Satine Phoenix is host of GM Tips on Geek and Sundry, Dungeon Master of Sirens of the Realms, host of the Dungeon Master Guide talk show. She’s the founder of CelebrityChariD20.com and Meetup.com LA Tabletop Gamers. She’s a co-author of The Action Heroine’s Journey, and co-creator and artist on New Praetorians.
Mark Merida: This is March 8th, 2019, recording the interview with Satine Phoenix. Satine Phoenix is host of GM Tips on Geek and Sundry, Dungeon Master of Sirens of the Realms, host of the Dungeon Master Guide talk show. She’s the founder of CelebrityChariD20.com and Meetup.com LA Tabletop Gamers. She’s a co-author of The Action Heroine’s Journey, and co-creator and artist on New Praetorians, which is actually an amazing comic book.
Satine Phoenix: Thank you.
Mark Merida: She’s a jewelry designer and freelance illustrator on BurningQuill.com. You can read about her gaming escapades over the years at io9.com, WIRED magazine, Maxim and Time Magazine. Artist, entrepreneur, entertainer, Satine Phoenix.
Satine Phoenix: Hi.
Mark Merida: Hi.
Satine Phoenix: I have a lot of things that I do.
Mark Merida: Yeah. Is there anything you don’t do?
Satine Phoenix: Brain surgery.
Mark Merida: Yeah, well, I don’t do that either, so it’s a [crosstalk 00:01:05] … but yeah.
Mark Merida: So I’ll start off with the softball questions. So I know you go around all over the place. You go to conventions. You go to stores. You do a lot of different things, lot of different podcasts and stuff like that. Do you have a favorite convention or conventions that you’ve attended for D&D, and what are the reasons for liking those conventions so much? Basically it’s offering shameless plugs for conventions.
Satine Phoenix: Well, this is my favorite. This is the center of my universe. Gary Con is my favorite. I’ve been coming here for five or six years. I don’t remember because there was a car accident between one of them. But yeah, I love it here. And also I love Gamehole Con. So between Gary Con and Gamehole Con, I love them because Gamehole Con has all the people from Gary Con. So it’s like a second Gary Con but in November. And what I love about it is I feel like I’m home. I’m with people who have been obsessed with D&D, a lot of them, since as long as I’ve been alive.
Satine Phoenix: So I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons, first by myself, since 1988. And then in high school I finally found a group of friends in 1995. So I’ve been playing for a really long time.
Satine Phoenix: I have a reverence for people who’ve come before. I just always have. My best friend was my grandmother. And so she really instilled that there’s more to life than the superficial things that you see in your moment, that every item has been created by a series of people and play tested by many, many people long before it got to you. So here I get to meet the original creators, or some of them, and I’m around other people who also have an appreciation. I am a grognard. I am a hipster only for Dungeons & Dragons. So this is a very special place.
Satine Phoenix: Every time I come here I get out of my car and I walk into the lobby and it’s, “Satine.” And I’m with my buddies and it feels like a high school sleepover. And we talk about our favorite modules and our favorite moments in gaming, and somebody shows their thing and then everyone’s like, “Oh yeah? Well, look at my cool thing.” And we stay up too late, and we eat … Well, this time I am not eating as much junk food even though I did eat like 12 pieces of chicken before bed last night. But we’re here because we’re passionate. We’re here because we love gaming. And we love seeing what the community is creating around the games, whether that’s dice or supplements or … Axe N Shield has those risers, you know?
Mark Merida: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Satine Phoenix: It’s just amazing what the community is doing, and watching the adventures being played in Adventurers League. And then all the other games that are here at the convention that maybe I wouldn’t play … I don’t usually play anything but Dungeons & Dragons, but every once in a while I get pulled into a game and realize this came from that. This came from the passion of Dungeons & Dragons. And it’s a sci-fi, or it’s a top secret undercover, you know? So that’s why I love this place.
Mark Merida: Conan.
Satine Phoenix: Conan. I haven’t played that one.
Mark Merida: Oh, it’s awesome.
Satine Phoenix: Noted.
Mark Merida: So about the game itself, not talking about anything on the periphery, but about the game itself … So you’re sitting down and you’re playing a game. What is it about the game that you love so much? Is it hearing the DM tell a story, or you telling a story as being the DM, or is it more the interactive storytelling? Or is it the rolling of the dice? Some people like to R-O-L-L play, instead of R-O-L-E play.
Satine Phoenix: That’s nice. I like that. I want to shirt that.
Mark Merida: But what is it about the game that you love so much?
Satine Phoenix: I love being a child. I love the transition from real world to fantasy world. The rules are simple. I do like rules. I don’t like rules that are too heavy. I like rules that guide me, but I like to be able to bend the rules. And Dungeons & Dragons rules do that.
Satine Phoenix: The Dungeon Master is the one who’s malleable. And if you can convince a Dungeon Master, you can be clever enough, sometimes you get what you want. And sometimes they have those dice just ruin your day.
Satine Phoenix: We say, “Roll for story.” I love rolling dice. I’m usually Dungeon Master, so I love it when I get my players to roll and they roll a one. And it changes everything, but it’s just changing the story. It doesn’t mean that they failed. I love that. I love everything about Dungeons & Dragons. I like the mechanics. I love the playing with people.
