Welcome to the Punchbowl, an interview segment about playing Dungeons and Dragons in 2017 and beyond. We talk to people who are pushing the game forward - creatively, communally, socially, just doing good work. Today, we sit down with Celeste and Brittany, two creators of Venture Maidens, an all-female real play podcast. Find them on Twitter @venturemaidens.
The party continues on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr @JointhePartyPod! On our Patreon page (patreon.com/jointhepartypod), you can unlock exclusive bonus content like cut scenes, bloopers, character backstories, player blog posts, Dungeons & Dragons game tips, and so much more. Have stories or questions for the next Afterparty? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://jointhepartypod.com/contact.
This episode of Join the Party is produced and edited by Eric Silver. Mixed by Brandon Grugle.
Eric: Hello! This is Eric, your DM, and welcome to the Punchbowl, the second episode of our interview segment on Join the Party. Even on our off weeks I'm thinking about D&D, like trying to figure out how to recreate heroes within the game structure. I'm so close to Daredevil. I know I can do it.
But I'm also thinking about what it's like to be a player in 2017 and beyond. So I figured I'd put that to good use and talk to those who are pushing the game forward: creatively, communally, socially, just doing good work. Now as a podcast and the gaming junkie, my iTunes app is clogged with the real play podcasts: people who record themselves playing D&D and then release it as a serialized story. Within the massive crowd of these podcasts some stand out for the relationships between characters, their hilarity, and their ultimate charm. One such is the Venture Maidens. Celeste, Brittany, Sage and Naseem aren't just making one of the most entertaining real play podcasts out there; they're streaming it live on YouTube with no editing! It's crazy. I don't know how they do it. I asked them about their growth as characters and as players, and the expectations are for being an all women's gaming outfit.
We're sitting down with two of the Venture Maidens: Celeste, the benevolent DM, who speaks first, and Brittany, also known as Arrnodel the Elven Warlock, who talks next.
Celeste and Brittany: Hello!
Eric: Thank you so much for sitting with me. This is the discussion where it's like, I see somebody from across the room at a party, and like I know them from Twitter and that's it. And I just like pick up as much punch as I can carry, and I bring it to them, and it’s like, “Tell me everything about your lives please!”
Celeste: I appreciate that. We're thirsty.
Brittany: We're always thirsty.
E: That's good. That's exactly what I want to hear. Thank you so much. All right, I want to start out by asking you, do you guys have a game tale? What is the D&D story that you always tell people when you need to like shock them or excite them or get them like wanting to play?
Celeste: Oh yeah, I dunno, we have so many! I’ll let Brittany take this one, she’s the best storyteller.
Brittany: I don't know about that. Oh, there's so many! And of course most of the ones I'd like to reference are from The Game, and The is capitalized, from when we all lived in the same city. We were all living in San Francisco and it was the game that got me into Dungeons & Dragons. And it went on long after I moved down to San Diego. You know, it was the one that I was cutting my teeth on. And my favorite story is like right before I was moving, I’d invested a year and a half into this character. She was my first character and I love her. Celeste accidentally still calls Arrnodel by my other character's name, Lanadel. Granted, it’s Elven, so it’s—
Celeste: That’s your fault! They’re the exact same name!
Brittany: They’re not! It means different things in Elvish. Anyway, I was kind of amped up. I figured Celeste was going to give me a really amazing outro, you know, since I was moving, which she did! That's another story. But the game before the last one, one of our other friends had this like mysterious vial that we've been saving. I think earlier in the game he was told never to open it, I think an NPC had paid him not to open this vial. We are in a dire straits situation that was really intense and he opened the vial, and it basically unleashes Nerull, the god of death.
Brittany: And we all know fantastically managed to make Constitution saving throws. And we all succeed, otherwise we would have been killed instantly. And we all turned undead, and I was so shocked and sad and shocked by that... It's just hard...
Celeste: I told you not to open it!
Brittany: You had to open it!
