Unless you have been living under a rock, chances are you have at least heard the name B. Dave Walters whispered through the TTRPG community. The man, the myth, the legend has been spinning stories for players worldwide for years and is the king of bringing high-stakes storytelling to life. And he was gracious enough to carve some time out of his busy schedule to spend some time chatting with us about how he found himself a member of the community, his work to diversify Dungeons and Dragons, and so much more! Check it out!
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
B Dave. Walters
Julia Roth: Let’s get started! Everyone loves a good backstory! How did you find yourself in the world of D&D?
B. Dave Walters: I’ve been playing D&D since I was 13 years old. I actually started with another game called Rifts. We were playing that when a buddy of mine, who was very much a hipster before hipsters even existed, told us if we were going to play games, then we had to play Dungeons and Dragons. He pulled me aside and had the old second edition Player’s Handbook, you know, the one with the guy on the horse coming towards you, and that was it. The hook was set early and deep.
JR: That’s great! Got you early and never let go.
BDW: I was there 3000 years ago. Do not quote the deep magic to me. I was there when it was written. That is all true. I grew up through the satanic panic; when it wasn’t just weird to play, it was dangerous. I grew up through the time when it was just nerd stuff. So for these things to become popular and out in the open, I was beyond excited.
JR: Did you ever think this would be where you’d be? Working alongside Wizards of the Coast or even just being such a big part of this community?
BDW: Absolutely not, simply because I didn’t think it was going to be a thing. Once it became a thing, then yes. Once I knew it was a thing that could be done, I knew I would do it. All of it. Imagine if you discovered that it could become your vocation to eat cookies daily. Like there is a cookie subculture that would allow you to eat cookies day in and day out. You would do what you needed to be a part of it.
Once I knew that this could be a thing, I got myself in. In the early days, when Geek and Sundry and Critical Role were just getting started, I introduced Damion Poitier and Jason Charles Miller. Jason introduced Damion to Geek and Sundry, and there, he worked on Signal Boost and ForeverVerse. I was still working a nine-to-five job at the time and was a little upset that they were working together without me. Eventually, Damion called me up and told me about an idea for a show called Ask Your Black Geek Friend. I told him, ‘stop right there; I’m in.’
He called me on a Wednesday, shot the pilot on Saturday, and then Geek and Sundry told us they wanted the show on Monday. That was in March 2017, and the show officially kicked off in August 2017. So, I was in the room, but they knew me more as the talk show guy and less as an actual play guy, so I still couldn’t get to play in any games until that year’s ChariD20 event. I went in, knowing I was going to go all out. I did a costume and a voice and showed them what I could do, and it worked!
The Wizards of the Coast angle game along when they released Tomb of Annihilation. I was very, very publically critical of their portrayal of Chult. Chult in D&D is non-specifically Africa. It’s a jungle with brown and black people, and in the 80s, it was incredibly racist. When they brought it back, a lot of stuff was gone, but it had a lazy, post-colonial feel. I felt like in this fantasy world; they could have done anything. It felt very tone-deaf, and I called out the fact that not a person of color had any part in its development. I saw what they were trying to do but didn’t hit the mark.
Greg Tito heard what I was saying and admitted they needed to do better. With that, Wizards of the Coast reached out and asked for help. They called on people like me and Jasmine Bhullar, Tanya DePass and Gabe James, to bring diversity to their tables. They even hired people like Makenzie De Armas to continue to diversify the world on all fronts.
JR: Diversifying D&D is always going to be a good thing. The work you guys have done with Wizards of the Coast and on your own, like with Into the Mother Lands, has brought all of this to the forefront. It’s a way to give people a place to find and see themselves in games where that didn’t exist before.
BDW: Storytelling is the thing that makes us human and the dominant species on the planet. In time, we may find out what elephants and crows and dolphins are saying to each other are stories. But right now, we are the only ones. We can sit around a campfire and talk about the labors of Hercules and take meaningful insight about life from it as a uniquely human experience. But because of that, that’s the true value of diversity that everyone needs to see themselves reflected in the narratives in media.
They consume both as hero and villain to have something to aspire towards and something to, as a cautionary tale of what not to do. You need both so that you can learn aspirationally to do those things but not do those things. It’s crucial to not only have many different kinds of people in characters portrayed but, again, to let them have depth and nuance. We need to break away from the idea that these people are shiny and perfect and these people are terrible. People are people, and that depth needs to be shown and reflected.
