Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands writer asks how we manage expectations for our D&D home games vs actual game shows

I love watching other people play D&D – it’s incredibly engaging and can draw me in for hours, but how does that compare to playing D&D? It can be similar, but people have to manage their expectations. A new GM won’t play like Matthew Mercer or Brennan Lee Mulligan, and they shouldn’t have to. Everyone has their own style of GMing and everyone has their own style of play that they have to sculpt when getting into roleplaying games. As someone struggling with anxiety and depression – a combo that’s not ideal for a reporter or game master juggling seven different players in a six-hour Dungeons & Dragons game – I know he is difficult to enter a space with so many talented role players.

I had the opportunity to interview Sam Winkler (lead screenwriter on The wonders of Tiny Tina), and of course we talked about D&D and the TTRPGs. In this week’s tabletop advice column from an anxious GM (all of which can be found on our DND Advice hub), I will answer a question from Sam Winkler himself.

“I think there are certain expectations that people take from D&D performance and try to incorporate it into their own personal games. And when you’re telling a serialized story for a listener or viewer, that’s a very different type of gameplay than you’re just playing for the friends around the table. I don’t know the solution to this, but I’d love to know how people balance the D&D they use for entertainment versus the D&D they play.

Anyone new to D&D or TTRPG live play has run into this issue. D&D live isn’t the same as D&D in real life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it. Let me explain.

TL; DR

Communicate with your players and GM regarding your level of experience and the type of expectations you have for the game. What to learn from live gaming – it’s a great example of role-playing and storytelling. What not to learn from live gaming – it’s not the norm, and you shouldn’t expect it to be. You don’t play with professionals, you play with friends.

How to learn live D&D without distorting your expectations of real D&D – an in-depth look

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands writer asks how we manage expectations for our D&D home games vs actual game shows

(Image credit: Wizards)

Communicate! I’ll stop saying it when I die. It is essential that the players and the general manager clarify their expectations from day one. There are many different game themes and genres that could be drastically different from what you are looking for. There’s the generic fantasy adventure party, but there are hundreds of variations of that. Are you looking for a comic adventure filled with wacky characters? Or are you looking for a serious game of political intrigue?

When deciding what kind of game you want to play, you need to limit your expectations if you think you’re going to experience the same as people on D&D Live. Talk to your GM or players and see their roleplaying experience. They are unlikely to be paid professionals like the ones you see streaming. Be honest with the people you play with and set everyone up to have a better time.

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands writer asks how we manage expectations for our D&D home games vs actual game shows

(Image credit: Wizards)

What to learn from the live game. I love watching D&D and TTRPG live. I learned a lot from other GMs and players about how to embody certain playstyles that would never have occurred to me. Matthew Mercer from Critical Role taught me how to bring a story to life in front of my players and make them think about the consequences of their choices. Brennan Lee Mulligan from Dimension 20 taught me to lighten the rules and accept my player’s chaotic attempts to circumvent the narrative.

This is crucial because D&D’s notoriously crisp rules can be intimidating for players and GMs alike. While some limits are important, crafting a compelling story together should take priority over fine-tuning the rules (unless of course that’s what your party likes). D&D live play changed the way I play for the better because I recognized what I could change about myself to improve roleplaying and create more interesting content. However, it is important to recognize what helps and what does not.

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands writer asks how we manage expectations for our D&D home games vs actual game shows

(Image credit: Wizards)

What not to learn from live-play. They are paid professionals, many of whom are professional voice actors, and they put on a show for viewers. This is designed for entertainment. Yes, it’s improvisation, but the choices these players make are based on someone watching. It would be boring as hell if everyone you watched was playing conservatively. They make risky decisions because it will create consequences and circumstances that amplify the pleasure.

You can’t expect your players or your GM to have this level of play, every player and every group is different. At any table you watch, these players trust each other and have already made their limits known off-screen. Don’t try to embody their risky behavior or flirtatious attitude if that’s not welcome at your table. Nobody should expect to be a GM like Matthew Mercer, and nobody should expect to play a role like Liam O’Brien. You have to talk about expectations and limits with your players or GM. People play for fun, not for a show.

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands writer asks how we manage expectations for our D&D home games vs actual game shows

(Image credit: Wizards)

Hope this helps new players and GMs getting into TTRPGs. If you enjoyed this column and would like to see it continue, you can send me your own questions regarding mechanical, narrative, or social issues in the tabletop gaming space. You can email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter.