Welcome to Tavern Talk Thursday! This is a weekly column where we chat with a member of the TTRPG (tabletop role-playing game) community to learn more about how they found themselves at the table, what they love about tabletop gaming and other fun things. Think of it as a little sneak peeks into the minds of our fellow players and DMs.

We hope you enjoyed your Highharvestide and are ready to get back to adventure! But before you head out to investigate the sewers below Waterdeep, we have another Tavern Talk Thursday! This week we sat down with Chris Hayes, an artistic master who has used his skills across both tabletop and video games. Chances are you have seen his world within World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Fortnite and more. He is currently running a Kickstarter with The Dungeon Society for Seasons of Adventure. It is a D&D 5E advent calendar with daily minis and more that lead to a playable winter adventure! You can find out more about the project here!

Keep up with Chris Hayes on his socials! (Instagram/Art Station)

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Chris Hayes

Seasons of Adventure logo.

Julia Roth: Favorite world to adventure in?

Chris Hayes: I haven’t played much in worlds from official publishers. What I have done is predominantly play in various homebrew worlds made by different DMs. My favorite homebrew was made by one of my best friends, Treys Justineau, an incredible world builder and DM. Midas is the name of the world he created for his long-running D&D game. This fully fleshed-out world is alive with detail and mystery.

On Midas, we find many different continents and nations, and inside each, their own struggles, politics, and environments. One area in particular, which I personally enjoyed a great deal, is called Thornwood. It is filled with monsters and horrors that constantly threaten civilization. It feels like Castlevania meets The Witcher. Midas, and the mind that created it, keeps me on my toes as a player, pushing me into discovering both the fascinating but abounding threats AND the layers of lore and mysteries to uncover.

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JR: Favorite one-shot adventure?

CH: When it comes to One-Shots, I have only played a few, as I am usually the one running them. Which isn’t really a problem, as I do enjoy running them. Playing the DM role for one-shots has allowed me to create and play in areas of my homebrew setting that I have wanted to find the bigger story for. This role gives me the opportunity to flesh out something I probably wouldn’t have had time to write of my own volition. But when I have the push to create something cool for my players, I get to spend my time building lore for that area and basically begin writing a short story.

I often find that through running a one-shot, my players will throw me curve balls that make me revisit lore and history that ultimately fill plot holes that I hadn’t even encountered in my own lore building yet. One of my favorite one-shots I ran was for my mom and dad and a few friends. It was fun to watch my very reserved mom get into killing undead with her cleric.

JR: Backstory or class first?

CH: I like to pick my class first. It launches me off a starting point to then work backward from. Why did this paladin choose to serve this particular god? How did this rogue become a thief/assassin/scout? The class is just a good way to narrow down the backstory for me. It doesn’t always happen that way, though. Sometimes, I have an idea for a character and his backstory, and then I have to see what class or subclass makes the most sense for them. That situation is rarer, and I have usually been thinking about the character for a long time before I start filling out a character sheet.

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JR: Favorite spell and why?

DN: Aura of Vitality. I know it’s not super flashy, but it has come in clutch several times for me. I cast it at the start of combat, and it allows me to keep dumping health into allies on a bonus action as long as they are in the aura. I often play an aggressive paladin and can end up focused on dumping divine smites into bad guys. This spell helps me do both support and DPS.

JR: Who has been your favorite character to play?

CH: I still love my Tiefling paladin, Broh’Di Grent. He is a total stoner who does his best to dodge responsibility. A low intelligence but high wisdom kind of guy. Dropping deep, thoughtful lines about life while also being half-checked out was a definite highlight when playing Broh’Di.

JR: Do you have a particular race/class you enjoy?

CH:  In the past, the gold standard race was Elves or Half-Elves for me. Shorter rest times, dark vision, and my constant need to fulfill my fantasy of being Legolas kept me playing elves for a long time. However, lately, I have very much enjoyed playing my Tiefling characters. Tieflings are super versatile and are really fun to dive into. They have lots of fun visual looks to play with. Plus, it’s always nice to use that “Hellish Rebuke” trait in combat.