JR: It is always refreshing when you finally have a character you can look at and say – that’s me. And with all of your work within the TTRPG community, more people are able to have those same feelings. But that’s not where your work stops. You’ve also worked alongside Wizards of the Coast to create a comic series.
BDW: Yes! Dungeons and Dragons: A Darkened Wish is the official comic book I wrote and is available in stores. It never gets old seeing it in a Barnes and Noble. It was a blessing that the comic series came to be, and it is my love letter to Dungeons and Dragons.
JR: Did you know what you wanted to write about, or did they have a pitch for you?
BDW: Both. I had an idea, which honestly began as World of Warcraft fan fiction. Then my friend Tess Fowler reached out and asked if I was interested in writing a D&D comic with her. I was in and then told her that I already had a story. The elevator pitch was about retired heroes who have already saved the world and are being asked to do it all again. We are seeing them in their lives after they’ve been there, done that, and they have to figure out how to get back into the action.
JR: I love the concept of older heroes. We spend so many adventures starting off as level ones with no experience, and rarely do people play for long at higher levels.
BDW: Level 20 is my niche. I love high-level storytelling. I like it because, at that level, everybody is so powerful. The game becomes less about what you can do because, frankly, everybody can do anything, and it becomes more about what you should do. When we did our first level 20 stream, Theogony of Kairos, I told the cast in advance that they could summon a tidal wave and destroy the kingdom, but then they would have to deal with the repercussions like a refugee crisis and the kingdom’s allies. Just because they can do something, they really need to think about it and if they should do it.
JR: I love when people decide to just destroy everything. That’s not the end of the game. There is always more to come.
BDW: Exactly. That’s why I let them do it. Okay, you destroyed it. You’re great and powerful. No problem. But now, I get to think of the worst possible outcome of their course of action and then force them to deal with it.
JR: You’ve DMed many games for many different people. But most recently, you got the chance to DM for the cast of Stranger Things. How was that?
BDW: That was really great. The kids were fantastic; Gaten (Matarazzo), in particular, is just a human ray of sunshine. If a hug was a person, that’s Gaten. We didn’t have much prep time for the one-shot, but they told me I could have anything I wanted. So I asked for a dice camera to catch all the excitement in the rolls and for some time beforehand to teach the kids the game. I got the dice cam but didn’t get the prep time. I met them 15 minutes before our start time and had to give them an incredibly quick crash course.
Now it’s time to break the fourth wall. Reader, if you haven’t watched the one-shot. Go watch it and come back. In fact, Julia here is going to add the video of it right below this so you can watch it and then continue reading.
Did you watch it? Good. Now, what I really wanted to happen was for Priah’s (Ferguson) Lady Applejack to kill Vecna as she does in the show. So, I told her that no matter what happens, to act like she rolled a natural 20. I was willing to play pretend just to have this epic moment. Well, the dice were on our side this time, and she did! Everyone at the table was so excited that she actually did it. Imagine if we went through the entire adventure for her to roll and miss, and then Vecna kills all of them.
JR: That would have been a depressing ending, especially for a stream. So along those lines, what have been some of the most exciting things to happen at one of your tables?
BDW: I have two. One was when I was playing Pathfinder, and I gave one of my players an Arrow of Slaying. His whole concept was that he was a dragon slayer, and we spent much of the campaign, not slaying dragons. So, I finally gave them a dragon encounter and had it all planned down to what it would do on each turn. Well, the dragon slayer was the first to go, and he pulled out this arrow and shot it. I thought there was no way I would miss the save roll, but I rolled a natural one. And my entire encounter came to a halt as they went crazy at the table. It’s these moments that the players live for.
The second was during the high of my Patreon games. I was running a Vampire: The Masquerade game where I was building up the big bad guy over our time together and giving them someone they could really fear—a Terminator of sorts. So, somewhere along their journey, I had given them access to a Wish spell. But, I come from the old school, second edition where Wishcraft was akin to the Twilight Zone-Monkey Paw where anything could happen. So, they got together and wrote out the most detailed Wish spell I could have ever imagined. It took them over a month to come up with something that I couldn’t twist and use against them, and on the day we played, they handed me the piece of paper and watched as I tried to find anything I could use against them.
JR: That’s a lot of dedication. Wishcraft can be scary! Thank you again for chatting with us! Where can our readers find what you are working on next?
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