For when you need something in your ears other than “Mommy. Mommy. Mama. MAAAAAAMAA.”
What is Actual-Play?
Most readers are probably already aware, but there’s an entire genre of podcasts that are just people playing through RPGs – D&D or otherwise.
Some of them are high production and dramatized. In essence, they’re adventure (or mystery, or whatever) stories being told by a cast of characters all of whom are improvising the whole thing. Others are less highly edited and just sound like you’re sitting in with a particularly funny gaming group. Both ways are really fun!
As I’ve just started listening to them myself, I’m only aware of a few different options, but there are a lot more out there. Here’s a list of my favorites so far, in no particular order.
I absolutely LOVE this site. They’re totally after my own heart – geeks without gatekeeping. Some of the people on their RPG podcasts have never played before in their lives but they’re all just there to have fun and you can tell. They have a ton of different RPG play-throughs so I’ll just list a couple of my favorites.
Call of Cthulhu
This Lovecraft-inspired staple has great production value and voice actors with tremendous range and dedication.
Hilarious and so much fun in this setting. The game master found out about a Ghostbusters themed tabletop RPG from the 80s and needed to have a modern update in his life. Before long he realized that if he really wanted it, he’d have to run it himself.
Season three has also had a few moments where I’ve been significantly scared. All-in-all, if you’re only going to listen to one, this would be my pick. It’s short (as they’ve had funding issues) and very quick and easy to get into.
RPG from Scratch
Where they do a play-through of a new system as they’re building it (and more.) I am caught up on this show now, and it’s great for me as a newbie because I can see how the game works from behind the scenes as they break down every single thing piece by piece.
Much of the cast is the same dudes who made Ghostbusters, plus with some other names from the Nerdy Show Network.
This is probably the best known D&D podcast. I heard about these guys through The ADHD Podcast, which is how I even learned about this genre. I just finished their first campaign and now I’m peppering it into Dr. Nerd’s consciousness.
As an aside: I realized these guys are from a town (actually by WV standards Huntington is the big city) very close to where I grew up, and as they’re about my age, I probably crossed paths with at least one of the McElroy brothers, somewhere along the line in high school. Big ol’ nerdy fish we were in the small pond that is West Virginia.
Like The Adventure Zone, this is a big name in actual-play shows. Unlike TAZ, Critical Role is a live video stream, known on Twitch and not just audio-only channels. The cast is made up of voice actors who are highly skilled in improv.
The first podcast episodes I heard were very low audio quality, so I’d recommend skipping to campaign 2. There are a few references to the earlier campaign but the characters are new so I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything.
They did a Pokemon series. Of course this is on my short list! I haven’t listened to them yet but they’re now at the top of the queue when I get to the end of my Critical Role arc.
What are you listening to?
Let me know if you listen to any actual play podcasts that I need to try out, or if you like any of my recommendations! Hit me up in the comments or on Discord!