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Titans Grave: The Ashes of Valkana

When Wil Wheaton and the Geek & Sundry network crowd funded the season 3 of their game based web series, TableTop, there was a special stretch goal added to the Indiegogo campaign.

If the campaign reached $1,000,000 (that’s right, a MILLION dollars) they promised to do a separate RPG show. Well, wouldn’t you know it, fans of the show ended up raising $1.4 million and that meant the new show was a go. Full disclosure, I was one of the people who contributed to that $1.4 million. Even so, I wasn’t honestly expecting very much from this RPG show. Mostly because I’ve never been a big fan of playing RPG games that require players to go on long campaigns over the course of several days. In my experience it usually devolves into frustration or ridiculousness (or both) and starts to feel like an obligation more than something I enjoyed.

Still, I watched the premiere of the show; mostly because of how excited Wil and the rest of the TableTop team seemed to be about the show. Titansgrave follows four players through a campaign that’s designed to take place over the course of an entire season. Wil is the host and Game/Dungeon Master with the party being made up of 4 players:

  • S’LETHKK played by Yuri Lowenthal
  • LEMLEY played by Laura Bailey
  • KILIEL played by Alison Haislip
  • AANKIA played by Hank Green

The world of the game and the characters all have their own backstories, which are detailed in vignettes and an episode zero that was released before the official start of the show. Even though the audience knows everything that’s going on, the characters (and their players) all know some information that their party members don’t know, which is kind of a neat mechanic in the game. It’s a fantasy based world with all kinds of monsters, humans, humanoid monsters, gnomes, lizard people and the like. The first couple of episodes seemed innocuous enough. The party ran into some people that needed their help and they ended up helping them. There was also some general tomfoolery and combat that went down.

What I really started to notice was how much having a good storyteller as the game master was helping me stay involved in the show. The players also have very fun personalities and they work well together on screen, which is a bonus. Everyone really gives themselves to the environment which helps draw you in as a viewer. Then there’s the production of the show, which is (dare I say) even better than what’s on the regular TableTop episodes. Despite the fact that there is a large unknown element to what’s happening on screen, everything feels very well planned and organized. There’s a decently complex game going on but it’s easy enough to follow without having to have all the player stats out in front of you. If there’s anything that might be hard to visualize, the production team mocks up a visualization for the viewer. The entire thing comes together to create a product that feels closer to a scripted TV show than a bunch of people sitting around making stuff up.

All of that was enough to keep me watching the show. However, in episode 4 something happens that actually made me excited about watching it. Because I don’t want to include spoilers I’ve been pretty vague about the actual story (although you can catch up on it pretty quickly) so I won’t say specifically what happens. However, I will say that there’s a long series of events that make you feel a little bit of fatigue from just how much work the players have to do to not die. Then, once they get through it, something really sad happens within the context of the game. To my great surprise, I actually felt sad watching it. That’s when I realized that this show was doing something right. The ability to elicit emotion from a game is not trivial and this show demonstrated that ability. Wil Wheaton’s well honed storytelling abilities are no doubt a big part of it. I would assume that he’s the primary writer of the story that the players are playing through, so I’m giving him credit for that as well.

Wil-Wheaton-Geek-and-Sundry-Titansgrave-Debut

I don’t know how this series will play out but I’ve seen enough to recommend that anyone give this show a try. It’s one of the best web-based shows that I’ve seen and I really enjoy it, despite the fact that it’s based on something I don’t usually enjoy.

Check out the show at Geek & Sundry (geekandsundry.com).

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