The RPG space is undoubtedly growing in ways it never has before. There are simply more options for games, whether new systems, new content for classics like fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and new ways to play all of these games like live streaming RPG gameplay. From Critical Role and Acquisitions Inc. straight on down the line, thousands of players and Game Masters share their tables with the world. Mike Hunt, whose unMadeGaming brand showcases a wide variety of RPG systems, is one such content creator.
I first met Mike at Gen Con 50 in 2017 and had a terrific time hanging out, playing games and talking nerdy about the RPG industry. His passion for not only gaming but doing more to contribute to the larger community was obvious. There’s something more than enjoyment of RPGs compelling folks like Mike to invite audiences to the gaming table.
Making of unMadeGaming
Yes, part of it is building a brand as an entrepreneur with an eye towards turning an interest into a viable business. But a genuine desire to add positive value back into the hobby propels unMadeGaming forward too. Whether it’s highlighting new or lesser-known RPGs like Symbaroum from Modiphius Entertainment or demonstrating different ways to approach the role of Game Master for popular adventures like D&D’s Curse of Strahd, Mike’s unMadeGaming is tireless.
I’ve learned a lot about running a game – especially in a live streaming environment – from Mike and sat down with him for a chat to hear what unMadeGaming is all about, what drives him forward and what he hopes to achieve in the RPG space. A longtime RPG player, the Army veteran’s perspective on what a game can be changed while on tour in the Middle East.
“When I started Twitch two and a half years ago, I’d come back from Afghanistan in 2012. I’d played one of the most intense games of D&D there and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of worldbuilding. This guy had made his own world and he did basically what Forgotten Realms does…If you play here, your future campaign may see your old characters, stories and things like that. I was like ‘I want to do that. That’s awesome.’ So I set to building my own world for a few years. We had a campaign for about a year at home with friends and I wanted to do this more. I thought, ‘Streaming’s a thing, let’s try that out.'”
Then Mike found Kickstarter and the plethora of new, awesome RPGs available. He started adding new games to his collection, intrigued by all the possibilities outside the fantasy genre he was familiar with. Around the same time he learned about Encounter Roleplay. After reaching out to them, he became a regular cast member on their Monday night stream, gaining exposure to games like Numenera, Cypher System, Call of Cthulhu and others.
His live streaming life led him to start running 12-hour streams for charity, which he’s been doing for about two years. During these events, other Game Masters are invited to run one shot sessions of a game of their choice, giving both players and audiences a chance to discover new games and systems. Money raised during these live streaming events benefits Extra Life, which supports Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.
“We’ve played all kinds of weird stuff over the last two years, and I love it because every different system that’s not D&D does things differently that you can take and import into things like D&D or other systems. You’re constantly learning new mechanics – especially roleplay mechanics – to bring back into other systems.”
The charity events take advantage of the Twitch environment’s built-in donation features. During regular gameplay, viewers are incentivized to directly influence the live streaming action. Through donations, or tips, audience members can give characters successes or special in-game rewards, or even create content in the game itself like making their own NPCs in the world. Normally these tips are used to support the Twitch channel. But during charity streams, the donations are then given to a charity of the streamers choice.
“We have a lot of people who just donate. We have a lot of people who just say ‘here’s $50 for charity for kids’ and I’ll tell them there’s a donation section if you want something [like giving a character a critical success] and they’re like ‘nope, just like helping out the kids.’ “
Mike chose Extra Life as a charity for donations because frankly it was the only one he knew of at the time through their work with Geek and Sundry for International Tabletop Day. Coincidentally enough, the Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island where Mike lives is a CMN hospital and Mike is more than happy to play a Hasbro game (D&D) to raise money to support the phenomenal work being done at the Hasbro facility helping kids through research, medical care and quality of life. You can learn more about Extra Life on their website and find ways you can help too, whether it’s through your own donation or by hosting fundraising events of your own.
Aside from how Mike got started live streaming, the answer to why he began is much simpler.
A bit of tongue-in-cheek, but Mike explained how after the conclusion of a campaign at home with friends, he sought more structure to gaming. Around this time he became aware of Twitch and saw that a handful of other people were streaming their D&D games and he thought he’d give a shot, too. He and his friends already planned to play, so why not turn a camera and and see what happens?
Reaching out to those few others for tips and suggestions on ways to improve was a bit rocky, and Mike got little to no response. But he credits then-18-year-old Will Jones of Encounter Roleplay for not only sharing whatever helpful advice he could but inviting Mike to play one shots and later a Cypher System campaign. The two remain friends and gaming collaborators to this day.
Approach to live streaming RPG campaigns
Regardless of the particular RPG system Mike uses to run a game, the compelling part of his live streaming shows lies in giving players plenty of space to explore their characters’ interests. Because he focuses heavily on worldbuilding and improvisation, his games achieve a certain nuance that gives them an almost system agnostic quality and layered experience. The campaign story is certainly the focus for Mike, but his setting-first approach gives him the tools he needs to bring that setting to life and allow the players to experience through richer immersion.
However, for a Game Master, it remains important to have a good grasp of at least the basic mechanics, especially for a live streaming game. For players, this isn’t quite as important when exploring a new game system – a player can get by through understanding their character, describing what they’d like to do and allowing the GM to adjudicate how those desires translate into game mechanics.
“I’m confident in myself that I can jump into any game without knowing the mechanics and just run with it, because I have a fundamental belief that the core understanding of roleplaying is universal. The specifics are the system.”
