Relics and Rarities D&D stream

Deborah Woll is streaming her new D&D game, Relics & Rarities. They've played one episode, which you can only see on Alpha, at least for now (I believe it'll show up on YouTube for free at some point). Alpha offers a free trial, if you want to watch the episode but not pay for it.

This thread is for discussing the game and media. She's done some things that I haven't seen before, and I think this evolves what Critical Role did.


  • I watched 90 minutes of it last night and will watch the rest tonight. My first impression is very favorable. This post contains spoilers about Deborah's awesome setup, but not any deep spoilers for the in-game story.

    Overall, she has a cool little setup for the campaign. Four adventurers get written invitations to a curio shop called Relics & Rarities, where the gnome proprietor shares a letter she received, wherein is described a chilling mystery at a nearby manor house. The adventures set off to solve the mystery and help the family.

    From that standpoint, it's a very straightforward, rather typical start for a D&D campaign, albeit one focused on mystery. I believe the trailers suggest the date is 1667 and it has a very English feel, but it doesn't have the feel of Restoration Era England.

    What makes the show stand out to me are a few things:

    First, the set. I don't know if this is in Deborah's basement or if it's a professional set somewhere, but she has set up a room (RL) that looks like Relics & Rarities. The players start out in that room, sitting in chairs (no table) and talking in-character with Deborah as the gnome proprietor. The players aren't dressed up. They're in street clothes.

    The room is full of cool artifacts. It seriously looks like an antique store. After the introduction, Deborah-as-proprietor offers each character one item from the store, and tells each player to explore the room and choose any item that has a special tag on it. Then she describes to the player what that magic item does.

    Second, the set. Yes, more set. After the introduction, she says something like, "Follow me," and pulls open a secret door behind a bookcase and leads the group into the gaming den. This looks like a medieval dining room, except with an awesome gaming table. There's a flickering chandelier. There are hazy windows behind the table that suggest it's foggy outside and lightning occasionally flashes. In short, it's amazing.

    The players are equally surprised and amazed by all of this. Deborah has this constant grin on her face, enjoying every minute of it.

    Third, the props. She regularly pulls props out of nearby drawers and gives them to the group. Instead of reading a letter to the group, she extracts the actual letter (in an ancient-looking envelope) from a drawer in a side table and hands it to a player to read aloud.

    The characters find a diary, and Deborah gives them a little moleskine to peruse. The player skims it, realizes that it's like 10-15 pages of actual diary, and goes wide-eyed. Deborah summarizes the material so they don't have to read it at the table.

    There's a puzzle-lock at one point. She pulls out a cardboard representation of it, with all the "gears" and whatnot, and make the players turn the gears to figure out how it works. They solve it in a minute or so but it's fun!

    She's probably using Syrinscape to manage ambient sounds. These are used to great effect and don't seem to be distracting.

    Fourth, the prep. Deborah knows her material. She not only understands the rules cold, but she has memorized every bit of her adventure. She seems to GM with almost no notes. At one point, as the characters explore a large manor house, she describes the layout to them in detail from memory. I suspect it's a place she's been before IRL, or at least she made it seem that way.

    At one point, Deborah does have what looks like one sheet of paper in front of her. I think that was for the combat she ran, for tracking initiative and hit points.

    There's no looming DM screen, no laptop, no binders full of information. Maybe there's a low table off to her right, off camera. I'm not sure.

    Think about running an adventure this way. She seems to have all the names of the NPCs memorized, too.

    The players don't have a lot in front of them either. A character sheet. Some dice. That's really it.

    Fifth, post production. As far as I can tell, there are a number of fixed-position cameras and one camera operator. The fixed cameras include a few different close-ups for the players and DM, some overhead views looking down at different spots on the table, and one "long view" of the entire table (the players are arranged like they're at the Last Supper, except Deborah is sitting on the far left end, not on the far side).

    You're not seeing live video. You're seeing a well-edited video production of the game. I think. Or they have an amazing director who is sitting in a control room, expertly cutting between 7-8 cameras.

    But I think it's all done in post because there seem to be some sound effects that are added after. I also think they skipped some boring stuff at some point. I recall some cuts that seem to have skipped at least a few seconds. This makes the whole thing very watchable as video.

