Ruty is Co-Author of Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, a Dungeon Master’s Guild Adamantine Best-Seller, Xanathar’s Lost Notes to Everything Else (Lead Designer), a Mithral Best-Seller, and is a Multi-platform Film Producer for Dungeons and Dragons.
His expertise spans Acting, Film Producing, Hosting, Screenwriting, & Voice Acting, and he has worked alongside all the major Studios on titles like Argo, Fury, Baby Daddy, Finest Hours, Growhouse, and Magnificent Seven.
Ruty is also a US Army OIF/OEF Veteran, Award-Winning Professional Dungeon Master, and World Creator.
Mark Merida: Today is March 8th, 2019. Sitting down here with Ruty Rutenberg, co-creator of Maze Arcana, Writer, showrunner, executive producer, actor. Actually, I don’t know what you don’t do. He’s co-author of “Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron” for Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition. It is a Dungeon Master’s Guild Adamantine Best-Seller, Xanathar’s Lost Notes to Everything Else, Mithral Best-Seller, multi-platform Film Producer for Dungeons and Dragons. His expertise spans Acting, Film Producing, Hosting, Screenwriting, & Voice Acting. He’s been in Argo, Fury, he’s been in Baby Daddy. He’s also a US Army OIF/OEF Veteran, Award-Winning Professional Dungeon Master, and World Creator. Welcome.
Ruty Rutenberg: Thank you. I think that the maybe the most recent thing might have just come out so it probably didn’t get circulated yet. You know that I am the voice of Durnan. Would you like to have the interview with Durnan or would you rather, Ruty?
Mark Merida: We can go back and forth.
Ruty Rutenberg: We can go back and forth. I was playing Durnan earlier this weekend in the competitive, epic that they had going on There’s a little tavern song that I have to teach some people. You can hear me a little bit more in the Dragon Heist soundset that Syrinscape has, as well as, the new expansion for Neverwinter: Online, where Durnan plays a pretty prominent role in making sure that new adventurers don’t get stuck down in the yawning portal, and the mountain of the mad mage.
Mark Merida: Are we breaking news right now that?
Ruty Rutenberg: It’s not breaking, breaking. Not like I break bones, but it’s pretty new. It just came out. You can go check it out on Youtube, the new trailer that came out. It’s like 50 second trailer, but you can hear the whole spiel that Durnan goes through, which is kind of like a call to arms. That’s a good place to start.
Mark Merida: How did you get involved in role-playing?
Ruty Rutenberg: Well, from the very beginning, I had a really early acting career. I got into theater at a very young age and my parents saw how quickly I took to it. I was doing not only roles with the actual theater ensemble, the adult one, but I kind of headlined with some of the, with like a small troupe for children’s stuff. I started with that. I really enjoyed it. I got an agent, started doing auditions in, up and down the east coast. Anything that was like Disney or Nickelodeon at that time that wasn’t filmed in L.A. I was getting some work in and out of there. And then, I started do-, I got in like a car accident not a lot of people know about and I got a lot of scars up and down the left, right side, right around the right side of my face. I had to take a little bit of a break from doing that and I got really into sports and then, I was taking that break from acting. By the time I was ready to go back and start exploring what I was going to do after high school. Not a lot had happened.
Ruty Rutenberg: So I became, I had this sense that oh, my family is military. We had a sense of kind of duty and honor and stuff just innately because that’s what I was raised with. The way that I saw the next step for me after 9/11 is that I needed to earn being an American. There’s so many of us that kind of take it for granted and I didn’t want to be one, I just wanted to make sure that I did my part. I went and joined the military, became a Combat Medic, ended up deploying with an aviation unit, was in Kuwait and Iraq for a pretty nice hefty span of time. I got that experience and then when I came back, I got back into acting. I finished my Master’s degree, which is actually in Event Planning and Logistics, which is probably why I’m good at doing the show running portion of things, producing. I got into Hollywood, really enjoyed all of the extra aspects, especially screenwriting and obviously, I enjoyed being on the screen, getting to interact with people and that’s all role-playing. Right? Even in the military to a degree you have a role to play and sometimes as a medic, my bedside manner is what dictates how people make their way through some of the trauma that they go through.
