Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Five or So Questions with James D'Amato on Dungeon Dome

I have an interview today with James D'Amato from ONE SHOT who is talking about his current project, Dungeon Dome, which is currently on Kickstarter. Dungeon Dome is an unusual project - an actual play project with... gladiators? Let James tell us more!

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Tell me a little about Dungeon Dome! What excites you about it?

The Dungeon Dome is a new actual play project that I'm hoping to produce through Kickstarter. The basic Idea is D&D meets professional wrestling. Players take on the role of fantasy gladiators fighting for wealth and glory in an arena full of deadly traps.

There is a lot that excites me about this project. Actual Play is rapidly becoming a major part of the RPG landscape. Shows like The Adventure Zone, Critical Role, and to a lesser extent my own ONE SHOT have shown that you can indeed export the experience of RPGs to a mass audience. So far, actual play games have been traditional, just putting a mic or camera in front of a normal game. I've reached a point with my audience where I feel comfortable messing with the formula.

The Dungeon Dome is the type of campaign that wouldn't really work without an audience. The players are disconnected, the story is primarily moved through one type of play, PVP is usually only fun for the winning parties, and the only person playing who experiences the whole thing is the DM. With an audience, these disconnected stories play out in a way that other people can experience. Having people observe play heightens the drama inherent to combat. The PVP element is fun win or lose because in wrestling a lose can be as beneficial to a character as a win. I can also use competitive challenges that would feel out of place in a traditional game.

I'm also folding in mechanics that allow the audience to actively participate in the game. By cheering on the team they support that can grant that team special abilities to use in the game. This is a chance for me to experiment with the form of observed play, a style I think we will see more of in design over the next few years.

Also, on a more personal note, if The Dungeon Dome funds, it will allow me to pursue game design and performance gaming full time. That would be rad!


How have you developed the initial project - setting, concept, and so on?

I drew inspiration from a few places. Primarily the WWE and Yuri on Ice.

For the past few years I have been lightly getting back into wrestling. I watched a little when I was 10, but I wasn't a die hard fan, eventually I grew out of it. However, a lot of the podcasters I listen to are huge wrestling fans, and there are a surprising number of wrestling fans in nerdy spaces. More accurately it surprised me initially. Now the parallels between wrestling, superhero comics, LARP, and improv are glaringly obvious to me. I guess I was pretty mired in the perception of wrestling as "low art" which is really stupid.

Anyway, after watching some matches I saw a lot of things that I could appreciate, and a lot of things that frustrated me. There is still a lot of old fashioned misogyny and toxic masculinity in big company wrestling. To the point that I can't really watch it regularly. I see that it has merit, and understand what people enjoy, but there is a lot that grates on me. I also don't see enough of the kind of theatrical experimentation in televised wrestling. Like, Lucha Underground comes really close but I want really wild storytelling. I want to see Shakespeare plays told through wrestling matches. Mainstream wrestling, understandably, was not going to do that.

Competition is one of the main levers in traditional games. Crunch games really show off the wargaming DNA in RPGs, and war gaming is really competitive. People who know my work know I don't feature a ton of tactical, crunchy games. I think ONE SHOT, for the most part, doesn't lend itself to those games. Yuri on Ice, among other things, is a really good sports story. You love almost everyone in it, they are all driven and fierce, and in the end only one of them can win. Even as a written thing it had beautiful, surprising highs and lows. It was so good it made me long for competition drama at the table.

The Dungeon Dome became a way for me to explore competitive games, sports narratives, and the things I like in wrestling.

One final note, after I started work on this I discovered X Crawl through the podcast. It was another attempt at arena Dungeon Punk competition. It was neat there there were similar ideas in game design. We're in slightly different places but I want to give them a nod.



What tech will you be using to bring Dungeon Dome to the people in accessible ways?

ONE SHOT has a production studio in Chicago outfitted with a four camera setup, good audio equipment, and decent lighting. I think we have one of the best-looking setups on twitch, at least for the space we can afford. I really wanted to have solid audio quality be cause it was important to me that folks be able to hear us clearly. We're exporting all of our episodes to backers as podcasts as well, so folk how prefer/need to listen don't need to bother with video files.

