DND Podcasts…. Why?



Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game meant to be played with a group of people, usually around three to seven players per group. In these games, the group of players work together with player-created characters to work on advancing a story of the Game Master’s choice and/or creation. The players meet for sessions, often on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, to work through the current story often referred to as a Campaign. Campaigns can last anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on the length and consistency of sessions, group population, etc. In recent years more and more D&D groups have been recording their campaigns and releasing them to the public in podcast form. In turn, a great number of these podcasts have gained immense popularity.


What is the appeal of Dungeons and Dragons podcasts? What is so appealing about listening to (usually) white millennials play a board game for hours on end? Humor me internet; what draws such a large audience to disembodied voices making bad sex jokes and then rolling pieces of plastic? 


I am a black homosexual, and have what my therapist (if I had one) would call “Problems at Home.” I am also an avid enjoyer of Dungeons and Dragons podcasts. Why? I have no clue.


To understand the allure of the Dungeon and Dragons podcast we must first look at what repels audiences away from the genre. First of all, episodes tend to be long and in massive quantities. Critical Role, currently one of, if not, the most popular DND podcasts out there, releases episodes on a weekly basis, each episode approximately four hours long. At the time of writing this piece there have been two finished campaigns and a third ongoing campaign, the approximate number of recorded hours from those campaigns alone is upwards of one thousand and sixty-eight hours. For reference, if you were to catch up with One Piece, a notoriously long anime that has been releasing episodes since the 90’s it would take approximately three hundred and ninety-six hours and thirty minutes to complete. 


While most DND podcasts have nowhere near the episode length and quantity of Critical Role, the sheer number of episodes and hours needed to even catch up with some of the podcasts in this genre is daunting to say the least. In those hundreds of hours of content that most long-running podcasts have, listeners have to learn how to consistently be able to tell what on earth is actually happening. This proves to be difficult (especially during battle scenarios) as hosts’ voices tend to overlap and blend together, making it increasingly difficult to assess and/or enjoy the setting and conflict.  


Aside from issues with actually consuming the desired media, there are also a lot of issues with the communities associated with them. The company that creates official Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast (WotC), implements inherently racist, anti-Semitic, and colonial elements into their games. In doing so these podcasts and their fan bases perpetuate these unsavory ideals and practices. This probably stems from the fact that DND is made, marketed, and mostly consumed by white people. This lack of diversity even bleeds through to the podcast world making it difficult for POC and other marginalized audiences to find and relate to the player characters.  


So if there are so many issues with these podcasts and the communities that surround them, why do so many people (myself included) keep coming back? Well first off they are free to listen to and can be accessed almost anywhere. Critical Role, for example, can be accessed on platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and even Twitch. While many podcasts have content that requires payment, there is always extra content such as interviews or miniature non-cannon adventures within the same universe as the current campaign. 


While not having to pay for episodes is a notable perk of being a DND podcast enjoyer there has to be actual entertainment associated with them yes? Yes, absolutely. Something that sets DND podcasts apart from other fantasy storytelling mediums is that you are with the characters from the start. Yes, they have predetermined backstories and conflicts but the audience is there for literally every leg of the journey. Something that sets Dungeons and Dragons podcasts apart from the common fantasy mediums is being able to actively watch a character grow. With television, it is too easy to say that a character has grown and is a different person than they were at the beginning of the story. This cannot be the case with DND podcasts because as the story happens to the character it happens to the players as well. While this might not seem like a crucial factor it truly makes all the difference. When a character is written into a story there is a track that can be strayed from but still moves the plot forward. What a story happens to a character as well as their player there are more variables and derailments to the plot track. In podcasts, the characters are people in a way that is nearly impossible to recreate in a book, movie, or TV show.