If you were to take a blender, dump in a heaping helping of fantasy roleplaying game nerdiness and sprinkle in some comedy, you’d get the “Caverns and Creatures” series by Robert Bevan. Fantasy RPG geeks put in hilarious situations, titles produced via naughty word play (“Sticky White Mess” and “The Fuccubus” just to name a couple) and a catalog large enough to keep you occupied for a while – you’ll find all that and more on the man’s Amazon Author page. Personally, as the proprietor of a website that is only read by 3.5 readers, I needed to reach out to this guy, because he has over 20,000 Facebook likes so I have to know his secret.
BQB = BOLD
ROBERT = ITALICS
QUESTION #1 – Robert, welcome to my fine blog and I hope you only have to stay here long enough until you find directions on how to get away from here. It’s not that I want you to leave, it’s just that I don’t even want to be here myself. Have you seen this place? It looks like someone fired the maid.
Anyway. War. Famine. Plague. Poverty. There are so many important issues we could discuss, but I heard you have a dog named Speck. Pee Wee Herman reference or just a coincidence?
ANSWER: That is indeed a Pee Wee Herman reference, and I judge people based on whether or not they get it. So congratulations.
QUESTION #2 – Could you give the newbs out there a primer on “Caverns and Creatures?” What inspired you to start writing this series? What’s it all about? What do we need to know before we dive in?
ANSWER: The bare-bones premise is that it’s about a group of gamers who get sent into their fantasy game world for real, in the bodies of their fantasy game characters. As the title suggests, these people aren’t exactly heroic. They’re barely able to function in their own society. How much harder will they fail in a hostile fantasy world?
You shouldn’t need to know much before diving in. One of the characters is new to the game, which both helps to explain certain things to non-gamers, and provides some thinking-outside-the-box moments in the story.
QUESTION #3 – Are fantasy roleplaying board games as big as they used to be? Sometimes I wonder if the Internet, video games, increased access to all kinds of media and so on killed board based RPGs. Try as I might, I just can’t seem to find a gaggle of nerds willing to sacrifice a Saturday to sit around a board, roll some dice and pretend to be elves, orcs, wizards and what have you. Any advice on how to get an RPG group started?
ANSWER: First of all, I should make it clear that these aren’t board games, because there isn’t a board. Depending on their style of play, some groups may use large, highly-detailed maps, while others may simply scribble a quick dungeon on a scrap of graph paper, while still other groups use nothing at all. The entire game takes place in the imaginations of the players and Game Master as they weave a story together interactively.
Now as far as technology goes, I don’t believe any of this stuff you mentioned in your question has killed tabletop RPGs at all. A tabletop RPG is more than just a game. It’s a social experience. As a matter of fact, the reason I started playing again after fifteen or twenty years away from it is that a group of my married friends and I were looking for something less expensive to do on Friday nights than hang out in bars and get shitfaced together. Dungeons & Dragons turned out to be a way more fun (and cheap) way to get shitfaced together once a week. That’s a whole different experience than drinking at home alone playing World of Warcraft.
Also, technology has made it possible to come very close to a tabletop experience while being hundreds or thousands of miles away from your fellow gamers. I’m part of a podcast called Authors & Dragons, in which we play via Skype and record it.
As for advice on how to get an RPG group started, I’m afraid I can’t be of much help there. I’ve recently moved to the Atlanta area, and haven’t had much luck in that regard.
I will advise you, however, to give any group a couple of trial sessions before you make a commitment. There are a lot of gaming styles out there, and you might find yourself weirded out by a particular group. Make sure you jive with the people you play with.
QUESTION #4 – You’ve got over 20,000 Facebook likes. Your books get tons of reviews. Clearly, you have a rabidly loyal fan base. What did you do to recruit all those nerds? I’m only followed by 3.5 nerds and I’d like to turn that figure into 20,000 nerds so any tips you have on how to build a following, feel free to share them.
