TRPG in Online Format - Observation, Analysis, and Commentary

by Hawke Robinson published 2017/04/04 20:05:00 GMT-7, last modified 2022-11-12T09:28:44-07:00
This article provides observation, analysis, and commentary on efforts to "port" face-to-face Tabletop Role-Playing Games (RPG / TRPG) to an online and entertainment medium.


This article includes an analysis of what may have been the contributing factors that lead to the dissolution of two gaming groups, as a lesson for others about the number of pitfalls for beginning Dungeon Masters (and experienced) to take into account in their efforts at taking the face-to-face experience of TRPG into an entertainment medium.

An online Twitch channel named The Spartan Show has been hosting "Legends: Through Shadow", a weekly tabletop Role-Playing Game (TRPG) series broadcast live using Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition in a custom world setting. After a while the DM ran two groups per week, but the second group recently experienced a "Total Party Kill" minus one (TPK-1) wherein all but one character was slain. This triggered a number of upset players to leave the group, and to encourage members of the first group to leave the show as well.






I have been involved with role-playing games at least since 1979, and so the death of characters and TPK to me at least, is just part of the fun of the game. It might be considered jaded, but I don't have the same intense emotions of loss that new and relatively inexperienced players feel. Though I have been building a degree, certifications, and training staff in delivering RPG services from a Therapeutic Recreation perspective, and even invested in a $40,000+ USD mobile gaming RV trailer, to me it is still very much "just a game", though a game with great potential. Finally, it should be made clear that I am one of the group members in the first (Friday) group on this show, and one of the few that has not left. For the most part I have not been contacted by any of the upset parties, so this analysis is based on my observations, and dialog with the DM, only one of the players that left, and the sole remaining player (besides myself). A new group has been formed, and the DM has learned much from his experiment.




















I had warned him about several things that would most likely (Especially as a new DM) kill his group(s), that unfortunately happened: 1. Mostly inexperienced players need some \"scaffolding\" initially, while an open sandbox is great for experienced players, beginners need more guidance than that or they mill about and take a lot longer to gel. 2. Chaotic and evil characters, unless they are experienced AND MATURE players, inevitably devolve and slow-down/stop group cohesion. 3. Having two groups broadcasting will likely create a competitive attitude, and members of the 2nd group started to spam the 1st group's chat and clearly felt \"in the shadow\" (pardon the pun) of the first group. 4. The Internet aspects will significantly change the social dynamics very significantly compared to face-to-face, in addition to the show broadcast performance aspects, the human facial and body language, even with the cameras, will very much lacking compared to in-person, especially before/after broadcasts when it is text or at most audio only, and would complicate things through greater likelihood of misunderstandings and lower empathy levels. A 6th issue I didn't see coming, because I didn't know, is that while I knew most of the players came from other Twitch channels, I did not know one of them felt a rivalry with the DM's channel, and that they had had a run-in in the past (years ago), and the DM was trying to give him the benefit fo the doubt, but it looks like that one is the one that has put in the most energy to actively drive away the players from both groups. Some left not because of the TPK, but because they didn't want to deal with the harassment of the upset ex-player constantly PMing them. While TPK's can be hard, especially for inexperienced players (that is why I think all new players should experience a character death earlier rather than later, though not usually in TPK, and not artificially so, it needs to be their own fault and clear that their earlier choices would have avoided it, so they can learn), the in-person aspect makes it easier for everyone to have better empathic connections and fewer misunderstandings. I saw the whole episode, and they had at least FIVE clear opportunities to escape, and they did not take them.





 Additional commentary



My Postings in the Professional GM's Society G+ Group (and their comments):

A fun little trailer the show creator put together for the weekly Internet show in which I have a supporting role as one of the adventurers. I ran the DM, and one of the other players, through an example campaign, on air, a couple years ago to introduce him to RPG & D&D, as The Adventurer's Guild, and he was "hooked". Now he is running Legends Through Shadow.

Join us for role-playing gaming fun! I play the character of Khrandûm, the eccentric "Dwarf" Bard. D&D 5th edition.
Tonight will be episode 6.

More about the cast:

And some more about the bard:



Vb WyrdeOwner+1

I'm looking around on - The Spartan Show - ... this is really great. I love the theatrical setup. Wonderful.


So glad you enjoy!



