How kiwi is #kiwiRPG? Kiwi as!

Aotearoa New Zealand’s cultural output has its own unique flavour as does the kiwifruit (which we imported from overseas and then made our own, naming it after a bird that can’t fly, has its nostrils at the end of its beak, and carries an absolutely enormous egg compared to its body weight).

Like the kiwifruit, the first online TTRPG shows may have come from overseas but we have definitely taken to them and done some surprising things with the idea.

Earlier in the week local game makers and players spoke to Gizmondo about what makes our scene special, but here are a few particularly kiwi things we reckon you can find in some #kiwiRPG shows, and some that break the mold.

Kiwi RPGers play Monster of the Week: Faces of Toltetotl

Everyone knows each other As a kiwi overseas, there’s a thing where someone asks you if you know, say, Sharon, who is also a New Zealander. And you have to explain that it’s ridiculous to expect people in a country of five million people to know each other but, yes, Sharon’s mum was your teacher at school.

Our shows mostly know each other, too. More people than there’s room to list here have played in multiple kiwi RPG shows, or made guest appearances. Beyond that, there have also been regular crossover supergroup streams (and here), and, in 2021, people from throughout the New Zealand D&D community joined together for a marathon 24 hour live stream, raising more than $6000 for charity. 

For #kiwiRPG Week 2022, hand picked teams streamed Monster of the Week: The Faces of Toltetotl on Sunday May 3, and will be running newly launched kiwi RPG d12GO on May 6 with Robot Island! and playing D&D in The Cult of Keviine (setup for the YES AND! Charity Stream 2022). Check the #kiwiRPG Week schedule for details. 

Punching above our weight We like beating the world here every once in a while, so also like the phrase ‘per capita’. Aotearoa has heaps of TTRPG shows and not that many people. Are we beating the world, per capita? I don’t know, the maths was too hard.

I can tell you that Brad Thompson, kiwi game designer, writer, and DM, placed in the top three of Wizards of the Coast’s Global DM Challenge 2021. That’s pretty awesome. And now he’s sharing heaps of advice at Cutting Words.

And then there’s Viva La Dirt League. They’ve been producing sketches about computer RPGs since 2013. In 2019 they started the NPC D&D campaign, with characters from the NPC parody videos, and have since turned their sights on TTRPGs with their D&D Logic series. They have 3.76 million YouTube subscribers and earlier this year raised $2.5 million on Kickstarter to make themselves an actual studio. And they’re pretty funny. (Their GM, Robert Hartley, has his own twitch channel including D&D advice and interviews along with VLDL extra content.)

That accent The New Zealand accent was voted the sexiest in the world. If you want to hear it, you’ve definitely come to the right place. For a particularly strong example, Dungeons & Dipshits somehow convinced Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt to record an introduction for their episodes. Does this reflect the somehow apt chaos of that podcast’s adventures? Yes. (Dipshits has stopped production, catch it while you can.)

Danger Team GO!

There are plenty of different accents to be found in Aotearoa, though. Check out Asian-influenced setting and kiwi-Asian stars of Dumplings & Dragons. Or if people doing accents is your thing, have a look at the finely-voiced and lovable characters of Saturday Knights or Waterdeep Mountain High, but don’t miss out on the relentless all-round vocal (and everything else) experience that is Danger Team GO! 

Or try For Crits and Giggles where, basically by accident, all the dwarves canonically have an Australian accent.

Friendly Often visitors to Aotearoa will be asked “How do you like the country?” before they’ve properly gotten off the plane. The correct answer is, it’s beautiful and the people are very friendly.

We’re helpful, too. There are a lot of shows of kiwis just providing some advice for your games: creator interviews from Diceratops and Dice Legenz; Mud & Blood on dark and grim gameplay; Hearts and Dice on social psychology, social contracts and consent in tabletop gaming; or gameplay advice and reviews from AJ Pickett, Russell Kirkby, or Cutting Words.

Music Aotearoa has produced more than its share of international pop hits, and its own way of strumming a guitar. We also bring you the stirring themes of Saturday Knights and Dungeons & Comedians, a 20-minute chill vibes remix of the The Tear-able Adventures of the Janderson Breffords Parchment Company’s theme tune, the basically-an-overture DM Vahid Qualis has created for Dice Legenz, the 90s-action-cartoon-esque brilliance of the music for Danger Team GO!, and Don’t Forget Your Towel, who deserve special mention for recording a different intro for each of the many game systems they explore.

