Thursday, 20 August 2015

My personal review of Will Wheatons RPG Show: Titansgrave

So Will Wheaton set out to create an epic pen and paper RPG show, and he succeeded! Season 1 is now complete and I just can't wait for season two!

If you have no idea of what I am talking about, just go check out the link below. If you have yet to play your first pen and paper RPG, then let this be inspiration:
http://geekandsundry.com/shows/titansgrave/

Now, I have quite a few critiques of a rather (well, okay, extremely) nerdy nature to make. But since this RPG adventure was made, recorded, and edited to be an enjoyable viewing experience for us the interwebbers I will ignore most of my inner complaints. I simply have too little to base them on. I do however have tons of praise to give, but let's get the bad out of the way first. Two issues. Both only minor ones.

Critique

Minor bad no. 1

Jeremy, Aankia's robot minion was often forgotten, mostly useless, and served primarily as a comic relief. In no way the fault of the players but rather that of the game master (GM), as it is a quite well-known fact that creatures without initiative will be forgotten once story unfolds. For battles I think it would have been better to let Jeremy have his own stats and always have the same initiative roll as Aankia (allowing Aankia to choose whether Jeremy was to take his turn right before, or after her own). When in social environments the GM should punish a player not communicating the actions of their minion, or the minion should simply have a turn in such events as well, helping the player to remember the minion each turn. I loved Jeremy's persona, and it fitted well for Aankia to have such a side-kick. It seemed to me that Will as GM controlled Jeremy's persona but Aankia his actions. That was good a choice. Jeremy's affection towards Lemley was adorable and funny. This is purely game mechanic critique but one caused by the GM. Mr. Wheaton, you missed great opportunities for flair here!

Minor bad no. 2

Lack of social/romantic interaction. This I blame on the players, but possibly it is just the web show format that forces this... However, experienced RPG players will flesh out their characters all the way. Not just perks, quirks, and back-story but sexuality, dreams, and hopes as well. The short term and long term goals in the game was kind of a helping hand to the players but all in all, for all the characters' individuality they all basically were just quest-crunching simpletons. They had emotional issues with their past but no emotions towards their surroundings... 5 golds and party, and no smooching? Really?! Will did build bonds of affection into the game though, that kept the party together. Aankia as Lemley's tinkerer, Slethkk and Lemley's obvious affectionate protectiveness of each other, and Kiliel kind on her own, but still with that "big sister" sort of love towards the rest, especially Lemley.

The best pen and papers session campaigns I have ever played used about half the time on events not concerning fighting. Many hilarious hours can be spent role playing your characters getting into trouble at taverns, stealing from shop owners due to lack of money for gear, etc. All actions and decisions made here were just as important as later battle dice rolls as preparation is half the battle!

I guess I generally felt the characters and their party were "just there", and then the adventure began. I have no idea of how experienced the players were but a lot more could be done here. Maybe a lot more did happen? And it was just edited away for the show? I tell myself that :) But I am telling you... someone talking extra damage in a fight due dexterity penalties caused by a drunken tavern brawl the night before... or a mildly night blind axe wielding brute getting ambushed by wolves, at night, when weapon-less, is just hilarious! But obviously, not suitable for a TV show where the main plot has to progress. Still, I felt more could be done here.

Praise

Okay, so on to the praise. Basically this is a 9/10 for me. Well, actually a 10/10 as I have yet to see anyone do a show like this any better, and I feel it raised the bar for everyone else. I loved every episode, was never bored, and I missed playing soooo much myself after watching, every time... Will Wheaton, your mission was a success! I salute you!

I want to highlight a few specific things:

Production

Brilliant! The added art work, the beautiful show intro, the sound effects on Will's voice and the music. Just the right amount, but not too much. The story still played out in my head (as pen and paper adventures should) but the production helped set the tone and atmosphere. I have myself tried playing several RPGs where the GM changed background music according to what was happening, and voice acted as best as possible. It does wonders. Even more so, when done professionally and I think it was essential for making it a viewing experience worth the time for us not directly participating. Love, love, love and praise! Hugs from me all around!

