One of the best ways to learn D&D as a new player, or enjoy it as you wait for your longstanding weekly game, is an Actual Play show. In these podcasts and streaming shows, a cast of friends plays through a TTRPG story full of laughs, drama, and excitement. Most of the time they use Dungeons & Dragons, both because it’s the most iconic system and because the big name shows feature it. These productions are all over YouTube, Twitch, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and every other online platform you can imagine.
Look beyond the names that everybody knows, however, and you’ll find a wondrous selection of tales that go beyond medieval fantasy and D&D. That’s not to throw shade on Critical Role or Dimension 20. These shows command enormous fandoms for a reason. Their casts are at the top of their game and their production value is unmatched. It’s just that there are delays in between every campaign, and games besides D&D. Also, there are so many talented players and GMs that deserve your attention. So here are 10 Actual Play shows that you should be watching as you wait for the next episode of your favorite big-time production.
No matter how entertaining the cast, there are only so many variations a group can do on the standard “tell a medieval fantasy story while rolling dice” concept. Dice Populi is one of the few to understand this and skirts this issue with a unique storytelling twist. In their “Dicey Waters” campaign, each member of the crew takes a turn in the DM’s seat telling a continuous story. This creates a wild dynamic where you can never guess what will happen next. Add that to the cast’s wonderful chemistry and sweeping soundtrack, and you’ve got a memorable nautical adventure.
The Dice Populi crew started the “Entrenched” campaign as a side project for their Patreon, and it’s well worth the $5 entry fee. The same group returns and brings their signature banter with them, but Entrenched has a whole different energy thanks to a few key changes. The big one is that it uses the Quest TTRPG system, leading to an emphasis on creativity and character development over combat. The second is that DM Ryan Mossbarger is the sole DM, which allows him to build a deep world within the Eberron setting. There’s intrigue, danger, and surprises galore as a ragtag group of soldiers attempts to pull off a secret mission against a never-ending army of undead.
You Don’t Meet In An Inn
Take a journey beyond the expected with this podcast that explores more obscure TTRPGs. You Don’t Meet In An Inn boasts a diverse cast of rotating players, so there’s always a different style on display. This is a fantastic show to follow if you’re looking to get into a new TTRPG but don’t know where to start. The backlog lists an impressive amount of games played that range in genre and complexity.
Do you like D&D? Do you like music? Then BomBARDed might be your jam! This podcast follows the shenanigans of an all-bard party. And here’s the big idea: the cast members are in an IRL band and actually play music during episodes. Music lovers will really appreciate BomBARDed as there’s bits of musical theory throughout, making it just as much of a learning experience as it is entertainment. Everyone else should still fall in love with the basic premise of silly antics and good songs.
Total Party Chill
Billed as “Your 3rd Favorite D&D Show”, Total Party Chill tells you what it's about upfront. It’s a group of friends playing D&D (and indie TTRPGs) and inviting you to have fun with them. And just like a chill group of board game friends, they’re always up to try something new. On Sunday nights they run their D&D campaign, which in the past included bizarre concepts like the actual players themselves being sucked into Curse of Strahd. On Monday nights they show off an indie TTRPG, and on Thursdays they do a D&D trivia show with giveaways. No matter what part of the TTRPG scene you’re into, you’re bound to have a good time with this gang.
If Pathfinder is your game of choice, then Dimension Door is the show for you. The group plays through the official Paizo “Reign of Winter” campaign book with many smart adjustments by the GM. In fact, GM James Schwarz is a reason to listen to the podcast on his own. He’s the perfect example of a GM who is both the party’s biggest fans and their greatest adversary. He adjusted the adventure to accommodate higher level players so that they have ample chances to show their strength and often rewards their creativity. However, he is also unrelenting with the consequences when they put themselves in a bad situation. The cast is equally as skilled, never hesitating to roleplay those dark moments yet still ready with a quip when the time is right.
Lawful Stupid RPG
The players of this game come from a variety of countries and editions of D&D. Their schedule is also chock full of variety, with four different games running currently. Many are based on D&D 5e hardcovers like Ghosts of Saltmarsh and Rime of the Frostmaiden. There is one treat for older fans, however, on Sundays: a Dark Sun campaign. There’s not a lot of that going around in the current streaming space, so Lawful Stupid should be any Dark Sun fan’s go-to Actual Play.
There’s a huge need for more BIPOC representation in the Actual Play space, and Huetopia is here to deliver. This Twitch channel features several different casts playing systems based in sci-fi, gothic horror, cyberpunk, and plenty more. They also do frequent charity streams. Overall, Huetopia is a channel that deserves attention both for the depth of its content library and its commitment to bettering the community.
Here’s a good TTRPG stream for the Lovecraft fans out there. This group runs four different campaigns throughout the week including several D&D games and a western-themed Call of Cthulu campaign. They mix up the GMs and players between D&D and Cthulu, giving a healthy mix of storytelling styles. With consistent content and great production quality, QuestsAndChaos has a lot going for it.
One common request for D&D 5e is a return to classic settings. RPG Chronicles answers the call with a Greyhawk campaign that hearkens back to the days of ‘80s D&D. Yet even though the setting and dungeon crawls are steeped in old-school toughness, the roleplay is an engaging blend of modern humor and heart (I might be a liiittle biased as I’m one of the players). The action is brought to you from a pro-level studio space that looks like every D&D nerd’s dream basement. We even have one of the best battle cams of all time: a rotating map with 3D terrain that always gives the audience the best possible view of our DM’s vast assortment of minis.
With diverse casts, adventure settings that the big boys ignore, and creative concepts, these podcasts and streams are poised to be the next evolution of Actual Plays. Give them your attention now so that you can be a total hipster later and say you knew them when they were small.