    Last, enthusiasm. I mean, this sells it all for me. Deborah's deep excitement about this project is contagious. She doesn't seem nervous. She seems on the edge of her seat and extremely eager to unleash her creation on these players. She's not hamming for the audience; she seems to be hamming for her players.

    Her players are great, too. They're really into this, and how could they not be? They ooh and ahh at the surprises that Deborah drops on them, at the props and set, and at the creepiness of certain plot points. They are having fun.

    They're all in showbiz (most from Daredevil or True Blood). I'm sure that they're all at least partly thinking about the cameras and the audience, but there seem to be moments where they forget this and just enjoy the game. Oh, they don't even do player introductions during the episode, if I recall correctly.

  • Fascinating! Thanks for the writeup, Adam.

    I tried to watch a video of her running a game some time back on YouTube, and I was quite disappointed. This sounds pretty remarkable, and in very different ways, though.
  • I wonder how realistic playing from memory is: I can easily imagine doing so for a one shot, but if this intended to be a long-term game, things will get... interesting... unless the game itself is scripted.
  • It doesn't seem to be scripted. I'm hesitant to get into another deep analysis of railroading in this thread, too.
  • I watched the first half hour and really enjoyed it. Planning on catching up this weekend and checking back in. I think the visual lack of barriers between players and GM was significant (GM screen, object on table, etc.).
  • Slightly OT, but I've moved away from using a DM screen due to the barrier it erects.

    Though I'm not sharp enough to have everything like maps and such committed to memory so I just keep stuff on the table. Most of my players aren't such min-maxers that they will really try to look at my pages and even if they do, I have no problem with players knowing things their characters do not. Superior position works well for movies and I think it works well for RPGs as well.
  • It doesn't seem to be scripted. I'm hesitant to get into another deep analysis of railroading in this thread, too.
    Scripting a show is pretty different from railroading an RPG session, I think... but, no, that's not what I was getting at, either.

    I'm just curious how well memorization can work in a long-term campaign context: seems to me that it would get challenging after a while, and being on camera certainly adds another level of pressure and stress. I saw a video where Matt Mercer goes through the materials in his DM screen, step by step, and his notes are very thorough. Then again, perhaps Ms. Woll has some unusual talents (e.g. photographic memory)! (Or, alternatively, it's not intended as a long-term game.)
  • Ooh? Link to that Mercer video?
  • Oh, another thing I want to point out: The first episode is just over two hours. I feel that's a more accessible length for an audience. She packs a lot into that time, too.

    I finished watching the episode last night. I can see that she's set up a "puzzle of the week" scheme and it's likely that the NPC will serve as the solver of these puzzles, thus ensuring that the PCs know what they're doing every week.

    I also need to correct what I said about table clutter. In watching a second time and specifically looking for it, there was some clutter. For the players, they had "ye olde medieval" tankards for drinks, but it still looks like each player had only their character sheet, some dice, and a high quality dice tray to roll in. Deborah did have a small notebook to her right, plus a dice tower off to her left.

    She also forgot one of her own house rules, which was that the DM would roll certain checks that the character wouldn't know the result of (for example, an Investigation check). A player reminded her mid-game and she rolled for him.

    I'd love to know how scripted was the epilogue bit at the end where the guest player with the dragonborn character extolled the virtues of each of the four main PCs. That seemed scripted, but it could also be that the player is also just a great storyteller. He wasn't reading from a script but he could have memorized it.
  • Is there any chance that they're working off some kind of teleprompter, or other visual reference for "canned text"?

    And sure, here's a link for you!

  • I suppose there's a chance but I didn't see any indication of it. The epilogue wasn't so difficult that a trained actor couldn't just memorize it.
  • Gotcha! Very interesting. I may have to attempt the free trial at some point to check this out. If anyone knows what the YouTube airing/posting schedule will be like (or otherwise free access), can you let us know?
  • I'm watching the R&R interviews / "cast watchalong" on Project Alpha. There's a bit more "behind the scenes" information therein.

    So R&R is definitely on a soundstage. Deborah says she sent people PDFs and crew made it happen. It's her vision but not all her work (or her house). There is production designer and a full crew behind this.