Ruty Rutenberg: Getting more and more into acting, I ended up getting to play Dungeons and Dragons with the producers of Transformers and X-Men and some of the other very large properties that are around that we all love. That was my, that was really like the time when I finally was in a campaign and got a good amount of time and energy that I got to put into it. So that kind of was the initiation into meeting D&D and then we just started, we just figured we would go for it. We started with webcams. We started with the base level. We used to do a lot of panels about how to, how to live-stream, how you get started, what are the technical aspects of it. The evolution of those things, people you know, what we do resonates with people. They enjoy it. We enjoy doing it.
Ruty Rutenberg: We enjoy being helpful and aiding the community and really for me, that’s the strongest portion of business is that I’m able to share my experiences and take people on a journey that typically is something that they tend to be craving in their life, something that they need and something that can be helpful. Especially when you look at it in a sense of like I, you know, as a veteran whose seen some things, you know, I carry some PTSD with me and I understand what that’s like and a lot of people don’t. That’s not a knock on anybody, but it does give me the opportunity to connect to people that might not necessarily have that opportunity.
Mark Merida: I follow you on social media. I watch you [inaudible 00:05:40] Maze Arcana. I’ve seen all your Twitch streams. Watching your personality and seeing them up there and you are performing all the new, doing your streams and such, rolling your dice and stuff like that and then you’re role-playing, you’re actually performing. You don’t get to know the 400% of the bad guy in remission and people that you’re basically coming to idolize. I know that when I was talking to it on [inaudible 00:06:09], one of the things that resounded with me was the fact that you’re military. Two of my brothers are military and the things that happened when you’re deployed overseas and people just don’t understand. What are the kind of things that role-playing games, whether it be Dungeons and Dragons or whether it be any other role-playing game, what are the kind of things that these games help someone deal with those PTSD?
Ruty Rutenberg: Well, we are a essentially a collection of experiences, individually. The most distressing experiences that somebody has can never really be measured. We all look at the world through our own rose-colored glasses. Those are all gonna be different shades. It’s pretty close to impossible, even no matter what you see in movies or read in books or whatever, it’s pretty close to impossible to understand the feeling of what it’s like to be overseas in a military unit. It essentially kind of feels like almost being incarcerated in the sense of like you can’t go anywhere, you can’t do anything. A lot of people don’t understand.
Ruty Rutenberg: Actually, the funny thing is that raid [inaudible 00:07:23], so people that have PTSD from those types of encounters. That PTSD is very similar to the style of PTSD that you get from a military deployment. Because, you essentially are powerless to do just about anything except for to survive it and to make sure that the people around you survive it. So when we create the context for how we communicate based on those experiences and obviously, people that have had a shared experience, having shared, there’s people, I’ll never fully understand what it’s like to suffer any type of PTSD that a rape victim has. There’s gonna be almost a short hand there that other victims can have with each other. Similarly, the military has shorthand from not only all of our acronyms, right. Not only all of our training, but there’s just stuff that, like, I can tell the difference between somebody whose telling me they’re military versus somebody who actually is military. And even the different degrees of how far they are, like how, what their jobs were, et cetera, et cetera. Just because of my experience is what I know and to a degree, that’s also intuition, right?
Ruty Rutenberg: So when I’m sitting down at a gaming table, when I’m trying to give people an experience that is both enjoyable and safe, because D&D really kind of requires that safe space for people to bear their souls, to be vulnerable. There’s, when you’re at war, there is nobody else, and even sometimes just in the military, there is nobody else that gets to see that vulnerability that you have more than the people that you were there with. Sometimes even your family won’t ever understand the fullness of that vulnerability because here in America, we kind of all have a choice. I don’t wanna be in a relationship anymore. I can just leave, right?
Mark Merida: Yeah.
