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.


  1. I'm the same way, but I do enjoy watching Harmon Quest. Not sure why...

  2. Ditto. I really can't stand them. I just can't get my head around the idea of D&D as a spectator sport. So much of the "fun" of the game is about the personal interactions and chemistry between the players, much of which seems to vanish once there is an audience.

  3. I like the Acquisitions Incorporated "C" team although I usually just listen while doing something else. There is quite a bit of interplay with the DM and players with the DM riffing off of things that happened with the players in prior games. The main Acquisitions Incorporated used to better but has gotten quite "sales pitchy". Both shows streamline the rules to cram a good game in under two hours. Most of the other ones I have looked at have failed to catch my interest.

  4. I don't actually like that many of them. I mostly listen to them on my podcast app, and there aren't that many that I found that good. In fact the only Actual Play I consistently like listening to is the Shadowrun Origins podcast. I actually look forward to hearing those guys. Some of the Happy Jacks shows are good as well, but I don't like all of them. The Mote of Sin for example was engrossing, others not so much. Funnily enough those all aren't OSR. I still haven't found a good OSR one.