Satine Phoenix: Collaborative storytelling is one of the coolest things. They do it in writers’ rooms for movies and television, for comics. But this is … you have a leader, the Dungeon Master, the narrator, the storyteller, and then you have the actors. But it’s not just the storyteller’s game. It’s everybody’s game because the entire story can change based on what the players want. I’ve reconfigured entire games where the players wanted a different thing, and I was basically writing the game two minutes ahead of them for two hours. And then I would plant some of the things that I wanted in. And just that kind of navigating, that playfulness, that’s imagination play. That is my favorite part of Dungeons & Dragons.
Mark Merida: I know that several people who are listening to this or reading this have watched your podcast and everything, and your streaming events, and they see how much you get into … when you’re running a game or when you’re playing a game. How important is it, when you’re playing, that it be that kind of immersive experience?
Satine Phoenix: What’s important to me is that I am a part of the story that’s being told in the moment. So if the Dungeon Master and the rest of the players want a mechanical, heavy, roll the dice kind of game then I’m appropriate to that setting. If I’m with, say, my Sirens, they just want to be put in a room and role-play and be characters and dress up. And I’m appropriate to that setting. So really what’s the most important is what the table wants. And that’s how immersive I am.
Satine Phoenix: I really enjoy role-playing and having really intense stuff, like on Dread, for Geek and Sundry. That was powerful. It was me, Mercer, Taliesin, Amy Vorpahl, Amy Dallen. And we used the Jenga tower. And that was the most immersive, and it was satisfying. But it only worked because we were all really good friends and we trusted each other, and we could take each other to that level.
Satine Phoenix: Can I do that at a convention with people I don’t know? Probably not. We were yelling at each other. We were crying. We were doing intense things because we prepped each other ahead of time, like, “I’m sorry for what I’m about to do. It’s not me.” But we all knew that that was true, whereas if I’m at a convention game and … I want people to role-play. And suddenly half the people are role-playing; the other half don’t understand what that means at all. You can’t force it on the table. You can only do what the minimum amount of the table can do, which might be a little more … Say you have a table that’s … half of them want to just roll dice, and the other half want to be super immersive role-play. You almost have to go way lighter on the role-playing and feed the more minimal, because that puts less pressure on people. So for me it’s important to not pressure people.
Mark Merida: But it’s a lot easier, when people are role-playing, to move the story along as well because then they’re feeding into you. And you have all these little things that you pick up on that you can add into your story, and it furthers what you’re trying to do too.
Satine Phoenix: Oh yeah. No, totally. You either dungeon crawl and you move the story along with monsters and things to kill, or you can move the story along with role-play. My personal preference is role-play.
Mark Merida: Do you remember that game we were in last year where we were playing and the game wasn’t going anywhere and nobody would open the door? You were playing the cat character and I put the red dotted sight on the door and you were like …
Satine Phoenix: That was really fun. That was really good for cat player agency. The red dot of … the red target of goodness … of navigation.
Mark Merida: Okay. So do you have a list of conventions that you’re going to be attending this year, just in case people would like to meet you?
Satine Phoenix: Well, I’m a little bit elusive this year. I don’t have a pre-organized list like I thought I was going to. However I will be at-
Mark Merida: Gamehole.
Satine Phoenix: I will be at Gamehole Con. I will be at PAX Unplugged. I believe Gen Con. I’m going backwards now. I’m doing a tour through Europe, so-
Mark Merida: Oh, wow.
Satine Phoenix: Yes. I’m going to Milan, Amsterdam, Paris, and London with T.J. Storm, and we are going to do events in each location. So we’ll have people come to us. We’re going to create our own mini cons.
Mark Merida: And you’re going to be streaming from these locations, right?
Satine Phoenix: I don’t know if I want to do that yet. I mean, I want to do panels there and bring people from the community out. And that’s kind of my focus, is making sure that people in all these locations are meeting each other. I’m a community lady. That’s what I do. D&D in a castle, and I believe there’s going to be another very interesting thing at the end of the year that I’m working on that might have something very tropical to do with it.
Mark Merida: Oh, that’s awesome.
Satine Phoenix: Yes.
Mark Merida: And hopefully when we publish this we’ll get those dates for people out in Europe, so if they want to attend those events that would be awesome.
Satine Phoenix: Absolutely. The tour starts June 19th. Well, that’s when I fly out there, so it’ll be a few days after that. And I definitely have a list, so I’ll give it to you.
Mark Merida: Awesome. That’s amazing. I’m sure that everyone over in Europe is excited to hear about that. Getting more into the livestreaming side, how long have you been livestreaming, and how did you first get into streaming or recording?
Satine Phoenix: Funny story. So in 2010 my friends and I had a show on The Escapist. We played D&D. It was mostly girls. And then I went through a life change and got contacted by Meltdown Comics to run the Hollywood Dungeons & Dragons community. And I did that for about six years, twice a week, just volunteering because I love it. And that’s where I started Dungeon Mastering.
Satine Phoenix: But through that … there was another thing I did throughout my childhood. I was part of a youth group, and all we did was charity. And I spent my 20s not doing charity. So by the time I hit 30 I was like, “I want to do my two favorite things. I want to play Dungeons & Dragons with my friends in LA, and I want to raise money for a charity.” So I picked Reach Out and Read. It’s a childhood literacy foundation where they have a program that teaches pediatricians how to teach parents the importance, and how to get their kids to read. And it’s from six months old to 18 years old, and they provide the books. It’s the most incredible program.
