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.
Check your weapons at the door and settle in for another fireside chat. This week we have to absolute pleasure to discuss all things TTRPG with the incredible Tara Ochs. She fell in love with Dungeons and Dragons at a young age before expanding into the ever-growing world of TTRPGs. When she isn’t at the table, Tara is a producer, comedy improviser, and voice-over artist. She can be found on Selma and Too Many Cooks or performing live comedy at Dad’s Garage in Atlanta. And for those who love Tara’s voice, we highly suggest checking out IHeart’s new #1 podcast, Mantawauk Caves.
Julia Roth: Let’s chat your TTRPG backstory! How did you find yourself at the table?
Tara Ochs: So, my first taste of D&D was in the 80s, when I was around 13 years old… I somehow decided that Dungeons and Dragons meant exactly that, and so I would draw out ‘dungeons’ on graph paper, and then like an analog MUD, I would describe the rooms to my brother (There’s a door to the north and east and a rug on the floor). And then he would tell me what he wanted to do. HINT: Look under the rug.
In 2016 Pathfinder got my friends’ attention for some reason and a gaming group was formed. We’ve been playing weekly ever since, and I’ve GMed a few times for them. We’ve played Pathfinder set in Forgotten Realms (don’t ask, I was also SUPER confused), Star Wars (EoE), Marvel (the old TSR version), and now DCC.
JR: Favorite world to adventure in?
TO: Star Wars Galaxy… its endless, and directly references the movies I’ve always loved. We even had a character that came from the Willow universe. It’s also much more accessible for folks who don’t have TTRPG experience because thanks to pop culture they DEFINITELY know how deadly Darth Vader is.
JR: Favorite one-shot adventure?
TO: Recently I played a beta test of the Chew RPG (Forged in the Dark) which is lovingly based on one of my favorite comics (John Layman, Rob Guillory). I’m patiently waiting for that Rulebook to be released. It was a Foodie Crime Drama RPG, and so hilariously fun.
Follow-up goes to Brindlewood Bay (Sorry, I don’t remember the names of the specific adventures!)
JR: How has working in improv and voice acting affected your gameplay style?
TO: I actually taught an Improv for RPGs class last year! It’s a critical skill set for GMs especially, as it puts collaboration as the foundation of the player’s mindset, as opposed to competition. And of course, you know I give every single NPC a unique voice, but because I’ve worked in audiobooks for so long, I know how to make the kind of vocal choices that give more information about a character. For example, if the NPC sounds like Alan Rickman, he’s probably a bad guy that will eventually turn good.
JR: Backstory or class first?
TO: CLASS 100%… I don’t like to build too much backstory, probably because I’m lazy, but also as a GM this sounds so stressful to try and manage everyone’s backstories and make them all part of the story. (I’m admittedly too anxiety-ridden to ever be a really great GM.)
JR: Favorite spell and why?
TO: Anything in DCC, because that whole system is hilariously specific and endlessly unpredictable. Otherwise, Charm Person – every time anyone casts it the whole table joyfully groans and leans in.
JR: Who has been your favorite character to play?
TO: I have to shout out my Improv D&D character Greta Girthammer (LG Dwarf Fighter), who just had twins so I’m not sure what’s next for her… Interestingly, when I first started playing her the joke was that she was “Lawful Horny”… but as I’ve grown as a player and comedian, I’ve started to really shy away from putting her in this objectified position. She has really become for me an exploration of feminine empowerment.
JR: Do you have a particular race/class you enjoy?
TO: As the lone girl in so many groups, I have often been relegated to the healer… but I also kind of like that role. Though more recently that dynamic has really changed, which is nice. And ELF ftw.
JR: Is there something that you build into every character? A fun trait or a special item?
TO: The voice is the most critical thing for me. And then I’ll hop on Pinterest and Deviant Art looking for visual inspiration based on the race and class.
JR: What is your favorite system to play within?
TO: Dungeon Crawl Classics from Goodman Games. Since I came to the D&D world relatively recently, I am really interested in getting the old-school experience, the way D&D was played in the early years. It’s neat to learn about what inspired so much of the content we now think of as standard/classic D&D.
JR: You are pretty familiar with podcasts, have you ever thought of running your own TTRPG podcast?
TO: ALL THE TIME. For a hot minute, we were running a Twitch-based Improv D&D show, but I do find the emotional tension of dice-rolling is pretty vital to the appreciation of the game. And you can’t HEAR a nat-20. I think I’d love to host a game with kids and their grown-ups… I really enjoy listening to folks who aren’t necessarily experts.
JR: Tell us about the wildest adventure you have been on?
TO: I once did a LARP at GenCon that ‘went South’… It’s a longer story than this article probably has space for, but for me, it was one of the most interesting nights of gameplay I’ve ever had. Within two hours half the players had left, and the half that stayed basically mutinied against the game itself and held an emotional debrief. It was a weirdly meta-gaming experience. Albeit unintentionally, we ended up playing out a warped social experiment. Humans are FASCINATING.
JR: What has been your most impactful moment at a table?
TO: I was playing a one-shot at GenCon, on a Sunday morning, and there were only two other players, both also middle-aged women, at the table. The GM was late, and I wasn’t sure we were even going to get to play… I’ll be honest, I totally judged everyone at that table. And I was so wrong. Those two women, and the late but talented GM, were three of the best role-players I’ve ever met. They blew my mind. You never know what someone can bring to a story.
JR: Favorite dice to use?
TO: The DCC unusual dice set is another reason to go Goodman!
JR: Would you rather face off against an entire dungeon of undead or charm your way through a royal court?
TO: I think we know its Charm, right?
JR: Favorite TTRPG monster?
TO: Dragon. First, Last, Best. So versatile, so deadly, so CUTE!
JR: Good luck charms or rituals before a game?
TO: Paper and pencil, no matter what. I like to doodle while I game.
JR: Who is sitting at your dream table?
JR: What are you most looking forward to within the TTRPG world?
TO: GenCon. Every time I get invited to test a new game or play with new people, I’m always thrilled. And seriously can’t wait for the Chew game to come out.
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