Game Master

Will Wheaton was very good as GM. He was as any GM should be: Serious, poker faced, and strict. His campaign, story telling, etc. was all epic, but had he just fooled about it would have been for nothing. He didn't. Players will create actual bonds in RPGs and start messing about and often start banging against the 4th wall as much as possible just for kicks. The GM's job is to keep everyone in-character, in-game. Wheaton did that quite well, and still made room for jokes and great fun.

GM +5 to Sharpness for describing the surroundings at each area very well, but never too well. So when a player (Kiliel, especially, did a great job at this)  did a perception check he would tell more, very detailed things about the area... even if it gave nothing useful to the players. However, that is what the players saw, so that is what he told! Gold! How much was planned, and how much Will made up on the fly I do not know... but either way, he is brilliant.

Aankia

Normally I am against players playing characters with a sex different to their your own personally chosen sex (see, taking transsexuals into account. Oh, how modern and thoughtful I am!). Simply because we, both male and female, paint the stereotypes way to thick when playing as a different sex. However, as Aankia was of a reptile species, and her persona was very seclusive, I think Hank Green played her extremely well. Hank did, of all the players, have the hardest time staying in-character but he did however have some of the most interesting character quirks when he did. He also made it quite obvious when his jokes were out-of-character, and Will quite rightfully put him in his place when he overdid it. Introvert characters are hard to play. They have to rely a lot on their friends to make the experience dynamic and interesting. I think Hank took the challenge and came out on top. Aankia had her own agenda, and it felt like she might easily go against the group if her personal rationalisations would have it. By far the most complex character of the bunch. Loved Hank's take on it.

Kiliel

Alison Haislip was a joy to watch play. She felt as if she was very experienced, made good use of her character's abilities, acted great as the scout her character was (using perception every time she had the chance), and basically shot first and asked question later. I kind of got the feeling Alison might actually be like that in real life ;) She was also very quick, acting while Will was still explaining. I think Will appreciated that. I know I would as a GM. It makes the story more real-time and reactive. Kiliel was a more classic RPG character. Fairly quest goal-oriented and straight-forward. But the active ability use and hilariously bad potion dice rolls soon made me forget that.

Lemley

My favourite character by far. A traumatic childhood, a half cybernetic body making her feel ashamed, but still proud of her power and awesomeness. So much pain and pride, punched together creating a nearly manic personality. Act first, think later... or often not at all :P Laura Bailey was also the absolute best at staying in character all the time, and she physically acted out her actions, described Lemley's awesome stunts and role-played it all the way. I remember thinking "what is wrong with her?" in the first episode until I figured out that heeeey Lemley aint that bright ;) The one extra intelligence she got later actually helped... ehm... A little bit :P Laura Bailey clearly had a blast, just as Lemley did, and it was a delight to watch. Kiliel will grab anything shiny and punch anything that looks just remotely punchable! :)

S'Lethkk

So S'Lethkk's story was the true hero story. The sweet boy, though with darkness in his past, rising to the occasion. Shear luck/misfortune would also have it that Yuri Lowenthal rolled terribly in the begging of the game, fumbled and was basically just miserable. Perfect! It fitted brilliantly and Yuri played it fittingly. Also, oh man, Yuri has an intense face. I swear I stopped breathing when all the bad stuff with his brother happened, and got all emotional simply by watching him. S'Lethkk seemed like a straight-forward character but due to the events in the campaign, complex personal dilemmas were thrown in the mix, and interesting internal battles had to be fought. I think S'Lethkk and Lemley should hold hands and be the oddest sweet couple on Valkana! ^_^

Season 2... Gimme!

Yea, it was a both horrible and awesome cliff-hanger ending of season 1. Oh and the pain of it visible in Alison's face... priceless! ;) Now, Will Wheaton... listen here... you go make that season 2 now, and you better have it ready by next week or I shall be very cross with you indeed! ;)