Listening To Learn: Using actual plays to improve your game.

For beginning players or game masters, learning the ins-and-outs of role playing can be a daunting task.   While the book is an obvious good place to start, simply reading the text doesn’t completely prepare one for stepping into the role of a player character.  Sure, the player or GM might have a basic clinical understanding of how to play or how the rules system works, but nothing prepares a person for what happens when player characters are introduced to the mix.  While there isn’t a substitution for genuine experience, would- be players and game masters (and even experienced gamers for that matter) can learn through the experience of others through actual play podcasts.


Actual play podcasts are simply recordings made of a group’s game sessions. In researching for this article, I couldn’t find a great deal of information for when actual play podcasts became a thing.  As best that I can tell (by typing in “when did actual play podcasts begin” and going through 4 pages of results) some of the first mentions I found date back six years ago to 2010.  Since that time the recording of game sessions appears to be fairly widespread and cover a large variety of games.


Actual play podcasts are entertaining and educating.  Listening to a good actual play podcast is like listening to a good audiobook:.. Much like a with any other work of fiction, you find yourself liking and rooting for the characters while at the same time learning about the players themselves.  The table talk that goes on during actual plays allows the listener to glimpse into how that player plays the character, which essentially models how to roleplay in general.  The lessons once learned sitting around a table with more experienced players can now be replicated on a morning commute to work.  


Game masters too can pick up a few pointers from actual plays.  Game masters unsure with a particular game system can listen to actual plays to see how more experienced GMs handle certain aspects of a game.  For example, if one is having trouble understanding how the chase rules function inside Nights Black Agents, finding an actual play where the rules are being applied can further clarify the application.  Other benefits can also be found in how podcast GMs handle pacing, create atmosphere, and sculpt an enjoyable experience.


Being exposed to different game systems in actual play podcasts can expand upon a group’s game experience.  There are a lot of lesser known indie RPG games out there that people are unaware of.  While there are certainly a slew of podcasts out there devoted to Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, there are also podcasts that play lesser known games like the noir game A Dirty World or the superhero dungeon crawl experience found in Base Raiders.  Listening to actual plays can inform a group to many possible options and future spending decisions.


As any educator can tell you, there are three types of learners: auditory learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners.  Learning is greatly improved when two or more of these domains are touched upon.  While many of us have learned how to play tabletop rpg games through readings the rules (visual) and playing the game (kinesthetic), further comprehension and retention can be had when listening (auditory) to actual play podcasts.  Listening has allowed me to develop both as a player and GM.  I recommend it to everyone, especially those looking to get into the hobby.  Besides, they are a great way to spend your time while driving to work or mowing the yard.


Contributed by Adam T.

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