Now for something a little different. I have long been passionate about different types of art and their purveyors. So begins the “Artist to Artist” series.
Mike Ellison is a colleague of mine who I am lucky enough to work with in a completely different capacity as we are both customer service supervisors at HomeAway. We are also fellow artists, hence this post!
I sat down with Mike “Danger” Ellison who is one of the hosts of a Dungeons and Dragons podcast called “Adventure Incorporated” and they are heading into their third year. You can find it here
For those who don’t know- Dungeons and Dragons –
Dungeons & Dragons (abbreviated as D&D) is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG) originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. It was first published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. (TSR). The game has been published by Wizards of the Coast (now a subsidiary of Hasbro) since 1997. It was derived from miniature wargames with a variation of Chainmail serving as the initial rule system. D&D‘s publication is commonly recognized as the beginning of modern role-playing games and the role-playing game industry.
As is so often the case, when you take the time to learn a little bit more about the people you work with every day, you peel away quite the onion layer. It’s pretty fitting that Mike was my first interview as this whole series was sparked by a casual walk and talk at work.
What follows is our chat about D and D, art and the artist, and truth and passion in podcasting.
Professor Haston (PH)- What is your name Mike “Danger” Ellison all about?
Mike Ellison (ME)- Well, my mom named me in accordance with her “rediscovery of God” so in pursuit of giving me a name that was religious, she picked Michael David, instead of Jesus Christ. I noticed on my social security card it said, Michael D and because I was a 12 year old buffoon, I started calling myself “Mike Danger Ellison” .
PH- How long have you been playing D and D? What appeals to you about it?
ME– 22 years – It all started in Gifted and Talented program, part of an independent study for “Odyssey of the Mind” because we were bored with regular school. I love love stories. I think fiction is the greatest invention of humanity. I really love storytelling and think that when people can come together to tell a story it is the pinnacle of human achievement.
PH- How has it evolved for you? Have you ever taken a hiatus?
ME- When it started out, this was the dorkiest thing you could do. People would admit to video games and reading comics and writing fan fiction and I love sci-fi but I WOULD NEVER play D and D! So people were willing to do a bunch of other things but no one was willing to say “Let’s roll some dice!” I changed high schools and went from age 13 (this was when we had a silly and stupid storylines) to about age 22 (where storylines were only SLIGHTLY elevated) with no D and D games. In 2008, Fourth Edition was released and everyone was talking about how easy it was to play with the advent of this release. People were playing World of Warcraft and everything around D and but took the mechanics and streamlined the game. My friend Charlie put together a game for me and my girlfriend and some friends to play when I was 25 and we played that for six months and then the group fell apart. It’s pretty common for games to fall apart after a few sessions.
PH- What happened to bring you back to it?
ME- Fifth Edition came out, I got super excited about it and decided I was going to run a game with a bunch of people at work. I bought all the stuff and spent way too much money and someone I worked with started a game using Pathfinder (not Fourth Edition) and it lasted about two years. We played every week because we worked together and it helped make us a lot more accountable. Life changed again, but I really wanted to play Fifth Edition so I pretty much bullied all my friends and girlfriend into coming over to play my “shiny new thing” and I said, “So come over and we will do a thing and if you hate it, we will never do it again, and if you love it, you are welcome” and they LOVED it. The game fell apart after a couple of months, so I was without D and D again.
PH- So what led to the birth of the podcast?
ME– Well, a great and close friend of mine from college, Anthony, we find all the same things funny. Smart and dumb things, we both think it’s hilarious in the same way. We just “get” each other and he happened to play D and D too. I reached out to him and said, “I want to play D and D Fifth Edition and I want to play with you.” At the same time, a buddy of ours was going through a super rough time and was a former D and D player. I posted recaps on social media and he reached out and was always commenting and asking questions about it since he couldn’t play locally, this was our way of helping him and solidifying an already deep friendship but we had to all commit to getting together every other week at a certain time. This is common in every group of friends, unless you have something keeping you accountable, you are just as likely to sit in your underwear watching the latest Flash episode. We knew that if we didn’t have a common goal it would NOT happen. Something will always come up, unless you are properly motivated. Anthony offered to DM the game and I was super relieved cause I just wanted to play. So knowing the group of friends and how stage hungry and attention driven they all are, we came up with the idea to do a podcast to record us playing the game every other week, which is hard, because sometimes every other Sunday is Christmas, or your mom’s birthday, or someone is in surgery. One of the players is a doctor, so as you might imagine he can’t commit to anything, so routinely we get messages from him bowing out due to his whole life-saving thing, so no problem, they created a mechanic in the game to play for him that will die and then come back as a new character. We wanted him to play so bad so we made it work.
