A Sense of Menace

Last session in the D&D game, we came to a horrifying realization: a powerful evil NPC we’d covertly stolen an item from (a witch/hag that goes by “Auntie Bloat”) at the behest of a good NPC had found the colony and had managed to sneak in and make a deal with one of the farmers that would result in her taking the infant he and his wife have on the way. It was unexpected and shocking, but it galvanized us into action almost immediately. In a very real way, this will be what the game is about until the threat is removed.

However, unlike a lot of scenarios like this, Grant has left us with a somewhat longer window before we have to act, which does several interesting things.

First, it creates a sense of looming dread that we’re going to have to live with for a while. Incidentally, Grant seems fond of this – we agreed to an unspecified favor for a water fey earlier in the game and that won’t be coming due any time soon; we’re about two months in the world’s time into the game, which means we have about 10 more months until that favor comes due. The saving of the newborn is going to have to happen at least 2-3 months before that, however, which gives us both time to prepare and time for the situation to get more complicated. There’s also the near certainty that the party is currently no match for Auntie Bloat. Which means we need to gain some levels. Plural. Fast.

Second, speaking of getting more complicated, it’s pushing us to solidify alliances we’ve started forming. The party has sought the aid of Rishi, a Kenku sorcerer and the first friendly NPC we met on the island that didn’t also arrive on our ship. But in order to get that aid, we have to help him secure another teacher for his apprentice should he die in the effort, which means we’re going to be traveling to another nearby island (or perhaps several) in the archipelago on a just-salvaged boat we recovered from some gnolls that had been eaten by giant spiders.

Finally, it’s acting as a mechanism to tie several plot threads together. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the party has been building relationships and a reputation as folks useful to the colony (and to a lesser extent, the Kenku), and as such has been able to call in some favors. The boat itself is a massive favor that Governor Hester Warwick has granted us because while the party is so often the bearer of news of new complications that she gets a headache every time we report in, we’ve also gotten results every time she’s sent us to do something. Rishi is willing to help us because we’ve helped him and the Kenku in a big way once already (in fact, he was the one who sent us to steal the item from Auntie Bloat in the first place). And the colony is starting to expand to the point where the target painted on us for various threats to zero in on is getting bigger and more brightly-colored.

This long-term approach does have a single significant drawback, however: it’s far enough out, there’s a certain risk of losing the sense of dread, and on the other side of the coin there’s also a chance (as killed the Shadowrun game) that the players will become paralyzed with second-guessing and not go anywhere. Do that long enough and even a very good campaign can die.

Still, I think there’s a lot of value in taking this longer view. In a previous campaign of mine, a generally very successful one, we sat down at the end and realized that the player characters had started at level 5 and had wound up at level 21 less than six months of game time later. Their journey had been a constant charge through an unending chain of immediate threats and un-ignorable emergencies. They’d had no time to breathe at all; in the real world, even hardened combat verterans couldn’t keep up the pace they’d kept up, and in retrospect, that had been poor storytelling on my part.

So I think there’s some real value in placing a problem that’s certain and scary on the horizon and letting the players get to it over a longer period of time rather than dropping it on top of them and forcing them to react NOW like so many GMs, including me, have done.

As usual, I’d love to hear your comments on this topic. How have you and your gaming group paced your threats, and how did it work out?


This week’s image is used, unaltered, under creative commons and comes from Schizoform.

Campaign Report: Supplemental Content: Meet the PCs

Grant floated the idea of doing a post introducing the player characters for our D&D game casually to me in a Facebook message earlier, and any other ideas that were half-formed in my brain immediately got stuffed into a metaphorical drawer. The idea is just too perfect to let go. So, without further ado, the player characters!

(Well, okay, just one quick ado. A word from Grant on stats: We rolled stats since that “felt more like D&D”, using the “4d6, drop lowest” method. Since I don’t mind characters actually being competent, if anyone had two stats less than 10 to start with, I let them re-roll one of those bad stats once more. Dealing with one “bad” stat is a fun little challenge, and it can give a D&D character something unique to remember them by. Dealing with more than that just gets frustrating.)