ANSWER: It appears I misunderstood what you meant by “3.5 readers.” I thought you meant readers who are mainly interested in the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. You’re actually claiming to have three and a half readers on your blog? What the hell does that even mean? Who’s the .5th? Are you being insensitive to a little person or an amputee? What’s wrong with you?
To answer your question, the 20k Facebook likes have come from a variety of sources. Much of it has been acquired through people enjoying my books, looking me up on Facebook, and liking my page. Some of it has come from targeted Facebook campaigns to more aggressively build up a bigger following. But I believe that most of it comes from striving to provide content (mostly goofy RPG-themed memes) that my followers want to share with their Facebook friends, putting my name out there to a wider audience.
QUESTION #5 – I suppose we could waste our entire lives worrying about what society thinks, but sometimes as writers we have to think about it. Right or wrong, I generally find that a lot of people think of fantasy RPG as kid stuff geared towards a younger audience. Yet, you write a comedy series involving fantasy RPG that is packed with all sorts of naughty words and unsavory situations. Was this a gamble?
If it was, I assume it paid off since there appears to be a lot of adults who, according to your stats, love raunchy fantasy RPG comedy. Were you ever worried that fantasy fans may not care for the adult themes? Were you ever concerned that comedy fans might not be interested in magic and make-believe? What advice do you have for authors who mix genres?
ANSWER: It wasn’t a gamble because I wasn’t really risking anything, and I didn’t go into it with unrealistic expectations. I wasn’t a public figure with a reputation to protect. I wasn’t quitting my job to do this. I simply had a story idea in my head and a style I wanted to tell it in. If people wanted to read it, awesome. If not, they could go fuck themselves.
Also, I don’t look at it as “mixing genres” because I regard comedy as more of a template than a genre. As far as genre is concerned, my C&C books are fantasy. Most books will have some funny moments, regardless of the genre. I just like to crank it up a bit in mine. I’ve dabbled in science fiction similarly with Space Puppies, and in horror with the first book in Authors & Dragons’ new Shingles series, The Ghost of Hooker Alley.
QUESTION #6 – Piggybacking off of Question #5, here’s a dilly of a hypothetical pickle. Imagine a stereotypically vapid Hollywood suit knocks on your door with a fat bag of cash in hand and says, “Robby Baby, take out all the naughty stuff and water down ‘Caverns and Creatures’ so we can turn it into a PG-13 movie and this cash bag can be yours.” Do you take the cash, because, I mean, hey, that’s a big bag of cash, or do you wait and hope for a Hollywood suit who shares your artistic vision? Is there an audience out there for an R-rated fantasy comedy film? I mean, I thought “Your Highness” was funny but I don’t think the general movie going public did, bunch of squares that they are.
ANSWER: The obvious answer is that it all depends on just how fat that bag of cash is. If I said there’s no number that could make me disregard the sanctity of my precious dick jokes, I’d be full of shit. And I’d laugh because the word “sanctity” has “titty” in it.
As it happens, the film rights to my books are currently optioned out to a small-time producer who’s working his ass off to try to get a TV series off the ground. Fingers crossed!
QUESTION #7 – Comedian Dave Chapelle recently opined in his latest Netflix special that everyone’s getting so sensitive these days that it’s getting harder to be funny. Is comedy dying?
Personally, I feel like I haven’t seen a goody comedy film that made me laugh out loud since “The Hangover” and that came out in 2009. These days, Hollywood puts out a lot of so-called comedies where the jokes are safe and predictable – stuff that might tickle your grandma’s funny bone but is useless to a comedy aficionado.
You’ve got political correctness. You’ve got the “rush to be offended” culture out there. You’ve got everyone and their uncle on social media, ready to bloviate about how the littlest joke ruined their lives beyond all repair.
I fancy myself a humor writer. I mean, my aunt told me I’m funny anyway. But as a humor writer that actually earns money off of his humor, do you find it’s harder to be a comedy writer these days? Should aspiring comedy writers who are just starting out even try?
I just feel like at the rate we are going, if the general public doesn’t lighten up, “Saturday Night Live” is just going to be a collection of “Why did the chicken cross the road?” style jokes by the year 2050.