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When choosing the Class for a character, it’s usually a toss-up between the Rogues and the Paladins. Though, given my druthers, I’m hands-down becoming an Arcane Trickster Rogue. This specific class is one of my favorites. It is versatile. I like strategizing how to get the drop on enemies, I can throw spells, and I use a wizard spell to find familiars as well. There is more to that character build than just stabbing someone in the back… I particularly like the effectiveness of rushing an enemy, striking with “Booming Blade,” and using disengage to get out of their attack range.

JR: Is there something that you build into every character? A fun trait or a special item?

CH: I try to build a ‘tic’ into every character, something that helps me stay tuned into my roleplay. Think: habits or movements, aka chewing your nails, bouncing your leg, playing with a chosen object (coins, etc) that could help define my character or background… this list of ‘tics’ is only as long as your imagination is broad. Things like that help me stay in character when I’m role-playing. The beauty of it is that whenever I start getting out of character, I can rely on those created habits to help get me back into the roleplay.  

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JR: What is your favorite system to play within?

CH: I’m a 5th Edition D&D kind of guy. When I first started diving into tabletop gaming, Pathfinder was my DM’s drug of choice. But then I found my way to 5E, and I only look back every so often at my stacks of Pathfinder books, when friends might need an extra body for a, now more rare among my friends, Pathfinder game. Plus, it’s much, MUCH easier to find players if you dangle that D&D 5E lure.

JR: Tell us about the wildest adventure you have been on?

CH: It’s always hard to tell others about your D&D campaigns succinctly, but we all try nonetheless. I had the pleasure of stepping into a game that had been running for several years. They had lost a player and needed someone to join the party. I came in as a level 15 Tiefling Paladin of the Moon Goddess. This nation was a theocracy dedicated to the Moon Goddess, and it required strict adherence to the tenets of the religion. We uncovered a plot that indicated that the Goddess we all devoutly worshiped may have been replaced by a Demonic usurper ages ago.

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How do you convince a theocracy of zealots that their god had been replaced without getting executed for being heretics? It was a harrowing set of events trying to uncover the truth and not make ourselves seem as though we had become the unfaithful. At the same time, an invading force of Draconic troops were moving through the country toward the capitol. The game finally coalesced into an amazing conclusion where the capitol was under siege, and we found ourselves branded as heretics and racing against time, fighting our way through enemy forces to reach the uncovered location of the usurper Goddess.

By the time we hit the final fight, we were all halfway out of spells, and I had already spent the majority of my lay on hands healing pool. The mechanics of the fight kept us having to solve lair puzzles while fighting adds and trying to put damage into this demon. We were starting to lose and lose badly when we finally did enough damage to the demon to trigger a blessing from the last bit of strength our true Goddess had left. It gave us just enough to kill the usurper and get out on our last legs. We found that the draconic forces were long enemies of the Demon usurper and had come to try and bring her down. It is still one of my all-time favorite climatic endings to a campaign.

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JR: What has been your most impactful moment at a table?

CH: I played a character Named Traxion whose father had been killed by a monster that was plaguing the city and the surrounding countryside. He had tried to save his father but was unable to, and it haunted him. Traxion was prone to depression and guilt after his father’s death. With it came a good dose of vengeance and a disregard for his own life. Traxion was a guest player on another group’s campaign. Their group was hired to help find the cause of these murders. A last effort to save the town. After a 7-month story arc we finally found the source of the murders and the people responsible.

When the case was finally closed, and the evil brought to justice, Traxion had a weight lifted from his shoulders. I remember carrying that weight as Traxion, and I remember the sense of relief that came with bringing retribution and justice to his father’s killers. It fundamentally changed Traxion and how I played him going forward. I lost a brother when I was young in a violent way, and I always felt in some way guilty that I wasn’t able to save him.

