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Empire of the Dead by Phil Tucker
 

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A Fantasy Geek’s Guide to YouTube – RPG Let’s Plays Part One: Spotlight

YouTube (logo)YouTube is an app, a website, and a cultural phenomenon. It’s also a vast and barely-explored wilderness full of content that ranges from dynamic to dire. Whatever your interests are, there’s probably at least one channel out there for you. Still, managing to dig out the channels that cater to your own SFF needs can be a bit like panning for gold in the sea. (If the sea was full of flying fish that kept on jumping in your face with unskippable adverts painted on their scaly bodies and passing sailors trying to give you beauty tips.) So let me help you out by drawing your attention to some of the best channels and YouTubers I’ve discovered over the years.

Disclaimer. This article isn’t sponsored by YouTube, Google, or any of the featured channels in any way. YouTube is not a perfect platform, as many YouTubers will tell you. Other platforms such as Twitch or iTunes are available; I just don’t know them as well as I do YouTube. Other channels are available as well, these are just the ones I like enough to geek out over in a blog article.

This month’s article is the first part of a massive roundup of RPG Let’s Plays.

In case you’re new to either of these things:

RPGs are roleplaying games (no, not THAT kind of roleplay). Games where you take on the role of a character in pretty much any world or setting you can imagine. Most have rules for taking damage, increasing your character’s power or skills, and completing any number of tasks or challenges. Many RPGs are computer games but we’re going to be talking about tabletop or pen and paper RPGs in this article: games that happen around a table and rely on writing things down, rolling dice, and acting out scenes. Dungeons and Dragons is the most famous example of this type of game.

Let’s Plays are videos where one or more people record themselves playing a game and post it online. The overwhelming majority of Let’s Plays are recordings of computer and video games. But the online tabletop RPG community have embraced them too. The members of a particular RPG Let’s Play group are often scattered around a particular country or even the world and usually communicate through voice or video chat. Many RPG Let’s Plays make use of specific software packages that allow all the participants to roll virtual dice, view online maps, and pictures and even place and move character icons, usually called tokens, around a virtual board.

D20 Dice Stickers by sacariYou’ll see some more RPG terminology explained in my article about RPG reviewers. But it’s also worth explaining all the weird names you’ll be seeing in this article.

Growing, as it did, out of online gaming and internet forums – the RPG Let’s Play community has a convention of referring to players and GMs by their forum-handles or online personas instead of their actual names irl (in real life). Not everyone does this but it’s pretty common. I’ve carried on that convention in this article.

If you’re wondering why you should bother to watch other people play games on YouTube when you could be say, reading fantasy fiction, let me take a moment to preach the good word to you.

Roleplaying is a wonderful hobby that lets you explore every setting and kind of adventure you can imagine. It can be riotously silly, seriously deep, or a crazed combination of the two. It’s a great way to socialise and to expand your circle of geeky friends. If you’re not sure whether a certain game or even roleplaying in general is for you, then Let’s Plays are the perfect way to see a game in action, learn its flaws and see how it plays out when real people encounter it.

the Dungeon Master by MoulinBleuEven if you have no current plans to join the RPG community, Let’s Plays offer you a whole new multiverse of strange new stories to enjoy, each one with an ensemble cast of curious characters. There’s steampunk revolutionaries, occult investigators, avaricious dragons, vampires engaging in political skulduggery, murderous demons, merciless mermaids, Viking warriors, hyena-Samurai, dimension-hopping heroes, and that’s just the merest sliver of ice at the top of the iceberg. If you’re a fan of any SFF genre then can you really afford to ignore the ocean of free content that awaits you online?

Sure it’s unfiltered. No one had to get any of these stories past a publisher, so the quality is extremely variable. But with this handy guide to get you started you’ll have no trouble finding the right series for you.

For part one of this article we’ll focus on my three all-time-favourite Let’s Play channels. Next time we’ll move on to some briefer descriptions of other worthwhile, famous, and interesting channels. And, at some point in the future when the stars align and I have a large amount of free time, I’ll do a post-script article with a long list of specific pen and paper RPGs and where to find Let’s Plays of them on YouTube.

