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The Man Behind the Madness: Ivan van Norman Talks Sagas of Sundry
Sagas of SundrySagas of Sundry

The Man Behind the Madness: Ivan van Norman Talks Sagas of Sundry

Sagas of Sundry was born out of a seemingly simple game of Dread for International Tabletop Day 2017. The roleplaying game that used a Jenga-tower instead of dice to determine the outcome of characters’ actions turned into a sprawling, emotional story. That fateful day, a group of friends made an unforgettable journey into the shadowy woods and came out forever changed. They were led there by Ivan van Norman, Game Master and brilliant mastermind behind what would become Sagas of Sundry on Alpha.

Now as Ivan prepares to escort a new batch of wary strangers into the darkness of Dread in Sagas of Sundry‘s second season, Madness, he had a moment to chat about what happened behind the scenes of the first season and what we can expect in the second.

The Story Drives the Game

Players of the first two seasons of Sagas of Sundry experience Dread, a role-playing game created by Epidiah Ravachol.

Dread is a great natural tension-building game, but at the end of the day, we are moving the story forward with very little intrusion by game mechanics,” says Ivan. “Now that may seem a bit conceited, but what I’ve learned is that Sagas is about telling a story using the game, not the other way around.”

Sagas of Sundry

Dread‘s use of the wooden block tower in the place of dice rolls adds a layer of suspense that’s both visceral and easily engages the audience visually. “It’s the perfect short story system that favors the horror genre,” Ivan says.

The tower also provides much more stark results than simply failing to complete an action due to a dice roll. “Consequences only come in the opportunity of character loss, instead of just a setback or denying players an action,” he explains. “So the action is much faster, and the stakes are much higher.”

Behind the Scenes of Dread

The first season of Alpha’s Sagas of Sundry: Dread, began as a whirlwind. “We had all the right people we needed to make the work with the time we had to put it together,” Ivan says. “We produced, shot, and cut the first season in 2 weeks. Which is insane.”

Ivan created mood boards to strike the tone for both seasons of Sagas, and was heavily involved in the set design and layouts. He credits director Adam Lawson, Matt Mercer’s valuable input, the production assistants (who quickly found $100 worth of live insects), and the actors giving their full commitments to the game for the series’ success.

“Giving the cast permission to attack and be attacked on camera was huge in their performance,” he says. “I talked a lot about ‘making the hard choice’ with the actors, and they all did it.”


The cast shot the first season in one just day, for a very long fourteen hours. “We also had a late start because Talisen and I had to turn around to grab something vital for the shoot,” Ivan recalls. “So we were behind before we even got in. That being said, I liked that it happened like that, no one had any room to breathe – so really none of them left the story.”

It wasn’t just the actors who were emotionally struck by the story; Ivan found himself deeply affected by it as well. “I felt like Dread unlocked something inside of me,” he says. “I lost all sense of fear, worry, or awareness of camera angles. I was just telling the story. If you’ve GM’ed you know that things often don’t go as planned. But everything felt right, and I was 110% committed to whatever I was doing.”

A New Story Begins

As for Sagas of Sundry: Madness, the shooting took place over two days, but it was no less intense.

“The cast did a great job keeping the mood and suspense up even while during downtime,” says Ivan. “There were a LOT more secrets in this season, so we sometimes had an hour in between episodes while I scrambled the details or prepared elements for the next episode behind closed doors.”

It all begins with choosing a story and its setting, which Ivan then hashes out with Geek & Sundry Creative Director Marisha Ray. She offers her feedback, decisions are made, and the roles are offered.


Players are then told the when and where, and take it from there. Ivan is also instrumental in helping the cast work out their background stories. “We go through the process of discovering the characters through a questionnaire and through various therapist-style interviews,” he says. “I found myself talking to the players with questions like, ‘Why do you think Abigail acts like this?'”

Into the Past

Madness, like Dread before it, takes place in an era gone by—the 1990s. “I am setting games in the past in order to give them some distance from playing ‘them’ too much, but also primarily to put my players into a space that I can control,” Ivan says.

The time period can also help the audience as well, Ivan says. “I feel that if the setting is not ‘today/2017’, you automatically as a viewer give yourself permission to go into memory or imagination, past or future, and thus things are more fantastic.”

Sagas of Sundry: Madness

However, Ivan didn’t want to go too far into the past for Madness. “We considered making Madness set in the 1930s, but I didn’t want to feel like my actors had to research 1930s culture, speech, and mannerisms in order to tell an honest, off-the-cuff story,” he says. “The only reason we talked about 1930s is because of how Lovecraftian it is and the style of the era.”

Instead, the story is set inside a landmark built in the 1930s, where not everything within its walls is what it seems.

Delve Into Madness

Ivan gave just a few tantalizing hints of what we can expect to see in the new season of Sagas of Sundry.

“For fans, the Madness cast of characters has a very different dynamic than in Dread,” he teases. “In Dread, they were all friends – close friends that came together to save a dying relationship and with all the love/hate that age and time period brings.

Sagas of Sundry: Madness

“In Madness, everyone is a complete stranger to each other. Most have never met before, or at the best, exchanged a few pleasant or unpleasant words. They are all strangers, with secrets, some of which do not bode well in their scenario.”

The cast also features some unfamiliar faces to Geek & Sundry, adding even more uncertainty to the cast dynamic. The characters must discover who their neighbors are and uncover what roles they will play in the horrible things to come.

Sagas of Sundry is the best Theatrical Drama Reality Role-Playing Game Show,” Ivan says. “A TDRRPGS, which is the best acronym I just made up, and just now trademarked.

“Oh, also… someone dies.”

Sagas of Sundry: Madness premieres Thursday, October 26 exclusively on Alpha.


All Images: Geek & Sundry

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