PH- How does the podcast work? What are the mechanics? Do you think about your audience?
ME: So there are five players and the DM, so six of us total.
Here they are!
We all record our audio (using various forms of microphones and in one case a shoddy internet connection on a phone from the Dominican Republic) and send it to the DM who mixes it down and uploads it. We play over skype, and being able to see each other while we talk is invaluable. I know it seems super obvious but the first year and a half we played and recorded without looking at each other but after a year or so, we started to figure it out. We are just a few weeks away from our “Adventure March” which is the celebration of our anniversary. We do a thing for the anniversary every year. One year we did dice bags with our logo.
Check it out!
This year some super fun stuff is coming up. A coloring contest! We will send out black and white drawings (that were made by fans of the podcast) so people can color them. This community is so awesome.
PH- How do you deal with haters?
ME- It’s super easy. Sounds like this isn’t your show. There are tons of other podcasts and maybe you should go listen to those other shows.
PH- So how does doing improv and playing D and D intersect?
ME- I had been improvising in town with ColdTowne Improv and was curious about getting back onstage and doing more scripted work. Playing D and D is kind of like the intersection of those two things because you’ve developed this character and you don’t know what’s going to happen but you know everything about that character and so as long as you are true to who that character is, you are basically playing out a script even if it hasn’t been written yet. I think D and D is a interesting middle ground between improv and scripted work because of that.
PH- What is your favourite thing about the show?
ME- I love hanging out with my favourite people doing my favourite thing. I love telling a story together that is the type of story that I want to hear. We don’t really worry about what the listeners might want to hear, we are playing our game. It’s knowing I have a creative outlet and knowing it will always be there. Knowing that the rest of the team are all conceptually aligned. Going into Year 4, and super strong.
PH- What do you do to stir the creative process? So how do you approach your character?
ME- As a player, my job is a lot easier than the person running things. Anthony (our DM) has to do a lot of collaborating since the players will do something completely different than what he had in mind and then he has to roll with it and find a way to make it work. As players, we all have different styles of play. Personally, I think a lot about what Jebeddo (my character) does in between (also called the moment before) like what steps he is going through (mentally) in his head. Just before the show starts, Steph (Jennuevera) (her character) usually does a recap about what happened and then in between we will talk about the show all the time.
PH- What’s next for the intrepid explorers?
ME- We are going to Dragon Con in August and have submitted our application for panels there so keep watching for updates on that…
PH- What’s the most important part of the creative process for you?
ME- The Doing. It’s all the Improv 101 stuff. Being sure you are reacting honestly and being vulnerable and being true to the character that you have created. It’s all the stuff you get told on stage whether improvising or scripted work and all the rest can go up in smoke and as long as you are true to that character, it’s still really listenable. If everyone’s acting within character something nice is going to come out of that moment. Overall, I think it’s also important to talk about the three conversations. The conversation of Character to Character, Actor to Actor and Actors to Audience. I think keeping that in mind through the show is crucial. The nice thing about podcast is you can often have that conversation Actor to Actor after the show. **** SPOILER ALERT*** In a recent episode, one of the characters (Gillik) is being tempted and the other characters are HATING it and reacting accordingly, so after it was over the actor was said, “hey guys, I can tone it down” and we were all saying. “No, it’s awesome” it makes it so much richer that we hate this thing that your character is doing so keep moving through it in a way that makes sense to your character. On stage, you can’t have that conversation, being able to talk Actor to Actor about it, opens it up.
PH- Who is your favourite artist? Why?
ME- Oh. Heavy.. hmm like everything? John Darnielle- The Mountain Goats- He has recorded over 600 songs and ALL of them are different. He has a massive creative brain. His most recent album was called Goths and growing up goth. Another record is all about wrestling. The next album has no guitars on it at all. The album before that was his favourite bible verses. Very excited about his next album which is all about Dungeons and Dragons. How is that for a segue? 🙂
PH- What inspires you?
ME- Honesty. Honesty inspires me. It’s so refreshing for people to just be honest and open. Watching that happen makes me want to create more. In addition to that, passion. I think it’s so important to me that people care about what they do.
I couldn’t agree more, Mike!
The podcast is Adventure Incorporated; it can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Podbean… basically, anywhere you can download a podcast from? We’re on it.
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Come and join our Discord Server
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Check out our website adventureincpod.com
Don’t forget to rate/review/subscribe!
Before this interview, my only exposure to D and D was my mom, who plays and is super awesome for many reasons. I hope I have faithfully reported the world and done it justice.
My final thought is this. The next time you hear a term you don’t fully understand, instead of being afraid to admit it, open your mind and your eyes to a brand new world, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find out.
Think About It.