At Sidequest, we love games. We love games so much that when we’re not playing games, we’re probably watching or listening to people playing games. But which people? And what games? We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite actual-play tabletop podcasts and tabletop-related let’s plays for your perusal, and please, let us know your favorites in the comments!
I’ve been playing Pathfinder for over a year, and I see tons of fan art and other work related to popular D&D podcasts all over social media, but they’ve never appealed to me. I started playing because my games were explicitly designed to be full of queer people and women, and I didn’t expect to see that reflected in a podcast—until I attended the live recording of Dungeons, Dice & Everything Nice (DD&EN) at C2E2, back in April. DD&EN is a live play fifth-edition D&D podcast and, despite using a system different from my games, it’s incredibly relatable. Katie Mae, the podcast’s DM, designed an original story in which Griana, the half-orc inheritor of a meat shop in the town of Troutbeck, and her employees Zil (a teen human wizard), Kai (an Earth Genasi barbarian), and Phibi (a gnome warlock) fall into shenanigan after shenanigan while just trying to boost the meat shop’s reputation. The story is compelling, Katie Mae is RUTHLESS in the most delightful way—even as a player, which we get to experience via oneshots—and so many details, from Zil’s super cute crush on a tough, troubled girl, to jokes about margaritas and reliance on gay (read: rainbow) dice, feel pulled from my own games! Frankly, it’s eerie, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. DD&EN is available at their website, on iTunes, and pretty much everywhere. I highly recommend starting at the beginning and listening all the way through, but there is a recap episode that jumps you into the first season, if you want to skip the prologue season.
Don’t Split the Podcast Network
Imagine you are listening to a beautiful story, full of gods, lore, and dangerous battles with heavy consequences which will affect the entire world. Often, the main characters interact with stately, knowledge-obsessed gods, nobles, demigods and other figures—but those main characters are three snarky, mischievous, super-powered teens who take every possible opportunity to play pranks and be brats. That’s Dames and Dragons, a fifth-edition actual-play podcast with an all-women cast. If you love folklore, coffee shop AUs and digging into the love lives of random NPCs, this is your dream podcast! The players sometimes roll to fall in love! Corben, the angsty teen crow boy, has a boob window in his armor! Honestly, I’m not really sure what else you need. Dames and Dragons is available on all major podcast apps (iTunes, Stitcher, etc.) as well as Soundcloud. I personally fell in love during Arc Two, “Into Avelis,” which is heavy on character development, but they run a recap episode between each arc, so you can play some quick catch-up and jump in wherever you’d like.
In the words I’ve heard hundreds of times over the last year and a half: Friends at the Table is an actual-play podcast focused on critical worldbuilding, smart characterization, and fun interaction between good friends. The show is hosted by Austin Walker (editor in chief of Waypoint, of all things), and features Jack DeQuidt, Ali Acampora, Art Martinez-Tebbel, Keith Carberry, Nick Scratch (in early episodes), Andrew Lee Swan, Andi Claire, and Janine Hawkins as players. The podcast is in its fourth season, called “Twilight Mirage,” and is nearing the end of a space-operatic story about utopia and machine-gods, and the complexity of doing good when the world is, well, incredibly complicated. In season 2, “COUNTER/Weight,” a ragtag group of not-criminals waged a cyberpunk war (there are mechs) against the embodiment of capitalism; in seasons 1 and 3, the characters explore the post-fantasy world of Hieron as gods and magic make the characters’ lives very, very difficult. It’s also all like, real gay.
You can jump in at any season break—Ali made this neat flow chart to help—but I recommend starting with Marielda (if you like fantasy) or Twilight Mirage (if you like sci fi) for Top Tier Audio Quality. This show means more to me than I can really express, and the cast’s willingness to try out new systems in service of the story is part of what reignited my interest in tabletop RPGs in general!
Whilst I enjoy a few D&D shows (namely, the long-running Critical Role and the baby-fresh Dark & Dicey), I’m also a sucker for quick, anecdotal tellings of past campaign adventures. I also love informative shows, people aiming to aid their fellow gamer and make them feel welcome. One of my favourites that combine these two is The Animated Spellbook by Zee Bashew. This series is currently at about a dozen episodes and is ongoing. Each episode is only a few minutes long, animated in clean, simple style, and breaking down some of the more complicated aspects of spellcasting in D&D. Bashew shares not only what a spell does, but also the less orthodox possibilities that can turn a simple utility into a more creative execution. What I find helpful is that the series has started with the fundamentals of spellcasting, cantrips and level one spells, making it easy for newer players, either to the game as a whole or just the spellcaster role, come to grips with what they could possibly do.
If you’re interested in the world of tabletop let’s plays, I probably don’t need to sell you too hard on The Adventure Zone. Yes, it’s already very popular. But as this genre of podcast continues to carve out a place for itself in the wider world of podcasting, I think it’s useful to examine why it’s so popular.
The game itself is certainly good. Griffin McElroy is a great DM, and the story meanders around in satisfying ways. The PCs are both memorable and lovable, and the rapport between the McElroys playing together as a family is comfortable and charming. The one-hour episodes are perfect bite-sized chunks of fun gaming and don’t feel overwhelming to jump into.
But my favorite thing about The Adventure Zone is the cross-talk. The arguments about who’s metagaming and whose character voices are annoying. The pop culture references, immediately followed by the other players pretending not to understand them because “Harry Potter hasn’t been invented yet.” The frustrated DM begging his players to get back to the game. The inside jokes and the friendly ribbing. Not being able to focus at the table is a time-honored tradition of D&D, and hearing the McElroys get distracted in all the same ways my players get distracted really makes it feel like they’re emulating the true tabletop experience.
Alenka Figa is a queer librarian obsessed with D&D podcasts that have solid queer rep. She frequently tweets about them @alenkafiga. Catch her reviews of zines and indie comics over at Women Write About Comics.