- Christ, Will Wheaton has apparently spent the last 20 years developing a really annoying supercilious manner that is a massive pain in the arse initially (I know, I know, I promised not to be unduly negative; he grew on me after a bit - and I can never truly hate anybody who was in Next Gen).
- The idea that you have to watch a big introductory "Episode 0" so you understand the setting of Valkana and the special snowflake characters and their backstories could go one of two ways. I personally find it unnecessary and likely to be counter-productive (does any good film or novel require you to read supplementary material first in order to understand the plot?) but on the other hand, I appreciate that they want to start the series proper in media res and this sort of thing would be explained in a normal game during character gen or whatever. The backstory of Valkana itself is pretty bog-standard stuff, but that's to be expected.
- The game proper begins with a quest being delivered to the PCs in the standard manner. They have something to do, and they're going to do it. Take magic item to place, ask sage about it. I don't have a problem necessarily with games which have a predetermined plot arc such as this, but there are ways of going about it. Personally I would have stopped the introductory narrative at "You have found this strange sphere; what are you going to do?" This would allow the players to get started straight away examining the item and then asking around town to see if anybody had any information. This could then have led to the discovery that in the next town over there is a sage who might know about these things. This would get the players invested in things from the beginning - meeting NPCs, getting a chance to ask questions both of the DM and other characters - and reward them using their initiative. But ho hum, in the interests of time, fine.
- Okay, okay, I get it. We all like beer.
- I think a pattern is emerging already: the players ride the DM railroad for a short period, and then get a section of down-time to pursue autonomy in a limited fashion (interacting at the bar) before likely getting on the DM railroad again later. It resembles video-game RPGs quite closely, and also the "Silver Age" method of gaming which I remember from my teenage years so well. It's interesting to know this kind of thing still goes on; maybe I've been in the OSR echochamber too long.
- I like the idea of a "Battle of the Boasts" as a way of getting the players to have a chance to be creative and tell some amusing stories and develop their PCs' personalities a bit. Sort of like how Pendragon games traditionally start off with a race or something similar to get everybody into the swing of things.
- Oh, but hang on.... No, there's a chance for Will Wheaton to do some acting first. It's 20 minutes in and the players have done almost nothing so far.
- Oh, but hang on.... No, after the first PC's story (couldn't tell if this was rehearsed beforehand), something pre-scripted happens - the PCs have to come to the rescue of stolen beer. Okay, okay, I get it. We all like beer. It's a side-quest, clearly, to give the PCs something to do on the way to the main mission. Again, no criticism of the play style necessarily, but this could have been presented better so as to give the players a sense of agency: I'd like them to have heard in the bar that some beer had been stolen, but left them to act on their own initiative as to how to rediscover it rather than simply fast forward to them riding to the rescue. They may, for instance, have wanted to track the stolen goods to the bandits' lair and attack them in their sleep. They may have wanted to simply try to steal it back. And so on.
- A fight! Lots of excited shouting. One of the girls keeps shrieking "Whoo!" and "Doubles!" I recognise these aren't bad people, but I do find them quite profoundly irritating. The two men on the couch are complete nonentities - they may as well be literally anybody - but the girl on the right at least has a personality and both women appeal in a mild way to the superficial male, which of course I am.
- The fight is sorted out mercifully quickly; there was no way the PCs were ever going to lose it. All a manner of taste of course, but watching the fight scene I sort of feel like how I used to feel when as a kid my parents would drag me round a shopping centre or art gallery where I didn't want to be. I'd get this mounting sense of frustration - almost a tension in my chest like an incipient heart attack - and feel gradually more and more like I needed to blurt out some kind of awful primal scream of annoyance and revulsion. Just please can we go somewhere else. That's the sensation I get from watching the fight. Just what's the point? The PCs are going to win, so please just get on with the game.
- It's all over, tune in next week, etc.
An unusual experience. Perversely, despite the negative flavour of my observations, I didn't mind Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana all that much. I think this may have been coloured by me reading the comments on the video afterwards, which are so universally nice ("This was awesome! You guys are amazing! I haven't played an RPG in 25 years but I am desperate to start!") that I feel like a horrendous cock-end and a churl for saying anything remotely bad about it. I don't object to people having fun, I really don't. Is it at all satisfactory to end this excuse for a review by saying that I would probably rather be flogged than be involved in that session, and yet at the same time I can't summon up the necessary bile enough to say I disliked watching it?
Verdict: I didn't dislike watching it. 2 1/2 becs des corbins.