When I discovered the greatness of Dungeons & Dragons, I felt the compulsion to consume as much information and media as I could. Thankfully, there were ways I could witness the game being played without finding a group of my own. Thus began my consumption of D&D streams on Twitch.
My first venture into watching D&D streams was ItmeJP’s Rollplay show. At the time, the West Marches and Mirrorshades campaigns were going (granted, Mirrorshades wasn’t D&D, but it gave me an idea about other game systems and still remains my favorite Rollyplay campaign to date). Stumbling upon Geek & Sundry’s stream led me to my current love affair with Critical Role. It was then that I began searching for other streams that had games going.
Long story short, I currently watch, with varying degrees of regularity, the following shows:
- Critical Role
- Acquisitions, Inc. “The C Team”
- Dice, Camera, Action!
- High Rollers
- Shield of Tomorrow
- Court of Swords
- Weave Society
- Maze Arcana
- Girls, Guts, Glory
With all those shows, one would see that I pretty much have no time to watch anything else. Each episode of each show can last 2-5 hours. With all of these shows, one would start to think that, as a viewer, one would be burned out watching RPG shows. Not only that, one would surmise that with so many shows available to watch (there are numerous shows that I don’t watch), the competition for viewership would be cutthroat.
I had this thought as well, so I wanted to dive in and find out why fans are not being drowned in dice rolling streams. There has to be a reason why people would invest money to produce these games knowing that they are competing for a finite viewer base.
When it comes to tabletop roleplaying games, there are numerous systems to play, each with their own mechanics and roleplay styles. Each system lends a different approach to drama and combat, giving the viewers a vastly different way to follow the game. This diversity, I feel, is the basis for why roleplaying gaming streams are so plentiful and popular. Viewers gravitate towards systems they know, or that they find interesting. This way, they can understand the players’ decisions, and know what each roll of the dice means.
Another point of diversity is the vastly different DM’ing styles of each show. Matt Mercer, Christopher Perkins, and Jerry Holkins all use D&D 5th Edition rules, but each of them tailors the rules around their style of storytelling and their players’ tendencies. No D&D game is the same even though the core rules are used by all.
Each show, regardless of game system used, has its own feel, style, and flavor thanks to the DM and the cast’s roleplaying choices. If I want to have a few laughs in between moments of pure tear-jerking emotion and science jargon, I watch Shield of Tomorrow. If I want a constant barrage of danger mixed with inter-party conflict and relationships, I watch Dice, Camera, Action. The point is that there is a show for anyone.
When it comes down to the ever finite currency that is time, fans of RPG streams tend to find a few shows they like and stick with them. Every viewer has different criteria for why they watch the shows they watch. I love D&D, so the majority of the shows I watch regularly are D&D games. But I also like sci-fi, so I mix in some Star Trek with Shield of Tomorrow for a good change of pace.
Great roleplaying is probably the first thing I look for in a show. If a show doesn’t make me laugh or cry in the first episode, I don’t stick with it. The best example of this is Critical Role. It is a huge advantage for them that the cast consists of professional actors who’ve all had some level of training and schooling in acting and improv. But there are shows that have casts who may not have acting training that make me have the feels or appeal to other things that make me happy. The C Team is a good example of a game that feels very intellectual and thought provoking and I like being challenged to think by what I watch.
There are many RPG streams on the Internet, and because of their diversity and quantity, there are shows for anyone who is willing to put in the hours to watch them. And thanks to VOD recording and uploading to YouTube, we can watch at our leisure. The plethora of games available to watch is indicative of the community that has built up around these games. People from all walks of life have at least one show that will speak to them and entertain them. This is the core strength of RPG gaming and gaming streams. They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and that is a great gift to us, the viewers.