RogerBW's Blog

Titansgrave season 1 10 February 2016

2015 fantasy, 10 episodes. In a technomagical world, four heroes will hunt down the resurgent Prophet who was responsible for the last great war.

This is the stretch goal from the Tabletop season 3 crowdfunding effort: a show demonstrating how RPGs are played. At least when they have a full writing team behind them, which I suppose if you're playing other people's pre-written adventures is fairly usual.

I'm often a fan of recorded RPG sessions, but the ones I've indulged in before have been audio only – for example, recordings from YSDC. This is done as video (apparently it's accepted wisdom that The Kids Today don't pay any attention to anything that doesn't have moving pictures), and one might think that watching a group of people sitting around talking wouldn't add much visual interest. Certainly the producers did, because as well as overlays for each roll of the dice there's lightly-animated artwork of major NPCs and events.

The system is Fantasy AGE from Green Ronin (a development of Dragon Age), which has a pretty straightforward 3d6+stat universal mechanic, with nine stats. Any time doubles are rolled, these generate "stunt points" which can be spent on extra benefits to that action: for example, a hit in combat might spend stunt points to knock the enemy down or backward. These are described as especially nifty things, though I can't help but notice that they will turn up on four rolls out of nine. It's all very lightweight when it comes to anything except combat, which is what this campaign is mostly about, and even then there's nowhere near the complexity of something like D&D: roll to hit, roll damage, subtract armour, hope you have some hit points left. I think it's a pretty good choice for the job of introducing RPGs to a wider audience: it's clear what's going on, and there aren't lots of fiddly special cases (at least as far as we see).

The setting is a very generic technofantasy gallimaufry. Want blasters? Sure! Spells? Yeah, why not. Lizard-men? Throw 'em in. Mad artificial intelligences? Got them too. Post-apocalyptic ruins? Turn left behind the tavern. This is fine for sense of wonder, but there's no real feeling of what's possible and what isn't; the PCs seem very much at the whim of powers far bigger than they are.

The adventure itself is highly linear: the PCs are never faced with choices beyond the tactical. Got through this encounter? Well, the next encounter is over there. It's basically a string of fights, with occasional puzzles; yes, all right, it's not all happening in an underground complex and the drive forward is from story rather than treasure, but it feels more like the sort of thing that would have been published for D&D and RuneQuest in a mid-1980s White Dwarf than like the ideas role-playing games have come up with since.

The players, who are professional actors, know how to put on a good show, and while the editing is clearly extensive it's never heavy-handed. It doesn't always feel much like a real RPG session, but it's not bad as edited highlights.

So clearly I'm not the target audience for this: that'll be people who've never role-played before (and probably think they have because they've played computer games that borrow ideas from RPGs). Will they be dragged in by this? Maybe; but when they meet the real thing, with distractions and the hassle of getting four or five people together on a regular basis, will they stick with it? I don't know. I hope so. I think it'll be easier to break people of the bad habits they get from thinking that this is what all role-playing is like than it is to break D&Ders, who tend to get bogged down in What Is Allowed and complicated character builds. At least there are some NPCs to talk to here, and there's far less obsession with powering up the character.

A setting book is commercially available but by report it's basically the adventure run here plus some minimal background material; a proper world book to allow the running of other adventures may eventually be produced.

The ten episodes (and extra introductory materials) run about eight and a half hours altogether and are available on YouTube. A second season is planned.

See also:
Tabletop season 3

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 09:43am on 10 February 2016

    10 episodes of 8.5 hours watching other people roll dice for combat? Sounds rather dull to me, but then I'm not the target audience.

    Still, if the aim is to get people interested in role playing I'd have thought one 40 minute episode would do the job. If they're not interested after 40 minutes, are they really going to watch another 8 hours of this?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:10am on 10 February 2016

    I think the idea is to show an entire adventure, not just a single play session; this thing is split into roughly 40 minute chunks with minor cliffhangers at the end of each and a definite conclusion at the end of the whole thing. If I were doing it, sure, I'd film one of my one-shot games that fit in a standard four-ish-hour convention slot.

  3. Posted by DaveD at 11:44am on 27 February 2016

    I have to admit that I found this surprisingly entertaining. A little patchy, yes, but I made it all the way to the end and never wondered about going on to the next episode.

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