Meet the Publisher: Jon Britton of 3d6 Down the Line
Jon Britton is the Referee and driving force behind 3d6 Down the Line (often referred to as 3d6DTL). It is one of the most, if not the most, influential OSR actual play podcasts and Youtube streams out there right now, and uses Old School Essentials. You can find 3d6DTL on Youtube or any of the major podcaster streaming apps.
Question. First, I'd like to hear about how 3d6DTL got started; the group itself (it sounds like y'all know each other pretty well) and how the decision was made to start recording sessions.
Answer. We do indeed know each other very well, and that familiar rapport is an essential element of our play style. Mike, Ted, and myself have been playing continuously together since 2002, and we’ve been through highs and lows (mostly highs, thank goodness) in all of our personal lives, solidifying our bonds of friendship across two decades. Just as strong are our relationships with David and Matt, who have been part of the group for over 10 years and 3 years, respectively.
Recording our sessions for the public was my idea initially, after a trial run many years prior using Blades in the Dark (still available to watch on the channel, by the way!).
Thanks in large part to discussions about rpg theory with David, I became enamored with the OSR and NSR. I looked at the existing representations of OSR actual play, and my opinion was that the play style really needed more evangelizing outside of the blogosphere.
In addition, I saw a space in the actual play scene that I felt was not being explored. On the one hand, there are highly produced, professional, performative shows with “casts”. Even if the players aren’t friends, they have the acting chops to fake it. On the other hand are low-tech, bare-bones recordings, often where it’s evident that the players don’t know each other very well.
On both ends of this scale, the vast majority obfuscate the materials that the GM is using and referencing behind the screen, and in my opinion, do not reflect “typical” games (an impossible term to define, I admit). I thought it would be cool to make an actual play series that was non-performative, non-ego facing, and that had slightly above average production value. I gambled that our group dynamic would be appealing to many folks who enjoy actual play, since the natural rapport between friends always projects positively.
Lastly, I wanted to be as open as possible about demystifying and demythologizing the role of the GM. Anyone can run these games, and you certainly don’t need to master and implement all the bells and whistles of the high end VTTs in order to run a crazy fun game. Q. I'm curious to hear about your experiences with Owlbear Rodeo. I've just started running an online game myself via Zoom, and am a complete novice to VTT and the like. What do you think the strong points of OBR are, and how does it compare to other, better known VTTs? A. I have extensive experience with all three of the big VTTs, but I discovered after many years that I was spending way more time mastering and experimenting with the technology than I was on the content of the actual game. This led quickly to burnout. Thanks to the OSR jogging my memories of how I used to play pre-Internet, I came to the difficult realization that I had sunk countless hours into what (in my opinion) are merely crutches to the imagination. All of these visual and auditory aids are not necessary and are often actively detrimental to running a fun game.
I decided to use Owlbear Rodeo as 3d6 DTL’s VTT because it is ultra lightweight, and doesn’t make itself the star of the show. All I need is an animated dice roller, a space to share images, and basic drawing tools. There’s no automation, no character sheets, no F/X, etc. You can’t even add modifiers to your dice rolls! But who needs all that stuff? Basic math skills and imagination are things we all had when we were 10 years old! Owlbear Rodeo has just enough to facilitate online play, and then fades into the background. That’s exactly what we wanted.
Oh, and a huge plus: it’s free! Q. Do you have any advice for people looking to get started either running virtual games or recording and posting their own sessions (I know this is a pretty open-ended question!). A.
Use cameras. I firmly believe that you must be able to see each other. There’s so much unspoken communication that is conveyed through body language and expression.
As I stated earlier, don’t become enamored of your VTT. Focus on the actual game, not the platform on which you’re playing.
If recording for an audience, resist the urge to perform, and never ever attempt to emulate the heavy-hitters on the scene. Do your own thing; showcase what makes your group unique and fun.
Do not let your presentation and overlay outshine your players. Keep the visual focus on the players as much as possible.
Q. Dolmenwood and Arden Vul have a different feel to them -- DW is very much a fairytale inspired setting with Gavin's trademark quirkiness, while Arden Vul is one of the most detailed and thorough mega-dungeons I've ever seen -- but both are similar in that they are open-ended and encourage sandbox-style play. Of the two, which do you think has lent itself better to the medium of Actual Play? The amount of lore you've got to know as a Referee -- for Arden Vul in particular -- seems daunting. A. I think Arden Vul is better suited for the audience of an actual play, in that a viewer can easily drop in on a random episode and orient themselves quickly as to what’s going on and what the stakes are. As closed matrices, dungeons make this easy. It’s also super fun for a viewer to compare the official maps with what the players are drawing!
Dolmenwood is hands-down better suited for the group in an actual play. As I’ve opined numerous times on the channel, Gavin Norman’s layout and design is the absolute gold standard for ease of refereeing. As viewers of 3d6 DTL have witnessed with my display of the pre-release PDFs, the release of the Dolmenwood setting is going to cause the entire industry to sit up and take notice. I predict it will be a watershed moment. Q. Finally, can you talk a bit about what you've got planned for 2023? It looks like you do more videos than just the Actual Play ones. A. I have lots of ideas floating around in my head, but not enough time and resources to implement them! For now, we’re focused on delivering more of the same; after all, what we really enjoy doing is playing RPGs with each other! The channel is always secondary to our gaming. I’m experimenting with a little extra social media content recently, but mostly as a (hopefully fun) way to drive folks to the channel.