Actual play podcasts–podcasts in which a group of people play a tabletop roleplaying game like Dungeons and Dragons–are one of the fastest-growing genres in podcasting. This is, of course, a double-edged sword: while growth means there’s so many incredible actual play podcasts to listen to by a gamut of diverse voices, it also means it’s harder to dig out a niche and differentiate yourself in the genre.
BomBARDed, made up by an actual group of musicians, has found the perfect way to make their podcast unique and innovative: the characters in the campaign multiclass as bards and play randomized songs when they need some bardic inspiration.
BomBARDed is an actual-play, Dungeons & Dragons podcast that follows the exploits of three bards and their musical adventures while attending Strumlott’s School for Bards.
Our cast is made up of musicians (who play in the band LINDBY together in real life), and we play our instruments at the table when casting our bard spells. Once per episode, we also roll chord dice together to create a random group song that goes along with what is happening in the story. It’s loads of fun and brings our love of music, storytelling, and tabletop gaming together in one show full of bardic inspiration!
Before the music truly set in, what initially struck me about BomBARDed is its stunning production value. Like many audio dramas (and actual plays that intersect with the audio drama world), it’s difficult to get all of your performers sounding the same on their mics to help keep the listener immersed in the story. In BomBARDed, all of the players and the game’s DM sound seamless. The editing is snappy and unobtrusive, never letting the performers sound too clean or over-produced. There are some delightful vocal effects used depending on certain characters’ abilities that seem reminiscent of Join the Party‘s TR8-C with some interesting and well-executed variation.
And, of course, the music is one of the highlights of the show. Music permeates every single part of BomBARDed: it’s present in the characters and the concept, of course, but it’s also present in the scene-setting bed music that plays underneath the dialogue of each episode. While I can see the use of music throughout an episode being obtrusive to some listeners (and perhaps difficult for listeners with audio processing issues), it’s something I really enjoy. It adds tone and atmosphere without being obnoxious or distracting, at least for me.
The music is also present in the nonstop onslaught of musical puns. These puns aren’t even just the basic puns you’d get from a high school orchestra class–trust me, as someone who played viola for about ten years in school, I’d know. Those are present, but some of these are next-level music theory puns catering to people who can rattle off the structure of the most complex jazz chord at a moment’s notice. This could be alienating for some listeners, but they’re momentary jokes that roll away quickly–and for those of us who get the jokes, they’re killer.
The most direct way music is present is in the songs performed diegetically in the story. Many of these songs take the form of rewriting lyrics to pre-existing songs (adding lyrics to a Pokemon song early on was especially silly and fun), but when Bardic Inspiration needs to happen, the group rolls dice to determine the type of song they’re going to write together. The dice determine the chords used, the type of drum beat, and the general style; the players then write the lyrics and compose the song. The songs, like the podcast, are produced well and are usually shockingly catchy. It feels a little bit like Song Salad with the added fun of fitting into a larger narrative.
So far, my only complaints for BomBARDed are concerns I have for a good deal of podcasts in the actual play genre. First, I worry that given the hilarious style of the show and the over-the-top concept, it’ll be difficult to form genuine emotional attachment to the plot or the characters; as I listen to more, though, I’m finding this worry less substantiated. Similarly, early episodes have a heavy focus on combat. While the combat is inventive and usually short, it’s my least favorite part in any actual play. Again, as I listen to more episodes, it also seems like this is a trend that mellows with time.
BomBARDed is the perfect podcast for people who like the concept of an actual play podcast but want something other than a traditional tabletop story. It’s also the perfect podcast for some hardcore music theory nerds who will eat up puns about diminished chords–and let’s be real, that Venn diagram has a much larger middle than most people realize.