Winging it with a new system as a GM, though, is a different situation. For a GM, it doesn’t require system mastery to run a game, but a read through, supplemented with perhaps some additional research, is definitely recommended. The double-edged sword for a Game Master comes from doing a disservice to both players and audiences, a lesson he illustrates through a Symbaroum campaign he ran that ended after four out of a planned ten episode campaign. Looking up the rules as they became pertinent he felt made for a bad stream, and didn’t do justice to the game.
Live streaming GM as a showrunner
There’s a lot of similarities between organizing, preparing and running a live streaming RPG campaign and producing something like a television show or web series. In fact, that’s precisely what many streamers do in essence. Game sessions are often called episodes (and some streamers even refer to private home games as such). And despite the fundamental unknowns of any RPG – neither players nor GMs know what will happen during the course of a session – there’s a cast of both the players and their characters, and shorter narrative arcs woven together into a larger story in episodic format.
As someone fascinated by the emergent live streaming RPG playstyle myself, it was enlightening to talk with Mike about how he structures a new campaign. Should organization include a present limits like a certain number of episodes or take an open-ended approach? If a finite number of episodes, how many? Is the goal to tell a particular story? Take characters from a game’s baseline level to the pinnacle of advancement? If open-ended is there any parameter for completing the campaign?
“It depends on who’s in the campaign. I’ve run two campaigns in my Thursday games, which are both in my homebrew world. One was 36 episodes long, and this other one is going on right now and just hit episode 46 and it has at least another ten episodes left. I didn’t put an end time on that. With my ‘real life’ friends I don’t set a time frame. I’m like ‘you guys are committed to playing this campaign because we’re friends and that’s what nerds do.’ But with other games like my Tuesday and Wednesday games, those are scheduled. There’s other Twitch streamers on there, and I don’t want to make people commit to an indefinite amount of time, and ten is a good spot.”
Organizing campaigns into seasons carries the episodic series format even further. For live streaming gamers, these break points allow everyone involved to discuss if they want to continue onward or call it a complete campaign and move on to something different. It’s this space between the rules and the gameplay itself where RPGs are changing the most. Like an episodic TV series, the characters move through scenarios from the micro to the macro level, solving the problem in each individual episode and moving closer to the larger conclusion of the season’s narrative each time, while dealing with individual character arcs along the way.
Live streaming as a playstyle
Perhaps the single thing prompting my interest in talking to Mike was watching his Save or Dice: Fury game. I noticed how the players kept asking him question after question – not uncommon for an RPG – but rather than steer them towards a decision point, he kept only revealing more details about what the characters saw, heard and otherwise perceived in the world around them.
“It’s now second nature, but at first that was an active attempt when I first started doing that because I used to be real bad about railroading…When I would get asked questions, I would struggle to improv back in the day. That’s why when I started Twitch streaming I thought ‘I’m not prepping anything. I’m going to improv the whole thing.’ It was terrifying. I’d never improv’ed before and I wasn’t good at it. And I was like F it, I’m jumping in and doing it live.”
Mike described an experience many GMs go through (myself included) of feeling apprehensive about running a game, especially live online. In my own weekly Spelljammer game, my first foray into running a live streaming RPG, I felt the same terror before our first session. And the feeling remains each week…but less and less each time.
It’s important for all RPG players and GMs to understand – we’re all a bundle of nerves doing this! I’ve heard Chris Perkins, Nerdarchist Dave and tons of others mention feelings of anxiety before a game. So if you’re considering streaming your own game, keep that in mind and just go for it. The RPG community is a truly wonderful one, and everyone I know is supportive of their fellow gamers. At the end of the day, we all share love for the hobby and getting together with fellow nerds to have fun.
For a bit of insider advice from Mike himself, he shared what prep looks like for his own games. A big part of it, which allows a GM to improv much more effectively, is knowing your setting. Beyond that, he has a template he uses for each session:
- Episode title
- Three bullet recap of the previous episode
- Three bullet idea of what he thinks characters might do
- NPCs he thinks will be in the session
- The mood for the session
Mike also brought up a really interesting point about live stream players. Because he’s so used to playing with other streamers, or people who engage with Twitch as viewers, an offline game threw a curveball at him. During the group’s session zero, he was met with blank looks when he asked the players what sort of game they wanted to play. The general response was they’re never been asked that before, and usually go along with whatever the GM planned.
“I was like, I don’t know what to do. I didn’t write anything, I was just going to do whatever the players want. My fun is making the world with them. I felt so screwed – I had to make it all up myself! I’d gotten so used to playing with Twitch streamers for who that was the norm, I was like ‘oh, no, I haven’t prepped a full campaign in forever.’ “
Coming back into gaming much more consistently through fifth edition D&D than I had in many years, and influenced by watching live streaming RPG shows, I’d adopted the perspective of improv sessions organically, and it never crossed my mind people didn’t play that way these days. But I’m sure glad they do! Allowing players to contribute to the development of a story and participate in worldbuilding makes games much more enjoyable and rewarding (and easier!) to run.
Mike’s games, whether on his own channel or in collaborations with other streamers like Encounter Roleplay and Save or Dice, are fantastic examples of this style too. I’ve learned a lot from watching him run games, and even more from talking with him. So if you’re curious about some of the coolest RPGs out there and looking for some terrific gaming to engage with, check out what unMadeGaming is up to.
Where to see unMadeGaming
You can of course catch Mike doing his thing on his own unMadeGaming Twitch channel, as well as YouTube where his live games find a home as VOD. He’s also working to create native content for YouTube. Keep up to date with what he’s got going on by following him on Twitter and Facebook, or any of the other places Mike appears on the internet. and be sure to catch him as the Lich Lord Game Master on Save or Dice: Fury featuring our own Nerdarchist Ted Mondays at 8 p.m. eastern on YouTube.
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