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.”
As the reader or viewer, the final product can feel inevitable to you — how else would you end 2012’s The Avengers except with the “A” in Stark tower flickering alone, the other letters all knocked off? But, if the director’s commentary is to be believed, that idea came shockingly late in the process. And have you ever read the first draft of “The Star Wars”...?
I don’t really write anymore. Not like I used to, anyway. I used to spin novels out of nothing without breaking a sweat, used to throw short stories together as easy as breathing, because once upon a time, I was a writer. Nothing made me happier than building a world brick by brick, populating it with people, and flooding my mind with their scenes, their conversations, the countless directions their stories could take. It was invisible to me, but completely essential, as if half of my heart was always in a world of my own creation.
Join the Party is one of my favourite actual play podcasts and from the very beginning invites listeners to join in not just on their adventure, but to try playing at all.
If you were to have talked to me a bit over a year ago and asked me about podcasts, I would have just shrugged and said that one of my friends was really into them and that would have been the extent of my knowledge. I really only thought of podcasts as information streams, since that is what my friend listened to. They were simply an audio medium to learn stuff from.
For those that have been following me for a while on Twitter, you'll know that I've been trying to chronicle my entire podcast listening with #MicroRyView posts for every episode I've listened to. And since I'm thoroughly addicted to podcasts, I have listened to quite a few within the last year!
Having said that, I have one recommendation today based upon a variety of factors. For my very first recommendation, I will have to give it to one of my absolute favorite podcasts right now. Fate and the Fablemaidens.
“YOU KNOW WHAT, LET’S MAKE A DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS PODCAST,” I announced, tipsy at a corporate happy hour at the rundown Irish pub, Jack Doyle’s. The job I was working, which gave me two whiskey gingers for my trouble, was a drag, but at least I worked with two guys who loved D&D just as much as I did. And I had a friend who I had roped into another game, so why not? Sure, I had never run a full-fledged campaign before, or never ran my own podcast, or even really knew what I was doing. But it sounded fun and I really wanted to put a Danny-Zuko-style talking gargoyle on a microphone.
When I look back on the last few years, it's difficult to imagine where I would be without actual play podcasts. In a very real sense, I owe a great deal of who and what I am to the medium. And I think it's safe to say, that thanks to a wonderful community and mode of expression that has unlocked so much of the person I want to be, I am happier and better thanks to a decision to try something entirely different.