The Zine Scene Interviews – Sanctum Secorum
By Daniel J. Bishop
Sanctum Secorum was the second major DCC podcast, with its first episode posted on 9 October, 2015. Each episode discusses a work of Appendix N literature (or related) and comes with an Episode Companion, a free e-zine that contains content which often reflects the work discussed in the podcast. The Companions are written by the cast of Sanctum Secorum, but contain a wealth of community-driven content as well. They are all available here, completely free of charge. Between regular podcast episodes and specials, the Sanctum Secorum Episode Companions are easily the most prolific DCC zine in existence.
Today we are talking to Marc Bruner, David Baity, Jen Brinkman, and Bob Brinkman – the fantastic “Judges B” responsible for this excellent podcast and zine.
Daniel: How did you get started in gaming, and in DCC particularly?
David: At the wee age of 8 I had an older friend in the neighborhood introduce me to D&D. It was love at first dice roll. 41 years later and I’ve never not been involved in an RPG.
Bob: I started gaming when I changed grade schools in 1977, and it was the primary social activity. I soon had OD&D, the Holmes Blue Box, and the AD&D books as they were released. We sorta mashed them all together. I started playing DCC when one of my Call of Cthulhu players (Big Troy Tucker) introduced us to it on Free RPG Day, the year of the release. We had a blast!
Jen: Despite being exposed to AD&D when I was in grade school, I never played. Then, in 1995, I discovered that this role-playing thing was no different than taking on a character in historical reenactments – and I had no desire to be left at home, much less to become a gaming widow, so I jumped in head-first and my first tabletop RPG (thanks to Bob) was Call of Cthulhu. As for DCC RPG, full credit goes to Troy, as he roped me into playing a cleric in The Undulating Corruption on Free RPG Day 2012…and twenty minutes in, I told Bob, “This is it. This is the one I’m going to run.”
Marc: Two origin stories. I had some older cousins that we might see every couple of years. I distinctly remember one visit around 1979 when I was about 5 or 6 where one night they were playing a game I had never heard of before called Dungeons and Dragons. They were teenagers then, and I remember it being a big deal that I asked if I could stay up and play. It felt like I was sojourning into this cool grown up world. I don’t recall much about that game other than I played a dwarf and that I loved my cousins for it, but it was my first experience with RPGs.
Fast-forward 30 years or so to 2012 and a friend who had recently got me back into gaming after a long hiatus pitched running a old-school style game for a small group of us, and DCC was one of the systems he was considering running. I think his exact words were “there’s a fairly recent ‘reimagining’ of D&D called Dungeon Crawl Classics that is a bit more gonzo that also has my attention.” That brief bit intrigued me, and after he sent some of the rules for us to look through I was enthralled with the feel of the system. We almost skipped the funnel, but I remember the night of our first session pushing to try it out, and we just had a blast staying up late and playing through Portal Under the Stars. I felt like I was a 5 year old kid again.
Daniel: Well, we are all glad that you did start gaming, and that you chose to promote Dungeon Crawl Classics! As I said in the intro, the Sanctum Secorum Episode Companions are, by far, the most prolific zine for DCC. How did the podcast come about?
Jen: Funny story, that. Judge Jim [Wampler] kind of hoodwinked me into it, telling me we needed to get another DCC podcast going [besides Spellburn] and that I needed to come up with a concept and format. Bob was the audio guy from the start, but after Jim’s experience with DMs Mike & Liz on Save or Die, he knew we would work well on-air as a husband/wife team. Bob (who has, admittedly, been the driving force behind the show for the past three years) and I spent a good month or three tossing show ideas back & forth, hashing out details, and ultimately getting the blessing of the Dark Master – with surprising gusto! My top picks for the other co-host spot(s) were David Baity and Marc Bruner. (In retrospect, I did get both of my choices!) We all fit different molds as judges and have different methods of prepping for games, and I think we highlight these for the audience.
Daniel: The format of the podcast is to pick an Appendix N work, or something related, discuss it, and then consider how it can be used for gaming. You also pair each piece of fiction with a gaming product for DCC. Was Appendix N always important to you?
David: Unfortunately not. I wish I had been more into fantasy back then, but for some reason I didn’t really read it. I was more into horror.
