Found sound is one of the most popular framing devices in the contemporary fiction podcast landscape. Limetown is one the most famous and memorable illustrations of the found sound technique in modern audio drama: packaged as a real documentary series released by the fictional American Public Radio. Found sound does not have to be pseudo-journalistic, however; stories can be told through personal voice recorders…
Let us set the scene: It’s spring of 2006 — Facebook is barely two years old and its users are exclusively college and high school students, Twitter is a text message experiment, and the first widely adopted smartphone (the iPhone) won’t exist for another year. While avoiding grading papers, I stumble across a Craigslist ad seeking writers to help reinvent a classic form of entertainment for this brave new digital age: the idea is to tell a story as captivating as anything on television today (like Lost or The Office) using only dialogue, sound effects, and music, like in old time radio. This show (and future ones like it) will be distributed via “podcast.”
To say I love listening to music would be a huge understatement. I love turning on the radio and listening to the same 20 songs in rotation or asking Alexa to play a little Lo-Fi Hip Hop or shuffle songs by Krewella while I clean the house. Recently, however, I have a new love: podcasts. Yes, I know! How did I wait so long to hop on the bandwagon?
You know what I love about DnD? It’s not just the settings, the dice collections, the manuals and the infinite potential of the imagination. What I really love about DnD are the moments when people are just kind to each other. In the best games, we share and respect each other’s stories. When one of us is sad, the rest of us respect that. When one of us is brave, we celebrate. When one of us dies, we mourn.
This is what The Ordinary Epic (https://www.theordinaryepic.com/) captures for me. Brandon Crose, Jordan Stillman, Brad Smith, Matthew Lightbound, Stephanie LeBolt and all of their amazing cast and crew have given us a lens into the world of TTRPGs and the culture they create. The Ordinary Epic is the show I’ve been waiting for. It’s a sitcom about playing Dungeons and Dragons that’s as much about the real people involved as it is about the stories they tell themselves.
So here are the basics: The Ordinary Epic is a richly sound designed, beautifully orchestrated, compellingly performed piece of drama. The cast and crew deliver a professional sounding product that’s easy and fun to listen to. This is especially impressive given the fact that the podcast slides between the real world and that of the game almost seamlessly, whilst still giving the audience clear sonic signifiers as to what’s going on so that they don’t get lost.
We follow the story of a group of friends: Athena, Daniel, Dominic, and Emo – as they take a new player, Marcus, on board. We also follow the story of a group of wayward renegades, the Dauntless Dungeoneers, as they accept the addition of a cleric into their party. A cleric, Brother Benedict, who is increasingly distressed by the Dungeoneers’ propensity for theft and violence, and at how quickly he falls into their corrupting ways.
I really want to celebrate the performances of the cast here. Caitlin Gjerdrum’s work with the NPC’s, as well as Athena herself, is pitch perfect. Eliott Purcell takes both Dominic and Caelus all the way up to the line of irredeemably irritating, then tugs them back with begrudging compassion. Rachel Belleman’s work as Thack, Emo, and Elf-Thack are three great variations of a player we’ve all met. Brandon G. Green’s dry humour is a good balance to Brother Benedict’s staunch principles. For me, Michael Hisamoto really leads the party as Daniel and Merrick. His performance is nuanced, funny and charming, and I’m excited to see him do more in this space.
What the show captures are the struggles and triumphs of ordinary people learning how to care for each other. It’s a small stakes story set against a high stakes fantasy backdrop. And in a world where it feels like every day we learn about a new disaster too big for any of us to face alone? It reminds us that there is a reward for going on to fight another day. It’s knowing that you did the right thing.
There are so many amazing things about podcasting; it truly is an amazing hobby. The amount of love and care that gets put into making this unique form of audio content is unbelievable. I have been a podcast fan, on and off, for about ten years. In that time, I have listened to news podcasts, pop culture podcasts, and actual plays (of course). Every episode that I listen to, I am floored by the amount of work put into this content. And I have barely scratched the surface of the world of podcasting!
Magic Folk is a character and story-driven actual play podcast set in a homebrew world, created by Corrine Beck, Becca Bowen, Kyle Breunning, and Victoria Watkins, and it’s everything I want from an AP.
