If you've been on Youtube for more than a few minutes, then you might have run into something called a Let's Play, a type of series where you watch YouTube personalities play a video game. The practice originated on Something Awful, and was a way for a gamer to showcase their love and knowledge of a video game.
It was only a matter of time before D&D became a spectator sport in the form of actual plays. From full-on events at gaming conventions to videos that skirt into Hollywood territory, Dungeons & Dragons has been taking the big step out of the basement and into the living room. Or the garage, at least.
Since role-playing is essentially a vessel for the imagination, my favorite way to listen to actual plays are podcasts. They're not only a great listen for lonesome drives, but also a source of inspiration for your own games. Just keep in mind that you shouldn't try to recreate an actual play with your own group, because it will never go the same way. Here are my recommendations, along with my favorite episodes for each show.
1. The Walking Eye
If you go through the Walking Eye's archive of episodes, you'll get an idea of how much RPGs have branched out since Gygax and Arneson's game about the dungeons and / or dragons. This podcast shies away from the bigger names in role-playing and supports the little fish in the independent publisher pool. The hosts of the podcast are a knowledgeable group on top of that. The only downside here is that the Walking Eye hasn't recorded any new episodes since 2014.
Recommended episodes: Blazing Rose is "a game about romantic rivalry," which will float your boat if you're into anime or rom-coms with love triangles. Meanwhile, A Penny for My Thoughts features a group of amnesiacs trying to find out their histories. The hosts stay in character in that one for almost two hours. My group's record is three minutes.
2. The Drunk and the Ugly
The folks over at The Drunk and the Ugly (DnU) boast a varied catalog of games they have played as well, and cast member Nathan Knapp has published his own role-playing game to boot. There are a ton of episodes to choose from (the cast has been posting a steady stream of actual play recordings since 2011), so you're sure to find something you'll like. DnU's cast members really get into their roles, too. Being funny at the table is easy, but these guys pull drama off well.
Recommended episodes: Maid RPG is a very Japanese game about playing maids, which can be creepy but thankfully DnU goes the hilarious route with it. Sean, who runs the game, does celebrity impressions that sit at the crossroads of very accurate and not accurate at all. For games that last longer than one episode, there's Monsters and Other Childish Things à la Persona / Shin Megami Tensei, and Legend of the Five Rings reinterpreted as Journey to the West.
3. Role Playing Public Radio
I have a soft spot for Role Playing Public Radio (RPPR). I've been listening to their actual play recordings as long as I've been in this hobby (I know Ross Payton's voice better than I know my own), and it was through them I learned there were alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons at all. The RPPR crew really like horror and fantasy games, and they're also a close representation of what groups are like in real life. Listen to a couple episodes and you can be in on the inside jokes, too. Crew member Caleb Stokes recently funded Red Markets, his game about zombies and capitalism, through Kickstarter.
Recommended episodes: There was that one time they played as Lady Gaga 2.0 and her entourage in the past future of Cyberpunk. Stop reading this and listen to it right now. When you come back, you can listen to this Cthulhu Dark game where the crew tries to kill each other, and this Fiasco game where they bring cultists on board the Titanic. I wouldn't be doing RPPR any justice if I didn't point you over to one of their horror games, either.
4. One Shot
And One Shot is the one you don't want to listen to first, because it will spoil you rotten. This show is what happens when you round up a bunch of talented improv comedians and give them a role-playing game. As such, their games are not something you can compare those of your everyday group to. But I wholeheartedly believe that you can learn a thing or two about improvising during your games by giving them a listen. The way James D'Amato, Kat Kuhl, and their show guests build off each other is a thing of beauty.
Recommended episodes: In their game of Our Last Best Hope, Zooey Deschanel, D.L. Hughley, Crispin Glover, and The Rock try to save the world from the moon. Besides that, One Shot plays their actual selves attending a supposed SNL audition in this Dread game, channels an alternate Gene Roddenberry in John Harper's Lasers and Feelings, and proves they'll be funny for hundreds of episodes in their first episode. I'm not even listening to these and I'm giggling just linking you to them.
Listening to full campaigns are more of an investment of your time and attention, but getting to know these characters (and their players) over hours and hours of gameplay, from start to finish, can be as rewarding as reading all seven Harry Potter books. The Drunk and the Ugly, Role Playing Public Radio, and One Shot have recorded campaigns as well, but the following podcasts focus on one, lengthy saga.
The Thursday Knights have 135 episodes chronicling the high fantasy adventures their party embarked on after going through the famous Temple of Elemental Evil. The players are very descriptive and there is a clear focus on the narrative, but as with most games run in the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the combat sessions can go on too long.
Tim and his group plays through the classic Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play campaign, The Enemy Within. The audio quality of the show is rough throughout its run, but it's a great look into a game that steps away from your usual Tolkien-inspired fare. If you donate to the website, Tim will send you the material he created for the campaign.
There are a lot of actual play podcasts out there, so I know I missed more than a few. What are your favorites?