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How much "actual" gameplay do you put in your Actual Play?

There are certain expectations that come with an Actual Play podcast, a podcast where each episode consists of its hosts playing a game, with the goal to entertain. You lack the energy of a livestream, but that's okay, as you have the ability to edit, so the hosts can take their time to think as they play. You can edit in sound effects and music, but due to the unpredictable nature of a game you probably won't be as tightly written or sound designed as Audio Drama. There's a vast space between, and it's up to you to decide how much you can commit one way or the other. And you have to commit to some degree, because while you can always improve, your audience will have expectations based on what you've put out so far.

I pull double duty as the Editor and the "Conductor" (Game Master) for Ghosts on a Train, which makes life simpler because the GM of a game needs to be involved in some way with the editing of an AP. It's not a zero sum game, but there's two main things I've found that I need to balance between these roles: gameplay, and storytelling. They're not at odds with each other, but sometimes one slows the other down even though they're both happening at the same time. No matter what you're doing you're playing the game, and the reason you do this is to experience and tell a story.

In the early episodes of GoaT, I would take the time to explain each rule as we encountered it. This is vital, as the audience needs context to understand why your gameplay is exciting and worth listening to. D&D is an attractive option for getting this kind of engagement right away, because most listeners will know to be excited for a Natural 20 or tense after a failed Saving Throw; but a show with a lesser known system has the difficult job of educating its listeners while keeping them hooked. They need to know all the options available when Hannah rolls a 9 on her Finesse, and get familiar with the kind of results those lead to, otherwise they won't cheer when she rolls a 14. And a game is nothing without stakes, so as Stefen takes Harm we need to make sure that the audience understands that if he takes too much he'll get a Scar, and that that's a Big Deal.

In many ways this means that the pacing of your Actual Play will resemble a train's departure: a long and loud announcement before you begin and some slow going as you pull out of the station. This is where the Editor can help the GM, by making sure these explanations are concise and any early fumbling through the rules can be cut out to ensure

that the audience is absorbing the right information. Sound cues are also helpful for this kind of education, as tense music during the deliberation of a roll helps drive home its importance, or a certain sound effect can be matched to a certain in-game action that will happen frequently.

Eventually, though, your Actual Play will pick up speed, and here's where the GM can help the Editor. The GM slows down how often they restate the rules an

d the players cut down on the time they need for deliberation, so the Editor can hone the flow of the story. More complexity and expression can go into the sound, as a certain song underscoring a particular sequence of effects will call an image to the mind of the listener, because they've been taught what those mean!

This may seem like my goal for an Actual Play is something that starts off like an edited livestream and "improves" until it closely resembles an

Audio Drama, but as Mufasa once said, "Remember who you are". The key is not to eliminate the gameplay, but to master and share it. When you play a game, you agree to follow the rules with the other players in the game in a space some designers call "the magic circle", where the rules of reality are artificially replaced. Those outside the circle, in reality, will need the things that the players are experiencing explained to them; but eventually you should make your audience feel like they're within the circle itself. You don't need to hide the bones of the game if you make them pseudo-participants, as once they are inhabiting this artificial reality they've accepted the rules. They'll be excited when Guy reads through the steps to Impose His Will, because they are immersed in a world where that matters!

It's not a perfect process, but regardless of how many dice your game needs you to roll, or how many sound effects you want to add in, I think your Actual Play should aim to make the audience feel like they're Actually Playing with you.

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One thing I've always appreciated about GoaT in particular is how you cut the music/ambience/sfx to allow the audience to leave the moment when you're explaining a particular ruleset or situation out of game, or if someone has something out-of-character to say. The layer of separation between player and character always fascinates me in roleplaying podcasts--something about the fact that the listener isn't just engaged, but growing WITH the characters AND the players is always so intriguing to me!

You folks always do such a wonderful job. 💖

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