I met streamer Dice T for the first time during an streamed online so-op session of Shawn Tompkin‘s Ironsworn: Starforged [Also]. In fact, I had also checked out his old Starforged module for Foundry VTT at one point in the past, before it became part of the new combined Ironsworn & Starforged module. You can check also out Dice T on YouTube, Twitter, Discord, and Mastodon. We recently had a conversation about all these things.
Take a moment to introduce yourself! Who are you?
My name is T. Yes, just the letter. Thank you, hippie parents. I am part jock, part punk, and entirely geek. I am a former IT professional and former tabletop game shop owner who simplified their life (“The Purge”) to free up as much time as possible to focus on the gaming world. I think I realized in my mid-40s that I was never going to outgrow gaming, so I decided to embrace it. This content/development side of things is entirely new to me.
Funny enough, my paternal grandfather had only an initial for his middle name, which became the initial of middle names for both my father and I. I never thought that might be at all common, but here we are with two cases! I don’t think I can come up with any others, can you? I mean, aside from fictional characters where their names aren’t fully revealed, or something.
Oddly enough, my brother sold new cars for Dodge/Jeep. He had someone come into the dealership about 10 years ago, buying a car, and his first name was T. He even sent me a picture of his driver’s license because he couldn’t believe it, himself. And it’s entirely possible that he was named T because someone that met me loved my name. I have no idea. But I can say that in my entire life, I can count on one hand how many times someone did not inquire about my name when hearing about it. But even funnier, my brother’s name is Jay. And yes, he got the full name with three whole letters. LOL.
Names are weird. I used to go by my middle name but in my late 20s I started going by my first name because I got tired of explaining my wacky middle name all the time to new people I’d rarely see again, as opposed to being a kid where I’d generally have at least a year with the same people in school.
When I stopped using my middle name, I ran into some strange issues that I’d never had before. There was one time I was flying from Phoenix, with a layover in Chicago, and then to Seattle. When I checked in at the kiosk, my ticket was entirely wrong, but I got it sorted, I thought. When I arrived in Seattle my luggage did not. Turns out there was another John Bell flying a few hours later that day on the same carrier from Phoenix, with a layover in Chicago, and then to Seattle. The kiosk had checked me in as this other person, and the carrier held my luggage back, thinking I was them, until their flight later that day!
Oh, yeah. Twitch wouldn’t authorize my affiliation because their form would not accept one-letter first names. I had to use my middle name. This is not the first time something like that has happened and it won’t be the last.
My middle name is Michael and there was a short time when I was starting high school when I considered going by my middle name, but that was really short-lived. I’ve grown to love the uniqueness of it, and “I pity the fool” who doesn’t.
Running a brick and mortar game shop seems like it’d be fun in the abstract, but I bet on paper it wasn’t. Anything brick and mortar, let alone something in a niche. Even in the beforetimes, there’s one actual shop I’ve been to in years, and it’s functionally at least a full day of travel there and back just to get there; and attending anything at night, like a game night, there would end up being an overnight hotel stay. But I doubt I’ll ever go there again. Just like I’ll probably never ever go to a cinema again. Not just because of contagion, though that’s a thing; but I’m just not into it at all.
There were a million other things I could have invested my money into doing that were more “guaranteed” a success, so yeah, I certainly didn’t do it to get rich. And there are a hell of a lot of people out there that think that if you own a business that you must be wealthy. That could not be further from the truth and for those four years I was open, I never worked harder in my life. But I wanted to build something to build a community around and to hopefully help bring some joy to their lives like they did for me. We had an amazing role-playing community, among others, and I loved being able to provide that place where people of all walks of life could come and share adventure. From the day the doors opened, it felt like the shop was there all along. I suspect that maybe even you would have found it worth the trip. :) I will share a couple pictures of it here.
How’d you get started tabletop gaming?
In the summer of 1979, a neighborhood friend introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons. We played Keep on the Borderlands over and over and over. My mother supported my new habit, and a regular trickle of D&D books would follow over the next several years. I played probably until my mid-twenties and took a hiatus for about 15 years, returning back to gaming in my late 30s or early 40s.
I got into it early too. Literally bought the AD&D Monster Manual when it came out, before anything else was available! Couldn’t even play yet because the other books weren’t out. Also had a huge hiatus before getting back into it, and then another long hiatus. All along I still, through it all, kept up on some of what was going on, and throughout all of it was mostly only ever doing ‘prep as play’ by myself. First time I played 5e was a couple years ago for the Spelljammer actual play I was streaming. Anyhow, it seems like there’s a lot of people who have been on long hiatus that come back to it. I have the sense that there’s a lot of that right now in 5e going on.
