Monday, November 13, 2023

OSR Podcasts: Notes and Recommendations

 I never intended to become a podcast guy, but fate has intervened. In this blogpost I will run down many of the OSR-related podcasts I've listened to and enjoyed, with an eye towards giving the reader enough informaiton to determine if they might be interested in checking each out. These will not be deeply critical reviews. I feel at least a little positively about each of these, and a couple have interacted with me or my work in some small way that would suffice as a bribe to someone as venal as I.

I don't link to the podcasts because of the weird way podcasts are distributed. You have a podcatcher of choice and I'm sure you can find any of these easily. To speak to my own preferences, I will say that I am perfectly happy to listen to something very long, that I value sincerity and positivity in these sorts of podcasts, and that I think the best inspiration for your game is to be found in non-RPG writing-- legends, fiction, and history.

3d6 Down the Line
Format: Actual Play, post-game "detox"
Episode Length: two hours actual play, 20 minute detox
Notes: really solid OSE actual play series, with as few concessions as possible towards being a show over being a game. Features a dozen episodes of a Dolmenwood campaign before switching to the megadungon Arden Vul. Partway through the series, they've begun posting a "dungeon detox" after each session where the players and DM discuss the game and how they think about it, and those have been a real treat. If the name makes you wary that this is a crew of over-the-top purists, let me reassure you that they're normal non-fanatics.

Appendix N Book Club
Format: two dudes talking
Episode Length: one hour
Notes: two hosts, often joined by a guest, read a book from AD&D's Appendix N (or sometimes some other book) and discuss it, usually trying to guess why it might appear on that list. I appreciate that they're willing to speak to what they don't like about a book or setting which is much revered in OSR spaces, and through this podcast I've learned a lot about the genre fiction of the twentieth century. Sometimes, they do seem vaguely embarrassed by the quest they've taken up, as they attempt to explain to an unimpressed guest why they had them read, say, a super-racist but nevertheless worthy Conan tale.

Between Two Cairns
Format: two dudes talking, starting with an open discussion or mail bag question, then going over a module
Episode Length: one hour
Notes: great chemistry between the hosts. As an OSR/NSR/indie duo, their approach to their module reviews is alloyed with many mettles. You can tell they both think a lot about how adventures should work, or why they like the things they do, but they do not make a vice of theorizing.

Blogs on Tape
Format: spoken essay
Episode Length: varies, but short
Notes: takes OSR blogposts on differing topics and relates them directly as written. Really a grab bag of content, and a great way to find previously unknown writers. I wouldn't think that I would want to hear someone read me a d12 table but it turns out that's exactly what I would like.

Fear of a Black Dragon
Format: two dudes talking, going over a module then using it as a jumping-off point for a GMing topic
Episode Length: one hour
Notes: good companionship between the hosts. As a Gauntletine/new school duo, their engaging and insightful module reviews sometimes frustrate me as they pivot to discussing how to rewrite an adventure into a format of play that doesn't personally engage me as much. Sometimes, one of the hosts can make a vice of theorizing, or of Naming A Technique To Claim It, but on the whole they've got interesting things to say. The media recommendations they make at the end of every episode never fail to intrigue me.

The Grognard Files
Format: variable
Episode Length: hour and a half
Notes: I mostly listened to earlier episodes of this podcast, which have the charming hallmarks of a group still figuring out the basics of recording audio. Many episodes go into the history of a particular game, and listening to this series has helped me to understand the history RPG hobby. Great example of an older generation podcast, with humor I sometimes appreciate more because it's familiar than because it's my kind of joke. By the same token, they actually have first-hand experience of many classic games in the milieu where they were new and exciting, and their anecdotes regarding that time really can't be replicated by someone of my generation doing a readthrough and theorizing about what playing these games must have been like.

Into the Megadungeon
Format: two dudes talking
Episode Length: 40 minutes
Notes: exciting newer podcast. Consists of a host with a new guest every episode, discussing their methods of making a megadungeon and running a megadungeon campaign. The genius of this simple idea is that because every DM develops their own ingenius methods, every episode manages to be quite different, and with distinctions that are endlessly interesting to people who run games. This is to say nothing of the luminaries who have so far graced the show. It seems like if there's anyone in the OSR scene whose brain I'd like to pick on how they run games, they will eventually appear on Into the Megadungeon.