PSY LP (Please Select Your Let’s Play)

PSY LP (logo)Let’s get real here for a moment. I love these guys. I’ve listened to/watched hundreds of hours of their videos and they’re the reason that I got into RPG Let’s Plays, and arguably back into roleplaying as a hobby, so don’t expect too much of a reasoned and balanced review of their body of work. This is my soap opera, my stories, my Saturday morning cartoon if you will.

Why is that?

Well, it’s because of what they play and how they play it.

The first and longest running campaign on this channel (going back to when the campaigns were hosted on this channel) was a game of Rifts. Even if you’re an RPG fan there’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of Rifts. It’s a very complicated, number-heavy (what role-players call crunchy) RPG system with an incredibly vast and diverse ‘everything-and-the-kitchen-sink’ kind of setting.

But what a setting!

Rifts (cover)Take our world and advance it to an early Star Trek level of technology, throw in some mecha and sentient machines to spice things up, then take a club made from an unholy fusion of Dungeons and Dragons and Mad Max and beat the world almost, but not entirely, to death with it. Do this over and over again before sprinkling the burning remains with the contents of every myth, legend, comic book, and horror movie you’ve ever heard of. There you have it – post-apocalyptic, inter-dimensional science fantasy.

Instead of all-out nuclear war destroying the world of the future, it got wrecked by the appearance of tons of portals to every dimension and world you can imagine, leaving Earth open to invasion by everything from aliens to demons. So now you get cyborg super-soldiers and mecha-pilots battling vampires and werewolves, psychics hanging out with wizards, and mutants making eyes at elves. And if Rifts Earth itself isn’t weird enough for you then you can always pop through a portal (the eponymous Rifts) and check out the lands of the dwarves, or the home-world of the hostile technologically-advanced locust people, or even that one planet that’s alive so all the technology there is made of living flesh, including the armour (which is just horrible, albeit quite cool).

Now, before I get into the specifics of the campaign I should point something out. While I was writing this article, the PSY LP crew went through a rather dramatic change which involved the group severing ties with one of their core members, who was also the GM of the original Rifts campaign mentioned above. That campaign, which had lasted for three and a half years, and looked set to roll on indefinitely, has now ended.

I thought about not including PSY LP in this article to avoid drawing attention to an awkward situation. I’m not here to pour salt on any wounds or engage in gossip – this isn’t that kind of site.

But in the end, I decided that both the remaining PSY LPers and their former GM, InfernoCanuck, would probably still appreciate having a shout-out for their channels, since both are planning new campaigns. And, more to the point, there’s still a great back-catalogue of content on PSY LP, which I thoroughly recommend to anyone with an interest in SFF or RPGs. The Rifts campaign in particular ran to hundreds of hours. And, while the player characters will never get a final resolution for their arcs, they still had more “screen-time” than the protagonists of almost any SFF TV or film series you’d care to name, including Dark Shadows!

So, who were these characters?

SpiffySquee (logo)Squee played Al, a former secret agent for an oppressive human regime called The Coalition, who saw the light after befriending a non-human and rebelled against the ruthlessness and bigotry of his masters. His cover was that he was a doctor and he found that work so fulfilling that he embraced the path of healing and became an actual medical expert. He was also a crack shot, deadly with a knife, a practiced smooth-talker, and had picked up some spells along the way. He could also, reluctantly, pilot mecha. (This game tends to lead to PCs getting a massively long list of skills and abilities.) Personality-wise Al was the White Knight of the group; he always tried to do the right thing and sometimes came off as a bit preachy. Which isn’t to say that his own actions weren’t questionable or ruthless at times. He started out human but later became an elf (that’s a whole other thing).

CrianaGaming (logo)Criana played Mila who then became Ellie but was originally called Nora. There were a few other personalities in there as well. The character herself was a Crazy, someone who gained enhanced physical and mental abilities through brain implants, at the cost of their sanity. The dominant personalities were usually very friendly and upbeat with a childlike demeanour. They were also not keen on killing, unusual for an RPG character! Nora was a lot less friendly and considerably more violent, to enemies and allies alike. Ellie/Mila/Nora was inhumanly strong and tough, had mild psychic abilities, a good singing voice, and an incredible array of acrobatic and athletic talents. She was no slouch in close combat either, when she was in the right frame of mind. A lot of the weird tangents in the campaign came from this character’s antics, from commissioning robo-squirrels and climbing tower-blocks at night to recruiting random NPCs and spontaneously generating a chibi version of Tyrath, who was a so-called “Lizard Mage” and one of the most powerful NPCs in the setting, or any setting really (there’s your shout-out Tinyrath).

