Experiences Streaming TTRPG's - the Good, the Bad, and the Weird

BookTenTiger

He / Him
In the thread on Critical Role, I was reflecting some on my own experiences in a long-running TTRPG stream, and I thought I'd create a new thread about it. I'd love to read your own experiences or thoughts on streaming D&D and other Table Top RPG's!

Background - Thursday Knights

While I was out of town at college (go Banana Slugs! Bonus points if you can name where I got my undergraduate degree), my friends back home started playing 4e D&D together. They loved it! After Heroic Tier, they decided to start recording their games. They started with a single smart phone recording in the middle of the table, upgraded to a golf ball mic, and then grew from there.

The DM had a connection at Justin.tv (which would later become Twitch), and thought it would be fun to livestream the games, as well as release them as a podcast. The weekly game, under the name Thursday Knights, was soon very popular on Justin.tv, often getting featured on the landing page. The group started getting hundreds of viewers each week, and built a loyal fanbase that would send snacks, books, miniatures, and other gifts.

I joined the group when I returned from college, and played off and on until last year (when my wife and I had a baby and the drive became too inconvenient).

After we burned out on 4e, we switched to a number of other games, including a long stint playing various FATE games. My favorite was the Dresden Files RPG, in which I played a homeless ex-con werewolf wandering the streets of San Francisco.

When we switched from D&D to other games, our viewership dropped and dropped and dropped. It didn't help that other popular streams had started, and coincidentally all streamed on Thursdays! We just couldn't compete with the likes of Penny Arcade and PvP.

We switched to 5e a few years ago, but our viewership was literally three or four people. The 5e Campaign ended, and through the group is still playing 5e, they decided collectively to stop streaming. As I mentioned earlier, I've stepped away from the group because it would be too hard to drive an hour at night while also caring for a newborn.

Here are some of my thoughts on the experience of playing (and sometimes running) a streamed game- the good, the bad, and the weird:

The Good - Better Game -> Better Stream -> Better Game

I would say that streaming our game took our skills as players and GM's to a whole new level.

As players, we became much more descriptive with our characters' actions. Whereas before, the GM would often have to ask us to describe how we attacked, what the spell looked like, what our characters were thinking, with a live audience we as players really took the reigns. In fact, we eventually had to cut down on our long-winded descriptions in combat because they were dragging things out too much!

We also decided to challenge ourselves in the most recent games by creating the rule "Everyone uses a voice." Before, maybe one or two players would create unique voices for their characters. Now, everyone was encouraged to. It really expanded our comfort levels as we all tried out new accents, voices, and so on. That rule has stuck with the game, even though they are not streaming anymore!

Our long-term GM also said her skills improved, as she felt pressure to run a consistently good game for the cameras. In 4e, she got really into the automation of the mechanics, and created computer programs that she would click on to run enemy attacks, which helped speed up combat a little. In 5e, she read a lot about theories of running the game, and worked with us to craft really unique stories.

I think things like this would have happened without a live audience, but the existence of viewers (or listeners to the podcast) really pushed us to make the game exciting, dramatic, and fun.

That said, I often forgot entirely about our audience or the fact we were recording! After I got through my initial shyness, I really just focused on the game itself. The benefits of running a game in front of an audience just made the game better and more immersive for the players. A few years in, I just ignored the camera and microphones and had fun playing.

One other good side effect is that streaming and recording held us accountable for actually showing up and playing! As we all know, the real killer of any TTRPG campaign is attendance and scheduling. As a group, we created the policy of "Always Play." No matter who could show up, we would play something. When the GM couldn't attend, I usually ran side-quests or one-shots. In our most recent campaign, we used these one-shots to flesh out the backstories of the characters. Honestly I don't think the group would have lasted as long if we weren't streaming and recording.

The Bad - Under Pressure!

One of the biggest downsides of streaming and recording was the amount of time the GM and our group had to spend on set-up. Connecting the microphones, setting up the camera, getting the recording software up and running, starting the stream, dealing with technical issues... Anywhere from 15% - 50% of a session was spent on tech. This really ate into our game time, and I often felt frustrated as a player when we couldn't play because the stream was glitchy.

Another downside was the pressure the stream put on the players, and especially the GM. Our GM told us how during the games she would feel a lot of pressure to make the session as good as possible for the audience, and this sometimes led her to freeze up or doubt herself during rules debates or unpredictable character choices. She felt pressure to both have a good game for the players, and for the stream, and this didn't always mean the same priorities.

