Veteran Game Master Ivan Van Norman is running a post-apocalyptic adventure game that follows a band of survivors as they journey into the infected American Midwest streaming on Alpha. Based on the award-winning podcast, We’re Alive: Frontier features five new characters and countless ways to die. Joining Ivan Van Norman around the table as players are Mythica actress Melanie Stone, Twitch streamer, and cosplayer Alcuin Gersh, Xander Jeanneret of Sagas of Sundry: Madness, Overwatch voice-actress Anjali Bhimani, and Vince Caso of The Guild.I got the chance to chat with Ivan about this exciting tabletop game/TV show hybrid.Let’s get started! So how did you start making your own tabletop RPGs?Ivan: I made my first campaign in the World of Darkness using all of the books. Vampire, Werewolf, Hunter, like everything. During that time myself and a buddy of mine decided to make our own game Outbreak: Undead, in 2011, featured in We’re Alive: Frontier. We have our own publishing company, Hunters Books, which was a side hustle, but now it’s finally got some traction since we partnered with Renegade Game Studios which are putting out all our games. I don’t know if you knew this, but RPGs are cool now! People love interactive storytelling. It’s giving us the capacity to do interactive storytelling that doesn’t require a big budget and a green screen to put together. And there’s no script, so the players know as much as the audience knows. It’s very honest storytelling. As a result, people are starting to show, like the people that watch Critical Role or Horror Show, that they like this more than scripted television because they really honestly feel they’re going on this journey with these characters. It doesn’t matter if it’s one episode or a hundred.Dealing with streaming a show like this, it’s not like a Game Of Thrones budget, but it’s still a big production. What are the challenges and rewards of doing a game in this format?Ivan: The main challenge is making it feel like a game when everyone wants to make it a show. The natural reaction to something like this when a budget is introduced is how much risk can we remove. What do we guarantee? Are we going to need a prop for this item? Are we going to need a set for this location? And from playing RPGs, you know the answer is usually “I have no idea.” I am planning for them to go here, but players will do what players do. And even if you lay out very clear messages for them they may not pick up on it, and that’s just something that happens. So the big challenge when putting together these shows is making it feel very immersive and well thought out while still making it super clear that this is a game and these players have choices. And especially in games like Sagas of Sundry where they have a choice to interact and make difficult choices. Not only the choice to survive, but to live. Make every moment with their cast count. Knowing that there are points where you need to back off and the players tell the story too, which is really what you want when you want a perfect game. Like with We’re Alive: Frontier my goal was to run the game I always wanted to run of Outbreak: Undead. Like if I had the time effort and energy to put I would do every week for my friends. The one I always wanted to run on my own, but we all know that life gets in the way.The benefit is when you are putting together a show like this you have an ultimate commitment from your players, you know? This isn’t just a casual weekend where people come out, you order pizza, and people are diddling on their phones while they’re playing. Everyone here is committed because not only are they all professionals, actors, as well as role players, but they really want to be there. It’s not just a job. They love the material and their cast. And for We’re Alive: Frontier, half the cast have been doing test sessions and have also part of my Outbreak: Undead test group and we’ve been playing together for a year on and off throughout this time. And just having this opportunity to be inclusive, teach people the game, have people feel comfortable, and know they’re not just here to play the game, but to entertain people, to make craft, good story. I think anyone that does an RPG show; they take it beyond. They’re not playing for them, they’re playing for their cast members and the audience.Why We’re Alive? Why adopt this particular podcast?Ivan: We’re Alive, Kc Wayland started his podcast around the time I started Outbreak: Undead. There was a part of me that really celebrated what he did with his world. He has such a gloriously rich world building. He managed to craft a story with zero visuals at all. He did a scripted version of what a lot of games wish they could do all the time. And he had the benefit of having a sound engineering and screenwriting background to basically make this medium for him. He brought back the radio drama and I respect him for that. I really thought that We’re Alive was ripe for a world that we could expand off of it and tell a new story. Looking at his notes, he’s barely touched any of it. He’s got the timeline really figured out, and it seems almost a shame to not dive into that area of his story. And when I brought this up to him he was delighted to hear it. He felt the same way. He wanted to do it he just hasn’t been able to do it, you know? Plus, in my mind, he put We’re Alive together right when the Zombie Survival Guide from Max Brooks took off, the 28 Days Later craze, and the Dawn Of The Dead remake hit. Even now with the oversaturation with shows like The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead, in my mind those shows have taken a great idea and just applied that formula again. People love survival horror; we want to explore the fantasy of our own disasters. We’re constantly reinventing survival horror like every five or six years. Like Resident Evil, I thought it was dead, but then they made Resident Evil 7, and it’s the Resident Evil we’ve always wanted to play.Yeah, plus there are like seven Resident Evil movies at this point. Might be six?Ivan: The movies are an action-adventure excuse and that’s fine, but that game literally did things emotionally to me that made me feel something with that kind of story.Something else too that comes up in a lot of these sort of formats with people screening games, even like this one, often comedy/levity creep in these environments.Ivan: Breathing moments.Right. People who might not be as familiar who may be fans of things like The Walking Dead might not be prepared for the kind of humor and the frequency of it. How do you explain that to people?Ivan: The thing that always comes to mind with shows like these are how do you create pacing. It can’t just be go go go all the time. It burns everybody out. Burns the players out and the DM. When something does happen, they don’t have the same stakes anymore. You do need to provide those breathing moments to allow perspective. That’s what I love about survival horror. That constant struggle of I want to give you a little something to love and hold on to; then I’m going to rip it away from you like a child with their doll. Then I want to see you cry about it. That’s what you want. Then people start to feel those emotions. A lot of our fans are almost masochistic in their love for these terrible emotions. It’s lovely, it’s unique, and it’s different from I’m just watching this slasher movie and I don’t care about these characters; they can all die. As long as I’m getting some good gore out of it. That’s not at all what this is. It’s about the emotions that come from reacting to something in the moment and having to make a choice of what to do and live with that. It provides real stakes.That’s great!Ivan: It’s great. It’s a fun platform. Alpha is really investing in their talent and their content, and they want to be like the nerdy Hulu, and I say good for them!Excited about We’re Alive: Frontier? Catch up now so you can tune in for the finale on 4/18. Watch it using the promo code “frontier” for a 60-day free trial on https://www.projectalpha.com/ Hands-On: ‘Oninaki’ Is an Emotional Action RPG ExperienceFan-Made ‘Zelda’ Tabletop Game Returns You to the Wild Stay on target Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.