TTRPGs Giving Back

The tabletop gaming community is filled with smart, funny, imaginative people who enjoy sharing stories and laughter with their friends and quite often with complete strangers. I think that last part is one of the things I love most about this hobby. That I can sit at a table of folks I don’t know and within minutes, thanks to our shared passion, tell heroic stories and get to know my fellow players a little better because of it. While I might sit down with strangers, I rarely walk away from strangers at the end. I think that’s a beautiful thing.

So it will surprise no one that the TTRPG community can also be extremely generous, willing to help whenever and however they can. One only has to look at the prevalence of Itch charity bundles to see this in action. Indie TTRPG creators generously donate their work to these bundles in order to support donations from the community. Donating gains the donor access to a plethora of tabletop games while supporting a great cause.

So here are three Itch bundles going on right now, ready and waiting for your generous donation. Frankly, you are going to get more TTRPG goodness from these bundles than you can likely bring to the table, but I promise you’ll have fun trying! And if you’re on a budget, check the ending dates and grab the deals that will go away soonest.

Important: TTRPG creators have generously donated their work to these bundles. When you get your bundle, please set aside some time to go through the games and leave five-star ratings on all of them. It will really help the creators out (getting them visibility and helping drive future sales) and it’s just a cool thing to do.

Solo But Not Alone 2: A bundle hosted by Peach Garden Games with content from 74 creators. Your donation of $10 gets you access to 102 solo TTRPGs, perfect for those long stints between games with your friends, or when a game is cancelled but you still want to scratch that roleplaying itch. Proceeds go to support suicide prevention and mental health education through Jasper’s Game Day. This year’s funding goal is the amount that was raised last year ($31,650.24) and the bundle has reached 82% of that goal, with just five days to go! Why not stop by and help get them the rest of the way?

Mutual Aid for Armanda: Not every bundle has to support large charities or movements, sometimes it’s enough that we can do something to help one person through some trouble. Cat Elm and fifteen other creators have gotten together to help Armanda get a new laptop, as hers is on its last legs. Like many TTRPG creators, no laptop means no making a living, so replacing it is crucial. For just $15 you can help Armanda work securely and get yourself a collection of sixteen TTRPGs from some of Indie’s best and brightest. I mean, a dollar a game, are you kidding? The bundle ends in 29 days, let’s get Armanda that laptop, yeah?

TTRPGs for Trans Rights in Texas!: It’s unlikely you haven’t heard of the horrible decision by Texas’ governor to essentially criminalize the support of Trans youth in the state. Since Trans rights are human rights and fascists, wherever they raise their head, can get fucked, the TTRPG community has organized to help fight back. The bundle is hosted by Rue (ilananight) and features 496 works from 300 creators. You get access to a huge body of work from some of the best people in our space right now, all for $5! So if you can, slip them a twenty and you’ve given that much more support and still only paid four cents a game. The goal is set at $25,000 and the fund is currently 88% of the way there. With a little over a month left on the bundle, I think we can probably manage to blow passed that goal, right? Right.

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So there are three bundles you can get right now. Not only will you help make the world a bit better, but if you buy all three you’ll have over 600 games with which to entertain yourself and your friends. And if you’re lucky, maybe turn some strangers into new friends.

I’ve got time free in my calendar, just saying.

Indie Games December

A thousand years ago, back in April, I recorded a month of videos talking about indie RPGs under the hashtag #ReadIndieRPGs. I did this in response to another hashtag going around, #ReadtheDMG, in which folx were recording quick videos reading a paragraph from the D&D Dungeon Masters Guide. At a time when people were going to need distractions and creators were going to need support, I thought it only fair to remind folx about all the amazing games and creators in out hobby.

I set myself some guidelines for the videos. As you can see if you watch them, I decided to do them very rough, always in one take. I wanted them to be very much my honest thoughts about the game from which I was reading, without scripting my way to the perfect soundbite. I also focused on creators often marginalized in the TTRPG space, because I knew I hadn’t always been as mindful about their work as I could have been up to that point. And lastly, I wanted to pay for everything. I started off my series with games I already owned, but roughly two-thirds of the games I talked about were games I purchased and read that month. Including games I had previously purchased, all told I spent $274.01 on indie TTRPGs.