Piph0 (logo)Piph played Patrick, a treasure-hunter, scavenger, monster-cataloguer, mechanic, driver, archaeologist, botanist, and heaven knows what else. Though he was immensely intelligent and savvy, Patrick sometimes seemed to be as innocent and naive as Mila/Ellie. Despite that he was the group’s fix-it man; if he couldn’t science, shoot, or magic his way through a problem then he’d just maths it to death. (Seriously, he once killed a demon with trigonometry.) Like Al, Patrick became a magic user over the course of the campaign and came up with some wildly innovative solutions to the party’s problems. Among other artefacts he had, at one time or another, a magical voice-modulator, a pocket dimension, and an object which could turn water into wine, all of which he used to great effect.

Burnarator (logo)Burnerator played Tom. A troubled young pyrokinetic who sat near the top of The Coalition’s wanted list due to an explosion which wiped out an entire town (it wasn’t his fault), Tom was the group’s big gun. Tom got shifted into an adult body for the same reason that Al became an elf. He had a cat-girl space-girlfriend (actually a very sober, sensible, and competent character). When precision violence was required (you can’t solve ALL your problems by atomising everything in a hundred-foot radius or jumping into a suit of robot power armour), Tom relied on his black lightsaber and his skills as a master swordsman. He also piloted the spaceship (did I mention that they had a spaceship by the end?). Tom was definitely on the side of the angels, (literally, that’s another whole other thing), but he did tend to prioritise the lives of those close to him over those of strangers, and sometimes chafed at Al’s need to save or redeem every waif and stray the party encountered.

SpiralSpiral played Lavin. A late addition to the group, Lavin introduced himself by rescuing Tom from the second floor of a brothel, during a shootout, using a jetpack. A cybernetically-enhanced mercenary with a wry sense of humour and a gritty attitude, Lavin hid a noble soul and had the makings of a true hero (cue the meaningful music). In game terms Lavin was waaay under-levelled compared to the others, but his cunning and willingness to get stuck in meant that he definitely managed to pull his weight, right up until the final episode.

There was also a psychic mermaid with a water-filled hover-cabin for a while too. Played by a YouTuber called Rachel.

InfernoCanuck (logo)InfernoCanuck deserves a great deal of respect for crafting a fascinating world for the players to explore. Let me throw out a couple of the NPCs he created. (He also has his own YouTube channel.)

New Zoot! A mysterious blue alien who sold a wide variety of unique magi-tech (magical technology) artefacts. New Zoot communicated in a very broken form of English and often used the wrong words or terms for things – he called humanoids gorillas or monkeys and referred to the business of selling artefacts as “Picnic Time!!!”. He accepted payment in credits but, for reasons which were never explained, always extracted a unique extra price in the form of some kind of social interaction, ranging from giving him a hug to performing a dance. His artefacts were so interesting that the party usually bought as many as possible, even when they didn’t know what those artefacts did.

Leon. A cynical, angry, shotgun-wielding cigar-chomping anti-hero who just happened to be a telekinetic unicorn. Now, that’s a character who deserves his own novel series. Hell, his own Netflix series. (They made Happy, they could make this.)

Fair warning, this campaign was a slow burn. There was always a lot of planning and debating and plenty of social interaction and character development to go along with the high-octane action sequences, which themselves tended to take a while to play out due to the nature of Rifts combat. So, you have to be willing to invest time and patience in this campaign if you’re going to go back and watch it. But there’s so much stuff here to delight fans of SFF. The party went to Mars and hunted giant insects. They killed dozens of unique monsters. They fought an evil cybernetic brain at the behest of a demented and untrustworthy cyborg called James T. They had giant robot battles and spaceship fights. They rooted out organised crime. They hunted evil spirits in the Antarctic. They performed high level assassinations. They battled interdimensional slave-traders. And so much more.

Variety aside, when you spend so long with a group of characters the emotional pay-offs are amazing. This was the Robin Hobb effect times ten.

PSY LP (banner)

Now, if the mention of hundreds of hours of videos has sent you running for the hills then come back.

I said, come back!