I think D&D owes a lot of its success to Critical Role. That stream made D&D “socially acceptable” and practically a household name. A lot of celebrities “came out” from their D&D closet in the wake of its success, and D&D was riding the huge wave of a board game revolution. A lot of people wanted to step away from their computer and console gaming and wanted to sit down with real people again. There was a genuine nostalgia for social gaming. That wave became a tsunami for D&D and it is as popular now as it has ever been. So yeah, there are the grognards like us who are coming back to it thanks to its resurgence, but D&D specifically is certainly overwhelmed by new players, which is a great thing for the hobby.
What do you personally get out of tabletop and gaming?
I love the joy it brings others, and I love finding ways to engage others’ imaginations. Some of my favorite memories were owning Stomping Grounds Game Shop, the community that was built, and the wonderful stories of human nature that derived from there. It was a home away from home for many people. So many people forged new friendships there, and in a couple of cases, it literally saved two individuals’ lives. I will always cherish it, and while the business ultimately had to close, the community that was built there was incredibly successful and rewarding to be a part of.
Community is a big deal. I’ve been in many, and, I suppose, always been seeking it out after a fashion. The tumultuous melodrama of the green room in high school and college Theatre was a big one for me. I had a BBS community that I was involved in that was tight knit and still, but less, tumultuous. And yet, each community I was in there were dysfunctional ideas I got from them that took a long time, in each case, to process and shed. But, there’s still that seeking it out that happens. I think a lot of people are trying to find that online, in social media now more than forums and things, and I think there’s a lot that can be said about how that doesn’t work well for anyone.
I touched on that a little earlier. There is a genuine human need for direct interaction. You just cannot replicate that in the online space. Sure, it’s a very nice convenience to be able to play whenever we like, but we truly like to sit down with each other and share stories and play games. We have literally done that as a species since our inception. You can tell a lot about a culture from the games that they play; and they all did in some way, shape, or form. I think the resurgence of tabletop games is based solely on that direct interaction. It’s a base necessity of ours.
So you worked on an Ironsworn: Starforged module for Foundry VTT, and recently combined effort with another module, that supports both Ironsworn and Starforged. How’d you get started on that?
I had just discovered Ironsworn and was already a Foundry owner. I was playing and hacking Ben Straub’s Ironsworn system when the Starforged Kickstarter hit, so I decided to venture into developing a system for it. I’m an amateur coder, at best, but it turned out pretty wonderful. It actually won a Foundry Jam award on itch.io last year, which was a nice outcome. But as I said, I am an amateur coder. I outkicked my coverage and just could not devote the time supporting it long-term. So Ben’s Ironsworn system is also the home for Starforged, and he incorporated several of the features of my system that made it special.
That’s pretty cool how it worked out, and glad that your work ended up living on instead of how many projects end up going fallow. We’re using the existing system in our co-op actual play, and it seems mostly there. I got into Foundry VTT because I thought it might help me as a solo player deal with the wild chaos of paper on my desk as I played. I was never going to be a terrain and minis person, except minimal or papercraft. (If you ever find I’ve painted a mini, I’ve been replaced by an alien.) But, a lot of what I might get from minis and terrain, but would never do, I thought I could do and have through using a VTT. I’ve ended up using it less than i thought I would, but I’ve used it in a few of my solo actual plays toward the end of when I was still streaming.
I was just talking about this with the Ironsworn Foundry community yesterday. The VTT space is truly perfect for solo play but there are just not a lot of systems made for VTTs that focus on that aspect. It’s actually a space that I am looking to explore with my work. And the fact that you can play the vast majority of these games co-op really does just add to the value of the games that are designed with solo play as a focus.
For me, I find I really dislike the big two VTT systems, for aesthetic and philosophical reasons, and was really enamored with the look and feel along with how Foundry VTT enabled both publishers and creators to do what they do without having to usuriously kickback a vig to the VTT. I also really, really like how when you buy a license to something you are paying the creator (unless you’re going through the new DTRPG integration) and then download it to your own machine, or server, and have a copy of it; instead of being locked in to a vendor’s site.
Foundry really does capture the essence of a tabletop better than most. And the developers there are really focused on keeping that feeling prominent in their design. They are also always thinking ahead to keep their VTT ahead of the others. It’s amazing that Foundry has only been live for 2 years. And as someone that dabbles in streaming, its aesthetics and functionality are much appreciated. It just looks great on the screen. I even have a way to let chat roll the dice and specific tables through chat commands, so there is a lot of potential for interaction with that VTT. TLDR: The people at Foundry “get it.”
How’d you get started streaming?
