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.
Head on in and grab a chair by the fire; we are back with another chat. This week we chatted with one of the funniest people we know – Jonathan Mangum. Chances are you have spotted him alongside Wayne Brady on Let’s Make A Deal or his guest appearances on shows like Reno 911, Pushing Daisies, NCIS and more. But we absolutely love him for his improv and comedy work on Whose Line Is It, Anyway? and his appearance on Drew Carey Improv All-Stars live show. When he isn’t making the world laugh, Mangum is a major nerd and a member of the TTRPG community. He took the time to share with us everything he loves and why swords are superior to spells. Keep reading to find out more!
Julia Roth: Let’s chat your TTRPG backstory! How did you find yourself at the table?
Jonathan Mangum: When I was a kid in the <gulp> 80s. A guy that lived down the street told me about D&D. Raised in Catholic school, I had heard of this demonic worship game corrupting the kids, but since I wasn’t buying the whole religion thing, I went to his house to try it out. I was hooked. There was this keep near some borderlands, you see. Later, I remember being so confused as to why “Advanced” had thick meaty books while “Expert” was like a pamphlet.
JR: Favorite world to adventure in?
JM: I’ve played in a lot of homebrews that didn’t really focus on worlds. I do love the original Ravenloft module (Is Ravenloft a world?). That 3D map blew my mind. Also, the most “different” world I have played through as recently – Avernus – I still always feel like I’m sweating after that run.
JR: Favorite one-shot adventure?
JM: Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Dungeon Crawl Classics, DM’d (or judged, if you will) by my great pal, Matt Young. They’re usually one or two shots, and I love them all. I really love doing a funnel with six weak characters knowing most are going to die (what’s wrong with me!!??)
JR: How has your experience in comedy shaped the way you play at a table? Are you all laughs, or do you try and go for the serious adventurer?
JM: Improv has been especially helpful because that’s literally what roleplaying is. And most of the good laughs come from my funny friends being in character. Plus, there’s nothing that says the characters we play wouldn’t be witty themselves. Although, I will admit many of the characters I’ve played have been much wittier than their intelligent stat would suggest.
JR: Backstory or class first?
JM: I think the answer should be backstory, but it’s mostly been class. That’s the lazy way. Sometimes, I’ll assume a stereotypical backstory and maybe invent more along the way. Again, I admit – that’s lazy, but sometimes I just want to start swinging my sword!
JR: Favorite spell and why?
JM: Gonna get a lot of hate for this one.. but…. I’ve only ever played melee. I guess I got beat up a lot as a kid and don’t wanna wear no damn robes when there’s plate to be had!
JR: Who has been your favorite character to play?
JM: I was loving a recent character I played in DCC– A dwarf called “Stalorv.” He was given a trait that when he sees any booze, anywhere- he will attempt to consume it until he blacks out. Made for some fun conflicts w/ the group.
JR: Do you have a particular race/class you enjoy?
JM: I gotta thing for sword and board Dwarfs. I’m a tall and weak(ish) dude, so it kinda makes sense? My main in WoW (World of Warcraft) (which I’ve played since day 1) is a Dwarf tank.
JR: Is there something that you build into every character? A fun trait or a special item?
JM: No, but that’s a cool idea. I’m stealing it. That’s my trait, “My character steals cool ideas from journalists.”
JR: What is your favorite system to play within?
JM: It’s not a matter of system. I liked all the ones I played. It’s about DMs (GM, Judges). I prefer story/puzzles over rules/numbers.
JR: Have you ever sat down and played a game with your Whose Line Is It, Anyway? family?
JM: I’ve played a few times with Wayne Brady while we were touring with downtime in hotels.
JR: Tell us about the wildest adventure you have been on?
JM: My recent trip through Avernus is up there. Feeding the screaming souls of the fallen into a Mad Max vehicle to drive it through an impossible-to-navigate, melting desert while trying to use a rotating catapult arm to smash an impossible foe was a real thing.
JR: What has been your most impactful moment at a table?
JM: It’s always watching one of my teammates do something unexpected and brilliant. Then watching the DM consider it… it could go either way…
JR: Favorite dice to use?
JM: I still have my dice from my original Basic set, where you use a crayon to color in the divots.
JR: Would you rather face off against an entire dungeon of undead or charm your way through a royal court?
JM: My first instinct is the undead, but then when I think about all the rolling and numbers, I think the court.
JR: Favorite TTRPG monster?
JM: I love (and hate) mimics.
JR: Good luck charms or rituals before a game?
JM: I like to start with an ice-cold sparkling water.
JR: Who is sitting at your dream table?
JM: I love my current DCC table with Matt Young as Judge. I also loved my table with Jennifer Kretchmer as DM for Avernus. People that I’d love to play with? All the Dimension 20 people, for sure. And I really love playing with creative, funny people that have never played before. Watching them enjoy it for the first time is so great!
JR: What are you most looking forward to within the TTRPG world?
JM: Although I’m a little afraid of AI, I think it would be super cool to incorporate it into gameplay. Imagine NPCs voiced by AI. You could literally have all the “townspeople” know whatever lore they needed to know, with the DM guiding the progression. I’d like to see how that can help with the storytelling.
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