f it isn’t abundantly clear by now, it is my belief that broadening your horizons is the absolute best way to improve yourself as a GM. This can mean exposing yourself to more movies or books, paying attention to the world around you, or learning about history and science. Variety gives you more and more sources of material to draw ideas from. This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately as I seek inspiration for pulling together my campaign and pacing up the rate of big events happening in it. I have also been thinking about it as I go about my daily life. As I pack to move I have picked up a number of books and movies that spark something or make me think to myself “I need to re-read this and note how that handled this theme or situation. And so, here I am, with another Resources article! Today I present three podcasts/streams that provide me with endless inspiration and/or help.
This Week In Science (science pod-cast/stream)
Let’s start off the beaten path. This counts as both a stream and a podcast, since it is, in fact, both. Currently running every Thursday (I believe) night on their website and being uploaded within day-weeks of the stream as a podcast, this show is the absolute best source of science that is happening right now. As long-time student of science and a one-day science professional, I must say this show has everything it should.
News headlines from the past week and even the day of the stream are talked about, the hosts look through the scholarly work, and present scientific discoveries and breakthroughs. They do a magnificent job of trying to break things down for the layman, though some topics get dense (they assume you have enough interest in science to know some stuff or be willing to learn what you don’t). They also talk over their opinions and what findings mean for the future. They question the results looking for controls and wondering where the research needs to go next. You can learn a lot from three very well spoken, funny, and intelligent people at TWIS.
So, what does this mean for a Game Master? More than you think. There is always something to be gained from knowledge, most of us know, understand, and embrace that I think. Additionally these lessons can give you ideas. The hosts are nerds, they’d have to be right? They make Star Trek, Doctor Who, and more references. Those alone may spark idea for your game. Most of all, though, is that the conversations about science they have is brain training. The what-ifs and but-thens are the types of things you need to think about as a GM in order to anticipate the thoughts of players and their actions so you can better respond and improvise.
Critical Hit (live-play podcast)
This is a show I randomly found about a year ago, maybe a little more. It is one of my favorite live-plays to date. Aside from the fact that it is a consistent group of people playing a long term campaign, it is a fully realized world created by an excellent DM. Critical Hit is a podcast on the Major Spoilers website, a website full of articles and podcasts for all things nerdy that has grown and grown since its creation. The live-play itself started as a bit of a one-off that became a full-fledged show. Over the years they have had a number of seasons of gameplay featuring the same main cast of players and the same DM.
At its core, this is a great series to listen to. The characters have a great rapport with one another, as do the people who play them. The DM has control of the table but allows the players to run the story when appropriate. The world they have created is fantastic and inspired. It builds from the DM and players alike, and grows with the campaign’s story. If nothing else listen to Critical Hit for entertainment.
Fun isn’t the only thing you can get out of this podcast, though. Less often then even they would like, the members of the game record “mail-bag” episodes in order to answer questions form their audience. Sometimes this is for explanations on house rules or DMing advice. The answers given by the DM (mostly) are very well done. He thinks about what he is going to say, and when he says something that could even slightly be misconstrued, he addresses it. Not only that, but the answers are system neutral, addressing the social aspects of an RPG. Finally, part of the entire point of the podcast began as a guide for playing 4E. The first season of the show has a lot in this respect, and anyone who wishes to play or does play 4E can only benefit from that.
Critical Role (live-play stream)
My newest live-play obsession comes in the form of the recordings of a live play game on the Geek & Sundry network’s twitch channel. This game has been going on for a while now, run by a voice actor for voice actors. Only a few months ago, however, did it become a public show for the rest of us to enjoy, picking up in the middle of their campaign and using the 5th edition D&D rules converted from a Pathfinder game.
As with Critical Hit, this show is hugely entertaining. The cast is fantastic and, as voice actors, have unique voices for the characters. Especially impressive is the DM who is pretty continuously switching into, out of, and among different NPC voices. Once again the world is homebrewed, making everything that happens new and exciting. I highly recommend watching this for entertainment. I even listen to the audio to get ready and excited for my own campaign.
Matt Mercer, the DM of the group, is very good at it. He seems prepared for just about anything the players throw at him and readily comes up with ways to handle the situations. He has maps and stats ready and it is hard to realize he doesn’t spend dozens of hours a week prepping. Perhaps the best thing abut this show is the episode that occurred surfing an off week. This episode comprises of DM tips for over an hour, followed by a pick-up game. The result is both entertaining and beyond informative. This episode is something you should all listen to, even if you don’t end up following the series.