Digging Too Deep

On Sunday, after I got home from the Easter festivities, I knocked something off of my games backlog: The Beginner’s Guide. It’s a really interesting experience (though I’m not sure I could actually call it a game, even by my own loose definition of “game”) and got me thinking about, well, how much thinking I do about my hobbies.

Now before I go any further, I should reiterate that I think there’s tremendous value in taking hobbies and interests (gaming especially) to a deeper-than-surface level. I love the work of Jack Berkenstock and Sarah Lynne Bowman a great deal and I really get into symbolism in my media (when I catch it, anyway). I just about jumped out of my chair cheering at the cleansing metaphor of the rain at the end of the fourth episode of Season 2 of Daredevil when I watched it, and while I’m not as good at articulating it as Grant is, I’m very much in favor of the gaming table as a way of exploring moral, psychological, philosophical, and theological concepts, as well as a place for building interpersonal skills. In short, I am an enthusiastic, happy believer in using fun for good and thinking below the surface of the media we consume.

There’s a very real risk if we’re not careful of falling into the infamous “high school English teacher” trap of over-analyzing something to the point where it loses all meaning, or at least the intended or original meaning, but there’s also the problem of thinking one’s fun has to “work” (as in “toil” not as in “function”) all the time.

Because of that, I find it useful (if a bit frustratingly difficult at times) to remind myself on occasion that fun for its own sake is perfectly okay and beneficial in its own right. The Beginners Guide did a fairly jarring and harsh job of reminding me of this as I played it this past weekend. Note: for those who haven’t played it, The Beginner’s Guide is only about 90 minutes long, so it’s quick to get through but also almost impossible to talk about without spoiling to some degree. So I’m going to spoil it a bit – you’ve been warned. Anyway, in The Beginner’s Guide, one character over-interprets his friend’s work and invents a need for help where none exists, which then leads to a betrayal of trust and the loss of a friendship. In effect (to swipe rather irreverently from Tolkien), he dug SO deep that he unearthed a Balrog. He tried to make the projects of his friend Coda work as an insight into his friend’s inner struggles and saw a call for help when one wasn’t there – in effect he fell into the “English teacher trap” and the “fun needs to be more than fun” trap at the same time.

While I haven’t shared work I wasn’t entitled to share with people it was never intended to be shared with like the narrator in The Beginner’s Guide, there have been times where I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that I really shouldn’t be having fun with my hobbies unless they were also serving some other purpose. I needed to be generating content, or having some philosophical revelation, or even just practicing my critical analysis skills (which admittedly CAN use some more development) or I should stop. I was digging down past the point where it was fun and missing some of the inherent worth of recreation: stress relief, rest, and joy. (Also: don’t let the word “was” make you think this is some long-defeated character flaw and that I now have perfect perspective. I did this to myself last week.) However, like so many of these more introspective posts, I’m not always entirely sure where those lines are. The Beginner’s Guide, for example, is clearly supposed to be thought about and analyzed even as it cautions about the perils of over-thinking and over-analysis.

At times like this, I think back to our conversation with Kyle Rudge of Geekdom House on episode 68, and try to remember that art has worth of its own and that consuming it can be edifying in its own right. A lot of the time there’s good stuff below the surface of our entertainment, but sometimes it’s worth taking the time to appreciate the surface itself and just let that be enough.

Fuzzy Lines of Knowledge 1

Those who listen to the podcast (which I would assume is basically everyone who will ever read this) know that I’ve been trying to finish up a degree in network security for several years now. I’d been hoping to finish it this year, but a recent trip to the community college where I’m taking my classes yielded the unfortunate news that I’m actually four classes away from graduation, rather than two. Kind of a bummer, but now at least I know exactly what I need to graduate. It occurred to me as I sat down to write this that despite the fact that I’m closing in on 40, a lot of my friends and colleagues are also in school, and that I’ve been in it more or less continually since I graduated from high school, despite the fact that in my late teens and early twenties I was burnt out on it and was a much worse student than I am today.

