Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: Titansgrave - The Ashes of Valkana

This morning, I noticed a post on Google + by Wil Wheaton titled #SaveTheBeer! and it talked about his anxiety and expectations for the Tabletop spinoff show, "Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana".

My wife and I love watching Tabletop and it has helped us to get our children even more interested in tabletop gaming.  Just from watching Wil and his friends, we have added more than a dozen new tabletop games (such as Castle Panic, Settlers of Catan, and Elder Sign) to our family game nights. We have been anticipating this new series since it was first announced, so today we rescheduled our day to catch Chapter 0 and Chapter 1.

I began playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition when I was 14 years old, almost 30 years ago. My first experience as a Dungeon Master began about a year after that with AD&D 2nd Edition and I actively ran campaigns practically every weekend up until I was around 27.  From time to time, we dust off the ole dice and run an adventure or two, but with having four children, that doesn't leave us the time to heavily invest in running campaigns.  Now, I can vicariously experience a campaign adventure with this new series!

The Positive:

Overall, I was very pleased with the introduction to the RPG storyline and the cast that portrayed the player characters. The post-production team and Wil did an amazing job of bring the role playing game experience into a new level of emersion with the sound effects and storyboards. The storyline was compelling and fun as an introduction to the RPG experience. To me, the show has great potential and we plan to watch every episode.  I would definitely give it 5 out of 5 STARS!

You can check out the video below to discover this for yourself.


Room for Improvement:

With everything great that I have to say about this show, there are some things that I did notice that I'd like to see improvement on in future series (I know that this season is pretty much in the box, so I don't expect any viewer feedback to address these things now).

Being a storyteller, or Game Master, can be very challenging. It is not enough for the storyteller to be a rules lawyer.  The GM has to also propel the story forward and is responsible for updating that story as the player characters action change the storyline. I could not imagine the task of running a game with so many intelligent and personable players as Wil did with this story, especially given the fact that he was also thinking about production value as they were playing.  No one person could handle all of those tasks at once, but Wil pulled it off.  Here are some things I noticed.

Non-player characters are driven by the storyteller and are objects just as anything else that needs to be described.  It concerned me that there were times the player characters were dictating what actions the non-player characters were taking such as when Yuri Lowenthal was describing the actions of his character, S'Lethkk.  I like Yuri's ideas and how he interacted with the scenes in this episode, but when he stated how his character would be casting a cantrip to produce a fake fire, he also dictated how the hobbit NPC would react to it by saying "he freaks out and then everybody else freaks out." It made for a great story, but it would have been preferred to have Wil, the storyteller, tell us how the hobbit and the audience reacted to it since it is a magical and technical world where magic may be considered commonplace. The hobbit described by Wil was clearly wanting to be a part of telling the story and offered an opportunity to the adventurers to use his idea of simulating the forest fire as part of the players improv narrative.

Watching this episode was also my first introduction into the AGE system and I didn't like the fact that an initiative roll was made only at the start of an encounter and not re-rolled for each round.  Yes, it does simplify the rules and gameplay, but it is a lot of fun for a storyteller, as well as the players, to be able to incorporate Stunts and Failed Actions into how a combat sequence unfolds.

I can tell by how this video was edited that there were some interactions that were obviously cut from the game session, mostly to have a coherent storyline and to fit time constraints, as well as story pacing.  There was a scene where a character had failed to cast a shock spell that basically fizzled, but it wasn't addressed by the storyteller in the video.  Most likely it was, but Wil probably removed it post-production.  As an RPG tabletop gamer, I have learned that a character's story evolution is based not only upon a character's successes and legendary feats, but also their lost opportunities and miserable failed dice checks.  It would have been interesting to see "misses" get some storyteller love.

And where are the snacks?  The set is MISSING that big bowl of M&M's!!!

Finally, I will say this.  If you are a role player, this video series should be a must watch. Same goes for those who are interested in learning. This series rolled a natural 20 in my book...




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