The Stories We Tell: A Chat With Dakota Irish

With Halloween upon us and Christmas just around the corner, I found myself reconnecting with a sense of fantasy and storytelling that is too often lost in adulthood.
With our days dominated by politics, social media, Brexit and Trump, I wonder to myself if role playing and table top games might not help us forge new narratives for such a fractured world.

At one of my work conferences I attended a talk delivered by Luke McIntosh of Dakota Irish.

While I’ve always admired the artisans, people who can make things with their bare hands that deliver joy to others, I’d always been raised to believe that gaming was for children. It was something infantile that you necessarily need to grow out of.

Yet listening to Luke talk about the underlying social element to it, the potentially educational element to it, the possibilities for exploring moral and ethical dilemmas through play, piqued my interest.

1) When did table-top gaming start for you? What was it about it that you loved, what form did it take in your first introduction (and what type of gaming) and how has your relationship with it developed since?

​It was 1998 or 99 and a friend convinced me to try Rolemaster.  It was an old d100- based system.  At the time there were a lot of GURPs (Generic Universal Role Playing) style TTRPGs (Table Top Role Playing Games) that people had swung to because AD&D (Advanced Dungeons And Dragons) had a poor reputation at the time. 

We swiftly moved into Vampire: The Masquerade and the World Of Darkness systems, which I loved. 

I have always enjoyed fantasy, but I’m drawn to the darker tragic stories. How do heroes overcome great hardship or tragedy?  How do they go on? That was always the question in my head. 

Vampire: The Masquerade allowed me to explore that a bit.  Now, as a Dungeon Master for D&D I tend to tell stories like that.

2) When and how did artisanal craft start in your life? Could you talk us through how you go about making your different pieces?

From a young age I loved working with my hands.  My father is a jack of all trades and taught me everything he knew.  I did various projects and pieces throughout my life and eventually ended up making some prototype dice trays for my gaming group for Christmas.  The guys thought they were so good I figured I’d see where my hands could take me.  

For me, each piece is a journey.  I often joke that each piece is like a child to me.  I remember every tray or tower I ever made.  The look and feel of the grain, the color of the wood and each idiosyncrasy. 

I love wood because it used to be alive and each piece has it’s own soul and speaks to me in different ways.  I don’t mean to get all spiritual or mystical, but for me this is a passion as much as a craft.  I think that’s what differentiates handicraft from artisanal work.

I start each piece by choosing the wood I’ll use.  I pick a piece for different reasons, but generally I try to get them to match symmetrically or organically.  Sometimes I try to get them to be complete opposites.  It depends on what “feels” right.  I then machine the parts to get them ready for assembly. 

At assembly stage there are a lot of finnicky bits, but the aim is to get the miter joints to align properly and that the tray is level and true.  Once that’s done, I glue up the tray and it sits for a day to cure. 

After that is a lot of sanding, sanding, and more sanding until I’m satisfied its ready for finishing.  At finishing stage I seal the wood with shellac-based sander sealer and then follow up with 3 coats of organic shellac.  This stage is important because it imparts protection on the wood while also making it incredibly resilient. 

It’s why people can roll metal dice in my trays or towers without marking them and makes the trays so low maintenance.

3) How did you realise you could marry the two to create “Dakota Irish”?

Dakota Irish is really about marrying all the different parts of myself into one – my passion for gaming and craftwork as well as my heritage coming from North Dakota with my “new” life here in Ireland.  It marries my past and present as well. As mentioned, I made some trays for gaming buddies.  I then discovered Wrymwood and I realized that maybe a guy could make a living off his passion. 

After I started making the trays I needed a name that we felt embodied the the passion and craftsmanship I wanted people to experience when interacted with my work.  From there I started delving into the world of dice and other accessories and, as they say, the rest is history.​

4) What brought you over to Ireland from Dakota and how do you feel it has helped or hindered your business?

​As with most expats, it was the love of a beautiful woman.  After we got married we tried to make it back home in North Dakota, but felt Ireland had better opportunities for us.  Ironic, all things considered because we moved back in 2008, at the start of the recession and struggled for a lot of years.  But I think Ireland has more supports in place and opportunities to be successful.  So I think being here absolutely helped me to put this business together.