I think I projected a lot of that on Traxion, and when we solved Traxions fathers death, in some way, it helped me work out some feelings about my brother’s death. That’s one of the things I love about tabletop role-play and live-action role-play. They can offer healing in some ways. They give us a space to work out our own emotions through the vessel of a made-up character. I didn’t mean to project my baggage onto Traxion, but in the end, it was what Traxion and I both needed.

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JR: Favorite dice to use?

CH: I usually snag a new set of dice for every new character I play. But if I had to pick an absolute favorite, I have a bit of backstory on these beauties: When Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls launched, I was working at Blizzard Entertainment. At that year’s Blizzcon, all the attendees got a full set of Diablo dice. They are black, and the number typeface is red lettered with the Diablo font. It’s fantasy rock and roll in all the best ways, and I like rolling them the best. When I DM, they are my main dice.

JR: Would you rather face off against an entire dungeon of undead or charm your way through a royal court?

CH: Give me a dungeon of undead ALL DAY. One of my favorite parts about D&D is the combat and the strategy of combat. While role-playing can be really fun and exciting in and of itself, oftentimes, I find myself jonesing for a fight. If I had to choose between the two, I would roll for initiative and smite some undead.

JR: Favorite TTRPG Monster?

CH: I enjoy encountering Displacer Beasts in-game rather than in real life, as that is impossible and would be absolutely and awesomely horrifying. Displacer Beasts are basically a panther from hell. Their ability to phase in and out of our plane of existence makes them super hard to fight and super lethal, which always presents a really interesting and fun challenge. DM tip: Throw a handful at your players all at once, and give those poor dice-throwing bastards a run for their money.

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JR: Good luck charms or rituals before a game?

CH: Before a game, I usually take some time trying to get into character. I find those chosen habits and tics. I find my character’s voice or accent if I am doing one, and then go talk to myself to practice. I pump music that reflects my character or character’s frame of mind. Basically, I try on my character’s skin and roll around a bit inside to get it to fit.

JR: Who is sitting at your dream table?

CH: This is tough. There are TTRPG heroes that would be really fun to play with because of how well they don their characters. Travis Willingham and Liam O’Brien are high on my list for that. I would really love to play with my Grandmother. She has departed this plane, and when she was alive, it would have been a true trial of patience to get her to understand the rules and mechanics. However, she was an amazing bullshitter. She could make up stories and tell tales on the fly that always had me enchanted as a kid. I still don’t fully know which stories were tall tales and which were stories of her past. I would love to see what she would bring to a Wizard of the Arcane or a sassy rogue.

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In the end, what I look for in a dream table is less specific people and more of a willingness to embrace the story and the play. I love when people get into their characters and commit to the role. At the same time, I feel like really excellent players are ones that share the spotlight and give others their space to roleplay and have their story moments. The best players often start roleplay moments in order to give that space to another player. In the end, it should be fun since we will be at the table for hours on end.

JR: What are you most looking forward to within the TTRPG world?

CH: Selfishly, I am looking forward to getting our project out into the world. A group of talented friends and I have been working hard on a 5E advent calendar called Seasons of Adventure. It’s a mini-campaign in a wintery setting with icy threats. You open minis each day up to Christmas and then open the campaign guide, battle maps, music, monster cards, etc. I’m looking forward to opening each mini and then using them as we play the mini-campaign.

That Kickstarter is live!  Beyond that, I have started diving into using Foundry to run digital games. I have been getting more and more excited about that application and building out interactive maps. It feels like a really powerful tool to enable DMs to build out their campaigns, pre-build vendors, make maps that have AI-controlled monster movements, etc. It’s almost like a game engine that happens to be made for ttrpg games. It’s really making it easier for DMs to run games with friends who are all over the world.

Tavern Talk Thursday: QUINCY LK

Julia Roth
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