Satine Phoenix: So I started CelebrityChariD20, and we had this crazy idea. This was 2010. It was myself and Keith Baker. So Keith Baker wrote all the adventures because my favorite-
Mark Merida: Keith Baker of Eberron, fourth edition, by the way, Dungeons & Dragons.
Satine Phoenix: Exactly.
Mark Merida: Just in case people … I know everyone knows, who’s listening to this, but …
Satine Phoenix: Yeah, my favorite setting is Eberron, so that’s why I was like, “Hey Keith.” And we always wanted to work together, so he was like, “Yeah, let’s do this.” So he would write the adventure, and I had this crazy idea. I was like, “Keith, we’re going to have four tables. Four tables, four Dungeon Masters, six … all at the same time, six players per table. We’re going to all have them in one room at the same time with cameras and audio equipment.” And it was the stupidest idea I ever had, and it was terrible.
Satine Phoenix: See, we had … four Dungeon Masters. One of them was Matthew Mercer. And it was chaos. It was absolute chaos because everyone got their adventure that day. And then we had it all on … I was like, “We’re going to put it on one website. And if you want to donate to that table you just click on them.” But what I didn’t realize was how noisy it would get. So the first year we just tried … There wasn’t even a term for livestreaming yet. This was just like way back. Actually there might have been with Justin.tv, which ended up becoming Twitch, I believe. And, yeah, it was just the most ridiculous thing.
Satine Phoenix: However the next year we did it again, cleaned it up a bit, and then eventually it became one table after another table after another. So that was very nice. So that’s how we started livestreaming in Hollywood. It was a stupid idea that evolved into a really good idea.
Mark Merida: There’s no mistakes. There’s only learning experiences.
Satine Phoenix: That is my middle name: no mistakes, only learning experiences, all one word. It’s one of many middle names.
Mark Merida: Do you have any suggestions or tips or advice for anyone getting started and having either social media presence or streaming, podcasts, blogs?
Satine Phoenix: Absolutely. I want everyone out there to know that you are not alone, and that you don’t need to fight this fight alone, and that we are all better because we help each other. Find other podcasters. Amplify them. Have them guest on your show or your podcast or whatever, and make friends because this isn’t a competition. This is a community.
Satine Phoenix: We are very lucky as Dungeons & Dragons fans, and tabletop game fans, where we have the nicest community on the planet, the most kind community. There’s a vocal minority that isn’t as nice. But the majority is just, honestly, the most kindest people I have ever met, and I meet a lot of people. So go out there, meet people. Don’t be shy. We are nerds. We are all shy, and we all are just waiting for more people who are passionate … to meet more people like us who are passionate.
Mark Merida: Closeted nerds.
Satine Phoenix: Yes, exactly. Well, here’s the thing. It’s 2019. People are coming out of the basement. We like to say, “Bringing the geek out of the basement,” instead of the closet because, you know, we always played in the basement back in the 80s.
Mark Merida: Even Joe Manganiello came out of the basement.
Satine Phoenix: He has a cool basement, though. Let me tell you, sitting in that Dungeon Master chair at his house … the coolest thing. And I felt really tiny in it because it’s such a big chair for him. I was like, “Oh my goodness.” Yeah, coolest basement.
Satine Phoenix: Or maybe it’s not bringing nerds out of the basement. It’s making basements cool again.
Mark Merida: So if I wasn’t intimidated before, I’m even more intimidated now because I know that you’ve run a game for Joe Manganiello.
Satine Phoenix: Are you looking at my shirt that he gave me?
Mark Merida: Yes, I saw it on … I saw it on the page.
Satine Phoenix: It’s one of 20 made. And it’s basically a Dungeon Master jersey, but it’s very cozy. And it says Phoenix, and then Dungeon Master on the back with … it’s almost like puff paint. It’s so cool.
Mark Merida: With the death saves going down the side … that’s awesome.
Satine Phoenix: Yeah, death saves going down one side, and then total party kill going down the other side, and then the old Dungeon Master on the front. I don’t know, did you see-
Mark Merida: The cartoon? Yeah. It looks just like the cartoon.
Satine Phoenix: Did you see on the Rick and Morty comic book?
Mark Merida: No.
Satine Phoenix: So Rick and Morty comic book, it’s Rick and Morty versus Dungeons & Dragons. And it was written by Jim Zub and Patrick Rothfuss, and I was one of the five Dungeon Masters they had in it. So they have the old cartoon Dungeon Master, and he transforms into Chris Perkins, and he transforms into Satine, and he transforms into Mearls. It’s really cool. So I’m honored to be a part of this movement that I had no idea was going to ever be a thing. I was just happy to play games with my friends and escape from reality for a while. I’m actually writing a book about it.
Mark Merida: Right. Well, we’ll hopefully talk about that later, more information.
Mark Merida: So you’ve talked about a lot of people that you met. I know that I have met people from all walks of life that I would never have met in a million years if it wasn’t for this silly game that we play called D&D. Do you have any stories about the people that you’ve met through the game that you probably would never have met otherwise, other than me of course?