Ideally, I want to have some sort of replay transcript, but this might have to be a down the road priority. It bothers me that hearing impaired listeners don't have access to so much of what we do. Stuff like subtitles and transcripts are a priority if we go far enough over our funding.


Elaborate a little on your reasons for liking actual play. What are your personal reasons for liking it, and your reasons as a creator? How do you think it's influencing the heart of games?

Actual play excites me for so many reasons. The best way to grow the roleplaying hobby has always been to show people how much fun it is. The problem has always been that the experience of an RPG is difficult to show off. Games usually serve smaller groups, and explaining them has a "you had to be there" element for a lot of people. With actual play, people can actually be there. It's experiencing RPGs second hand, but you still get to experience them. It completely changes the way the hobby grows.

On a personal and somewhat selfish level, games are the form of artistic expression that works best for me. I have Dyslexia and ADD as a result, I write very slowly. On top of that, just about everything I produce takes a lot of editing. I love storytelling, but writing has a major prohibitive barrier for me. A ton of traditional storytelling mediums require heavy writing: novels, films, TV, plays, ect. For someone in my position, that sucks.

Stories in games flow naturally for me. The improvisational nature of gaming drops all of those barriers. The performance aspect plays to one of my other strengths. At the table I feel confident and excited, it feels effortless. At times it feels like my ADD is an asset more than a liability. Actual play means that a games are viable performance space. Thanks to actual play my creative outlet is a career. I cannot express how huge that is.


How do you handle tone and support players when it comes to content in a game that's effectively live? What happens when there is a "no"?

This is something that Kat (my best friend and business partner) and I have talked about this. Right now the plan is to just have an X Card. So far we haven't run into X Card issues. The Dungeon Dome falls into a much more cartoony depiction of violence and triggering subjects. However you never know. Like, if a player has a phobia and a monster exhibits qualities of that phobia we'll be in a tough spot. Especially if the monster is audience submitted. Thankfully games are flexible, so you can make changes on the fly.

For those who are curious, if an X Card shows up, we will say we have an X Card and explain what it means to the stream. Normally, you don't do this. You don't call attention to that sort of thing to protect the player. ONE SHOT is in a different position than normal games though. People look up to the network as community leaders. So If we get an X Card I want to show the audience how it is used. I want players advocating for X Card at their tables to be able to point to us and say "ONE SHOT does it." We won't force people to tell us why we need to change what we are changing, just show of that it is happening and the method we're using to organize it.


Last thing - tell me about these audience participation mechanics. How do they work? Just how much can one person influence the game?

Boy howdy this is a good question! The Dungeon Dome is part performance, part live playtest. I fully expect The way The Dungeon Dome operates episode 1 of season one to be different than the way it works episode 15. We will testing out, adding, and changing audience participation mechanics throughout Season 1 if we fund.

Right now we have a few ways we know the audience can influence the story:

Backers can buy the right to directly collaborate with me on monsters, traps, items, and NPCs that will show up in The Dungeon Dome and directly affect matches, the overall story, and the game's world.

During streams the audience can grant the team or performer they support Inspiration (a D&D 5e mechanic.) Normally inspiration is something the DM awards, but I have taken it completely out of my hands. I won't be able to do it even if I want to.

In The Dungeon Dome games I ran before the Kickstarter, folks did this by spamming the chat with team hashtags. Now we are Twitch Affiliates, so we have access to Bits and Cheer. These are a gamified currency Twitch uses to allow a viewing audience to tip streamers. For The Dungeon Dome it could be a more effective and noticeable way for folks to influence the stream live.

Also in the pre-KS Dungeon Dome if a character dropped below 0 HP the audience could vote whether that character succeeded or failed on their Death Save. 3 failures would kill a character permanently. The audience still has this power and I think it's pretty buck wild how much this could change the story.

That's what we know. I fully expect to create more avenues for interaction but I need to experiment in order to find them.

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Thanks so much to James for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading and that you'll check out Dungeon Dome on Kickstarter today!




note: Thoughty is on hiatus until probably July 31, 2017. Hopefully this interview, and past ones, are enough to re-read if you miss me. <3


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