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!