Yes you; I see you hiding there.

Anyway. The PSY LP crew acknowledged what a monumental task it would be for a new viewer to catch up with all their content. So, they did a series of recap videos to get you up to speed on the first season of their campaign. They then started a Season Two which was meant to explore the Rifts Multiverse. Sadly, the campaign ended just as the group was tying things up in the first dimension they encountered, a sort of Noir 1920s world with some strange and disturbing things going on beneath the surface. But there’s still plenty to enjoy in Season Two alone, even if you won’t get all the references without going through the campaign’s back catalogue.

If you’ve managed to catch up with the entire run of this Rifts campaign (in which case – “Greetings, traveller from a distant epoch, hope you got that whole climate-change thing sorted out.”) and you still want more PSY LP goodness then you can try their other stuff too.

Rifts Ultamite Edition (cover)Three Galaxies
Still set in the Rifts Multiverse (opinion is divided as to whether this is the same dimension as Rifts Earth), using a heavily house-ruled version of Rifts and with most of the same players, but leaving Earth behind and really leaning into the whole Star Trek, Babylon 5, Farscape vibe. This campaign is set to continue.

Corsairs
Also Rifts. But Rifts used to create a home-brewed Doctor Who, Primeval, and Legends of Tomorrow style setting. Also, Squee was the GM and there were a couple of new players. As far as I know it had nothing to do with pirates at all, which is very disappointing. Now officially over.

Ardenfell
Squee GMed for the first time and delivered a high fantasy adventure with world-ending stakes in a home-brew setting. This campaign showcased the 13th Age system, which is a relatively streamlined and story-focused RPG that simulates D&D, but has lots of neat ideas for creating unique characters. Also, there’s a street-fighting monk-rogue! I haven’t caught up with all 200 videos in this series, but it has finished and I’m sure that the finale was suitably epic.

Curse of the Crimson Throne (cover)Curse of the Crimson Throne
The PSY LP crew take on a Pathfinder campaign module. This campaign is set to continue.

A quick note on channels. Originally, all of this group’s videos were posted onto Squee’s channel. Then Rifts moved over to the new shared channel PSY LP. Campaigns like Crimson Throne happened entirely on PSY LP while Ardenfell never moved over from Squee’s channel. The PSY LP crew have stated that they will try out new campaigns and systems in the future, with perhaps more of a focus on one-shots. So far, they seem to be chilling out with some party-style video games but I’m sure that will change.

InfernoCanuck has vowed to start a new Rifts campaign with a rotating series of new players. Keep an eye on his YouTube channel and Twitter feed if that interests you. You might even be able to join his new game if you contact him at the right time. And if you do manage to watch all of the Rifts Campaign and want to know all of the many secrets that remained uncovered then you should check out his video here.

Halldamir and Rahal

Halldamir and Rahal (logo)A prolific channel which takes you on a deep dive into long, immersive, and often tragic roleplaying campaigns but also offers video gaming Let’s Plays. This channel was founded by two YouTubers called, you guessed it, Halldamir and Rahal. They describe themselves as “a plucky Brit and an old Swede”. I reached out to Halldamir and Rahal and they were kind enough to have a long chat with me, revealing their channel’s origin story and some thoughts about their favourite campaigns and a few of their many plans (wicked, wicked plans) for future games. While certain faces (or voices) appear over and over again on this channel, there are a load of different campaigns on it and few of them have exactly the same group of players.

I’m not going to talk about individual players beyond the two founders or list all of their many campaigns. What I will say is that this channel has some of the most advanced and enthusiastic roleplayers I’ve ever encountered. The sheer effort and detail they go into is staggering.

One campaign, Forsaken Throne, featured a session where two of the player characters revealed they had built a large underground bunker complex, complete with labs, living quarters, and an attendant secret organisation to do their bidding, behind the rest of the party’s back, during down-time. They proceeded to lead the other characters on a tour of this massive facility, pointing out areas assigned to each PC. Another secret plot arc had a pay-off so devastating that it pushed more or less the entire group to the edge of tears out of genuine grief for a beloved character. This is what immersive roleplaying looks like.