Ruty Rutenberg: The military’s not like that. I can’t go anywhere really. I mean, I could at great costs [inaudible 00:09:33]. But also, I then, I get abandonment issues in the sense of not like I was abandoned but then I’m abandoning my people. It’s the left mind kind of thing. The more experiences that you have, this is why like the wise old somebody, the more experiences that you have, the more you get to commiserate with people, the more you begin to understand where they might be coming from. Then it allows you to both know that you have really no idea what their situation is like. But you also can make parallels and then allowing them to open up to you and explain how they see it, and then being able to assess their needs during that in the beginning. Fulfill that and facilitate good gaming, to me that’s like the mark of what our, like what our, how we make that mutual experience payoff and how people can feel fulfillment and feel listened to even by just playing a game and being able to role play through it. So it’s not, it doesn’t, they don’t feel like it’s oh, I’m telling you all of these things but then, no, this is my halfling that went through all of these, you know. That and it doesn’t matter to me if it was them or the halfling or whatever because I’m allowed and they’re allowed to embrace each other’s brainwaves and to feel that connectivity to each other.
Mark Merida: When my brother plays his, he either plays a Barbarian or he plays a Bard.
Ruty Rutenberg: Those are two of my favorites.
Mark Merida: It’s almost like he’s expressing what he’s feeling at the moment based on what character he’s playing.
Ruty Rutenberg: I can, I can appreciate that. Those are two of my favorite characters. Sometimes I play a Bardbarian, a multi-class.
Mark Merida: Aside from PTSD, not that we can put it all at advocate or diversity to games our goals [inaudible 00:11:22] or if I’m just sitting across from the tabletop and I know that you are very passionate about, where does that passion come from?
Ruty Rutenberg: I prefer to lean on the word inclusivity, because sometimes in some circles, diversity can kind of be like a nasty word or it can be a thing that makes people feel excluded. Inclusivity literally means everyone. Everyone should be included. To me, like I don’t know, I grew up in the South, but I’ve seen racism firsthand, but it was never a thing for me. And not to say, and I’ve had people make me the target of it from time to time, you know, I’m a white guy so I mean obviously that’s the, in my household it wasn’t a thing. It’s never mattered to me who, I’ve never assigned who somebody is based on their skin color. Even when I was in the military when we were kind of, you have to go through this certain process to be able to dehumanize people, to do your job sometimes. That still was never a thing that resonated with me. It was always, I always prefer to judge people based on their actions and how they take care of other people because to me, it’s funny that we have the alignment system in a way. I don’t believe in alignment. I think that it’s really not a good, just [inaudible 00:12:44] story.
Mark Merida: Yeah.
Ruty Rutenberg: I see alignment as being good as selfless and evil as selfish and we all trend somewhere in the middle. You know, it’s a circle more or less. What I judge people on, and it’s not even really judgment. It’s just okay I noticed this is whether or not they are being thoughtful and considerate about other people. You can still get what you want but get it without harming other people.
Mark Merida: Yes.
Ruty Rutenberg: I think a lot of people lose that from time to time.
Mark Merida: [inaudible 00:13:19-00:13:20] inclusivity. Some people who are very small minority, but they’re also very vocal minority, they tend to label people who are fighting for that inclusivity as a social justice [inaudible 00:13:34].
Ruty Rutenberg: Sure.
Mark Merida: They use it as a dirty word and people that they are describing, what they’re doing is they’re trying to affect change by empowering others and educating people so that we can bring everyone together at the same table. Why do you think it’s been such a bad lash?
