Sunday, 11 October 2015

Podcasts I Like, Again

I’m always happy to find gaming podcasts that aren’t American, not because I Hate America but because there’s so many that are, it’s a welcome contrast. Also, I think it’s one of those areas where the sheer numbers of Americans putting out gaming and gaming-related content can skew perspective a bit. Living in different countries, there are different cultural contexts, practical concerns, and social norms that inevitably affect games built around a mixture of social interaction and imaginary worlds.

Today I present three of those, plus a bonus extra.

The Adventuring Party

The Adventuring Party is one of the most varied gaming podcasts I listen to. The podcast as a whole covers “Irish gaming”, which includes specific RPGs, board games, wargames, card games, LARP, con reports, and a lot of general discussion around games. They keep to one or two broad topics per podcast, which means I can skip the con reports and CCG discussions (the first being of limited use as I’m not in Ireland, and the second not being my thing) and get content that’s mostly of direct interest. There’s a fairly large cast, I think about eight all told, but they switch hosts around between episodes so it’s usually about four.

The discussions range pretty widely, covering the mechanical side of gaming, the social side, and a lot of associated issues. Thus, there are episodes discussing D&D 5e; game plots loosely based on Santa; gaming on a limited budget; problem players; and many other topics over the hundreds of podcast episodes they’ve done.

Despite the large number of hosts, the audio is good. There’s limited crosstalk, and they keep discussions fairly well on track despite the relaxed atmosphere. They’re a cheerful bunch, who neither veer off into general silliness (which isn’t exactly a problem, but not what you come for) nor engage in extended rants. The critique sections are generally positive, constructive and reasonable. The hosts’ varying interests and experiences mean they can offer very different viewpoints on issues, comparing and contrasting ideas and practices from tournament gaming, friendly gaming, wargaming, LARPing and so on. It’s just a really enjoyable listen, basically.

Improvised Radio Theatre With Dice

IRTD is probably the most chilled podcast I’ve ever listened to, which always conveys the sense of sitting in a warm study or on a veranda sipping a soothing drink. The hosts have great rapport, yet interesting differences in their viewpoints and opinions that help explore topics in interesting ways. The pacing and flow is good, and although editing probably helps, I think that is one of the great strengths of a two-man show: there’s less chance of interruption and it’s easier to make sure everyone gets to make all their points.

Michael and Roger have what seems like encyclopaedic knowledge of a vast array of games, many of which I’ve never even heard of, and roam far and wide through them in their discussions. That being said, they don’t hesitate to admit limited familiarity (or total ignorance) and frankly say that certain games or game types won’t be covered in a show because they don’t know enough about them.

There’s not a huge archive of episodes yet, around forty, but this is a really rich and varied podcast, ranging from high-level discussion of types and philosophies of game down to specific practical ideas, or the hosts’ own immediate gaming concerns and difficulties. I’ve never failed to find it interesting.

The audio quality is excellent, and it’s great to have another British podcast to listen to. If we lived in more enlightened times you could pop this on the BBC basically unchanged – in fact the hosts have rather BBC voices. Failing that, you’ll have to download it.

Going In Blind

I’ve just started listening to Going In Blind. It’s an actual play podcast on the face of it, but with what you could probably technically call a “gimmick”, though it’s kind of the opposite. The podcast is about playing games, specifically D&D, with players who are legally blind.

Leaving the entire premise aside for a moment, the thing that struck me immediately about this podcast was the first episode, in which nothing happens. That’s because this episode is dedicated to a warm, friendly, approachable explanation of what RPGs are and what it’s like to play them. It’s very probably the best thing in that line I’ve yet come across, and it has a great advantage over those “what is roleplaying?” sections you get at the start of most rulebooks: I think it’ll be far easier to convince a non-gamer to listen to a free podcast link on the bus than to read several pages of a book they may already regard with immense suspicion.

Another advantage is that roleplaying books don’t usually come with velvety narration in a delightful Australian accent and brimming with enthusiasm both for roleplaying games and for social inclusion. Because the “legally blind” bit of this podcast isn’t just a note in passing, it’s a deliberate project X has set out on, and the group touches regularly on the particular considerations this calls for in a game.

Don't know where the rest of this podcast will go, but it was a very strong beginning in my view.

I’m quite interested in this discussion and looking forward to finding out more. For example, many games are built around long lists of things and on blocks of preset powers, but visual impairment makes it hard to rapidly scan through lists and makes you rely more on memory. Even with audio content (which is, as far as I know, zero RPGs) you can’t skim at anything like the same pace. How does this affect play? Does it change the types of games that VI gamers find most accessible? Are broad, “you have four Aspects”-type games better than crunch-heavy ones? What kinds of adjustments are possible to help VI gamers deal with these situations? Of course as a player you can do things like pick minimal-list classes, but that's limiting.

Action Science Theatre

Action Science Theatre is very much not a gaming podcast, but it’s still a good listen. Essentially, it’s a modern radio drama along the lines of the old BBC series – Dick Barton and all that. There are a few key differences though.

To begin with, the podcast is strictly episodic and one-off. There are no recurring characters, let alone ongoing stories. Each episode is a short comedy story, themed loosely around a theory, fact or historical person related to science. True to the name, most of them also feature a certain amount of action-adventure, as well as some romance, although others are more like sitcom. They’re short, fast and lively fare, with enthusiasm papering over the cracks inevitable in a zero-budget indie production.

The audio quality is (as with most things I recommend) very good technically, and as a scripted show you don’t really have to worry about crosstalk. The acting is towards the amateur and sometimes cheesy end of the scale, so people with stronger artistic sensibilities may not appreciate it, but then if you’re planning on listening to Actual Play podcasts I’m assuming you can tolerate sub-Hollywood acting.

Why am I mentioning it here? Well, partly just because I enjoy it. However, you might also find it provides inspiration for games, particularly in the actiony and not very serious end of things.

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