Jen: Only since getting into DCC. I’d unwittingly read a few influential pieces (Lovecraft) before then, but I didn’t grow up knowing the term.
Bob: Sort of? I was a bit of a precocious child so I was reading Shakespeare and Niven by the age of 9. I’d torn through most of Appendix N before really knowing it was a “thing”. I kept expanding my reading horizons through the science fiction book club (I miss those old book clubs, 10 for a penny) and everything else I could get my hands on. So, I don’t know as it was “important” so much as that I read a LOT and I tore through everything I could find that I enjoyed.
Marc: No – my early reading skewed more towards Sci Fi than fantasy, and I didn’t really pay attention to Appendix N until much later in life. I did read some of the authors on Gygax’s list just in the course of exploring what I liked, but until the Sanctum project I didn’t intentionally pursue reading from it.
Daniel: So, in a way, you really are exploring some of these works for the first time! What was your favorite episode so far?
David: Everyone I was on, silly.
Marc: The first one I did, episode 21. I loved The Dying Earth when I first picked it up several years ago, and I felt really passionate about creating something from it for the companion.
Bob: Wow…ask me to name my favorite kid. Hmm… I guess I’d say the “Movie Night” episode, dealing with The Raven. Knowing how influential that movie was to the creation of some of the D&D spells and how that, in turn, influenced DCC spells was really fun to explore. Seeing the spells as Gary had when envisioning the spells was a true look into the history of RPGs. Plus, the movie was a LOT of fun. But there are a lot of other episodes that I really enjoyed working on:
- The Lankhmar episode (#23) gave me a chance to publish the neighborhood from the Lankhmar playtest
- Having Ernie Gygax as a guest over a two part episode (episode #22a and episode #22b), talking to him about Appendix N and his father’s favorites on the list offered another rare glimpse into the history of the industry.
- The Lovecraft episode (#9), because…come on! Lovecraft. My library of Lovecraftian fiction is only surpassed by my collection of Lovecraftian cinema…both are extensive and Call of Cthulhu is still the other RPG system that I’m truly passionate about.
- The Dying Earth episode, for now-obvious reasons.
Jen: Tough call! The first episode, while we were still trying to get our footing, resulted in feedback from Joseph Goodman that will go down in infamy among us: “… tell Dave Baity his idea of leaving out rotting meat for the odor during a game is both disgusting and brilliant.” I am also very fond of episode 3. Poe was one of the authors beyond Appendix N that Goodman suggested we dig into, and we had our first guest host, Stephen Newton. Since then, there have been a number of shows in which we’re all very animated and excited about the topic and it’s hard to shut us up. I almost always come away from those with a newfound appreciation for the author or work at hand.
Daniel: With over 40 episodes in the can, that is a real walk down memory lane. I hope that if any Gentle Readers haven’t listened to those episodes, that they go back and do the full run! I also have to say that I love the episode companions. How did those come to be?
Jen: Again, pretty sure that was totally Bob. During our first episode, we were chatting about putting stats together for items found in Margaret St. Clair’s The Shadow People. Addercorn was an obvious choice. Next thing I know, he’s got all three of us statting up this addercorn! We all had different takes on it, which is just one more illustration of how things needn’t be set in stone in DCC.
Daniel: Any favorite gaming anecdotes you would like to share? (If these include material from the Companions, so much the better!)
Marc: The DCC group I mentioned before petered out after 4 or 5 sessions, but I couldn’t get the system out of my system, as it were. I ended up going to Gen Con the next year in 2013 via some unrelated events – my first convention in decades – and I decided to sign up for some DCC games to check it out again. Back then it must have been easier to get into games because I ended up getting tickets for Frozen in Time run by Michael Curtis. I remember it being a transformative experience to watch him run. First, the table was packed with 8 or 9 people, and he handled it with ease. I also remember thinking “he is standing up the whole time!” Then at one point one of the players triggered a Time Pad artifact that sent him to another world. Mike’s solution was to have the player get up and join Harley Stroh’s table across the room where he was running Tower Out of Time. I was just amazed that games could be run that way.