Eric: I have like seven questions about this scenario. How did you—how did you get the whole god of death into one vial?!
Celeste: It wasn't even the whole god of death, it was just like a little bit of his domain that they just spilled out into the universe and they're like, “Hey, wow, a dead zone!” I was so scared. I was like, oh my god this might be DPK. And they were like level 15. We'd been playing for, I don't know, three years? And if you do a DPK after three years, you are the evilest of DMs, just hands down.
Brittany: Yeah, I cried. I was MAD.
Celeste: You did, I had to hug you and hold you, like, “I’m so sorry!”
Brittany: I was fucking MAD. I was angry, and it really bothered me! For like, not even like after leaving the game, like it stayed with me until it got resolved. I was so unhappy about playing an undead Druid.
Eric: What does that even—what do you even have to do as an undead Druid? Like you’re a, I dunno if you’re like a Moon... Like, are you turning into like skeleton tigers? Which is dope and I want that?
Brittany: Right? It was, it was like, we were still playing 3.5.
Celeste: Yeah they had an undead template that you just applied to characters. So it actually made my life horrible because they don't have constitution saves anymore—
Eric: Oh noooo.
Celeste: —so nothing I could do to these people would [work], poison or being all underwater, whatever. And it was crazy. Somebody had Inflict Wounds and they would just use that to heal themselves over and over again. I'm like, this is a nightmare. Great storytelling moment, DM nightmare.
Eric: Terrible for you as a person.
Celeste: Terrible. Well, I mean my favorite anecdote from that same game was when Brittany was playing her for you. And I had everybody go down into this like crazy maze that was like Greek mythology inspired. And we were fighting Cerberus, right, this giant dog guardian of the underworld. And she uses polymorph on it. I'm like OK, it’s a god, there's no way. There's like, the only thing they could possibly do this is if he rolls a 1. And he did!
Celeste: And it ruined this amazing fight that I had. And she turned him into a kitten. It wasn’t even a puppy. That is just insult to injury.
Brittany: The best part about this is I had been away from initiative because I had to take a phone call. So I had no idea what was going on, and I kind of go back upstairs and I sit down, and the rest of the group had already spent maybe like 10 minutes coming up with a plan. Like a plan of attack, where they were going to take their turns and do fantastic shit, and I just kind of walk up to them, and I’m like, “Uh, baleful polymorph.”
Eric: So this definitely goes into my first question. How long have y’all been playing D&D?
Brittany: I think I started in 2014, the very beginning of 2014.
Celeste: Yeah. And that was our house campaign, so we were all living together. And then after that you know we all moved apart, and we had to keep playing. So about a year ago, I think it was a year last Sunday, we started the Venture Maidens podcast. And everybody on that podcast, we have all played together since about 2014, actually, Naseem I have been playing since high school, which was a lot longer ago than that, but I don't want to talk about it. Quite a while, we’ve all been playing together.
Eric: Celeste, number one rule: you don't tell an interview about your high school days.
Celeste: Oh dear! No, I’m not giving you any numbers, and don’t you dare ask.
Eric: I won’t!
Celeste: Party etiquette.
Eric: What's different about playing D&D as an adult as compared to playing D&D as a teenager? Do you feel different, are you making different characters, are you making different choices?
Celeste: I... well one, I would instantly say it's lot easier to play D&D as a teenager because nobody has jobs, so you can just play whenever you want.
Celeste: But now I think as I've aged, um, my plotlines just have a lot more depth to them. You're not afraid to go darker places because, you know, when you're older you've seen some shit.
Eric: For sure. Have you been DMing since that time?
Celeste: Oh yes, I have been a DM for well over 10 years at this point.
Eric: Oh dang. Have you ever played?
Celeste: I've had the fortunate experience a lot of times, you know, I’ll just insist to my friends, like, “I’ve been DMing too much! I wanna play a game!” and then there’ll be like, “Oh, okay, oh well.” So I've actually had a really great balance of being able to PC about 40 percent of the time.
