Today I start my series of reviews of real play podcasts with a review of the long-running show, Critical Hit. There is a very popular Twitch.tv show called Critical Role which I will review later in this series, but the Critical Hit show not only predates the other by several years, it was also the first real play podcast I heard.
|Critical Hit||Audio Only||http://majorspoilers.com/category/critical-hit/||Weekly||PC-G|
Critical Hit has been produced since 2008 and has had a regular spot on the Major Spoilers Podcast Network since 2009. It started as a 4th Edition D&D game and the main story has continued as a 4e game. Since this podcast has been so long-running, it's understandable that the main story DM takes a break from time to time when they reach the end of a season arc. When this happens, then another person takes over as DM and they play other game systems. So far they have experimented with the Fate System, Call of Cthulu, Pathfinder, D&D 5e, Shadowrun, and more. I learned about this from Scott Johnson's "The Instance" podcast back when I was more active in playing video games like WoW.
Critical Hit's main game (The Void Saga) is set in the custom game "multiverse" of DM Rodrigo Lopez. In this game, the players travel to different planes of existence and have spent full seasons exploring the Natural World, the Astral Plane, The Feywild, and the Moon. The core four players have remained, although a couple of them have had characters die and have had to start new characters. There have also been some season-long guest players, and they now have their first guest player who has returned for a second season. But in Rodrigo's world, seasons can sometimes last for 100 episodes or more, so there are not really any "fly-by" guest appearances. The Off-season games are sometimes run by members of the team, although at least one off-season game has been run by someone who is not a regular on Critical Hit, but does regularly appear on other shows that the Major Spoilers Network produces.
This show is produced by Steven Schleicher of the Major Spoilers Network. The flagship show on the network is called Major Spoilers, which reviews pop culture and comics, film, and some technology. The network also has shows like Munchkinland and Finally Friday. Most of the regulars on these other shows make an appearance on Critical Hit either as regular voices or dropping in for a season (or off-season) to play or run a game.
I have a bias toward Critical Hit because it was the first real play podcast I started listening to on a regular basis. That's why for me it gets the highest possible rating even if it doesn't have all the slick production and tight editing of some of the other shows I will review later. Some factors that make this show appeal to me specifically are the way it captures the real-time banter around the gaming table, the way its pop-culture sensibilities align closely with my own, and the way its sense of humor is very acutely attuned to the same goofy humor that I enjoy.
The storytelling on Critical Hit is also very appealing to me. DM Rodrigo and the players do a very good job of feeding off of each other in terms of the direction the narrative takes, and you never quite know when something really takes the DM or the players by surprise because they are able to improvise so easily with what gets thrown at them by the person or people on the other side of the DM screen. This comes from the players all being long-time friends and most of them having been on podcasts together before. Whether in character or out-of-character, the familiarity and comfort that the cast has with each other add elements to the show that make the humor really funny without delving too deeply into the territory of "inside jokes" that would be lost on the listener. I think it's because this reminds me of the best games I have played in with long-time friends, where we share such a close sense of humor that we can find the fun in almost anything.
Rodrigo uses two things I have stolen whole cloth for my own games. One is his system of running Skills Challenges, which adds some extra hurdles for the players in terms of restricting the skills they can use on any given turn. The second is his "How the Other Half Lives" games, where he literally will take the character sheets away from the players and give them characters he has created for them in order to tell other aspects of the story in his game world that the main PCs would not have any way to know unless someone told them the story of what these characters did.