Essay by Joshua Mendenhall, aka @HTTPaladin
Essay by Joshua Mendenhall
Getting bored at home? Our recommendation for streaming and worldbuilding
I think part of the reason we start to dismiss a lot of media is out of a desire for either intimacy or authenticity. The stories either tell nonsense that we’re all accustomed to, it tells a predictable story that someone else has done better or more interestingly elsewhere, or its clear that the story is just a cash grab. Its much harder to make something that can connect with people, or feel real despite the audience knowing its a fiction. With all the time I’ve found myself with lately, I’ve been on the hunt for more media that fits this bill. Media that doesn’t feel like its cheaply done, or done without irony or out of greed.
So after finishing the second season of Altered Carbon and, subsequently, the last of my Netflix queue, I’ve turned towards streamed shows. There’s very few “TOP TEN SHOWS YOU HAVE TO WATCH” for TTRPG streams, as I found, and the ones that I did find talked about ones that were already wildly popular or heavily advertised and retweeted. In a very reflective way, the lists I found were themselves seeming to be without authenticity.
So I started watching shows in the hopes of finding ones that I could find enjoyable. Ones that had a spark of authenticity to it, ones that were enjoyable and intimate, inviting me to be a part of their game world and see the things that happen at their game table or webcam call. Some were ones that I was already aware of, either vaguely or heavily, and others were brand new to me and recommended by others.
Below is a list of some of the streams that I’ve started watching. Some of whom that I’ve already been aware of, or spent more time with, I’m able to write more eloquently on. For others that I may not have had the opportunity to spend more time with, however, shouldn’t be viewed with any less of a positive light. It is my full intention to, in the coming weeks, finish out all of these, and then find more.
And as a disclaimer, this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are plenty more beyond these ones, and should I finish out these, I intend to find more.
Scratticus Academy is a multi-show platform, whose shows fall under two categories: regular cast and semi-rotational cast; the latter of which typically has two show regulars and two members of the TTRPG community who may be new to streaming but have wanted to do it for a wider audience. Its a good opportunity to see new faces to the TTRPG streaming sphere.
Some of Scratticus’ shows now have slots on the DnD twitch channel.
- Mondays at 2pm and 7pm EST
- Tuesdays at 2pm, 5:30pm and 10pm EST
- Wednesdays at 6pm and 9:30 PM EST
- Thursdays at 2:30pm, 6pm, and 10pm EST
Rivals of Waterdeep
Rivals of Waterdeep follows a cast of adventurers who live in and defend the city of Waterdeep. While you may see a particular manor from the Dragon Heist module, Rivals ensures that no two seasons will ever be the same. Be it from the changing influence it brings in from a newer released adventure or the rotational DMing that the cast follows, the quality and and effort that each member puts in doesn’t diminish in the slightest.
- Sundays at 2pm EST
D4DnD is a prime example of working with source material in a new and exciting way, of tailoring a premade adventure to a new tone for your players. While the skeleton of the show may be based around the module Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, the meat and heart of the show is the hard work that duo DM team Dustin Fletcher and Devan Henderson give to their players and audience. The players give just as much, be it how much they give to their characters, or the natural enthusiasm each one has to be there to play.
- Sundays at 7pm EST
SavingThrowShow currently runs two shows a week. On Fridays, it is Wildcards, and on Tuesdays, it is Pirates of Salt Bay. While I’ve only had time to go through episodes of Pirates of Salt Bay, its quickly become one of my favorite seafaring streams to behold. Currently in its third season, its a joy to watch the banter that comes so naturally to both the players and DM bleed seamlessly into their piratic personas. It breathes a wave of comfort watching as DM Aabria Iyengar helps guide their antics with now 66 hours of gameplay.
- Tuesdays at 11pm EST
- Fridays at 11pm EST
Most shows on this list are live play shows done either in person or via webcam. Four Orbs, however, does not. They are a podcast who plays in person, and uploads the audio recording to their website. For those of us who listen to these shows while working or doing other tasks, the natural format that Four Orbs presents is conducive to just that. They’ve had years now of adventure, and I encourage you to give them a listen.
- Every two weeks-ish?
I have admittedly only had time to watch DieFall RPG’s show Alderheart, and its become one of my favorite casts. While the quality of the show is fantastic, there’s a lovely quality of friendship that the cast gives off, one that sticks out in my mind despite being roughly 60 hours of different shows being crammed into my head in the past few weeks. Its charming, and its peaceful, and I’m pretty sure I bruised a rib from laughing too hard from Rob yelling about bats and yee’ing his last haw as he walks off camera.