5) You’re using the Shopify platform – have you used other platforms and how do you think Shopify compares?

I use Shopify & Etsy as my main selling platforms, with social media and conventions as my major sales pipelines.  I think Shopify gives starting entrepreneurs a lot of opportunities because it takes out a lot of the guess work and hard work.  Without Shopify I would have had to find a web developer who might have cost thousands of euro, as well as pay for servers I couldn’t be sure would always work. 

That’s not to mention setting up payment portals and having a website that grew with me.  At each turn I’d have had to pay for someone to update or change my site if I hadn’t been forward thinking enough.  With Shopify I get everything I needed for a nominal fee which meant that I could spend the money on other important things like stock, materials, marketing, etc.

I think Shopify could taken some cues from Etsy in terms of their UIX though, for what it’s worth.

6) What would you reply to someone who says: table-top gaming is for
kids and dweebs?

I actually haven’t ran into this yet.  Might be due to how big I am!

If anyone did say this, I’d point them to the Vin Diesel one-shot with Matt Mercer, or the fact that Joe Manganiello has his entire basement kitted out for D&D and fantasy themed games.

I think sometimes people forget that the way we connect with others is through shared interests.  But we tend not to get nuanced with those interests. If we spent as much time trying to find ways to connect with each other as much as we try to find ways to distance ourselves from others, I think we’d be in a better place.  

Ultimately D&D is about spending time with people who are important to you via the medium of shared story telling.  We can all get behind that – sure…everyone does it at holiday times when we tell stories about those great stories about crazy relatives.

7) Dungeons and Dragons in Stranger Things seems to have popularised table-top gaming, but the different types of games are various and diverse. What would you say to someone interested in gaming but disinterested in dragons, fantasy and magic?

​The great thing about tabletop gaming is how diverse it is.  From Vampire: The Masquerade to Pandemic, to GURPS there are systems for everyone.  There are Star Trek ttrpgs, Star Wars ttrpgs…whatever your fandom, there’s a game for you. 

And that’s just talking RPGs and not even mentioning board games, which is so diverse and special we’d need another interview to talk about it.  I could wax poetic about how much I love Catan, Photosynthesis, or Ticket to Ride to only name a few. 

8) How do you feel table-top gaming might contribute to society? How might people benefit from giving it a try? And how should they prepare for their first game?

​Tabletop gaming is simply about spending time with other people.  You cannot tabletop game online, much to the surprise of some people on Roll20 haha.  You need to do it with others.  If you play with a PC, you’re just playing a video game.  Tabletop gaming is special because it brings us together and forces us to work together, or work against each other, or maybe a bit of both.  But most importantly it’s about having fun together playing a game.  

Schools have started using D&D as a way to help socially awkward or disadvantaged students to connect with other, like-minded people.  It’s been shown to be a useful therapy for people with autism and has absolutely become a force for good and inclusiveness worldwide. 

What better hobby to take up than one that requires everyone to take on the persona and life of someone else?  What better way to teach empathy, understanding, and compassion?  It’s an amazing tool.
The best way to prepare for your first game is to obviously read the rules, but also to talk to others who are playing it.  Get involved, ask questions, and let your nerdy/dweeby-ness fly!

9) Do you have an ultimate “aim” or goal for Dakota Irish? A five year plan or an ideal place you aspire to?

​My ultimate goal?  I want to bring TTRPG to the masses.  I want to be able to tell someone I play D&D and for them to start telling me about their game last night or how much their daughter or father loves the game.  I want it to be as accepted and popular as sports.  I hope that through my craftwork and evangelism of TTRPGs I can help people. 

I am hugely passionate about encouraging girls to game and helping them tell their stories.  They are half of us, as I’ve said on social media.  Our stories are only half as good or meaningful without them.  We need more girls playing and if when I eventually retire I can look back and say I helped women gamers in some way to come into their own in this hobby, I’ll be a happy person.  

10) What is the philosophy at the core of Dakota Irish ?

Kindness, acceptance, compassion, and ultimately, love.

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