Eric: Brittany, even from when you started, like that's three years, probably like every week or every two weeks, of playing. And you even have a show now! So how do you feel like your decisions are different from when you started?
Brittany: Oh man, I'm still trying to get better at roleplaying. So when I moved down here I was so sad that I didn't have any... I was kind of going through D&D withdrawals.
Brittany: So it pushed me into trying my hand at being a Dungeon Master. I've only been doing it regularly for a solid six months. That's actually influenced my way of playing as well, kind of understanding when the DM is giving a cue, like, “Oh, we need to do something!” or “Oh, we should probably explore this.” The other side of that coin is I also meta, I tend to meta-game a lot more now that I've had a chance to DM, because I'm like, oh, I know what that creature is! Like the last couple of games that we've had, oh, I've been real bad. So as far as, the more I progress as a player and how that affects my roleplaying, I think I'm getting into the swing of how to be a better roleplayer, you know. So that I get as much as I can out of the game as well as, like, give as much as I can so that my companions in the game have a good time. So we'll see how that goes the longer that I play!
Celeste: D&D is really like a team sport. You know, you start and you go out for it, and then you're like, OK, I might have some raw talent, but it really does take working together to create a really cool story. And that's something I think people particularly enjoy about the Venture Maidens is because we've taken so much time to develop that.
Eric: I'd love to know where Venture Maidens sprung from. What becomes the spark to actually start a show?
Brittany: Celeste, you are the one that sent the mass text out.
Celeste: I think I got really trashed when I was like, (drunken voice) “Guys, guys!! You know what we have to do??” Because I've been an actual play podcast junkie for about two years. I was like, you know, all these D&D podcasts, this is so cool. And you know what, we also play really great D&D! And you know, we're funny as shit! Let's do a podcast. And I actually ended up, yeah, group texting all of these ladies. It was on Brittany's birthday.
Brittany: Yep. I remember.
Celeste: Best birthday present ever!
Brittany: It was.
Celeste: It was our style in particular. And then also the idea of bringing together four folks you don't normally see, or hear, doing a podcast, playing Dungeons & Dragons. All lady identifying folks, I thought that would be really cool and a really interesting thing. It’s definitely something I wanted a lot more of.
Eric: What is that style? What is it just about your gameplay that makes you stand out?
Brittany: I think our relationship, like, our friendship with each other, as cheesy as that sounds. Like, AW! FRIENDSHIP IS THE MAGIC!
Celeste: (laughing) That’s some My Little Pony shit. But I think that’s something I really appreciated from one of our friends on the Tweet-O-Sphere said is, “The reason I like your podcast is because it’s unapologetically yours.” And I think that’s a really good way of putting it. We have a very distinct kind of style. It’s very real, it’s very raw, it’s very, like, you know we’re gonna talk about what we’re drinking and our shitty jokes and, like, all the weird anecdotes, but we’re also really serious about D&D. So we kind of have an interesting hybrid style, I guess? Or something that’s uniquely ours, but we’re not afraid of inviting people to the table to play, like, along with an actual experience, you know? How it really feels to be at the table playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Eric: For sure, I mean you’re definitely tempting that by literally inviting people to watch you play with your live streams.
Celeste: Yeah, man. It’s scary!
Eric: What do you agev to do to prepare for however many people to watch you live stream? Is it like you’re cleaning up for a party, or do you have to psych yourself up in some other way?
Celeste: Can we say take shots?
Eric: (laughing) That’s fair. Taking shots is fair.
Celeste: No, I… only sometimes.
Brittany: I feel like when we sit down to play our live stream, it’s like the Kramer entrance on Seinfeld. We all just like burst, like, sit down super quick. Sign in sometimes like immediately at eight thirty. I’ve been late to our live stream before, and yeah. It’s just, like, a shitshow. (laughs) But it works!
Celeste: Creative chaos, I think is a good way to describe… BORN IN THE FIRES OF MOUNT DOOM WE BEGIN OUR LIVE STREAM!