Originally, my stream started out as a world-building project for 5E. At some point, I wanted to explore my world a bit more organically as some of the characters but had no idea how to do that. That’s when I stumbled upon solo RPGs and Ironsworn, specifically. During my first playthrough, I was blown away. I hadn’t felt that excited by a new game since I was that 9-year-old boy I mentioned above. It was possibly the most immersive role-playing experience I ever had. And I was immediately addicted to oracles and random tables. That system has assuredly made me a better GM, and now I love playing with 25% prepared content and 75% random content derived at the table.
I think I had a very similar reaction to playing Ironsworn. I was blown away by it, and how it managed to clearly put all the negative trash about solo play in the bin. Although I’d been only solo for years at that point, I had not ever played a system designed to enable solo to quite that level of sophistication. And, holy moley, it pretty much happened to fortuitously show up on the scene just ahead of the last of the beforetimes!
I think that Ironsworn is revolutionary. Shawn Tomkin has a way of designing his tables to inspire your imagination in ways that I have never seen. His prompts are thought-provoking, and never shoehorn you into anything. It’s amazing how many times you roll on The Oracle and the results just fit perfectly into the narrative or what you were expecting to happen. I like to call it “Horoscope Design.” I am sure you know someone that follows their horoscope pretty regularly and the common phrase you might hear from them is “This is so me!” Well, one of the dirty secrets about horoscopes is that if you read all of them, you can find “This is so me!” in all the signs. But don’t tell your friend that, especially if horoscopes genuinely seem to make them happy. Basically, it’s an illusion. The Oracles always seem to make sense because we make them make sense. That’s the genius of his design. He’s dangling your own creativity in front of you!
Did the great blip change how and what you play much?
Not directly. After closing the shop, I wanted to remain in the gaming industry. I was going to start down this path in time and was structuring my life in order to do so. It did get me to want to start streaming and exploring the writing aspect a bit sooner than I had planned, which ultimately led me down the path to Ironsworn and solo RPGs. But I think I would have found out about those eventually. I’m a pretty low-key and solitary guy, anyhow, so it really didn’t change my life all that much. I often joke that I was pretty much preparing for lockdowns and isolation my entire life. :)
Who are you hoping to be as a streamer?
I just want to provide a warm, welcoming place for people to hang out. I don’t expect big things from my stream; I am just not wired that way. So if you’re expecting CohhCarnage or PewDiePie, I can get you a link. But I am hoping it will provide me with a network of friends and others in the gaming industry that gives me just enough viewers to give exposure to some of the stuff I create.
Take those links and toss ‘em. I don’t want ‘em, won’t use ‘em, and won’t share ‘em. Personally, I start at the bottom of the list of people streaming something I’m interested in and work up, not start at the most popular. No one watches those at the top, they’re too popular (and often grossly problematic). /soapbox
Oh, I get it, although Cohh actually seems like a pretty good dude. I’ve watched him on and off for years now. He’s definitely earned his popularity. But yeah, I like things a little less polished and a little more raw. I like seeing underneath the hood to see how things work. It’s probably the same reason why I love tinkering with different mechanics from different systems.
Any projects other than streaming you want to mention? Any hobbies or interests you want to mention?
I’ll talk about the projects a bit below. As for hobbies and passions… I am a baseball junkie, although I no longer play. I love my cats. Board games are also a passion of mine. And I love watching paranormal shows on YouTube, and even used to investigate the paranormal for about 4 years.
Really? Got any stories about your paranormal investigations?
I had a major personal experience when I was a young boy, but I’ll save that one for another conversation. Let’s just say that experience conflicted with my logical brain, so I am always looking for answers. But yes, I did have a couple other experiences while investigating that were pretty terrifying. Mostly EVPs that weren’t heard until playing back recordings. I once investigated a friend’s house (her house was actually once featured on The Dead Files). We had 2 cameras and 4 digital recorders. There were several EVPs caught that night. I’ll send them to you if you’re interested, but one stood out. I was looking at her yearbooks sitting on a bookshelf. We went to the same high school. And at that point, one recorder caught “Chippewa Valley,” which was the high school we both went to (and hence, the yearbooks I was eyeing). We were the only two in the basement at the time, and it was caught on the recorder furthest away from me, but none of the other devices. It’s as clear as day. Just creepy.
I know, right? I mean, I’m a skeptic by nature, but there are things that have happened that I just can’t explain.
What’s your current setup like for streaming? Or, what stuff are you hoping to have for your streaming setup?
It’s a humble little spot with a couple of monitors. Always a little too messy. I’m still on a 980ti graphics card. It still handles most everything I throw at it, except for streaming some of the most demanding games. So that’s an upgrade I will need soon. I don’t play PC games like I used to, so I’m not in too big of a rush. My favorite part is my chair. It’s a huge comfy recliner with enough room for my cats on each arm or back. And it’s probably a bit too comfortable at times, as I often catch myself sliding partially out of view of the camera.
