Nothing in tabletop gaming makes me feel older and more out of touch than the popularity of liveplay. I cannot make it fit in my head at any level.
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Published by Paul Beakley
I founded the Indie Game Reading Club in 2010. I've written and developed RPGs since the mid-90s, now I mostly talk about playing them.
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0 thoughts on “Nothing in tabletop gaming makes me feel older and more out of touch than the popularity of liveplay. I cannot make…”
Yeah, I tried listening to a couple actual play podcasts…nope.
But I have a buddy who was already a twitch videogame streamer, and now streams when he DM’s. I don’t know how many people watch.
I’m not into it but I get it…
It’s just another form of entertainers being entertaining with something these people share. It’s not about the RPG.
And who has time to watch it? It’s so slow.
I’m especially puzzled given how bad (to me) the play in these shows tends to be.
I don’t get it, either, but a colleague of mine (who is in his 50s) is really into Critical Role, so it clearly takes all kinds.
That said, I do mostly enjoy Harmontown… but it’s about 70% scripted, from what I gather.
I find it especially hard to watch when they bring in actors or comedians to do it because they just ham everything up and try to actor the shit out of everything.
There is definitely an entertainment aspect of this but it seems like a pretty natural outgrowth of something that happened in nerd culture of being the friend who through whatever personal feelings, discomfort, nerd cultural misogyny, and trepidation is “just going to watch” the RPG/videogame/activity. These activities have always had passive participants.
I am reminded of something Mr. Morningstar once said, that resonates with me: I would rather peel off and eat my own skin than watch other people roleplay. Obviously, not everyone feels or should feel that way! But that’s me.
Remember how for years everyone thought Paul Lynde was a genius wit on Hollywood Squares, and then it leaked that he got the questions ahead of time and had writers for his responses? These shows are more programmed than viewers know, and increasingly so. Will there be disillusionment?
I like APs as tutorial videos of a sort, and a way to “test drive” systems that I’m interested in but don’t want to just interrupt regular gaming to try out.
I don’t get it, and I participate in an AP podcast.
AP podcasts fill me with dread and Critical Role moves at too slow a pace for me but I actually recently have begun to see some appeal. CR clipshows and the like show that the cast are quite funny. I can also see that it has the appeal of live sports….a story unfolding that is unpredictable in its twists and turns. I watched the Hamonstown stuff but found it v lame. Obviously I’d rather play but I can see some merit.
Cute people getting in on a trend (TREND!) that we’ve been doing for all of our formative years.
By my stars and garters: will the surprises ever cease?
Some time ago I was at Half Price Books buying some D&D stuff and the young lady at the checkout counter told me she and her boyfriend watch Critical Role obsessively. When I asked her what games she plays she said they don’t play at all – never have. They just watch the show. That struck me as very strange…I had assumed that the show only appealed to folks who were already gamers. Chris Pramas told me over on Facebook that there are a ton of people who watched the Titansgrave thing who don’t actually play, as well.
So I guess this is a thing, now.
So I have liked some actual play. The Jank Cast’s Black Diamond episodes of Apocalypse World are like a fondly remembered TV show to me. But I do think most good actual play is too slow, and most well produced play is bad. I’d like to see players and GMs of the caliber on Adam Koebel’s shows get the production and editing that Wil Wheaton or Dan Harmon have. I would watch the heck outta that.
I’ve been expecting it for decades; but I pictured it using live actors and sets with a live audience.
Comic Strip AP is the best AP show. Its episodes are usually about 15 minutes. Connection? You decide.
Isnt it pretty much exactly like watching sports?
My gradual understanding of how some of the more popular shows are scripted took some of the shine off for me. I’ve always been mildly dissatisfied with the system mastery, but I recognize why it’s often absent.
At first, the sports analogy made the most sense to me. When we watch professional sports, we are “watching people play a game.” But as Mark and others pointed out, the analogy breaks when you compare the level of play. We watch professional sports to see people play the game at the highest levels. Most TTRPG live play doesn’t showcase the highest levels of play. From speaking to some TTRPG streamers I know, there’s a tension between finding players who are good at the game and players who are entertaining on stream.
The audience generally rewards entertainment over system mastery. Channels that host live TTRPGs want to grow their audience by including players with a larger built-in audience. Most players bring large audiences earned through other skills on their own channel. These players are video game players first and TTRPG players a distant second or third. Participating in a TTRPG is a low-stress lark. They’re casuals. Until we start to see TTRPG streamers who cultivate large audiences through system mastery in the way that video game streamers do , we’re unlikely to see much stimulating TTRPG play that revolves around “good play.”