Pathfinder - Forsaken Throne (screenshot)

I’m not sure if I could ever get that intensely into the story of a character in an RPG but it sure is fascinating to witness other people doing it. At the start of the campaign the PCs lived in a slum and were struggling to survive and cure a deadly plague, by the end they’d taken over an entire empire and redesigned it from the ground up, with added airships. That’s the kind of epic advancement which Pathfinder and D&D theoretically offer but that few gaming groups manage to stay together long enough to fulfil.

Honestly, I’d call that campaign the Game of Thrones of RPG stories if there wasn’t an actual A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, which the group has also played. (Another one of the group’s Four Grand Campaigns as Rahal calls them.) I’ve yet to catch up with it myself but I hear it’s great for those in-between-seasons-of-GameofThrones blues. Both Halldamir and Rahal describe this campaign as their group’s roleplaying masterpiece. The entire group got so emotionally invested in this game that one session really did reduce them to tears. They actually had a group meeting afterwards and agreed to dial things back a bit due to the emotional trauma inherent in this level of roleplaying.

Emotional trauma? Grief? Intense characters? Now if that doesn’t scream Game of Thrones to you then I don’t know what would!

13th Age (cover)The other two Grand Campaigns are Way of the Wicked, a Pathfinder campaign in which the players played Evil characters (that’s Evil with a capital E), and The Lost World which used the 13th Age RPG system. I haven’t caught up with Way of the Wicked either, but I’m told that it completely outgrew the original ‘let’s be bad-guys’ premise to become an epic story of love, loss, war, and revenge. The Lost World featured a paladin-necromancer, lots of wry humour, and more dragons than you could shake a wand of fireballs at. It was also notable for a fateful encounter which nearly wiped out the whole party, made two players leave the campaign and caused the remaining two to turn their characters into hard-line anti-heroes bent on vengeance against an uncaring world. From then on, the campaign took a brutal turn with intrigue galore and the PCs eliminating anyone they thought was a ‘problem’.

Not every campaign these guys have tried has gone that well, you’ll find plenty of short, truncated campaigns amongst their back catalogue, whether because they weren’t all enjoying the game, or had issues with the system they were using or because too many players weren’t able to make the regular time-slot for the campaign.

The one that I, and perhaps Halldamir and Rahal themselves, mourn the most is Tears of Tiamat, which was about a group of young dragons who escaped from a wizard’s tower and just started taking things over. Kind of tempted to copy that idea at some point myself.

Dresden Files (cover)I also miss their Dresden Files Fate game, which was set in Berlin and included a memorable encounter with the angry ghost of Wagner, who proceeded to summon a ghostly pirate ship to bombard the PCs.

And Iron Gods: the one where they’re playing characters exploring a giant spaceship, which crash-landed on to a fantasy world.

Ok, ok, there’s a lot of their campaigns I miss. But the problem with RPG campaigns (much like reading and writing fantasy fiction) is that that darn pesky real life keeps on getting in the way of it. So, take what you can get. And you can get a lot from this channel!

Currently the group is playing two campaigns at a time.

Starfinder Dead Suns has just been put on hiatus (perhaps forever). Starfinder is a spiritual sequel to Pathfinder which takes the action forward in time into a fantasy-in-space kind of setting. Less sword and sorcery and more spells and starships. Starfinder seems to be as crunchy as its predecessor but there’s a unique and fun setting here to explore and the group’s trademark humour is definitely on display. At the time of writing it remains to be seen what will replace this game.

Out of the Abyss (cover)Out of the Abyss An official D&D campaign module which sees a band of heroes trying to escape the Underdark (a vast subterranean labyrinth of caves and tunnels with its own eco-systems and civilisations, many of which are very powerful and not at all nice). If you didn’t think that you could feel sympathy for a draconic warlock who worships a terrible Lovecraftian power from beyond time and space, then this campaign may change your mind. Also, the Underdark is a great setting which has long been popular amongst the D&D community, a great alternative to the standard Tolkienesque world.

As I said, there’s a core friendship group that uses this channel, but they get on well with other/new players and there’s a real sense of camaraderie and fun about all of their streams.

So, where did all this begin?

Just like the other two channels on this list, Halldamir and Rahal started out playing video games. They ‘met’ when they both joined a tiny online raiding guild for Star Wars: The Old Republic and got to talking while they were preparing for their next raid. Realising that they liked the same kinds of games and had a good brand of banter, they ended up creating a channel based around video game Let’s Plays and philosophical discussions.