Eric: (laughs) I feel like I would have the pressure of people watching me, and it sounds like you’re retaining a lot of the same things that happen when you play. Eventually every real player needs to answer the question: what is it like playing in regular games versus playing in a game that’s recorded? But it sounds like you’ve kind of flattened that totally.
Celeste: Yeah, I’ve mentioned this before – I’m pretty strong on this point: my number one goal with this podcast was to not let the fact that we’re doing a podcast change how we play the game. So that’s something I really promised myself, I’m like, I’m not going to give anybody a different experience than they would at the table. And it’s cool that people are here with us, but my primary purpose is to make a good game and have everybody enjoy it. And I think that focus actually helps create a more natural and an easier space, you know? When it’s the same space we’ve been playing in for, you know, four years or however many, it feels the same.
Brittany: I can speak firsthand and I feel confident putting words in Naseem’s and Sage’s mouths for this as well – it does not feel like we’re doing a show. We’re literally just playing D&D the same way that, you know, we definitely are keeping in mind that we should not go on a bunch of side-quests, but as far playing? It’s exactly like what we’re used to when we’re sitting at an actual table and I think that might be why, I mean, that’s why I enjoy so I hope that’s why other people enjoy listening to it.
Eric: I think the other thing is the other people enjoying it. So you say it’s not different when you’re setting up the cameras, but has it changed it all now that you have fans and a network and, I guess, fan art is the thing that blows me away. Like, you see people actually making, drawing, putting in creative effort to representing this thing that y’all are making up. Does that change anything? Does that modify the way – or, I guess even put a weight on you?
Celeste: I feel a little bit of pressure and it grows more and more each day and just like oh my god I wanna do better. Because, like, there are so many loving, giving, wonderful people out there who are, like, invested and committed and then, just like, UHHHH I wanna be all your DMs, right? Like, I want you all to have a good game experience. So, it’s ramping a little bit for me, but at the end of the day, you know, you have to step back and the rest of the Maidens – Brittany in particular – is really good at reminding me to, like, breathe? You’re doing great. Uh, people like what you’re doing, so keep doing that. But it is a reminder I have to go through.
Brittany: (with woe) I feel bad! I don’t feel pressure at all. (laughs) I mostly… I feel like it’s like virtual high-fiving when people do that. I look at a lot of fan art, and as a professional artist myself, I make art just ‘cause I like it. And if I happen to be inspired by one thing or another, I’m gonna make art regardless. So maybe that’s why I don’t feel the pressure from things like that. I’m just like, YEAAHHHH!!! You’re doing your thing! I’m glad we’re inspiring you for this particular piece! That’s a huge compliment. It is a huge compliment, but I don’t… like I said I feel kinda bad. I don’t have that pressure. I’m just like, RIGHT ON! HIGH-FIVE! And I keep, you know, doing my thing.
Celeste: Oh man, there have been a few reviews where people are so kind and they’re like, “Celeste! I love your DMing style. I’ve learned so much. You’re my role-model,” and I’m like, OH MY GOD I never, in twenty years, would have thought I was anybody’s role-model, and now I have to like… people are looking to me... (squirmy noises) Noises, uhh… It’s great. It’s wonderful, and it makes me want to do better and I think it’s producing games, which is great. It’s really powerful.
Eric: Brittany, I’m extremely jealous of this coolness that you have running through your veins. So that’s awesome.
Brittany: (laughing) It doesn’t exist anywhere else. I have intense anxiety and Celeste seen massive anxiety attacks from me, so I’m really grateful it doesn’t manifest in that realm.
Eric: You just gotta have a camera on you at all times, just like, reality show it up. Be like, you know when people are watching me, I’m just like the coolest person in the room. Y’all touched on this a little bit in the beginning – you are four woman-identified players putting yourselves out there, making this show. What did you expect when you launched an all-woman D&D podcast?
