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Podcast review by Garrett Snedden
bomBARDed: A Musical Dungeons & Dragons Adventure
A portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcast”, the on-demand audio streams known as podcasts are becoming a popular form of entertainment these days, and a rapidly growing genre inside podcasts is one of real-play RPGs. For the uninitiated, RPG stands for “Role-Playing Game”. These mixes of board games and collaborative storytelling most often feature players acting as a single character, while a referee, usually referred to as a “Game Master “ (or some variant thereof, such as “Dungeon Master”), controls the world around the characters. The characters go on an adventure as the players act out the story with the GM, bolstered by mechanics of whichever system the group chooses, which more often than not include lots of dice. The most popular systems include Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, and more. Because of the accessibility and popularity of podcasts, real-play RPG podcasts are often an excellent entry point for beginners into the world of RPGs.
RPGs function mainly through voice interaction between the players and the GM, and thus lend themselves very well to the audio-focused medium of podcasting. In real-play RPG podcasts, the group records themselves playing the game, and often episodes are edited for brevity and sound production. Some popular shows include the multi-million dollar franchise Critical Role, led by renowned Dungeon Master Matt Mercer, who leads a team of expert voice actors on an epic journey spanning hundreds of hours of content, The Adventure Zone, which is often cited as the first of the genre, where Griffin McElroy creates a world for his brothers and dad to explore, and Join the Party, a quirky but fun series featuring a group of New York City friends, known for its excellent sound design and “Afterparty” episodes, where the group discusses the mechanics of the game and answers listener questions. Beyond these are hundreds of other shows, some better than others, and in such a vast genre, it is hard to stand out. Enter bomBARDed.
bomBARDed is an actual-play Dungeons & Dragons podcast with a musical twist. The cast of the show is real-life Dallas/Fort Worth rock band Lindby. The bandmates play as bards (the D&D class centered around music-based magic), and they attend the bard school Strumlott’s. The bandmates play their instruments (guitar, piano, and drum machine) at the table when casting spells, and, once per episode, they roll special “chord dice” to determine a random chord progression and write a song for an in-game event. Catchy, intricate, sometimes even profound, and spanning all genres, these songs really are something special. After every ten episodes, the songs made in those episodes are compiled into a “Chaos Sauce” (the adventuring party’s name) album and posted as pay-what-you-want on their Bandcamp page, so the party need not stop when the podcast does (and for anyone looking for some background music for their own RPG campaigns, or anyone with a fondness for instrumental music, pianist and composer Nick Spurrier compiles some of his favorites from the podcast’s jazzy, electronic original soundtrack, the volumes of which are also pay-what-you-want on the Bandcamp). The story itself is quirky, riveting, and has more than its share of memorable moments and hilarious jokes. It is also chalk-full of some of the most spectacular music puns I have ever heard. This is some really top-notch wordplay; when you think you have heard all the music puns in the world, bomBARDed will be there to prove you wrong.
A hurdle with many RPG podcasts is that they are too good. The hours upon hours of prep the Dungeon Masters put into their games, the masterful role-players at the table, who are all in-character all the time, and the professional editing and sound design make the show squeaky-clean for viewers, who only see the shiny exterior, and expect their own games to have the same level of depth and professionalism as the podcasts they listen to. Dubbed the “Matt Mercer Effect”, this is when listeners of Critical Role and the like have unrealistic expectations, which are based on what they see in shows, for their own games that they run or play in, and, when their home games fail to live up to these impossible standards, they are left disappointed. While podcasts like Critical Role are high-quality entertainment in their own right, I find that bomBARDed strikes the perfect balance of professionalism and the experience of a group of friends role-playing around a table. Unlike a series like Critical Role, where Matt Mercer’s literal full-time job is to prep, prep, prep with the help of his on-set team of staff, and then play the game with his players, who themselves are veteran voice-actors and role-players, the folks at bomBARDed come across as a group of friends and bandmates who just want to play a game and have fun. This, however, in no way means that the podcast is not as enjoyable. Dungeon Maestro Kyle never disappoints in delivering memorable settings and NPCs (non-player characters), and he does an excellent job incorporating the characters’ backstories into the plot. The players- Goodrich, Ali, and Spurrier- also play no small part. Like any good D&D campaign, the players are the ones pushing the story forward, and the DM is orchestrating the world around them, adapting to their choices, and each player brings their own signature charm to the table. Another critical part of making bomBARDed the wonderful show that it is is the music, from the chord dice songs, to the songs played when casting spells, to the OSTs, all of which never fails to “Wow” their audience. The series is broken up into accessible and easily-digestible episodes, about an hour each. For anyone wanting to test the waters of the wonderful world of RPGs, bomBARDed is an excellent place to start, and for anyone without musical experience, do not worry. The cast is very inclusive of newcomers, and they acknowledge that not everyone knows the ins and outs of music theory like they do. The musical references and jokes are never meant to be condescending or excluding, and they often take time out of the episode to explain what these things mean for non-musician listeners.
As someone whose two favorite hobbies are music and D&D, bomBARDed is the magical piece of entertainment I never knew I needed. bomBARDed is filled to the brim with mystery, touching role-play, and laugh-out-loud moments. For any music or RPG lover with time to fill, I do not hesitate to recommend this podcast. You will not be disappointed.
If you are interested in bomBARDed: A Musical Dungeons & Dragons Adventure:
- Check out their website: bombardedcast.com
- Search for “bomBARDed” on your podcast service of choice. New episodes are released every other Tuesday.
- Take a look at the Chaos Sauce albums and OSTs on the bomBARDed Bandcamp page: bombarded.bandcamp.com
For more on Lindby, “The Band Behind the Bards”: