Friday, April 29, 2016

Critical Role

One of my players has encouraged me to watch a series of youtube videos created by the group Critical Role.  This is a tremendously popular skype group that features a DM and seven players who characterize themselves as voice actors - and there's evidence in that they have some game there.  The campaign has a heavy emphasis on role-playing, with each participant pushing hard to play 'in character' and relate to each other and the DM's many characters.

I have made my way through a full episode and I'm just starting a second.  As online games go, it isn't a train-wreck.  The participation is far from the painful public abortions recorded at events by the WOTC.  That said, I'm still viewing the content as homework rather than interest.

It is the sort of thing that convinces me that attempts to film or reproduce my own games would be a bad, bad idea.  I can't imagine I would be any better than what's shown here.  I really hate the endless mugging for the camera by the various players that goes on for hour after hour, as well as the constant, exhausting grinning that never seems to end when players and DM are on film.  It reminds me of amateur theatre productions where the director did not have enough control - or where there was no director, by group agreement.  Public performance needs someone to stand off stage or off camera and scream, "Energy!  Focus!  Stop fucking grinning!"

I'm sure I'm the only person this bothers.

Another thing that is eerie to me is the lack of attention to the character page.  My campaign is much more of a 'game' - with players highly focused on their character limitations, options, improvements and so on.  It is rare that there isn't a combat in my game that doesn't include moments of a player staring hard at their character sheet looking for a way to overcome the issue at hand through game mechanics.  This game goes on for an hour at a time without anyone needing to do more than ask the DM's NPC for clarification - which usually means moving forward to the next NPC to ask again for more clarification.  The interaction is filled with completely superfluous actions and content, followed by clever description by the DM that compliments said superfluous action, drawing the most meaningless act into minutes of irrelevant interaction and participation.

There are other features of gaming that I know have nothing whatsoever to do with these people.  For example, players roll dice at random to 'find things' without asking if the die roll is relevant.  This would simply never happen in my world.  The player would ask, "Can I find/get/see . . ." etcetera and IF a die roll would help in that situation, I would answer, "Roll this die to find out."  Otherwise I would simply say yes or no - because most things are NOT random.

Attacks occur without detection of surprise or initiative; the players approach a stranger and BANG, lightning, everyone take 14 damage, no there's no saving throw to avoid this - and let me explain how you're all blown fifteen feet back and off your feet.  The players move to take an action and the DM says, "It has no effect;" and no player says, "What the hell?"  Damage occurs and the response received is the height of banality.

Moment-to-moment action is uncompromisingly micromanaged.  The unseen servant can't just be created and assumed to perform the action required: instead, the servant must be cast with a flush of performance by the character, followed by a lengthy description of the unseen servant coming into being, followed by the character telling the unseen servant what to do, followed by a description of the unseen servant following the order - and omg, please just slash my fucking wrists now.

I know people like this.  It thrills them to death to create every dialogue and to live their actions in real time.  Listening to it, I find myself drifting from minute to minute, until I'm hopelessly disconnected from whatever the hell is going on.  It seems to me that they're on some sort of lawn, they were going to go into a dungeon that never seems to appear, then there's another gate to be opened, now they're standing outside a door, then they don't seem to go there, there's some sort of large tower, oh wait, the dwarf is now answering the door to a dwarven house, now they're talking to some woman; wait, now it's a man - what the fuck is going on?

As I wrap up this post, they've gone to buy some stuff at what seems to be a sort of D&D supermarket (it has everything) - and this too needs a ton of description, characters, dialogue and backstory.  My players at this point would be hunched, obsessed, over long equipment tables parsing through their personal needs and checking the availability and prices of things they have trouble finding - the point being to ready themselves and get on with the adventure.

My world, my game, my players are very, very different from this.  This seems boring.  Agonizingly boring.  If I were playing I'd be sitting to one side, arms crossed, scowling, wondering when something was going to, well, happen.  I'd be thinking, what excuse can I make up right now that will let me leave and never come back?  Because gawd knows, I'd find something more interesting to do than this.

That's why I don't ache to record my gameplay.  What must my gameplay look like to others?  How boring would it seem to them?  How annoying would the grinning be.  How annoyed would they be that I didn't invent clever dialogue and descriptions, down to the tables upon which the trade goods sit, when they went to buy things?

Pretty annoyed, I'd guess.  Pretty bored, I'd guess.

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