The first episode of a highly experimental solo D&D campaign.

Nobody To Play With: Badgerfriends, Pt 1 of Possibly Just The 1

1,417 words.

Nobody To Play With: Badgerfriends, Pt 1 of Possibly Just The 1

I had a crazy idea. I have a lot of those. I live alone with two cats so I have no choice in the matter.

For quite a while, I’ve been wishing I could find a handful of tolerant and compatible tabletop players so I could try out DMing some games, and I’ve gotten no closer to my goal. (Part of the problem is that I’m terrified of talking to strangers and I haven’t actually put any work into that search, but I’m sure that’s unrelated.)

So this past weekend I decided to play a couple of mock D&D sessions by myself with the Phandelver and Below D&D adventure book. I picked that one because it’s relatively new and it’s set in the same Phandalin as the Dragon of Icespire Peak, which is the only other (modern) D&D adventure I’ve read. I imagined it would be similar to playing any number of CRPGs I’ve been playing lately.

And since I’m always on the hunt for more content to create, the lifeblood of the Internet, I recorded it all. The idea was to create something roughly as watchable as watching someone play a CRPG like Pathfinder: Kingmaker, but less predictable.

It’s just crazy enough to work. Maybe. Probably not actually. But hey, content is content.

The problem with DMing by yourself in D&D is that there’s no way to replicate the unpredictability of players, and 90% of the difficulty of DMing (or so I imagine it would be with me), is thinking on your feet and improvising responses to completely unpredictable player actions.

To mitigate that problem, I invented some tables to create random player actions based on the situation. That was the missing piece I needed to try this project. It’s possible this has been done before, but I haven’t seen anything like it, because most of the “solo ttrpg” projects I’ve seen are made to simulate the player experience instead of the DM experience.

So I rolled three level 1 characters on a Friday. I did the first one manually by rolling dice and looking at the books and writing down numbers on a piece of paper, something I haven’t done since the 80s. Then I did the other two with D&D Beyond because writing on paper is a lot less fun than I remember it. (I actually made four characters but I only used three to reduce my workload.)

Saturday morning I got up and just started doing it. It’s the rule of thumb with most creative projects: Just start and figure out what you did wrong later. I plugged in a couple of cameras, put on a headset, and hit the record button on OBS. (Over a year ago now, I setup a multicamera-ish profile and scenes in OBS so they were ready to go.)

I was immediately overwhelmed by trying to keep a hundred books, paper and pen, a laptop with my player action tables, and a PC browser with Roll20 and D&D Beyond tabs all open within reach in front of me. Not to mention rolling dice and interpreting the results. And being mindful of the recording and trying to mentally edit as I went. And trying to pretend it was “live” as if it was a real D&D session.

Anyway I recorded for about two hours on Saturday morning, and got through the introductory battle of the adventure. Then I spent the rest of the day editing it down to a little under an hour and obsessively fixating on everything I did wrong so I could avoid it next time. But I thought it went fairly well, considering I had no idea what I was doing and had never seen any kind of template to guide me in how a self-DMing video was supposed to look.

Episode One, The Goblin Ambush

With all of that preamble aside, I present the first episode of Nobody To Play With, the start of the epic saga of Badger the Dwarven Artficer, Brylee the Elven Warlock, and Sagrax the Dragonborn Barbarian–the Badgerfriends–and their epic quest to deliver supplies from Neverwinter to Phandalin. (All random names, by the way, except Badger.)

Badger, Brylee, and Sagrax, level 1 adventurers full of hope but not very many hit points or spells, have been hired by Gundren Rockseeker to escort a wagon of supplies from Neverwinter to Phandalin. It seemed like easy money, until they were ambushed by goblins on the road, one of the most classicest of D&D adventure beginnings. Two of them get knocked out. Will they survive the very first thing in the book?

As per usual with my videos, there’s no preamble, there’s no title cards, there’s no credits at the end, there’s no exhortations to like and subscribe. It just starts and then it ends, like all Internet content should.

P.S. It might be the last episode, too, depending on how deafening the silence is after I post this. In any case, it’s an unsustainable project long-term, so it’s not going to last forever without some major changes in production technique. (I’m not a particularly speedy video editor, so I could probably record 10 of these two-hour sessions for every one I manage to edit and publish.)

And history has taught me that at some point my initial hyper-enthusiasm is going to inevitably burn out when I think of some other fun new project to work on, or when the cold realization that literally nobody cares sinks in. The hope is that I’ll lose interest at a logical stopping point in the story instead of right in the middle of a cliffhanger.

In the meantime, it’s great fun for me.

Episode Two?

Sunday morning I recorded another two-hour session, trying to incorporate some lessons learned (one of which was cleaning the stupid desk and, you know, brushing my hair a little bit), but that one didn’t go as well. Everything took longer than expected on the second day, since I was actively trying to fix things that were terrible on the first day.

There was no combat, so it was all travel and story and NPC interactions, which isn’t super easy to do by yourself. Combat is easy for me. Talking is hard. And I kept getting distracted trying to do things on Roll20, which is not a very intuitive product to use. It took forever to figure out how “fog of war” works.

In the end I recorded for well over two hours on Sunday, but I only ended up with about 30 minutes of usable video, most of which was me trying to think of things to say without having them written down in front of me, which is something my brain is not very good at doing. I’m utterly incapable of crafting a full sentence in my head. Everything I write or say is a trial and error, iterative sculpting process (like how AI works heh).

I would evaluate my DMing performance on Saturday as “okay but needs a lot of improvement,” while on Sunday it was “not that great and the players probably wouldn’t want to play anymore after that.” But hey, better to get it out of the way in harmless practice sessions.

Anyway I spent most all of the weekend in Davinci Resolve editing together the raw multicam-style videos into something that might be watchable, or at least listenable. (I usually edit all my videos for listeners more than viewers. Most YouTube content is “second screen” content, after all.)

P.P.S. Since the weekend, I’ve recorded two more sessions, so there’s potentially four of these episodes. And at the risk of setting up unrealistic expectations, boy howdy do things take a turn for the dramatically unexpected at the end of the third session.

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