That sounds like a lot of money (and it is, and I am privileged to be in a position where I can afford that) but if you break it down I came away from the end of that month with thirty different TTRPGs at an average cost of $9.13 per game. And considering that I got a few of the games by picking up the excellent San Jenaro Digests which contain 6-8 games each, that price per game is lower. And frankly, cheap at twice the price.

This led me to believe two things. One, when bigger TTRPG companies put out a new game or supplement and expect me to pay $30-$50 per book, that book had better be stellar! As an editor my tolerance for a poorly edited book is already low, so when a company presents me with a badly edited $65 rulebook (rhymes with salamander), you can bet I’m never touching that game or anything else they do.

The second things is that we (myself and you) as TTRPG consumers need to develop a tolerance for proper pricing on indie TTRPGs. Indie creators should not have to spend weeks and months working up a new game and then have to release it for $5 in the hopes that we’ll pretty please buy it (unless they want to; I’m not here to dictate any creator’s price point). I think we as players and consumers of Indie TTRPGs should realize the time and effort put into an indie game, as well as the many, many hours of enjoyment we will get from the game, are worthy of equitable compensation. More simply put, if you dropped thirty bucks for the latest from WotC, tae the fuck wi’ ye for balking at an indie game costing $10-$20. 

All of which is a long and winding road to my point today. Which is, during December I am going to be buying up more Indie TTRPGs. I haven’t decided whether that means a return to daily videos for December, but at the very least I will be posting here every week talking about what I’ve picked up and linking out so you can check the games and creators out as well. I hope this will give all of you out there wanting to explore more Indie TTRPGs a decent place to start.

But it isn’t enough just to have a spike of interest for December. I have a certain amount budgeted for TTRPG purchases each month. Going forward I will allocate half of that budget to buying Indie TTRPGs, then coming here or to YouTube and telling you about what I picked up. Recently I reconfirmed my return to critique of Wizards of the Coast, because if I’m going to tilt at windmills to improve my hobby, might as well start with the one using the most wind. But I can’t only be about yelling at WotC. If I truly want to help TTRPGs grow then I have to support the creators out there doing it right. I’m doing some long-term work around that with the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games, but in the shorter term I need to be another voice singing the praises of Indie TTRPGs.

So look for me to be very vocal in December, then regularly vocal going forward. Frankly, I’m excited about all the new games I get to explore, by some of the most creative people in our hobby. And I hope you’ll follow along and also throw some support at any games that catch your eye. Heck, if this inspires you to do your own deep dive, please drop me a note and let me know where I can find you because I want to come along on your trip as well!

My WotC Attitude

Back in July, roughly a thousand years ago, I wrote what I had planned to be my last editorial ever on Wizards of the Coast. I had decided, for what I thought were good reasons at the time, to not write about WotC anymore on any of my platforms, for any reason. And while I still stand by my decision not to write articles supporting or promoting anything related to their games, I have to break my promise to myself in one respect.

When I read back through my July post I found I was still good with 99% of what I wrote. What jarred for me was the line, “I will not write another word about D&D…”. As with so many things it is a position of privilege to choose not to criticize a thing which is hurting people. I was mad at the time and lost sight of that. I’m still mad, of course, but I have had time to ruminate. I could wriggle around those words and say technically I said D&D and not WotC. But I knew what I meant.

I’m still going to focus the bulk of my time on the things I love about the TTRPG hobby and the excellent things I see happening in the industry. Despite WotC appearing to be the industry and hobby, they are not. That might have been true for a bit back in 1974-75 but it hasn’t been true since, despite TSR/WotC’s best efforts to make everyone believe it over the years. That is one facet of the paste gem that is WotC and we’ll come back to it in the future.

For now, let’s look at where WotC is at compared to four months ago. Back in July I was taking them to task for continuing to do nothing to make their spaces safe, and for their lackluster (the most generous word I can use) attempts to center Black and other marginalized groups in their game design. I’m not going to comment (too much) today, I just want to lay out the situation as I see it so you understand my position when I write future posts and articles. Here we go!

