Live Stream D&D is a Playstyle All its Own
Back in 2010 the notion of Dungeons & Dragons, or any roleplaying game, as a spectator event would draw incredulous looks – even from dyed-in-the-wool players. There were a few videos floating around from Wizards of the Coast to show examples of D&D being played, and some podcasts of people playing or talking about the gaming hobby. Fast forward to 2017, and live stream roleplaying games have grown into a viable form of entertainment. The big dog in the room, Critical Role, generally draws audiences in the 30,000 viewer range for their live games on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. pacific. The VOD on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel dwarfs these numbers; the first episode is sitting at 6.1 million views. The new campaign just started too – were your #silhouettewatch predictions correct?
More people are watching – and playing – D&D live online and this is showing no signs of slowing down. Platforms like Twitch and YouTube put the tools in gamers hands to share their gaming experience with the world. Whether these games are played live or recorded and uploaded, there’s an audience out there. And gamers who play for them are developing a unique playstyle because of it.
“It feels really different, there’s sort of an adrenaline rush knowing there’s an audience there.” – Lysa Chen, Dungeon Master’s Guild Adept and community manager for Adventurers League, during a Nerdarchy live chat
Popularity and prevalence of live stream roleplaying games without a doubt helps the hobby grow. Drawing in new players and demonstrating the flexibility of our favorite games makes people excited to try new things and discover new perspectives at the gaming table. The way we think about our D&D adventures and approach playing our characters in the campaign evolves, and live stream games most certainly affect the course of both play and design.
Live stream playstyle offline?
If you’re not a Critter, ExplodingDice subscriber, online Adventurers League Dungeon Master or player, or occasional Dragon Talk listener, you probably know someone who is. D&D is more than a game in 2018 – it’s a community and culture – and gamers interact with each other like never before. We are sharing content, swapping stories and inviting the public to hang out at our tables while we play.
Part of the D&D experience is engaging socially with each other, and live stream gaming opens up new doors to this aspect. When we see and hear people from all walks of life celebrating their appreciation of the hobby, connections emerge. The gaming table and our seat at it becomes a shared space, one we’re excited to invite others to join. It’s fun to enjoy D&D with new people, participating in not only heroic adventures but a social experience together.
Live stream gaming contributes to a broad mural of what it means to play roleplaying games, painting new pictures of the collaborative nature. As spectators we go along for the ride with the players, watching their story unfold in its own unique way. The experience can’t help but rub off on our own D&D sessions, giving us deeper appreciation for what’s taking place.
What we bring back from these live stream experiences – whether as a spectator or a participant – impacts the games taking place off camera. We become more open to gaming with new people, and the characters we play are better off for it.
A live stream game tends to focus heavily on storytelling, and as a result the direction of game design for D&D (and I’m sure other games) has shifted along those same lines. D&D in 2018 fully embraces the game’s history of adventure and exploration, while recognizing its power to help us tell amazing stories. Not just stories about the evil wizard whose tower dungeon we ransack and loot, but about our characters, and their lives inside the worlds of our imaginations.
“It’s in that space between rolling the die, describing what your character is doing, the DM decided what it is that then happens – that’s really where the magic happens. Because it is there that a story comes to life that no one expected.” – Jeremy Crawford, lead rules designer for D&D, from Dungeons & Dragons: Rolling the Storytelling Dice video
From professional actors on down to your own home group’s kick-in-the-door questing methods, live stream games tend to keep the action moving. Less flipping through books, off-topic conversation and table breaks means more time spent playing the game. Live stream games illustrate this wonderfully.
Sure, streaming gamers joke around and talk off-topic here and there but for the most part, the focus is 100 percent on the game, the adventure, the story unfolding. I have found my own home games, as well as organized games like Adventurers League, benefit tremendously from this kind of focus.
First off, when the time comes to play, we play. For adults with kids, spouses, jobs with varying schedules and other demands on our time, setting aside a few hours to game is challenging. So when we meet to play D&D at 5 p.m. we get down to business. My experience with Adventurers League follows the trend. If a game is scheduled at noon, players are at the table ready to begin. Live stream games have an additional expectation due to an audience, which strengthens the hobby overall. Whether you’re watching or actively playing, the beginning of a session is clear. The social aspect of gathering together isn’t lost, but it is more focused on what brought everyone to the table.
Live stream games also increase player immersion, which benefits the game as a whole. Playing an RPG for an audience carries a responsibility to keep things moving forward. Much less time, an almost negligible amount, is spent looking up rules or even sticking to the source material for things like published adventure content. Every live stream game makes the experience their own, creating unique situations.
