When he left Columbia University with an MFA in acting back in 2003, Troy Lavallee ’96 wanted to write, direct, and star in his own TV series. Today, people pay to watch him play board games
After years of bartending and battling for his big break in both New York and LA, the Haverhill native is an owner/ operator of his own media platform, the Glass Cannon Network (www.glasscannonnetwork.com), which creates role-playing game consumer content. Think Dungeons & Dragons on steroids.
As Lavallee puts it, a role-playing game (RPG) is really a story without a protagonist. There’s a basic narrative, but players’ decisions and choices constantly alter the story. As the host/game master/dungeon master, Lavallee, who is proud to have been able to attend St. John’s thanks to tuition assistance supported by the Edward H. & Mildred V. Cahill Fund, adjusts and adapts on the fly. Some people subscribe (the pay platform is Patreon) to learn how to play a particular game, others are just there for the story, and some just come for the comedy that ensues.
SJP: As a struggling actor/comedian in New York, you finally found a way to commercialize your talents. What was the spark?
Lavallee: “I hadn’t played a role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons since high school (mostly with John-Michael Gariepy ’94), but I met a guy who played as a kid and was getting back into it. He asked if I wanted to hop in on some games. I was like, ‘Absolutely not. I could never picture doing that again.’ He kept on me and I finally did it just to shut him up. It was just like putting on an old pair of pants. It felt so fun. The way my mind works, I can’t enjoy something without trying to monetize it or turn it into a passion project, so that’s where the original podcast came from.”
SJP: Can you walk us through the genesis of the Glass Cannon Network?
Lavallee: “It was 2015 and kind of a cold time for podcasts. There were only a couple other RPG podcasts out there with people actually playing the game for listeners. I tuned in and was like, ‘We have to do this. We’re way funnier than these guys.’ We launched shortly after (a podcast that became a 326-episode game of Pathfinder). Eventually, I realized that I was doing what I wanted to do, which was tell stories, entertain, create shows straight out of my brain, and perform, so it was scratching all those creative itches. Now, we’re a company with seven full-time employees that’s growing by the day. It’s pretty wild.”
"Eventually, I realized that I was doing what I wanted to do, which was tell stories, entertain, create shows straight out of my brain, and perform, so it was scratching all those creative itches."
SJP: The original cast of game-players was five good friends, but now you’re doing live tours on stage and streaming tons of RPG content with cast members from across the country. How did that happen?
Lavallee: “We started out with just one podcast, then launched a second and it just snowballed from there. Now, we have 12-15 shows running in repertory (serialized). In 2018, we were about 100 episodes into our first podcast and we did a live event at a little game store in Astoria, Queens. We were like, ‘I wonder if anybody will come?’ We put 40 tickets online and they sold out within 24 hours. People flew in from all over the country to watch us do this show. I remember sitting there...that was the ‘Aha’ moment. We decided to tour the country and be the only ones really doing that. We’re always trying to innovate. Now, we’ve done almost 50 shows in front of live audiences, even with the interruption of COVID.”
SJP: Did you encounter challenges as you scaled up?
Lavallee: “Artistically, one of the toughest things is trying to recreate natural chemistry and camaraderie. The original was five buddies goofing off with each other playing a game and that was part of what made us so popular. During COVID, we pivoted from recording podcasts as a group to remote streaming shows. We’re casting people from everywhere, so it’s a different tone. It’s something we’re constantly navigating: How do you create that chemistry? But you can’t expand unless you’re bringing in more diverse people with new and exciting voices, so it’s a balance.”
SJP: You joke about how hard it is to explain the appeal to an RPG outsider. How do you make it so fun and filled with tension?
Lavallee: “RPG is the type of thing when you explain it to someone, it just sounds ridiculous. But we go out of our way to make it a spectator sport. Look at the rise of Esports. People will fill the Lakers’ arena to watch guys play League of Legends. We try to bring that same enthusiasm to the table. We have fun with it. It’s definitely for an audience, but it’s also a real game. The guys don’t know what’s going to happen. All the roles are playing out in real time. We’ve just gotten to a point where we know how to sell it and make it fun to watch.”
P.S. A Prep friendship that goes above and beyond. Want to view the entire Prep magazine? Check it out here.