Celeste: I think in the beginning, you know, we had a solid candid conversation, like okay… we don’t really know what we’re getting ourselves into and there a lot of internet trolls out there and a lot of people who... you know, we’ve read horror stories about people having terrible experiences like just trying to game at like, anywhere. But I think when we got into it we really found that the community that embraced us was so welcoming and receptive and wonderful. So, I think we’ve had nothing but a positive experience so far. Every once in awhile there’s something that’s a little… ehhhh… but one individual in a sea of the support we’ve received? It’s awesome.
Brittany: I think too, just focusing on like, this is what we normally do and then that slight acknowledgment in the back of our heads that a lot of times women are underrepresented in gaming. The thing that we constantly run into is like, oh, we do an all-female podcast but like the DM’s a dude?
Eric: Oooo, really?
Brittany: (laughing) We’re like no, no. Yeah! Like, guys will be like oh, well my whole group were women. And I’m like, yeah, but you’re running it, like… That despairity… they didn’t quite get it. So, I think the thing we like to focus on is not so much the gender thing, just as, like… hey, we’re doing our thing. Also, women can DM! And there are some really good ones.
Celeste: We can DM, we play, we edit the whole thing, we produce, so that’s our team – it’s really cool. Like, we’re doing it all and I think rather than being like, ohhhh this a social statement, just holding up, look! We do this and we do this well. Here’s a torch for anybody interested or lost or feeling like they can’t do it too. I really like the idea of us just showing people like, yeah! Here ya go! Everybody can do this. Come on! Let’s all come to the party. Let’s all sit at the table.
Brittany: We did like one Reddit post one time and that blew up and most of the comments were about that.
Celeste: Oh, that was crazy.
Eric: Oh, shit! I just remembered that. I saw that, like, a while ago when y’all were first starting.
Celeste: Yeah, that inspired hundreds of comments, and they were like, “Why are you promoting that have women on there?! That’s sexist!”
Brittany: It’s not our only marketing tactic man, we’re just like…
Celeste: That was on the third comma… Come on…
Eric: I don’t even… like, what did you even say in that post to illicit such fervor? Like, that’s crazy.
Celeste: Yeah, I was like, “Hey! We just started a new fifth edition actual play podcast featuring an all-lady cast. If you wanna check it out, here’s the link.”
Eric: Like that’s it…
Brittany: Yeah, but people just like writing shit. Most of the comments were great. I think it wss really awesome to see such a lengthy discussion pop up from just one post. I had to turn my phone off ‘cause... I was like, “Celeste, did you do something recently?”
Celeste: (laughing) I did do something…
Brittany: ‘Cause… I use Wix for our website and I get notifications for when people visit and when people send messages and my phone was exploding. I had to turn it off! I was, “What did you do?!”
Celeste: Yeah, one of our producers from Don’t Split the Podcast Network, he actually ended up calling me and was like, “What… what happened? Did somebody famous blog about you? What happened?!” And I was like, “No! I just made a Reddit post, man!” And our downloads spiked by a couple thousand.
Eric: I think something that super bothers me is that without having a wide range of people in your game, you can just like have people do messed up stuff while you’re roleplaying. Like, you have so much invested and then someone’s like, (as a superdouche) “Ohhh, and then I’m gonna like, hit on this elven queen, and like make jokes about her for the entire time.” Or like, it even gets even worse. Once every two, three days now, something puts a comment on r/DnD saying how they don’t wanna play D&D anymore ‘cause someone made them uncomfortable.
Celeste: It can be horrifying, and I think something’s that’s been really, really so incredible about the Venture Maidens podcast, and if for no other reason I’m so glad we’ve done this. A lot of women have reached out to us and said, “Hey, I never considered that I would be able to play D&D. I didn’t even realize you could get a bunch of your girlfriends together and play. You guys really inspired me to play. And now I feel comfortable approaching the game.” And I’m like THIS IS THE COOLEST THING EVER. I don’t care how many downloads we get. I don’t care how hard this is. Hearing that is just everything. It means so much… I can’t even words how great that is.