“That’s nice for you, Peter, but what does this have to do with gaming?” you may ask. The real answer is probably “not much” but it does bring up some interesting thoughts about character advancement. Most of the time, character advancement in an RPG has some kind of “ding” to it. You collect XP or character points and eventually buy a measurable improvement in something. You used to have no ability to pick locks but now, all of a sudden, now you can pick them half the time. There are a few games out there that base advancement on usage (Burning Wheel in particular springs to mind) but they’re rare.

On a mechanical level, it makes sense – real people learning skills do so gradually. My own knowledge of computers started out with a virus infection back on 2009, led to me building a PC for the first time, listening to a security podcast to avoid having it happen again, and then led to classes and more self-teaching that have brought me up to the level of competence that should be sufficient for an entry-level IT job at some point in the near future. However, most of the time, the process is gradual. I didn’t jump from complete ignorance to low-level professional knowledge in a sudden spasm of development – I picked up a few facts here, a few more there, learned how those facts work together, and slowly it came together. I no longer have any trepidation at all installing software (or even operating systems) poking around in the guts of a computer, swapping cables, etc. I have the beginnings of some instincts as to why systems behave the way they do when something goes wrong, but if you asked me to point to a specific date when that transition occurred, I couldn’t do it. The lines between ignorance and knowledge, trepidation and confidence, are fuzzy and ill-defined. And, for that matter, exactly how much I know (and how much I don’t know) is similarly hard to nail down because of the way the human mind works.

While clarity is often more important than flavor in an RPG context, I wonder if there’s some value in taking the time to describe what each level of competence means in terms of a character’s own perceptions and those of the people around them. This can lead to complicated feelings around one’s own knowledge and skill sets. For example, I feel pretty good about my computer skills when I’m talking to family, friends, and coworkers, but I feel considerably less at ease when talking to folks who actually work in IT, because I know they have more “ranks” than I do, and I worry about getting a job in the field even after I graduate because I feel like I’ll never “catch up” to the entry requirements. This strikes me as something that could be really interesting in games, but I’m not sure I’d want to attach more numbers to an already-crowded character sheet. I do, however, feel like some notes in a character’s backstory about how they feel about their skills could be an interesting bit of character development. Does the guy with a lot of ranks in lockpicking feel awesome when he pops a locked door open, or does he feel like knowing how says bad things about who he is as a person? Does the wizard cast her spells with flair, or does she try to avoid using magic for fear of looking foolish and “doing it wrong?” How do these people feel about what they can do, and how do they feel about how they got there? Do they think that because they learned gradually that most of their knowledge is out-of-date, or do they feel more confident for the practice? We seldom do much to explore how characters feel about different aspects of themselves in a gaming context, but I think there’s probably a lot of interesting and fun material to be found there.

As usual, I’d love to hear your opinions on this stuff, both the real-world and in-game bits.

Theoretical RPG Concepts: Bleed 1

This is the first post in what I hope becomes a semi-regular series of introductions to some of the more academic parts of RPG experience. I’d be particularly interested to hear what you folks think about this stuff and also how interested you are in hearing more. -Peter

One of the things that I discovered when I started listening to RPG podcasts way back in the day with Sons of Kryos was the idea that people think about gaming on a much deeper level than I’d previously even considered they would. Further years of podcast listening (and eventual involvement in podcasting myself) has shown me what a monumental understatement that was. There are some very interesting people out there doing some very interesting work of how the games we play affect us. Some of those people are folks like Grant and me – enthusiastic hobbyists who enjoy unpacking the various aspects of the things we enjoy. Others, however, are more serious academics. We reference Jack Berkenstock of the Bodhana Group and their focus on using tabletop RPGs as a therapeutic tool on a fairly regular basis, but if you’re into this more “meta” thinking, there’s another name you should know: Sarah Lynna Bowman, PhD. She is the author of one of many books I really, really need to get around to reading one of these days: The Functions of Role-Playing Games. She has also written a number of interesting articles and blog posts, but the one I’m going to focus on with this blog post is on the concept of bleed. (She’s also, as one might expect from someone who has chosen this particular field of study, a really interesting and approachable person. I’ve had very limited interaction with her, but I’ve always come away impressed.)

