GM Tips is our series to help Storytellers and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. Last week we talked about storytelling in open world systems, and this week we close tighten our games up for Podcasts.
Podcasts and Livestreams for gaming any genre of roleplaying game continue to pop-up as the next streamer rush. Many reading these articles have cut their teeth listening to Critical Role or L.A. By Night streams and feel inspired to create their own. Assuming you (and your group) have the appropriate Charisma scores and the Wisdom to not eat food on stream, you get the initial equipment and start recording. After producing some decent content, you race to the internet and begin uploading the magical files that will make you the next big hit…
Production and creation of any creative content (novels, comic books, art, podcasts) is a combination of luck, hard work, and a raw determination (crying happens at any point during those three). Growing an audience, keeping them engaged, and making something worth talking about takes as much, if not more, energy than the creation of the content in the first place. As a novelist, I know for certain that I’m lax on my marketing duties, and being alone makes it difficult to balance time. For teams on podcasts, all hands on deck is a better approach. In the Midwest area, I found the group behind Let’s Be Legendary at multiple conventions spreading the news about their podcast. Amateur D&D podcasters, they’ve cut their teeth past the initial set up, and have been nailing it. While it’s always good advice to follow in the footsteps of the masters, any content creator can benefit from learning the successes (and struggles) of their peers.
Practice Those Hooks!
A polished hook is everything to standing out. “Listen to our 5th Edition D&D podcast!” Is basic and boring. With stiff competition, your initial pitch needs to be publication worthy. Running Curse of Strahd on a podcast is not going to draw many listeners when they can play that adventure at home. Hell, running a Faerun fantasy game might not be enough these days. Try setting your game in a place that few have explored. Let’s Be Legendary focus’s on a Wild West Steampunk style D&D campaign that’s homebrew. As a storyteller, this alone gives me a reason to listen: I want to see how rules adaptations are done for alt-settings. Any polished hook will set you apart even if you want to stay in Faerun.
Instead of “Here’s our D&D podcast,” try something more like: “A D&D podcast of Thayan Wizards conquering kingdoms. Or “A band of all bards travels through the Realms for fame and coin.”
Once you’ve got your hook, try out a few recorded sessions that you never let see the light of day first. If it isn’t interesting to you and your friends; go back to the drawing board. Because your next hook needs to be an adventure hook—each and every episode. Give people a reason to stay tuned for the entire 2-3 hour adventure. Then you’ll need a call-out at the end of each episode. All of these hooks should be rehearsed and practiced before your live recording session, keep them tight, keep them focused—but make sure you have them.
Audio First, Story Second, Mechanics Third!
A live stream has the benefit of allowing visual dynamic settings, lighting, and on-screen displays. On a podcast, you’ve only got the sound of your luscious voices to hold everyone’s attention. Your biggest hurdle to a great stream will be in voice training yourself and players to avoid “um’s”, dead silence, and talking over each other. For audio only methods, you’ll want to avoid using visual cues for your players at the table. This means no minis, no maps, no pictures and more. Relying on them means you’ll often skip important details and leave your listener’s in the dark. If your stream or podcast has crap audio, it won’t matter how good the content is. Once your audio is ace, then move onto visual art and great episode covers; this will build your art portfolio for other marketing AND be cool at the same time.
A character focused storyline will be a better call than doing dungeon crawls. While your players still need the agency to choose their fates and outcomes (and failures), you’ll have to keep your plotline edited. Keep your story beats clear and make sure every episode follows some loose method of rising tension. Your players may also struggle with failure to their characters, and might need some extra coaching—everyone winning all the time doesn’t make for a good tale. When you put these other two things first, you can minimize some mechanics and use quick initiatives. It’s kinda boring to listen to people roll dice and talk numbers.
Tempo Takes Practice!
Finding the good tempo beat with your crew in dialogue takes practice. Give your podcast and stream a few episodes to grow (and cut some others slack if it’s early on). Not everyone will be dropping hilarious puns every episode, but there is a trick to riding the days where everyone feels on fire: record multiple sessions at once. Making a full day (or a weekend) out of recording can help you build a consistent backlog of episodes and coordinate schedules. It has the bonus of helping everyone synch up throughout the day. Everyone finds a groove with practice and riding the highs is important to any production.
Once you’ve found your stride with production, you’ll get your tempo down with post-production, artwork, editing, marketing, hitting conventions and more. Good tempo within the podcast keeps listeners engaged, but good tempo with release dates and marketing keeps you sane. Creation and maintenance of a podcast is a full-time job… on top of your already normal full-time job. Keep things focused in seasons, allow yourself some off time, and keeping yourself to a realistic (and consistent) schedule helps both the storyline of the game and your published material.
Do you have any gaming podcasts you follow that you love? Let us know in the comments below!
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Featured Image by: Let’s Be Legendary!
Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age Series, Dread Adventures, and a storyteller with a focus on D&D For Kids, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and an overdose of LARPs. You can follow the game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook or reach out for writing at [email protected]