Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Tom Lommel's #Ironkeep Chronicles and Disorganized Play Are a Masterclass in Game Mastering.

I've been a fan of the team at the Saving Throw Show for quite some time. I didn't jump on the Saving Throw Show bandwagon as early as their Kickstarter, but I did become an ardent fan soon afterward. One of the key reasons I jumped on the Saving Throw Show bandwagon was that they brought on The Dungeon Bastard and Lady Vorpal, Tom Lommel and Amy Vorpahl, as two of their recurring castmembers. This appreciation has only increased over the past few months as I've been watching Tom Lommel run the #Ironkeep Chronicles on Wednesday nights. On that show, Tom has managed to do something that isn't replicated by any other online streaming role playing game show. He's managed to both replicate the home game play experience and fused that with a series of interactive tutorials on Game Mastering where the audience helps shape the campaign.

What Makes #Ironkeep Chonicles Work

While there are many great live play rpg streams on the internet, the primary thing that sets #Ironkeep Chronicles apart is that it replicates the average home play experience. Many of the professional rpg-streams feel more like you are watching a television show or listening to a radio audio drama than they feel like the game play around your tables at home. While Tom has fantastic players, which like many rpg-streams includes actors/Twitch streamers/YouTubers, the show never loses the home game feeling. One great example of this phenomenon is the character creation episode of #Ironkeep Chronicles when Tom incorporated elements of John Harper's proto-rpg The Wildlings into the character design session to facilitate character creation.

 Unlike Wil Wheaton's excellent Fantasy Age run on Tabletop, which used a very scripted adventure and where the character creation was focused on elements native to Fantasy Age, Tom did what many Game Masters do and mashed up game mechanics from multiple games right from the start. This trend of bringing in elements from outside of D&D, and not as original game design content, demonstrates to players and Game Masters how they can incorporate their large gaming libraries even when they don't get the chance to play anything other than D&D. Tom runs #Ironkeep like a home campaign and not as an IP generator. He's not trying to create new rules from scratch that will be sold by Saving Throw Show at a later date, though he probably should be, instead he is showing what busy but good GMs do. Busy but good GMs incorporate and improvise.

Speaking of improvisation, that's another part of what Tom does that mirrors the home gaming experience. Like many online shows, #Ironkeep Chronicles uses pre-published materials as its gaming foundation. In this case, the players are playing through Tales of the Yawning Portal, but due to time constraints and player tastes the actual adventure content wanders away from the written page. Take a change he made to White Plume Mountain as an example. In some ways, the classic deathtraps of the adventure don't make narrative sense. So Tom makes a significant change to the environment and turns it into a sort of amusement park prison that has Blackrazor as its key.

This is a significant change to the narrative of this classic dungeon, but it is the kind of change that one frequently sees in a home game. I've used The Veiled Society as the starting point for my D&D campaigns several times. I love the urban setting and the politics of Specularum society. It has yet to run the same way twice. Not just because the players make different decisions each time, but also because I change who the real villains are each time in response to the players' actions and preferred style of play. Are my players "democrats" who want to see the end of feudalism and see Duke Stefan as a threat to free peoples? If so, then one of the old families might be heroic. Is the Veiled Society the actual threat? These things and more change in my game and by the time I'm done, the many changes I've made are often so significant that even rerunning the adventure for the same group, the players don't notice. They only notice they are in the same setting. This is the kind of thing that happens in all of our games, and that is what Tom shows the world.

The Secret Engine Behind #Ironkeep Chronicles is Disorganized Play

As good as #Ironkeep Chronicles is, the real secret to its charm and benefit to Game Masters is Tom's supplementary show Disorganized Play. This show is filled with tips on how to prepare for role playing game sessions with minimal prep time. Tom goes over all aspect of preparation including: crafting of NPCs and combat encounters, designing battlemaps that provide interesting challenges for players, and how to use Kanban style Plot Radar charts to improve your ability to script a campaign . It's a simple method of note taking that will help keep your games on track, especially if you are like me and only play once a month. Additionally, Disorganized Play is also a place where you can interact with Tom in real time as he brainstorms the campaign and answers questions from viewers. You have to be watching the Live Stream on Twitch to get the full benefit, but I highly recommend it. It's a perfect place for experienced and novice GMs to go to learn. In fact, his episode with Vana preparing her to run her first session is a great example of how fantastic an advocate for our hobby Tom is.

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