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Friday, January 13, 2017

Critical Role May Be a Fumble...

It’s important to start this little blog post with a caveat.  I don’t enjoy most actual play ‘casts, and I rarely listen or watch.  There.  Now you know how I feel/act in general regarding this type of media.

I know that these sort of things have become popular, due in part to ‘casts like Critical Role (CR) and Acquisitions Incorporated (AI).  I am NOT saying they are a bad form of entertainment, or that they are poorly produced, etc.  For some, they are very entertaining.  Also, some folks enjoy Survivor, or Days of Our Lives.  Whatever.  That’s cool.  There are plenty of other things to watch so I’m not forced to join those who do view.

Here’s my concern.  Do these sort of forms of entertainment set up a DM for an impossible, perhaps Herculean task that has no chance of success?

If I have never played D&D, and my first exposure is watching Critical Role, is every DM I play with going to fall very short of Matthew Mercer?  If I watch Acquisitions Inc., will all the players around me not be as fun as Patrick Rothfuss or Mike Krahulik?  These are Actual Play ‘casts, and are billed as such, but my actual play games, while fun, aren’t at all like either of these.

As a DM, I like to do voices for my npc’s (who always end up sounding Russian or German...why?  I have no idea), but I’m certainly no voice actor.  Also, I play a fun but not whimsical game like the ones I see on AI, but if that ‘cast is my first glance into the crystal ball, then when I get to a game where the play is taken a bit more seriously or isn’t moving as quickly, how disappointed am I going to be?

Now, in no way am I advocating that these ‘casts are harmful or dangerous.  We are still talking about a game, so no reason to go over the edge here.  I want new folks to play, and if their gateway into that realm is these shows than fine, but if all you ever saw on the road were Corvettes, and your first car is a ‘92 civic, there’s going to be some disappointment.

Interesting to me is the flip here.  I’ve tried watching regular folks (like me) playing D&D on Youtube, Twitch, etc.  Holy crap that’s boring.  If my first introduction into the world of TTRPGs was watching some of the long winded, slow, boring live-play ‘casts from some dude’s game room I wouldn’t be in a hurry to play.  Sure, I know that if I was sitting at that table, I might be having a good time.  Perhaps I’d be tweaking my sheet, considering my next move, waiting for my turn to strike during battle, but watching is not the same as doing.

Look, this are just my thoughts, my opinions.  Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t, maybe I’ve incensed you...but this wasn’t my intent.  As always, it’s important to understand that on many levels i’m just a crotchety old dude who likes his D&D Advanced and 1st Edition.  The only media I had as a kid that had Dungeons & Dragons affiliation was the cartoon.  Maybe I feel as though I had to do it/learn it the hard way, and I don’t like the idea of some young turks coming along and streamlining the process, adding a bell curve, and making it all simple and easy to digest.

Hell, I was killing orcs when Matthew Mercer was still crapping his diapers!

Don’t worry.  These shows aren’t going away simply because I don’t watch them or like them.  The takeaway should be thus...remember that the internet is alot like TV in that most of what you see there isn’t real.  The actual world, and playing in a real game of D&D isn’t going to be a mirror image of that ‘cast.  Watch it, enjoy it, but be prepared for something that may only resemble, in pale shades, those wonderful internet toons.


  1. I have a youtube downloader app. I typically download the videos and play them (but don't watch them) on long commutes to act as free audio books.

    1. I listen to podcasts in the car. I prefer game discussion casts like RFI and Save or Die, along with some other non gaming stuff. Thanks for reading man! Always appreciate the comments!

  2. I agree with you for the most part.

    I feel it truly depends on the players. Some are naturally entertaining, expressive, thoughtful, and have a quality that you want to see what they do next. Others lack all or some of those qualities, which is fine, but it does make for a less entertaining experience for those that aren't playing.

    Dead air is always going to be bad, though that can be managed.

    Some games and tables just have a vibe that is cool for everyone there, but may not be full of the same excitement for outsiders, due to them not being "in it" or invested.