The original blog post that I’ll be referring back to can be found here. I would heartily recommend reading the entire thing (it’s very readable) but a quick TL;DR is this: bleed is basically the place where player and character meet. She describes two separate types of bleed in the blog post: bleed in, where the emotions, relationships, and even physical state of a player affect the state of their character and bleed out, the opposite process. Dr. Bowman also mentions that the existence of the phenomenon is something a lot of gamers don’t willingly accept, as it runs parallel in some ways to the ideas of gamers learning real magic and calling up real demons that were part of the Satanic panic back in the 80s and 90s.

Bleed is one of those things that happens in gaming that can be good or bad. It can lead to greater investment and enjoyment, or it can lead to unhealthy behaviors and pain. People sometimes seek it out and sometimes seek to avoid it. And I think it’s one of the reasons why, as a Christian, I’m a little hesitant to play certain kinds of character. I’m fairly susceptible to bleed – a former gaming group of mine (not the one Grant and I are in now!) formed an in-game clique and ostracized my PC somewhat. I didn’t deal with it very well at all and was ultimately told that the gaming group was a poor fit for me (something that was true, but that I also didn’t deal with particularly well). On the flip side, in the Shadowrun game Grant ran for a while, our player characters wound up being nearly as close of friends as the group itself was, and it was almost like hanging out with more friends than I actually was. In-jokes developed and experiences were shared. The experience was richer for my level of immersion and, yes, bleed.

Because I’m so susceptible to bleed and have actually come to see it as a core part of my gaming experience, I find it hard to play against “type” – playing a character radically different from me, particularly one with very different values from my own, feels wrong or dishonest on some level. This limits my “range” as a gamer and tends to lead to Grant lamenting that he’s always dealing with some re-skinned version of me when we game together.  (By the way: if you experience more bleed than you want to, there are some thoughts on how to manage that in the original article.) To make matters even murkier, that’s not a thing I particularly want to change. I don’t mind being a little boring in service to being consistent. It also bears mentioning that I don’t experience much bleed at all when I’m GMing – that process feels more like a series of writing prompts to me than acting.

As is usual, I’m very interested to hear what you all have to say on this topic.


Cutting Silence

Next week, you’ll hear something completely new from Saving the Game, though with any luck, you won’t much notice – it’ll be the first episode that I’ve edited the audio on. Grant has his second child on the way, and he and his wife are understandably a little busy at the moment with preparations for the new kid’s arrival, so I told him that if he got me a good set of documentation (which he did), I’d take on the task of editing the podcast for the next episode or two.

What I didn’t tell him (though I’m pretty sure he’s figured out in the meantime – Grant is, as I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, a pretty smart guy) was that the idea scared me out of my mind. I tend to be a fairly risk-averse person, and I also tend to view new tasks as more difficult than they ultimately turn out to be. Still, it was something that needed to be done, and I’d been doing the podcast for over 3 years without ever touching the editing side of things, so I figured it was time to give it a try. In my defense, my trepidation wasn’t completely unwarranted – editing is about as critical as tasks get for a podcast, and I need to be done a week from the day this blog post drops.

Have no fear, I’ve got a releasable (though not quite perfect) version done already. It actually went better than I expected, which is a fairly standard experience when I try something new I’m worried about. However, it didn’t go perfectly, but that’s okay, because I got some interesting food for thought out of the experience. (And also some sound editing advice.)

A large part of the editing process for a podcast is going through and pulling out long stretches of silence. A lot of the time when we humans are talking, we pause for a couple of seconds mid-sentence to collect our thoughts. This is a normal part of conversation as it happens, particularly if you’re talking about a conversation that requires thought, or if the person talking tends to be a little more introverted or introspective (so the two of us, both introverts and talking about gaming and theology tend to generate a lot of silence). However, when you’re listening to a podcast, the flow can be a bit jarring if… … …someone… … …pauses… … …for a bit too long in the middle of a sentence. So naturally in editing, you go through and cut large portions of this silence out. (You also cut out a metric truckload of “Umms,” “Uhhs,” “Ahhhs,” and “Y’knows,” lots of Darth Vader breathing, the occasional cough or sneeze, Blarey the Podcast Train, and a conversation about whether or not you’d remembered to use the right microphone. For the record: I had and I hadn’t – at the same time. I was using the right mic in the recording software and the wrong one in our VOIP call).

