Moving closer to home this week, I’m taking a look at a live streaming RPG show that has grown to become one of my favorites to watch. The Scarlet Sisterhood of Steel & Sorcery is streaming live every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy’s YouTube channel. Each week, DM Nerdarchist Dave hosts Staff Writers Megan Miller and Samantha Karr with gamer girl and Nerdarchy fan Vex on their D&D 5E adventures in and around Gryphongaffe, Nerdarchy’s homebrew campaign setting.
At the time of this post, the Scarlet Sisterhood game is nine sessions deep, with a new episode streaming later this same day. Scarlet Sisterhood is a different sort of RPG campaign that makes it difficult to analyze with the same perspective as other RPG programs. Because of these differences, what might be a weakness for another live gameplay program becomes a strength for Scarlet Sisterhood.
Nevertheless, the usual method will apply. I’ll discuss where the show is a Success or Failure along with where it scores a Critical Hit or a Critical Fail, with a Perception Check for hidden details or closer observation.
Before getting started, watch Nerdarchists Dave and Ted discuss the campaign, talk about the characters and explain the premise of the game:
This show is pure fun. There is no telling what Agitha the half-elf barbarian, Kenna the halfling bard and Daphexis the gnome wizard will get into from session to session – or even minute to minute! The players keep not only the DM on his toes, but each other as well. I’m fairly certain the first instance of a barbarian being so enraged that they need to take a soothing bath takes place on the show. Foes become friends, romances blossom and the characters are as likely to create their own adventures and obstacles as they are to pursue existing RPG campaign goals.
“I’m full of rage. I need a bath!” – Agitha, half-elf barbarian
The Scarlet Sisterhood players sometimes squabble amongst each other, butting heads over what direction to take their adventures, but this is done in a friendly way. It makes sense both in terms of their characters and as players. Table talk during any roleplaying game can become awkward and stray towards being contentious from time to time, and doing so during a live streaming RPG experience could exacerbate the situation.
It has been incredibly encouraging to watch these players (who were strangers before starting the campaign) approach their RPG game and each other with respect, building camaraderie and friendship in and out of game. The results in-game appeal to all the characters, and out-of-game lead to smiles and laughter. In this way, the spirit of an RPG as a fun, collaborative storytelling experience remains true.
They are a wonderful example of how positive the gaming community can be. It’s a great lesson to learn and bring to your home games, too. It’s completely okay to disagree with other players as long as you treat each other with respect. Sometimes you compromise, and sometimes your idea gets put on the back burner.
On the other side of the screen, DM Dave does a terrific job managing the ebb and flow during the live streaming sessions. The way he portrays the NPCs and their reactions to the PCs shows his experience as a GM, for starters. It’s clear that each NPC has distinctive motivations, ideals, bonds and personalities.
This is a great example for GMs that shows how to allow players to interact in their own ways while keeping NPCs unique and on track to move the narrative forward. For example, H’Roc the captain of the guard has developed into a frequently reoccurring NPC with a flirtatious relationship with one of the characters, but remains steadfast in his duties and dedication to keeping Gryphongaffe safe.
For people who are very much into game mechanics, rules consistency and number-crunching, Scarlet Sisterhood can be a turnoff. Some amount of deviation from the rules is present in every RPG campaign – even DM Chris Perkins, Wizards of the Coast story designer and professional Dungeon Master, makes mistakes. Scarlet Sisterhood strikes me as a game that is very much focused on role playing and giving players the freedom to explore and develop their characters on their own terms.
This is a situation mentioned above, where a weakness of the show is also a strength. Pure gamists might become flustered by unorthodox character builds, methods and choices. That is not an opinion I hold, but in the spirit of giving a broad perspective, I could see where some viewers might find fault.
Streaming on the Internet means there are countless viewers who can weigh in with comments on mathematical errors, rules clarifications/interpretations or suggestions for character optimizations. It takes a certain combination of thick skin and acceptance to share your game online, and I commend every person who does so. At the end of the day the only rule gamers need to follow is that everyone has fun, though.
