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WotC: Actual Play Shows Are Shaping The Future Of D&D

4 Minute Read
Jul 29 2021

From shorter adventures, to encounters with more of a roleplay focus built in, D&D’s lead designer confirms: actual play shows have changed the game.

Even if you’ve never watched a single solitary minute of Critical Role, you’ve probably heard the phrase “The Mercer Effect” which refers to the belief that players of D&D expect their DMs to put the level of thought, performance, and care into their sessions of Dungeons & Dragons despite not being talented, professional voice actors whose livelihood is intertwined with (but not wholly dependent on) D&D.

But odds are good you’ve seen Critical Role, or Acquisitions Incorporated, or one of the livestreamed games at D&D Live, or on D&D’s official Twitch Channel like Rivals of Waterdeep, which had its 100th episode recently, or watched the amazingly hilarious games of Dimension 20 or Shikar or listened to podcasts like The Advenure Zone or Nerd Poker or Not Another D&D Podcast. D&D is both a game and an entertainment genre at this point.

And the developers have taken note. The landscape of how people engage with and enjoy RPGs goes far beyond just “playing the games” and for D&D to keep current and capture that audience, it means capturing what people love about D&D. Which in some cases means being able to deliver the experiences that people see while watching D&D Streams. As Jeremy Crawford, lead rules designer for D&D, put it at a press event recently:

“So we know that D&D is a big tent. We’ve talked about this again, going back to the D&D Next process [the 5E playtest] that not only do people of many sorts play in the D&D, but also people of many tastes play D&D. We know some people really love heavy improvisational role-playing and other D&D players, for them, that’s all about the tactical nuances of D&D combat, and everything in between. We’re concerned about supporting traditional tabletop play well, but also the types of D&D experiences people have in streams.”

One of the ways this has already started to change the game is in the length of different adventures. You might have noticed around the time that the Essentials came out and the adventures around there, the books started to have much more easily divisible content. You could find “bite-sized” adventures that you could play over a session or two. As Crawford puts it:


“One of the things that has been on our minds for several years now, as a result of the popularity of streamed games combined actually with the tidal wave of new people coming to D&D, is the need to have bite-size adventure content.

[…] if the DM wants to just read a part of this big book, or just run one of these little quests, we’re making that easier to do. Not only to make things less arduous for a brand new Dungeon Master, and with new groups of players coming to D&D for the first time, but also because of that format of play, also suits streamed games better.

We know streamed games, with the exception of maybe Critical Role, tend to be shorter than a lot of tabletop games. You know, in the old days and even today, a lot of people’s tabletop games might range between three and four hours, although we’re seeing the average length go down — most streamed games are often sometimes as short as two hours, or even 90 minutes.”

And though not every change has been made to reflect the Actual Play experience, that remains one of the most popular ways that new players discover Dungeons & Dragons. After all, you don’t need to have anyone willing to run the game to watch or listen to a livestream. You can see the marks of that influence on current content too, like the upcoming Wild Beyond the Witchlight which boasts an adventure that can be played through without resorting to combat at all. So you can just get that sweet sweet streamable roleplay without worrying about players failing to hit a goblin four turns in a row.

For better or worse, as D&D grows the team wants to make it easier for newer players to “get their feet wet in the wonderful pool of D&D“.

What do you think of the way Actual Play shows and livestreaming have changed the game? Have they changed the way you play?


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