Why Actual Playtest?

Because role-playing games have changed. I think everyone’s noticed it - there are countless think-pieces about what the RPG scene took from the success of Critical Role and The Adventure Zone.

Nowadays, the power of role-playing games to comfort and inspire people is no longer limited to people who play them. People who can’t get a group together, who aren’t confident with the rules, who don’t know where to start can now experience a campaign run by passionate, caring people. When I was young, we had our friends and that was about it, and if our local group was hurtful or abusive we didn’t have many options. I was one of the lucky ones; my sister and I played with friends who were a touch awkward around girls but never outright exclusionary or cruel to us. But there are a lot of people, especially marginalized folks of all stripes, who never got to enjoy roleplaying games because they tried and found a toxic environment.

Nowadays, people are introduced to roleplaying as much by other people’s stories as by friends or relatives wanting to set up a group. People who can’t find a safe place to play in real life can have a campaign told to them, most often by warm people who make a point of affirming their audience. I think it’s beautiful. I love roleplaying, after all.

I mentioned this in the preface to Heroic Chord, but I’m coming out of a pretty dire stretch of depression. Like, full-on staring at the wall 0 feelings depression. It was pretty bad. Roleplaying (along with my excellent doctor) was instrumental in helping me rebuild my old passion and enthusiasm. Actual play podcasts played a big part in this, too. Before I started my game, or on days when we didn’t meet, I had podcasts that lifted my spirits and provoked my heart.

I’m a huge fan of The Adventure Zone. I mean, that almost goes without saying. But, I was especially inspired by the little test arcs they did between main story arcs. I remember thinking “wouldn’t it be wonderful, to make a game they would like to play, even as a little proof of concept?” (Hit me up, Travis. I’m not kidding. I can get you the manual for free.) That feeling evolved into “I need to use this format to tell my own story”, and Sword of Symphonies wouldn’t exist without it. Also, the boys are just plain good company. When I’ve been depressed or anxious, even if they couldn’t help me feel better, episodes of MBMBaM and TAZ have at least kept my head above water. I’m grateful to them!

I wish SO BAD we could be like Dames and Dragons. Don’t tell my cast but I am constantly comparing them to these beautiful people. (Seriously don’t tell them.) As long as I have been listening to this show, there has never been a time where I’ve been so far down that they couldn’t make me laugh. It’s never once happened, no matter how depressed, upset, or anxious I am. I crack every single time. This show is hilarious, consistently thoughtful and fun. It captures my favorite thing about roleplaying, too - it feels like you’re sitting around the table with friends. I’m grateful to them, too!

Finally, The Broadswords changed the way I think about Actual Play. I’m not the only one, right? I can’t possibly be the only one. It’s funny, but unlike a lot of goofy roleplaying podcasts, I don’t think I’d ever describe it as a comedy. It’s a gorgeous high fantasy drama, speckled with bits of comedy but otherwise telling a profound story without worrying about the expected conventions of the genre. I’m grateful for this, too! I think a part of why I can be free to go my own way is because I saw them do it first. (I am, I cannot overstate this, a chicken of the HIGHEST ORDER.)

Heroic Chord was inspired by this, by the role D&D is playing in my recovery. So, if it’s fun to play but no fun to listen to, then it’s not really meeting my goals. I want a game that can tell stories that make people happy, whether they’re in the room or not! Which means Sword of Symphonies is itself a test - a test of whether this game’s stories have what it takes to be to other people what actual play podcasts were to me.