Twitter: A quick search using the search terms “@Wizards_DnD” and “diversity” gets me a whole string of folx taking WotC to task for not doing anything about inclusion, despite a few tweet back in July/August talking about their plans (and nothing since then). So at a glance it seems like, if WotC is doing some work on this, they are keeping strangely quiet about it. Of course, what I also don’t see in their Twitter feed is the announcement of a…

Director, Diversity Equity & Inclusion: Back in July WotC, as part of their response to calls for better inclusion, posted an ad looking for a “Director, Diversity Equity & Inclusion” on their site. Yay! Despite several details of the job being questionable (you can read the posting here) it seemed that WotC was finally taking a concrete step forward. Cut to now. The job is no longer listed on their site, but neither has a new “Director, DE&I” been announced. Did they hire one in secret? Did they stop trying and hope it would go unnoticed? In fairness, I haven’t been watching the site at all since July. It is barely possible the listing came down recently because they are about to announce who filled the position. But then why is it still listed on third-party job boards like the one linked above? Based on past performance I am going to put my money on the “stop trying and hope we don’t notice” theory for now.

Mike Mearls: Again, unless I missed the announcement (and if I have please link me to it so I can pour myself a drink and luxuriate over every word) Mearls still has a job at WotC and is still doing stuff around D&D, despite WotC lying to us about his lack of involvement. So the bare minimum thing I and so many folx have asked WotC to do in order to show good faith in making their space safe and inclusive, they still haven’t done. Not only haven’t done, but instead their efforts go to obfuscation and lies.

Seriously, Wizards of the Coast, Fire Mike Mearls.

DMs Guild: This is what actually got me looking at WotC again, because yesterday I discovered DMs Guild actively promoting Taron Pounds, a creator who engaged in misogynistic attacks on other creators on DMs Guild a while back. A quick firing up of the search engine should get you info on that. The DMs Guild gave Pounds a stern finger wagging and promised to do better (something we’ve heard numerous times from WotC; as above, so below, I guess) about curating their spaces. But their current promotion of not one, but two products to which Pounds is attached suggests their definition of “doing better” is in line with WotC.

And so this is where we find ourselves. In the four months in which I stopped paying them much attention, WotC has managed to do the square root of f*** all on any of the things they promised around inclusion and safety. In addition, DMs Guild seems to be following their lead so nothing is being done in that space, despite it being the comparatively easier fix of the two.

By the way, I’m not commenting on Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything because I haven’t read the book. From other critiques of the work, however, it seems that the promised material around safety and inclusion runs the gamut from them lifting  material and ideas from independent creators whole-cloth without including, compensating, or even crediting them; to suggesting you house rule any issues you find problematic.  If true, that’s…well, par for the course, really. If you’re surprised, then frankly I’m surprised that you’re surprised.

I’m going to take a deeper dive into a lot of this stuff, but I wanted to give myself and you a point from which to start. It can be very easy, with all of the cool stuff and events and actual plays, to lose sight of what WotC is doing (or not doing) behind all the pomp. And independent creators in the DMs Guild space are doing some really great stuff, which can, again, distract from the issues around the DMs Guild.

But critique of both is necessary. No one at either WotC or DMs Guild seems to be doing that critical analysis internally, so it has to come from outside, as imperfect as that may be. Dungeons & Dragons was the game that brought me into the hobby back in 1980. It has been a constant in TTRPGs from the beginning. But it has not kept up with the direction our hobby is trending. It’s WotC’s responsibility to see that it does, and it is our responsibility to hold them accountable when they don’t. Several voices in the TTRPG space have remained constant in that task and I am sorry I stopped being one of them. It won’t happen again.

I can’t promise everything I have to say, about WotC and their management, about the unsafe and exclusionary things I see in the D&D space, about the DMs Guild, will always be nice. But I do intend to be as kind as I can possibly be, to remember that there are people involved on the other side of email addresses and Twitter handles, and to use a scalpel, not a shotgun, for critique. Does that mean I’ll never upset anyone? Nope. Heck, this post is relatively tame and I expect to get push back. But I feel it’s important to operate in good faith, and if there are folx who, in equally good faith, feel they need to cut me off or distance themselves, I’ll have to accept that. My critiques of WotC are not about any one person who works there.

Except Mike Mearls. Fire him.

Editing for TTRPGs

I recently completed a little project for the #TTRPGResourceJam over on Itch. I had meant to put together something to help non-editors for a while, and this jam was the kick in the butt I needed to pull it together finally.  Editing for TTRPGs: A Primer for Non-Editors is designed to help creators refine their own editing when they can’t hire an editor. But it’s also a guide to what to look for when you are ready to hire an editor for your project.