    I suspect they've shot a full season already, got it through production, and will release them as a series one-at-a-time.
  • I met someone today who is writing their thesis on the interaction of RPGs and wider mainstream culture. He had just recently watched "Relics and Rarities" and enjoyed it, but had lots of questions, as we do here. (For what it's worth, he says he much prefers the playstyle and GMing in "Relics and Rarities" to Matt Mercer's style on Critical Role.)

    In any case, a phenomenon worth keeping an eye on. Fascinating!

    I suppose I should just sign up and check it out...
  • The second episode was super silly. Not my cup of tea, but I'm sure it appeals to many.
  • I caved and decided to check it out. I've managed the first 30-40 mins so far, and will report back with my impressions when I get a chance!

    Thanks again for writing this up, Adam.
  • edited February 2019
    I finally had a chance to see the first episode, and a bit of the second one.

    I think your comments here, Adam, are really spot-on. The production values are incredible, and, like you, I'm *really* impressed by the quality of the camera work and the editing. Tremendously watchable, as you say.

    It's very hard for me to tell how much editing is going on, which, I think, is high praise. On one hand, it's very seamless - if they are making a lot of edits, they are overlapping the audio and the video in such a way as to "mask" the edits, making it feel like you're watching continuous video the whole time. If that's what's happening, it's *really* well done.

    However, the pace and focus of the game and the dialogue suggests to me that there is, in fact, quite a lot of editing going on. (When was the last time you played a complete D&D one-shot, including introductions, in under 2 hours?) There are basically no hesitations, hemming and hawing, rules talk, people talking over each other... that doesn't seem natural to me, but it does make it tremendously watchable. The sheer *quality* of the video is shocking, too - perfect lighting, high resolution, perfect framing all the time, etc.

    There's an interesting moment where Ms. Woll triggers a sound effect and one of the players says, "Ooh, nice touch there!" (However, I agree that some of the sound must be added in post-production.)

    What's the true picture here? I don't know. None of it seems entirely scripted, but I'd imagine many details are decided upon beforehand or edited out. (For instance, when the players enter the "play room", they look genuinely shocked and surprised, but it looks like they then immediately sit in their assigned seats without hesitation. So, either it was discussed beforehand, or there's a significant edit.) Same goes for the little monologue at the end (although I think, given the skills of the actor in question, I find it entirely believable that it may have been improvised).

    Game-wise, it's a small, constrained scenario, which means that we can get a pretty linear adventure happening without any railroading necessary. (The illustrations made me wonder: the second one, of the ghost separating from the body, was a predictable enough event that it would be safe to assume it happening, in such a constrained scenario, but the illustration of the gnome character in the rocking chair means that it was either done after the game, and then edited in, or that this plot point was somehow agreed-upon beforehand - no way to predict such a thing, otherwise.)

    Unfortunately, for me, there's not much to enjoy here as a gamer and a viewer. It's kind of an "actors performing D&D for the viewers" vibe, which is fine (and maybe fun for some people to watch), but I don't find it engaging the way the raw sincerity (or brilliant plot development) of Critical Role is engaging, for example. The gameplay itself is fine (and I really like the Victorian mystery vibe Ms. Woll brings to the adventure design, which is a nice change from D&D tropes - although it's also not a terribly good match for D&D, as we can see from, for example, the more combat-oriented characters having little to do in the adventure), but - for me - not inspiring or interesting. I prefer my home games to what I see happening here, for instance.

    I agree with you entirely on your point of Ms. Woll's enthusiasm and joyful exuberance. She's having a blast and it's a pleasure to watch. She's charming, incredibly well prepared, and knows her stuff cold... and, on top of that, she's obviously just having a lot of fun. That's a killer combination!

    I also really enjoyed a minor technique: it's the first time I've seen a D&D player effectively use material components for spellcasting. (The gnome character carries a "spritz bottle", misting it in the air, when he uses detect magic, for example!)

    I'll be curious to see whether production values trump playstyle for viewers; to me, the gaming here is much less interesting or exciting than something like Critical Role, but that may be the other way around for other viewers! (And the show may change over time, as well; many of the things that are great about Critical Role were long-term developments, after all.)
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