Monster Man
Format: short analysis of 1-3 monsters (main series) or in-depth analysis of 1 (special episode)
Episode Length: 10 to 20 minutes
Notes: perhaps the most efficient inspiration on this list. A knowlegeable and friendly host, going through D&D monsters (often passing through monster manuals in order), talking about what he likes about them and what sorts of ideas they inspire in him. Because the episodes are so short, really there's no fat on the bones here. The successful effect of the podcast is summarized in its slogan, "Talking about monsters because monsters are cool."

Save or Die
Format: variable, often roundtable discussion
Episode Length: give or take an hour
Notes: fair warning, this is one of the most irregular podcasts I've listened to, in terms of audio quality, releases, cast composition, format, everything. It's a very DIY sort of podcast, with a less strong raison d'etre. But isn't that kind of great? It's great that some people can make a podcast and have fun with it, and take you along for the ride. I can't even tell you much about what this podcast is "about" beyond old school and OSR topics. But I can say that I've listened to dozens of episodes without regretting it. If you try this show and don't enjoy it, I would recommend skipping back or forward thirty episodes and seeing if you like that version of it.

Tale of the Manticore
Format: translated solo play interspersed with scenes
Episode Length: 30 minutes
Notes: a unique project by a fellow quite interested in sound-mixing, to the enterprise's credit. He plays through a solo campaign, rolling for almost everything to avoid being a partial referee to himself, then records the story of events, often with voice-acted vignettes or flashbacks. It's an interesting blend of extreme dedication to letting the dice fall where they may with extreme dedication to storytelling. And in the end, it works for me. I feel the sting when a character dies and I care more for them because I listened to their father (voiced by a volunteer on the other side of the world) rebuke them as a child or something. One warning I will give to a prospective listener is that the creator really lays it on thick about how dark and edgy his story is going to be, and while there are some content warnings I would give and while it's true that characters could die at any time, I really don't think it's that dark. You can expect some gross stuff that you might not include at your table, but don't think the story is going spend its runtime reveling in vulgarity.


  1. Thank you very much for contributing this. In the last year I have also fallen into RPG podcasts, having listened to and thoroughly enjoyed about half your recommendations, suggesting we have similar tastes (the rest have been added to my list to try!). These podcasts actually fed my decision to start up my own blog (at to contribute to the discussion. I'll add a few of my own podcast suggestions for readers wanting more in a similar vein:

    RTFM (Read The F*cking Manual)
    Format: two hosts +/- a guest have read a game book cover to cover and discuss it
    Episode Length: 60-90 min
    Notes: Sometimes insightful, often funny reactions to games published throughout history of RPGs. Worthy delineation of games as written from games as played. A lot of these episodes cover games I have never read or played before, but now feel reasonably informed on their contents and how they impacted design of subsequent games.

    Dice Exploder
    Format: host + guest discussing one specific RPG mechanic
    Episode Length: 30-60 min
    Notes: Lovely deep-dives into the Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics of particular rules/mechanics from diverse game genres. Conversation often goes off-topic but always interesting given the variety of guests. New season incoming soon following successful Kickstarter.

    Tabletop Talk: Third Floor Wars
    Format: host interviews guest
    Episode Length: 60-120 min
    Notes: The podcast branding really doesn't match my impression of the show- a number of thoughtful interviews with notable game creators throughout history of the hobby. The host has excellent interview technique, eliciting far more than the usual prepared responses and spruiking you get in RPG interviews.

    Bastionland Podcast (inactive)
    Format: interviews and developer diary
    Episode Length: 40-60min
    Notes: Over a couple of series Chris McDowall covers both Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland design, impact on other games, and has interesting guest interviews. Well worth going back to even now if you have enjoyed his games or derivatives like Cairn.

    1. Sweet! Hope you enjoy the podcasts you're trying out. Thanks for adding to the pile.