Cutting a lot of that silence is good, but as I learned from talking to Grant after my first pass over the episode, you don’t want to cut too much of it, either. Some pausing (and even the occasional “um” or “uh”) actually makes the flow of a conversation sound more natural. There’s also a heck of a metaphor there for the way we live our lives and run our games. It can be good to try and make things more efficient up to a point, but cram too much in – in any number of contexts – and the breakneck pace you’ve created will carry you past stuff you wanted to appreciate before you really got the chance to enjoy it. This can be equally true in games where we rip past enjoyable role-playing interludes or even some enjoyable table talk in the hope of “moving the ball” just a little bit more in terms of plot or even combat, and it can be true in life when we over-book ourselves out of the fear of “missing out” or even favor the efficient over the enjoyable without really considering the alternative. (One time I’m really glad I didn’t do that was when my wife and I went to visit Grant and his wife last fall. I’d never been to the South before, and driving through the mountains while the leaves were changing is an experience I’m really glad I didn’t miss by flying instead of driving.)

So the next time you’re planning something, be sure not to cut all the silence. You might find that leaving some of it in lets you appreciate things more.

Beside Myself

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you’re probably aware that I’m looking forward to the release XCOM 2.

Okay, that’s a huge understatement. I’ve been going nearly crazy with anticipation, and it’s only intensifying as the date gets closer. It’s understandable, I suppose. My first real memory of getting into a digital game in a big way was Julian Gollop’s Laser Squad on the Commodore 64 back in the late 80s (yes, I’m old). Not so coincidentally, Mr. Gollop also was the creator of the original X-Com back in 1994, but I somehow missed that one when it was new. I did not, however, miss Jagged Alliance 2, Silent Storm, the UFO After[word] series, or a number of other games in the genre. Including, of course, the new XCOM released by Firaxis a few years back which, despite a Steam library that’s bloated with bundle games, I have put right around 200 hours into. XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within is one of my favorite games of all time, and the sequel looks to be more of the same with further levels of Firaxis polish on it, so yeah, I’m really stoked about it. I have purchased the deluxe version of the game on pre-order, and I have requested vacation time around the release date (postponing a traditional post-holiday week of vacation in the process). I’ve spent a bunch of time watching lets play videos (something I virtually never do) and have scoured the website for information. I’m trying to get as much of the experience as I possibly can before I get the game for real.

I go through something similar, albeit on a much less intense level whenever a new Magic: the Gathering set comes out. Once spoiler season starts for the new set, I eagerly check to see what new cards were revealed on my lunch break at work and start thinking about what decks those would go into or what new decks they’d suggest. By the time the prerelease rolls around, I’m pretty excited. And the same is almost always true when I get to start a new RPG campaign (especially if I’m GMing and get to share the world I’ve made with my players).

There are people who will will say that the anticipation is more fun than actually getting the thing, but I’m not one of them. When the waiting period ends and I get The Thing (whatever it is), the anticipation often seems to intensify the enjoyment I get out of it, but usually the fun of digging into all of the complexities and possibilities of The Thing far outweigh the fun of imagining what it’ll be like. The stuff that really grabs me is almost always something I have to dig into and interact with in a major way – I used to feel the same way about Lego sets when I was a kid.

Oh, by the way, I’m 37, married, and have a full-time job, a car payment, and I serve on two volunteer boards. I’m in management at my job. I have responsibilities and obligations – adulthood has happened to me, with all of its freedom and all of its shackles and all of the paradoxes that those two concepts imply, and I do take it very seriously.

In a lot of ways, new games give me a way, however briefly, to reconnect with the excitement of being a child, and I think that’s extremely valuable. Adulthood can be a grinding experience, as many (if not most) of you reading this will know. When the various things from the last paragraph start stacking up, I can get some satisfaction out of doing them well or handling them efficiently, but oftentimes there’s not much in the way of joy or excitement to it. I go to work, pay my bills, and otherwise handle my obligations because it’s the right thing to do on my good days and because I know that there will be consequences if I don’t on my bad ones, but I seldom get the same giddy “I can’t wait!” feeling except for when my hobbies are involved, and that in and of itself is one of the best arguments for having them that I could think of.