Swearing We swear a lot in this country, often in a nice but extreme way, while casually roasting our friends. I’m looking at you, Season Quest

On the other hand, if you want to hear the players from somewhat-sweary podcast The Fate of Isen doing an entirely family friendly show, about a pigeon and a mouse saving the world, check out The Gigantic Adventures of Jeff & Simon.

Reticence Kiwis can be suspicious of boasting, and don’t like people who “think too much of themselves”. This is probably a good thing politics-wise but you have to understand the highest possible praise a New Zealander can usually give, for example, their own podcast, is something like, “I think we’ve got something pretty good here.” So please do like, subscribe, and leave a review.

And then there’s Dice Legenz, who call their streams things like “The Most Exciting Episode ?!?”. And if that makes you guess that their streams are full of action, quickfire gameplay, and startling story revelation well, you’re not wrong.

The Tear-able Adventures of the Janderson Breffords Parchment Company

Office workers Did you know that service industries make up two thirds of New Zealand’s GDP? The Tear-able Adventures of the Janderson Breffords Parchment Company dares to ask the question: What if everyone in the adventuring party had day jobs?

Special connection to nature In the Diceratops Presents D&D universe, they have canonically killed the moon.

Fungus Might just be me, but listening across various kiwi actual play podcasts, there seemed to more mushrooms that you’d expect. Exploding (Dumplings & Dragons), being recklessly ingested (The Fate of Isen), giving potentially deadly poisoning (GM Breakout), destroying the world (Dungeons & Comedians), and if I recall correctly? impersonating people (Waterdeep Mountain High). There are probably more, I lost track.

No gardens We’re a nation of storytellers, and a traditional pastime is trying to convince foreigners of bizarre falsehoods about our country. Unrelatedly: gardening is banned in New Zealand. I challenge you to find mention of gardening in New Zealand TTRPG content. If you do, it will be passing, and furtive.

On the other hand Jewels From NZ has actual facts about New Zealand as well as TTRPG gameplay and opinion from Julz from Fate of Isen (who should not be confused with Jules from Fate of Isen).

Big OE There’s a tradition of young New Zealanders going on OE (Overseas Experience) to see the world. Travel has been tricky lately, so what about a Big Online Experience? Tonnes of kiwis are meeting the world by streaming their games, with a little bit of local flare.

I’ve got personal streaming favorites in Getting Dicey (currently trying to remain the good guys as they explore The Curse of Strahd’s Amber Temple, and hosts to other Kiwi RPG events) and the high energy adventures of Dice Legenz (also good if you like minis and terrain!). But there’s also live streams or replays from The Road Unknown, Māori Nerd, Russell Kirkby, Dice Dice Baby, Evldoa, Table Tales, and anyone who wants to share the story they’re making with the world.

Now head off and sample every flavour of #kiwiRPG show! Start with all the links on our shows page!

Lyndon and the #KiwiRPG crew

Aotearoa’s TTRPG shows do like getting onto a real stage and a few started there. #kiwiRPG Week 2022 has two of them, and they’re also streaming live.

It has been said that every TTRPG session is a show where the players are performing for each other. But being in the room with a bunch of people who are just there to watch changes things up. Feeling an audience laugh, hold their breath, and applaud can help players recognise and heighten both the clownishness and the drama in their stories – and reminds them to keep up the pace and energy of their play. It’s an experience that might sometimes be available at conventions, but many of Aoteroa’s TTRPG performers, even beyond the roleplaying practice, have backgrounds as comedians, actors, or improvisers, so the stage calls. 

Dungeons & Comedians. Photo: Emma Brittenden

And people do come out to see. As Dungeons and Comedians DM Brendon Bennetts told The Spinoff, their first show sold out within hours of him posting a Facebook event. That first episode wasn’t recorded – Bennetts didn’t expect to be making a podcast – but the show  (performed in Ōtautahi Christchurch) has expanded to audio and occasional live streams, their anarchic and sustained character choices and commitment to not reading character sheets now enhanced by live illustration. By the end of 2019 they wrapped up their first grand campaign (with each episode a self-contained adventure) in a “masterful, hilarious, and genuinely moving piece of collaborative storytelling and world-building”. When New Zealand’s 2021 lockdown interrupted season 2, they made an online special including two comedians from Taskmaster NZ who had also won Billy-T awards (a big deal), one who won New Zealand Celebrity Treasure Island, and a Billy T nominee (also a big deal).

