Into the Paizoverse

Hello, friends! My name is Jason Lillis, and for the last couple years I’ve been searching online for as many Pathfinder and Starfinder actual play podcasts I can find and share them with others over on Twitter as @WhatDoYouDoPods, and via a really simple spreadsheet list at I’m also working with Vanessa Hoskins to bring you Super Smashfinder, a Pathfinder 2E show featuring actual-play podcasters in PvP gladiatorial combat. Exhibition matches are starting soon!

While Know Direction is busy getting their team synergy together for that competition, Ryan asked if I would write up a few words about something I love about gaming, and I’d like to bend your ear for a moment to talk about how listening to actual-play podcasts can inform and enhance your own table’s experience of the game.

How many Actual Play podcasts? SO MANY!

Did you know that there are over one hundred actual-play podcast productions out there, each showcasing the rules for either Pathfinder and Starfinder? It’s true! While I haven’t had a chance to listen to all of them, I’m trying to listen to at least one episode of each to stay up to date on what kinds of stories are being told, and who the storytellers are. The diversity in gaming is great!

The actual play shows in The Paizoverse bring groups from around the world to share their interpretations on adventures paths, modules, and scenarios featuring Golarion and the Pact Worlds, each featuring an aspect of these published stories that another table might have passed by. We get to hear of new worlds and galaxies springing to life from those playing homebrewed campaigns, inspiring us with a tremendous depth and commitment to the lore they have created. And, of course, we laugh, weep, rage, mourn, delight, and cheer with the hundreds of player characters that dive into these adventures headlong, knowing that sometimes there’s only one roll of the die that separates this character sheet from the next.

Why listening can improve your experience at your own table

What if we take a step back from just listening to the stories? What insights can we glean from an actual-play podcast and bring into our own games?

First, they can help you prepare for your game sessions more cinematically. If you’re a GM, they can help you think about the nuts and bolts of a full campaign arc or adventure path in roughly 1-2 hour chunks, and how you’ll be laying the groundwork in early sessions to bring things to a head for your players later. If your descriptions help players imagine their setting more vibrantly, it will be easier for them to dive in and absorb what’s happening around them. If you’re a player, they can help provide a vocabulary for thinking about how to get into your character’s head and motivations, so that your reactions to events at the table aren’t just based on the stats listed on your character sheet.

Second, they can help you think about embracing your story as a group. What kind of story do you and the other players at your table want to create? Not every group needs to run “the classic” adventure paths and modules – your table might get a lot more out of a story that hasn’t been told as often as the one that everyone has heard of. It takes a bit of research and lore-diving if you’re doing something that’s pre-published and you want to find just the right one, but it pays off if you’re all invested in a story you want to tell together.

Third, know when to dwell on a scene, and when to keep the pace of the story moving. When you’re all in agreement at the table on what to spend time on, it really shows! Learning how to take cues from each other, and how to “Yes, and…” or “No, but…” dynamically can help a story flow naturally, rather than rushing through or dragging out a scene. Ask if something can be handled before or after the session, like healing, loot sharing, or recapping the last session.

Engaging with the community

One thing that I really love about keeping up with a few shows is how engaged the community is with those stories and with the game. I asked a bunch of friends in the community to share what they most like to draw out of the podcasts they listen to. Here are a few replies, along with their Discord handles:

  • Actual plays helped me understand how much the game improves when roleplay has consequences. It really hit home that TTRPGs are really a cooperative audiobook, telling a “choose-your-own-adventure” story that everyone shapes. – 10LawnGnomes
  • We did things in such a clinical, numbers-based way in my original group. There was very little role play aside from being silly here and there. When I listened to actual plays, it finally clicked that the “roleplaying” aspect of ttrpgs is important and makes it a lot more of a rich, fun experience. – hanktheclank
  • As a GM, listening to actual plays helps me create a more compelling story. I started using flashbacks and dreams a lot more to give more context and meaning to the events unfolding in the story. I found more ways to helps the players express who their PCs were, who they are becoming and how the events are affecting them. – Thomas/Max

I would love to hear your thoughts, too! Drop me a line on Twitter or email me at with your take on how listening to Actual Play Pathfinder/Starfinder podcasts can or has improved your group’s experience with the game you’re playing.

And if you have a show that’s not on my list, let me know! I want to help folks find the best show for their interests, not just the most popular ones, and there’s so much great content out there to share.

Guest Author

Know Direction Pathfinder Podcast