Ron told me that I should post something on Adept Play – even if it’s in Polish!
And while I’m still skeptical as to whether that’s a good idea, I’m happy to oblige.
So, all the videos are in Polish, while I’ll try to provide some context in English, for those who’re interested in the entire thing.
Some history and context
So, the year is 2019, and everyone in Poland who plays roleplaying games and has a computer starts their own YouTube channel. The reason for this is, I believe, that the no. 1 channel with recorded game sessions becomes more and more successful getting a lot of views and recognition, while a lot of hobby veterans recognize that the content presented on the channel is lacking at best.
So, well, if this guy can do this and be successful, surely us, who play better games and who are better at running them, can be successful too. And also since everybody else is starting their own channel, we have to start ours ASAP, because otherwise we’ll be left behind.
(Obviously it didn’t start in 2019, but I believe there was indeed an influx of channels around that time.)
One such channel was Dobre Rzuty. And while the channel started with an attempt to “do Warhammer, but better” (4e has just hit the market), it was quickly obvious that the focus will be more on less known, but better games.
I’m not saying Warhammer, Call of Cthulhu and D&D (the (un)holy trinity of Polish roleplaying) are neccesarily bad games. They are, however, often played just as if we were still in the 90s, with linear adventures and a dictatorial GM who has to practice either illusionism or railroading to get the players through the adventures while maintaining that the players have agency.
And so here we are, Poland, 2019:
- A lot of mainstream gamers not knowing that after the early 2000s anything other than the new editions of the Polish RPG staples was released. (And if they do know about “indie games” they usually regard them as a needless attempt to improve the hobby by people who “just had bad GMs”)
- A bunch of weirdos playing indie games, seeing the mainstream gamers as troglodytes.
- A reasonable amout of people in between, who often have stopped playing roleplaying games in their late 20s.
And there we are, June of 2019, after the merger od Dobre Rzuty channel with the Pożeracze Umysłów podcast, deciding that we’ll take a serious stab at the YouTube thing with a Blades in the Dark campaign.
We’ve decided on Blades in the Dark, because it was new, we liked it, and we believed that it might be something Poles might actually be interested in. The idea that someone might want to watch us play a roleplaying game was still somewhat weird, but again, we decided to give it a try.
We decided on a compromise between actually playing a game session and creating a “product” out of this for YouTube. We would have cameras, obviously. But aslo a good mic and some studio lights. (Bartek from our team already had those, so that was super useful.) We would also play with no music, and the music would be added in the post-production. We just didn’t have the sound system to make it sound good on the recording itself.
What was my goal as the GM
I’ve quickly proposed myself as the GM. And I had a reason for this. For a year or two I’ve been championing the idea that a good story is very important in a RPG game (unless that’s explicitly not the goal), and that a story has to fullfill the basic story structure to be fully engaging.
I’ve met a lot of critics – both the people who were disagreeing with me as to whether a story needs to have such a structure to be good, and the people who believed that making that happen at the table during play was impossible in anything other than a linear adventure (and I didn’t want to do that – I wanted to have both the player agency in the story, and the story fullfilling the structure).
So, I knew that I had to try it out at the table. And so as to add some difficulty to an already difficult project, I decided to do that with our Blades in the Dark campaign.
My approach (which was a result of some experience) was to improivise a lot while also having a clear idea as to what the story arcs are, what stage are they at and what do they need to move forward.
So, basically I did 2 hours of prep before each game. An hour to think about what has happned during the last session, what the story arcs are and what direction I should nudge the story towards. And then an hour to write down what’s the next dramatic question that needs to be answered in each of the story arcs and how I can press for an answer. I didn’t decide on what answer I would like – just that I want SOME answer.
Oh, I’ve also asked every player to write down two beliefs of their characters. The game awards xp for expressing drives and goals, but often it’s not clear as to what they are, so introduced a little bit of The Burning Wheel into the game and asked for two beliefs each. Those beliefs were crucial when coming up with consequences and conflict for the characters.
The campaign had four story arc:
- The main story about stopping the evil bad guy from moving into Coalrdige district with his technology of controlling ghosts and making them work at factories.
- The personal story of Lydia, the cutter of the group. Avenging her former mentor by killing the killer, or giving up violence to pursue her passion of theatre?
- The personal story of Kevin, the spider. Will he stick to his own, the Skovlanders of Coalridge? Or will he ignore his neighbors and his family and do things his own way?
- The personal story of Vukani, the whisper. He wanted to help the ghosts of the city – but how?
It worked, I believe.
A lot of campaigns I’ve listened to start strong and then loses a lot of their momentum over time. And they often end without a feeling of satisfaction.
Ghosts of Coalridge managed to do the opposite. XD
People often told us that the campaign is slow to get going, but once it does, it becomes really good.
What also helps is a great climax at the end. A combination of a solid building up of stakes, an important dice roll that had unexpected results, a great improvised speech when everything was crashing down, and then all the story arcs being ready for a closure, giving us a nice epilogue.
The climatic moment: https://youtu.be/QrzKCTvJj48?t=2270
How was the “prduct” received?
My friend started watching as a courtesy, because she’s a friend. But after few episodes she was constantly bugging me for pre-release episodes, because she wanted to know how the story ends.
That’s a huge success in my book.
We’ve managed to do what I think I’ve never experienced before over the years: a really satisfying ending to a campaign.
We’ve also seen people we don’t know recommend the campign to other people we don’t know as something they should watch. That’s also a huge praise for what we managed to do.
Was it still a roleplaying game?
An interesting topic that I think I won’t be writing on here. However, I aknowledge that it exists. The relationship between the game itself, for us, the participants. And the “product” we have created based on that, complete with music and visuals, that people could watch.
To what degree did “creating a show” influenced the way we played?
I’d say “surprisngly little”.
Gosia and Bartek were, to my knowlesdge, stressed and/or distracted to a signifant degree by the cameras. At least at first. Mateusz, the extrovert that he is, less so.
I think I’m rarely able to “enjoy the moment” as the GM anyway, and always am creating an experience for others. So doing this was actually kinda natural.
Some details I forgot to mention before
- Some of the viewers started playing Blades in the Dark because of either that campaign, or because of another campaign we did later with some other channels. For sure we had more success convincing people to play something other than Warhammer with this rather than with podcasts and/or game reviews.
- We have actually translated the game’s glossary to Polish ourselves before starting the campaign. Before we knew there would be an official Polish translation and release.
- We played out a lot of the downtime actions of the characters. Scores took roughly a half of the campaign with downtime and freeplay taking the other half.
I would usually ask what the players wants to do during downtime, and then I’d try to frame the scenes including any characters or events I needed to press for the answers the story structure required.
- I’ve been using roughly half of the things I’ve written down in prep. The other half was discarded due to the players’ decisions and I’ve improvised something else instead.