Dungeon Masters keep players and audiences engaged through vivid description and keenly recognizing when to pass the ball back and forth. Prompting and encouraging players to describe their characters’ actions and reactions, and providing them agency to make real impact on the game is a powerful takeaway for home gaming. It shifts the discussion away from fiddly bits like mechanical talk and zeroes in on what D&D is all about – creating a story in the space between the DM and players.
Many of us who enjoy roleplaying games like D&D can point to our own anxieties when it comes to social interaction. Those of us who grew up playing in the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s generally kept to our small gaming circles. Sure there were conventions and organized play like RPGA back then but it was still very niche. The idea of putting ourselves out there as D&D players was anathema for a lot of folks. Nerdarchist Dave himself once considered it embarrassing that he was a gamer if you can believe it! Thankfully for us, he embraced his nerdy side.
My point is, if you suggested a D&D group play their game in public back then, and people would watch for pure entertainment, probably no one would believe you and a heck of a lot of people would be terrified by the prospect.
But now, the notion of gaming with new and different people regularly has become a vital part of the culture. This is an awesome development. Thanks to things like Adventurers League and the rise of live stream gaming, D&D players are much more excited to roll funny-shaped dice with different people and make new friends on the regular. Whether it is due in part to the safety net of playing from the comfort of our homes in online games, or heading to your FLGS for Adventurers League play and embracing the community of fellow enthusiasts, our gaming lives are enriched.
We are playing in other people’s games, running games for strangers and experiencing the breadth of what the hobby has to offer. We’re interacting with each other like never before and becoming part of the wonderful emergent culture. There are Important Things taking place around gaming tables. Beyond whatever heroic adventures we discover together, we’re connecting with each other as human beings through gaming and building lasting relationships.
One shots and new ways to play
A lot of live stream D&D games I gravitate toward are one-shot games or short arcs lasting only a couple of sessions. Practically speaking, for audiences these are great because there’s no backlog of sessions to watch to catch up, and they don’t put a new demand on your time to keep up with ongoing series.
As a player and DM both, I’ve really cottoned to this playstyle, influenced by my appreciation for live stream games. Along these same lines, Mike Mearls talked about the idea of accelerating leveling on an episode of the DM’s Deep Dive podcast. Depending on how often you can muster a static group of players, it could take years to take characters from 1st to 20th level. Instead, you could try something like this where characters just level up every few hours of gameplay or every two sessions perhaps. There could be an element of disconnect with something like this if you’re running a published campaign like Curse of Strahd. Characters would quickly become powerful protagonists and adventure through the material rather quickly.
In the D&D space, games are being playing so much and the playerbase is so vast that a single longrunning campaign is more the exception than the rule. Granted, there’s Critical Role looking over my shoulder incredulously at this statement.
What I enjoy most about playing D&D these days is how many resources and places there are to find fellow gamers and jump into or run games. Because of the terrific examples other gamers share with us, showing how they approach playing D&D, we get inspired to try new things all the time. Maybe you’ve caught me writing or talking about Spelljammer, but you’re not sure what it could be like to introduce fantasy space travel in your campaign. Give it a go with a single session and see what happens. Grab your friends or put the word out in places like the Tabletop RPG One Shot Group on Facebook and give it a whirl. Take advantage of this golden age of gaming to experiment with different ways to play, unusual sorts of adventures and new ways to tell stories collaboratively.
Criticism has been leveled at live stream games like Critical Role in the past. There’s a notion this sort of game “ruins” the experience for the average gamer who isn’t a professional actor. Other premium live stream D&D games have lots of bells and whistles like slick overlays, well-developed chatbots or simply oodles of time to develop their channels.
To heck with it all.
If you have internet connection and a basic mic (a built-in works just fine) you can live stream D&D to share. You can try doing different voices for your character, NPCs and monsters. You can describe the darkened forest and how the thin, reedy branches cast long shadows before the orange light of late autumn sun slips below the horizon. How with the passing of day, the cold of night falls around you rapidly. In the still, dark air, the sounds of the forest at night create a nocturnal orchestra of hoots, distant howls and the rustling of dry leaves blanketing the forest floor. You can ask the players “what do you do?”
And we’ll watch.
We’ll enjoy how your adventure unfolds because we’re right there with you. Not only watching your live stream game, but with you in spirit as we think about the D&D games we’ve played and how silly we sound ourselves. How bumbling our own adventurers can be sometimes, how heroic, how dramatic! We’ll get inspired to play more, to try out something in your game that captured our imagination. To connect with each other, to develop a new playstyle, to share our fun and to celebrate our passion with an awesome community.
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