    Drawing people in and personality has a lot to do with it, even if it is only one or two people at the table.

    1. You can't blink now without a fresh 'cast being pushed. I'm shocked so many people think their games are that interesting. I would never wanna 'cast mine. They are fun for us/me but not something I would think others would wanna watch!

      So much dead air...yes...

    2. True, I'd only want to cast one if one of more of these conditions were met:

      1) I was educating through example for a system or style of play.
      2) Audience participation.
      3) The group was entertaining like a TV show.

  3. You have to like in it to watching professional sports on TV. Mr. Mercer is a pro at what he does and while I go and play Sunday pigskin with some friends I'll never be Tom Brady

  4. Watching other people play is no substitute for actually playing. I'm not a fan of "actual play," either, because I'd rather be ACTUALLY PLAYING than watching someone else actually playing. Call me grumpy.

  5. I have taken a peak at a few play podcasts but not found any nearly as entertaining as playing in a game yourself. They're not for me, but I think they're helpful to grow the hobby, give tips, etc.

  6. The issue here seems like a disconnect between people's actual perception of AP and your perception of people's perception. My first real intro to D&D was Matt Mercer and co. I'm now in a dedicated campaign with close friends. At no point did I expect those things to resemble each other. Speaking for myself and the dozen or so friends I have who watch, being Celtics fans doesn't ruin pick up basketball - far from it. It gives us aspirations. If there are people throwing down monster dunks on TV, that just inspires me to get better and play more! It doesn't highlight my inadequacy; it encourages me by showing what heights are possible!

  7. Drunken's and Dragons!

    about the only thing I watch about TTRPG's, Hankerin doesn't do cast of games (says its too much like watching people do taxes) But he has some excellent advice for new DM's. And he does a lot of cool crafting stuff for the table.

    1. Rich! Always glad for your comments!!! Got your email...just let us know when you can play, you're always part of the crew. Hope you had a great holiday and everyone is well.

  8. My biggest question is I keep seeing these show DMs cast in a "Pro DM" light. With a DM like Chris Perkins it makes some sense as he is a known commodity before creating a show and has been writing for WotC for years. With other DMs though, does a show make them pro?

  9. It's an interesting take, and there are a few directions you can go with this. DnD usually isn't a spectator sport. We've all watched one player step back an be passive, and then not enjoy the game because essentially they've become a spectator in their own game.

    But there are different tricks you have to pull to engage a player compared to an audience. And different production - if I was casting DnD we'd need a different seating plan, different lighting too, and having to balance player enjoyment with non-player entertainment so that fun, perception of fun, and spectating experience are all catered for... a tall order indeed.

    Typically the concession you make for entertainment is the players have to prioritize being fun to watch over being fun to play, so at that point its a group decision on what you are trying to achieve.

    And without being crude, the visual aesthetic is more important when you are being filmed. Not saying gamers aren't immaculate and camera ready every session, just that I guess you'd pay more attention if the cameras were rolling.

  10. I gave up watching Critical Role if only because I enjoyed watching live but staying up that late on Thursdays wore me out. Couple that with two kids under 4 and its a recipe for needing a caffeine-replicating organ (*writes note for this in Gamma World and Star Frontiers categories*). I have tried to catch up but it's just too much.

    What I have preferred is The Old School Blues Podcast and the YouTube Livestream (all of 2 episodes so far) from Erik Tenkar & friends (Zach Glasar) of Tenkar's Tavern.

    I have thought about recording one of my campaigns for others to view, even if it's only for my oldest (14) to show his friends what TRPGs are like. The other reason, as stated in my own blog this past summer, would be to have family friendly fare to bring in other kids and families to the hobby. $50 (or less) for a book beats $60 for a video game that will be beaten with its accompanying $30 cheat book from Prima. More bang out of the bucks.

    I regret that I missed this blog when it first went live. Life is crazy busy right now.:-O