Satine Phoenix: Yeah. I travel the world teaching people how to play and connecting. I meet people from all walks of life, lots of celebrities, lots of people making waves in the community by focusing what their passions are. You’ve got therapists like Megan Connell and Dr. B, who are using their practice and Dungeons & Dragons to heal people.
Satine Phoenix: One of the most amazing people I’ve ever met is sitting to my right. She’s being very quiet. This is Fenway, who runs Jasper’s Game Day and I believe … Is it your dad? You and your dad? … asked me to call in on the Skype. We did a podcast. And now I mentor her. She’s the teen Dungeon Master. She’s 16 years old, just turned 16. And she’s been Dungeon Mastering for three plus … I think it’s more, right? It’s more than that. And she writes Adventurers League content, and is one of the most incredible people. If it wasn’t for Dungeons & Dragons I … I’m going to make me cry. We have this beautiful … her family and I have this beautiful relationship because of the community. And watching her grow is the coolest thing.
Mark Merida: And for those that don’t know Fenway, her passion is suicide prevention awareness. And hopefully we’ll be able to sit down with her and do an interview with her some day as well.
Satine Phoenix: Yeah, JaspersGameDay.com.
Mark Merida: All right. So how did you come to such prominence in the role-playing community?
Satine Phoenix: I don’t know what’s real anymore, man. This whole thing is crazy. I just do the thing that I always do. I’m an entertainer. I just follow my passions. I’m a Bohemian artist. I just like being around people. I go to conventions because I’m passionate. You know, five, six years ago I came to Gary Con. Nobody knew who I was.
Mark Merida: And she’s not just saying that. She actually loves people.
Satine Phoenix: I do. I get high off of happiness. I don’t drink. I’m sober, so … in America. I have some vices, which is outside of America. But yeah, it’s-
Mark Merida: Look out, Europe.
Satine Phoenix: Oh yeah. Yeah, it’s … I don’t know what is happening. But it’s really funny. Living in Hollywood you see people all the time get swept up by fame. They get swept up by success. And I’m just trying to make art. I’m just trying to make sure everybody is connected so that we all can play and make the art that we want, which is whatever … is that writing, tabletop games? Is that making movies? Is that creating illustrations or graphic novels or whatever? I just want to facilitate that. And that came from my artist friends. That came from my Hollywood friends who are behind the scenes, that don’t get recognized. And I learned from them.
Satine Phoenix: There’s a thing called Comic Book Sunday, or there was a thing called Comic Book Sunday. And it was all these super famous writers and producers who would get together and bring their comics, and trade comics, and just talk comics. And I think Underworld was created because of that. You know, these guys are like, “You’re cool. Let’s do stuff together.” And between that and my artist friends like Allan Amato, and my mentor David Mack, and Bill Sienkiewicz … watching the way they love each other, and promote each other with this unabashed, like, “You people need to know who this person is because he’s fantastic, and he’s just this beautiful artist.” They show each other how passionate they are. And it’s addicting. It’s enigmatic. It’s mysterious. And you’re like, “Why are they so passionate?” And then you find out more.
Satine Phoenix: And maybe that’s what happened, I guess. Maybe people were just like, “Wow, she’s really obsessed with this thing. Let’s go find out why.”
Mark Merida: I’m going to ask you a potentially emotional question, so I’m going to preface that. How does it make you feel when you have a young, impressionable boy or girl … or maybe not so young, like Fenway or anyone else, like myself … and when you come across them and you are embraced with such love just for being yourself?
Satine Phoenix: I just … you’re going to make me cry. It’s the coolest thing, because outside of D&D I never was accepted. I’ve never been around people who accept me more. And they don’t judge me. And I’ve made choices in my life that I’m not ashamed of, but people want me to be ashamed of. And here, you know, it’s D&D. You leave all that garbage at the door, and you sit down and you play. And when people tell me these things it makes me fall to my knees and I just am so humbled in a way that … There are not words that can express it. And having gone through all the crazy things that I’ve gone through, it’s the most beautiful thing ever. There’s nothing that compares to the love I have for people that come to me with love.
Satine Phoenix: Thank you for asking that. And the fact that Fenway’s parents don’t judge me … Here I am, I’m talking with her all the time on Skype and her phone, and we’re just going on, and I’m like … They’re so great. They’re not like, “Oh, she used to be like this, and we can’t have our daughter conversing with somebody like that.” The acceptance, the pure acceptance of who I am today. Whereas the rest of the world seems to just really want to push this thing that I did 10 years plus ago, that I’ve been retired from for … that I only did for five years out of my life.
Satine Phoenix: And it’s like, “I’m an artist.” I spent five years as an artist-
Mark Merida: Football?
Satine Phoenix: Football, yeah. I did that. It was crazy.
Satine Phoenix: Five years I went to art school. Five years, separately, of my life, I was a comic book artist.
Mark Merida: A very good comic book artist.
Satine Phoenix: Thank you very much. Six years of my life was dedicated to nothing by Dungeons & Dragons for free. So it’s just really … I never take it for granted. And I also know that the whole thing can be pulled … the rug can be pulled from under me at any moment. And people could be like, “Oh, you know, who was that girl who did that thing?” That’s real, that could happen. And I’m in the moment. I’m feeling it. And I just hope that people can feel the actual, genuine love that I have for everybody that says hi to me.