I suggest that part of the popularity of these shows comes from people who don’t have a local group or who are dissatisfied with their current group. How many of the people who responded here belong to a local TTRPG group that provides them with satisfying play? I don’t currently have a local group and streamed D&D play delivers a little vicarious pleasure, a way to connect with the hobby. If you’ve got a group but it’s not a good fit sometimes, streamed RPGs can keep your interest in the local group kindled.
huh! people’s distaste for this is utterly baffling to me. it seems fine enough.
jeff fearnow has been at this awhile Not sure if it’s intentional or not, but just a heads up that your statement sounds super gatekeeper-y.
Adam McConnaughey I’m honestly more baffled than offended, but let me sketch out my own personal distaste:
… um, never mind. I started writing a thing and it’s not anything I feel like defending for the next 36 hours. Let me stick to “more baffled than offended!”
I was in a Swords and Wizardry AP cast and it mystified us that their were people watching live.
I had suggested it might be good to listen to on a security night shift. Turned out I was right about the ones that were live, but I still wonder about the people that watched us after. It was a great campaign to play in, but I don’t know about watching.
I suppose if you aren’t playing pick up games on the internet with strangers it’s another good way to be exposed to different play styles, games or ideas.
I’ve a BIG drive to work each week, and I listen to AP podcasts of systems I am GMing just to listen how other people approach gaming.
John Harper’s Blades games are wonderful. I liken it to talking books.
I don’t really go to cons, and Nathan Roberts is right in how you can see how other people game. Broaden your horizons.
I watched some roll20 Apocalypse World (the soggypocalypse with Koebel MCing) and much later on, I found I could jump right into an actual game as a player when that opportunity arose.
I follow a decent amount of people who make AP podcasts and/or livestreams and the context of a lot of their conversations (with each other and their fans) indicates to me that “watching livestreams” is an adjacent but non-overlapping hobby to playing games yourself! Also, plenty of people put on streams (or podcasts/whatever) while they play other games, or as background while they do whatever else. There’s of course an overlap with people who play the same games that are being streamed but I would be surprised if it’s even close to 1:1 at this point. Which isn’t to disparage people, I think it’s more that it started to make more sense to me when I realized it’s basically a different hobby!
Never really knew this was even a thing. But then given I don’t get the entertainment from video game streams I’m not sure this would work for me, especially if it’s more theatre than just folks just recording their game sessions.
Makes me think of Pro Wrestling in a way.
I don’t get it, but I also don’t get the music of Keith Urban, so its just another head scratcher on the list. You do you.
One thing that seems important to mention though, the programs on YouTube are a way to monetize the activity of role-playing that previously has not existed.
Two guys I ran Burning Wheel for got their introduction to roleplaying via Critical Role and Harmon Quest (or whatever it’s called). As a GM, it was impossible to fulfill the expectations of those players. I’m worried they want something I cannot provide. I’m incapable of producing nonstop humor or silliness, mainly because I don’t come to the table for that. But also because I’m not a trained voice actor or comedian or whatever – I don’t have those abilities. I can create drama and some witticisms occasionally, but with every roll and every honeyed word that drips from my mouth? I gotta throw in the towel.
It probably comes down to play styles. I’m the wrong person to partake in that sort of gaming (either as a player or a facilitator).
Some people learn about sex from porn, too, with similar results.
That’s a clever, if sideways, analogy, Paul. I’ve long agreed with Adam’s position that Critical Role and similar shows put on by professional entertainers present a very distorted picture of what happens at most tables. They can be helpful as vaguely aspirational ideals or common reference points to nudge play in a different direction. But I wouldn’t steer new players to them as an example of what to aim for.
Sean Gomes hence the /s, or am i doing that wrong?
Dave Turner a former co-worker always pointed to Harmon’s thing as being some pinnacle, but having watched it a couple of times it always felt crazy artificial and searching for a laugh.
Probably just me.
I like listening to APs as a background noise. And sometimes to learn more about the game od style someone plays. It’s not really that entertaining mostly.
The real annoing thing about APs or liveplays are people who try to play to the audience and be entertaining. It really breaks the flow od the game for me.
Ok I have a tangential question – a lot of people who consume APs like this do so “in the background” like has been mentioned a few times. HOW? Like how do you divide your attention like that?