Eric: Celeste, how do you feel about being a female DM running a story for all of your friends and for all the other women in your life?
Celeste: I feel awesome about it. You know, I’ve been DMing for so long and I’ve DMed at cons, I’ve DMed at local game stores. I’ve really put myself out there. It’s been… Sometimes people come to the table and they're really agro about it, but I would confidently say that almost everybody walking away who ever gave me trouble after being in one of my games takes me seriously. I think I’m a force to be reckoned with in the world of DMing, and I’m very proud of it and I wanna hold that torch.
Eric: That’s awesome. All right, so – don’t worry I have some fun questions for you now! Like, it’s good. Okay, I’ve had a lot of trouble explaining to my mom what I do after work all this time. I’m like, “Okay, we’re playing a game, but like we’re recording it, and then I edit it and like, but it’s fantasty…” How do you explain what your… I guess your lives are at this point? How do you explain it to someone who has no idea what you’re talking about?
Celeste: I have had to explain this so many times I can’t even tell you all of them, but I say, “Okay, it’s not like a board game. You all just sit around the table and you tell a story together. And you all play characters and then the dungeon master plays everybody else. And you all just kinda make a story together.” Which actually doesn’t work most of the time… People are super confused. And then they’re like, “But why are there dice?” I’m like – (exasperated exhale) okay… And then I’m like, “D20s are like, fate, right? It’s just fate and how the number is comparative… so like, 20 is like, great! Good luck. And then one is terrible and everything in the middle is okay and…” But then they’re like, “Oh, but character sheets! And math!” I’m like, how do you know there’s math involved but you don’t know it’s not a board game?
Brittany: I think playing some card games has more math than D&D.
Brittany: (laughing) You just add. I suck at math. I’m legit handicapped at math. Like, there’s many times in game, I’m like, “Hey guys, what’s this plus this?”
Celeste: I always just tell people, you know what? Let me run a game for you. This last Thanksgiving I ran a game for my family. They decided that I should run Dungeons and Dragons for them, so I had my grandma, my mom, my two aunts, my uncle sitting ‘round the table, and we ran through a quasi-fairyland sort of thing. But they all had a really great time, and now actually my aunt is like, “I love Venture Maidens! This is the coolest!” Texts all her friends and it’s really cute. But I think playing it is the best way to understand it. I always encourage that.
Eric: I’m gonna try that. I should just run it for my mom. She still has no idea what I’m doing.
Celeste: You should! I bet she’d love it.
Eric: My mom’s like five feet tall, and like a hundred pounds. So I’m just gonna make her this giant barbarian and see what happens.
Celeste: (laughing) Yessss! That’s probably all she’s ever wanted in her life.
Eric: That’s entirely possible. She has rage, too! When she talks on the phone to customer service. She fucks ‘em up.
Celeste: You need that professional skill.
Eric: She definitely does. Okay, those all the questions I have. You guys wanna plug your stuff? You wanna do your spiel?
Celeste: For all of our links to not only our YouTube, our Twitter, our Twitch, our Facebook, our Instagram, go to www.theventuremaidens.com. Of course, if you do wanna connect with us on Twitter it’s @VentureMaidens. The rest of our usernames are pretty much that. If you wanna connect with me personally, go to Twitter @CConowitch. That’s phonetic, so hopefully you can find us and actually we live stream every other Wednesday, so… I’m not sure when this episode is coming out, but probably a Wednesday near you at 7:30 Pacific Standard Time.
Brittany: And if you wanna reach out to me directly on Twitter or Instagram – I’m more active on Instagram – both of my usernames are the same. It’s @VizualWarlock, visual is spelled with a Z.
Eric: Nice. All right, thank y’all for sitting down. And that’s was the Punch Bowl. See ya later.
Celeste: WOO! PUNCH!
Eric: (laughs a great belly laugh)
Celeste: I hope this is… spiked?