As always, I’d love to hear what any of you have to say – I’d love to hear about the stuff that gets you all giddy with excitement, and (of course) if any of the rest of you are going to be playing XCOM 2, I’m certain I’ll be plenty excited to talk about that after Friday.


Two Types of Paladin 6

Quick shout out before I get on with the rest of the blog post: in keeping with my resolution to get out and play games in meat space more often, I made it to Commander night at my local FLGS this evening. Troy and DJ – it was great gaming with you guys. You really made me feel welcome and I had a ton of fun. -Peter

I’m about 3 years late to the Diablo III party. I’m about 16 years late to the Dresden Files party. Ah well. Better late than never. In starting to consume both at the same time, however, I noticed something: Diablo III has a fair bit to say about Paladins, and I think some of it is really useful for making an oft-maligned class actually fun and interesting in games.

First some quick background, though. The self-righteous, overly-zealous, utterly inflexible, or otherwise just plain insufferable paladin is a stereotype as old as the proverbial hills in gaming. A lot of the time, paladins in fantasy games act a bit like Space Marines in the Warhammer 40k universe: violent, loud, and constantly spouting terms like “heretic,” “smite,” and “cleanse.” While this can be fun for a certain type of game, the perception has crept in that this is the “right” or even only way to play holy warriors, and, well, that’s just not true.

Diablo III, of all things, quietly hangs a lampshade on this. I played my first run through the game as a Crusader, the “Paladin” class of the game – a big brawny guy encased in armor and using a shield and an enormous weapon. Early in the game, you recruit a Templar as a companion – and at that point, the contrasts become evident. The crusader comes from an order that revolves around mentoring a single apprentice who takes everything from the mentor – including their name – when they die. In addition, the Crusader is a fairly calm, soft-spoken, and even-handed sort. The Templar, on the other hand, is more the Space Marine archetype. Loud, wrathful, zealous, and a little unstable. Where the Crusader seems to look at all the fighting he has to do with a kind of patient resignation, the Templar revels in violence and seems to be constantly chomping at the bit to get back into the fight. And his order took him as a criminal and basically tortured him until he forgot his past life, then rebuilt him as they saw fit. The Crusader is audibly disturbed by this and tells the Templar “they left you empty, friend.” And then there’s Michael Carpenter, the Knight of the Cross from The Dresden Files. Michael is a family man – a married father of several children – who still goes out and risks his life fighting supernatural evil because it’s the right thing to do. He is kind, patient, and when tries to correct the behavior of others (particularly Harry) it’s done in such a way that makes it obvious that he’s saying something because he cares – not just about the ambient moral purity of the world, but about the life of his friend and the quality thereof. He prompts Harry to be a better person at least in part to make Harry’s life fuller and more meaningful.

Two other fictional characters also go well into the mix: Nick Valentine, the detective from Fallout 4, who in the middle of a pitched battle will shout things like “Are you sure this is the last mug you want to see?” and “This doesn’t have to be the day you die!” even as he’s ducking for cover and returning fire (and so many other things that I won’t spoil), and the Paragon variant of Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect trilogy, who despite being a person with an unbelievable amount of responsibility piled on him, still finds time to talk a distraught former slave down from hurting herself, comfort a grieving mother in a lawless slum, and heal a criminal dying of a terminal disease who just seconds before had cursed him and waved a gun in his face. These kinds of multi-faceted good people who actually embody the description of love Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 not only are more tolerable for other players at the table, but they’re ultimately more interesting characters. They’re also much more authentic and believable paragons of virtue than a lot of people play paladins as.