It’s listed as Pay What You Want, which means you can grab it for free. But if you can afford to throw a few bucks at it, the money I collect from this goes to a fund that allows me to take on free editing work for marginalized creators. Check it out and let me know what you think! If there are any questions the primer didn’t answer for you, please reach out; I am planning to update this on a regular basis.

Of Grognards and Neckbeards…Again

Hey, so this post is for all the neckbeards and grognards out there who think their length of time in the hobby gives them the right to condescend to and gatekeep newer players. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, the tl;dr is: Just stop, you colossal fuckwits.
Look, I get being proud of how long you’ve been playing. I mean, years and decades of rules learned, games played, and stories told…it’s okay to take personal pride in that. Hell, were it within my power I’d hand out medals for Surviving THAC0 and Palladium…Just All of Palladium. I admit that I still take pride in system mastery, even now that it is no longer really necessary. I love being the person in my group who has read the manual cover-to-cover, dug deep into the rules and lore, and absorbed how it all works. I don’t know I’ll ever stop loving that, even though I do it for different reasons now (more on that later).
But from what I’ve seen, some of you hobby veterans think that your “time in service” gives you authority to decide when new members of our hobby have been naughty or nice. And…it doesn’t. As has been stated elsewhere and succinctly, you don’t get to decide someone else’s fun is wrong just because you’ve been playing a version of that fun for years before them. At best you sound ridiculous, at worst you are the toxic element in every online discussion, in every livestream chat, and at every convention.
I’ll give you an example from outside of gaming. I work for my municipal government. Until he retired a few years ago there was a co-worker who had been a clerk with the City for just over twenty-five years. Generally a nice fellow, friendly enough, but he would regale anyone who would listen about his time spent as a “fax clerk” (you can Google what a fax machine is, kids, the neckbeards here already know). Once upon a time, when the City had implemented the use of the fax to allow document submission, they set up a central room where the fax machines lived and the clerks there were responsible for properly receiving, forwarding, and filing faxed documents. It is exactly as exciting as it sounds.
Now, did he have a right to feel proud of that work? Of course. At the time it was new technology and he came up with and executed the procedures for how to deal with it. By all reports he did it well, so why shouldn’t he be proud of a difficult job done well? The issue, of course, is that he often tried to use his experience in running this fax room to give his opinions weight when we were discussing other things. Most of the time the result was sitting in a meeting listening politely until he finished trying to make fax machines relevant to our discussion. But it sometimes resulted in having to deal with (and a couple of times, make) harassment reports when he didn’t feel folx were “respecting his experience” (read: accepting his natural authority).
Why do I bring up this example? Because when you try to use your TTRPG veteran status to impress or intimidate newer members of our hobby, you sound just as ridiculous as someone trying to make fax mastery relevant to…well, anything. You are never going to get the result you think you want by weaponizing your imagined seniority. And it is imagined. The hobby is in such a state of flux at all times that any seniority you think you have is an illusion. Oh, you were one of the first people to play the Ghostbusters RPG? Cool story, grandpa, but there have been dozens of iterations of that game since then.
“So Brent,” you might ask, “does this mean we can’t talk about old systems or how things used to be in the hobby?” Of course you can. But you need to accept that having that knowledge and experience does not confer any authority to you or your opinions. There are folx coming into the hobby, as well as people who have been here a bit, who might have an interest in our hobby’s history. To those folx, what you have to say may be of interest as long as, and this is key, you aren’t trying to bludgeon them into submission with your imagined authority. When they are relevant, stories about the Old Days of TTRPGs can be entertaining. At least I assume so, the younger gamers I often run games for or play with seem to enjoy them, or at least haven’t found them so onerous as to stop playing with me.
And understand when you do swing that seniority hammer around, all you are doing is making it less likely anyone will listen to you, even if what you are saying turns out to be relevant. Verbally bludgeoning folx will not get your point across. But it will teach them that, based on the current available example, hobby veterans are opinionated, bullying arseholes. I don’t know about you but I don’t tend to listen to bullying arseholes about anything. I don’t give them my time on social media and I am pretty fearless about showing them the door when I run games in public. Once upon a time I had the line editor for a game (nope, not going to say which) escorted away from my table by con security because he insisted on aggressively haranguing myself and my players about “playing his game wrong” because he didn’t like the scenario I had written. I mention this not to brag (okay, a little, it’s not often your table gives you a standing ovation) but to demonstrate that if I’m not afraid of a game’s editor, how much patience do you think I have for a random grognard?
So take pride in what you’ve accomplished in the hobby, by all means. But rid yourself of any thought that this knowledge and experience gives you any sort of authority, moral or otherwise. As I have said before (and in fact in a tweet just today) the only thing playing all the previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons has given me is a head full of wrong information I have to remember around in order to play the current edition. Should I get a medal or some sort of plaque for enduring THAC0? Damn straight! Is it relevant when discussing the current Skill system in D&D and other TTRPGs? Not unless you somehow think we should bring it back, in which case I will fight you.
Do better, neckbeards and grognards. If you refuse to grow with the hobby, then stick with your current group and stop trying to stunt the growth of others.

