The Cambridge Geek

Flintlocks and Fireballs

There's definitely an issue with reviewing actual play podcasts, in that you do have to give them quite a long time to get a good idea of them. And if you find one you enjoy, there's always the risk that it'll put out weekly episodes that are hours long, and you might find yourself listening to it for days on end, losing track of all other shows you're trying to get round to.

That's what happened here.

This follows the (mis)adventures Scamp (Tiefling Sorcerer), Corzin (Halfling Ranger) and Celestia (Drow Bard), as they stumble through the 5E world invented by their DM, trying not to mess up more than they already have. Because good lord, this lot are useless.

They live in a fairly Pirate-y world, spending a lot of their time as sailing, traversing the world hunting for adventure and plot hooks. Each of them has a major personal motivation (missing friend, lack of family, you know, the usual "great White Whale" style of plot driver), but they're also driven along by a collective nemesis, who makes a relatively early appearance and then pops up occasionally to do an evil laugh and screw them over even more.

That first encounter with the nemesis does feel a little forced, with a few Chekhov's guns being rather obviously loaded and mounted on the wall in front of your eyes, but after that somewhat obvious trap, the tricks and pitfalls are established a bit more subtly. There's a rather excellent moment, high in a flammable tower, in which a series of choices are laid out. They can't not take them, but you know every step of the way it's a terrible idea.

There's quite a lot of pleasing moral ambiguity in this in general - I think we would describe our main characters as anti-heroes, rather than the straight up great and good you usually expect in a fantasy world. And though there's a slow moral improvement happening, they still act enough like sailors, with the swearing and drinking and fighting, that it's a very relaxed feel.

The biggest problem I have with the show is that there's a lot of table talk in it, and it sometimes feel like the PCs are playing the DM, rather than the game. By which I mean you can hear decisions being made or changed based on what the players suggest they might be able to do, or what it might be nice for them to do.

I feel I should disclaimer here, that I've never played or DM'd a game. All of my experience is as a listener, so you're only getting the consumer viewpoint, but I enjoy the conflict and the overcoming of conflict that you get when players take clever actions or occasionally just roll really well. Here, some of the successes feel like they happened just because the players were particularly convincing in meta chat with the DM. Maybe that's just my problem though - you might be a fan of more table talk.

To end on a positive note though, the show is put together by actors, and this has a couple of benefits both in terms of general consistency and quality of flow, and also the musical interludes that start and end a show, and intermittently pop up within them. Each episode has a sung shanty theme tune, and then a modified version doing a quick recap of plot at the end. Each episode has a bonus minisode which includes a lengthier version of the song. This is what I was initially surprised by during the live show at PodUK 2020.

All in all, been listening to this one for a while, and likely to continue.

Score 4

Tagged: Audio fiction Drama Cast Actual play Fantasy Serial