Saturday, September 21, 2019

Am I the Only One Who Hates Actual Play Shows?

I have an strained relationship with actual-play D&D streams, podcasts, etc. I'm very glad they exist. More than one of my players actually got interested in playing through the Adventure Zone. And I know from running a D&D club at the school where I teach that real-life kids listen to them. I feel about as sure as I am about anything that they are a big reason for the long-overdue coming out party that the tabletop RPG scene has enjoyed in the past few years.

I also can't stand them. I have tried many, from Critical Role to the more obscure OSR groups, and they absolutely cannot hold my attention. I can't even get into the Adventure Zone, and I love their other podcast. I don't even really know why I don't like them. It may have something to do with the fact that I'm not invested in the same way as when I'm playing, or maybe I don't like to see DMs making choices I wouldn't make.

But I want to like them. I really do. Do I have to make one to find one that I like? I fucking hope not. I couldn't see myself putting in the effort. Still, I have some ideas of things I'd like to see in something like this:


  • Film in front of a green screen and stick in atmospherically appropriate visuals - movies, real-world footage, photos, illustrations.
  • Graphics that look like they're taking inspiration from something a little better than World of Warcraft.
  • Animations that show game information - like if a player gets hit, there's a blood splatter and "-8 HP" above their head.
  • Replace DM description with short animations, if you can find someone good to make them.
  • Shoot on video tape for max nostalgia. I guess you couldn't stream like this, but whatever.
  • Closeups of all players, and a wide shot of the whole table. I'm not a fan of the Brady Bunch style that streaming kind of forces you into. I guess in general I'd rather watch something that has been shot ahead of time and edited together later, rather than streamed live.
  • Rotoscope the players so when they say something "in-character", they are literally their character, full Ralph Bakshi style. Could be pretty off-putting, but I think I'd like it.


  • Like four players max. Maybe three.
  • Everyone should know the fucking rules. Normally I will tell you that you do not need to know any rules to play D&D, but if you're going to be doing it for other people to watch, you should not be slowing down to figure things out every few minutes.
  • Everyone should be charismatic and charming and genuinely like each other. This seems like the first thing you should worry about and the hardest to pull off. Like real life, I guess. Usually the "cast" is either wooden, gratingly and self-consciously "nerdy," or obviously frustrated actors looking for exposure.
  • Editing, guys.