THE GROGNARD FILES is a popular podcast that discusses RPG from back in the day – North West England in the 1980s, to be precise – as well as more recent games. We caught up with genial host DIRK THE DICE for a quick chat...
STARBURST: How did the podcast come into being?
Dirk The Dice: It was originally conceived as a written memoir of our experiences playing role-playing games in the ‘80s. Back then, we were living the life that has been popularised by Stranger Things - patrolling our neighbourhood on our bikes while playing Dungeons & Dragons in our den. STARBURST was actually responsible for us getting into the hobby as it was an article in your magazine that explained how to play Fantasy Roleplaying games! It was written by Steve Jackson, one of the founders of Games Workshop and a writer who would go on to create the Fighting Fantasy books. We had great fun recalling our lives in ‘80s Bolton, and the strangeness of thinking that you were the only people playing role-playing games, and having to search the small ads in White Dwarf magazine for other players. Blythy and I have been friends since we were twelve and thought it would be good to capture some of our chats; the podcast format felt more immediate, and I think the reason it’s popular is that we have one foot in the past and the other in what’s happening today.
So you cover the contemporary gaming scene too...
Yes, but through the prism of nostalgia. We’re discovering some of the developments in RPGs over the past 30 years since we last played, but we never give an opinion on a game we haven’t played; we’re not collectors, so we’re not going to obsess over different editions – play is the thing, so when we get a game, we want to understand how it fits within the context of gaming history. Night’s Black Agents, for example, is interesting as it’s a game that emulates cinematic spy-craft, but with vampires. Jason Bourne against Dracula! It’s fresh and new, but you can definitely trace elements of the James Bond RPG that came out in the mid-‘80s. Podcasts are an aural fanzine, so we format it in a similar way as a magazine with regular features: Open Box is where we reflect on a game from back in the day - our nostalgic memories of it compared with what we think about playing it today; Judge Blythy Rules, is where our Rules Lawyer does a deep delve into the system rules; Gamesmaster’s Screen is where we pick random topics to discuss; in Starburst Memories, we reflect on some of the influences back in the day. There are also interviews and sample play. The podcast has been compared to the late-night Mark and Lard show in the ‘90s, but with less Nick Cave and more Runequest. That’s the mood we want: taking the subject seriously, but not ourselves.
Things have changed so much since the 1980s, especially with the advent of the Internet...
It’s been a fantastic way to reconnect with some of the people who were engaged with the hobby back in the day – such as Paul Cockburn [editor of Imagine magazine] and Tim Olsen [manager of Games Workshop’s Hammersmith store], but the most rewarding element is making connections with people around the country, and the world, who had similar experiences to us with the world of gaming. There’s a community that has built around the podcast; people are rediscovering the hobby, sharing their experiences and, perhaps more importantly, playing the games again. I started talking about vintage gaming on Twitter around the same time that Daily Dwarf started posting images from when the magazine featured RPGs. We struck up a dialogue and he agreed to submit to the podcast. His wonderfully witty and detailed examinations of the coverage in the magazine are the highlight of the month when they land in the in-box. I like how the internet has diversified the hobby with games to satisfy all tastes, covering every genre and style you can imagine. I don’t understand the hostility I see sometimes on forums; who has the right to determine the ‘right way to play’? Be nice. Be inclusive. It’s meant to be fun for everyone.
What else has developed from the podcast?
Every November we have the GROGMEET in Manchester – a small convention kindly hosted by Fan Boy Three, with over twenty-five games on offer from the early days of role-playing right up until the present day. In April we run a similar event online; playing games this way has given our participation in the hobby a new lease of life. There’s also the blog at www.thegrognardfiles.com.
What can we expect this year from the podcast?
Along with Ed, we’re looking at some of the films and TV programmes that influenced us back in the day, against the background of political and popular culture changes. We’ve just released a GROGGLEBOX podcast about Robin of Sherwood and we have another coming soon about Blake’s Seven.
Listeners can contribute to Patreon - what are the rewards?
Having the crowd-sourced ‘tips’ from listeners has been a great help as it’s covered production costs and allowed us to fund other projects like GROGMEET. We produce an annual fanzine as a gift to Patreons around the world, in the style of the ‘zines we used to enjoy, which includes the Daily Dwarf essays and an exclusive cover produced by Russ Nicolson.
This feature was designed to highlight one of our favourite podcasts each issue, are there any shows that you’d like to recommend to the readers?
There’s a wonderful catalogue of podcasts from Mr Jim Moon under the Hypnogoria stable that are detailed examinations of the strange and wonderful. When it comes to gaming, the UK has some really great RPG podcasts, including What Would the Smart Party Do? which has conversation and interviews about major gaming topics. Good Friends of Jackson Elias is a great podcast about horror gaming and horror films.
THE GROGNARD FILES can be found on Spotify and iTunes. For more information on the show, visit WWW.THEGROGNARDFILES.COM
[This article was originally published in STARBURST #460, May 2019. For that back issue and others, visit www.starburstmagazine.com/store]