- John Power Jr.
CAST POD: WHAT WOULD THE SMART PARTY DO?
What Would The Smart Party Do? is one of the UK’s best loved RPG podcasts. Over six years the show’s hosts, Gaz and Baz, have chronicled our golden age of gaming with wit, passion and the kind of knowledge that comes from years of experience both behind and in front of the GM screen. We caught up with Baz to find out more...
Baz, thank you for joining us. For those who have somehow never listened to the Smart Party before how would you describe it?
Convivial, avuncular, genial even! It’s all chat, a mix of interviews and banter between life long mates who have always loved talking about games and gaming. We cover one topic or guest per show, and usually devote a good hour to unscripted jibber-jabber around a single theme.
The first show went out almost exactly six years ago, what spurred you to start the podcast?
We have always talked gaming. When the rest of our group had slunk away post game, we would crack open a bottle of something tasty and put the gaming world to rights. We always wanted to get deep into the hows and whys of our games, to understand what we could do to make them even better the next time. We solved so many problems, but unfortunately with the coming of the dawn, our memories always betrayed us and our solutions drifted away. So we decided to record ourselves.
When we listened back, it sounded good!
At the time we listened to the stalwarts like Ken and Robin, and the Good Friends of Jackson Elias. There were a few RPG casts around, but mostly they were Actual Plays, and we just preferred the talk shows, like Another Question.
Our goal was to replicate the after action discussions that informed so many of our Con experiences and long university nights. I distinctly recall hoping we might get close to 100 downloads. Now we have more than 100 episodes in the can!
That very first show was all about the divide between traditional and indie RPGs. Now obviously quite a lot has changed in the intervening years but what developments in the RPG world have surprised you most in that time?
The single biggest change, and surprise, has been the rise of streaming. We used to kick around the idea of televised RPGs back in the day. Readers might remember Channel 4 used to screen late night poker; we thought RPGs could benefit from a similar format, but we never truly believed it could find an audience.
The advent of YouTube changed everything. I still don’t entirely understand how so many shows are made and voraciously consumed by such vast and passionate fandoms.
It would be nice to have an audience that size! But we love our community, and although we have dabbled with AP and even a YouTube channel, our hearts remain audio only.
Have your attitudes to different types of RPGs changed much since that first show?
Our attitudes have always been broad and deep with gaming. There are vanishingly few games unplayed between us, and we will try anything at least once. We have preferences, yes, but if anything we tend toward “trindie”, and don’t have any truck with divides if we can help it.
How do you see things changing over the next six years?
The massive popularity of D&D 5e will have a similar effect to the hobby that we saw in the early 80s following it’s first surge. The current players will become DMs, then GMs, then they will look for variety and novelty among the wider hobby.
The relative ease of self publishing makes the breadth of choice astonishing. Gaming will grow, and then it will shrink back a bit, yet it will remain a golden age for a while yet. 6e will set the beholder among the kobolds, and where WotC go, others will follow.
“6e will set the beholder among the kobolds”
Whilst you've both been running & playing games for years you recently started publishing gaming content of your own, has that experience changed any previously held views?
We always knew that writing for others would be hard work. We were wrong. It’s really hard work! Adventures are especially tricky beasts to produce.
You need to write evocative, interesting, accurate, useful and relevant material with loads of redundancies built in for an invisible audience all of whom have differing needs for their tables. Yet it remains a pleasure, and something that both of us intend to continue with in the future.
You’ve said before how gaming online during the pandemic meant you'd been able to try out a whole host of games you hadn't played before. Have there been any surprises, games that you dipped your toes into and you'll now be going back to for years to come?
We’ve played a great many one shots (over a few sessions sometimes) between us, and all of them have been a valuable experience. Some games have really shone online; our friend Shane ran an absolutely cracking game of Ironsworn that made us big fans of it. That led to us interviewing Shawn Tomkin, the designer, and we are both looking forward to seeing Starforged in hard copy.
I ran a complete 5e campaign for 6 players over the pandemic, and that produced some amazing memories that I don’t think will ever fade. Gaz is still running a pacey Barbarians of Lemuria campaign, and that system has become a bit of a go-to for our wider group.
The game that has really gotten under our skins though is Blades in the Dark. It’s a shady delight, and we both still believe its got loads to offer, even after all the sessions we’ve played.
What has been your favourite part of doing the show over the past six years?
Without doubt it’s the interviews. We always had them from the off, great guys like Dr Mitch and Paul Baldowski that we knew personally from our Con going. Gaz kicked things off internationally by speaking with fellow Kraken attendees, guests like Robin Laws, Ken Rolston and so on.
That really whetted appetites, so we approached people like Greg Stoltze, Jonathan Tweet, Rob Schwalb, Mike Mearls and anyone else who we really wanted to speak to.
We are fans first, and interviewers second. We don’t have lists of questions, and we try to foster genuine conversation that goes wherever it wants to.
We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have so many amazing guests who have so often talked to us at length on and off air and been such great company.
“We are fans first and interviewers second”
After almost 150 episodes you've featured most of the big tabletop names around, is there anyone you're particularly keen to get on the show?
We’ve had some great conversations with the good people at Wizards of the Coast, including Jeremy Crawford who was a delight. We’re waiting for schedules to line up so we can catch up with Chris Perkins but he’s very much in demand!
The one we missed was Greg Stafford. We’ve both spent time in his company, but never got anything on tape, which is such a shame. He was an amazing man and sorely missed.
We do like to return to our guests though. Dennis Detwiller is an incredible storyteller, and Jonathan Tweet is so generous. We could listen to them for hours.
If someone reading this wants to take a dive into your archive where would you suggest they start?
Try episode 100, our centenary special. We got our mates round and had a bit of a podcast party with Paul Fricker and Dirk the Dice joining us for a look back and also a look forward. We also had some proper gaming luminary voice messages too, which raise a smile to this day.
Otherwise, take a scan of some topics that catch your eye; maybe our online gaming special, the discussion on burnout, or the fighting episode. If you like to listen to entertaining guests, search for Jon Hodgson or Mike Shea, both great examples of our interview style.
You've got a Patreon set up to help fund the show, apart from a general sense of well being what does that give people access to?
Hey, that sense of well being isn’t to be sniffed at! We remain incredibly grateful to our glorious patrons. We couldn’t do the show without their support, literally.
This year we set out to ensure they got something exclusive each and every month in the form of a zini, The Happy Patron. This pdf includes reviews, adventures, articles and even puzzles. It’s great fun to produce, and it’s building up into quite a store of content. Alongside that, we release occasional actual play shows and side chats about stuff that doesn’t quite fit into the main Cast.
Finally, after six years what's next for both of you and the show?
More of the same we hope. Gaming is constantly refreshing itself, so there’s never any chance of running out of things to say about it.
We’re both desperate to get back round real tables and catch up with people outside of a Zoom call (including each other - it’s been a long time!). When we do, we want to say hello to both our listeners personally, we do owe them each a drink after all.
To listen to the latest show, subscribe to the podcast or dig into their archive direct your browser towards whatwouldthesmartpartydo.com
You can also keep up to date with their current goings on and follow Baz & Gaz on Twitter respectively at @BazStevens and @the_smart_party
This interview originally appeared in Wyrd Science Vol.1 / Issue 2
Special thanks to Sam Manley for letting us use his illustration, find more of Sam's work online here