Creator’s Catalyst Project

Say what you will about Twitter, but in the last couple of years it has been responsible for me connecting with some pretty amazing projects. Commenting on a thread on Twitter is how I found myself editing for the Uncaged Anthology books, one of the best editorial experiences of my career so far. It’s where I managed to find myself playing in the Clockwork Vines world with some amazing players and under the care of our Keeper, Honey.

And lightning has struck a third time. I replied to a post by Francita about wanting to offer free layout help to creators, saying I would be happy to donate some editing time for any creators she worked with, if they needed it. That led to a conversation between Francita, her partner Hector Rodriguez (a skilled and talented artist in his own right), and myself, about forming a team to provide our services to new and marginalized creators in the TTRPG space. That was yesterday.

Today I am excited and pleased to announce the launch of Francita’s brainchild, the Creator’s Catalyst Project! Our goal is simple: we want to help marginalized creators who might need a little extra push to finish a project, get their project ready for publication. Details are listed in the pinned Tweet and in the Introduction document, but here’s the elevator pitch. We have a set amount of in-kind donations each application period (time donated by the three of us) to put toward a project we choose from eligible applicants. We have set-up a Ko-Fi to take donations from the community; donations from each application period will be put toward the project we choose and help expand the scope of services we can offer. We will then work to get the successful applicant’s project finished so they can publish.

And this isn’t a slow process! Each cycle is thirty days; fifteen to accept applications and take donations, a few days to select and then consult with the successful applicant, then another fifteen to finish the work and turn it back over to the client, ready to go out in the world. This is great for any number of reasons, not least because the successful applicants will see an almost immediate benefit. But it also means our team gets to work on new and exciting projects on a quickly rotating basis, and any community members who donate don’t have to wait long to see the results of their generosity.  Plus you get a bit of advanced notice on cool things coming into the TTRPG space, so you can be first in line to buy the new creations as they come out!

If you’re a marginalized creator in the TTRPG space, I hope you’ll look over the information and apply; we would love to help you get your project ready for the world! If want to help the Creator’s Catalyst Project with our work, we surely would love to get donations so we can expand the scope on applications we receive. Ko-Fi even has a way to donate on a regular monthly basis, so if you want to show continued support for what we are trying to do we would be ever so grateful!

Keep your eye on this, I am excited to see the projects we can help find their way to market! And if you have any questions about the Creator’s Catalyst Project, feel free to reach out through the contact info on Twitter. We’d love to hear from you!

What I’m Watching

Happy Friday! Congratulations on making it through another week, you absolute legend!

Continuing to talk about things in the TTRPG space that I enjoy, let’s look at some shows I am watching that I think you should feast your eyes upon. I tend to watch shows on both YouTube and Twitch, with Twitch making up the bulk of my live programming and YouTube bringing me pre-recorded content. If I talk about watching the VOD for something, I’m usually referring to YouTube; the only time I watch VODs on Twitch is if the creator doesn’t repost their VODs to a YouTube channel. Also, I watch more than actual plays, so while there are some on the list below, you’ll also find a smattering of stuff from relaxing hangouts to crafting to board game reviews. Let’s dive in!

