It is an incredibly exciting time to enjoy DnD as a hobby. You can watch it as a show, you can listen to it as a podcast, you can read it as books, and of course, if you're really crazy, you can play it yourself at home. But, what are the differences, strengths and weaknesses, between homegames and the illustrious live play show? Let's break it down.
What is a Live Play DnD Show?
In case you're unaware, a live play DnD show is a podcast or filmed show in which a series of players and a DM run a DnD game that is recorded and published in some way for the public to enjoy. The content of the show is the playing of DnD. There are some incredible DnD shows, from the ever-present Critical Role, to the tightly organized Dimension 20, to the heart of Not Another DnD Podcast, to the hijinks of Dungeons and Daddies. The point of a live play show is the same as any other show, movie, or podcast: to be entertaining for its watcher/listeners. And they do a wonderful job of it. Most DnD live play shows are just as capable if not more so of moving one to tears or laughter as the best show or movie, and that is something truly special.
What is a Home Game?
Well first and foremost, if you haven't had the chance to play your own game of DnD yet, we can not encourage it enough. There is no form of entertainment more customizable to your tastes, more personally involving, nor as social as a TTRPG home game. You get to craft or participate in a world wholly your own, sitting around with friends or people soon to be friends, hand picking elements of the game that are the most fun for you and your group.
So What's the Difference?
In this modern landscape of DnD it's easy to conflate home games with live play shows. Since both use the same rules (essentially), both involve groups sitting around a table, and both aim to entertain. The difference, and the reason why it's important not to compare the two, is who is being entertained. In a live play show it is vital for the players at the table to remain alert, engaged, and entertaining for an external audience that they know nothing about. For a home game the players at the table remain alert and engaged for one another, and nobody else. Basically live play games seek to mimic movies or television in that they have to be thematic, funny, dramatic, show strong characterization and character change. Many home games do these things as well, but they're also free not to. If your players just want to sit around and pretend to be having drinks in a fantasy tavern, there's no ravenous fans who will be disappointed with the session, because there are no ravenous fans. There's just you and your group.
Why do we Care?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to keep a game of DnD funny, dramatic and steeped in excellent characters. It's very much a good thing. But it is necessary to remember that your home game is only for you and your players, and there's absolutely no need to try and be anything more. The point is to have fun. If mimicking the notes of a live play show is fun to your group then great! Mimic a live play show. If your home game looks nothing at all like one of the amazing groups of people that are putting on a performance every week, that's also totally fine, so long as everyone's having fun.
Live play shows and home games are two sides of a wonderful hobby. Both are a blast. Both coexist beautifully within the landscape of TTRPGs. But for all that, it's important to remember not to compare your game to a live show, because they are different. Both beautiful, both different.