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.
This week, we are chatting with the insanely talented Riley Silverman. She’s a writer, comedian and fellow professional geek. Silverman is the author of several Star Wars illustrated guides and novelty books, including her upcoming releases Star Wars: Exploring Tatooine: An Illustrated Guide, Star Wars: The Life Day Pop-Up Book and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge: Treasures from Batuu.
In the TTRPG world, Silverman is currently participating in the HappyJacks RPG show Hexbreakers and is GM on a Doctor Who fan RPG called The Game of Rassilon. Most recently, Silverman was nominated for NJ Web Fest Best Supporting Performance for her role as Zelda in the Vampire the Masquerade scripted podcast, Port Saga. Check out everything Silverman had to share about her love for the TTRPG community!
Julia Roth: Let’s chat your TTRPG back story! How did you find yourself at the table?
Riley Silverman: Back in the mid-’90s, I was a freshman in high school and was on a class theater trip, we were having dinner and some wandering time in a nearby mall before the show, and a guy named Seth saw a copy of a Werewolf the Apocalypse book from the World of Darkness setting. He started getting so excited and talking about all the Werewolf games he used to play at his old school, and he basically enthralled a group of us until we insisted on playing it. I then got obsessed; I spent so much allowance money and then paychecks on like every World of Darkness book I could get. Every sourcebook, every class or subclass across any title. I was too impatient to wait between sessions to play, so I started playing in AOL chatrooms.
JR: Favorite world to adventure in?
RS: World of Darkness will always have a special place in my heart. Currently, the Exandria setting from Critical Role that’s been published in a few D&D and independent sourcebooks. Whenever I DM a D&D game now, I set it there. It’s just a lot easier for me to picture and understand it than the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk settings. I’m a fan of playing in different worlds and seeing what’s there. As a player, my favorite world is the one my GM is most passionate about.
JR: Favorite one-shot adventure?
RS: To play in? The Witch is Dead! It’s a perfect intersection of dark and silly for me.
To GM? Probably Lasers and Feelings because it’s so malleable to different genres. It’s a really easy game to just sit down and play without any prep, and there are so many variants, and I’ve even made a few of my own.
JR: Backstory or class first?
RS: Usually class first, because I usually think of the character of who I want to play in the present and then work from there to figure out who they are. I’m less backstory-heavy these days; I prefer just having a few big details that I share with the GM to build the story from and answer any questions they might have, but then finding the character more through roleplay. I used to write really long, intricate backstories, but I found that it often detracted from the story at the table.
I’m a big fan of supplements like Decuma or systems like Kids On Bikes/Brooms that actually build collaborative storytelling into character development. Otherwise, a big thing for me is using a mini builder tool like Hero Forge or an art meme site like Picrew to sort of get a visual bearing of the character and then backstory and other stuff flow from there.
JR: Favorite spell and why?
RS: Heat Metal! It’s often overlooked and definitely can be limited, especially when a DM starts to go out of their way to NOT have baddies wear metal, but it’s just so fun to make someone’s own weapons or armor turn against them.
JR: Who has been your favorite character to play?
RS: Oh gosh, there are so many! My most favorite recent character is a Tempest Cleric named Ashara, whom I played in a campaign that started in 2019. We mostly ended up playing online, especially a lot in early 2020, so we got way more sessions in before everyone got burned out on Zoom games. I normally place “face” characters, but she was a grumpy, stern woman really inspired by the Iron Islanders in Game of Thrones and Nordic archetypes. She was my first Cleric in 5e, and I had a lot of fun with her relationship with her god, Umberlee, who she worshipped out of fear and cultural obligation versus adoration.
JR: Do you have a particular race/class you enjoy?
RS: In my heart of hearts, I’m a Bard, but I’ve very much fallen in love with clerics. The built-in roleplay elements of a deity are very fun. I think a lot of people struggle with clerics because of real-world baggage with religion. I respect that being a reason not to want to play a character, but I find that it can be very fun to think of different types of relationships one can have with their faith in a world where there’s like legitimate, in-your-face proof that the gods are real.
Like Ashara above, When you’re looking at a character who is like, “I have been tasked with serving this vengeful, evil god, so she doesn’t drown my people at sea,” it gives you some fun insights into who that character is, how she views the world, etc. as well as how her culture views the seas in general. People from a cold, harsh region of the world would view the oceans differently than someone living in a temperate, calm climate.
