Way back when it was mentioned that there was going to be a role-playing game version of the Geek & Sundry Tabletop show I assumed it would be similar to that in some way. Have to admit, I found it hard to imagine how that would work, especially with role-playing games low on components, which is pretty much all of them.
Then I forgot all about it. I also had it completely wrong. What I assume is the show proposed a while ago made reality is now on its fourth chapter. It’s called Titan’s Grave. It features a role-playing game being actually played on camera. It’s not only more interesting than you’d think, it’s actually must see ‘TV’. It is, in its own way, a work of genius.
How does this mad idea even work?
US TV Show Gamers
Let’s get the obvious thing out their first. The people involved are an engaging, charismatic bunch of people. While I’m in no way suggesting role-players generally aren’t that, these certainly aren’t a bunch of programmers, IT people, project managers, teachers, whatever. They’re extroverts and extroverts in the right way. You’ve got Hank Green (runs a video blog on Youtube and presents at ridiculously fancy advertising conventions), Laura Baily (a voice actress for numerous video games and animated shows), Alison Haislip (an actress and presenter) and Yuri Lowethal (voice actor). It’s safe to say they’re extroverts, look good on camera and come across well on camera. While my last gaming group are all confident and successful in their careers, I can probably safely say they’re not this group on camera.
They’re certainly gamers as might appear in a US TV show. This is a good thing.
This raises the question to what degree the playing of the game is itself an act? To what degree is the playing of the campaign reality TV and to what degree is the playing of the game itself a performance for the camera to make it engaging? Hard to say. I don’t believe it’s a complete performance, but it’s certainly engaging. Laura Baily being a stellar example, she draws you into the game through her interpretation of the character and the enthusiasm in which she engages with it all. She does this a notch above the rest. Out of them all, she’s the one you’d want to have at your gaming table.
It’s An Edited Experience
The degree to which the show is edited is unclear, but it certainly is edited and you’re not seeing a role-playing game played out in real-time minute for minute. This is a good thing as it would undoubtedly be boring. It’s well edited, but it is certainly edited. This is especially true in the combats. This is fine. Any sort of production is edited, such as the numerous RPG podcasts.
What’s important is it is edited really well, as it feels like it’s flowing like an actual game even though you know it’s being edited. It has to be. Things are just too smooth, devoid of clarifications and explanations, etc. It’s quite an achievement to pull this off without completely losing what feels like the natural flow of things.
All this mean the sessions play out like the best role-playing session imaginable. I don’t necessarily mean in terms of content. The content is quite typical and doesn’t overly push the envelope, at least not through to chapter four. This is a role-playing session in which no one miss-says anything, or gets confused about context and wants to retract what was said or an action undertaken.
In a way this makes the players of the game a bit like characters in fiction in that they are role-players acting at ‘maximum capacity’ like fictional characters not so much because of a script but because of the ‘splicing’ of the editor.
This isn’t a complaint, it’s essential to maintaining the engagement level of the show, just don’t expect you’re actual gaming sessions to flow as smoothly and be as constantly awesome without any slow downs, explanations and negotiations.
The Gorgeous Production
Titan’s Grave is a TV show of a role-playing session. It’s not scripted but opportunities are certainly used to draw the audience in in ways that go beyond what a straight tabletop session would be capable of. These are quite subtle and don’t break the feeling you’ve got an unobstructed window into their game.
The artwork is great. This is an option open to any gaming table if you have the people with the talent. They’ve got artwork for the setting and various pieces of artwork for the main protagonists and NPCs. The artwork is great. It’s very evocative and really draws you in. I’d say, in the first instance, this is what got me to watch the show as I was really intrigued after being introduced to things in chapter zero (which is well worth watching). You go away wishing you had such artistic talent attached to your group so such artwork could be brought to your table. It really works.
The use of subtle sound effects and music also works. This is used to occasionally enhance Will’s voice, which is a bit odd as only the watching audience gets the benefit of that. There is also incidental music on occasion and dramatic music can be used at a low level in the background. This is again post-production music. Yes, the use of a soundtrack can be used at anyone’s gaming table, just without the benefit of it being added in post-production. This is the key factor of course. Just like the editing and its impact on how well the players come across, it’s the same with the use of music.
Finally, I like the graphical touches. This is mostly seen when people roll the dice. I like the judges score card type graphics that come up to show what the players have rolled. Works really well.
Why Is It Brilliant?
Simply because it takes something that is pretty boring to watch rather than participate in (try it at a convention, it gets boring pretty fast) and through using the right tools as a function of it being an edited and produced TV show they’ve made the potentially boring highly engaging.
It is must watch ‘TV’.