Mark Merida: I know how modest you are. And your modesty humbles me. You do a lot of stuff for a lot of people.
Satine Phoenix: You’ve just got to be honest, you know? You have to be yourself. Every single time somebody has tried to get me to be somebody who isn’t myself it has not gone well. It hasn’t gone well for me, it hasn’t gone well for them. And the world isn’t as bright as when I can just be, and admit that I am who I am, and it’s different. And you’re who you are, and you’re different. And the sum of all of us together makes this world bright. You can’t change people. You can accept them … You have to accept them for who they are. Whether you want to be around them, that’s up to you. But you cannot change anybody.
Mark Merida: But you can be a voice and effect change in society [inaudible 00:28:22].
Satine Phoenix: Yes. You can change-
Mark Merida: You can’t affect the individual but you can affect society.
Satine Phoenix: … perspective. You can affect perspective, and that-
Mark Merida: And we’ll get more on that in a minute.
Satine Phoenix: Oh, then I will [inaudible 00:28:31].
Mark Merida: So one of the things that I’m really excited to talk to you about is this new venture that you’re working on over at Patreon. And you can check it out, Patreon.com/SatinePhoenix. What are you doing with this platform, and how does this mix with the other things that you’re doing?
Satine Phoenix: I was gifted something really beautiful from Matthew Mercer, which was continuing GM Tips. That was his. That was his baby. And then he entrusted it with me and was like, “I believe in you, Satine.” I’m like, “Oh my god.” And he thought I was good enough. And then I did GM Tips and showed what I thought was important, which is we’re not an island. Other people have a voice and we will always be learning from one another. So I did that. But that’s Geek and Sundry’s. And then I did Dungeon Master’s Guide talk show on D&D’s Twitch, and that’s theirs. And it’s basically me talking, but not with anybody. And it’s me talking to a teleprompter or a wall. And I did all the writing and stuff, but it’s still not … There’s a barrier. So I converted my Patreon into a way to connect with people and actually give them more directly.
Satine Phoenix: I know it sounds really strange, but I’m doing webinars. So you can subscribe for a Dungeon Master group or a player group, or you can do the intensive course that I’m doing. But it’s all on Zoom, so you’re there with me and you’re asking me questions. And I have a course, so it’s like a classroom. I learn from … people learn from teaching. I have a certain skill set and I have advice to give. But also coming up with solutions with people only makes us all grow. And now I have the capability to do this with hundreds of people, kind of like when we do panels. So I’m bringing panels into our homes.
Satine Phoenix: Also I’m running-
Mark Merida: Do you want me to pause?
Satine Phoenix: Mm-mm (negative). Also I’m running games. So in the first four days, I sold out three games. There are three monthly games and they’re sold out already, and it’s like, “Wow.” And I was like, “I don’t know what to do next. Okay.” So I turned two more tiers, I opened two more tiers, and it’s one on one role-playing.
Satine Phoenix: So one of the things I do for Sirens is … The girls want to explore the character more, but they’re embarrassed to do that on camera because they don’t want to look like they’ve messed up in front of thousands of people. That’s embarrassing. So we’ll sit down, maybe one of them or two of them at a time, and we’ll do little mini sessions for like two hours, and we’ll explore their spells. Basically it’s a training. So I’m doing one on one training on Patreon as well.
Satine Phoenix: And, really, the whole thing is about the art of storytelling and how to communicate better and how to look at things from different perspectives. I am a Bohemian artist. I look at the world differently. And I hope to share my experiences with people, to give them the skills to also take a look at things from other perspectives.
Mark Merida: Awesome. I’m going to go to Patreon.com right after this.
Mark Merida: So based off of some other things that we’ve talked about, I know that you are a very prominent and polarizing personality within the role-playing hobby. For good or for bad, how do you think you became that way, and how have you leveraged that to actually increase your appeal?
Satine Phoenix: It’s really funny, because somebody asked me about my personal brand. And I was like, “Personal brand.” Well, over the years … and I’m almost 40 … I’ve realized that the more I simplify myself, and the more I just focus on the things I love, the more people are like, “Oh yeah, I get that.” So I accidentally made my personal brand art and Dungeons & Dragons. And I guess this is more of a lifestyle because
Mark Merida: And they go together.
Satine Phoenix: And they go together, yeah. So it was an accident. I accidentally did that by being myself. Yup, that’s it. I became myself. It’s silly and I love it. That’s what I was saying earlier, right? You become yourself, you do the things that you’re passionate about, and people identify with that.
Mark Merida: Unlock your inner core.
Satine Phoenix: Yeah.
Mark Merida: So based off of that I think we’re going to get into more of the meat of what we’re talking about here. You’re such an advocate, not only for diversity through your games, articles, and posts for your games, but you’re also an advocate for other things. Where does this almost seemingly limitless fountain of passion come from?
Satine Phoenix: I’m an optimist. I really think things are great. I almost died a company years ago. 2015, got in a car accident. I almost died. I went through childhood trauma for nine years. Bad darkness. And I believe very firmly that when you go through such dark despair, deep, terrible, traumatic things, you now have the capability of seeing more light.