Ruty Rutenberg: There’s such a bad lash because people approach it with such fervor on both sides. Really what we ought to be instead of it being like social justice warriors or sometime preservers is that we ought to be looking at things as diplomats. We should be social
. The justice, justice is a is judged on based on like your experiences right? Again, if you’re just considerate of the people that are around you and you treat them as you would want to be treated, the number one golden rule, you’re advocating that same thing and learning to advocate that without taking away from other people. Because really what the whole backlash is about is fear, right? It’s about people being afraid that they’re gonna lose their game or they’re gonna lose their ability to access something or whatever. And that’s why, again, I go into inclusivity because it should be, “Oh, you wanna do this? Yeah, come on, let me show you how. Or let me like you know, let’s see where this goes. Thank you for your brain because you’re gonna bring something to the this that maybe I hadn’t considered. Maybe I hadn’t experience this thing yet but because of you I get to.” To me, it’s a broadening of the ability for us to tell stories. And so that’s why I’m such an advocate for it because we should all have that opportunity. Inclusivity, again, shouldn’t limit anybody and if we go through things trying to be diplomats, trying to find out who, okay where’s the compromise here? What can we do? Let me share, right? Share, that’s it. It’s like, it doesn’t have to be taking if you willingly compromise.
Mark Merida: When I was growing up, I was socially awkward. I was introverted.
Ruty Rutenberg: I’d say most of us are until we learn.
Mark Merida: When this game taught me how to come out of my shell and five years ago, I was actually on that other side. I was on the who were pointing the finger, calling people social justice warriors. I’ve
. I understand. I think that’s part of the thing that people don’t understand. Where I was coming from was D&D is my safe space.
Ruty Rutenberg: Sure.
Mark Merida: It’s my way of affecting change in my life and I felt like somebody was trying to take that away from me.
Ruty Rutenberg: Exactly. I think that’s how a lot of people feel in the beginning of that. Especially, when the voices are loud and they feel angry and aggressive. To a degree, I’m sorry I have a military tenure, I know that and I’m not afraid of confrontation. It kind of got bred out of me. That was a learned experience. I’m also never trying to be confrontational. I’m trying to, when I’m talking to people, I want to have a discussion. Even if we differ on points, that doesn’t mean it’s an argument, right? It’s just expressing the different points and trying to help people understand. But the moment you go from trying to help other people understand to trying to win an argument, it’s just like you don’t win D&D. D&D is about the experience, right? You get to take that experience with you, either back into your life or into the next D&D game or wherever. Taking the experience that you have with other people and molding that into the next experience you get to have with the next person makes you who you are and the fact that you acknowledge your failure and take responsibility for not being as open as accepting as whatever in the beginning means you now can identify. You can start to pass that along. The next person who, you can look at them and you know you’re like “Hey, dude. You’re just afraid and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid. You have to be vulnerable. You have to open yourself up to that.”
Mark Merida: Many people are afraid of that too.
Ruty Rutenberg: Right, but D&D gives you the space to be vulnerable because we should all be protecting each other. If we did that, if we actually had compassion for each other, and we actually were thoughtful about how it’s going to make you feel, right? I could “Hey dude, I’m scared too. Let’s do this together. I’ll watch your back, you watch mine.” And not against other people.
Mark Merida: Yeah.
Ruty Rutenberg: But watch my back for the things I’m not seeing. Call me on my BS, right? And when you call me on my BS, I have already made that pact to you, I’ve consented for you to do that. I hear you and I go, “Okay, let me think that, let me consider that. Let me think on it.” You have to do that. If you just try to hammer home a point so that you can be right, so that you can be, you know, so that the other person can feel how wrong they are, you’re not gonna win that. You aren’t winning. You are actually creating a stronger fortification against your point and the path that you’re trying to take. So every time you game into an argument, think about it as just laying bricks for a wall in front of where you are trying to take the world. You have to be diplomatic about it. You have to be compassionate and you have to compromise from time to time.
Mark Merida: Yeah. So, I really appreciate the time that you’ve given me today. Is there any non-profits or any groups that the audience would like to go and check out, specifically, regarding the PTSD and helping others or if there’s groups out there that they want to take that next step and start joining a D&D group so they have PTSD themselves?