ANSWER: I’m personally not worried about this at all. If anything, a more sensitive society just makes the envelope that much easier to push. Hollywood has always tended to play it safe for the most part. But with mainstream media losing ground to Netflix, Amazon Studios, and however many little independent internet-based startups out there, content providers will find it easier to meet the demands of every niche out there.
Are there a bunch of lame network sitcoms out there playing it safe? Sure. But there are also the South Parks, the Rick and Mortys, the Archers, making fortunes by scratching the itches that aren’t being scratched by Friends, and Will and Grace, and… shit. I don’t know. I haven’t watched regular TV for a while.
Do I get negative feedback from the content of my books? You betcha. Aside from the excessive swearing and characters shitting and pissing themselves, my work has been called racist, homophobic, sexist, other “-ists,” etc. I write these books in part to poke fun at the bigoted society I grew up in. I find it encouraging that most of the people who read my books get that.
QUESTION #8 – Self-publishing. Cruel mistress or loving partner? Is it worth it to get into? As it turns out, my 3.5 readers are all aspiring self-publishers. Is there a lesson you learned the hard way that you could teach them and possibly save them some trouble?
ANSWER: I didn’t know dick about publishing going into this. Like many aspiring writers in 2012, I thought self-publishing was a better-than-nothing option for those whose books weren’t good enough to get picked up by a “real” publisher. After getting rejected by a few “real” publishers and agents, that’s kind of the attitude I went into it with. My tune changed when I started to move a few books every month. Taking a long-term view, imagining what might be possible if I actually put some effort into marketing the books, promoting them, and writing more of them, I soon had a completely different outlook on self-publishing.
If a “real” publisher wanted to sign me on now, they’d have to offer me a very fat bag of cash indeed. There’s not a whole lot that they’d be able or willing to do for me (aside from keeping a much higher percentage of the money my books are making) that I can’t do for myself, and better.
The only advice I have specific to self-publishing is to not look at it as an excuse to take shortcuts. This self-publishing revolution is great in that it’s leveled the playing field. The readers have spoken, and they don’t give a shit who published a book if the final product is something that they enjoy reading. But on the flip side, you do need to have work that competes with what the big boys are putting out.
QUESTION #9 – You released a book entitled “Potty Mouth,” the cover of which features a multi-sided game die wearing a Trump toupee with an open mouth that is being urinated in. So many questions come to mind, but I’ll just ask two.
As a general rule, I try to avoid being political because whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, I would like you to become a fan of my blog that only 3.5 people read. Was this book a risk? Do you fear you’ll lose fans? Maybe somewhere out there is a nerd who wears a wizard cape emblazoned with a “MAGA” logo who voted for Trump who will see this book cover and be all like, “How dare you, Robert Bevan? I shall take my book purchasing funds elsewhere!”
Second, must we inject politics into everything? I watch the news when I want to know about all the political turmoil going on. I seek out comedy when I want to laugh and escape from politics. Call me George Costanza, but I don’t want those two worlds to meet. Am I wrong?
I’m mostly interested in appealing to the sorts of people who read books.
QUESTION #10 – You’re an eighth level orc mage. You’ve wandered into a cavern filled with some of the worst creatures imaginable – dragons, ogres, trolls and telemarketers trying to sell you anti-fungal cream over the phone. You roll a five and according to the rules of the hypothetical fantasy roleplaying game we’re enthralled in, that means you can pick up a suit case that contains the following items: a can of spray cheese, a swizzle stick and an autographed photo of “Golden Girls” icon Bea Arthur. How will you use these items to escape the cavern and win your freedom?
ANSWER: Simple. I poke nostril and mouth holes in the Bea Arthur photo with the swizzle stick, so that I’ll be able to breathe. Then I use the spray cheese to paste the photo over my own face. Who’s going to fuck with Bea Arthur? No one, that’s who.
BQB EDITORIAL NOTE: That is the best escape plan I have ever heard. Admittedly, this is also the first escape plan I have heard as this interview series just began, but it is the one to beat.