Welcome to the first in our series of spotlights on the performers and producers of Casters and Cantrips! Today we talk to Chris Bailey, the player behind Donovaine DeMonet, fire genasi bard and king of the one-liners.
RP: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
CB: I was born and raised in Norwich, England and moved to the US when I turned eighteen. I've bounced around the US since, starting out in California and gradually moving Eastward until I finally moved to NYC in 2014. It's been my lifelong goal to pursue a career in theater or the performing arts in a wider sense, and that's what I came out here to try and accomplish...and then immediately landed in the tech industry instead. Now I'm finally starting to take steps back in that direction, which has been an exciting and terrifying experience.
RP: When/why did you start playing RPGs?
CB: The first RPG I remember playing was the old Warhammer Fantasy RPG - I have a recollection of going through that book in my Grandparents' house with my cousin and little brother. Growing up in the UK in the 90s, Warhammer and Warhammer 40k were extremely popular, so a great deal of time (and basically all of my birthday/Christmas money...) went into the world of tabletop wargaming.
It wasn't until years after that I found people to return to the tabletop with, at which point I started playing Changeling and D&D 4th Edition. That caused me to rediscover the love for it and it's only grown ever since.
As for the why, I've always held a massive love for fantasy writing and worlds in general, especially the more whimsical aspects of them - my favourite author of all time is Terry Pratchett, basically the UR-example of that. I've also always loved the role of the storyteller and beyond that, enjoy little more than collaborative creation. RPGs scratch all of those itches perfectly.
RP: What are some of your favorite RPG systems to play?
CB: I prefer different systems for different things. Overall, I default mostly to D&D 5e - I really love the way it's struck a balance between combat mechanics and roleplay accessibility. I'm also a big fan of the World of Darkness setting if I'm in the mood for something more roleplay-heavy, particularly Changeling. What I'm really keen to try out is the Dresden Files RPG system, which I've never been able to find a group for - I'm absolutely in love with the Dresden Files series and the collaborative worldbuilding approach that RPG takes is really intriguing to me.
RP: How do you find people to play with?
CB: With great difficulty. As much as I love living in NYC, I understand the feeling of being alone in a sea of people more than ever after moving here. My solution? Become a DM! I'm fortunate in that I work with some absolutely amazing people who were extremely receptive when I raised the prospect of running a game after hours at work...which also made getting the group together far easier.
...now I'm running two.
Beyond that, I found people to play with through shared interests. At last year's New York Comic-Con I attended a meetup for fans of Critical Role, where I met people who have become wonderful friends of mine as well as a new gaming group. I've also joined a few discord servers for that purpose (particular shout out to the excellent community Satine Phoenix has been building in Gilding Lights) and while I simply haven't had the time to add another game into my schedule, I've seen a lot of people find success that way.
RP: Do you prefer being a DM or a player?
CB: I like to strike a balance. I LOVE being a DM but I cannot really handle more than one game at a time in that role - right now I'm running my own homebrew campaign as well as Waterdeep: Dragon Heist which is a huge amount to manage. I couldn't do it if Dragon Heist weren't such a well laid out module. So with that going I currently prefer to join new games as a player for my own sanity. Should I ever wind up not actively DMing though, my preference would shift and I'd want to find a game where I could do that.
I just want to do everything, y'know?'
RP: What was the process like transitioning from player to DM? What were your biggest challenges and your best surprises?
CB: Shifting to being a DM was honestly a LOT easier than I anticipated at first. I prepared myself by binging a lot of Matt Colville's "Running The Game" series, which I highly recommend for any new DM - it takes a lot of the nerves away and really helps pull you out of your own head. That was my biggest challenge - getting caught up in the death spiral of worrying so much about having to know everything, having to be responsible for everyone's enjoyment...which is just unhelpful. Once I actually started something just...clicked. It really helps that I have great, engaged players who respect my setting the expectation that up front that if we're unclear on a rule, I'll make a call in the moment and we can look it up later for future. Keeping the flow of the game going is by far the more important thing, in my opinion. What I will also say is that my improv experience is really paying dividends as a DM - while it's far from a requirement, I highly recommend anyone who is looking to DM long term try to take an improv class - not only will it make you a better DM, improv is just FUN.
RP: Do you play board games at all? What are some of your favorites and why?
CB: I absolutely do! I actually keep my collection at work these days, where I've taken on the role of librarian for a shared collection that other coworkers have been bringing in their own games to help grow. I'm a big fan of Betrayal at House on the Hill (though the time commitment makes it a little harder to get people to play that one...), due to the shifting nature - I love games that change up things frequently, and I find Betrayal to be fantastic for that. Recently, I've also developed a great fondness for Villainous and the various expansions. Why Villainous? Because it actually features Disney's Robin Hood. Which is one of my favourite movies of all time and is amazing and never gets enough love and I will die on this hill, fight me.
RP: How did you get involved with Casters and Cantrips?
CB: Remember that gaming group I mentioned? The one I found through the Critical Role meetup? Well, Anne is also in that gaming group. She's the one who approached me about getting involved - we'd talked about my return to performing and my experience with improv which luckily for me, made her think I could be a good fit for Casters and Cantrips. When she mentioned it to me, I jumped at the chance. Poor Anne, she knows not what she has done...
Terrible puns are always so much more satisfying to make when you have the largest captive audience possible.
RP: What was your character creation process like?
CB: I like to use my characters to explore concepts that I either find interesting, or to help figure out something I'm struggling with inside my own head. Donovaine is a mix of both of those. In this case, I wanted to try and do something to break out of my comfort zone - historically I almost always play rogues, or bold swashbucklers (I have something of a deep love for pirate mythology). Usually chaotic good, really fitting the Robin Hood archetype. Donovaine is...not that. At all. With Donovaine, I want to explore someone who got a taste of what they were after but fell slightly short and has settled where he is. I also really wanted to try something different, so the idea of a bard who doesn't play music came to me and was something that really resonated - particularly as someone who loves theater and performing but can't sing a note myself. There's a lot more to this that I'm not going to go into right now because there's aspects to the character that will only be revealed as the game goes on. Guess people will just have to watch to find out, huh?
RP: What are you most looking forward to for Casters and Cantrips?
CB: Exploring the world Miles has put together, while seeing how this band of...let's face it, idiots, comes together. Miles has been playing a lot of things close to his chest so far, but I'm really fascinated by the things he has explained to us and I can't wait to get to exploring it. I'm also a natural extrovert (despite being fairly quiet in personal interactions) and love getting to know new people - so the fact that out of everyone at the table, Anne is the only one I've ever gamed with before is extremely exciting to me.
RP: How do you think the interactive audience will make this game different than a “traditional” D&D game?
CB: I have absolutely no idea and I cannot wait to find out! I did wonder if the audience would make me feel more inclined to "mug for the crowd" but...let's be honest, as anyone who has ever had the (mis)fortune to be at a gaming table with me can attest, I generally tend to do that anyway! I'm very keen to see how the favours and wand votes work out...
RP: Do you have any advice for people just starting out with RPGs?
CB: Don't overthink it. RPG systems are extremely complicated and you're going to make mistakes - that's okay! Just let the DM make a call (or if you're the DM, make it!) to keep the game rolling and look it up later if you need to. At the end of the day as long as everyone at the table is having fun, that's really the only thing that matters. Also - if you have a group that wants to play but can't find a DM, please just jump in and DM yourself! I was terrified to do it at first myself, but when I finally took the plunge I found it's an incredible amount of fun. I know I screw up rules all the time, but I learn and grow from it - and some of my most memorable experiences at the table now have been from behind the DM's screen.