Satine Phoenix: I say there’s this gilding light that’s inside that has to heal that darkness. And so that is where my passion comes from. It almost comes from the darkness, and having to compensate and see the beauty. When you go through the kind of trauma I’ve been through, you have to hold on to that light. You have to see the best in people. You have to hope and dream that there are better things out there. So that’s where my passion comes from, and that’s where the light comes from.
Mark Merida: And you said you’re working on a book. Is there going to be more about this inside the book?
Satine Phoenix: Yeah, actually. I’m doing a whole collaborative art movement thing in the near future. That’s going to be really cool. And so it’s kind of that gilding light type thing. But the book … I’m going to rename it, but it is about how Dungeons & Dragons has helped me through PTSD, both childhood trauma and adult emotional abuse.
Satine Phoenix: So the year that my first trauma happened was the year that I started reading Dungeons & Dragons. And so while the trauma was happening I was creating the character, the strong character, the fast, the cunning, the smart, who would defeat the monsters. Even though I couldn’t do it in my real life, I was doing it in game. And it gave me the courage and strength to be the confident person I am. So I was very confident as a kid. Also this trauma was happening. There’s a duality. And so it was parallel, literally time parallel.
Satine Phoenix: And then I realized how amazing it was that I started seeing these characters I’m making. And I’m like, “Well, how do I raise my intelligence in real life?” I was a huge book nerd. I was raised in a library, and then moved and then hung out in libraries. That was my jam.
Mark Merida: So you were basically empowering yourself?
Satine Phoenix: I was empowering myself on accident. It’s like, “I want to be stronger. I want to be faster.” Did tae kwon do for three or four years. “I want to be more charismatic.” [inaudible 00:36:39] The leader of my youth group from 11 until 18. And then I was the drama club president in high school. I was always like, “Okay, how do I become this character,” who’s now Vlahnya by the way, the character who I played in the … I’m on Idle Champions, right? This character I made when I was 12 is now who I … I became that person.
Satine Phoenix: So finding the strength, finding how to grow by leveling up in real life, and then further to transcend that and be a Dungeon Master and facilitate that kind of healing for other people who might not even know that’s what they’re doing … and some of them do know that is what they’re doing … it’s very powerful. That’s what my book is about.
Mark Merida: I know this is about you but I’m just going to tell a brief story. When I was growing up I was very introverted, and I was bullied a lot through elementary school, through middle school, and through high school. And I would say a big reason why I’m … sometimes I’m still introverted. But most of the time I’m extroverted and it’s because of Dungeons & Dragons, because you need to interact socially with the other people at the table.
Satine Phoenix: Yeah. It builds the confidence through practice. And I believe Dr. B and Megan Connell are working on programs to help people do that, and kind of learn skills.
Mark Merida: Do you have a website for them, so if people want more information about what they’re doing?
Satine Phoenix: I don’t. I know there’s TakeThis.org, I believe. And then Megan Connell’s is Clinical Role. That’s hers, yeah.
Mark Merida: Okay. R-O-L-E?
Satine Phoenix: I believe so. Instead of Critical Role it’s Clinical Role.
Mark Merida: We’ll post the links to the appropriate websites afterwards, so if anyone wants to go and check out any of these things they can.
Mark Merida: So aside from yourself, I know that you’re an advocate for diversity. I know it’s not just diversity through … well, empowering women is also a thing. But I know that you also want to do diversity for other things as well, like making sure that LGBTQ people at large, they feel like this is a safe environment for them, and it’s not really a them and it’s not an us, it’s a we.
Satine Phoenix: Absolutely. Have you met me? I am a Filipino-Sicilian. I am American. I am bisexual. I am alternative-looking. I am all of those things. I never had anything to represent my actual … The only person, when I was a kid, that I could look up to, that I felt represented me, was David Bowie. And he was … he felt like an alien. So I don’t want people to feel like that.
Satine Phoenix: And by showing people acceptance, we are better humans. We have a better community. And we’re all people. Just because we look different or have different preferences in our lifestyles doesn’t mean that we’re not the same when we’re sitting down. If anything we can learn from each other and just become better people by playing with each other.
Mark Merida: It sounds simple.
Satine Phoenix: None of that stuff matters, you know? It really doesn’t. I’m really spoiled because I’m from major cities. I lived in … spent a lot of time in San Francisco. A lot of my growing, young, college time was in San Francisco. And then I live in LA for a really long time. Lived in Sydney, spent a lot of time in New York, and … sorry. Spent a lot of time in New York and Miami, international traveler, and … It’s not weird that my friends are of all ethnicities and they’re all mixed. You know, one of my best girl friends, Japanese, Black, Native American, and German. It’s just normal in these big cities.
Satine Phoenix: I didn’t know that people had a hard time. I didn’t know women had a hard time because I’m aggressive. “Oh, you’re playing? I’m playing with you.” “Okay.” Then all of a sudden I hear that these women aren’t allowed to play? That people would kill their characters? I didn’t learn that until I was running the D&D group at Meltdown and women were like, “Thank you so much. If you weren’t running this group, if you, a woman, an Asian-American woman, wasn’t running this group, I would not have joined up.” So we literally have to be the people we want to see in the community. If we’re not, people won’t come out.
