Podcasts — Underrated Sources of Creative Inspiration?
Podcasts are not usually the first things that come to mind when you think about tabletop gaming. (Unless you listen to podcasts that directly focus on tabletop game topics.) But recently, I’ve been listening to serial drama podcasts, and was surprised at the kind of creative playground they provide.
Depending on what tabletop game you play, you most likely need your creative brain to carry out some apsect of the game. Perhaps it’s as straightforward as painting a new miniature army. Or maybe it’s coming up with a strategy to defeat your opponent. If it’s a role-playing game, you are doing nothing but using your creativity and imagination for character creation and actual game play. And if you’re the game master, you are always creating the story ahead of time and through improvisation.
The following five podcasts struck me as surprising sources of inspiration for the creative gamer. None of them have anything to do with tabletop games. But they all involve stories (some true, others largely fictional) that will spark a curious imagination. Listen to them while you drive, work out, or are tinkering around the house, and let your creative brain take flight!
I admit, I have a weird fascination with the post-apocalyptic genre, especially when it involves zombies. I’d heard about this podcast via Geek & Sundry, when they announced back in February that the RPG they were about to start airing (called “We’re Alive: Frontier”) was based on it.
We’re Alive grips you right from the first episode. Of the five podcasts listed, this one feels the most like a serial audio drama. Each character’s point of view reveals the story. Their descriptions of their post-apocalyptic struggles, coupled with impressive sound effects, make you feel like you’re one of the characters.
This podcast is ideal to listen to while you are working on a creative project, like painting minis. If you’re working on customizing fantasy-based or sci-fi figures, you could borrow ideas from some of the descriptive cues. Make one look like one of the supposed undead creatures you learn about in the story. (Hint: it’s not exactly The Walking Dead!)
The Amelia Project
The Amelia Project has an interesting Sherlock-esque feel — from the intro music, to its quirky British characters. The basis of the story? People hire “Amelia” (who is not a person, per se) to stage their deaths so that they may disappear from the public eye and return as someone else.
One amusing aspect I love about the podcast is that each full episode is preceded by a short 2 to 5-minute episode which incorporates some sort of beverage in the story snippet. This “motif” permeates every episode, which I think makes for great creative inspiration.
If you’re designing a home-brew world for an RPG, for instance, perhaps there is some sort of repetitive component you can incorporate. It could be a symbol, a pattern, an item, etc. that becomes an integral part of the story, almost like a main character in itself.
If you like obscure, dark, creepy, and peculiar history, then Lore might peak your interest. This podcast isn’t a fictional serial drama (or comedy). Rather, Lore is a large collection of weird stories, from which you can skip around and listen. There are currently 86 installments, with new ones released every two weeks on Mondays.
The writer, Aaron Mahnke, delivers researched facts fused with storytelling that makes for a fascinating, historical narrative. There are no sound effects, just a piano melody of background music to accompany the sometimes hair-raising tales that he tells.
Your imagination wanders in many directions when you listen to this podcast, simply because the stories aren’t fiction. There are bits of supernatural, superstitions, haunting legends, and religious and cultural folklore that are not only informative, but sometimes unbelievable.
Lore is a ripe gold mine for story ideas. If you’re a game master and want a fresh, home-brewed storyline, you will certainly find something in this podcast to spark a good plot. Warning: don’t listen to this podcast by yourself (especially at night!) if you spook easily. And if you find that you really like this podcast and want visual entertainment, Lore was recently produced into an Amazon Prime series, with 6 episodes in its first season!
The Leviathan Chronicles
When you listen to The Leviathan Chronicles, you actually feel like you’re listening to a movie. The unique mix of 3rd person narration, voice acting, musical soundtrack, and realistic sound effects, embeds you in the tension and action, which is a slightly different style from the other podcasts. Leviathan is a suspenseful, futuristic, sub-oceanic, sci-fi story about immortals and mortals, and a secret government agency that is trying to extinguish a secret.
You almost feel like you’re listening to an audio book at times, which I found appealing. Instead of constant character dialogue, you are given detailed information about each setting to help your imagination complete the picture.
A bit of advice — just get past the first episode. There are some long bouts of dialogue that nearly turned me off, but I get why it was necessary. After that, the story really gets going. Like We’re Alive, The Leviathan Chronicles is the type of podcast that’s ideal to listen to while you’re doing something mundane, or something creative.
Alba Salix, Royal Physician
If you find serial comedies to be more up your alley, then this one’s for you. Alba Salix, Royal Physician takes place in a fantasy royal kingdom. Alba is a newly-appointed witch healer who begrudgingly finds herself working alongside a young wannabe warrior-monk-turned-surgeon, and a clumsy fairy herbalist.
While the comedy is almost predictable (though not quite as witty as the Princess Bride), the story is certainly light-hearted, and imbued with playful imagery. In the first episode alone, I chuckled at the thought of a centaur receiving chiropractic treatment from Balthag the Ogre. (By the way, did you know that centaurs aren’t covered for chiropractic adjustments because of their complex anatomies?)
If you want to inject some comic relief into your D&D sessions, you’ll find some great anecdotes and NPC inspiration within Alba Salix to amuse your valiant adventuring party. Oh, and be careful the next time you use a hair tonic. One word — snakes!
As a tabletop gamer, you are many times, literally playing a story, whether or not it’s something you’ve created. Stories encourage ideas and creativity, and podcasts are just one source. Books, movies, and music are other obvious sources. But you can also juice up your creative brain by simply looking around you.
Go out and people-watch for character or storyline ideas. Pay attention to textures and noises in your every day life. Translate them into an interesting, customized army of miniatures. Collect or take pictures of things that strike you. Jot down interesting names of places or people. You’d be surprised at what could be useful in your tabletop gaming!
Rosie Huck is the Web Coordinator and Town Crier for The Ogre’s Den Gaming, and is married to Joe, the Den Master. Rosie loves to geek out regularly through several fandoms, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, Disney, and The Walking Dead. You can contact her via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.