Vb WyrdeOwner+1
By the way, if there is anything that I or the Society can do to help, other than cheer, please let me know. I'd be happy to.
The DM is a first time DM, and often asking for feedback and GM guidance on how he can improve. He is off to a great start, and his NPC voicings are good. He could use additional friendly, constructive suggestions on timing, pacing, "level appropriateness" of challenges, guiding party direction without railroading (he wants to keep it a more open sandbox style, which I consider good, but the players are mostly new, so I think need a little more nudging initially), etc, he would probably appreciate friendly positive suggestions. I've been making high level suggestions about improving the flow, and the group getting more on track, without telling him specifically how to do that, which may be frustrating him a little that I am making those comments without directly telling him how to fix it, because I don't want to impose my particular GM style as the only solution, rather, by helping nudge him in the right direction, hopefully he will find the optimal solutions for himself and the playstyle that best matches him. Having multiple perspectives might help give him more ideas. :-
Ok. Roger that. Can do! :)
Are there any links to the show that I can freely watch and comment on? At the moment I really can't afford to subscribe, unfortunately (zero income).
He is converting them (Slowly) to Youtube. Here is first (edited) episode:
Vb WyrdeOwner+2
Great. I'm about 1/3 through. The production value is awesome. I have some notes on the GMing but I'm not sure where to post them to, so I'll post some comments here instead of on the video comments.

'Legends Through Shadow' does a wonderful job on the technical production side. Very impressive. The voice acting and costumes are great. The story feels like it is a bit of an uphill battle as the GM chose a "mystery" setup which didn't help to bring the characters squarely together in a simple and cohesive manner at the start. While I am enjoying the production, I also feel like after an hour that the players are a bit daunted by the uncertainty of the situation, and possibly a bit frustrated.

Anyway, I'm hugely impressed even if it isn't absolutely 100% perfect. It nevertheless gets a huge number of "necessaries" absolutely right imo. Those are:

1. GM's Voice acting is solid and interesting
2. Costumed players - awesome.
3. The production quality of the mask and editing - great.
4. The GM has excellent command of pacing.
5. The Players do some solid character acting - fun.
6. An interesting mix of Player Characters.
7. Love the production effects - smoke behind the GM, the ongoing drawings of characters in the middle, etc.

On the critical side I would make the following points:

1. The story development needed to bring the PCs together more coherently and firmly, and I would have avoided the "mystery" start. One of the standard rules of RPGs is "Don't split the party", and there are a number of reasons for this. But in this case the party starts out split. It feels like pulling them together coherently therefore becomes something of an uphill battle that could have been avoided.

2. I'm not sure but it felt like some of the NPCs were the same character. The GM may need to add more distinct voices to his repertoire. Again, not sure, but that was my impression.

3. The Players should all have backdrops that reflect their character in the same way as the costumes (ie - Talia has what looks like a dorm room behind her). Dark background is perfectly acceptable as well, and better than something that distracts from the 'scene'.

4. The GM lost an opportunity to also be in costume, and that would have helped. I'm not sure what costume would be appropriate other than the usual cowl but something other than casual dress. As it is it is a bit of a disconnect visually.

5. The GM laughs too much, and while it's cool to see he's enjoying himself, it also distracts the audience, and breaks immersion. The GM should try to always stay in Character - either as Narrator, or as an NPC. This will help to keep the audience engaged.

6. Every scene should have a story purpose, other than "they did this in order to get to the next point". Each scene should introduce or contain a story element that has meaning in the context of the overall adventure.

In general we need to keep in mind that this kind of production may have any number of goals. Some that come to mind are:

1. Have fun.

2. Produce something that an audience will find entertaining.

3. Produce a literary quality story.

4. Produce a high quality theatrical production.

5. Play a tactical combat game (whether theater of the mind or board based).

6. Make money.

I suggest that it's a good idea to have a list of the actual goals and what their priority levels are written out. The reason why is that sometimes the goals will be at odds with each other, and so prioritizing will help to keep the production consistent according to the goal set.

My understanding is that the GM is a newbie. So I do want to say that he's doing a great job at it. He's got a lot of natural talent. But there are many skills to GMing that are all required in order to bring a game together. One of those is the guidance of the plot. When the GM's plot is too complicated (I know from personal experience) the player can get lost in the miasma. Or simply wind up confused as to the purpose or direction they should take. Sometimes that can be fine, if you are planning a long term campaign and want to start off with mystery and intrigue. However, if you have a primary goal to appeal to an audience, you may want to avoid that. Not only can the players get a bit lost, but consider that the effect may confuse or frustrate the audience to an even greater degree than the players - which may cause the audience to just 'tune out' and lose the thread.