Our Family Plays Games – While I enjoy deep discussions of board game design and theory as much as the next nerd, I find that I mostly want to know “Is this game going to be fun to play? Why or why not?”. Our Family Plays Games answers that question for me every time. I only recently discovered their channel, after being pointed to them on Twitter, so I have been watching through the back catalogue while I work. And they are exactly as advertised, a family who plays games. So what you get is a very straightforward and enthusiastic look at board games from the only viewpoint that really matters in the end: did this game work at the table for us, why or why not? No fuss, no worrying about whether the game is popular, just a look at what worked, what didn’t, and would they play it again. Add in that they obviously have a love for board games, just a genuine excitement to play them and talk about them, and their videos have become something I look forward to every week. If you love board games and want to add some joy to your life while getting smarter about the hobby, watch Our Family Plays Games.

Gnomebrew – Another recent discovery is Gnomedic’s Twitch channel, and the delightfully relaxed morning chat show, Gnomebrew. Gnomebrew is nothing more (and nothing less) than Gnomedic and Aras Sivad (of Aras Sivad Designs, whose work you should definitely check out!) having a chat over their morning beverage of choice every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 9am EST. Which is 7am here, perfectly timed so I can join them with my coffee and breakfast, making a relaxed and often hilarious transition to my work day. And I’m here to tell you, starting the day with a smile is often severely under-rated. Even if something brought the day down later (I work in municipal government, it happens), I’ve never failed to start the day with a lighter heart after watching Gnomebrew, so I highly recommend you join them for coffee some morning.

Return to the Spiderverse – Full disclosure, I am a mod for Jason Mills’ Twitch channel, ItsProbablyOk, so you could assume a bit of bias. In rebuttal I could point out my track record of hyping up Return to the Spiderverse before I ever became a mod, but I’m not running for office and that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Played using the excellent Masks: A New Generation RPG, RttS asks the question, “What if at the end of Into the Spiderverse, we just didn’t end, though?” It then proceeds to answer with hands down my favourite super hero actual play anywhere, thanks in equal parts to the cast: Adam (Cecil Conners); Eric (Peter/Man-spider); Joey Nestra (Preston Parker); Aabria Iyengar (Miles Morales); Michelle Otis (Anya Corazon), each playing a Spider-Them; and the deft world building of Jason Mills. Masks is specifically written to follow the exploits of teen heroes, supers who have to juggle the demands of a higher calling with trying to live a normal teen life. And this group does it with heart, enthusiasm, and joy. As an older nerd I had my feelings shot off in the THAC0 Wars, so I very rarely get emotional when watching actual plays. Return to the Spiderverse has my feelings seesawing almost every episode; when they aren’t it just means the seesaw is stuck at one extreme or the other. If you can’t make it to Twitch every Saturday morning at 10am PST, or you want to catch up first, you can find previous episodes of Return to the Spiderverse on their YouTube channel.

Black Magic Craft – I love creating scenery for TTRPGs. When I was younger I volunteered at my local community theatre and I learned a metric bunch about scenic construction and painting. When I discovered that all those skills and techniques could be shrunk to work on the tabletop, I was thrilled! Of course, physical distancing means no sitting around the table for a while so my scenery crafting is on indefinite hiatus. But I can still scratch that itch by watching crafting videos, and one of my favourites is by a fellow Canadian, Jeremy, over at Black Magic Craft. I never fail to learn something, whether that’s a new technique, a material I haven’t used before, or a novel use for a material I’ve used plenty of times. I especially love that Jeremy isn’t afraid to show us his failures and missteps as he goes through a build. Too often crafting shows come off very smooth, like the crafter never made a mistake, and that doesn’t do any favours for new crafters looking to try their hand. By showing us when things don’t quit work, and how he came back from that, Jeremy does an excellent job of modelling a good attitude about crafting. And I personally find crafting videos relaxing to watch, so Jeremy’s good-natured approach and obvious enthusiasm are a comfortable watch every Friday morning. Even if you aren’t into crafting or TTRPG scenery, check out the videos to see really cool stuff that might inspire an encounter for your game.

Heliotrope – I have been listening to podcasts by Twelve Sided Stories, and loving them, for a goodly while now. Edited play sessions with audio f/x layered in? Yes please! Their latest show, Heliotrope, is played with the Hack the Planet RPG and is set in a grim climate-disaster dystopia and tells the tale of characters trying to survive in humanity’s last shelter against a world tearing itself apart. Besides an excellent cast (J. Holtham, Pooja SharmaMichelle Otis, Mac Beauvais, and Wes Otis)  and game master (Aabria Iyengar; seriously, if Aabria is running it or playing in it, watch the thing!), what sets Heliotrope apart is your viewing options. In the first of what I hope will be a successful experiment, you can watch the show as an actual play on Twitch every Friday at 7pm PST, and also you can listen to it as an edited play podcast when those start going up (anywhere podcasts are sold; I get mine on Spotify for the most part). The actual plays have been excellent so I anticipate the podcasts, enhanced with audio f/x, will be a step above. Super excellent? Extrallent? Whatever, catch them both places!

