Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Tabletop RPG Show & a Science-Fantasy Campaign Setting

For those of you who follow the show Tabletop, or RPG news in general, or who still have your Tiger Beat poster of Wil Wheaton hanging in your bedroom, you may have heard that Wil's very popular online show, Tabletop, has a spin-off RPG show that will premiering on the Geek & Sundry YouTube Channel on June 2nd.

Just last week, Wil announced the "cast" for the show - basically a bunch of friends of his that are in the entertainment business who also happen to be big fans of role-playing. In the same video announcement, Wil let everyone know what system they'd be using (which is a version of Green Ronin's A.G.E. System but without all of the Dragon Age trappings), and also he talked a bit about the campaign setting and world that he and some friends created for the show.

Wil's been talking about getting this RPG show up and running for a long time, and it's kind of an interesting peak into the world of entertainment and content creation how long it takes for something like this to come together. The public perception is probably something akin to, "How hard can it be? Get someone to film you playing an RPG and put it on YouTube." Lots of people do that.

Unfortunately, most of those are actually not all that fun to watch. The trick with something with a show like this is to find a group that gels together well and can be entertaining for an audience to watch when they aren't actually participating in the game itself. You have to be careful to avoid the inside jokes that are part of every tight-knit RPG group, because those don't translate well to a larger audience. You also have to be careful about the game system you use so that it doesn't have a lot of "secret" pieces that can't be filmed well (as an aside, that's why you'll almost never see a card-based game on an episode of Tabletop, unless the cards are shown for everyone to see). Other considerations are how rules-heavy the game is - for a show like this, getting bogged down in game mechanics like skills, feats, powers, and all that kind of stuff is going to slow the game down and make for a poor viewer experience.

Aside from all of that, there's also the production aspects to take into consideration, including the funding of the show itself. The idea behind these shows, partly, is a business decision from Geek & Sundry. By having popular shows like this, it brings more viewers to Geek & Sundry's other offerings on their channel, and some of those including advertising. YouTube wins because clients buy ads in the hopes that they'll be shown on Geek & Sundry's channel to capture that exact type of people they're looking to reach ("geeks" basically). That's a very simple way of explaining how it all works, but ultimately there are a lot of financial decisions behind-the-scenes that need to be worked out.

I started talking to Wil about his RPG show more than two years ago. And almost exactly two years ago, I met up with Wil and his producer-friend, Boyan, and my friend Cal, and I ran the group through a game of Savage Worlds with a home-brewed campaign setting, as a sort of "test" for Wil and Boyan to see if the game system was one that could work for the show. So, Wil and the crew were primarily focused on the game mechanics and the "viewability" of a show that would use that system. It was a lot of fun - Wil has been very cool over the years to occasionally invite Cal and me over to test potential games that might make a future appearance on Tabletop to make sure that they'll work well on the show. It also helps that Cal and I like to drink craft beer, as does Wil, and we love to inflate Wil's ego by telling him that he makes the absolute best craft beer in the entire history of the world. We mainly do this because it gets us more beer. And now Wil has also been barrel-aging cocktails so I've benefited from samples of those as well (I have yet to reciprocate to Wil because my wife and I end up drinking all the barrel-aged ones I make before I can share them). 

Wil blogged about our game from about two years ago, and I also mentioned it on my Google Plus page, citing the fiction and entertainment inspirations I had used to create the custom campaign setting I used for our short game. In a funny coincidence, it turns out that Wil also is using Thundarr the Barbarian as one of his inspirations for his game world, but it sounds like he's taking it in a completely different direction, whereas my world had a lot more influences from early post-apocalyptic fiction as well, primarily the Horseclans series and Hiero's Journey and its sequel, Unforsaken Hiero.

Ever since that game, I've slowly but surely been working on writing a campaign setting guide for the world I used for that test game, which the three people involved seemed to enjoy. One of the things I noticed a long time ago is that, while there are a ton of campaign settings for fantasy-based games like D&D, there are only a small handful of settings for post-apocalyptic games. I'd actually started working on this setting before I met with Wil and the gang that night, using the rules-light Mutant Future rules for any game mechanics I need. I'll get around to finishing it up one of these days, and then ideally can get some cool art to go along with it.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Gary's Notebook" by Lee Morgan




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