It seems you can’t move without tripping over another RPG actual play podcast at the moment. Shows like the Glass Cannon Podcast and The Adventure Zone have huge followings. Critical Role – the Twitch, YouTube and podcast phenomenon – has raised millions on Kickstarter and now has its own official Wizards of the Coast Dungeons & Dragons hardback title in the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.
But not all these shows are backed with big budgets and stuffed with voice acting talent. Increasingly, homebrew podcasts are being released by regular gaming groups. We talked to Mike Burnett of the fledgeling Billowing Hilltop Podcast to see what they had learned on the way. Here are Mike’s d6 steps to get you started…
#1 Agree the ground-rules with your group
Our group have long been fans of actual play pods and we kicked around the idea of making our own for a while. It’s important you get buy-in from everyone at the table as you will be putting them in the public domain. Make sure you are clear on what it is you are going to create: What is the tone of your game going to be? What system? Which adventure? And crucially, how much will recording the show impact on play? We play our online game every other Wednesday night and agreed that we would not adapt our style, nor moderate our language nor ‘direct’ play in the pursuit of greater drama. Instead we would rely on the edit to knock things into shape. We all check the edits before we publish to make sure everyone is comfortable with what is going out there. So far, no arguments.
#2 Use Discord and Craig
These ramblings are all about recording an online game. If you are going to be playing/recording face-to-face a). lucky you and b). you will need a mixer and other kit. Take a look here: www.podcastinsights.com/podcast-starter-kit.
We use roll20 as our online tabletop but use Discord (discordapp.com) rather than the in-built chat for a couple of reasons: First, the quality on Discord is better; Second, you can invite a (free) bot called Craig (craig.chat/home) to your Discord and it will record up to six hours in multi-track. It syncs between the tracks compensating for latency between players and servers to keep everything lined up. It really is a great piece of work.
Critical Fail: One thing to watch out for – Craig can quit unexpectedly from time-to-time. It’s only happened to us a couple of times in six months but keep an eye on Discord just in case.
One thing to note: Microphones are important. We don’t have ‘proper’ studio mics – just some decent wired, USB telephony headsets that we tested out on one player and then have rolled out to everyone. The effect on sound quality week-by-week has been remarkable. Episode 1 sounds at times like a work conference call. By Episode 7 the whole thing sounds much more ‘studio’.
There are other audio mixing applications out there but just go with Audacity (www.audacityteam.org). It’s free and will cover pretty much anything you will want to do. At the end of your session, visit the link that Craig posts into your text chat. Download the whole recording as an Audacity file and voila! You will have one track per player and you can enter the wonderful world of…
Now you have a decision to make. I had never really understood the term ‘editorial policy’ until we got into this. Now I know that it means that you will spend all your life editing and that is a matter of policy.
There are multiple approaches to editing but to be simplistic:
A. You can exercise a light touch and leave things pretty much as-is. Perhaps use Audacity to clean up the sound a little and set the volume balance between the channels but that’s it. If you do this, depending upon how long your standard session is, you may want to chop up sessions into multiple episodes.
B. You could edit down the content to remove breaks in play and admin chit-chat, tidy up dialogue, maybe drop in some background music and sound effects. We tend in that direction. We find that we are left with about half the audio we record and thus we get a 1hr+ episode after an evening’s play.
We add an intro and some theme and incidental music. Try www.incompetech.com for rights-free music. We use Syrinscape (syrinscape.com) for background effects. You will need a piece of on-board mixing software to pipe Syrinscape or any other external audio into Audacity. I use Loopback Audio: rogueamoeba.com/loopback.
Another thing to note: Audacity eats up local drive space like no other thing on Earth. I recommend mixing down the original stereo voice tracks to mono straight away (your recording will be mono in any case unless you are Brian Eno or something) in order to save space.
Once you have edited your session into publishable shape, and had the group take a listen, it is time to think about publishing…
#5 Find a host, launch the show
There are loads of podcast hosts out there. They are just services that host your media (MP3 files you take out of Audacity) and frame them within an RSS feed which you then push to myriad podcast services (Spotify, Stitcher, Apple etc.). I am not in a position to recommend any particular one as at this point you may be spending money. There are free services but you will be severely restricted with space. Search ‘best podcasting hosts’ and you will find an avalanche of articles giving you tips and comparative data.
Once you have your host sorted you will need a name (you have already thought of this) and artwork. Most podcast hosts will walk you through the process of submitting your show but I would leave you with one final piece of advice:
#6 Build up a buffer
If you are happy to publish effectively unedited sessions then you may be OK to play > record > publish hand-to-mouth but if you want to edit for content and add extras then I would advise you to build up a stack of finished shows before you publish the first one.
We recorded and edited for 6 months before uploading our first episode. You should aim to publish to a regular schedule and editing takes time. Lots of time. You will need a buffer of finished shows to avoid editing panic. Also, you will learn as you go. If you build up a stack of shows you will be able to apply things you learn when you are putting together later shows to your earlier shows. The time will fly by and if you are anything like us, before you know it you will be live and broadcasting to an audience of two people.
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