Ever since the rise of Critical Role, I’ve always wanted to try other D&D groups.
Alas, none has even come close to the level of sublimity of Critical Role. I’ve tried to understand why and have come to a conclusion that friendship and acting skills are required for a D&D group to be fun to watch.
Players from both Critical Role and VLDL are actors. The former is voice actors, and the latter is just actors. But both groups have similar skillsets.
Additionally, both groups are friends, not professional friends who just know each other because they work together, but they are friends in real life.
The combination of acting skills and chemistry from being real friends create interesting D&D sessions to watch.
What stands VLDL D&D out from others is that their take on D&D is a little different from others. Much of the lore within their D&D sessions is based on Epic NPC Man stories.
In other words, their D&D sessions can be described as an extension from their Epic NPC Man universe.
Years of doing Epic NPC Man skits ultimately means that they are able to create their own D&D world.
Now, they’ve done a few D&D series since 2019 but their setup was poor. The first D&D series (Descent Into Avernus) they did was behind a green screen which made it awkward sometimes due to their skin reflecting green light. It was also only 9 episodes of 30 minutes each which translates of about 2 episodes from Critical role.
Their second D&D series (Isolation games) was done remotely due to Covid. It was around 2 hours each and had only 5 episodes.
Their third series (Adventures of Azerim) appears to be ambitious. Their budget has certainly increased which allows them to play within a dedicated set.
However, a glaring issue with their D&D session remains intact which is that their episodes run only for 30 minutes. Sometimes, you will see the episodes as short as 20 minutes.
Half an hour of D&D gets really nowhere to be honest. I do not understand their decision to limit the runtime so strict that it makes their DM complain indirectly and frequently that they need to get on with the plot instead of fooling around due to time constraint.
Fooling around is what makes a D&D show more entertaining. But, given that their runtime is 20 ~ 30 minutes, I can see why their DM wants to push the plot forward. It is a glaring fault that VLDL needs to address but they don’t seem to care improving on that aspect.
I believe this is because of Youtube algorithm favoring shorter and numerous files. But this does not work for D&D shows. D&D is very niche, and only those who are fans of D&D will continue to watch, meaning it’s better to do quality and longer episodes to attract DnD viewers instead of shorter and lower quality episodes.
What VLDL D&D show does better than others is that they add skits during their sessions, which I believe is one of the primary reasons that their episode run time is severely limited because they need to shoot skits, edit, and polish it.
Unless they improve on this, I don’t see them going too far.
Of course, the role of a DM (Dungeon Master) is also very important. Most of times I’ve seen on Youtube, DMs have been really stoic. Granted, their job is to explain things and controlling NPCs but too many of them are really stoic. Imagine a nerdy fat man reading a book without any emotions is the image what I generally get from regular DMs on Youtube.
Matt Mercer from Critical Role has certainly changed the image, and it appears that VLDL has gotten themselves a decent DM as well.
Robert Hartley is the DM of VLDL D&D sessions and the guy has got flair. He has good improvisation skills in addition to a wide range of voice. I don’t really have an issue with him. He is one of better DMs I’ve seen.
I do have an issue with how they play however.
You see, when you play your D&D character for tens of hours, you generally get how your character works. You begin to memorize your bonus modifier for your attack rolls and modifiers for other frequently used rolls.
Out of the four, only Adam appears to know how his class works. Alan, Ben, and Rowan simply don’t appear to have a good grasp of their classes.
For an example Ben, as Bob, is a rouge. A rouge’s primary damage comes from sneak attacks. Alas, Ben does not really use sneak attack, let alone use hide ability. A rouge that doesn’t hide and tanks is going to go down which is why Ben has experienced near death in almost every single battle.
As for Rowan, he doesn’t know that he has to add plus 5 to his attack rolls, which is the most used roll, even after 30+ episodes of their D&D sessions. Plus, he has played the same character in other scenario as well.
As for Alan, he has jokingly mentioned more than once that he does not want to play the game which, I feel, has some grain of truth in it, which explains why he just doesn’t seem to care much and just tags along.
Finally, I feel the VLDL members rely too much on their DM to inform them how things work. They should have done their homework, but no. Mr. Hartley has to frequently explain, repeatedly, how things work. Even the most basic things, he has to explain repeatedly over and over, especially to Rowan.
This does not occur to experienced D&D groups, and I consider them “experienced” given the hours they’ve put in since 2019.
In my conclusion, they are not playing D&D games because they want to. They are playing to attract more viewers/traffic to them.
VLDL DnD show is better for those who don’t know anything about Dungeon & Dragons because they can just enjoy the show. However, once you get to know more about D&D, that is when you will start to see some critical flaws.
Personally, I’ve stopped watching the show after about 36th episode because their playstyle was getting worse. I do not know whether they’ve improved since but they were getting worse, so I don’t expect their playstyle to improve.
To be a bit fairer, the show is fun. The entertainment value is high. It’s just that its D&D value is so low.
Until next time.