There are streams that value system mastery and don’t do scripting. Adam Koebel runs several great shows. I found out about the google.plus community through his shows.
I have found liveplay examples to be great for helping me wrap my head around new games. If there is a dirth of system mastery shows its because seasoned roleplayers haven’t been in a position to easily take part which is a shame.
My brother and his wife got back into RPGs after listening to The Adventure Zone podcast, so it can definitely work, but I don’t get it either. That space in my life is mostly taken up by watching sports and sports commentary (mostly soccer).
My biggest gripe is how nearly every podcast AP tries to be funny. I do no roleplay for the humor, so this seems strange to me.
Also, they’re not very funny for the most part.
Is it’s popularity indicative of it’s function as a stop-gap mechanism for gamers who cannot find/build a community in meatspace?
Man, this thread!
I fuckin love watching APs. I don’t do it always, but by god I enjoy good story for games I don’t get to play. At the same time, I give no fucks about nonstop chucklefests. So it means I pretty much watch Shield of Tomorrow, Roll20 backlogs, and listen to Comic Strip AP. I confess that I can’t get into TAZ to save my life.
Don’t get it, don’t watch it, but love that it exists tho.
Drew U i like this idea. Also perhaps as a gateway for potential players trying to get a feel for what it is their little brother/sister has been doing in the basement with their friends.
Personally, if the RP was more like the kids do in Stranger Things i might have more interest In it.
I am currently running Dungeon World for a group entirely consisting of 20-/30-somethings who had never played any RPG but all got into The Adventure Zone. It’s going great!
(Personally I enjoy TAZ and the Harmon stuff, because they’re all just showcases for funny peeps I’m already fond of – the hardcore stuff like Critical Role remains impenetrable to me, but I can get why folks like it.)
I watch Harmon Quest, but it’s not roleplaying, it’s improv. I love GMing, I like playing, and hate watching RPGs. That’s me!
As a game designer, it’s a pretty amazing resource to be able to observe people playing without the distraction of having to also participate. And, as someone who can work and listen to audio at the same time (there’s no trick to it, I can just do it, somehow), it’s not the giant time-suck that dedicated watching would be.
I get that people like watching their favourite personalities do things, and I also prefer shows that include someone I know personally, but I still find watching a game without doing anything else at the same time really boring.
Keep your eyes peeled… plus.google.com – The front page links for my new company website. Granted, just above that it …
I posted about this on another thread, but I’ll share here as well as its relevant. Like many, I was initially dismissive of the whole livestream TT RPG thing. Then a friend of mine got invited on, which led to me being pulled in, and I discovered that its not what I thought.
First, you need to understand there’s two types of shows. Though both appear on Twitch, I’ll call one Actual Play and one Twitch Show.
Actual plays are great for showing how a game works. When done right, its an enormous asset for a game. For video games its also the same as an unpolished video walk through. This is what people generally think of as “D&D liveplay” or whatever game liveplay. Personally, its not that entertaining.
Twitch shows are a different beast. They are done for the entertainment of the audience. I’m sure they initially began as APs, but they morphed into something else entirely. I can’t speak for all twitch shows, but most are a variant of what I got sucked into doing on Friday nights.
For Death From Above: Legacy (a Battletech inspired show), the players get a beat sheet each week that gives a recap for the start of the show, a rundown of what RP scenes we are going to have in the beginning, what the battle scenario is, and then multiple possible outcomes. The only script is for the GM to read or if there is a lore dump that needs to happen. All RP, actions, and dice rolls are done by the players. Where the Death From Above started as game developers from HBS’s new Battletech computer game and various Twitch personalities, for the new season and story arc, the players are almost all improv actors and larpers. It also helps that we don’t sit; we’re standing the whole time.
But there’s something else that happens in Twitch shows: chat happens. Chat is constantly going, interacting with each other, and, through donations, interacting with us. Chat can buy buffs for the protagonists or the antagonists, swinging the fate of the show. For our show, if they donate over $20 they can give a message that is read out by a mechanized voice on the show, and if its an in character message, we try to incorporate it.
So what you wind up with is really an improv show build on top of the chassis of an RPG and that also incorporates fan interaction.
And yeah, its pretty awesome. I was nervous as hell in my first appearance (I had a scripted lore dump to give right out of the gate and I’d never done this sort of thing before), but the cast was great and the show’s a lot of fun. I also have to admit that last night was amazing, awesome fun, enough so that I rewatched the episode just to see how chat reacted, and it was clear that the fun we had was mirrored by them.