A few weeks ago there was a surge in the discussion (on Twitter) about RPG streams and podcasts. The major start to this discussion was from the blog post by Goblin Stomper about Critical Role, and you can find that here. Another large piece of input to that discussion came from Terminally Nerdy's vlog about the subject which you can find here. The conversation derived from the initial Tweet is here and there are other conversations that popped up, with folks adding their own input. I decided I should insert my take on the situation and what that media has done for me.
Before that I want to say that these folks all make good points, many of which I don't even disagree with. However, I do believe that a lot of it is perception and expectations, but then again so is a lot of life.
Acquisitions Incorporated & Critical Role
Lets start here, because this was my first exposure to the idea of an actual play podcast or stream of some type. It began in 2007 if I remember correctly, the Fall before the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out, as a way to help push the new edition. At the time I had not played much D&D, and those experiences were mixed. It had been a couple years since I had stepped back from the DM's chair. While 4th Edition had peaked my interests as an edition that was easier for me to manipulate as a DM, I was fairly uncertain still. Listening to this show turned that all around.
At once I was ready to play D&D again, and not just play but Dungeon Master. I was more excited for D&D than I had been in a long time. Part of it was the rules that I heard get used, part of it was the articles I was reading about the system, and part of it was the fun of listening to those low level characters get into trouble. Over the next couple years, especially during my stint working the overnight stocking job, I proceeded to discover and listen to other podcasts like Flagons & Dragons and the Strand Gamers. Each of these made me excited to play D&D, gave me ideas on things I could do in my stories, revealed truths to how the rules could be manipulated, and generally were great fun to enjoy. Needless to say, I was on board the instant Geek & Sundry announced Critical Role.
Almost ten years after I began listening to actual play podcasts and took back my DM's chair, I discovered D&D streaming via Critical Role. Since then I have watched Titan's Grave, Force Grey, and the Waffle Crew, all of them big names and big groups in the D&D world. But the fun I had with Critical Role, the inspiration I got working on my own campaigns while tuning into the show, the letters they got from others about how they started playing or they just appreciated sharing that with them - these were awesome things, and it inspired me to finally say, "Hey, let's start a podcast. For real."
What It Meant For Me
We are almost 13 months out from my foray into podcasting our games and it has been lots of fun doing it. Untamed Dice doesn't have a ton of listeners (yet!) and we certainly are no Critical Role, but that has never harmed our table or our expectations. To be fair even our new players didn't watch Critical Role until after we introduced them to D&D. All I can say is that podcasts and streams inspired me to play, to DM, to create, to share, and to podcast. Without Acq. Inc. and Critical Role this article, this blog, and our podcast might not exist.
I will grant, I was eased into it with the first Acq. Inc. adventures and some of the "small-time" podcasts of 6-10 years ago. Perhaps that made everything more reasonable and changed my expectations. Maybe it made those expectations more realistic. I know I will never be a voice actor leading other voice actors in a campaign world I have created that well, but that won't stop me from trying. And frankly, those shows help inspire me to do more. They make me want to share my experiences with you, even if only some of you listen.
What It Means For Others
Here's the thing though, those other guys, they have some great advice and insight. First-timers cannot expect to run a Matt Mercer or Chris Perkins level game. Nor can the players expect that kind of intensity, drama, or comedy. That takes time, practice, experience, and some skills you may not possess. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try, however.
These folks make their own mistakes. Recently, Chris Perkins admitted that he had probably used a number of ever-changing crit rules for the Waffle Crew. He works for Wizards and he still isn't necessarily consistent or all-knowing. What he is, is experienced and skilled at keeping the game flowing. As for Critical Role, that group sits there for hours without peeing or eating much except during their break, which lasts for 15 minutes. All the big-time shows have a production value of some sort and your table, well, it won't.
Other podcasts aren't for everyone either. They won't live up to the productions of Acquisitions Incorporated or Titan's Grave. They might not have the equipment, editing know-how, or a table talk you enjoy. But you still might find one that you do enjoy. It might entertain you, inspire you, or teach you. Hopefully all of the above! Just don't listen to every podcast expecting it to be Critical Role. I like horror movies, most of them anyways, but it doesn't mean I expect them all to be of incredible story-telling quality or have production values of things like Marvel movies. It doesn't mean I skip them either.
Podcasts and streams are good, in my opinion, for the hobby. It is a sharing of creative work, of happiness, of enjoyment. It is a place to find inspiration and learn a thing or two while being entertained. Take cues from these great entertainers and learn from what they do. If you want to share what you do, do it. There is great joy in sharing your work, even if not everyone enjoys it. Aspire to be the next Critical Role, but don't expect it. There is plenty of room for us little guys and plenty of good to come from it.