LARPs: The Series

Tapletop gaming is my preferred leisure time. Some of my favorite nights with friends have been spent playing board games, and recently my social calendar has been spent playing D&D. But one of the great things about being a geek is it’s easy to find joy in others geeking out too.

So even though I’ve never played in a LARP, the webseries LARPs caught my attention right away. Maybe not right away. Season One was originally released in February-March 2014, and had critical acclaim but wasn’t widely distributed. I started watching when it re-released on Geek & Sundry in January 2015.

True to the Geeks

It’s not easy to capture geek cultures in media. It’s too easy to portray the people involved as less-than-normal, making those who engage in activities like role play seem eccentric (at best) or downright strange (at worst.) But downplaying the fantasy and focusing on LARPers as just people with the normal problems of everyone else also belittles the magic the activity can provide. Some amount of balance must be struck.

LARPs: The Series finds this balance well. The show gives equal interest to its characters who have normal drama and happen to enjoy LARP, along with letting us watch the unfolding story of the Guardians of the Eleventh Eye. Whether they’re playing the game or living their real life becomes secondary to the series. It’s more staging than anything else.

That feeling of role play being part of real life is what makes it ring true to the fellow geeks who are watching it. It feels real because the games we play really become staging to our lives too. Sure, we know it’s a game, but playing that game with our friends becomes just as much a part of who we are as where we work or the habits we form. The story in LARPs lets that notion develop naturally for the characters and the viewer.

Season 2

The first season of LARPs ended with me gasping for air. I moaned out loud wanting to know what would happen next. Everyone had so much still hanging out there. It was so… awkward! In a dramatic irony way, not the socially awkward geek way you normally get when hanging out with me. But it was also so right. The story was meant to pause there.

Season 2 picks up right where the first left off. There’s lots of tense ideas in play but the story developed much more slowly and thought-out. Every episode still has it’s amazing moments, but there’s no filler at all. The first nine episodes are just a crescendo to an amazing half-hour season finale in episode 10. All the little hanging bits of tension left for us seem to pay off. Everything works out so well, but not as we’d expect at the end of season 1.

I cried at more than one moment.

No More Waiting

While we were still in the middle of season 2, I found myself actually recommending to my friends who were still uninitiated with LARPs to hold off on watching until they could watch both seasons all at once. Because the waits between episodes were really crushing me. I couldn’t wait for them to enjoy the series as much as I had, but I could tell that both seasons combined would make such a beautiful product. The remainder of season 2 didn’t let me down.

Now is the time! No more waiting! If you’ve not watched LARPs, you have no reason to hold off any longer!

Binge It

I made a playlist of all the LARPs: The Series episodes from both seasons in order. So you can binge them all, start to finish, right here:

Season 3 and the Future of LARPs

Jon Verrall (writer for the series and the actor who plays Evan) says there’s nothing to announce for a possible season 3 yet. But there’s obviously good potential for that if you watch the conclusion of season 2.  They crowd-funded the second season, but that was before Geek & Sundry went into their new setup as a part of Legendary. Since Tabletop season 4 and Titansgrave season 2 aren’t being crowdfunded I doubt LARPs season 3 will be either.

However, LARPs also has a different production arrangement from other G&S programming, so I could be way-off. For now it seems the best thing you and I can do to make season 3 happen is to watch the LARPs we’ve got.

Did You Enjoy LARPs? Why not try:

  • More LARPs
  • Share LARPs
  • Watch LARPs everyday

Did You Blog About It?

Please let me know in the comments if you’ve blogged about LARPs: The Series. I keep my posts spoiler-free for the most part, so I’ve decided not to share too many specifics about the episodes. But I’d love to join the conversation on your site if you do!

Magic: The Attempt-to-Gather

Geek & Sundry produces an awesome series, called Spellslingers, where Sean Plott (aka “Day[9]”) plays the card game Magic: The Gathering with his nerdy friends. They took a lot of cues from the production of Tabletop, but gave it a unique feel. There’s a lot more shared analysis of the gameplay that doesn’t really happen on Tabletop. If Wil Wheaton wants you to play more games, Sean Plott wants you to play better Magic.

sean plott day[9] on spellslingers
Day[9], professional gamer
Confession time: I’ve never actually played a game of Magic. I grew up in the bible belt where people honestly believed that Dungeons and Dragons and Magic would teach you to worship the devil. Or at least ruin your prospects at courting a respectable, God-fearing mate. The closest thing I ever got to play was the Star Wars Customizable Card Game published by Decipher. I loved that game but it never had the mass appeal of Magic.

Anyway, Spellslingers really has me itching to play a game. Unfortunately, I’m totally not spending money on games right now. There’s a baby on the way! Gotta save up cash. But I thought I found an easy way to do this with Magic Duels – an online tabletop simulator of the game. But more downside – the only platform I can play this is on is Windows PC (I don’t have any iOS devices) and my Windows PC is so old and janky I barely got Steam installed. There’s no way I can actually play a game on it. I also tried adding it to a VM on my Mac, but the VM’s video memory is only half the recommended specifications – so it’s also slow to respond and not worthy of playing the game.

