuinely excited to interact with the people he's in the room with. He's very in the moment. Russ D. More (Dumbgeons & Dragons), Peter Lewis (The NoSleep Podcast), Holly Billinghurst (The Lucky Die), Sean Howard (The End of Time and Other Bothers), and I were all beyond excited once this was confirmed. This has been the most difficult secret for all of us to keep and we're happy to finally be able to talk about it!

Could you tell us a little about the character Jeff Goldblum will be playing?

Balmur is a wild elf woodsman, trapper, and sorcerer of the Dead Pines who was searching for his daughter's missing locket when he was kidnapped by a group of imperial elves (zealots who will do anything to protect the balance). We meet Balmur on the day he's been executed by those elves as part of some sort of ancient ritual.

On the surface he's pretty carefree but much like his friend Soren, there's a centuries-old invisible weight that seems to follow him. There's a really great Balmur quote in our first episode that describes him best "I'm a single father, a man of many hats: a trapper on the side, and a bit of a channeler of the gods, dabbler of the magnetically mystifying arts of magic. I also sometimes moonlight as a bard of sorts, but I won’t test your patience with my cadence and predilection for preposterous poetry and rhythm."

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Is this Jeff's first time playing D&D, or is he already a fan?

I should have asked! As someone who's had a hard time keeping a cohesive D&D group together in my home games, and who plays with disabled players from time to time, I kind of see it as my job to do all of the math to make things as easy as possible for the players. The players tell me what they want and I generally build the character sheets (unless they really want to) as a point of convenience because I really try to respect their time. I know Jeff larped, at least once, thanks to his TV show The World According to Jeff Goldblum.

How long will he be on the show for?

Jeff will be with us for as long as his character survives, or until the team finishes their quest. We may edit some of the behind the scenes stuff out of our show, but the story is very much determined by the roll of the dice. After the first season I've earned something of a reputation as a player-killing DM (despite my poor rolls), with the caveat that the players are on board with this outcome, especially when it suits the story. I really am trying to kill them with each encounter, even Balmur.

Let's talk a little about Dark Dice. Who are you guys, and what's the podcast about, and what makes Dark Dice stand out from the thousands of other D&D podcasts out there?

I'm Travis Vengroff, the sound designer, producer, editor, and music director of Fool and Scholar Productions. My partner, wife, co-creator, and writer (and the brains of the operations) is Kaitlin Statz. We're an indie podcast production team that makes fiction podcasts (full cast audio dramas). As of last year, thanks to fan support on our Patreon, we quit our jobs to do this full time, which is still pretty unreal for us. Our most popular show is The White Vault, and we were invited to open for The NoSleep Podcast's live tour a few years ago. Because we'd never met our cast (our actors record themselves in isolation), I asked if the actors from The White Vault (and Kaitlin) wanted to play a horror one shot over a weekend. They said yes and it was so much fun that it extended into a second weekend and became a podcast in its own right.

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Season one, which has been around for almost 3 years, consists of the indie podcast actors David Ault (UK), Kessi Riliniki (Germany), Eyþór Viðarsson (Iceland), Hem Cleveland (UK), Peter Joseph lewis (US), Kaitlin Statz (US), and myself as DM (US), portraying six flawed adventurers who go into the woods to find their village's missing children. However, the team has attracted the attention of a malevolent shapeshifter known as The Silent One, which is stalking the team, keeping them from getting rest, and harassing them at every turn. Unlike most campaigns, the characters get weaker as the story progresses.

As the players are killed, they now play the role of the Silent One, unbeknownst to the other players, so it has a bit of an Among Us or Werewolf element, aided by the fact that the character backstories were written to cause drama, and I write the campaign to fit the fears of the players (with permission). We also use a 'Sanity/Stress' mechanic where the more unsettling things the characters experience, the more stressed they get, and the less reliable the information they receive from the DM will be.

Our other big differences are the level of polish, production, and editing we put into each episode, especially as it pertains to combat and music, and the depth of the worldbuilding. As someone who feels a bit insecure about my own voice, I also swap out my NPC voices for indie voice actors from our other podcasts. Dark Dice stays on-task, in-character, and edits out the gaps of silence and rules-talk. We also have the main characters read my info drops or react to them in a way where they're unnecessary, in an effort to have less narration. A round of combat is often resolved in under two minutes, without sacrificing the intensity of the events (and often with my hissing as the enemies roll poorly), and it's accented by shrieking monstrosities, the satisfying thunk of arrows hitting their mark, and our fully original (and now award winning) soundtrack.

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As a long-time musician with many long-time friends, we've built more than an hour-long soundtrack that (through favors and dark deals) features a 40 person choir, orchestration, and 30+ medieval instruments. The music is largely written by Steven Melin, Brandon Boone (NoSleep), David Wise (Donkey Kong), myself, and others, and each song has a unique region-based aural fingerprint. Eyþór (the cleric) and Hem (the party's bard) also write quite a bit of music for their characters, including a tear jerking funeral song. When we have lyrics, I generally write them in Icelandic, Infernal, or Elvish, singing praises to deities or shedding light on world lore. As a one shot, we'd used elements of the Forgotten Realms setting, but as our story has grown over the years we've evolved to have our own fully original mythos that doesn't step on the trademarks of Wizards of the Coast (whom we greatly appreciate). Without going on too much of a tangent, over the last ~8 months we've put together a diverse team to ensure that the world we're building is truly unique, dark, and inclusive. After all, in a grimmdark setting where humanity is not the apex predator, it would be fantasy to NOT include disability.

What's the campaign or storyline of the upcoming season?

Our upcoming season focuses on two player-controlled teams who may be trying to kill one another. Despite my best efforts, a few players survived the first season, so this one focuses on a mix of recovery, resolving elements of character backstories, the terrible abominations they may have let loose upon the world, and reconciling the events that took place at the end of the last story. It'll be a lot less of a "haunted house" experience, more of an open world exploration. Jeff's team (featuring Peter Lewis, Sean Howard, Russ D. More, and Holly Billinghurst) is very focused on survival and revenge and doesn't require the full context of our first season to appreciate, as I didn't want to create a potential barrier for new listeners.

Our scarier adventures will also join Domain of the Nameless God (our first campaign) on the DM's guild as Yawning Portal-style adventures you can sneak into your own home campaign.

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Reynard

Legend
I tried the first episode and I found the music and voice overs a little distracting, especially since it didn't feel wholly professional. Maybe later episodes are more polished or they have the formula down better?
 


Wrathamon

Adventurer
I tried the first episode and I found the music and voice overs a little distracting, especially since it didn't feel wholly professional. Maybe later episodes are more polished or they have the formula down better?
I would think the first episodes would be the least polished. Maybe jump ahead and see. I'm curious about it. This got my attention as I have never heard of them before. Good for them.
 


EthanSental

Adventurer
I saw the Jeff announcement post earlier this morning, went to listen to the first podcast and had a hard time listening as I thought they were voice actors doing accents that made it difficult to understand. Seeing this post and the locations people are from, makes sense now, maybe not antsy easier to understand but makes sense :) I stopped episode 1 and jumped to season 2 episode 1 on my drive home.
 

fba827

Adventurer
I tried the first episode and I found the music and voice overs a little distracting, especially since it didn't feel wholly professional. Maybe later episodes are more polished or they have the formula down better?

There was an intro episode at actually said the first episode had a lot of post production sounds etc added because they wanted it to feel more immersive with sounds ( that was it’s attempt, I haven’t listened to say if it worked or not for me). And later episodes have less post production sounds added
At least that’s what that 9 minute intro episode had said, more or less, ( in addition to explaining what d&d is and so on)
 



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