bearswarmUnfortunately, you can’t discuss the Bear Swarm without talking about Rob Justice. Rob Justice is always wrong, always abrasive and listening to his voice is like having a root canal done in your inner ear. There is nothing redeeming about Rob Justice and only the mentally incompetent or clinically insane would agree with him or find him at all interesting. Also, he enjoys fornicating with dogs.

Rob, if you’re reading this, stop now. I’ve said the nicest things I can about you. It only gets worse. Everyone else, read on.

Is he gone? Ok, good. The truth is, Rob Justice is actually an interesting, intelligent guy who has thoughtful opinions about a lot of topics involving not only role-playing but a wide variety of subjects. Granted, I disagree with most of his opinions (who doesn’t like fantasy games? What kind of weirdo doesn’t like combat?) but I generally respect the logic and thought processes behind his opinions. That’s what makes listening to him interesting rather than insufferable. Without Rob, there would be no Bear Swarm and that would be a shame. He is one of the primary driving forces behind the show and takes care of all the technical portions of putting out the podcast, apparently because he is far too compulsive about it to allow anyone else to get their dirty, clumsy hands on it. All that stuff I said to begin with was just because he finds compliments painful.

Mike is the other original host from the very first show. He’s the other driving force, and in many ways, he is a balance to Rob. Most podcasts do not have a straight man, or their straight man is bland and boring. The Bear Swarm is fortunate in that it has a straight man in Mike and he has a wry sense of humor. In fact, he’s actually a pretty funny guy, the people surrounding him are just more off the wall. Like many of the great comedy groups in history, it is Mike’s reaction to the comments and jokes of the rest of the cast that really put those jokes over. That’s not to say that he doesn’t get in a good comment or joke every now and then. As mentioned earlier, he’s a good balance to Rob and disagrees with him to just the right degree to keep their conversations interesting without the two of them constantly trying to shout each other down.

Artemis Knight, while not one of the original cast members, has been a fixture in the Bear Swarm for some time, now. Artemis has a rather unusual world view, perhaps nowhere more evidenced in the fact that he chose the name “Artemis Knight” for himself. Unlike the off the wall hosts from some other podcasts, however, Artemis is not constantly taking the podcast off on some tangent or another (not any more than any of the other hosts, that is.) Instead, he’s just bringing another, slightly skewed viewpoint to whatever the topic happens to be. He’s made an excellent addition to the show and between the three of them, Rob, Mike and Artemis bring a good array of viewpoints and arguments to the conversations they have on the Bear Swarm.

The final current host on the Bear Swarm podcast is Paul. Paul was only on the show for a few episodes before they went on their Spring Tour. As the new guy, he has received a good deal of hazing from the more tenured members of the Bear Swarm. He takes this ribbing good naturedly and has taken on the role of the plucky rookie admirably. He’s sort of the new pledge at the Bear Swarm podcast. He doesn’t let that stop him from voicing his opinion, however. Just as Artemis adds another shade to the conversation, so to does Paul. Thanks to the variety of opinions and viewpoints on the Bear Swarm, any topic that is put on the table on the podcast is discussed from several angles rather than simply being a black and white debate with each host picking one side to debate against the other.

The Bear Swarm has a bit more structure than many other gaming podcasts. They begin each show by discussing their gaming topic and then move on into the banter portion of the show. Of course, as has been pointed out numerous times, they record these two sections in the opposite order, using their banter to help get the ball rolling for their topic discussion. The banter portion is generally just a chance for the hosts to review their weeks and discuss whatever new games (whether tabletop or electronic) or interests they’ve picked up. In many cases, this banter section is just as informative, if not more informative, as the topic section. The hosts’ interests beyond RPG’s largely intersect with my own. I get to learn about video games, movies and music that I might be interested in by listening to the banter portion of the Bear Swarm.

Each show ends with their “Mobile or Street Shout Outs.” This is a chance for each host to show their love for something each week. These shout outs have included everything from people to games (both table top and electronic) to podcasts to bands and even foods (and not once, but twice, an owl.) Again, this is a good opportunity for me to find new items and products that I might be interested in.

Recently, the Bear Swarm started their “Spring Tour.” After a hundred episodes of shows, the hosts decided they needed a break. Apparently, they couldn’t give up podcasting entirely and have guest hosted in various combinations on several other podcasts. These guest casts have included the Podgecast, Funnybooks with Aron and Paulie and Jankcast. The Spring Tour is set to end soon and they’ve promised not only to come back to the show when the tour is over, but also to come back with a different format for the show. “Less game focused and more geek culture focused.” I’m certain that their fans join me in hoping they don’t change too much. They’ve managed to find a good format and host combination and it would be a shame to see it go away.