Bob: I had a long-standing Call of Cthulhu group back in Vegas and, before launching into a year and a half long campaign, I was running some semi-standalone adventures. In one of them the investigators heard strange sounds coming from the attic of a haunted house. One of them stood up on a small stepladder and pushed the hatch upwards but it was too dark to see anything. Someone chimed in with “Here, hold this lantern,” and passed him a light. The investigator extended the light in front of him and was suddenly yanked through the hatch. Bloodcurdling shrieks came from above and then the PC’s head came bouncing down the lantern. Since then, “Hold this lantern” holds a special meaning in the hearts of my players.
1) Our Sunday group at Dungeon Games was treated to a year-long campaign playtest for the DCC Lankhmar setting. It was glorious. The neighborhood that was our playground for a year has been translated into the companion zine for Episode 23. “Arwen DOOM!” is still chanted at the table at other games when an angry mob is after us. Don’t mess with the temple of Issek of the Jug – and don’t be surprised to see a couple of those characters later on!
2) In the last game I ran at Gary Con 2018, things went so far off-script that I was working with nothing but thin air, and had the perfect table for ad-libbing and improv, with plenty of give & take. It was a riot – a true comedy of errors in Lankhmar with 3 thieves: one was self-absorbed, one was narcoleptic, and one was simply horribly inept. At one point, the third (played by Haley Skach) ducked behind a corner to assemble a disguise. After rolling a 4, Haley grabbed a marker and drew a mustache on her finger, holding it below her nose. The self-absorbed thief pointed and laughed, then worked up a little disguise himself, with a nat 20: he now looked exactly like Haley’s character. The player (Michael Simon) didn’t even pause before grabbing Haley’s marker and doing the same. Neither player dropped their “mustaches” for the next 90 minutes. At the end of the game, 11-year-old Bjorn Nelson told me, “I wish every game could be that fun!”
We’re hoping for many more podcasts and episodes to come. Can you give us a peek into the future?
Jen: We’re trying to mix up the selections of short works vs. novels, but I can almost guarantee that we’ll see more Sprague deCamp, Brackett, Saberhagen, Poul Anderson, and even some Offutt.
Bob: Well, the “future” rather depends on when this runs. We have a special formatted Halloween special releasing on the 31st, and I think that is good fun. Our books are selected pretty much show-to-show (we have no shows in the can – we record, release, repeat)… so there isn’t much to say there. There will be a special release for Christmas, and I’m trying to work it out so that the Guardians of Secrets members get it in hard copy…but that’s still at least (mumble-mumble) away. We also have our first commercial product coming out, Skull & Crossbones Classics, my long-promised DCC zine. That is planned as a quarterly so we’ll see how things go from there.
Daniel: Point taken, Bob. Halloween is now behind us.
I mentioned in the intro that a lot of the Companions include community-driven content. Care to comment on that?
Jen: This is both a product of the community being awesome, and of us having real lives. (We’re also releasing shows/zines on a monthly basis these days, vs. biweekly.) But even the first point is two-fold: Goodman still has to give the stamp of approval to each zine before it goes live, and that gives us the opportunity to put new authors & artists in front of him each month.
Daniel: So you say, but you people have done an enormous amount of work. You’ve also been doing a printable special for Free RPG Day for a couple of years now. How did that come about?
Bob: The hard copy zine was something I decided to do for our local store at near the last minute (hence the first one being essentially a “best of”). Since I was tracking and building up the Free RPG Day listings online, when I completed it I offered it as a “print and distribute” file to a select number of judges. Turned out that it was pretty successful, so this year, it was offered to every judge running DCC events that we had on our list. The issue was distributed internationally, and that was a great deal of fun.
Daniel: Speaking of things that get distributed, the Prize Closet of Mystery is an attempt to get the community involved, right? Where do the prizes come from?
Bob: It is indeed an effort to get folks involved. Being a free e-zine has made it VERY difficult for us to get contributions, especially since we are monthly. We had been offering items in return for contributions but hadn’t been having much success. When I tracked down Matthew Goiffon (creator of Super No. 1 Food Tower) and he offered to send me some copies to distribute, I was all in. So we ran the contest and the >>Prize Closet of Mystery<< was born. Other than Goiffon’s zines, everything we give away comes out of our pocket. We search used bookstores, pick up duplicate copies of modules when we can, etc.
Daniel: Well, we all hope that Sanctum Secorum is around for a long, long time to come. Keep up the excellent work, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us!