Should You Create A Podcast From Your D&D Games?

 

OK, If you play a ton of Dungeons and Dragons and consume a load of D&D fan content, then making your own podcast has probably crossed your mind. I created my show back in 2017. I posted weekly and ran a series of four live shows. The intention of this blogpost is to inform rather than to dissuade. Here are some realities to consider when turning a D&D game into content.

The popular D&D stream Critical Role

The popular D&D stream Critical Role

Actually playing D&D is going to take a back seat to content creation and promotion.

Let’s say that you have a pretty production light show and you plan to upload with the only editing being adding an intro and outro. Even then, you would probably listen to it once at the bear minimum giving you a 1 to 1 time spent editing to playing D&D. If you want an audience, you’ll need to do some sort of promotion/marketing. Posting in each social media channel once a week will probably bring up your production time by another few hours (this doesn’t include the initial time spent setting up a website and writing copy for episodes). So now, at a minimum, the ratio of producing content to playing is 2:1. If you’re the Dungeon Master for this game, you’re going to have to add in the amount of time you spend preparing a game, which could easily be another couple of hours. Ultimately you’re probably going to cut a lot of your time actually playing so that you can produce and promote your content, so think real hard before you trade in that time you could spend actually playing with your friends.

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Your players will be performing.

If you just setting up cameras or mics in front of your regular weekly session, make sure that your players are up for that. Just because you’re the DM doesn't mean you own your game. Collaboration is the heart of D&D and what goes on at the table belongs to each player, and they have a say as to whether their play gets recorded and aired on the internet. Not everyone is a natural performer, and even fewer people are professional performers. For Fate and Fables all the players are cast from the Melbourne comedy and acting scene. Most regular folks will be quite nervous role playing with their friends let alone to a recording that will go up online (especially if theres very little editing). The fact is, performing is work even when it’s fun so make sure the players have signed up for it.

Me and my sweet players from my home game.

Me and my sweet players from my home game.

You can find your own balance.

For several reasons, including audio faults and DM/production burnout, I took an eight month hiatus from Fate & Fables, my own podcast. In that time I started a new weekly home game with some friends. This was the best thing I could have possibly done because it made me realise that I enjoy playing D&D more than I enjoy producing content. I tweaked the balance of production to play so that I’m only releasing episodes over a handful of months a year, and only when I have a fun idea for a game. The point being, if you still fancy making content from your D&D game, you’ll find what balance works eventually. When it’s a labour of love, you’ll be fine if no one listens to it because you can be proud of what you’ve made regardless. Come jump into the D&D podcast community, I can’t wait to see what you make.

 
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D&D and Acting (or D&DnA)

 

In this guest blog, Luke Mason (AKA Jarryn) writes about approaching D&D from the perspective of a trained actor.

Luke Mason here. 
I rolled mostly average when character building my life.

“Acting isn't other than who you are, it’s more of who you are.”
Paul Hampton, a university acting coach of mine, said that in one of our first-year theatre classes.

I have certainly used that phrase many times since then to help me find truthful methods of getting into character by exploring and highlighting certain facets of my existing personality. This same quote can also be reinterpreted for the sake of Dungeons and Dragons. For role playing, sure, but also in the approach of how we can play the game.

I love the term “play." In a theatrical sense, a play is defined as a performance – but I've learned that when putting on a show and discovering your character, there also needs to be an air of playfulness in how we interact. Playfulness is a very active state where you engage with, listen to, and respond in kind to your senses, the environment around you, and the people you're playing with. I believe all people have a creative, playful side to them. Without having this sense of play in performance, I've seen people on stage become stiff and lifeless, and lose their sense of storytelling; it negates the whole suspension of disbelief.

