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Twelve (More or Less) Questions for Slap Dash Studios

We are talking with Zach Barcus and Law Johnson of Slap Dash Studios to talk about their actual play podcast, The League of Ultimate Questing as well as some other projects. Zach and Law were kind (and patient) enough to answer our questions over email.

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Sean Hillman: Before we get too deep into talking about what Slap Dash does, can you tell us how each of you found role-playing? At what point did you decide to do Slap Dash and how did it come about?
Zach Brcus
: RPGs were a major part of our formative years. My first game, at 14, was under extreme duress. Peer pressured into trying D&D. The first taste was free but the DM became immediately unavailable so I became a supplier. Then I moved onto the hard stuff: GURPS, World of Darkness. You know, real life ruiners. I’m proud to say It’s been 5 years since I played my last Malkavian. Starting Slap Dash came out of nowhere. We weren’t really fast friends or anything. Loose associations. We got started hosting a Pokemon Emerald Nuzlocke Let’s Play of all things. After that with our respective love for RPG’s and a weird new idea for a sport themed D&D show, we just kinda took off.
Law Johnson: I was a D&D kid at age 9 when me and a BFF cracked open the AD&D Mustard Yellow Boxed Set in the middle of the woods. We learned to play together and pulled many of our friends in, like a Sphere of Annihilation, but for virginity. I took the role of DM pretty eary, and as time passed I played all the editions as they came and went. When I got older I went back and played all the editions I had missed, DMing the whole time. Me and Zach met when we were both in the world’s longest running Rocky Horror cast, over a decade ago. Nothing more than casual acquaintances. We were never close buds, and now working with him it’s clear how our different outlooks and drives contrast and compliment each other well. It’s a good duo.

SMH: Do you each have a favorite guest that has been on the D20 Questions podcast? Can you give any hints on upcoming guests? How has the podcast evolved from where it began until now?
LJ
: I don't know how we pulled it off, but somehow all of the D20Q guests we've had thus far have been a delight to talk to. They all have fun stories and insightful takes on modern gaming, but from a fanboy podium, getting to interview Keith Baker, who's work I've been very fond of for most of my adult life was a special treat, especially since he is such a charming guest. As for upcoming interviews, it feels like the dam has broken and we have a trove of fantastic guests lined up, so be ready for anything! As the show grew we added fun segments to inform and entertain like “Charty Party” and the “B-Listiary.”
ZB: Keith was a delight and there’s nothing like being able to name-drop a creator of his caliber. For pure, unbridled hilarity, Sam Cole was amazing. Though we just last night recorded a D20 1 Side (the unplugged, unedited bonus episodes we offer as patreon rewards) with Anthony Cafiero, founder of the Orcs Orcs Orcs tavern popup. That was some of the most fun I’ve had recording.

SMH: Before we get into LUQ, are there any other projects on the horizon or things both or either of you would like to tackle?
ZB
: Right now, we are in talks to do our first live show here in Portland and have started getting merch quotes. Both of which are very exciting. As for projects, we’ve heard from so many podcasters and other content creators about overdoing it and running out of steam so we’re trying to keep to just a few, well thought-out flagships. But if the right idea comes along, you bet your sweet bippy we’ll jump on it.
LJ: We would love to connect with all the great gaming groups, content creators and D&D/nerdy businesses in Portland and help one another rise higher and higher, working as a support team. There is a lot of talent and passion in this town, and we would like to be sitting on the lid when the powder keg explodes and we all get flung into the lower stratosphere.

SMH: How did you get THE TEAM together for The League of Ultimate Questing? How did you sell the other players on the idea?
LJ
: We actually had auditions! Over two days we talked about character concept and voice work-shopping with several auditioners. They totally believed that we knew what we were doing, and perhaps still do. When we found the 3 we were most excited to grow with, we gave them the good news. We didn't have to do any pushing. It was an easy sell because it’s a fun project.
ZB: Oh I definitely tried to play the big shot and oversold the hell out of the project. I can’t believe we were able to scrounge up such talent. The hardest part was rejecting some of the amazing tryouts we had.

SMH: In terms of the auditions, what were you looking for most? Improv ability? Knowledge of the game? Experience
ZB
: more than anything, a good team dynamic. We sat down at a bar with each group of auditions first and just observed them. How much and how well they goofed, if they had a tendency to interrupt or talk over people, overall charisma, etc. and in the end that did more for me than any formal interview ever could.
LJ: We also looked for people who had a strong concept of character, and showed us a willingness to workshop our ideas together and bring a clear voice to their part of the story. We also wanted a team that was excited to build this project together, and who could realistically sit still in the same room for 10 hours at a time, and still manage to have fun under pressure without going all Lord of the Flies.

SMH: What influenced your choice to do an actual play podcast?
ZB
: I think the driving force was the authenticity of actual play. That being said, I’ve always felt that there are ways to create engaging, script quality content while still remaining completely genuine in your improvisations.
LJ: I figured if we want to actually play D&D, why not actual play? Early on some people said we sounded scripted, and that is the nicest compliment a group of players could get. The only scripts are in the short segments, and even those are heavily improvised.

