Our Partnership with D20Tales
Late last year, Table Top Makers partnered with D20Tales. I sat down with the founder to discuss what they do and how they connected with us.
Game Master and Manager, Russell E. Welch III describes D20Tales as "a ragtag band of knuckleheads playing D&D and trying to make a show out of it." And I can say with absolute certainty that if you’re looking for a fun web series, you will have a great time watching D20Tales’ Planestriders.
Russell’s love for all things storytelling began when he was a kid. He grew up in the country and didn’t have anyone to play with, so he would run out into the woods and imagine epic and elaborate adventures in which he would pretend to be all the characters. He was the hero, the damsel, the villain, and the dragon; he would be all the people in true lunatic behavior. When Russell grew up and went to college, he was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons and saw what a DM does. He quickly realized he already knew how to do everything a DM did, including pretending to be many different people to tell a story. He didn’t know it then, but he was a DM all along. All those days in the woods playing by himself prepared young Russell for a career in role-playing games.
D20Tales has a fun history. Russell had been working on a project that remains near and dear to his heart called Struggle for Meaning. Still, he wanted to do something different that provided him with an opportunity to work with cooler and more talented people, as well as the ability to stretch his creative mussels. Playing a game as a job sounded fun, so he founded Spawn of Chaos, which would later become D20Tales. At the casting call, 200 people auditioned for the web series. It took over a week to sift through the first round of applicants. Russell thought they would start with 5-6 people but brought on an entire team of 24 cast and crew. Together, they ran Spawn of Chose for about a year. This web series was geared toward an older audience, and thus their content was not family-friendly.
About 6 months ago, the team noticed that many of their audience were younger than their intended age group. Spawn of Chaos was edgy and niche, too much for younger viewers, and they wanted to create content that would target the people who were showing up to watch the show. Wanting to be responsible, they decided to switch lanes and generate content for younger, more impressionable people. So they rebranded as D20Tales, with new content for a broader range of ages to enjoy.
At the heart of the rebranding is Planestriders. At its core, the Planestriders web series is about Robin Hood-style space pirates—a crossover of the themes of Disney’s Robin Hood in a Treasure Planet world. Though not overt in the first season, the campaign’s setting includes themes of pro-union, pro-workers' rights, exploitation by the rich, and seeing independence and freedom for all groups of people. Russell is passionate about these subjects and wanted to work them into a piece of media, and Planestriders allowed him to do so naturally and coherently.
Planestriders started out using D&D 5e’s system. However, during the making of season 1, the recent OGL (Open Gaming Licence) controversy between Wizards of the Coast and the third-party content creator community broke out. The D20Tales team grew uncomfortable with the direction things were going for creators, so they switched systems to Paizo’s Pathfinder 2e for season 2, which is recorded but not yet released. They will continue to use Pathfinder for the foreseeable future.
Thankfully, this shift in the system did not disrupt the campaign or flow of the game. Instead, it all worked out due to events at the end of season 1, which you must watch to learn about. This unplanned system change fits into the campaign with little interruption to the story and is flawlessly worked into season 2.
Without going into spoilers, Russell and his team have a concrete plan for the future of D20Tales, including producing many more seasons of Planestriders and some ideas for recording other shows. There's also a plan to generate more content with shorter seasons where many of the cast members will be able to serve as the role of Game Master in 3-4 episode storylines. D20Tales has partnered with other creators to produce even more content, including Tulok the Barbrarian and Play Your Role. D20Tales has also begun to go on tour with GalaxyCon. Their first live show with them was on March 24th, 2023.
The D20Tales team wanted to be vastly different from the formula of other role-playing web series and actual plays, such as Critical Role. Russell believes Critical Role is too good at what they do for D20Tales to compete with them, as they’re the masters of their own niche. So, they don’t try to do what they do; they aim to do something different. Critical Role can be a struggle to watch for new viewers due to the sheer amount of content and the length of the episodes. D20Tales takes more inspiration from Dimension 20’s style. They record hyper-focused sessions of the cast collaboratively telling a story, and edit out all the fluff. They release 12-24 hour-long episodes in seasons, much like a television series. This format is much easier for new people and returning viewers to catch up if they’re behind. For example, season 1 of Planestriders is 7 episodes long, clocking in at around an hour each, which could be binged in a day or over a single weekend.
Season 1 of Planestriders was recorded at House Rules, a Grand Rapids-based gaming lounge and bar. They rented the space for a good deal and had a great time there. While setting up, Brian from House Rules mentioned Alan from Table Top Makers and suggested they contact him as he might loan them a table to use for the recordings.
After contacting Alan, TTM allowed D20Tales to borrow one of The Rogue-style tables for filming season 1. And for season 2, Alan built them a custom-made table designed to meet their recording needs, and they plan to use this table for years to come. Russell explained what they needed in a table for recording a role-playing web series that would work with the players and their RPG elements, as well as the positions of the cameras. Working together on the design, Alan created the perfect table for them to use in their recordings. He also allowed the cast and crew to film season 2 at the TTM shop.
The show’s cast had a blast playing at the shop, and it made them all feel validated sitting at such a high-quality table, like true professionals. The table is cool enough that Russell is trying to convince his roommates to move out of their apartment and into a house so he can take the table home with him and use it for personal gaming.
Russell is an enthusiastic and passionate person who cares about the quality of experience he provides for his show. His favorite class to play in D&D 5e is Paladin, and a Fighter in Pathfinder. Before our interview concluded, I informed Russell to call me up if he ever needed a guest player because Planestriders sounds like a blast to play. I’ve enjoyed watching the episodes on YouTube.
You can check out D20Tales' content on YouTube by clicking this link: https://www.youtube.com/@D20Tales
And while you watch, make sure you take a peek at the Table Top Makers table they’re playing on; it’s a beautiful piece!