And so that's an example of where there can be conflicting requirements in terms of goals. Sometimes what is good for the game is not good for the audience. Sometimes what is good for the players is not good for the audience as well. And sometimes if you focus on what's good for the audience it can lead to having to tamp down on things that would have been good for the players or the story. It's a balancing act, and somewhat like trying to push a bump down on the carpet. You push it down here, but it pops up somewhere else.

Overall, I want to say this is one of the better productions of this kind that I've seen to date. Especially the editing and production value. Very very good work. Story development needs a bit of help, but the GMing is quite good just the same. I'm eager to see where they take this going forward.


On a side note... I'd love to know how was this effort was organized. How was it planned, how were the players and GM drawn together? How was the story developed? How was the editing done? I'd love to see a documentary on how this was pulled together. I think that information would be helpful to others who may want to follow in these footsteps and produce their own Theatrical RPG streams. The problem for a lot of people who might wish to do so is that getting set up requires a goodly number of skills which many GMs / Players may not have (such as video editing, creating masks for production, artwork, etc).

I'm wondering if we can find a way to help GMs and Players to get set up with this kind of RPG theater production? Perhaps by providing a way for theatrical-minded GMs and Players to connect, and helps them to set up the technical production side of things by organizing groups that have all the right skill sets combined.

I feel like we need a lot of these groups in order to perfect the concept. And I myself would love to be exploring this space and have acquired but not perfected a number of the related skills (some video editing, some experience with audacity, some experience with creating masks and OBS streaming - just enough to be able to set up something end to end, but not enough to do it with top notch quality yet).
Thanks for the feedback! I have posted your comments in the Discord App chatroom the DM likes to use.
Vb WyrdeOwner+1
Ok that's good. I didn't want to post all that to the video comments as I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to do so in that venue. Happy to send along my thoughts, and I hope they prove helpful to the cause. :)

And any thoughts you may have on my side-note at the end are certainly welcome.
I'm mixed. I think the performance/audience oriented gaming has its place in helping promote the ideas of RPGing to a broader audience, but I find that shows like Critical Role and others focus sometimes too much on the actors and less on the story and RPG aspects, and are generally boring for me to watch. I think a more interactive twist, similar to what we did a few years ago with the Adventurer's Guild, combined with the more theatrical approach in Legends Through Shadow, might be a better mix to engage the audience, while still focusing on the RPG aspects.
Game Master Types — Spokane RPG Role-Playing Gaming Community Website
Game Master Types — Spokane RPG Role-Playing Gaming Community Website
Hmm, why can't I post my full response?....

Game Master Types — Spokane RPG Role-Playing Gaming Community Website
Game Master Types — Spokane RPG Role-Playing Gaming Community Website
For someone reason G+ is preventing me from posting anymore than short snippets now. grrr. Here is the rest of my response:
Game Master Types — Spokane RPG Role-Playing Gaming Community Website
Game Master Types — Spokane RPG Role-Playing Gaming Community Website
Vb WyrdeOwner+1
G+ has gotten goofy lately for any number of reasons. I fear the day will come when the Project Management at Google pulls the plug on this platform. But in the meantime we'll try to make do.

Thanks for the responses... i will take a look at each. In response to your first (of 3) replies above - yes I have the same feeling about it. Their idea is to make it more like a quiz show than a soap opera. This is why I want to have as many people trying things out with this concept as possible. We will collectively strike on the right formula sooner or later.
I'd just like to add that I feel impressed about the quality and the ability of all the members involved in this project. Not only for their performing skill, the customes and the way the story unfolds, but for putting the time and effort to throw a show like this together out of the blue. I certainly feel inspired by this.

As +Vb Wyrde suggests, there are many people that are interested in learn about the experience of creating a project like this, myself included. I'd be happy to participate in a group like the one has been suggested, in which we can throw together references and guidelines to build the skills required to create experiences like this.

All the best guys! I'll be sure to follow you!
FYI, since last posting he has since made all the previous episodes accessible to the general public again (Rather than only subscribers). So you can catch all the episodes now. There are now two groups, though the second (newer) group last night had a TPK -1. The DM has never experienced that before either. The second group members are pretty upset. Though I caught the episode, and think in this instance it was all on the players, I think he gave them plenty of opportunities to escape, and they chose not to take them. There are now 13 episodes. I am trying to help coach the inexperienced players, and the DM in the post-mortem process of such an event.
Vb WyrdeOwner+1
Cool. Thanks for the update +rpgresearch. Yeah, TPK -1 is typically not easy for GMs to handle in terms of fallout from the Players. It takes Strength Of Conviction to see the thing through.

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