As actual play tabletop podcasts gain popularity, it’s becoming harder to make a name for your show in the genre. Podcasts have tried breaking the mold with different games than just the classic Dungeons and Dragons or adding immersive soundscapes like the much-beloved Join the Party and The End of Time and Other Bothers. In Very Random Encounters, though, an exciting new mechanic is added: true to name, almost everything is randomized.
Welcome to Very Random Encounters, a show where we play pen and paper RPGs in which we’ve randomly determined as many things as possible including characters, villains, names, places, and other weirder stuff. It all comes together to be a very random encounter.
Initially, the concept seemed like an easy conceit for hijinks, but I was happily surprised by how much both the players and GMs take to the randomized elements. Part of tabletop/pen-and-paper games like Dungeons and Dragons is the character customization, getting to build a character you’ll want to play for the duration of a campaign. In Very Random Encounters, everything about a character except their gender and basic personality are randomized. This could make for some easy jokes, but instead, the players take to their characters just as well as ones they would have created on their own. The first episode of each campaign focuses on character creation, and while these episodes do have laughs, they also contain character introduction monologues. These monologues are well-written and well-produced, always showing the care the players put into their characters.
The campaigns, too, are largely randomized but still feel cohesive. Even with events and NPCs being determined through randomization, there’s always a genuine narrative; it feels like any other actual play, but just a bit more high-energy due to the stochasticity. Tabletop games are already a form of improvisation that requires quick thinking, but hearing both the players and GM navigate this new level of the unexpected is consistently exciting and shockingly never annoying. This is largely due to the podcast’s hosts: Travis, Logan, Lee, and Greg are seasoned players with a spirited dynamic that makes for a perfect fit with the structure. This group of players has comfortable rhythm, everyone sharing the time in the episode easily with little over-talk.
This rhythm isn’t the only thing that lends momentum to the podcast, either. Actual plays have a tendency in getting bogged down with too little editing and episodes that run for far too long. Usually, episodes of Very Random Encounters clock in at a comfortable hour or less. The episodes are edited seamlessly to make sure their flow isn’t interrupted, but much of the rolls, silences, and stumbles are removed for time. There’s still an emphasis on jokes and the camaraderie that accompanies any good tabletop group, but the plot never feels slowed down. While Very Random Encounters doesn’t incorporate full sound design–something I think adds immersion to any actual play podcast–it does feature music composed in-house to add suspense or humor to certain situations.
Unlike most actual play podcasts, Very Random Encounters is made up of short campaigns versus short arcs in one long campaign; essentially, each time a story is finished, it isn’t continued using the same characters and over-arching narrative. Each new story is genuinely new, with a new system, new characters, and a new GM. While this does make it more difficult to get attached to specific characters, it does make it easier for new listeners to jump in. When starting Very Random Encounters, I started with the Call of Cthulhu game because it sounded the most interesting to me. I had no trouble understanding what was going on, whether it was in-game or with inside jokes between the hosts. The podcast’s website even includes a listening guide with the summary and first episode of each arc, giving new listeners the choice to start with whichever sounds the most exciting.
Very Random Encounters is one of the most interesting and attention-grabbing actual play podcasts in the genre right now. The podcast shows just how integral quick improvisation are to tabletop roleplaying, and the randomization of so many features means the show will never feel boring or repetitive. It’s hard to find a niche in the actual play genre right now, but Very Random Encounters has found something unique and delightful in its truly random nature.
You can find Very Random Encounters on any podcatcher or on their website, which also includes a link to the show’s soundtracks and each character’s sheet. You can support Very Random Encounters on Patreon.