Interview with Eric O’Keefe from What if World – Stories for Kids, an improv podcast!

I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Eric from What if World, a storytelling podcast for kids!  We chat about how stories can help kids, Eric’s XP with TTRPGs, and… what if you give kids the opportunity to make some stories.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m Eric O’Keefe; I am the host of What If World – Stories for Kids!  It’s an improvisational storytelling podcast that involves my various voice-over and preschool teaching experience, which kind of finally came together into something that I can do for a living. 

Besides that, I take care of my two young kids who are just starting preschool… I’m adjusting to that!  It’s a fun challenge!  

Oh, and I live in Los Angeles!

What is background with tabletop RPGs?  When did you start playing TTRPGs?  And do you have one favorite moment? 

Well, my big brother, who was six and a half years older than me and was already obsessed with D&D needed someone to DM for.  Naturally, when I turned 5, he handed me some dice and wrote me out a character sheet, and I was his first player!

It was a blast!

He was a tough DM; I lost a lot of characters.  I think he was working out his own stuff, but it was great!  It made me obsessed with monsters and weird stuff for my whole life!

My favorite moment… hmmm… So, my cousin, who was kind of like a brother to me, was also in our group, and he got into DM’ing late.  He did Dark Sun, which is this arid desert post-apocalyptic world with telepaths and really weird monsters and artwork – he just got into it. 

My character for that was named Nugget, and he was a little golden colored bald dwarf who was very feisty and angry and kind.  He was my first emotionally complicated character. 

The reason that this was my favorite wasn’t because of one particular moment but because my cousin had candles and music at every session – it was scary and tense.  There was ambiance.  It was the first time that I realized that D&D was more than just rolling dice and making a new character when you rolled poorly.  It was an experience.  He really elevated my game and my brother’s game by going that extra distance.

Can you tell us a bit about your podcast?

Sure!  It’s an improvisational show in that the stories are unscripted, but I still put a lot of thought into each story.  I do a lot of retakes and research – I’ve made almost 300 episodes now, and I care a lot about sensitivity.  

It is also just me.  I don’t have the money to support a big team, so it’s a lot of independent research each week to get into the lessons that I’m trying to impart and getting into that growth mindset that I’m trying to focus on. 

The podcast has a bunch of different characters that I voice, unless I have friends on who can help voice them.  

The reason that I’m doing this interview is that we’re also on our 25th episode of a TTRPG miniseries called Guilds and Goblins that is from a game that I developed when I was a preschool teacher and playing with my nieces and nephews and cousins. 

I got to refine that and put Guilds and Goblins on the show to essentially play a TTRPG with myself!   

How does storytelling through a podcast or a TTRPG help kids? 

I think storytelling builds empathy and resilience.  It is a rehearsal for the life that we want to live, and playing TTRPGs with safe grown ups shows kids how they interact. 

The world has gotten a bit quieter, I think, since the pandemic, so I don’t get as many chances getting to be out in the world with my kids and interacting with strangers in front of them as much as I like to.  I get a bit of that at farmer’s markets and stores and the like, but I can supplement it with role-playing.  It’s how we talk about all of our big problems these days. 

What advice do you have for people who are looking to introduce kids to tabletop RPGs? 

One of the things in Guilds and Goblins, which is still in development [note from Steph that base rules and pre-launch version are out here], is modular and has advice for if you’re playing with a pre-K kid or a kindergartener.  I try to align it with their math and social skills because it’s going to vary from age to age and kid to kid, so… I would say to just start super small and adjust like that.  

If you get a little creative, you can make a game for any kid of any age.  Give them one die, maybe let them bring a doll or figurine, and make them a guest at their table. Let them come and go. 

If they’re really little, aim small.  If you’re playing for 20 minutes, that’s a HUGE success, and they will be more curious about it as they go along.  The one thing that I’m constantly reminded of as a parent and teacher is that kids constantly are soaking up stuff and then they process it. 

Get started!  Don’t think your kid is too young.  My youngest is four, and we’ve already rolled characters, and we play!  It’s silly and not really a sit down game, but we just roleplay.  Every once in a while, they want to roll the big plush die that I got them and be like… YAY!  I GOT A 2!

Just get out there and have fun with it!

Any shout outs or closing words? 

I would just say that, thanks to TTRPGkids, I have discovered that there’s SO much already out there!  Every genre that you can imagine has an RPG out there for it.  They’re simple and elegant, and I’m not even the only podcast that does them!  So, if you love TTRPGs, check it out!  I’ve been on there before, and this is like meeting one of my D&D nerd heroes!

Thank you Eric for your AMAZINGLY kind words, and I am so glad you’ve found the site helpful!  I am really glad we were able to chat, and I am so happy you’re playing TTRPGs with your little ones.  Thank you so much for sharing your XP and adding to the resource!

Please check out What If World – Stories for Kids and Guilds and Goblins to listen to, play, and support Eric’s work!

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