Ugh, yeah. I tend to lean awkwardly to one side if I’m not careful. Looks awful on camera! Also, it’s awful for my back … Just one of the bazillion things to keep track of when streaming that one doesn’t normally have to think about! (Except that I should think more about my posture all the time, tbh.)
Yeah, I’ll be working on that more. I just like lounging. Hahaha.
What have been your primary resources for information as you’ve been getting ready to stream regularly, on how to do it and set it all up?
I am a rules-tinkerer and I love trying to plug neat systems into existing rulesets to see how they synergize, if at all. So mostly it involves surrounding myself with different rules systems and content. And Discord servers that are home to my favorite games. I have tons of PDFs filled with random tables, so I should add DriveThruRPG to that list. A lot of this is still very new to me, so I stumble and fumble around a bit. Even as a tech guy, it’s pretty demanding to be properly prepped.
Have you gotten any advice about starting to stream that you’ve taken to heart?
Stay engaged with your viewers. This is pretty hard for me, and it’s a work in progress. When I am immersed in something, my focus is on that something. And I am not very good at narrating my thoughts, as a result. I do plan on starting a Starforged playthrough soon, in which I co-op with chat. It’s going to be an interesting experiment and there is going to be a really fun twist early on. So I am hoping that will help facilitate my engagement with them.
It really is a trip how much extra thought goes into all the streaming things. Not to even mention Murphy’s Law for streaming that something will always break when you press the button. I didn’t understand until I did it myself, how I suddenly somehow seem to feel instantly much dumber once the stream starts!
Yeah, for sure. And that doesn’t even get into setting up lighting, sound, scenes, bots, and any editing that may go into it after. That doesn’t even cover all of it.
It’s all a big learning journey not a destination, one might say. Getting a little bit better each time is part of the fun, I feel.
For sure. What’s the saying, “Not all those that wander are lost?”
What stuff have you played, what are you playing now, and what do you want to play?
Oh, gosh. That list is really long. From D&D to Shadowrun to Rifts to Traveller to Call of Cthulhu to Dangerous Journeys and everything in between. I do love board games, also. Right now, I am heavy into solo RPGs like Ironsworn and Starforged. I am looking forward to playing Disciples of Bone & Shadow and Across A Thousand Dead Worlds. Both games are designed as solo RPGs, but can be played co-op or with a GM. I really want to get my hands on Strider Mode for The One Ring.
My own to-play stack of shame could crush an ox, luckily it’s mostly virtual. Way more than I’ll ever actually get around to, if I’m honest. If prep is play then thinking about playing them is playing them, I hope I can uncomfortably claim in my defense. And, yeah, by the way, from my gander through the Strider Mode booklet, it is cool, and it really doesn’t change things as much as I feared it might. I kinda thought it might end up being a different solo-style game layered on top of the theme from the normal game, but it’s really very thoughtful and doesn’t seem to make any huge changes. Job well done, I think, on that, but I haven’t yet gotten to the table with it either.
Well, get on that. Until they release it to the masses, I have to live vicariously through you!
What goals do you have for the future with your stream and tabletop gaming?
A lot of this is still a work in progress, but I really love providing tools and systems for people to create with. I am currently in the beginning stages of a project I am calling Anvil and Loom, which looks to really expand upon what I learned while developing the Starforged system for Foundry. The foundation of it is content generation and prompts meant to spark the player’s imagination, so these tools would be very useful for solo RPGers and DMs, especially. With it, you would generate something (a wilderness area, a dungeon room, a town, a planet, whatever) and you would get a “first glance” at that something. If it interests you and you want to explore more, then you take a “deep dive” with tools designed to provide more detailed information. But this information is both generic and specific; it’s meant for the player to expand upon and fill in the narrative. It is truly inspired by Shawn Tomkin’s work with Ironsworn and Starforged, as he is a master of this concept.
Interesting trivia about Anvil and Loom… in the mid-1800s, the US had an Almanac titled The Plough, The Loom, and The Anvil. “The Anvil” covers mechanics while “The Loom” covers narrative. Since learning about this Almanac, I have been trying to figure out how to fit “The Plough” into this. But I really love the aesthetics of the cover, so I may use it as a source of design inspiration. The inside isn’t much to look at, but the cover is gorgeous. I’ve got some time, though. It’s still a ways off. Hahaha.
I once had a NeXTStep developer I knew tell me, seriously, that the most important part of a program was the About dialog, so … heck, why not start with an inspiring cover!? But, that sounds like an interesting idea. I’ll enjoy hearing more when there is more to tell about it.
Any last words?
Stories. When it’s all said and done, all we are are stories.