In 2021 media took notice when The NZ Fringe Festival in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington included four different live shows inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. Two of those were actual-plays, recorded for podcast release: The Fate of Isen and Diceratops Presents. It was neither’s first time on stage – Isen have been Fringe regulars (with the presence of an audience apparently encouraging the comedian performers to choose chaos) while recorded live shows have were a staple of Diceratops’ content from the start.

Also cutting its teeth on the Wellington stage was the crew behind streaming show The Road Unknown, with 2020’s Dungeoning and Dragoning building a full theatrical experience around a D&D game.

Later that year, and a little to the North, Saturday Knights started bringing their adorably characterised and character-driven adventures to Te Papaioea Palmerston North.

Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland has also had its share of the recent action, too. Along with recurring seasons of D&D-inspired improv show Can I Get an Underground Location and a Mythical Creature?, there were actual play shows by True Neutral (2020, not a podcast), Guardians of the Gygaxy (2019, not a podcast any more), and Waterdeep Mountain High (2018 and 2019).

Waterdeep Mountain High began with a series of live shows, bringing a group of well-know local comedians together for hilarity, mischief, adventure, and coming-of-age at the high school on the wrong side of the tracks in the legendary D&D city of Waterdeep. (Player Alice Snedden and DM Nic Sampson have gone on to help write kiwi comedian Rose Matafeo’s BBC/HBO comedy series Starstruck.)

Recent years have been difficult for live shows, with regular performances interrupted or switching to online only. But #kiwiRPG week sees two live events, both streaming online. But Dungeons and Comedians is still going strong on stage. (There’s even been a more scene-based Dungeons and Improvisers.)

D&C‘s Kiwi RPG Week show (featuring Billy-T winning task-mastering Waterdeep Mountain High alumnus Brynley Stent!) will be live streamed on Sunday May 8.

On Friday May 6, Kiwis & Dragons will join the fun, bringing their goofy character and traditional D&D adventuring to the Hastings Library Nerdvana Festival.

Check out the #kiwiRPG Week schedule for details!

Lyndon and the #KiwiRPG crew

Tabletop game live streaming in Aotearoa started in a parody superhero universe, and we still don’t need dragons to have fun. (Maybe it’s because we already have our own lizard from the dinosaur ages.)

a tuatara
The tuatara, Aotearoa’s native dragon. Photo: digitaltrails, CC BY-NC-SA

Even when kiwi actual plays stick to Dungeons & Dragons, homebrew settings are common. In one extreme case, The Tear-able Adventures of the Janderson Breffords Parchment Company is set in a world missing gods, where magic is only available in the form of the (elsewhere much maligned) electrum coin.

But there are lots of great games from Aotearoa and the world, and kiwis are keen to play them for your entertainment!

Don’t Forget Your Towel

For real dedication to this idea, go straight to Don’t Forget Your Towel. Launched in 2020, this podcast’s goal is to play every TTRPG game or die trying and I hope they live a good long time. By my count they are currently on the 25th system of their many-flavoured survey of the world of roleplaying. You might start into DFYT by listening to them play kiwi designer Steve Hickey’s eldrich horror game Soth.

Horror games do seem to be popular around here: Rycon Roleplays started on YouTube in 2017 with their own zombie survivor game Z-Land, while RKDM, Casual RP, and Evldoa have all mixed Vampire: The Masquerade chronicles with D&D and other systems. (Evldoa recently finished well-known vampire-related D&D campaign Curse of Strahd; streamers Getting Dicey and Dice Dice Baby are both continue their own playthroughs. Apparently we like vampires. Who knew?

And when Season Quest completed their podcast’s initial goal, a year of four seasonal D&D campaigns (each led by a different member of the cast), their next game was the Anthology of High School Horrors (AHH!) created by Season Quester Charlie Leeming. Since then they’ve kept sharing the lead and haven’t looked back to D&D Charlie is currently running an epic teen superhero adventure, showing off the storytelling potential of the Powered by the Apocalypse-based Masks system.