- YouTube Video on Sundays
Encounter Roleplay approaches live play gaming with a sense of gravitas that you’re hard pressed to see elsewhere. And while Dungeons and Dragons may dominate the TTRPG field, Encounter Roleplay is one group that seems to actively seek out other TTRPGs. Of the six shows they have currently, only one of them is D&D. The others are other systems, including Song of Ice and Fire RPG, Vampire: The Masquerade, Unhallowed Metrpolis, Star Trek, and a custom system made by the storyteller. Encounter Roleplay doesn’t seem to be interested in being restricted to only one system. This alone would make them stand out, but when combined with their heavy hitting attitude to produce great roleplaying, makes them something even better entirely.
- Monday 2pm EST
- Tuesday 4pm EST
- Wednesday 2pm EST
- Thursdays 4pm EST
- Friday 3pm and 6pm EST
In the interest of full disclosure, however, and a need to not make it appear like I spent all my waking hours doing nothing but consuming the stories of others, something else that I do is work on improving the games that I run. When I work, I have some kind of show or stream running. And in my off hours, much of it is spent working on learning or improving somehow, and given how much of my life revolves around TTRPGs, becoming a better and better storyteller has become that much more important to me.
Despite the abundance of time that I now have on my hands, however, it can be hard to find new sources of knowledge. This is, after all, a niche subject matter. Building better worlds, ones that provide a sense of reality despite its fiction, is difficult to do. And even if I make a perfect world, I still have to tell a good story that takes place inside it, to provide that authenticity that is so desired in these realms of fiction. And for these things, I would direct you to World Anvil, Caeora and HowToGM.
World Anvil has, of course, exploded in popularity over the past year and half as a massive and in-depth organization tool for storytellers and game runners. Through YouTube sponsorships, retweets, and a dedicated and passionate user base, they have worked hard to carve out a large niche for itself in the TTRPG industry.
However, its YouTube channel is much more than that. At a glance, I am looking at interviews, breakdown reviews on the world building of tv shows, discussions on magic and technology in world building, advice on how to better improve your world, and discussions on creativity and even the burnout thereof. While they do have videos discussing their platform service, the vast majority of their video content is focused on you: advice, freely given, should you need it. And whether you need it, are curious, or want something else in terms of entertainment, the work that its creators, Dimitris and Janet put in, is something we should all take the time to appreciate, for its through their work that we can better make our fiction more real, and therefore more intimate.
As an aside, there’s a person I want to highlight who does streaming who isn’t a show in the style of a big storytelling arc: Caeora. While he doesn’t do big spanning adventures, and he doesn’t do youtube videos on how to properly immerse your audience and players into your writing, he does do something critical: drawing out what a world looks like.
He has been instrumental to our growth for DEIOS, as the assets that will be included are done by him. But outside of us, he does so much more for the community at large. And for those of you who take in the various shows from the team at Critical Role, you should recognize his work as the maps from Yeehaw Game Ranch. But even outside of what he does for others, a glance at his Twitter would show you a bevy of previews of the work he puts in for his patrons. Maps of worlds, maps to fight on, asset packs of monsters or pieces to make custom rooms, Caeora puts in a considerable amount of time and care into how he depicts our fictional realities. In a time where the gaming world is revealing just how truly varied and diverse it is, it's becoming more and more important to have different ways of relating and showcasing our fictions to others. And Caeora has devoted much of himself into helping you have images and visuals to help reinforce the writings of others.
The final person I want to direct you towards is HowToGM. Dedication is something that you can’t fake, and genuine authenticity is so often hard to see when so many people clamor for it with no success. HowToGM, however, is by far one of hardest working people in this industry. From creating books, running a podcast, creating modules, running games, and making videos to help advise game runners on how to improve your game, HowToGM is constantly working to create content for people to use or take in. With a Twitch channel that has a small host of videos where he goes through world building with his audience, and a YouTube channel that has a past record of previous games and instructive videos, for all that I can tell, HowToGM is a man dedicated to his craft.
HowToGM is someone who is authentic in a very real way, and is by all that I can see, someone who is dedicated to helping you achieve a real sense of intimacy in your game sessions; it seems that his goal for his career is to help you make your world be real to the people who get to hear it. And while taking in media can help you to grow and develop your stories, and learning from World Anvil can help you develop worlds, learning from HowToGM can help make you a better and more authentic storyteller.
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