Popularity can also attract unsavory attention, and at the height of the group's stream our chat would get filled with trolls or unkind comments about our appearances or personalities. We had to have a moderator in the chat to weed out trolls and mean folks. While at first we enjoyed engaging with the chat, eventually we had to completely ignore it for our own sanity.

Finally, making changes to our game became more difficult because we had to consider their effects on the stream. When we as players became tired of a storyline, system, or campaign, we couldn't just switch to a different one. We usually had to stick with it until a natural break came in the narrative. Only once did we artificially wrap up a campaign early by playing out the ending as a Fiasco game!

This was especially apparent when a disagreement would pop up mid-game. Normally we could take a little time to look through the rules, or just make a ruling, but the camera and microphones added a lot of pressure and could lead to awkward social conflicts or hurt feelings.

The Weird - That's Me in the Spotlight

There were definitely some weird side effects of streaming and recording a game.

First off, I'm a teacher, and I always worried about my students, coworker, or their families finding the stream. We would drink on camera, and use the usual bad language and dirty humor of a group of adult friends. Even though I teach at a very progressive school, there's still pressure for teachers to keep their "teacher personalities" active when in public.

One weird but good side effect was that a player randomly met a fan of the podcast and they are now in a long-term relationship!

Streaming the game also helped me realize that I do not want to be in the spotlight. Although at first it was fun interacting with the viewers and playing for the camera, as time went on I liked less and less the fact that my voice and image were being recorded for all time. It made me less willing to take risks in the game, and less willing to just relax and have fun with my friends. Being an "internet person" just is not a draw for me, and streaming made that very clear to me.



Well, that's my longwinded reflection on being part of a Long-Running TTRPG Stream. What are your thoughts? Have you had streaming experience? Is it something you plan on doing, or are interested in?
 

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BookTenTiger

He / Him
One thing to note that might color my experience: I've never been a fan of watching or listening to streaming games, and I never even listened to the one I participated in!
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
That's some cool insight; thank you for sharing.

I haven't streamed; probably the closest thing was recording a battle report/conversation with a friend for his Warhammer video podcast thing. We played a competitive game and took photos as we went, then we recorded an audio recap of the game and our thoughts live afterward, going through the photos to provide the visuals. It definitely hammered home how there are skills in communicating and speaking for a recording. It was simultaneously fun and a bit nerve-wracking and cringy.

I'm also generally not a fan of streamed TTRPGs, though I've managed to watch or listen to a few that seemed to have pretty good energy and pacing. Even those I've had to consume while doing other things, like commuting, however.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
We switched to 5e a few years ago, but our viewership was literally three or four people. The 5e Campaign ended, and through the group is still playing 5e, they decided collectively to stop streaming.
An interesting fact that came out of our podcast conversation with TrooperSJP, who crunched the numbers, is that the average number of viewers for a TTRPG stream is..... 3 viewers.

 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
An interesting fact that came out of our podcast conversation with TrooperSJP, who crunched the numbers, is that the average number of viewers for a TTRPG stream is..... 3 viewers.

That was my average back in our high school games... A live audience of my mom and dad as they walked through the living room, and my older brother playing Nintendo across the way!
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
I so badly wanted to get into TTRPG streams, because my ex gf, sister in law, and others were watching critical role among others.

So I tried it. The RP is fun and all, but there's really only so much I can watch strangers socialize, go into social side tangents mid game, etc. I don't know these people. It's not like when I play with my friends, when they socialize with me I can understand all the context, and the social aspect of playing the game is a lot of fun.

Campaigns also take up an immense amount of time. I've already got hundreds of hours invested into my own campaign, and don't have the brain space or time to follow something as lengthy and involved as another person's campaign. You can't watch it like a show, if you miss any episodes you are unaware of huge swathes of time and series of events.

If it isn't related to my people I simply can't invest myself that much.
 




Hex08

Adventurer
I've tried watching streaming games and it's just not my bag. The one I enjoyed the most was Relics and Rarities with Deborah Ann Wohl but even then, I didn't watch a lot of it. In the end, watching other people play a game (video games, board games, ttrpgs, sports) holds little interest to me. I love playing games around a table and online, but nothing bores me more than watching other do it unless I am watching to learn how to play and even then I just want as short a video as possible. Plus, a night's game session is usually several hours long, there is other stuff I would rather invest my time in.

All that said, I did briefly play in a Pathfinder campaign that was streamed by the DM. I tried to watch it and it was awful.

 

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