CAST POD: THE GROGNARD FILES
Broadcasting from a loft somewhere in Bolton, The GROGNARD Files is an RPG podcast like no other. Whether discussing the state of the RPG world or just litigating the correct colour of Salt & Vinegar and Cheese & Onion crisp packets (blue and green respectively, of course) the shows hosts, Dirk the Dice and Judge Blythy, bring to the table a warmth and easy-going vibe that makes the show feel more like you’re eavesdropping on two decades old friends rambling away. Which in many ways you are. As the pair celebrate 5 years of the show we caught up with Dirk to find out a bit more about it all...
Hi Dirk, so tell us a little about the podcast and how it started…
The GROGNARD files started life as a memoir. We were inspired by Mark Barrowcliffe’s Elvish Gene and Real Life is a Bugger by Mark Hides.
Thanks to their stories, we began to reflect on our experiences of playing RPGs in the 80s. We were playing again with our friend Eddy after over 20 years of falling out of touch with him. It was on the way to a Marillion tribute concert that we decided to do it as a podcast instead, it seemed easier than writing it down. The process of bouncing off each other was more entertaining than the stories themselves, so the eavesdropping nature of a podcast seemed more appropriate.
We also thought that it might put us in touch with one or two more people who might be interested in playing with us. Ever since we put an advert in White Dwarf back in 1983 we have wanted to have more people to play with as we felt that we were alone in this niche hobby.
Since 2015, when the podcast has started, I’ve played games with over 100 different listeners. Never underestimate the power of shared nostalgia to bring people together.
Like many of us at some point you put away your games before coming back to them in later life. Can you remember the last game you played back then and what it was that finally pulled you back in?
It was a slow, long, agonising death. In late 1980s we had developed different friendships and started new hobbies. We drifted away from gaming. If we’re honest, we’d also begun to annoy each other too as we were playing so much, that we were frustrated with the idiosyncrasies of each others’ play style.
We got together with Eddy to pull an all-nighter of Call of Cthulhu on the 1992 election results night. We didn’t see him again until Facebook brought us back together in 2010.
We picked up were we left off with Call of Cthulhu. We played the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign with monthly sessions over three years and we were back into it, deeper than ever before.
Has anything about modern RPGs caught you by surprise?
I suppose the biggest surprise was discovering that it had continued. I’d assumed that it had withered and became one of the atrophied hobbies that people ‘used to do’. I was fascinated with the developments of the 90s and the independent games explosion at the turn of the century. The emphasis has changed towards making things more spectacular and interesting.
Mechanics are more geared towards success than I remember playing back when I was a teenager. We always wanted to be pulp action heroes, but the mechanics of the games that we played never allowed us to pull it off. Games design these days is more accommodating of a more pulp style. I like that aspect of the newer games that I play.
Has this year changed your gaming habits much or were you already fully committed to the Zoom life?
I have a family and work commitments which mean that online play is perfect. You can be out and in at the same time. No-one in the house can complain, I’m merely finding entertainment as a producer rather than a consumer. Everyone else in the house can enjoy Netflix while I sit in a room killing orcs or charming a demon.
During the current unpleasantness I have found that there are more people to play with and there is a general level of competence and confidence with the technology. It’s great to see people participating who might have been dissuaded before, embracing the change, because they have to change. It is only a positive for the long term of the hobby.
Online gaming should be part of your schedule, event if you have a regular face to face game. It is one of those activities that will get better as more people participate and get skilled in the etiquette of playing.
Last month it was your annual, though virtual this year, GROGMEET. So how did that start then?
After a year of the podcast, there were a handful of people who started chatting on Twitter about meeting up to play games. In 2016 about 30 of us got together to play boardgames and 7 tables of RPGs in Manchester. Last week 250 people registered for 70 sessions over 4 days online. It keeps growing, but retains its friendly, quirky, amateurish quality that people who attend enjoy.
We run a virtual event in April every year too. I wasn’t the first online convention, but I like to think that we are ahead of the curve. We had got a lot of practise running events online so the expansion turned out to be easy and loads of fun.
You’ve just celebrated 5 years of the show, what’s been your personal highlight?
When I started a play by mail game back in 1984, my dad was concerned about the level of mail and phone calls I was receiving. “Have you started a cult?’ he asked when he was concerned that I was getting in too deep. I wasn’t then, I am now, but by accident.
Thanks to GROGMEET and the podcast there seems to be a sleeper cell of people who listen to the podcast and get the urge to contact their old friends and start playing again.
The sound of clacking knees heading to the loft to recover lost treasure is the sound that motivates me to do more. I’ve heard stories of people playing again because of The GROGNARD Files and that’s what has been the highlight … the thought of people reconnecting to a dormant part of who they are.
Where should someone new to the podcast begin?
There’s a ’Start Here’ podcast that explains what the podcast is all about. Each episode is focused on a game - so a good place to start is the games that mean the most to you - you’ll soon pick up what’s going on.
I listen to lot’s of podcasts and there’s lot’s of different reasons why you stick with some and others you let go. I hope people will give it a try to see if it’s a stayer.
You have a Patreon to support the show, what do supporters get from that…
The Patreon is a tip jar that supports the GROGPOD and it’s a great incentive for us to continue and do other projects. We’ve produced three 1980s style ‘zines and there’s another on the way. We also have a GROGLOCKER that contains supporting materials for the podcast and a monthly one-shot club for Patreons to take part in, which is announced in the monthly newsletter.
So what’s next, big plans for 2021?
Even with our strange numbering system, we are about to hit Episode 50. I have an idea for this episode, that will be great if I pull it off. I see the GROGNARD files as a Dead Sea Scroll, documenting the early years of British RPG gaming and we’ll continue to reach out to those who helped to define a generation.
Finally... how does Caroline Munro fit into all of this?
She is the Eternal Champion. As well as White Dwarf, I also read Starburst from cover to cover and it was rare for a month to go by and Caroline Munro “the First Lady of Fantasy” to not be featured. I was hooked. She’s one of the nicest people in the world…
This interview originally appeared in Wyrd Science Vol.1 / Issue 1
Since this feature was published Episode 50 of The GROGNARD Files that Dirk mentioned is now out and features Ian Livingstone talking about Fighting Fantasy, you should check it out...