I’ve kind of taken a break from playing outright holy warriors for a bit – but some of these new examples make me want to pick the archetype back up again. In the meantime, if you’ve seen any particularly good or bad paladins in your gaming history ad want to share, please comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Starting a Podcast, Part 3: Production

Welcome to the third and – at least for now – final part of the Starting a Podcast series. In the first and second posts, I covered mostly behind-the-scenes processes – decisions that you had to make to get some idea of what your podcast was even going to be, how you were going to record it, sand so forth. In this final one, we’ll actually get to producing some content! For the chart I refer to in the bullet points below, see the first post.

Production Phase:

This is where you’ll finish making your behind-the-scenes decisions, record an episode, and get it out there for the world to enjoy.

  • Determine Editing Standards [R]: This is more of a decision than you might initially think. Some podcasts go for an ultra-produced, slick presentation where every long pause, “um” or “uh” and every digression or verbal flub is edited away, leaving nothing but a silky-smooth stream of highly-refined content. This certainly has its advantages, but it can also lead to content that sounds inauthentic, and it increases editing time by a substantial degree. Still, some editing is good. You’ll want to take the edges off of certain things like Blarey the Podcast Train or other, less in-jokey background noise, and when you have one of those moments where you completely trip over your own tongue, it’s useful to be able to say it over again and edit in the usable version for clarity, if not for pride.
  • Determine Editing Staff [S] and Determine Editing Schedule [T]: This also varies. Some podcasts have one of their hosts edit (like Grant does with ours or Dan does with Fear the Boot) and some use an outside producer (like Gamers With Jobs and The Command Zone). In any case, you’ll want to determine who is doing the editing, and how much time they’ll have to do it before the episode drops. It bears mentioning that audio editing is a non-trivial task. To be even more explicit, it will take you between four and eight times as long to edit something as it did to record it. This is why Saving the Game is on a two-week release schedule, by the way. I suspect it’s also a major source of “podfade.” Getting together and recording a conversation is easy. Doing post-production work is substantially less so and is also a lot less fun. However, it’s manageable – that there are plenty of podcasts that have been around for years should be all the indication you need that editing is manageable, it’s just something you have to account for properly.
  • Set up Recording Environment [U]: As I alluded to earlier, this doesn’t need to be anything fancy. You just want a place that’s as quiet and free of interruptions as you can make it and you want to be able to sit comfortably and still talk into your microphone properly at the same time. In addition:
    • You really want to wear headphones if you’re podcasting with somebody who isn’t in the same room, and you want to make sure they don’t “leak” much sound. The “echo” effect is nigh unto impossible to get rid of in editing and is really distracting to listen to.
    • Consider plugging your headphones into your mic if you can. Apparently this helps get rid of certain verbal tics and makes for a more comfortable recording experience. You probably won’t even notice the difference, but it will help your audio quality.
    • Some kind of articulating mic stand will come in handier than you think.
    • Buy windscreens and pop filters for your mics and use them. They don’t cost much, but they help a lot.
  • Set up Home Page [V]: Get your web presence set up and ready to go. Specific technical advice for this is beyond the scope of this blog post, but if your web hosting provider is worth their salt, they should have some good documentation for you to use.
  • Determine Release Schedule [W]: Figure out how often you’re going to release your podcast. As a guide, record an “episode zero” (you are going to be horribly nervous and awkward, and that’s completely fine) and edit it. Then Extrapolate from there how long it’ll take you to record and release a typical episode and then take a very clear-eyed look at the rest of your life. From there you should be able to get some idea of how often you can release.
  • Record Episode [X]: This is it! Your first episode! Pick an interesting topic and get to it!
  • Edit Episode [Y]: Specific editing advice is beyond the scope of this blog post (though I’m hoping to talk Grant into writing a post or two about editing at some point) but the podcasting community is generally pretty friendly. IF you really get stuck, send a polite email to a veteran podcaster and they can probably get you un-stuck.
  • Release Episode [Z] and Post to Social Media [AA]: Put that edited episode out there for people to enjoy, and don’t forget to promote it on social media!

And that’s it for part 3: Production. I hope this series has been useful to you. As usual, feel free to ping us with questions or comments.

Starting a Podcast, Part 2: Preparation 1

Welcome to part 2 of the Starting a Podcast series. In the last post, I laid out the process we went through in the Conception phase of the podcast. This post assumes you’ve got your concept and that you’re ready to start getting down to the technical aspects of your podcast. These are the steps to get ready for the production aspect of the show. For where these steps fit in the overall scheme of setting up a podcast, refer back to the chart from part 1 of this series.