SMH: Other groups have been accused of having a script, which seems odd to me. To what do you attribute that reaction in general and to the LUQ in particular?
LJ
: Our episodes time out really well at clear story breaks, and the jokes and dialogue are very natural. This is done through a combination of editing, knowing one another as a creative team, and me pulling my hair out as DM to cut and insert bits to frankenstein the narrative to be the right timing.
ZB: Law’s work to create bite sized content that still feels resonant cannot be overstated. And while there are moments that we control, like Kip and Storm (the announcers) and the fake advertisements, our players are just so respectful of the storytelling process that we just click. But honestly, being accused of scripting is a HUGE compliment. Guess we’re doing something right.

SMH: How important is humor to LUQ’s dynamic and is that something prevalent in your other gaming?
LJ
: The foundation of the program is in the setting, which is Major League Sports vibes, including the ads. The ads are the biggest focus on comedy. If your Barbarian can't keep a rage anymore, reach for Viagro. Don't start your morning without Baba Java and the Caffeine Coven. “Now that's black magic!” The ideas just kept coming, to the point where we have over 100 in our show now. As for the gameplay, we just have a cast of funny people. And of course, the hosts Kip and Storm with all their running gags give it some great comedy segments to bring the audience back into the setting.
ZB: Usually my games are serious, story/character driven affairs but humor is absolutely essential. For me, though, the best table comedy is In-Character. One of the table rules for LUQ is “If your Character could say it, your Character should say it.”

SMH: Are players and GMs playing in the world you have created? Is there any talk of an official supplement for LUQ?
LJ
: The closest comparison to people playing in my fantasy world are those who bought my published one shot adventure The Cult of the Maw. It is made to be usable in any world but the default language refers to places and people in the same setting as the LUQ universe. It comes with images for custom printable miniatures made by Marshal Short, and some fun battle map downloads. We play it on the show for episodes 14-18. Let’s just say the party gets UP IN THEM GUTS.
ZB: As for LUQ, I think there’s a strong desire on both of our parts to create a more structured ruleset to the League and make it a template that can be added to any world. I would love to see LUQ Gameify the game and take things to another level. There’s a lot that goes into it and while we’ve outlined some simple ideas, it will be sometime before we can tackle it properly. But keep an eye on the horizon.

SMH: How much work goes into an episode behind the scenes? Are there others who contribute to getting everything ready on time?
ZB
: It definitely depends on who you ask. For me, each episode is between 2 and 7 hours of editing with another couple thrown in for secondary technical stuff. There’s also the constant need for exposure so we’re always out there trying to create and engage a community. It seems like a lot but when you love what you do and people love the product it’s easy to keep going.
LJ: If you had told me a year ago that I would be doing this much script writing I would have been floored. The show itself is Actual Play, so the D&D is classic improvised risk/reward D&D, but the sub-narrative of the announcers, the world lore segments and the comedy commercials ends up being a pretty robust narrative contributor. The planning for the games themselves, while always a delight (or I wouldn’t be doing this), is harder than any sessions I’ve run before, because of a need for accurate consistency, unique independent voices for NPCs, and not jumping the gun in story progression. That and research for D20 Questions comes out to around 6 hours a week, depending on what we have going on. A big thank you to our friend ‘Tori who helps edit as much as they can!

SMH: Are there other RPGs that either of you would like to stream or see a Podcast of? Outside of D&D do you have any favorite games?
LJ
: My pleasures in this field are a weird dichotomy of loving one shot concise stories for projects and writing, but for long term involvement as a fan, I prefer ongoing campaigns. I would enjoy seeing more one shot (2-3 episode) format gaming podcasts, and if I got to play in a new system I would probably pick something weird and mechanically strange, like Warhammer 40k Dark Heresy, or Dogs in the Vineyard, which probably tells you all you need to know about my sanity and social outlook.
ZB: There’s always a pull toward the dark and sinister for me. I would love to see a lovecraftian horror, for example but there’s no guarantee that would work as a stream. I’ve always had a soft spot for western campaigns. That being said, nothing would delight me more than to run a low fantasy campaign using Green Ronin’s Song of Ice and Fire system. My love of which has become a running gag on D20 Questions, our interview podcast.

SMH: With the community in the northwest being hit hard by the pandemic, how has it affected some of the plans for Slap Dash going forward in the near future?
ZB
: There’s no denying that COVID-19 has hit the area hard. With cancellations of conventions and other events we had to postpone a planned live show due to a closure of the intended venue. It sucks to be sure but I’d infinitely rather see people safe. But overall our day to day is much the same for which I am very thankful.
LJ: It helps that one of our actors had a need to visit England to help a family member, so we naturally tried to get a bit of a backlog, not knowing all this would unfold. As long as all the performers are safe and healthy and we can see what direction our state requirements are going, we should be back to recording normally.

SMH: Any last word for our readers?
LJ
: You should really give The League of Ultimate Questing a shot. It’s unlike anything else out there right now, and the comedy is genuine and well crafted. The quality of editing and sound design is a cut above, and the cast is a delight. Good starting points are Episode 8, Episode 24, and Episode 53. And of course #1. You’re going to see it grow regardless of how early you join us, but you’ll have bragging rights if you do it now.
ZB: Our interview show, D20 Questions is a delight. We interview geek magnates like Keith Baker and Anthony Cafiero and goof off hard. It’s honestly more of us making friends than a formal interview and the response, so far has been excellent. Also please be safe, responsible and kind to each other and wash your hands.
 

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Sean Hillman

Sean Hillman

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