The most recent addition to the network, Monster in My Podcast, has been a success. People seem to really dig it, even though it's a strange beast. On a network noteworthy for 3+ hour long episodes, it's almost vanishingly slight. It claims to be about D&D monsters, but it's mostly an improv comedy show about horrifying biology and adventure hooks. We've camped out in an antiquated book and system, even when tabletop gaming is more popular and vibrant, arguably, than it's ever been.
Now that the show has had time to settle and get its footing, I want to give a mid-mortem on its development and production. Monster in My Podcast (or as we call it, MIMP), is the first new show starring Gary and myself that has hit the network since early 2013, and the process of launching it has been informed by a lot of experience and mature systems. One huge caveat: This is only from my perspective. I haven't consulted with Gary, and he may have different feelings on this stuff. So take this with the usual grains of salt.
Dungeons and Dragons, and the Monster Manual, underpin a lot of what we do on the network. D&D is the cited influence of any kind of systems-based fantasy game, from Final Fantasy to Dark Souls, all of which crib aesthetically from Gygax's work. We both have a history of playing D&D, but anyone who has a history with tabletop role playing knows that the majority of a person's engagement with D&D is spent alone, propped up on a bed reading the source books, poring over tables, and reading the flavor text.
The topic of monster manuals has come up on our shows before, infrequently and in passing. It happens whenever we gush about an enemy design in Dark Souls on Bonfireside Chat. But the real origin of Monster in My Podcast happened late in the summer of 2015, when we were recording our episode on Doom 2. We hit the topic of Cacodemons, and both started gushing over their design and their resemblance to Beholders. This tangent evolved into a pitch for a possible show, a chronological entry-by-entry examination of the Monster Manuals. I have a strong recollection of hitting the end of that conversation, when we both said that it was a good idea, and dropping a marker. We had to edit that portion of the show out.
We'll normally let pitches for possible shows hit the air, because they're often fun jokes, and they're so implausible that it's hard to believe we'd ever get the chance to act on them. But this pitch felt different, because we could actually do it.
The topic laid dormant for a few months. At the Portland Retro Games Expo that year, we talked about doing it as a video show. I threw out the name "Today's Monster", which Gary didn't care for. We were originally going to do a short episode every day. Over time, as we became overwhelmed with other tasks, it slowly percolated in the background.
When my recent shift in employment occurred, we decided to round up all of our most promising show ideas and make them Patreon milestone goals. We settled on 3 days a week, MWF, as a more reasonable pace, because we could record a whole month's worth of episodes in about an hour. We decided on the 2nd Edition because the collected Monstrous Compendiums span the widest number of campaign settings. The possible names winnowed down to "Monster in My Podcast" and "Some Kind of Monster Manual". We know which one won. We published the goal, and we met it immediately.
We were so excited about the idea, that we recorded the first month of shows before we even knew the goal was in sight, just so we'd be ready to publish them right away.
Our initial plan was to record the episodes in huge batches, once a month. We'll still hold to that in some instances, but part of the beauty of doing a short show like this is that we can tack it on anywhere. We've done 6-episode bursts as warmup for other shows during the recent craziness of vacations and getting ready for our Austin live show. We know exactly the size and shape of this commitment, along with our others, and have designed the show to be as modular and "achievable" as possible.
To prepare for an episode, I read from the same text in two different sources. In the few days leading up to a recording session, I'll idly read my hard copy of the Monster Manual before bed, or when I need to rest my eyes from looking at a screen. But when it's time to refresh my memory and pick out the choicest bits, I'll read a PDF version of the MM that I got off the back of a truck. The nice thing about this is that Preview on Mac OS X gives you the ability to highlight text within image scans. If I hit a juicy nugget of monstrous biology, I'll make a note so I can remember to bring it up. This is what I have in front of me when we record, for quick reference so I can (hopefully) effortlessly keep the goof train going.
The process of recording MIMP is second only to Abject Suffering in terms of lightness and enjoyment. There's something great about the 5 minute time limit for motivating you to stay quick on your feet and always try to up the laugh density... or failing that, information density. Something I've been very pleased to see is that Gary and I have similar sensibilities. He will have honed in on the exact passage that I thought was the crux of the entry. We'll both pursue adventure hooks, or express similar bafflement at how anyone would fit certain creatures into their campaigns. It shouldn't surprise me that we're in sync after 5 years of being creative partners, but it feels great. The best MIMP episodes are a constant 5 minute acceleration toward a laugh line. And what's amazing is, we both know when it's happened. One of us will slam out something we're proud of, and the other will go "Okay, that's good." And we know it's done.
Editing the shows is pretty simple, too. As always, I'm liberal with markers, but the process usually entails finding the break after our standardized introduction, finding the ending, and cleaning up any awkward bits in between. The most difficult portion of the show is file and information management... Naming each file, bouncing it separately, putting together the "collected digest" of a week's shows for Early Release, and creating each individual post on the various websites we host the show on... All of that is the toughest part. Actually laying the tape down is almost effortless. And that's how I know the show is worth doing.
MIMP fills an important role on the network, just like Abject Suffering did. Most of our shows fit into a few different length categories. WOFF is 2+ hours. BSC and LVL are 1.5+ hours. AS, COM, and TDB are in the 30+ minute category. But I wanted to see what we could do with a super-frequent micro show. I'd say the experiment is a success. People like it, it's growing despite its relative lack of promotion, and it's a great first shot in this next wave of network expansion and growth.
A quick word on the art. The banner that you see above is the rough sketch of the Beholder that I drew a few weeks before the show debuted. My goal with this cover art was to use the simplest shapes I could to create a scene, and the Beholder I sketched on the white board was about the 6th or 7th simplification of the idea that I could find. The whole cover art is meant to evoke a "cut-out" style, right down to the various paper textures I used, to signal the fast and light tone of the show. I'm really proud of the art, and I'd love to get it on some merchandise soon.
Thanks for reading this, and I'm sorry I disappeared for a while. I have a dearth of inspiration for article topics. I had the idea for this article a while back, but I wanted to let the show mature to make sure it would stick around and, y'know, actually be good. The best thing you can do, if you liked this behind-the-scenes peek and you like Monster in My Podcast, is to tell your friends about it. We say that all the time, but this show is engineered to be as sharable as possible. So please go forth. Thank you so much for your support.