Saturday, December 30, 2017

How Twitch Revitalized My Love for D&D


Why Would Anyone Want to Watch Someone Else Play D&D?


It has quite a while since I have posted anything, and part of the reason is that I have been spending a great deal of time exploring the world of streaming Dungeons & Dragons on Twitch. The concept of Twitch seems to evoke a wide range of reactions depending upon who you are talking to. Why would anyone want to watch someone else play a video game? I'm sure the answer to that is quite complex, but in many ways it is not so different from watching professional sports on television or an HGTV show about remodeling a kitchen; people with interests want to engage in those interests and that can include watching others to learn or be entertained.

While the streaming platform is primarily associated with video games, the popularity of streaming tabletop role-playing games has emerged in part due to shows like Critical Role, Maze Arcana and Force Grey (to name only a few). These shows have demonstrated that there is something alluring about being a fly on the wall observing someone else's game. The Dungeons & Dragons gaming category on Twitch has 157,000+ followers and at any given time over 1,000 viewers. Clearly, people exist that would give you answers to the question "why would anyone want to watch someone else play D&D?"

My first real experience watching Twitch was D&D's senior producer and game designer Chris Perkins and his Dice, Camera, Action series. I watched it because I was running the same campaign they were playing, Curse of Strahd. By doing so I observed new DM techniques, ideas to add to my campaign and found inspiration for how to bring certain NPCs to life.

Why would anyone want to be watched playing D&D?


I found myself thinking "this is exactly the type of D&D I want to play." It was storytelling. There was character development. There were shocking moments and drama. Each episode felt like it had plot and a narrative structure that relied on the fact that it was exactly a two-hour session. It prompted me to explore what it would take to start a Twitch channel of my own to tell a D&D story.

My primary two investments were a Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 and a Yeti Microphone. I familiarized myself with Xsplit Broadcaster and tasked my father with creating an overlay to give our stream a bit of personality. The name of our channel, Twenty Sides to Every Story, was inspired by my primary motivation of focusing more on roleplaying than on the mechanics of the game. On September 21st, 2017 we streamed our very first episode of our Tomb of Annihilation campaign.



As our bi-weekly game evolved, I prepared each and every game with increasing anticipation. The players I had chosen for the game each created characters that I was invested in and wanted to see how their individual stories would evolve as we continued to play. The overland travel portion of the Tomb of Annihilation campaign as written can prove sluggish, but the backstories of the characters and their interests helped to develop dynamic scenarios from the random encounters through the jungle. A stop-off at a goblin settlement became a tale of vengeance and lost love. A visit to an outpost of holy paladins and clerics became a tale of shattered perceptions of one character's idolized hero.

I spend a lot more time thinking of the NPCs to develop them as important accents to the story rather than just providers of information. One of my favorite moments came recently where an NPC that had been an adversary in episode 1 made an appearance and became an asset to the party. As he made a brave sacrifice to help save some innocents and provide the party with an opportunity to enact their plan, he revealed his philosophy of living with no regrets which helped put into context some of his wantonly chaotic actions that had previously put the party in jeopardy.

What I observe from the players is a very different dynamic than I have seen in other games I have organized. The inter-party dynamic feels stronger with closer relationships and improved teamwork. One of my worries up-front was that I would have to be hyper-vigilant about playing the role of a 1st grade teacher and ensuring that everyone took turns speaking and listening. To my surprise, I have rarely had to do this. The players have all been quite conscious of not talking over one-another and I sense that a lot more listening has been happening at the table. And its not just with one another, but with me as well. The investment in the story has left me smiling after every session so far.

I have not once in my time streaming so far seen us get off track on side conversations or extreme meta-gaming. For two hours, we are completely focused on the experience before us. The "war-gaming" mentality of maximizing advantageous situations and forcing every encounter to become about combat is completely absent. Streaming has strongly influenced the direction of my game back to a story-based experience. These developments make it so much more enjoyable for me as a DM, so much so that it makes me want to bellow a mighty "huzzah!"

I can't quite explain why streaming has brought about this renewed enjoyment. Many of the elements that have made this campaign special for me could easily happen in a game where the camera is not present. Expectations can be set with players and the same level of preparation can happen with an offline game just as easily without the hassle of setting up the infrastructure required to stream. We are lucky if we have one viewer while we are live and I certainly have not developed the skills necessary for engaging an audience yet. For these reasons, I would not recommend anyone to get into Twitch streaming with the expectation that you will garner a large following. The skills for being successful at that aspect of streaming go beyond what it takes to put together a good D&D session. But that being said, something about the process of streaming has added value to my enjoyment. I would strongly encourage anyone willing to embrace the vulnerability of putting your game out there for the world to (possibly) see.

Follow Twenty Sides to Every Story on Twitch: twitch.tv/twentysidestoeverystory
Follow Twenty Sides to Every Story on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/twentysidestoeverystory/

2 comments:

  1. I want to do this, so it was cool to read your post about streaming on twitch. Will check out your channel.

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    Replies
    1. You should! There is a bit of a learning curve and I'm still not 100% there yet, but as long as you are doing it for fun and willing to be patient there is a lot of reward for doing it.

      We will be streaming tonight at 7:30PM - if you give us a follow and check us out while we are live, we are doing a dice giveaway tonight!

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