what do you think the next level of #ttrpg entertainment is going to look like, and how does the thing hit it, and what is the thing, and does it look like professional wrestling?

There’s this

and then there was this

and then an assurance from Shawn Merwin that there wasn’t anything specific to talk about. It was a wide-ranging question, all the facets of any of those words are up for grabs.

So. (If you’re new around here, this is one of the discursive posts where I get to a point, but chatter for a while. If you want to, go ahead and jump to the end.)

As you can see in my reply, I focused in on the ‘next level’ part… but it might be actually more worth while to focus on the ‘entertainment’ part, which is to say, ‘next level entertainment.’

My first thoughts focused on change over time, and my analogy was the NFL. Right, like, 100 years ago* there was professional football, but that game isn’t really the same game as you’ll see in NFL stadiums today. The NFL has gone from next level to next level, and has been pretty much exploring its current level since… oh, let’s say, the Michael Jackson halftime show in that Super Bowl.

*remember, this is a generally low-research blog, corrections and expansions welcome in the comments, but I moderate, so don’t be a jerkass

Anyway. Other people in the thread noted above also talked about things like distribution models, funding models, and so on. I didn’t really notice a lot of talk about ttrpg shows. Then, unrelatedly, there was this…

Which I asked because there was a separate bundle of posts by various people I follow talking about getting cast onto ttrpg shows of one sort or another, starting one’s own show, the difficulties involved with that, and so on. And, like, whoa! In my imagination, there’s playing at home or whatever with pals, there’s finding a table like on craigslist if it’s 2003 or whatever where you don’t really know the people aside from the table (real or virtual), there’s hiring a DM, there’s playing at cons as well. Then there’s this other stuff like podcasts (seems to have a pretty low-barrier to entry), video like youtube or whatever (hi, tiktokers!), and there are actual plays or whatever on channels like twitch I guess. So, various things which, in the order I listed them, seem to me to be more complex to get up and running.

And there are, apparently, enough of those things that there’s a whole loosely-gathered community that they show up in my twitter feed talking about how to do it right. It being the shows part (though there’s plenty of discussion about how to play correctly, too).

And, after a lot of throat-clearing, that’s there I find my interest in the original question wayyyy up there about “next level… entertainment” circling.

Because play is not the same thing as entertainment.

Like… when you play football do you do what people on an NFL field do?

Play is something you do for fun, entertainment is something that you _____, and that can be fun. But whatever ______ is, it isn’t something you do in the same way as you do “play”.

This is not a disparagement of entertainment!

Like, when you roughhouse with your siblings, are you actually doing what those ring warriors in WWE are doing? Probably not, unless you have a room full of cheering strangers and loud music. Notably, the E in WWE stands in for the word Entertainment.

Play is not identical with entertainment! That is okay!

We ttrpg yokels find ourselves in a period when it looks like there’s a new way to make money in the, good heavens, industry, by expanding shows. Which is to say, entertainments, which are distinct from gameplay.

So the lessons from other entertainments? I don’t really know, but I’ll toss this out there… despite the consumer overlap between ttrpg and comic book fandom, the lessons are probably more likely to come from entertainments that grew out of activities rather than those that came from other entertainments.

Like, adapting novels into movies, or sci-fi tv shows to audio dramas, or comic books to movies where you will believe a man can fly are all just more of the same, but adapted to cross media. Like, it is for sure “next level entertainment” when Ant-Man goes from second- or third-tier comic book hero to anchoring a string of franchise movies. But Ant-Man is still strictly entertainment; there is not a robust environment of Ant-Man play that Ant-Man entertainment grew out of.

But ttrpg as entertainment? That’s already a next-level move. And!


It is a move that is not unprecedented!

Venger from Dungeons & Dragons (source: Wikipedia)

What’s new (new at scale, anyway) is the way production tools and distribution in 2022 have historically low barriers to entry. So anyone can enter the entertainment side of the ttrpg hobby!

Right now, that is the level. And that level ranges, I imagine from rough & tumble uploads to, I guess, Critical Roll’s own D&D-based cartoon.

The next level… it’s not super clear. The examples I’ve tossed out, NFL & WWE, took 19th Century activities, and–over the course of basically a century–converted those activities into spectator events with ever-increasing spectacle. Major League Baseball has some of that, too, though minor league ball teams might be a closer analogue to ttrpg potential.

But these examples are also not very good. Like, is there going to be a league of traveling actual play troupes going from town to town? “Aaarrrre yyooooouuu rrrrreeeeeadyyy toooo rumb-rrooooooolllll‽” Probably not. Will things develop into just more and more actual play shows. There will probably be more actual plays, but probably not “just.”

Maybe there will be more season-drops on more streaming channels where a full “campaign” of some sort is played out, and then edited down to a ten-episode miniseries. Maybe these will be fully-animated, or with animated cut-in segments. Maybe Disney will get on board with the calls I occasionally see for a Muppets ttrpg show.

But what will almost certainly happen is that ttrpg as entertainment will move off in its own direction, and ttrpg as gameplay will move off in its own direction, and while I expect there will be some cross-fertilization between to the two things, ultimately, they will be differentiable experiences. Some people will enjoy both, some will prefer (for whatever reasons–some snotty, some practical, some other things) one experience over the other. These people might even change their preference over time!

There will probably be all sorts of legal & financial struggles as owners of copyrights seek to monetize their holdings. This could affect gameplay people, but maybe less than it seems. Small producers will probably get squeezed, probably even out of the entertainment space. But maybe not. Gameplay people will probably always be hacking new games from available influences, and the smaller entertainment people will probably always pop up out of the smaller development crews, and that cross-fertilization will probably always happen.

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