My gathering of Magic will continue to wait and I’ll just have to whet my appetite with more Spellslingers.

Titansgrave: #tablederp Edition

Tuesday is Titansgrave day! The cast made some fun faces during their episode “Danger at Reed Manor” last week, so I snapped some #tablederp screenshots.

I swear I’m not intentionally leaving out Hank Green on these Titansgrave posts. He’s a fun guy and I love his character, Aankia. But he doesn’t make silly faces very often.

Wil & Ryon Wheaton, and the cast of Titansgrave Live Panel

In addition to festivities at San Diego Comic Con proper, Geek & Sundry, Nerdist, and Smart Girls hosted a ‘Conival’ at Petco Park last weekend. I’m still catching up on all the videos, but I definitely enjoyed the Titansgrave panel from that event. One quote from Wil really stood out after a fan asked if Titansgrave could ever have a live stream episode:

I was watching Critical Role before we went into editing on Titansgrave. And I thought, “there is no way we’re gonna be as good as Critical Role. There is no way we can live up to this.” […] We just had to do something that was very different from Critical Role.-Wil Wheaton (at 51:20)

You might recall I’ve made that contrast as well.

Watch the whole panel discussion here:

Note-passing in Titansgrave

When you’re in a role-playing game, sometimes characters have more knowledge or perception of their whereabouts than the other members of their party. A good way for a dungeon master to give this information to the player is by passing notes.

In Titansgrave, we’ve seen this happen a couple times. Most recently in chapter 5, “Staff of Forlorn Hope,” when Kiliel (played by Alison Haislip) can see more about Mr. Voss than the others can. Her reaction nails why this story-telling tactic is awesome.

It’s exciting because it empowers the player. They get the information and they get to choose what to do with it, instead of being subject to the DM’s narration of events.

For the purposes of Titansgrave, it’s doubly effective because each of the players have secrets they’re hiding from the others. Using note-passing during more common instances like Kiliel’s actually makes it more normal when the note-passing is crucial to those secrets. I really hope a note-pass makes or breaks the climax of one of these adventures, because Wil has used them skillfully.

Titansgrave vs. Critical Role

When Geek and Sundry’s webseries Tabletop had its record-setting Indiegogo campaign last year, one of the stretch goals reached was the creation of a new RPG show to be produced as well. That show is a now a thing you can watch called Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. Right now we’re 3 episodes into the 10 episode series, plus a bonus ‘episode 0′ that fills you in on the rpg system being used, the story’s universe, and the characters’ backstories.

When Geek and Sundry launched their Twitch channel in March of this year, they also created a tentpole of their livestreaming with Critical Role. This is a separate RPG show, where a group of friends play their weekly  Dungeons and Dragons (5ed) game for approximately 4 hours. It’s just like your game and mine, except cameras are rolling. And those cameras are excellently run by the Geek and Sundry staff. And the group are lead by a very talented game master (GM) in Matt Mercer. And the party of adventurers are all voice actors with an incredible knack for performing their characters.

So it’s a little better than your game and mine at home.

I think you should watch both, but in case anyone was conflicted between between #savegrog and #savethebeer , here’s a quick comparison of the two.

Like It Is, or Like It Is in Hollywood

Critical Role plays it like it is. These folks are playing an excellent game of DnD and there’s no reason your home game can’t be very similar. Players are making nerdy jokes and chomping on vegan pizza while their characters haggle with the local shopkeep, polymorph into animals, or downing a cask of ale they had stashed in the bag of holding. If it’s any different from your previous RPG experience it’s probably because your friends weren’t as experienced.

Titansgrave is a whole realm of production beyond what you and I will do at home. They’ve had the resources or artists, video editors, and graphic designers augment the experience to a level that if you try to mimic it, you’ll probably fall over before you have a chance to finish your storyline. Your everyday GM shouldn’t bother trying to make this sort of immersion happen — but holy cow is it awesome. Watching Titansgrave feels a lot more like watching a movie. Enjoy it the same way you enjoy a summer blockbuster.

Matt vs. Wil

Matt is clearly an amazing GM and his quick acting of NPCs is clearly at another level. Wil lacks some of the quickchange voice-acting cred, but also gets a lot of credit for creating one heck of a new universe in Titansgrave. Using a less-developed system has also given him a lot of power, so I think Titansgrave really feels like we see a lot more of Wil’s mind that Critical Role shows us playing around in Matt’s.

That, and Wil is my man-crush. But Matt might be yours.

Matt Mercer
Matt Mercer

How’s Your Schedule?

Twitch has become the hot new place for Geek and Sundry to release content. Good on ’em for keeping up with the times. What that means though is that unless you start matching the Twitch stream’s scheduling, you’re missing out on the full experience. Titansgrave is still posted asynchronously — so if you watch it 5 hours after it comes out, you’re still on par with the rest of the world. 5 hours late on Twitch is missing the whole episode. Critical Role is definitely an in-the-moment experience. The episodes still get posted later (here) but it’s just not the same. Plus you miss out on the chat room with the other “Critters,” which is a pretty great way to participate with an RPG show.

All I’m saying is, to max out your fandom you might need to think about just how available you can be Thursdays 7pm PT.