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Fiction Podcasts

6 Tips That Make Great Actual Play Podcast Players

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Unlike being an actor, there are additional skill sets when it comes to being a cast member in an actual play podcast. Improvising, knowing the basic rules, and playing well with others are essential traits for roleplayers. 

Let me now crack open another of my books, the Character’s Guidebook, lovingly plastered with Post-it notes for actual play comments. It’s time to get you ready, not only to play, but to be great.

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By Volonda of The Lucky Die

Hem Brewster is a Brit living in Iceland, Hem GM’s actual play podcasts, and is also the lead producer at Blighthouse Studios. They’ve also been known to voice act in the odd podcast.

Let’s dive into these six tips for actual play podcast players…

1. Talk to the Game Master

Ask questions about the story or the world and how your character concept might fit into it. This is usually a dialogue, where both player and GM can mould the character and the world to create a good story that should be heard, and a character that you’ll want to play.

Learn, not only the game’s rules but the table’s rules too. Safety Tools, what house rules exist, schedules, tone/mood.

Treasure Token Tip – Keep talking with the GM throughout the game to ensure you’re both getting the best out of the game.

2. Create a Character That You Want to Play

Give them a goal, a purpose and a history. Gnome Stew has some great articles on this. As an experienced player, I can tell you that your character will grow and change in ways you could not have predicted, so be prepared to be flexible.

Ask yourself the Who, What, How, and Why questions. Who had the biggest impact on them? How did they get that scar? What’s the origin of their wizarding wand? Why do they need to steal from everyone? Do they have any weaknesses?

Give the GM a wealth of potential plot hooks, i.e. something that you do not know the answer to – surprise inheritances, mysteries unsolved, unknown warlock gods… the list goes on. A great GM will use these to craft a story that engages your character, and, thus, you. 

Treasure Token Tip – Having a character with amnesia is fun and gives the GM potentially a lot of plot hooks. But it also gives the GM literally nothing. Give them something, even if your character knows nothing.

3. Interact With the World

Try to ask questions and explore the narrative. There are many hidden details that are only briefly hinted at. These often go undiscovered without player involvement. 

If you ever wondered why there’s a tailor with a battle scar? Go ask! They could be the big baddie in disguise or be your new best friend. If your boss hints at trouble at home, ask them if they’re ok. 

The discovery of the world is in your hands as players. It’ll feel so much bigger if you explore it. You’re also more likely to discover more about the plot and ways to advance the characters’ growth. Not only does this make your actual play podcast more enjoyable and rewarding to create, but it also makes for a captivating listening experience too!

4. Interact With Other Player Characters

It can be difficult to balance being a proactive team member and giving other characters time to shine. A good player will make space for others to shine at their thing (sneaking, eldritch knowledge, etc.), but a great one will engage with other player characters and support their journey (even if it’s in an antagonistic way).

Your characters don’t have to be friends to create interesting relationships. Making a relationship with another character, even if based on begrudging respect, helps to keep the team together narratively. They can bring out different sides of a character and help them to feel less 2D.

5. Have Respect

Respect everyone’s time by being punctual and ready to record, which includes reading any notes, so you’re not asking “What happened last time?”.

Respect the narrative the GM is trying to tell and work with, rather than against them (unless that’s the table’s style, in which case, burn baby burn).

Respect the editor. Keep audio quality in mind when you record, so they don’t have to listen to you eat an apple or ask them to try to deal with a loud AC unit.

Respect the table rules, including Safety Tools, and whose turn it is to bring snacks.

Treasure Token Tip – Say thank you! Thank the GM for running the game. Thank the other players for being rock stars.

6. Beware the “I Work Alone” Character Trope

Bitter, Cynical, Asshole, Self Absorbed… Too bitter and cynical to make a connection with anyone. An asshole to everyone they meet. So self-absorbed that they don’t care about anything not directly related to them and their goals.

These can be GREAT and incredibly FUN characters. It’s the extreme manifestations that I’m applying the “but” to… BUT…

These roles can be terrible for long-form actual play podcasts. It’s harder to engage in the world, explore the plot and work as part of a team if your character isn’t willing to do so. Don’t mistake me here, you don’t need to explore EVERY thread presented to you, but at least care enough to engage in SOME threads.

And as a player, it’s on YOU to help show off and explore the world the cast has built. Why you, you ask? Because you’re the audience’s eyes and ears in the plot, the world and the characters.

In an actual play, the audience rarely goes where you do not – and if you have an audience, give them the world.

Final Thoughts on Making Great Actual Play Podcast Players

As I return the guidebook to its shelf, I want to gush over the freedom an actual player has to express themselves as an actor. Your character can grow and change organically, and it’s incredibly rewarding to play. No director telling you to sound 20% cooler… Oh no, my wizard friend! You be you… or rather, be Whizzle the Wizard. It’s, of course, scary because there ISN’T a director to guide you, but in my opinion, it’s worth it. 

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