Satine Phoenix: Here’s the thing. People always talk about, “There are not many women gamers,” or “There weren’t many women gamers back in the day.” And the truth is that there were. But you know what? We didn’t have to talk about it. We just did the thing. And all diverse types of people, colors, preferences, sexuality, whatever … we’ve been playing forever.
Satine Phoenix: But what I’m really proud of is that a lot of us are now doing streams and we are being the role models for other people. I honestly did not know the power of it until I went to Gen Con a couple years ago and people said, “Thank you, I am now more comfortable. Thank you, I am a Dungeon Master. Thank you, I’m not afraid to wave my nerd flag.”
Mark Merida: That’s very inspiring. So based off of that … and I know that you said the very small minority earlier in the conversation, that there’s some issues with that … the term social justice warrior is often used as a dirty word, basically to describe those that are trying to effect change in society by empowering others and by educating people. Why do you think there has been such a backlash from such a small sliver of the community regarding this? And what and how are you trying to do to break down these walls and stereotypes?
Satine Phoenix: Well, I have an issue with the word warrior because it’s about fighting, and people don’t respond well to fighting. People respond to communication and talking. One of the things I love about our community is they’ll have full conversations, and it’s beautiful. They’ll actually listen to each other because it’s tabletop games. And this is very specific to tabletop games. Video games are different because it’s us versus them.
Satine Phoenix: But I used to say I was a warrior of light. That was my thing. My friends and I were warriors of light. “We’ll fight for the rights of people.” But really I am now more a bard. I’m a herald of light. I’m a social justice herald because positive reinforcement moves nations. Fighting does not, because what aggression does is it feeds aggression. So by being calm, learning how to listen to people … because a lot of the people out there, they have something to say. And everybody deserves to be heard. Doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with one another.
Satine Phoenix: You’ll see it on all the threads. Someone has something to say. Someone defends, and then someone responds with aggression and is like, “You’re wrong.” But usually they’re not saying, “You’re wrong. I heard you.” They’re saying, “You’re wrong. Here’s my platform.” So now you’ve got platform versus platform, and nobody’s listening to one another. I watch it all the time. I’m on the D&D social media. I see everything, everything. It’s very traumatizing.
Satine Phoenix: But it’s really beautiful having had … spent the last year doing that. I now … and also learning skills. I’ve learned a lot of skills on how to listen and how to let people know that they’re heard. So what I’m trying to do now is go on the threads and hear what they want, because everything has a need, right? And everything they say isn’t … sometimes it’s not literal. They’re actually trying to say something else. But if you actually ask the right questions, you hear what they really need. A lot of it is need to be heard, and they want to have a conversation. They actually do. That’s why they’re there in the first place. Some people are hiding behind pseudonyms, but really they’re waiting for permission to say what they really want to say.
Satine Phoenix: And being a herald … I say I’m a herald of compassion. Being a herald for social justice is really important. It is really important. But you’ve got to do it from a kind place. People don’t respond from pain.
Mark Merida: Individuals that I’ve talked to about this who are on the other side … and I’m going to admit five years ago I was on the other side, so … and it’s through people like yourself that have educated me in understanding that what I was thinking wasn’t a correct view. And for me personally, I thought when I’m playing D&D this is my safe space. And I felt that that was being threatened, and it’s not.
Satine Phoenix: Yeah. It’s important actually. Really interesting you say that because I’ve done a lot of talks on why people are so into “my game.” “This is my game. Dungeons & Dragons is mine.” Because we had to as kids. I was also bullied, thrown in garbage cans, spit on. People would invite me to parties to make fun of me so that I would leave crying, since I was little. It was really bad. I was the school nerd. My grandma dressed me-
Mark Merida: Sorry.
Satine Phoenix: It sucks. This is a normal, this is a common thing unfortunately, you know? Brownies flying by my head … Why would you throw food like that at somebody?
Mark Merida: There’s a lot of horrible people out there.
Satine Phoenix: Because they wear black? Because they don’t dress the way you want?
Satine Phoenix: So it is our game because that was how we got through all the hard times. But we need to evolve. And there’s a point of … I don’t know if the term is forgive. I’m still working on this forgiveness thing because I’ve gone through a lot of bad stuff. I know I’m not going to forget, but there is a moving on, like, “Okay, that happened. That is not who I am.” Who I am is from all the wonderful people who are sitting around here that I’m sharing these experiences with. This is our space. We grow together. And I also believe it’s a change in perspective, right? You had a change in perspective, and that is something that is important if people are … If people are listening to one another, you can change their perspective out of fear and into acceptance and compassion.
Mark Merida: I’m at a loss for words right now. And for people who know me, that’s very rare.
Mark Merida: There’s a lot of things that we’ve talked about. How do you advocate or help empower other ethnicities, women, people who have PTSD, to take a more prominent role, and a leadership role in the industry, from DMing to being active voice for change, or just come out of their comfort zone for that one night, sit down at that table that first time and know that they may be uncomfortable initially but as soon as they sit down, and as soon as they start rolling those dice, their life is going to change?
Satine Phoenix: There’s a couple things. Let’s see, let me try to think back on … I had like three different answers. Do by doing, right? So as kids we learn by watching. We learn from our parents and we learn from the people around us and we absorb. So it’s very important that people like myself, like my peers and my friends who are out there livestreaming, it’s important that we do it so that other people can see it.
