Saving Throw Show: Never Tell Me The Odds

This David Crennen GM’ed triumphant stumble through Star Wars parts the blast doors of reality with no regrets—heck, it might knock them off entirely. It is occasionally drunken, raucous, vulgar, absurd, and little screwed up in all the right ways. This is one of the earliest Fantasy Flight Star Wars actual plays and reveals the kind of zany storytelling enabled by the FFG narrative dice. Similar to Saving Throw‘s other long-running Actual Play, Crit Juice, you can support the players or GM through twitch and purchase rerolls and similar game benefits.

Multiple story-arcs have seen homicidal droids, ill-fated Alderaanian superlaser engineers, delusional Ewoks with Rancor pets, and numerous other beloved(?) characters wreak havoc across the galaxy. The player characters,  almost all played by comedians, are well-embodied, highlighting their intentional personality quirks (defects?).

That being said, there is one reoccurring character who deserves explicit mention, and is a particular favorite of mine, and yet I hate the character with a passion, Gippy Bindoo. Gippy is a morbidly obese Mon Calamari diplomat from Dac. This character flowed through much of the series. A seemingly invincible, completely reprehensible, uncannily lucky, vile and morally bankrupt fish-man with more than 9 lives, who will either endear you to player Andrew W. Jones, or make you wonder what kind of twisted person invents such a character. The NPC’s are just as creative and bizarre, including a decidedly unpresidential Hutt, but as these writeups are meant to be spoiler-free, I’ll say no more.

The website for the game also has some resources if players would like to incorporate some of the elements from NTMTO, but most of it is from the early seasons. It also has some helpful guidance for new players to the system, including a bonus tutorial episode for new players.

This game, despite its comedic tone, is a great starting place to learn the Fantasy Flight narrative dice mechanics. You can fail with a triumph or succeed with a despair, and all the while the narrative evolves. Crennen, as his other GM’ing credits testify, is very talented at keeping the story going even with sponsored re-rolls and intoxication creating more chaos than just a surprise despair roll. GM’s who might be intimidated by the narrative dice system will find a great example of adaptive storytelling in NTMTO. What is truly amazing is that Crennen and crew make this Actual Play feel like Star Wars, and that is really the highest compliment I can offer.

Seasonal, on break. Roughly weekly release schedule when active.

3 hour recording length.

Explicit tag in iTunes, and it deserves it. Occasional overtalk and table noise.

RSS Feed
YouTube (The Saving Throw Show Channel)
Twitch (on the Saving Throw Show Channel)

Active: 2014–present

Photo from the podcast feed for Never Tell Me the Odds and all rights reside with the original creator.

AuldDragon: Spelljammer

There are very few Actual Plays that make me happy simply because they exist, but knowing that there is an active and well-prepared AD&D 2e Spelljammer campaign is one of them. Masterfully DM’ed by AuldDragon, this brings to life one of the most original Dungeons and Dragons settings every to see print.

If you have heard it said that AD&D 2e is unbalanced, too nitpicky, too dated, or too whatever and you should simply move on to 5e, then please watch these recordings. 2e is a robust roleplaying system and in AuldDragon’s hands it shows itself to be a capable system for engaging storytelling and adventure. Many distinctive elements (nonweapon proficiencies, Thac0, weapon speeds), are well-handled and presented in such a way as to not interrupt the flow of the adventure. Sometimes a player might get some rules mangled with another edition, but you won’t find the kind of derision towards certain mechanics (Thac0 requiring simple math or roll-low for nonweapon proficiencies) that is encountered in some Actual Plays of 2e by players who began their roleplaying with newer editions.

This is not an Actual Play of a museum piece, but an Actual play that reveals that 2e is still a vital game system. AuldDragon’s Spelljammer campaign will introduce newer viewers to Spelljamming Helms and the strangeness of the phlogiston and hopefully inspire them to delve into the rich back catalog of Spelljammer titles on DriveThruRPG. For those of us who remembered playing this setting when it was new, it will remind us that we now live in an era when we can play any game we want with modern technology, we aren’t limited by what is available on the shelves of our FLGS.

