Hey Game Fans, we’re going to talk about a topic that came up over the weekend today as a special feature. Our friend, Goblin Stomper (@Goblin_stomper on the twitter) posted an article on his blog about the potential expectations that shows like Critical Role, Acquisitions Incorporated, and other live played Dungeons and Dragons games can create among gamers and potential new players. You can read his article on the topic here http://goblinstomper.blogspot.com/2017/01/critical-role-may-be-fumble.html and i think you should. It’s a good article, and he’s an excellent writer. Now our other friend, Terminally Nerdy (https://twitter.com/cbsa82 on the twitter) added some more thoughts on the topic and made a youtube video which you can find here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdmbLjNzlwI )
The core of this discussion revolves around the idea of streaming/podcasting as a means of bringing Dungeons and Dragons to the masses through the internet. There are a hundreds (and probably thousands) of different gaming content producers who are all producing different types of games, and using variations on the rules that the Dungeon Master for that game has decided to utilize for their specific table. Not all tables are universally accepting of these variations and we have to be aware of what we’re doing when we produce content (I don’t podcast yet, but i will be trying deeper in the year) and we probably need to make sure that everyone is aware of those variations before they sit down to the table.
The really awesome podcasts and livestreams (Looking at you Critical Role, Acquisitions Incorporated, Dice, Camera, Actiion, and the myriad of wonderful folks who use Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds) make awesome programming for us to consume. For those of us who are watching these shows as observers and consumers we get something we couldn’t have gotten ten years ago. They now compete with broadcast television for viewers and in some cases are producing compelling programs that i tune in for on a regular basis (Looking at you Hyper RPG). Back to my original point though, the rise of internet gaming platforms actually lets us see how other people run and play their games.
Think about that for a minute, for the first time, we can really tune in on an semi regular basis and watch how other people run their games and play their characters in real time, (i applaud those of you who do it with live chat streams, i don’t think i could personally handle the distractions). We used to have to gather around the fire at conventions or big events and share gaming war stories, but now we can tune in and watch these shows. This means things have gotten a little more complicated for those of us who are watching and consuming the entertainment provided by these shows.
First, the people who are playing characters are going to be on their A game every time they sit down in front of a camera. They are spending a decent chunk of their time away from the game thinking about who they are, what they’re doing and where they are likely going next with their character. They spend time working on their motivations, their voices, mannerisms and character backgrounds. That’s a hell of a lot of work to do for a fictional character that’s an expression of how they interact with the gaming environment they are playing in. However,players at home games or League games are equally capable of putting in the same level of work, thought, and detail into their characters. Just because you don’t see them on a stream or cast doesn’t mean they aren’t around, you just haven’t gotten to experience them.
Second, the Dungeon Master for these streams are working stupendously hard to make everything work. Running a game that keeps 3 to 7 people focused on the task at hand and doesn’t have them wandering off, playing with their phones, or ignoring the story is hard as hell. They’ve added the additional wrinkle of turning it into performance art, where they are running the entire world for the immediate interactions for players and making sure that they are entertaining to watch for observers. Think about that real hard for a second and imagine that level of work. Not everyone is either a.) capable of putting in that level of work, or b.) willing to do so. The other important consideration is that not all of us have to. If you are running a game where your players are having fun, and you’re having fun, you have found the point of Dungeons and Dragons.
To me, Dungeons and Dragons has always been a shared experience where me and my not nerdy ass voice actor friends get together and tell a story with brave heroes, and evil monsters. If you can sustain the fun that your group of friends is having, then you are doing it right.
Third, prepping a game for a live stream or a podcast means that there’s a decent amount of work that isn’t recorded. Random encounters are often omitted because they eat into the available time that both players and dungeon master have to play, and so most of the time, The DM will move the story forward along the plot line as the story is written. I haven’t seen anyone try to put together an Open World Sandbox style game for a live stream (if you have, let me know, i’d love to see how they are doing it). Levelling up, picking spells, buying some common things are less essential to the story being told than daring encounters or character interactions. It’s not a negative criticism, just a reality of the medium being used to showcase the game.
Expectations can be astonishingly cruel, especially if they are too high, or the response is deemed inadequate. So my advice to new players is to modulate your expectations downward. If you set the bar too high, you may never get to it. Set it low and increase the bar every so often until you find the level of interaction you’re happy with in your gaming. An almost universal truth about role-playing games is that no two tables play everything exactly the same way. Embrace the diversity and enjoy finding what you like.
I’ll close out with two things. First a comparison. The things we like about books don’t necessarily have to be the things we like about movies, and sometimes we get very angry when our books don’t match the movies they’re based on and vice versa. Embrace the individual presentations of the media and let each media provide the experience it’s supposed to. Playing a game and watching a game played are two different experiences and should be experienced as such. They scratch different itches and fill different needs.
Second, Find the streams and casts you like, and figure out what you like about those crews. Vox Machina is lightning in a bottle, and i would expect nothing less than a group of professional entertainers to be able to put on a show of the caliber of Critical Role. The same goes for Acquisitions Incoprorated, the Waffles, and a host of other shows. Find what you like and try to bring that to your gaming experience. There are some profoundly talented people putting out content about games, (Matthew Mercer, Chris Perkins, Tyler Carpenter, Mark Hulmes, Lauren Bond to name just a few) so check them out. Everyone has their own style, and i hope that new gamers find points of emulation to aspire to and grow from. Expecting the world from your first gaming experience will do a disservice to you and the people you’re playing with, so start small, you’ll find a world of fun in gaming.