If you like RPGs, but can rarely get a group together to play, or even have yet to try one, then you may be able to scratch the roleplaying itch with an ‘actual play’ podcast. This is essentially just a recording of someone’s RPG session, rather than something scripted or otherwise retold, hence ‘actual play’.
These kind of podcasts can be really useful to give you ideas and even show you a good example of what playing an RPG is like if you’ve never had the chance. Before I started playing RPGs several years ago I looked for something to show me how it’s done and I stumbled across an actual play podcast called ‘Critical Hit’ from majorspoilers.com, and that gave me a pretty good idea of D&D 4th Edition, which is what I started with. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them now, as I haven’t listened to them in over 5 years, but you can find all the podcasts at their website HERE. They are still going to this day.
High Rollers D&D
The first I would really recommend on my list, in no particular order, isn’t technically a podcast, but more of a Twitch stream and youtube series, but it can be easily converted to audio. This is High Rollers D&D, done by a few people from the Yogscast from Youtube.
It’s not the most advanced or unique actual play out there, but I like the DM, and it’s pretty amusing throughout. Most of the players are first-timers at the start of this campaign, so it may feel a little slow to experienced RPers out there, but that also makes it great for people looking to get into RPGs, especially D&D 5th edition, and it is quite accessible. This one definitely improves over time in terms of production, story, and roleplaying, so I’d give it a shot.
This one is another that is primarily a Twitch stream, but can also be found on Youtube, or hosted on Geek and Sundry. There is a podcast version on iTunes, but that is lagging far behind current episodes.
This is another D&D 5th edition show, played by a fairly large party which can be up to 8 players at times. It’s both DM’d and played by ‘a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors’, as they call themselves, most of whom you’ve definitely heard in some videogame or anime at some point. As you can imagine their profession makes them particularly well suited to playing their characters. They really get into the roleplay with many great hilarious and serious moments in equal measure, and most of them are clearly very attached to their characters and the story, which makes it really engaging. Also, they do some pretty good accents and voices, which adds a lot, as 4 of the characters have varying English accents done by Americans, which could get annoying to an English person like myself easily, but in this case they actually pull it off. The DM is one of the best I’ve ever seen, with tons of great detail prepared each session, interesting and unpredictable story, and great improvisation.
Watching from the first episode is a little confusing, as it starts off mid-quest, and the production quality isn’t the best. This was their own private game they decided to start streaming, and had also recently switched from Pathfinder to D&D 5th mid-campaign. But eventually you will get hooked on the characters and the world, and the production becomes one of the best quality out there.
Onto some actual audio-only podcasts now, and this one is the One Shot podcast, which has since become the One Shot Network of podcasts.
The One Shot podcast itself is pretty self explanatory, as it is focused on doing one-shots of many different RPG systems that each usually run around 2 to 4 episodes each. This is a great podcast for finding new games, and exploring a bunch of different ideas. The usual people who play are mostly improv comedians, which lends itself fairly well to some good games with a lot of laughs. However, they do also have a tendency to go for games that are a bit more niche or unusual in the way they are played, usually the type that are more group storytelling experiences rather than the RPG you expect, with the players taking more control and the DM, if there is one, being more passive. I don’t particularly enjoy the episodes that go too far down that route, but there is also plenty of variety in other styles of game as well.
Their other podcast, Campaign (found HERE), is an offshoot from when they ran a Star Wars: Edge of The Empire game, and they continued it on in its own podcast. I’ve since become more interested in this show, thanks to the great character deveopment, and some really hilarious moments throughout. This campaign does still have some of the strangeness of the one-shot games though, such as the players dictating a lot to the DM, players taking over multiple NPCs, and the DM inserting their own character to the party. But really these things don’t cause much issue as the players are all mostly trying to tell a good story rather than ‘win’. Another thing to keep in mind is that they can get sidetracked a lot and spend a long time talking (in character) rather than doing much. They have had whole episodes that take up one extended conversation or enounter, as well as one point where they spent multiple episodes spanning most of a year to play a couple of in game days. The release schedule for this series is pretty infrequent and has had a lot of gaps though, which explains it, and can be a little annoying, but I still love the show.
As for production quality, these two are very much the best I have heard out there, and is full studio quality, beautiful to listen to. There are several other podcasts on their network now that I haven’t tried out, but I’m sure they’re up to a great standard of quality too.
Dice For Brains
Next up we have another podcast running a Fantasy Flight Star Wars game, this time in Force & Destiny.
Where Campaign can go a bit different and wacky with the game, this podcast is a really nice representation of a more standard game, which isn’t to say it’s boring. It has some great moments, a great DM, and a couple of veteran players mixed in with some new ones. They do some great stuff with the Star Wars setting, and overall its just a really pleasant game to listen to if you want a break from the more wacky (and sweary) games that I’ve already mentioned.
As for production, the sound quality is fantastic, almost as good as One Shot, but also has a few editing additions such as voice alterations for different NPCs, edited in sections for the benefit of the listener, and background music and sound effects, all of which is really immersive and adds a lot to the listening experience.
Crudely Drawn Swords
Finally there is this podcast which i just discovered recently. It’s a game run in the Dungeon World system, which isn’t one I’ve looked into before, but is appears to create some fun moments in this game. You can find this one on most services such as iTunes and Soundcloud.
This has to be one of the funniest actual-plays I’ve listened to, and it’s got nothing to do with the players being voice actors, or improv comedians, but more that they are a bunch of average yet witty and silly Brits. Above all the other shows, this is the one that reminds me most of how actual games play in my experience. The story and DMing is great in this, with a good amount of humour and cool moments. The players have got some great characters, and they are constantly going for bad puns and ridiculous roleplaying, while also playing properly and moving forward, which is what I think is the perfect mix for an entertaining RPG. Above all else, it’s nice to have an English actual-play in the sea of American ones, which is probably what contributes to me finding this so side-splittingly hilarious throughout.
The production quality in this one is pretty good, and has good editing, with some of the bloopers added at the end, and songs by the players inserted at times. There are a few episodes early on where they played together in person rather than online, and the audio quality is a bit off then, but other than that the rest is perfectly fine.
Well that’s it for all of my recommendations, but if any of you out there has any actual-plays they like, be they podcasts or on Youtube, then please share them! I’m always looking for good new things to listen to. 🙂