There you go, five things I am watching right now, in addition to everything I watch over at Saving Throw. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but these are the shows I make the time to watch, without exception. I hope you will check them out and let me know what you think. While you’re at it please share any shows that have caught your eye recently, I’d love to check them out!

Hanging Out in Salt Bay

If you normally come by for my shitposts on the state of the TTRPG hobby/industry, I’m not done with those. But lord love a kitten, does it get wearying to just talk about things that are broken. So today I want to talk about something I love: Pirates of Salt Bay on Saving Throw.

If you aren’t in the know, Pirates of Salt Bay is an actual play series that premiered sixty years ago, in 2019. It features Dirty Hank, a dwarf Monk, played by Eric Reichert; Addi Balmyar, a half-elf Arcane Archer Fighter, played by Havana MahoneyTrislynn Orana, a void tiefling Rogue, played by NegaOryxEoj Reymurts, a halfling Fighter (Champion), played by Teri Gamble; and Game Master Aabria Iyengar. The series follows the adventures and mishaps of the crew as they seek gold, fortune, gold, a way to overcome a great evil, gold, secrets about their past, and gold. And toast? More pets for Trislynn? And there is a cake knife, and Fair Juliet is a good ship, and…

There’s a lot going on, frankly, and I highly recommend finding the playlists on Saving Throw’s YouTube and giving them a watch if you aren’t all the way caught up. I promise it will all make sense if you do (Disclaimer: Promise not binding).

I came late to the Salt Bay party. It was on my list of shows to watch because I make it a habit to check out everything Saving Throw produces (and you should as well). But the first live show I watched was, I think, episode three or four of Season One. I was hooked and it jumped to the top of my Must Watch list; I caught up my plot gaps by watching all the VODs straight through in a day, including the Ghosts of Saltmarsh mini-series that set everything in motion.

But it wasn’t the excellent story that grabbed me. An interesting story idea still lives or dies on the strength of the characters telling you that story, and these characters could hold up the world (in multiple senses of that phrase; they are pirates, never forget). Each one was a unique, interesting person in their own right and I would watch a solo spin-off of any one of them. Even better, though, these individuals fit together to create a team, and eventually a family. When you consider that the characters were originally created with just a three-part miniseries in mind, that they meshed at all was amazing. Even when it’s planned that doesn’t always happen with the characters on an actual play and it was wonderful to watch the characters grow together over the seasons.

Even better, though, was the way the cast connected. I could tell from the first five minutes that these folx genuinely loved playing together, and that shone through in every aspect of the show. I’ve said this elsewhere, but this show is the closest I have come with an actual play of replicating the feeling of sitting around with a group of friends while they play an RPG. The joy they bring to the table, the love and respect they have for each other that allows them the space to be vulnerable and tell stories they might not otherwise tell, is inspiring. Every episode they model behaviour that, to my mind, should be the standard for TTRPG groups. I can’t help but watch and want to find ways to bring that same trust and respect to the tables at which I play or GM.

I could say more, and will say more in time. I hope you will take some time to watch the Salt Baes in action. Seasons One through Three are available on Youtube, including the Ghosts of Saltmarsh three-episode mini-series that started it all. The show is currently on break, though if you are registered for Gen Con Online this year (and why not, it’s free) you can get a free ticket to watch a Very Special Event streaming as part of Gen Con. As well, members of Saving Throw are running a number of panels and other events, so check those out as well; go to the Find Events page and type Saving Throw in the search bar. And as promised at the end of the Talk Back we are getting one more season of the Salt Baes; there are still stories to be told, toast to consume, and a baby to raise!

And if you want to hear me talk more about Pirates of Salt Bay, everything else Saving Throw produces, and TTRPGs (in roughly that order), Salt Bay Pirate Radio is launching soon. I had intended to get episodes out ahead of Season Three but then *gestures at world* so it had to go on the back burner for a while. It’s kept simmering away back there, though, and will soon be ready to serve!