How to Stream Tabletop Games Like a Pro, Part 2
An Interview with Dom Zook of Saving Throw Show
Streaming tabletop games has been popular for years, but has undergone a surge of popularity during the COVID-19 quarantine. We’re not able to get our normal gaming groups together in person, many members of the community are out of work, and we’re all looking for a way to connect. Some of us are spending more time watching streams, others are using virtual tabletops to keep our groups together, and still others are taking the bold step of starting their own stream. So we went to many of the leading tabletop streamers out there and asked them for advice for aspiring streamers.
Our second interview is with Dom Zook of Saving Throw Show.
Carolina Game Tables [CGT]: First, tell our readers a little bit about yourself, for those not familiar with Saving Throw Show.
Dom Zook: We started streaming in 2004. Savage Worlds and D&D are two of our biggest systems, but we’ve run everything from Edge of the Empire to Lasers & Feelings, Pathfinder, Cortex, Call of Cthulhu, Fate, and more!
CGT: Why do you think streaming is so popular?
Dom: It’s a way to connect with people that film and TV have yet to really take advantage of. There’s a personal connection and a level of interactivity that brings everyone to the same table, regardless of the distance between them.
CGT: What do you think makes for a great streamed game?
Dom: For Saving Throw’s part, I believe the best streamed games are ones where the players all have a common goal, rich characters they enjoy playing, and a GM who understands all of that and can weave it into a compelling story. It’s not easy!
CGT: What are some of your favorite streams (other than your own)?
CGT: What does a new streamer need to decide before they start streaming?
Dom: Chief among many things is “what do you want out of this?” Setting small goals and being prepared to take the time to get things right is hard, but ultimately will be a much more rewarding experience. Then it’s a question of whether you want to play locally, everyone around a table, or remotely with Zoom or another tool, and go from there!
CGT: What does a game session or campaign need to be a good stream that might be different than games that you run for yourself and your friends?
Dom: You’ve got to think of this as entertainment for an audience. Don’t make the audience play catch up. Simple things like cross talk, mic discipline, and camera awareness are all things that the average player never really has to worry about but are crucial to an audience’s enjoyment.
CGT: What physical tools do you need (other than a good table)?
Dom: If you’ve decided on everyone sitting together, you’ll need to determine camera and audio. The picture can be forgiving but the audio cannot. We use a multi-camera setup in our studio, but there’s no reason you can’t just have one camera covering the entire table.
CGT: Do you have any recommendations for cameras, microphones, editing software, etc?
Dom: The Logitech c920 is the gold standard for webcams. We functioned just fine with cheap camcorders to cover multiple angles, utilizing a Blackmagic Decklink card to capture all the separate video signals. The Rode NT1a is a solid microphone and it’s what we use around the table.
CGT: What technical skills, if any, do you find most important?
Dom: Being an editor helps, because most programs and sites for streaming have timeline elements to them. Understanding good timing (if you’re handling live-switching) is paramount to keeping an audience engaged.
CGT: What are some of the most common pitfalls for new streamers?
Dom: Tackling too much and trying to be like anyone else in the space. Find out what works for you and your cast first.
CGT: What do you know now that you wish you knew in the beginning?
Dom: An engaging story is worth more than a slick production setup.
CGT: How often should you stream new sessions?
Dom: Ideally, weekly. With so much content out there an infrequent stream can be hard to follow and keep track of. If you settle on no more than once a month, that’s fine, but you’ll need to work harder to keep bringing the audience back with you.
CGT: Do you have any thoughts on the ideal number of players in a stream?
Dom: I warn people away from any more than 7 people onscreen, including the GM. The ideal number, for me, is five: four players and a GM.
CGT: How is streaming different for you during the COVID pandemic, if at all.
Dom: We’ve had to shift from an entirely in-studio platform to entirely remote. A big change in dynamics, but luckily our players, stories, and setup transcend location!
CGT: What has surprised you most in your experience with streaming?
Dom: There’s always a new streamer out there that hundreds of people love that others have never heard of. The pool is very, very big!
CGT: It’s good to know that there’s a niche for everyone. When and where can our readers find your streams?
Dom: You can watch us live on https://www.twitch.tv/savingthrowshow, with new shows airing every week.
CGT: Thank you, Dom, for your time and for sharing your experience with new streamers.
Stay tuned, because there will be more installments in our new series on how to livestream tabletop games. You can also go back and read our first interview with Ryan Thompson of Fantasy Flight Games.
And don’t forget, we have the perfect table for aspiring streamers – our Streamer Game Table is shaped and set up for ideal camera angles while hiding wires and providing ample space for four players and a DM to all be in the same shot. If you’d like to learn more, email [email protected] to schedule a consultation.
Editor’s Note: Some answers have been edited for clarity and format.