Rahal was already a roleplayer but his irl RPG group had fallen apart about a year before and he seemed doomed to never play tabletop RPGs again.

Until the gaming gods intervened.

One fateful night, when Rahal had been struck down by a vicious bout of flu, he went to YouTube in search of anything that he could play to keep the fever-dreams at bay. He found a bunch of D&D Let’s Plays posted by a successful YouTuber and listened to them all night long.

Grimith (cover)The next morning, he fired off an application to join the group’s next game. He didn’t expect a reply, but it turned out that he was, in his own words, “the most sane person who applied”. Thus began Rahal’s online RPG apprenticeship to that dark titan of online gaming – Grimith.

Having had a great time in Grimith’s D&D 3.5 game, Rahal gathered together a band of online friends and started running RPG sessions online and uploading them to the channel as part of his Summer of Fun. Halldamir soon joined in and the rest is history.

One of the group’s core members – Manaki took on a lot of the GMing duties initially but in more recent days another key player on the channel, Sheep, has stepped up and taken on a lot of GMing duties, including the Grand Campaign The Lost World. Though I should mention that Forsaken Throne was GMed by a group member called DDS.

Little Fears (cover)Rahal and Halldamir are still keen roleplayers with lots of ideas for future campaigns. Rahal plans to run a horror game called Little Fears at some point. I had a quick glance at it and based on the cover alone it looks freakishly terrifying.

He also mentioned Operation: Fallen Reich, which he described as X-Files meets P. G. Wodehouse. Now I loved “What, Ho Gods of the Abyss” – the story in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Black Dossier, which was about Jeeves and Wooster taking on Lovecraftian horrors – so I would totally be down for this game.

Halldamir made repeated mentions of Warhammer 40k RPGs and I wonder if that might offer a clue to their next campaign. Best to praise the Emperor and pass the ammunition just in case! If you want to see immersive role-playing that gets you with genuine feels then these are the people to come to.

#SaveTearsOfTiamat

Takahata101

takahata101 (logo)Takahata101 (Taka for short) hosts what is hands-down the most entertaining D&D Let’s Play ever – The Unexpectables. The Unexpectables have been known to give Critical Role a run for its money in terms of viewers during their live-streams (we’ll get into how impressive that is in part two of this article, next month).

The Unexpectables feels like an anime or a cartoon, with a tone that varies from He-Man and The Defenders of the Universe to Adult Swim. The characters bicker and snipe, have romantic misadventures and accidentally hit each other with lightning-javelins (because the fumble system in D&D is very silly and even the most skilled warriors are doomed to screw up on a regular basis), but the power of friendship carries them through. Sure, there are reality warping horrors out to eat the world but there’s also new people to meet, new outfits to pick out, and a race of proud warrior cat people who all have names like Tiddles and Mr Cuddles.

The setting is homebrew and strays from D&D norms here and there. It’s kind of a medieval setting but there are lots of modern touches – notes of credit, restaurants and cafes, a police force, a racial inclusion programme, and so on.

The orcs are done Warhammer style (or Warcraft style, if you prefer), i.e. big and green instead of the hairy pig-faced creatures that usually pass for orcs in a D&D setting. Kenku have been diversified from a race of flightless crow people to a race of flightless every-kind-of-bird-you-can-think-of people: owl people, robin people, penguin people, you get the idea. I think it’s an improvement, personally. Recently it appears that the GM, Monty, has done the same with tritons: half-fish and half-human people which are a bit like merfolk. But while merfolk have two distinctive halves, Tritons are more a blend of both halves, they even have legs. One of the campaign’s newest NPCs is a female anglerfish-Triton druid with a string of pint-sized and somewhat disposable husbands (they either shrivel up or get eaten by cats).

I do need to tell you about a few more awesome NPCs but let’s talk about the stars of the show first.

