What D&D can tell us about Transmedia (Part 5)

I've talked a lot about how Dungeons & Dragons and transmedia stories are similar, and that there's lots we can learn from one to apply to the other: building storyworlds, engaging your audience, and dealing with audience interaction. But, there are differences, and some things we have to learn from those differences. Audience Size

Running a D&D game is like running a transmedia story, but a DM is only dealing with 3-6 players. Transmedia artists have to deal with potentially hundreds or thousands, and there are different considerations to make. You can't adapt to what every single player wants, only what trends. You're not going to be able to make everyone happy, but that's okay -- that's why there are lots of projects out there. It's all about that choice to engage.

It also means thta you have to design your content to be accessible to a much larger audience. You're not delivering it in person around a dinner table, you can't make a few printouts to hand out or pass notes to players. You can't see their expressions as they take in your descriptions of the Big Bad.

Instead, you're delivering content over mass media to a largely anonymous audience base. Content might be placed on websites or sent in mass emails, but if it's physical you need to consider production costs for that. The feedback from your audience has to be gathered in other ways -- watching their discussions in forums, seeing their interactions with characters, tracking page views and revenue generated, etc.

The Inverse is Also True

Just as you're not dealing with a small group of players, you're not dealing with only one creative, either. Producing a good transmedia property requires a wide range of talents. Andrea Phillips suggests the minimum is perhaps four -- a writer, a technologist, a designer, and a producer. For a larger production, it could be many more than this.

A DM has rulebooks and sources to draw on, but the actual planning of the story, the world as it pertains to the characters, encounters and challenges, pacing, handouts, maps, and technical elements, and the actual running of the session are all left to one person.

In a transmedia production, you have others to draw on. The writer can focus on the story, the scripts, the content; he doesn't need to worry about making it look pretty.

At the same time, you have the opportunity for discussion. A DM's plan might not work out because he didn't consider one possibility. With a team of creators, even if one is in charge of the story primarily, everyone can discuss ideas, work out problems, make every aspect of the production better.

A collaboration is more than the sum of its parts. Everyone can build on everyone else's work for a superior end product.


In D&D, there are a lot of assumptions built into the system -- a fantasy world, certain races and classes, magic, etc. There can easily be played with, altered, or reskinned (the Dark Sun campaign setting does this well) but there are still limitations in the system.

In transmedia, where we are now at the cutting edge of innovation, the only limitations are your imagination.

Also, money.

Making Money

D&D is a hobby game. A lot of people make money from writing articles about it or rulebooks, but playing the game itself is not a business venture.

Transmedia, for the most part (unless you're creating an indie production) requires a fair amount of money and should be able to turn a profit if it's successful. There's a lot of literature out there about the business side of it, though, so I won't delve deeper.

Planning and the Episodic Nature

The last major difference that comes to mind is this: the episodic nature of D&D -- played a few hours at a time, perhaps once a week, over a long period -- means that the DM doesn't need a comprehensive plan from the start. He has time and opportunity between each session to plan the next one and tweak the ultimate direction of the campaign, based on the play so far.

In a transmedia property, it's much more important to have a better idea of where the story is going. Inconsistencies are much more jarring to an audience of thousands in a professional production. I think a lot more frontend work needs to go into a transmedia property than a D&D game.

It is true, however (as discussed in previous installments) that you can't set things totally in stone in transmedia, either. You have to be able to adapt to where the audience takes the story -- so there is still that element.

It is possible, though, to completely ad lib an entire D&D game. I don't think anyone would encourage the same for any kind of transmedia property.


There are lots of things we can learn from D&D, ways in which it and transmedia draw on the same principles, but D&D is a different animal from (most) transmedia properties, and those differences have to be kept in mind.

Next time: The last installment -- final thoughts and resources. (The whole series: Part 1 - D&D = Transmedia; Part 2 - Storyworld; Part 3 - Engagement; Part 4 - Interaction; Part 5 - Differences; Part 6 - Resources)