Josh Simons hosted the cast of Abraxas’ Precipice, John Bultena, Donna Prior, Scott Mitchell, and Maria Moore as they reflected on Storytelling within The Expanse. The introduction to the panel is transcribed here. It has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. You can watch the full discussion here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0b2NLAneNs
Josh Simons: If you're listening at home tuning in, this is a recorded Roundtable discussion that we're doing for Red Futures Magazine. This is the cast of Abraxas' Precipice, which is a tabletop actual play show.
Really quickly I want to define what we mean when we say tabletop actual play, because I know we've got academics in the house and the sooner we define our terms the sooner we can move to an actual productive conversation!
So a tabletop role-playing game is a game that combines an element of portraying a character, much like your video game RPG would do, where you step into the shoes of a character and your decisions shape the outcome of greater things in the universe around you. You do the same thing with the tabletop game where you have decisions that you make. Sometimes they are very tough and sometimes they are moral dilemmas. Your actions shape the universe as it unfolds around you. You also have a component of stats and numbers and mechanics, as you have different skills that you are trained in that you're good at and certain skills that you're not so good at – for example, maybe you shouldn't be trying to do anything like piloting without any experience. I wouldn't recommend it. So, you have both of those things and you roll dice. You have conversations around the table as all of the players together determine what course of action they want to pursue, make decisions, make friendships, break friendships – it's a great time! So that's what a tabletop role-playing game is. An actual play is when you take that game and perform it in some kind of online environment, whether that's a podcast or a Twitch stream or YouTube series.
There's a variety of ways you can do that, each one kind of fits different niches and they're different stories you can tell through [different mediums]. But the key piece about an actual play is that you are sitting down with a group of people playing the game and not editing out all of the mechanical bits. That's part of the fun. It's entertaining. Folks love to watch it and it's also educational. If you don't know how to play a game you can watch it and learn how to play the game, which is really great for me because I'm a visual learner and I like to see it played in order to learn how it goes.
So, I've defined my terms. Let's take a moment and do our introductions, much like in The Expanse, which focuses on an exceptional group of people doing exceptional things. We have an exceptional group of people, the cast of Abraxas' Precipice. I'm gonna start with John: Who are you? Where can people find you? And what is your role in the show?
John Bultena: I'm John Bultena and you can find me anywhere @onlyplaywizards. It's always weird for me to say, but I don't want to say that I'm the creator of Abraxas’ Precipice because I didn't create The Expanse and that's what it is, it’s an Expanse role-playing game. But I’m the game master for it, so I’m the one that articulates the storyline. I’m the one that does all the overlays and streams, and if you're talking to anyone at Abraxas’ Precipice, then it's more than likely me. I put together the graphics, but my major thing with the game itself is to drive the storyline and articulate the world of The Expanse for these characters, not to necessarily rehash the world as it has been experienced in the novels or the show, but rather trying to flesh out the other crevices, the other places, that big universe.
Josh Simons: Yeah, it is a big universe. The unique challenge of a game master is to take storylines and unique things that are worth bringing into focus and presenting those to your characters to get into it, to experience those things in maybe a different light than you could in another form of media. So, in no particular order let's move around. I'm gonna ask Donna, can you introduce yourself: Who are you? Where can people find you? And what is your role in the show?
Donna Prior: Awesome, hi. I’m Donna Prior. I am easily found on Twitter I have a linktree so you can just look me up as Danicia, so you can find wherever I hang out on the internet. My day job is in board games and I also run a board game convention. My role here is player and my character is a captain of our ship and our crew. And I drive comfort and family within our crew.
Josh Simons: I like that. Okay, Scott I'll throw it to you next: Who are you? Where can people find you? And what is your role in the show?
Scott Mitchell: My name is Scott Mitchell and you can find me anywhere on the internet. Usually at smitchell22, mostly on Instagram is about the only one I really use religiously. I play Wyatt on the show. He’s kind of, I don't know the best way to describe him. He doesn't like to get shot, but he gets shot quite a bit. That's about the best way.
John Bultena: When he gets shot, he gets shot in spectacular ways! It's not just like, “Oh I took a bullet. Thanks guys.”
Scott Mitchell: I usually run out and my character will do whatever he can to protect everybody else, whether they're friend or foe. I think he'll just get shot for anything. Outside of this, I'm a barber here in Central Illinois, so that's what I do.
Josh Simons: You know every party in every tabletop game needs someone who's willing to step out and get in harm's way every now and then for the good of [the party]. Last but certainly not least Maria: Who are you? Where can folks find you? And what's your role in the show?
Maria Moore: Hello, I'm Maria Moore. You can find me everywhere on the internet at happycapster. I'm a variety streamer, TTRPG enthusiast and performer, and co-founder of Goblin Society Games, a TTRPG company. On this particular show, I am also a player. I play as Zeni Pezahl who is a bit of a wild card in the group. [They] started out as a lone wolf character thrust into this family unit and is learning how to be part of a family again. [They] thinks very little before emoting very loudly. Usually with threats of violence.
Josh Simons: It fits, it really does fit.
John Bultena: Zeni starts it and then Wyatt has to finish it. Zeni is the capital letter in the sentence and Wyatt is the period at the end.
Maria Moore: This is correct!
Josh Simons: So Zeni is the one writing cheques that Wyatt then has to deliver on. Love that. So, I am Josh Simons, I am our moderator for the day. You can find me everywhere on the internet at Joshua M Simons or on my website joshuamsimons.com. I am a content creator in the tabletop game space, and by day I'm the community and content manager at Demiplane, which is a tabletop game company. So my entire day, 24 hours a day seven days a week, I'm thinking about tabletop games, which is kind of fun. I've had the great privilege of guesting on the show a couple of times, where I play Martian astrophysicist and engineer Dr. Marvin de Valentine. It is just an excuse for me to speak technobabble, because I'm not actually that smart, but I like to pretend it sometimes. So let’s take a moment here, zoom out, and get a big picture of what Abraxas’ Precipice is and what it's all about. John, do you have a good little blurb about the show in your words?
John Bultena: I've called it schlubs in space. Schlub just means the common people. It is this Hebrew word that definest someone who is not particularly special. That idea was reinforced for me about a year ago. I teach at the University of California, where I teach a writing class, and I had my students read the first two Expanse novels. We were also looking at engineering information, but my students read the first three chapters of the first book. One of my student’s reactions was “This is about people that work in space. Like that’s it, they work in space?” And I thought, that’s so cool! Like what do you do? You go to school here on Earth and they’re out there mining rocks and everything. That's what I approached it with. The Expanse has these people that are just workers on a ship, the Canterbury, and they get thrust into a huge conspiracy thriller, political thriller, and you have an opening scene that is very much this piece of cosmic horror. It's like an event horizon, but then you see ‘Oh, now this is working people doing whatever’ and I kind of wanted to take that angle with it…
The full discussion can be found at the following YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0b2NLAneNs