The Unexpectables (logo)

The player characters are:

Connor McKinley (logo)Panic Grimtongue, played by Connor M. You may have heard of D&D bards – magical singers and storytellers who take inspiration from minstrels, skalds, and mythological spell-singers like Orpheus. You might also have heard that bards are a bit crap. Well, forget that, whether it’s down to D&D 5E ironing out some of the kinks and imbalances in previous systems or Connor simply playing the character well – Panic is always at the centre of the action, kicking ass, taking names, and breaking hearts. Since bards aren’t meant to on the front-line he frequently suffers hideous injuries but has always survived so far. A beautiful and stylish tiefling (a person descended from a demon), Panic plays heavy metal for his fans and smites his enemies with thunder and hellfire. He’s a good man at heart (though his rages are terrible), but doesn’t always play well with the affections of others and has had occasion to regret his flirty ways.

Borky the Orky (logo)Borky the Orky, played by Takahata himself. A hulking yet happy-go-lucky orc barbarian (if you’re not familiar with D&D classes then imagine Conan the Barbarian crossed with a Viking berserker), who somehow ended up employed as Panic’s manager. He may not be the sharpest arrow in the quiver, but he means well. While Borky usually fights with the two-handed weapons commonly used by his class he loves wrestling and is mildly addicted to suplexing his opponents – one of his prized possessions is the head of a monstrous witch that he suplexed to death. Borky’s trademark is to start every morning by shouting – “It’s time to get Orky! It’s time to get Borky! HUAAAAAH!!!” The fact that none of his companions has murdered him during this routine is a testament to love they bear for him.

Chris Zito (logo)Task, played by Chris Zito. A kobold ranger. In D&D kobolds are Hobbit-sized dragon people, this is completely unfaithful to the original folklore but talking about how D&D changes or ignores mythology would fill up a whole article in itself. Rangers are pretty much what anyone who’s read or seen Lord of the Rings would expect them to be, though with an added animal companion and a sprinkling of spells on top. Task is a grumpy and straight-speaking former soldier with an extremely tragic past and a penchant for hunting. He is often annoyed by the antics of both his friends and the various NPCs. Task does care greatly about those he considers his allies or under his protection and has a gruff respect for fellow military types. Task has a pet dragon-dog creature called Tarrusk who is also known as The Goodest Boy.

Gaijin Goomba (logo)Greckles, played by Gaijin Goombah. A kenku rogue. Rogues are thieves, assassins, and other sneaky or skilled types. Greckles actually is a crow-kenku. He’s also basically a ninja. His character sheet might say arcane trickster (an archetype or sub-class of the rogue which can cast some spells), but he is absolutely a ninja. Gaijin is a Japanophile (colloquially known as a Weeabu), so Greckles wields a wakizashi, wears a yukata, and activates his spells by shouting Japanese. That being said, Greckles’ favourite weapon at the time of writing is a magical dagger called, The Scary Acid Dagger of Stab. A master of tricks, illusions and the fine art of stabbing people in the back, Greckles has been known to go too far with his trickery and get caught out. Greckles can be quite touchy but is certainly fond of the other Unexpectables and has at least one love interest (although his ‘love’ may be platonic, I’m not quite sure). Greckles is also known as The Birb.

Several people have featured in the campaign playing Guest PCs, the most recent of which was a dim but sweet-natured tortle (turtle person) paladin (holy warrior) called, Digsby. Digsby had a detachable and independently sentient arm called Armsby (this might actually be where his true, intelligent, mind dwells), and acquired a pet bat called Batsby during his time with the team. He was a worshipper of the god of death and would dig you a hole for ten copper pieces.

Monty Glu (logo)As for the NPCs. Monty creates living, breathing characters with their own plans, pasts, and quirks. She has an impressive repertoire of voices for them as well. Here’s a scattering of her many unique and engaging characters for your enjoyment.

Mel. A kobold necromancer who is incredibly friendly to everyone she meets despite the fact that, should they happen to die in her presence, she will happily salvage their precious corpse to make parts for her undead ‘friends’.

The Straightforward Good Time. A heavyset construct (basically a sentient golem or fantasy android), who was built for war but has chosen instead to seek out love. For now she works as a masseuse and courtesan. (I think she just talks to her clients and plays board games with them, but honestly I try not to think about it too much.)

Tai Borpington. An excitable and extremely talented halfling (Hobbit) chef who was cursed to have the head of a fish.

Crabbius the Mighty. A ferocious, but honourable, knife-wielding crab who enjoys heavy metal music. He is friends with a storm-giant, because reasons.