Plus, people who don’t play clerics think of them as just healers, but they’re low-key capable of being very tanky and high damage dealing spellcasters. Clerics are super versatile and able to fit into almost any play style.
JR: Is there something that you build into every character? A fun trait or a special item?
RS: Probably not on purpose, but I’m sure if I looked deep into my characters, I’d probably find stuff. I guess I consider all of my characters queer and usually are trans unless specifically stated otherwise because RPGs were such an important part of my younger days figuring out my identity. So, it means something to keep that going now that I’m comfortably living as myself. Plus, TTRPGs are usually telling the kind of stories I don’t often see characters like me in, so I like putting them into the world, even if it’s just at a home game table.
JR: What is your favorite system to play within?
RS: I think I default to D&D 5e easiest because it’s the system most people who play TTRPGs are familiar with. I really like the Powered by the Apocalypse system and have played in a lot of fun settings using it. It’s great to have a little bit of crunch to my system, and I don’t find it as limiting to a good story as some players do. I find that sometimes good story specifically comes from the rails and limits. But I think PbtA games do a really good job of sort of finding that middle ground between enough crunch to feel like you’re playing a TTRPG game while still leaving a lot more open for crafting shared narratives.
JR: Tell us about the wildest adventure you have been on?
RS: As a DM, I was running a Theros campaign, which is a setting inspired by Ancient Greece versus medieval times, and we were doing a special streaming show for charity. So I told the players they were getting a day off and going to an island off the coast for some R&R, but it ended up being an island under a curse by three hags that turned the whole thing into a musical, and I had a plot that was a twisted take on Mamma Mia. I wrote a bunch of parodies of ABBA lyrics that were connected to the things the characters had or were dealing with. It was very, very fun.
JR: What has been your most impactful moment at a table?
RS: In the Rat Queens show I did for HyperRPG, based on the comic of the same name, as we were getting close to the finale, we had a few episodes where Michelle Ngyuen Bradley, who played Betty, was going to be absent so our GM, Emily Rose Jacobson, actually killed Betty during a big battle scene. Out of character, we all kinda knew Michelle was coming back for the finale and Betty would get revived, but gosh, when it happened at the table, I think we were all so far in it that we were breaking down crying at the table. I remember Michelle got up and left the table, and that broke me a bit.
JR: Favorite dice to use?
RS: All. Give me all the math rocks; I will never be satisfied.
JR: Would you rather face off against an entire dungeon of undead or charm your way through a royal court?
RS: Royal court any day. Give me that sweet, sweet roleplay.
JR: Favorite TTRPG Monster?
RS: Probably the Gelatinous Cube. I even have a Funko POP toy of one that has a POP skull inside of it. One of my faves. I’m also partial to Mimics because I stan a monster that makes everyone on edge before touching anything.
JR: Good luck charms or rituals before a game?
RS: I’m far too disorganized for that. The closest thing would be maybe “charging” my dice by placing them at their highest number before rolling.
JR: Who is sitting at your dream table?
RS: I got to run a wild, wild game last summer during The Suicide Squad’s junket, where I ran a game for Nathan Fillion, Flula Borg and Michael Rooker. I don’t think that even felt like a thing to dream about before it happened, but it was a blast, and something would have to be equally as weird to top it. Obviously, I’d love to be a guest on Critical Role or one of their side-project shows, which is like saying you want to play for the Yankees or compete at EuroVision at this point.
But I think my honest answer is my fellow Rat Queens, Michelle, Emily, Jessica Lynn Verdi, Aliza Pearl and Laurie Jones. We had such a great table, and I really enjoy playing with those ladies so much. Whenever I have the opportunity to put a table together, they’re always among my first choices. I dream of playing together with all of them again in that or another game.
JR: What are you most looking forward to within the TTRPG world?
RS: It just keeps getting more and more diverse, and I am here for it. Especially as it gets queerer and queerer.
From a creative standpoint, I love seeing all the different settings that can come out of it. Especially when people are designing fantasy worlds based on their own cultural backgrounds versus the default European medieval that has been centered in the genre for decades and decades. Stuff like Islands of Sina Una and Into the Mother Lands. I love and enjoy and will continue to enjoy medieval fantasy but expanding the realms of our imagination is always good, and letting authentic voices do it can lead to some incredible new stories.
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