Preparation Phase:
This is where you’ll set up the necessary hardware and software for your podcast. It’s also where you’ll make some decisions about procedures and logistics.

  • Select Recording Software [H] and Acquire  Recording Software [O]: Over the years we and our guest hosts have used a number of different programs to get audio files for episodes, including the WIndows Sound Recorder app. You can use basically any program that allows you to record sound files, but that’s not to say they’re all equal. The RPG segment of the podcasting community, at least, has more or less standardized on Audacity. There are several reasons for this: it handles both recording and editing, it’s relatively easy to use, it has a decent number of features, and (perhaps most importantly) it’s free. If you are going to use Audacity (and after almost four years of using it, I’m pretty confident saying you should) you’ll want to get the LAME codec (it’s actual name, not a quality judgment) so you can encode your audio files in MP3 format. The reason it’s a separate codec and not part of audacity has to do with open-source licensing and file formats. It’s a legal issue, not a technical one, but you’ll only need to take care of it once when you install
  • Set up File Hosting [I]: You’ll need a place to host the audio you’re going to be producing. We actually found out the hard way early on in our podcasting career that you definitely want to use a hosting provider that specializes in podcasts. (If you don’t you may find that the first time one of your episodes takes off, there’s a very real possibility that you’ll be scrambling to get your feed back instead of celebrating.) The two big names in the business right now are Podbean and Libsyn. Either one of these services will work fine, but Libsyn is generally regarded as being a bit better; they tend to be slightly more reliable and have been talking about Spotify integration, though that seems to still be “early days” as of this writing.
  • Set up Social Media Presence [J]: As notoriously lousy as I am at social media, even I can acknowledge that these days, your podcast needs a social media presence. At a bare minimum, set up a twitter account, but also think about Facebook, Google+, etc. In addition, if you’re part of the community of another podcast (and if you’re thinking about starting one, you probably are) it’s worth putting the word out to that community about your venture.
  • Select Editing Software [K] and Acquire Editing Software [N]: As previously mentioned, the ideal is to have your recording and editing software be the same program. If they’re not, you may want to reconsider Audacity unless you have a compelling reason not to.
  • Select Recording Hardware [H] and Acquire  Recording Hardware [O]: This is one of the places where aspiring podcasters tend to get stuck, which is a shame, because this really isn’t that big of a deal. Let me set the record straight: you don’t need a mixer, you don’t need a mic that costs hundreds of dollars, and you don’t  need a recording studio. A decent-quality USB mic is just fine; Grant uses a podcasting standard, the Blue Snowball and I use an Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB. It IS worth getting a windscreen and a pop filter for your mic, and you will find it a lot more comfortable to record if you mount it on something that doesn’t require you to loom/hunch over your desk like a podcasting vulture.
  • Establish Recording Procedures [M]: For Saving the Game, we set up our outline’s “bones” ahead of time, and then finish it off either right before or in the first few minutes after we get on a VOIP call and open up Audacity. We typically both record 10 seconds or so of random chatter just to make sure we’re getting good waveforms, then delete that from the project. When it comes time to record the episode proper, we do a countdown from 3 and hit “record” more or less  at the same time, then acknowledge verbally that we’re recording. After that, we sit quietly for 30 seconds for “room tone” and then typically launch into the episode. You may want to do something similar or different, but work it out ahead of time.
  • Set up File Sharing Resources [Q]: If you’re able to record in the same physical space with the other folks on your podcast, this isn’t all that important. If you’re remote like we are on Saving the Game, however, it is absolutely critical (audio files are typically way too big to be emailed, and you need to get everyone’s track to the editor). Once again, this needn’t be something expensive or time consuming; Grant and I use Google Drive and have been very happy with it. I know of several other podcasts that use DropBox. Once again, there’s no one “right” solution, just find something that works for everybody involved and use it consistently.

And that’s it for Part 2: Preparation. Look for Part 3 on Saturday.