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What is Actual Play?

If you’re not familiar with the term, don’t worry—I’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll unravel the mysteries and excitement behind actual play, the immersive experience that’s taking the tabletop gaming community by storm.

What does actual play mean?

Actual play refers to the practice of streaming or recording tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) sessions, where players engage in collaborative storytelling, taking on the roles of fictional characters.

Actual play is an immersive and interactive form of entertainment that has gained significant popularity in recent years. At its core, actual play captures the essence of the tabletop gaming experience, where a group of players gathers around a table, guided by a game master or dungeon master. Through their collective imagination and the use of game rules and mechanics, they bring to life intricate stories and characters in a dynamic and improvisational manner.

These sessions are often streamed or recorded, making them accessible to a wider audience beyond the confines of the gaming table. The viewers become active participants in the storytelling process, invested in the characters’ journeys and eagerly anticipating the outcomes of their decisions and dice rolls.

Actual play shows come in various forms, featuring a diverse range of TTRPG systems such as Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and many others. Each show has its unique style, setting, and cast of players, providing a multitude of engaging narratives and gameplay experiences for fans to explore.

By showcasing the collaborative and imaginative aspects of tabletop gaming, actual play not only entertains but also serves as a source of inspiration for aspiring players and game masters. It fosters a sense of community among fans, who engage in discussions, fan art creation, and even cosplay inspired by their favorite actual play shows.

How did actual play gain popularity?

In the early 2010s, actual play began its ascent, fueled by the growing popularity of platforms like Twitch and YouTube. These platforms gave birth to a multitude of shows, offering a wide range of tabletop role-playing game sessions. With almost 70 streaming sessions on Twitch alone, in various languages, and from different countries, actual play has become a global phenomenon.

What is the visual layout of actual play shows?

Boxes, Overlays, and More When you tune into an actual play show, you’ll notice a distinctive visual layout—a signature look that has become synonymous with the genre. Boxes are strategically arranged on the screen, showcasing the storyteller, players, character art, battle maps, and other relevant information. This layout, born out of inspiration from earlier shows and practical considerations, provides a captivating and immersive viewing experience for fans.

What impact did Critical Role have on the actual play genre?

While there was no standard look for actual play in its early days, Critical Role emerged as a dominant force that shaped the genre. This popular show not only showcased captivating stories but also introduced a visual layout that emphasized player reactions, creating some of the most memorable moments in actual play history. Its influence has been undeniable, leading to the widespread adoption of similar layouts across the actual play landscape.

How is actual play evolving beyond live sessions?

As actual play continues to grow, creators are experimenting with different formats to make their shows more accessible and visually appealing. Some shows, like HarmonQuest and Dimension 20, have moved towards prerecorded and edited episodes, allowing for better storytelling and the integration of visual elements like custom miniatures and scene illustrations. Prerecording also enables remote play, eliminating connectivity issues and enhancing production quality.

How Does Editing Enhance Actual Play?

Editing plays a crucial role in actual play, allowing creators to trim pauses, awkward moments, and unnecessary clutter. It also enables a fullscreen view of the most exciting camera angles, adding depth and immersion to the viewing experience. Well-edited shows like Dimension 20 have perfected this craft.

Beyond the Screen

Podcasts: Accessible Audio Adventures

Podcasts play a crucial role in the realm of actual play, offering immersive audio adventures that transport listeners into the captivating world of tabletop gaming. Through expert storytelling, sound effects, and character-driven narratives, actual play podcasts bring the tabletop experience to life in a purely auditory format. With their portable nature, podcasts allow fans to engage with actual play content anytime, anywhere, making them a popular choice for those seeking entertainment on the go. From epic campaigns to intimate character interactions, actual play podcasts offer a unique and compelling way to experience the magic of tabletop role-playing games.

Social Media: Clips, TikTok, and New Frontiers

Actual play content creators are constantly exploring new avenues to expand their audience and engage with fans. Short clips, particularly on platforms like TikTok, have become a powerful tool for drawing in new viewers. From showcasing gameplay highlights to behind-the-scenes content, these clips serve as a gateway to the immersive world of actual play. Some creators are also pushing the boundaries by incorporating visual effects, virtual sets, and interactive elements into their shows, elevating the experience to new heights.


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♬ original sound – Critical Role

A Tipping Point and an Exciting Future

Actual play finds itself at a tipping point, with intense competition, tight budgets, and countless creative possibilities. As the audience continues to expand, it remains to be seen how the landscape will evolve. Will unions get involved? Will new shows continue to emerge at a rapid pace? Only time will tell. One thing is certain: actual play is here to stay, ready to transport you into fantastical realms and let you be the hero of your own story.

So, dear adventurer, are you ready to jump into the thrilling world of actual play? Whether you’re a seasoned gamer or new to the realm of tabletop RPGs, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. From epic battles to heartwarming character moments, actual play offers a unique blend of entertainment and immersion that will leave you craving for more.