Gregory. A gryphon rider who is so pompous and so handsome (the most gorgeous man in the world) that he communicates almost entirely in grunts and weird mouth-noises because ‘non-pretty people aren’t worth his time’. When an ally sliced off some of his golden locks he was almost suicidally depressed. His appearance is apparently based on Fabio.

While The Unexpectables do all of the normal D&D things – fighting monsters, finding treasure, foiling dark plots, opposing evil gods, solving mysteries, and so on – they also spend a lot of time doing down-time activities in between adventures. They go shopping, they interview new employees for their tavern, they visit the opera, they teach self-defence classes, and they pursue romantic sub-plots. And honestly that stuff is just as entertaining as the adventures because the players and their characters have such great chemistry and the world which Monty has created is just so god-damned fun!

No-one Expects the Unexpectables by deamondante (logo)

It should be noted that the adventure parts of the campaign are often far from ‘normal’ even by fantasy standards. The PCs all got turned into dogs at one point and had to solve the mystery of “Who was a good boy?” They also had to put on a play for a giant, in the sky.

Several (perhaps all) of the players (including Monty) are gamers and this is clearly reflected in the campaign.

– The Unexpectables aren’t merchants or craftsmen but they have a guild hall, just as a group of players would have in an MMORPG. It’s a tavern which they’re busy upgrading with a stage, a wizard’s tower and more.

– Task and Greckles frequently bond over their shared love of harvesting components from slain monsters.

– The entire group was reduced to hysterical laughter when one of them suggested that Gregory was clearly a PC gamer. I don’t really understand why.

Whether it’s due to tapping into the video game Let’s Play audience or just because the show is such a joy to watch, The Unexpectables are incredibly popular. All the followers for all of the other channels I’ve mentioned so far are just a drop in the ocean compared to the followers for this channel. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of pieces of fan art have been created for the campaign as well as a pretty extensive wiki. People regularly donate hundreds or even thousands of something called Bits (which I presume to be Bitcoins or some fraction thereof) to the show. I don’t know how much real money the show has made but it’s enough that I sometimes wonder whether Taka is about to have a heart attack from sheer glee.

The Unexpectables Friendship (merch)This popularity comes at a slight cost. These days the start of The Unexpectables’ videos is always a long list of shout-outs to donors, with the actual game often starting a quarter of an hour or so later. Fans have taken to posting the ‘actual start time’ in the comments. In the most recent videos Taka has bowed to the will of the people and started posting the game start time in the video description himself.

So now there’s nothing to stop you from immersing yourself in the best fantasy anime series that never was. Go forth and enjoy!

As an added bonus The Unexpectables recently uploaded a one-shot game in which the players (two of the main crew and two guests) all played robots in a post-apocalyptic world. It was an absolute blast! The characters included the Terminator (more or less), a beat-up old bucket of bolts, a creepy spider-bot that kept on dragging everything into the corner, and a noble centaur-bot who behaved like a Victorian child’s idea of one of King Arthur’s knights (Excelsior!). Check it out, it’s called S Series.

That’s all for now folks. But I’ll be back next month with a load more channels that you need to check out.

Get ready to kiss productivity goodbye!

Title image by sacari.

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One Comment

  1. Chehalem says:

    I enjoy hearing your perspective on The Unexpectables.
    Since they’re nearing their 1 year anniversary (June 3rd), its a time of reflection for many fans, myself included. I enjoy the Unexpectables because it is a heavily character-driven environment. Unlike the typical RPG that has the protagonists constantly moving like traveling salesmen, Monty’s campaign involves a growing community of NPCs that have their own lives that keep moving even when they’re off-screen. Like a real neighborhood or city, most people don’t exist because they need saving or can help fight monsters, but when they do need a rescue or can lend a hand, it feels much more personal than a random character created specifically for that purpose.
    These background characters have very human problems that aren’t a heavy-handed metaphor, but very believable struggles with race, identity, culture, and trauma. These questions aren’t wrapped up neatly, nor is there an easy after-school-special solution to them. This is a great example of how fantasy can be used to create points for discussion on real-world issues without being preachy or trite. In fact, I listen to the episodes with my adolescent daughter and we often use aspects of the story as jumping off points for tackling some tough questions.
    The drama is not overdone and there are a wealth of comic moments that feel just as natural and logical as the rest of the story. You’re not wrong comparing it to a cartoon, but its a cartoon with heart.

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