Tabletop gaming of the 21st century

Success of ‘Stranger Things’, podcasts and streaming bring fantasy role play out of the basement

The adventures of tabletop gaming have come back into the limelight.

Everyone knows the memes that classify you on a spectrum of “lawful good” to “chaotic evil” based on the way you treat a bread bag after opening or your preference in Girl Scout cookies; but did you know these memes were based on the alignment chart from “Dungeons & Dragons” (D&D)?

“Stranger Things”, along with the popularity of podcasts and the domination of streaming services have helped bring fantasy tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) into the limelight once more.

Now, those interested in such games have other modes of experience that don’t involve coordinating schedules or countless hours developing a campaign.

That doesn’t mean the podcasts and streams below will not inspire some to pick up the 20-sided dice for themselves.

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list. Instead, it should be used as a starting point from which to explore further.


“Harmonquest” is a great starting point for those who are unsure if a live-play podcast or stream will hold their attention. The VRV exclusive, now entering its third season, breaks the story into ten, 30 minute episodes per season, complete with celebrity guests.

What really makes the show unique is its use of animation. “Harmonquest” uses animation to turn what would otherwise be four people playing a tabletop RPG in front of a live studio audience, and turns it into a hilarious animated series.

Hosted by Dan Harmon (“Rick and Morty”, “Community”) playing half-orc ranger Fondue Zoobag, “Harmonquest” includes Game Master Spencer Crittenden, Erin McGathy (“This Feels Terrible”, “Harmontown”) as barbarian Beor O’Shift and Jeff B. Davis (“Whose Line is it Anyway?”) as Boneweevil the goblin rogue.

Celebrity guests include the likes of Kumail Nanjiani, Aubrey Plaza and Paul F. Tompkins.

The one drawback of this show is you either have to sign up for VRV streaming or pay $1.99 per episode on either VUDU, YouTube or iTunes. Fortunately, VRV offers a 30-day free trial.

Just remember to cancel your subscription before that time is up so you don’t get charged a monthly fee.

‘Join the Party’

“Join the Party” makes learning D&D while listening to live-play a breeze. The podcast splits the character and world backgrounds into short separate episodes before offering beginner or experienced tracks to listening.

The beginner episodes offer the same story and live-play experience as the experienced but offer explanations of terminology and gameplay.

Another aspect of “Join the Party” that makes it a great place for beginners is that half of the gamers have limited experience in D&D themselves. At the start of the podcast, Amanda Mcloughlin had only played three times previously and Eric Silver had only been playing for 5 – 6 months.

After each episode, a special “Afterparty” episode offers behind the scenes discussion about the campaign and its mechanics.

‘Critical Role’

“Critical Role” is quite possibly the most popular D&D podcast. Starting out as a group of voice acting friends playing through a casual campaign, the show eventually moved to Twitch.

Live-play can be witnessed at 7 p.m. PST every Thursday on Twitch before it is uploaded onto their YouTube channel the following Monday. The podcast serves as another medium for the successful show that is currently on its second campaign.

“Critical Role” is also in the process of producing its own animated series called “Legend of Vox Machina” which is set for a Fall 2020 release.

The only downfall of the podcast is that there isn’t a complete campaign on Spotify, as each is over 100 episodes, so it is best to look up the campaign you’re interested through the “Critical Role” website.

’20 Sided Stories’

D&D is far from the only fantasy tabletop RPG out there and “20 Sided Stories” proves that. The group’s three campaigns have been set in the post-apocalyptic Wild West, Victorian England and the world of Pokémon.

The podcast also has the advantage of running much shorter campaigns than both “Critical Role” and “Join the Party”. The sound design helps immerse listeners with atmospheric and musical background noise.

Each campaign also has a soundtrack available on the “20 Sided Stories” website.

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