AuldDragon’s preparation shows, his integration of Roll20 into the stream helps players and viewers track with movement and combat in space. Being one of the few settings in 2e that expected hexes and squares to be used at the table (boxed sets and the Spelljammer DM Screen all shipped with little flats), viewers will find it very convenient to keep their bearings during both space and personal combat.

There aren’t the elements one finds in more produced Actual Plays, no rich soundboard, live studio, multiple camera angles, and professional audio from all players, but what one will find is a welcoming table to join and watch. AuldDragon GM’s a virtual table that makes the Spelljammer setting shine in Actual Play (and not just something hoarded by collectors on Ebay).

Weekly Release.

4 hour recording length (broken into 1 hour chapters on YouTube).

Rare vulgar language, occasional audio interruptions, occasional audio quality issues, occasional technical difficulties, over talking. No RSS feed.

YouTube Playlist
Patreon Site

Active: 2017 – present

Artwork from AuldDragon’s twitter profile and all rights reside with the original creator.

Happy Jacks: Ashes of Exodus

This Stu Venable (@srvenable) GM’ed Traveller podcast used the Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition rules and remains one of the few examples of MgT2e Actual Play. As a bonus, Happy Jacks included the recording of Session 0 for those who want to see the infamous and occasionally fatal character creation system for Traveller at work.

Ashes of Exodus is the second Happy Jacks Traveller release, and instead of utilizing an existing setting GM Stu created a compelling Tech Level 10 setting with clear limits to technological development (Tech Level 10 is just entering into the Faster than Light era). Frontier challenges, Politics and intrigue run deep in this believable hard sci-fi setting. Session 0/character creation shows some of the give-and-take needed to develop a setting that is compelling to both GM and players.

As this Actual Play was only released for 5 sessions, regardless it remains commendable because of the ruleset, the character and setting creation, and the table dynamics.

A notable aspect of this recording is that it reveals the diversity of the characters as produced by the Traveller system. Kimi (@goldenlassogirl) generates a Debutante—with the power of wealth and connections (and not much else); another player character takes a detour into jail. Characters in Traveller already tell a story when you finally set out to play them, and this is one of the few Traveller Actual Plays to reveal that essential aspect of Traveller.

The Happy Jacks table is always fast and conversational, not always orderly, but almost always entertaining. The wits are sharp and the years of roleplaying experience are invaluable—and that unique table synthesis is apparent in this recording.

Update from the Happy Jacks Twitter feed, this setting will return in February 2018.

Irregular release, currently on indefinite hiatus.

3–4 hour recording length.

Good quality recording, occasional overtalking, explicit tag in iTunes.

Tagged Posts on Happy Jacks Website
YouTube Playlist
Twitch Site

Active: 2016-2017

Picture from the Happy Jacks YouTube recording and all rights reside with the original creator..

Critical Role: Vox Machina

Arguably the most popular Actual Play out there, the Matthew Mercer DM’ed phenomenon rightly deserves the attention and awards it has received. The key players, all exceptionally talented members of the voice acting community, created dynamic and evolving characters throughout the series run from low-levels all the way to the jaw-dropping conclusion of their run at the verge (or actually reaching) of level 20.

This series is commendable for several reasons. First, for its quality as entertainment within a developing media. This is no easy feat, lots of very good Actual Plays are entertaining despite notable shortcomings, however Vox Machina managed to create a show that someone who didn’t care at all about traditional Role Playing Games could still enjoy and watch for the entire run. Indeed, many viewers were such people. Vox Machina inspired viewers to create art, short stories, and find community—even if they weren’t interested in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition or ever playing an RPG. It was exceptional entertainment. Both Player Characters (regular and guest) and Non-Player Characters handled by Matthew Mercer captured the imaginations of viewers, the full scope of human emotion was at play on the table.

