Some 18 months prior to this piece, TerminallyNerdy (TN) (@cbsa82) produced a YouTube video, with thoughts, in impassioned terms, of key differences between the Tabletop RPG games you see or hear produced by pros, and your own game with your own friends. Since then, he’s had another think about it and concluded that generally, posting games is good. But his original points (below and in full in the previous link) still stand. Anyway the original YT post got bumped up into my current (mid 2018) Twitter feed, and I liked it, and thought it deserved more effort than a brief comment or tweet.
If I can bulletpoint the differences TN espoused:
- The pros are really good at what they do – they are pro entertainers
- What they do generally involves waaay more coolness, by way of role-playing, than your average nerd group
- And waaay more technical ability with all the tools needed, and/or access to technicians, than your average nerd group
- So recalibrate your expectations, you average nerd, but enjoy your rpg for what it is
- Because the excellence of pros should not be a barrier to entry to rpgs
I’d like to offer a view that proposes that in many but not all ways, what we see on those pro casts would be called sub-par by your average nerd group.
- Pro voice actors and semi-pro casters are inclined to add what I think of as “curlicues” to characterisation. Flamboyancy is rewarded by extra minutes on screen.
- This behaviour passes the point at which the character is fully realised and can cross into just being a dick player.
- It does not help at all in outwitting or outfighting the challenges: in fact it sometimes acts against the party’s best interest.
- Pro voice actors and semi-pro casters do generally, but not at all times, display great noise discipline and willingness to let each character shine. Not universal across every session, but widespread.
- Your average nerd rpg group can take learnings from these flamboyant and noise-disciplined pros, but should not take on their worst behaviours.
Let me see if I can supply a fairly current example. This day of writing, I decided to listen to, not watch, Critical Role S2 E6, the Howling Mines. (This episode predates the group’s naming, it features a whole bunch of sub-par dice rolls that maybe suggested the name.) These following notes are taken from the actual kick-off:
Minute 1: Matt reminds the cast, the Mighty Nein (MN) they are waking upstairs in their inn, after a night of devastation.
Minute 11: Having exchanged much character-highlight (especially useful for Taliesin’s Mollymauk) the words “we go downstairs” are finally uttered.
Minutes 15-26: Some minor plot impetus is added from speaking at length to a shopkeeper-survivor.
Minute 30: Matt proposes the hook.
Minute 40: The MN take the job. It’s bounty-killing, plus possible rescue. They have previously met the patron, so are somewhat familiar with his level of potential information and reward.
Minute 45: They finish asking for detail from the patron.
Minutes 50-60: The party goes shopping, notionally for adventuring gear, but just as much to “just shop.” For them, this is a very quick shop.
Minutes 60-65: Plans are laid, loose enough to adapt once they see the ground. For these guys this is exceptional.
Minute 70: An extra mount acquired using soft skills, tracking begins.
Minute 80: A combination of plan plus track provides the action set-up at strategic level. Now for the tacticals!
Minute 85: Many 2nd-thoughts later a very patient Matt begins to get party order…
Scouting (yes, that has not been done) by the entire party locates enemy beasts at a mine-head. Now for the new tacticals! A distraction to draw them away.
Minute 90: Having distracted the beasts away, they attack them anyway. But at least the noise doesn’t echo directly down the mine.
Minute 95: All clear! Investigate the scene.
Minute 100: A concealed mine-shaft.
Minute 110: The scout-party is: a lone drunken goblin, who has deliberately nerfed herself. She’s set off the trap and mooched around for the guards, and now they arrive.
Minute 120: Area 1 is looted once the guards are dead and the scout finishes her excuses.
Minute 135: Descent to a major stage.
Minute 145: Matt has the major stage down. Now for the tacticals!
Minute 155: Stealth, then attacks.
Minute 155-195: Fight!
Minute 200: The loot is healer kits (and we discover no-one has the proficiency), and a greater heal potion.
Minute 210: Hint of a level boss, time to pull back? No! Heroic charge!
The remainder of the session, and all of the subsequent session, is combat.
So, I propose that there’s nothing here to make your typical nerd group ashamed of their own play standard. I was going to bring in the subject of rate of experience, but that’s too system-specific so I’ll leave that be. Let’s just focus on game-play.
In all likelihood your average nerd group’s game session is a little marred by noisy junkfood-packet-handling, and some or all of the players are irritated at some point by cross-talk and spotlight-hogging. They can probably stand to improve at letting each character shine, and about keeping noise levels from interfering with everyone’s experience. But to feel held back or deterred by excellence of the pros? No!