Diceratops Presents has mixed D&D with other games ones that aren’t horror at all (unless you’re particularly afraid of Jason Statham or pro wrestlers) while in GM Breakout kiwi player Jeremy joins an international crew of forever GMs playing the (fearful for some?) Pathfinder system.

The kiwi RPG crossover streams also began with one-shot level 20 D&D adventures but, in the words of Dungeons and Comedians’ Brendon Bennetts, “there’s this whole other world of games to play“! Bennetts led two crossover crews back to back episodes of Lasers and Feelings (‘original series’ and ‘next generation’). For Kiwi RPG Week, DFYT DM Azul ran Monster of the Week: The Faces of Toltetotl.

And, in an earlier crossover stream, Fate of Isen DM Brad Zimmerman introduced his own system, d12GO. Brad and Fate of Isen had form for exploring new systems, employing the game system Suited for their family-friendly spinoff podcast The Gigantic Adventures of Jeff and Simon, and d12GO takes this to a new level.

d12GO is a simple and adaptable system designed to be easy to pick up and play. You can see the fun and storytelling freedom that can be had with earlier versions in the crossover stream and in several Fate of Isen interlude episodes.

The rules for d12GO are out now, and on Tuesday May 6 you can join us live as a new crossover team tackles a randomly generated scenario: Are a band of criminals with nothing to lose the only ones who can save Robot Island?

Check the Kiwi RPG Week schedule for details!

Lyndon and the #KiwiRPG crew

Looking for the start of online TTRPGs in Aotearoa New Zealand, and checking out a few of the longest running shows.

Some time in 2019 I decided to finally check out my friend’s Dungeons & Dragons podcast (I may have been looking for more after seeing Diceratops live at Bats Theatre in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington). It turned out that podcast was The Fate of Isen. Its crew of kiwi comedians had already been making actual play D&D for more than a year and were into the third chapter of their story. I was quickly hooked.

Fate of Isen continues as a powerhouse, its sixth chapter surging into the world-shattering conclusion the story has been building to for almost four years. I now have podcast subscriptions (and YouTube and Twitch feeds) full of more kiwi RPG content than I can reasonably keep up with.

2019 was a good time to join in, but it turns out kiwis have been making TTRPG shows online since ages ago. 

coat of arms style shield back with swords and the letters TMG
AJ Pickett’s The Mighty Gluestick

AJ Pickett’s YouTube channel is a a vast repository of mostly-D&D lore advice and gameplay. And it goes back all the way to 2013, kicking into gear with a 2014 live stream of a Heroes Unlimited game set in the universe of TV show The Tick.

In 2015, For Crits and Giggles was born, as DM Keiran Bennett convinced his friends their new campaign was going to be a podcast. It’s probably Aoteroa’s first actual play pod, and it’s a good start, with dry banter mixing in and out of a setting with a real sense of magic. “It’s not frequent, but it is long running,” Bennett told Diceratops’ Morgan Davie (in this conversation mostly about Bennett’s more recent efforts to get politicians together to play D&D on TV).

By 2017 more shows were appearing, again looking further than Dungeons & Dragons. Casual RP has mixed D&D campaigns with interludes in different systems and a Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle; Rycon Roleplays began with a playthrough of their own zombie survival game Z-Land; and Big Red Couch has been pulling ideas out of a hat and trying to turn them into runnable TTRPGs this whole time. Meanwhile, the first live show of what would become Dungeons & Comedians played to a sold-out theatre in Ōtautahi Christchurch. 

Since then, there have been heaps of new kiwi RPG shows: podcast, videos, streaming, and on stage; actual play, advice, and interviews; full-bore entertainment product, earnest gameplay, or a peek at  a bunch of mates around a table – and while the D&D revival has truly hit, there’s still plenty of interest in other systems

By 2020 it got so even the people from the TV had to pay attention, with reality show Survive the 80s (video may be geoblocked) playing Dungeons & Dragons (for more on this, see this Diceratops episode with DM Dallas Barnett). Then, in 2021, there was recognition (also noted in the paper) of four different stage shows based on D&D in Wellington’s Fringe Festival alone:

We’ll be back with some samplers of #kiwiRPG shows during the week. For now, go check out the sweet as selection on our shows page!

Cheers!

Lyndon and the #KiwiRPG crew