Rehearsal for the production of  Boomerang

Rehearsal for the production of Boomerang

Now if I'm being honest with you, I was shy and reserved growing up. I guess I’d even go as far as to say I’m more on the introverted side of things. Not to an antisocial degree – but I still prefer hanging out with a small group of close friends at home rather than going out to a club. But discovering a love for acting and theatre when I was a kid helped to give me a creative outlet. Since finding this passion, I’ve definitely come out of my shell more – I even have some control over being somewhat less introverted when the need arises. No one handed me something I didn’t have before, but I was shown that there was more of me inside that I didn't let get to the surface as much. It was as though a switch had been flicked all of a sudden, seemingly giving me permission to let loose a little and, for lack of a better phrase, strut my stuff.

But Luke, how does this relate to D&D? Well when I first started playing D&D with three people out in a wooden shed filled with candles, the whole game was an alien concept to me. “What, we just speak through what we’re doing and roll dice?” Plus my improvisation skills in acting were never that keen, so for a lot of the time in my first game or two, my character seemed a bit bland and underdeveloped to me. I didn’t know who Jarryn was or how this creature behaved in this world. I only created this numbered sheet of paper like five minutes ago; I need a real script. So I was kind of just there for the ride, like I was being told a story (mind you, I think Matt is a fantastic and talented story teller).

A post shared by Fate&Fables (@fateandfables) on

Once I got the hang of the format though and gave myself permission to play, I had the best time with this game! I let Jarryn become a heightened version of various aspects of my personality. How would the bold, daring, and whimsical side of Luke react in this scenario? Got more aspects of your personality you wanna express? Guess what? There are any number of characters in D&D you can create that can be just as much a part of you! Here was another opportunity to express my creative side and let loose. That's the moment when I felt like I was engaged in a part of the storytelling process rather than just listening to it, that I was an equal creator that could affect the outcome of this world we’d made. Plus who doesn't love fighting bad guys, casting spells, and looting treasure keeps!?

To me, the process of Dungeons and Dragons is a lot like acting in that it gives the participant a creative outlet to express themselves, or a more heightened version of themselves, freely in a world/stage where we can set the terms and anything is possible.

 

Letters of Note

 

Let’s talk letters. Yes, literally making letters, aging paper, wax seals and all that jazz, then handing them out to the players mid game. When implemented into a game they can be one of the most engaging moments for both player and DM. When the dungeon master is able to pull out something from the imaginary world onto the table it makes the game more immersive and the roleplaying far richer. Good epistolary pulls you deeper into the game like no other narrative prop.

Fun Fact: Scrott's level of planning is very similar to most DM's running their first game.

Fun Fact: Scrott's level of planning is very similar to most DM's running their first game.

Most games I run have a piece of missive, of some sort, hidden into the game - whether the players actually find it is another matter.  A goblin’s poorly scrawled aspirations to be top fighter in his squabbling warband will be poorly written in charcoal, or suspiciously red ink, and it will probably be scrunched up to represent how it was stuffed quickly into its britches before ambushing the PC’s. The spelling will be decidedly bad and some parts may even be incomprehensible. Alternately, the love letter that the players pickpocket off a well-to-do lord may be several pages long, and folded into a perfumed envelope. It may even be wax sealed with the family crest.

Hot Tip: Use coins for seals, the variety of prints will let you represent different envoys!

Hot Tip: Use coins for seals, the variety of prints will let you represent different envoys!

In both these examples the Letters do something really wonderful in a design aspect, they manage to make a narrative element of the players experience feel like a reward. The letter that gets pickpocketed, or looted from a desk feels like treasure, and often feels just as exciting as the conventional treasure of gold or magical items. The player that discovers one of these letters, nine times out of ten, will hold it close to their chest greedily. When they can read it first and then get to relay it to the other characters, it feels like the sparkliest treasure. This is bloody amazing because it engages the player into the story the DM is spinning.

There is common a principal of storytelling that everyone learns early on, show don’t tell. With a letter you can pass very layered information to the players and let them have fun unravelling it. Lets use the example of a letter found on a dead Hobgoblin captain (see picture below). Before the letter was passed to the player, it was confirmed that they were able to read it. They needed to know either Goblin (or Dwarvish with an intelligent check since dwarven runes are the basis of the goblin written script). Once handed to the player, they would see that it has yet to reach its recipient, as the wax is unbroken. The envelope is quite small and had no proper address, other than a Hobgoblin Warchant, indicating that it was a militaristic message, most likely carried by hand between officers. The message in the letter was quite dense, a mission report, but the players were able to learn several things that may greatly influenced their gameplay. Have a look yourself.

Poor Captain Bullwa. His squadron defeated, he fled into the night, only to be caught by a vicious mockery (Bard Spell) causing him to die of shame.

Poor Captain Bullwa. His squadron defeated, he fled into the night, only to be caught by a vicious mockery (Bard Spell) causing him to die of shame.

In Brief, the players learn:

  1. The high commander of Hobgoblin Forces in this region is known as Commander Pike.

  2. There are potentially many more organised squadrons in this area, since their squadrons name is Gamma.

  3. There are Elven territories to the east.

  4. A being known as Jeruth that is corrupting creatures in this area.  

This is so much information in such a small letter. It provides the party with so many choices and options. Do they pursue Commander Pike and work their way up the hobgoblin chain of command? Do they seek the forest elves in the east, anticipating their potential to be hostile to outsiders? When the players found this letter they huddled over it, because they had been wandering through a thick and dense forest wilderness for the last week unsure of their options. Rather than drop in a clunky NPC to give them a speech and essentially have the DM signpost their options, a sneaky a mission report in the captain's pocket is far more smooth. With one bit of paper they went from being lost to having choices. Sure i could have told them this was what their character read, but tangibility of the letter really reinforces the roleplay aspect, and encourages the players to talk to each other in character, even if it’s only “what does it say? Let me see!”

Doesn't Zilk know you're not supposed to write down the runes for your teleportation circle? Idiot, now anyone who snatches that letter may be able to zip right into this vulnerable town....    

Doesn't Zilk know you're not supposed to write down the runes for your teleportation circle? Idiot, now anyone who snatches that letter may be able to zip right into this vulnerable town.... 

 

Another boon for using physical letters in game is the way that they can be saved and used later. If a new player joins the party they can be given the letter to help catch them up to speed. If the elves struggle to trust them they can produce the letter as proof. The players can even, with a proper forgery roll beforehand, alter the letter so that it reads differently and aids them in some deception. Sure they could just write down, but how many players write down verbatim, and how many characters have the intelligence to remember the mission report word for word. It feels so much more true to the world for them to just say “here, read this.”

On Drake the Ashbourne Runners and The Ravens of Mourne are the two large postal services (Robert Scurry's Rat Post for thief networks is also in place in some cities and villages, though can be unreliable). It’s so much fun having players send off letters, and then have the reply come back to them, next game or several games later depending on how much they paid and the PC’s location. It’s such a lovely bit of roleplay.

Ashbourne Herons Post have enchantments on them to prevent them getting lost, stolen, tampered with or damaged, but may cost an arm and a leg.

Ashbourne Herons Post have enchantments on them to prevent them getting lost, stolen, tampered with or damaged, but may cost an arm and a leg.

The Drakesfell Runners are the most reliable caravaneers in the land. Affordable rates too. 

The Drakesfell Runners are the most reliable caravaneers in the land. Affordable rates too. 

They can be such great plot hooks as well, such as if the tavern owner they befriended in their first game has written to them asking them for help because their business is going under! A postal system is a lovely way of reminding the players that the world around them is real, and that it keeps on going even when they're not around. This bit of worldbuilding makes the world more plausible and connected. 

Ultimately, Letters are such an easy prop to make, and such a powerful tool at the DM’s disposal. They manage to get the player involved in the world like no other prop can. It's another way you can put in a bit more time and effort into prep so that your players have a more immersive experience. Also it's an incentive to stop the trigger happy sorcerer from fireballing before asking questions. 

Most of the Letters used in this post were saved by Luke Mason, who plays the Gnome Bard, Jarryn in A Djinn's Wish! Go give him a listen he's a funny gnome.

Cheers for Reading! 

 
 

Let The Adventure Begin!

 

Hi there, I’m Matthew Jackson. I’m the Archnerd in charge of Fate & Fables - the host, Dungeon Master, editor and producer. Picture a filthy little goblin boy running around behind the scenes, that’s me, and this is a blog post introducing you to Fate & Fables.

Dark Sphere game shop and nerd cavern in London. Where I ran a new players table. 

Dark Sphere game shop and nerd cavern in London. Where I ran a new players table. 

Let’s be clear - I’m making a dungeons and dragons podcast for three reasons; the money, the power, and the women. Jokes aside, I actually just really bloody love running these games, and setting up microphones and scheduling recordings has only made it better.

When I was nineteen at university, I was running a game of around six people, and I was a couple of years into being a Dungeon Master. I was obsessed; I spent far more time working on the weekly nerd gatherings than on my actual uni-course. Binders, notepads and boxes full of fantasy letters, maps, and character bios started to amount up. My grandmother once observed me drawing out a detailed map of the city that would be the players sandbox over the next couple months, “are you ever going to make any money off of this?” She asked, “No… I just love this.”

Luke Mason was kind enough to save all the letters they managed to get their hands on in a campaign I ran earlier this year.

Luke Mason was kind enough to save all the letters they managed to get their hands on in a campaign I ran earlier this year.

 I remained feverishly writing, drawing and practicing character voices solidly for another four years. I even started getting Improv classes and hitting the open-mic’s to become a better dungeon master. It was all to run the best experience possible. Improv classes eventually led to a gig in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival last April, and it was the most amazing experience of my comedy career. Learning to perform in front of a live audience definitely helped me in immersing a table of nerds in a fantasy universe.

This year, however, I’ve felt like I’ve had less and less time to commit to regular games, and the spice of running a game has naturally lessened since I started six years ago.

Hence starting this podcast - Fate & Fables. Suddenly, it’s like a whole new game again.  

This is a big map I drew of Drake & Hellion, the Twin Isles, where every game I run is set. I have been running Drake and Hellion for over five years now!

This is a big map I drew of Drake & Hellion, the Twin Isles, where every game I run is set. I have been running Drake and Hellion for over five years now!

It has been so much fun working out how to fit this game into a podcast, taking on board what a lot of other people are doing and working on what I can do differently. I was a little apprehensive about becoming part of the ocean of D&d podcasts out there. In the end though, this might not be such a bad thing. There are a million different ways that you can run a game of dungeons and dragons, each DM bringing their own style and technique. What might enthral and excite one group of players will bore and repel the next. There’s no one way to do this, and that’s the beauty of the game.

Rather than record a single ongoing game like many D&D podcasts, Fate & Fables will be distinct in it’s use of a rotating cast. There’s new characters and actors playing for each new fable that starts. However, all the fables are set in the same world. The ramifications of what happens in one fable may well spill into the next, and characters that have appeared in an earlier fable may well return in later ones. The idea of a bunch of previously introduced characters coming back to face a great evil is also a fun concept I look forward to exploring.

The first go at recording a game with the the voice actors Raymond Martini and Luke Mason. 

The first go at recording a game with the the voice actors Raymond Martini and Luke Mason. 

The cast are going to be made up of people that have spent years working on skills in performance. I spent several months after university teaching people how to play at a game shop in London, quickly learning that how difficult it was to breakdown people’s inhibitions to role-play characters, to get them silly or invested in the world. Having actors play is so much fun because they are usually so much quicker to commit to the world. 

All those I’ve asked to perform in Fate & Fables are genuinely amazing performers and are an absolute pleasure to DM for. The project has motivated me to wrangle these amazing players and that alone is a blast.

Fate & Fables is the most exciting thing I’ve had on my plate since I first cracked the spine of a 3.5 Dungeon Masters guide. I really can’t wait to share it. Three episodes of the first fable release in fourteen days, watch this space for more updates!

 
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