For your home game, whether you’re a GM or player, the takeaway is that you can still create a fun and challenging game without being punitive towards suboptimal character choices. GMs can improvise and modify rules on the fly to create peril, humor and drama.
Player engagement is an enormous benefit for the Scarlet Sisterhood. GMs can learn a lot by watching how and when the DM gives players time and freedom to talk to each other and when he interjects with narrative hooks and events that move the story along.
In addition, players are regularly given the opportunity to overtly drive the story forward. There is a ton of buy-in for the players based on their interests. When they seemed intrigued by a magical fey aspect of the story, that evolved into an arc that had a significant impact on the adventure. There have also been multiple times when the DM tasks the players with describing how the adventure unfolds, like narrating their own mystical visions.
Allowing the players time and freedom to explore and develop their characters and the story lets them create their own tensions organically. The DM does a masterful job processing the information the players give about what is important to them and weaving it into story moments. Powerful moments of tearful drama, laughter and peril are often the direct result of player agency.
In a larger sense, the game sparked a meta-discussion about all-female games that spilled over into the gaming community. The question was raised whether an all-female RPG was inherently divisive, creating a sort of negative appeal. Popular YouTuber DawnforgedCast weighed in, and Staff Writer Megan Miller along with Vex wrote a thoughtful piece about it as well.
Generating discussion on this topic is a huge success for the Scarlet Sisterhood. At a time when tabletop gaming is so expansive in terms of inclusivity and popularity, it’s important to bring topics like this out into the open. As gamers, the worlds we create are populated by myriad cultures, species and interactions between them.
Our imaginary heroes often strive to uphold values that we admire, and champion equality and acceptance. It’s wonderful to see the reverse can also be true. Our characters can inspire us to think about what we can do in real life to make our voices heard.
Within the game, the all-female group of players in Scarlet Sisterhood provides an example that women gamers are not only equal partners in the hobby, they add to it. These players bring the same excitement for action and adventure as any male gamer. On top of that, their perspectives change the way we think about RPGs.
For example, earlier in their adventures, Agitha the barbarian was investigating some rumors and looking for information that brought her to a tavern. During the social encounter, one of the men attempted to drug her, presumably to take advantage of her. In a later session, the party encountered the man, who was given a stern warning about this terrible practice.
The scenario stands out as a watershed moment for me as a viewer. It’s not uncommon for women in RPGs to be objectified. Thankfully, this has become far less so these days, but it’s still out there. From damsels in distress to fantasy acts of rape, female characters in RPGs have been used as plot devices or worse. For this group of powerful female characters (and players) to stand up and say something about it in-game struck me as significant.
Watching this group grow into respected heroes in their game is a real treat. They’re not seen as gimmicky or token in the game, and they shouldn’t be seen that way out of game, either.
Because the Scarlet Sisterhood is such a different sort of RPG program, it can take some getting used to for a new viewer. The buy-in for the audience isn’t readily apparent from the get-go. This has as much to do with the game evolving on its own, though. I don’t think anyone involved intends anything more than a fun game.
The open-ended nature of the playstyle makes the main narrative arc somewhat challenging to follow. They’ve added a recap segment at the start of each session, which helps. The characters have picked up a hefty workload of quests during their adventures, similar to a computer RPG. This can make things a little confusing for a viewer who isn’t caught up.
That being said, the comments on the videos suggest this particular campaign has grown on a lot of people and become one of their favorites to watch. There’s something different about it that makes it very appealing if given the chance.
- Female players with male characters would be interesting to see. As a player who enjoys playing characters who aren’t like me, especially female characters, it would be cool to see how a female player plays a male character.
- Watching Samantha, who is a relatively newer RPG player, is a blast. It’s always great to see how players portray characters outside of how people typically perceive a class.
- The way the players’ relationships have grown is just as entertaining as what happens in the game. It’s a great example of how RPGs can bring people together.
- The campaign’s connections to other Nerdarchy games is cool. For example, the Scarlet Sisterhood being linked to the Company of the NAG and subtle references to the campaign in their other games are neat Easter eggs for devoted fans.