CSI: Neverwinter

There are few new tricks in role playing games, the question is how can you take that old trope and make it fresh? CSI: Neverwinter takes the heroes from another place/time trope and does its own wild spin on things. CSI: Neverwinter begins with beat cop, an undercover cop, and a DA who get taken across the dimensional divide between Earth and Toril. They are given new bodies in order work at the direction of a shady “other” power and try to stop crime and be heroes along the way.

DM Scott Bignhefte is crafty, zany, occasionally vulgar, but most of all original and clearly enjoys DM’ing. This is not some feel-good processing of emotions or a quasi-parable of the problems of modern America, it is a fun and irreverent band of out-of-plane adventurers behaving in the ways players with heroic superpowers actually behave. They don’t always follow the plot clearly laid out for them, they act in ways that are a bit darker than you might want heroes to, but you can see the whole time the DM working to direct the story. Kudos, Scott.

Now into its second season, the players are GM are definitely better at the rules of D&D. It does start out rough, as can be expected in an actual play that contains people playing a game that has as much history and mechanics as D&D for the first time, or the first time in a long time. Not only that, but the sound quality is a bit poor at first, but is notably better later on in season 1. So keep listening if those things are what bother you in the first episode or two.

The plot is fun, with mystery and hijinks—and complete absurdity. While CSI: Neverwinter may sound like a more serious series, it occasionally veers into Scooby-Doo level antics—just with more violence…. a lot more violence. The NPC’s are as zany as the players, and Droop the Goblin is priceless as the “secretary” for our CSI team. I shouldn’t love Droop, but I do.

So, if you’re looking for crime-solving antics with a bit of the weird and extra-dimensional taking place in a familiar location in the Forgotten Realms, this fun D&D Actual Play is well worth checking out!


½-1½ hour recording length.

NSFW, Explicit tag in iTunes.

RSS Feed

Active: 2017–present

Photo from the podcast feed for CSI: Neverwinter 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 www.geekandsundry.com 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 VentureMaidens.com and all rights reside with the original creator.