Ruty Rutenberg: I mean, there’s a lot of groups out there that you can check into for, I know Stack-up is a good military. Stack-up is a good military organization for PTSD. There are a slew of others. There are other opportunities for you to go in and find places that you can make a positive change or take D&D to them. Even the USONWR, those are gonna be places that maybe understand it a little more. There are, we have friends like Dr. [inaudible 00:20:03] who are making practices, centering around using D&D for PTSD treatment and making sure that we are in an area where we can have some of the things in mind that generally stop that communication between civilians and military. I just would advocate that you take the time to educate yourself just like on any topic. You do your due diligence. You find out which one of those types of organizations actually really contributes to the things that you want it to focus on. If you’re more of a gamer, than Stack-up’s probably gonna be a little bit more up your alley for that. We do a lot of work with like Luke, for instance, on different projects, Founders and Legends and things like that which do go to a lot of the founders that create that. Create a backbone and some funding for some of the health issues of which most of them are veterans. Most of it’s PTSD and really we should, as a community, stop trying to maybe draw so many of those lines, right? The whole point is to be inclusive of it, but just to understand that the person sitting across from you might be a veteran. Or the person, if you’re a veteran, the person across from you might not be. That means you just need to be more compassionate and thoughtful in your communication because your styles of communication may be different. So give people not only the benefit of the doubt when you sit down at the table but make the active attempt to start off by communicating in a meaningful way to each other.
Mark Merida: I am humbled to be sitting across the table from you having this discussion.
Ruty Rutenberg: As am I.
Mark Merida: His name is Ruty Rutenberg. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at RutyWoot, R-U-T-Y-W-O-O-T.
Ruty Rutenberg: Yep.
Mark Merida: Thank you very much for taking the time. I really.
Ruty Rutenberg: I appreciate that you and other people that are trying to put together outlets like this are helping to further the message that gets everyone else kind of like, at least this is communication right? Helps get us all on the same page to making a better experience in gaming for all of us. Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs, no matter what you play, we have this because of that desire to be connected to each other. Instead of worrying so much about winning or you having the best stats or the best weapon, connect, make that connection and communication with each other so that you have not only a memory of the thing or a cool character at some point but that you’ve created a friendship and a community. You’ve cultivated a tribe to have with you through the rest of your life.
Mark Merida: If you would like to meet Ruty, we will post along with this audio, a schedule of events so that you can come out to the conventions that he’s gonna be at and meet him, hopefully.
Ruty Rutenberg: And you can always follow Maze Arcana at Maze Arcana on all of the socials as well as Twitch.tv/mazearcana and Twitch.tv/d&d. That’s where you’ll find the majority of our stuff. Currently, I am the Dungeon Master for Inkwell Society, which is the only Eberron live streaming official game. I am also probably because I am the co-author of the fifth edition update to Eberron called the Wayfinder’s Guide, which as you said, is an Adamantine best-seller and you can find on the Dungeon Master’s Guild. Keep an eye on another thing coming out in, probably, a week or two, probably a week, St. Patrick’s Day is what we’re shooting for, called Morgrave’s Miscellany and it is the, kind of the companion to Wayfinder’s Guide where we got to update some of the prestige classes and all of the other stuff that’s in there and there’s, it’s a big book. That will also find it’s way to Dungeon Master’s Guild. It should be, even though it’s probably as big as Wayfinder’s Guide, it’s, I think it’s gonna be cheaper. I think we’re, we’ve just decided that we really just want people to be able to have it.
Mark Merida: I love that I’m sitting across the table from you. Thank you very much Ruty.
Ruty Rutenberg: Thank you for having me.
About the interviewer:
Mark Merida is has been playing Dungeons & Dragons since 1987 with the “Red Box” and has played every iteration of D&D except 4th edition. He has been Dungeon Mastering since that time as well including Cthulhu and many 1st edition clones like Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea by Jeffrey Talanian. Currently Mark is one of the founders, Directors, and the Acting President of “The Role Initiative, Inc.” which has the taken their mission to be “…to raise awareness and funds to support worth charity organizations through the coordination and facilitation of all forms of organized tabletop roleplaying games.” An IT Manager by day, he and his wife live in New Hampshire and enjoy camping, hiking, and playing Tennis.