Earlier this year, I started watching TitansGrave: The Ashes of Valkana, a webseries for the role-playing game Wil Wheaton created with his son Ryan. It’s 10 episodes of Wil playing Game Master as Laura Bailey (Dragonball Z, Fruits Basket, Full Metal Alchemist), Yuri Lowenthal (Naruto, Ben 10, Code Geass), Alison Haislip (Attack of The Show) and Hank Green (vlogbrothers, Crash Course, Hank Green and the Perfect Strangers) make their way through a campaign with characters they created. The popularity of Wheaton’s other webseries Tabletop notwithstanding, in general you might not think watching people play an old-school, tabletop RPG would be all that fun.
And you would be wrong. I was late to the party when I started, and even later to finally finish, but what a treat it was.
I think what makes TitansGrave so special is that it’s not just watching people play a game, and it’s not just hearing somebody tell a glorified Choose Your Own Adventure story. It combines a bunch of different elements to work on multiple levels.
If you like fantasy — especially the merging of science fiction and fantasy — there’s a great story here as four friends all with their own issues go on a journey to stop an ancient evil from rising. The series also makes wonderful use of beautiful artwork, subtle animation and even more subtle sound editing to give the world a richness and depth that you wouldn’t get from just watching five people sit around a table rolling dice.
And because most of the cast is made of actors (excepting Hank Green, who has a documented love of stories), they know when to get serious and give the story emotional weight when its needed.
But at the same time, it’s clear that these are people who are playing a game and having fun. Whether they’re negotiating for five gold and a party after helping a beer baron before the big adventure, playing practical jokes on the stuffy barmaid or ribbing Lowenthal as a series of bad dice rolls leave his character S’lethkk amusingly hapless at times, it’s an infectious joy that affects the viewer as well.
My biggest fear going into TitansGrave was that I would be lost in the mechanics of it. The extent of my RPG experience growing up was playing a few games of Magic: The Gathering 20+ years ago before getting hopelessly lost (and honestly a little bored) and giving it up. But just as a viewer, I found the gist of the TitansGrave gameplay to be pretty easy to follow. Most of what I needed to know could be summed up with “high numbers good; low numbers bad” when rolling. I didn’t really need to know how modifiers, stunt points and armor worked, but I imagine if those were things I understood at all, it would add an extra layer of gratification to an already enjoyable show.
And, should I decide I want to learn more about how to play and then give it a try myself, I can do that! Literally. TitansGrave, the game, is now available for sale.
But honestly, that seems like a lot of work that I’m not sure I want to do. Fortunately, though I missed the boat when episodes of TitansGrave were first being released, I’ve noticed Geek & Sundry, the YouTube channel that hosts it, has started posting behind-the-scenes videos for the series. Which leads me to believe that season two must be in the works.
And that’s as awesome as five gold and a party.
Watch season one of TitansGrave: The Ashes of Valkana here.
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