Satine Phoenix: I have brain damage. I’m very open about it. I cannot remember certain things. So I admit it. I say, “Hey, guys, I have brain damage. Today is a bad day. Today I need somebody to handle the initiative. I need somebody to keep track of status. I don’t know if I can even do the monsters. But I want to facilitate this for you, so can we do this together?” And by admitting what my faults are, and admitting that I am in zero way perfect, it makes people relax. People put too much weight on themselves and on other people. And then there’s all this pressure, right?
Satine Phoenix: But this is a game. We’re six years old now. We’re sitting around a table. We’re all six. We’re role playing with our imaginations. Let it go. Oh, I forgot a rule? Okay, well, just look it up. I misruled something? Okay, we’ll just fix it next time. It’s just a game. So by doing that, especially on stream, I think that’s really important.
Satine Phoenix: Another way to promote other people who are out there doing, Follow Fridays. I know it seems like a little thing, the #FF. Very powerful because people are hungry to meet other people who are doing stuff. So retweet people. Just comment. Lately I don’t know what’s been going on, but everyone’s been really kind, just straight up, “Hey, Satine’s great. Follow her.” I’m like, “Where did that come from? What … who … thank you, man.”
Mark Merida: Well, Role Initiative retweets you all the time.
Satine Phoenix: Thank you. Thank you so much. But that makes a big difference. And people are spending so much time in front of their social media. Every comment … I read every comment. I read every message. And it’s hard to respond. And sometimes I just do it in emoticons because I have five minutes and I want to respond to everybody. But I read everything and it’s super important. And other people do too.
Mark Merida: Vice president of The Role Initiative, Deb Berlin, when she met you at PAX Unplugged she had a very visceral, emotional reaction. She was so … meeting you was very important to her. And I know that you do that to a lot of other women as well. So how do you harness that? How do you help more and more and more people, because it’s that important?
Satine Phoenix: I have no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know.
Mark Merida: You are awesome. That was a high five.
Satine Phoenix: I have no idea, like …
Mark Merida: You don’t know how awesome you are?
Satine Phoenix: I don’t know.
Mark Merida: That’s how modest she is.
Satine Phoenix: I don’t know what’s going on.
Mark Merida: Why do you think it’s so important to advocate for this change?
Satine Phoenix: Every person changes the world, you know? We live in a crazy time. We live in the craziest, most W-T-F time ever. And we need each other. I think humans need each other more now than we ever have. And we are done. We are tired of people walking on us. I am tired of being taken advantage of. I can only speak for myself, so I am saying I’m tired. I need my friends. I am blessed by meeting so many people and making more friends, going to conventions, falling in love with so many people, just platonic friend love of like, you are amazing. I think platonic love is the most beautiful thing I learned. I learned when I was 30.
Mark Merida: That’s agape love, love of brother and kinship?
Satine Phoenix: Yeah, like people. I didn’t even realize … I knew I loved my best friends, but I didn’t know I could be in friend love. Like, “Wow, I platonically love you and I just want to show the world how great you are.” And I feel that. You know, you got Luke and Todd and all of our friends here, and I have so much respect, true respect, that I cherish their families, and I cherish who they are and what they’re doing. It’s an incredible thing.
Mark Merida: Yes. I think we’re all incredibly emotional right now. I’m emotional right now just sitting here listening to you talk. I’m at a loss for words right now. Is there anything else that you would like to discuss or anything like that?
Satine Phoenix: I just want people out there to know that they can be themselves, and it’s scary. It’s real scary because there’s a lot of people telling you to be somebody else. But acceptance … you know, we have to accept each other because the world is already crazy without letting people’s judgements affect us. I was very lucky when I was younger to have that burned out of my brain. I just did. There was one night, there was a whole thing, and I just let it go. And it has made my life so much better.
Satine Phoenix: Because the thing is, it’s like a table, right? It’s like a game table. You’re playing at a game table and everyone’s getting along except for that one guy or girl or whatever, whoever … they’re just not going to put anything on that … that one person just kind of ruining it for everybody, right?
Satine Phoenix: By being honest with that person that they’re not fitting … that they’re not working with the group and saying, “Look, I wish you the best but this isn’t working because we’ve tried and we’ve tried.” By allowing that person to move to a new group you’ve now given them the opportunity to find a group that works for them. And wow, now they’re in a group that they fell in love with and that they’re going on many adventures with. And you’ve opened up a new seat at your table for someone who is just like the rest of you.
Satine Phoenix: So accepting that person for who they are, allowing them to go find another group that matches who they are, and accepting that and not shunning them, that is the world that we live in right now, because not everyone’s the same. Not everyone has the same view on life. But that is the biggest, strongest lesson I’ve learned from Dungeons & Dragons is acceptance.
Mark Merida: Are you calling me a murder hobo?
Satine Phoenix: You can be a murder hobo.
Mark Merida: Well, I would like to say a sincere thank you for The Role Initiative and for myself, for sitting down, talking to you with this length of time. I really … I’m in awe. Thank you. I appreciate it.
Satine Phoenix: You can’t see, but I’m giving him heart paw.
Mark Merida: Thank you very much.
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.