Second, the healthy table dynamics, players generally modeled self-control, kept good humor, and respected on another. The players each contributed more than simply their class abilities to the play, they each encouraged one another and developed stronger interpersonal bonds with each other because of the game. Yet the table was never an eddy, one didn’t get the idea that it was an insular group of gamers. Guests could come and go and contribute to the furtherance of the narrative. They modeled good table behavior, and it wasn’t uncommon to find reference on Reddit or in their Twitch chat to the demeanor of VM helping people scarred by past experiences return to role playing or improve the behavior at their current gaming table.

Thirdly, VM provided an excellent introduction to becoming a tabletop role player. New players could see that the basic component of an RPG is not the Core Rulebook(s), but the moment of play, the fellow players, and the shared unfolding story. Role playing isn’t about knowing lore, but about being a decent human being at the gaming table and pretending to be a character for fun. It isn’t about winning, it is about growing together within a story. As an example to many, Sam Riegel’s character Scanlan Shorthalt goes from being a one dimensional sheet of paper with some stats, a name, and a few ideas, to a hero with more depth than anyone could have imagined at the start of the series. All the characters developed in a similar way, showing a novice player just what can happen with fun, time, love, and narrative.

Fourthly, as an example of exceptional DM’ing. Even if one takes a low-prep, no-mini’s approach to GM’ing, Matt Mercer’s preparation and manner are inspiring. He read his table very well, and knew how to let the players unfold the story without overbearing DM involvement while also knowing when to step in with NPC’s or exposition. This fine balance comes with experience and awareness, and a mindful GM could walk away from many episodes with a masterclass in DM’ing. Matthew’s narrative arcs were centered around characters (PC or NPC), characters drove the story and the conflict—a good lesson for any GM.

Critical Role continues, but Vox Machina has completed their heroic journey. More can certainly be said about this expansive role playing actual play, but hopefully enough has been said to send you deeper into their story.

Weekly Schedule, Vox Machina now concluded, but Critical Role continues.

2½-5 hour recording length.

High-quality production values and sound recording. Occasional table noise, occasional technical difficulties (often due to Skype). Explicit tag in iTunes, but rarely does anything seem out of place or extremely vulgar.

RSS Feed
YouTube (Playlist on the Geek and Sundry Channel)
Twitch (on the Geek and Sundry Channel)

Active: (2012 home game) recordings 2015–2017

Photo from and all rights reside with the original creator.

Aventurian Adventures

Aventurian Adventures brings the world of The Dark Eye to English-language actual play. The players were beginning to gel just as this podcast hit a hiatus, but it is well-worth a watch if you want to see this system underway. John-Matthew DeFoggi GM’s a remote group of players gathered around their own table. He is familiar with the system and helps the other players gain familiarity as it progresses.

The Dark Eye, with its diverse skill system, is highlighted as the characters solve problems with more than a sword. Various elements that distinguish this from D&D are clearly noted as the players learn just where this roll-under, European style, crunch-heavy game departs from D&D-informed expectations.

I hope this series resumes and doesn’t completely podfade, but it is a valuable edition to the very small The Dark Eye actual play corpus.

Irregular release on hiatus.

2-3 hour recording length.

Some recording issues, some quality issues, some interruptions.

Google Plus Site

Active: 2017

Image is a generated by YouTube, and all rights reside with the original creator.

Venture Maidens

This well-produced story-driven D&D 5e podcast is one of the best out there. Ably DM’ed by Celeste Conowitch, it follows a regular core of three adventures with occasional guests through a compelling fantasy home brew setting. It is clear that the players are enjoying themselves and the rules almost never get in the way of the cooperative story to which each player ably contributes.

Developed by an all female team of writers, designers, and players, this is an accessible podcast to start listening for someone new to actual play podcasts as the story is strong, and the ruleset takes a backseat to energy at the table.

Bi-weekly Release.

1½ hour recording length.

Explicit tag in iTunes, some F-bombs, but rarely does anything seem out of place or extremely vulgar.

RSS Feed
Twitch (on the Don’t Split the Podcast Network)
Patreon Site

Active: 2016 – present

Artwork from and all rights reside with the original creator.