Ivan Van Norman is a Talk Show Host at Geek & Sundry, a CMO / Partner at Hunters Entertainment, and is also the author of some fantastic picture books featuring the subject of RPGs and gaming. The ABCs of D&D, The 123s of D&D, The ABCs of RPGS, along with activity books have provided a fun way to introduce the world of gaming to youngsters. What better way to help grow their imaginations than to encourage them to build their own characters and create their own adventures through gaming.
- Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a big player in the D&D world.
As with many stories of success, it just kinda fell onto me. I originally was doing marketing for crowdfunding campaigns when Kickstarter was still fairly new and “campaign manager” was a term no one had ever heard of before. After a brief stint on reality television, a friend of mine reached out to ask if I could help raise money for a Web Series. They’re notoriously difficult to raise money for, so I tentatively agreed to a meeting. It ended up being for Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop – Season 3 on Indiegogo, which thankfully was a phenomenal success and help put me in a position to do more hosting and board game work on Geek & Sundry.
After years of great shows, (and a few terrible ones), including being in ground Zero of the now vastly popular Critical Role. I found myself in the epicenter of a weird and wonderful place where both Games and Media are combined to create some wonderful entertainment. It was a great breeding ground to create the ABCs of RPGs!
- What is it about D&D, or more broadly RPGs, that you enjoy?
Collaborative storytelling is an Art. Being able to share stories that are both intimate and innately disposable (as despite our efforts to immortalize them in media, the vast majority of TTRPG campaigns are only shared with those whom are at our table). It reminds me of Tibetan Mandalas, Chalk Drawings, Street Art, and Sand Paintings, Created for creativity’s sake rather than money or glory.
D&D is also about the constant betterment of one’s self over struggling obstacles. It’s wish-fulfillment and hero worship at its finest, while still providing the ability to generate tension and consequences through the medium.
- Tell us about your role as a Producer and Host at Geek & Sundry.
I came to California to go to Film School, but never truly applied it until working to create content at G&S. I love games, and found that I was good at making shows about Games. At first, I just came in as a guest on other peoples shows, but slowly I started to host, and then produce the content I was involved in. While I’ve never been considered a ‘full time employee’ (either real or perceived), I always felt a strong ownership and loyalty to G&S. It was (and still is) a lovely playground, and it was the bedrock of this whole “TTRPG-Entertainment” block that is now slowly coming into the public light. The best years of my life were spent in that studio, discovering some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
- Tell us about your role at Hunter’s Entertainment.
Hunters Entertainment was founded on three college friends who all played D&D together, and decided they wanted to make a role-playing game about Zombies. We launched our first book (Outbreak: Undead) at GenCon 2011, during the craze of Max Brooks Zombie Survival Guide, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Needless to say, we saw great success and since then have released several products for that line as well as three new RPG systems, (Kids on Bikes, Icarus, and Outbreak) in as many years. In 2016 we put to market a Children’s book, the ABCs of RPGs, which we sold the rights off to Dungeons & Dragons to become the ABCs of D&D. We are just one of many different creators in this awesome space, but we love doing it! We even managed to make a couple of Art books for Critical Role in the midst of it all.
- Do you enjoy LitRPG? If so, what are some of your favorites?
I’ll be honest, I had to google that term – because i’ve never heard of it before! I do enjoy LitRPG’s, i’m a fan of some of the classics: Enders Game, Enders Shadow, and the modern comparatives like Ready Player One, but honestly my favorite is The Player of Games by Iain M Banks.
- What are some of your favorite RPGs to play?
While games like D&D are always fun and a great standby to play. I really enjoy RPGs that I can play in a single session and get a really fulfilling experience from. Ten Candles, DREAD, Bluebeards Bride, Microscope, A Quiet Year, are all indie games that I love. Also, I really enjoy the games we publish as well =D
- Have you written your own or been part of a collaboration of an RPG?
Yup! I was a contributing writer for Outbreak: Undead, and had the joy of discovering Kids on Bikes as well as Icarus: A storytelling game about how great civilizations fall which we brought to market with Hunters.
- Do you prefer table top, or are you for all methods?
Games are games! I love my Video Games too!
- How did the idea to write picture books about RPGs and D&D come about?
Originally it was a ‘thought’ exercise when trying to write a ‘how to get into RPGs’ web series for Geek & Sundry. Why the show went onto become “DM Tips”, I took this little concept the editor in chief at the time, Rob Manuel, said I should make a kids book with it… So I did.
- How did you connect with illustrator Caleb Cleveland?
I found his work when he did the “Inktober” exercise in which he did several ink sketches with kids and D&D monsters. It was amazing, and the tone was perfect. Originally I just asked him to do some clean up so we could make a coloring book from his work, but it was so excellent I decided to ask him to do the storybook as well.
- What was the collaboration like between you and Cleveland to create these books?
We would talk a lot about concept, and honestly, we’re so on the page most times that we rarely ever went back with notes. It’s rare you have someone you’re so in-synch with when it comes to tone and style. He always kills it. Caleb is also a art style chameleon, and can match almost any style out there.
- Do you intend to continue writing more picture books like these?
That is our honest, truthful, hope. We aren’t done with just the ABCs and 123’s of D&D!
- Finally, tell us something super awesome about yourself!
I am a professional fire performer, including fire eating and fire breathing. I love stilt walking and old vaudeville-style clown performances.
I once owned 4 sugar gliders, and hope to again in the future.