The Cambridge Geek

Rusty Quill Gaming

I suspect by now, I might be showing a certain amount of bias. Having enjoyed The Magnus Archives and Stellar Firma, I've now gone back to Rusty Quill's original show, an actual play of the Pathfinder RPG.

I don't listen to many actual plays, just because I tend to find they get very long very quickly, and a binge becomes a bit overwhelming. If the show is broken up into smaller campaigns, such as How We Roll, it's a bit more manageable, because there's an easy put down and pick up point that I can step away at, but a lot of them just tend to run continuously.

This one does have mini adventures of a sort, with breathing room built in between each "scenario", but honestly, it's so joyful that I find it very hard to not just plough on to the next episode. I usually prefer to listen to an entire season before I put out a post. For this show, that meant 53 episodes (not counting side adventures and one shots). They're about an hour each. I have done that. Didn't actually mind it that much.

So, actual play. Just in case that's something you don't know much about, a brief hint at the setup. The game master (Alex J. Newell) has built a world, in the same way a novelist might, and filled it with dangers, obstacles and interesting characters. This has been built in the Pathfinder RPG system, so players can meet these challenges with a combination of acting, fighting and team work, with the outcomes of each attempt decided by the result of rolled dice.

Each of the four players (Ben Meredith, Bryn Monroe, Lydia Nicholas and James Ross) take on the role of a player character, (Zolf Smith - Dwarven Cleric, Hamid Saleh Haroun al-Tahan - Halfling Sorcerer, Sasha Racket - Human Rogue and (Sir) Betrand McGuffingham - Human Fighter/Idiot respectively).

The players act out what their character would do in a given situation, and get into all sorts of awkward scrapes. One of the biggest appeals of this show is the world Newell has built. It's a spin on Victorian-ish Earth, with magitek and all you might expect, but a lot of thought has been put into the background political and historical elements that have lead to the campaign that the players have to navigate. While obviously it requires a level of improvisation to develop some of it on the fly in response to player actions, the overall framework hangs together solidly.

The other (and possibly major) thing you'll keep tuning in for however is the player and GM interactions. These are good friends, and they all have either extensive gaming or performing experience (and often both). This means that they can both work their way through the slightly byzantine rules of the game in a comprehensible manner to a lay listener, but also make those actions compelling and/or funny.

Meredith is perhaps the most knowledgeable about the system, and tends to chip in with useful explanations for the listeners/other pary members, but the most noticeable personality is Ross'. A stand-up comedian with no major RPG experience, he perhaps performs the most "in-character", giving relatively little thought to the most sensible action in game terms, instead doing whatever Bertie would do. This is almost always a terrible idea, as Bertie has been constructed to be an elitist aristocrat, whom the listeners are meant to love to hate. Honestly, I do. It's rather brilliantly done.

That strong personality does mean that Bertie can dominate the character interactions, but fortunately Monroe and Nicholas are both erudite and witty, and though their jokes tend more to the meta, out-of-character, they are no less funny. It undoubtedly occasionally confuses the more international listenership, but as a Brit, I've sat chuckling to myself in public enough to attract attention more than once. That's probably the highest praise I can give it, actually. It's totes LOL OMG. (Sorry. That's a terrible in-joke. Listen to the show. I promise you'll get it eventually.)

For the more mechanically minded, it's not light on the dice rolls, and everything is done in system. There's not much skipping events which should have an element of randomness, though there is a bit, as well as some out of game organising just to aid the flow of story. Don't think that's a bad thing, as nothing here ever feels cheap/unearned or unnecessarily spiteful, and the story that's slowly developing is one I'm greatly enjoying.

In total, this will definitely stay on my actual play ongoing listen list, which currently only consists of this and How We Roll. Anyone got any suggestions for similar?

Score 5

Tagged: Audio fiction Dramedy Cast Actual play Fantasy Serial