The cast has great chemistry, in and out of character. They crack each other up and make each other cry and it’s VERY GOOD
The story is a high-stakes adventure, but they take time to show you the characters’ regular lives and families
The worst D&D tropes have been spiked into a dumpster, and a lot of what it’s been replaced with is delightfully odd
They take representation of marginalized identities very seriously
For the past five months (yes, I’m very slow), I have been doing a Grand Magic Folk Catch-Up, and now that I’m at the end, there is more to say than could possibly fit in a review. So, imagine that I’m talking about all of the stuff on that list in great detail, about how calmly Corrine wrangles the chaos of the Rowdy Party, about Bernan’s relationship with his family, about “take a brick, leave a brick” and bird pudding, and about the inclusive cast of characters that they have built over the past two years.
But since I have to focus here, I want to talk about one specific plotline that was extremely important to me. It covers an adventure in Quekkia, Kiss the Barbarian’s homeland. Kiss was probably my favorite character on the whole show even before this story, and even moreso now. He is an aarakocra, a man of action, and a total sweetheart who loves his friends and named all four of his javelins. It doesn’t hurt that Kyle’s bombastic character voice for him always makes me smile.
Quekkia is a small settlement, and it is really ingrained in their culture that your purpose is to gather shiny things so you can come home, settle down, and raise a family to ensure the future of Quekkia. And by this point in the series, it’s clear that Kiss doesn’t really want to do that, and that it’s starting to weigh on him. In episode 39, Sindre finally asks him why. That’s when we learn that it’s because Kiss is asexual. It’s probably the most accurate, careful, well-handled discussion of asexuality I’ve ever heard in a piece of fiction. (Listen here: Magic Folk Episode 39: Brothers, about 44:15 to 51:20).
The key to the scene working for me, is that Kiss has never even HEARD of asexuality. At the end of a battle that didn’t go great, everyone is feeling down, and Kiss really opens up about his feelings. He repeatedly says that he feels broken, and wrong, and like a failure, that he’s letting everyone down. Against the odds, Sindre knows exactly what’s going on. He talks about how sometimes, people just aren’t attracted to anyone, “and that’s okay.” Kiss says, “It is?!” with such hope in his voice, I think my heart grew three sizes that day. Through the rest of the scene, you can feel the weight of feeling broken starting to lift off of Kiss’ shoulders.
This scene is really familiar to me! I am ace, and I was in Kiss’s position once, and have been in Sindre’s many times since then. Asexuality is unusual, and hard to pin down, and often ace people don’t understand why sex and relationships have been weird for them until well into their adulthood, during a conversation like this one. It’s beautifully done.
And, while I chose this topic because you couldn’t pay me enough to stop screaming about asexuality, (really, even if you paid off all my debts. There’s no fucking way) I also think it’s an excellent example of what makes Magic Folk so good. They make a lot of lowbrow jokes, and Bernan vomits every three episodes, and it’s a very silly good time. But they still take the time to make their characters real, and to say something really important with them, and create representation where there was nothing. It’s a good show, and you should listen to it!
In the spring of 2018 I dropped my cat at my mother’s house, put everything I owned into storage, flew 1,737 kilometres and crossed one international border to take a chance on love. It’s one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken, and I don’t know if it would have happened if I’d never gotten into fiction podcasting.
To explain this properly, I’m going to backtrack a little...
“Be good. Be kind…” Turn every story you love into a creative project.
At least that’s what I have discovered since I started streaming tabletop roleplaying games weekly and, one by one, falling in love with casts, characters, and stories. One stream stands to become a novel, one a roleplaying game setting, but the first stream I ever played? That’s becoming a podcast.
Use a fresh apple if you ever need to simulate the sound of a person’s nose being bitten off.
I didn’t learn this on the job, but rather when I was 9, when my 11-year-old sister came home from the fifth grade field trip to the county courthouse. The withered, creaky-drawled judge acting as their guide had eagerly related the weirdest experience of his career: he’d presided over a trial where the key witness’s testimony so enraged the defendant that they leapt up from their seat, tackled the witness in the witness box, and, well, you know the rest. We’ll consider this primary research.