Overview

Actual Play Podcast Playbook: Guests

Posted on Tue 15 March 2022 in Dispatches • 7 min read

Here’s the scenario: you’ve got an actual play TTRPG podcast, and you want to invite a guest onto your show for a special appearance. This is a great idea! It’s delightful to collaborate with other creators, and you can learn so much simply by working with new people.

Maybe you already have a specific person in mind, or maybe you’re just beginning to think about bringing in someone new to mix things up. Either way, if you’re producing a show, you know there’s already a ton of moving parts that you have to manage, and adding in a guest may seem overwhelming. So let’s talk about strategies you can use to make this collaboration as smooth and successful as possible.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume you’re bringing someone on to play in your existing game. If your intention is to bring someone on for an interview/panel discussion, or for something different from your standard fare, large parts of this guide may not apply.

It’s also worth mentioning that I do not always succeed at all of the below, and I’m sure our guests can confirm that, much to my chagrin. But this is the model for everything I do when I’m bringing guests on Explorers Wanted, so please don’t take my past mistakes as endorsement otherwise.

Guests Spots Should Be Fun

Make sure you’re doing the guest spot for the right reason: collaboration is fun!

There is no guarantee that this guest appearance will affect your show’s numbers, and cynically focusing on that will come through during your communication and recording, so set all that aside. Focus on the fun part, creating something new with cool folx.

Choosing Guests

Silhouettes of several people against the sunset backdrop stretch their arms up in joy.

Photo credit: Chang Duong

Most importantly, choose people that you’re excited about working with, i.e., people whose work you respect and people that inspire you.

Keep in mind that most podcasts’ success derives in large part from the chemistry of the cast. Altering that formula, even if for a single episode, can be risky. Take the time to consider that person’s play style based on your experience with their other shows, or even personal experience if you’ve played with them before. Make sure that approach will gel with the way you run your table, and how the rest of your cast tends to play their parts.

This is important: vet your guests. When you bring someone on your show, your audience will see that as an unspoken endorsement. Make sure that’s something you want to do. Even if you have BigDeal McGee knocking on your door asking for a guest spot1, you should check them out before you book them.

This can be tricky. The broader TTRPG community can be fraught with fiery discourse, and unfortunately a lot of it happens via subtweets and backchannels, so unless you go looking you may miss major red flags. Do your best with what’s available to you to make sure you’re not giving a platform to problematic people.

Some things I treat as disqualifications for guesting:

  • Are they:2
    • A Nazi/White Supremacist/Fascist
    • A TERF/Anti-LGBTQIA
    • A known abuser
    • Involved in cryptocurrency/NFTs
  • Involved in current or recent conflicts in the space that reflect poorly on them.
    • Be careful how you apply this one. Do your research.
      • Good people get caught up in conflicts from bad actors.
      • Good people often raise valid concerns and get attacked for it.
      • BIPOC, trans, and femme-presenting individuals are disproportionately attacked online.
    • Again, here you may have to rely on the whisper-network, which is only going to be as accurate as the people you know. Do your best.

Inviting Guests

A turtle hides its head in its shell

Photo credit: Joshua Eckstein

This is the scary part, right?

There’s no one way to do this, but I do have some general suggestions.

  • Use their preferred professional contact info. Check their bios, their website, whatever. Unless you have an existing relationship with that person where you communicate otherwise, be professional and use the channel they request. If they don’t have that information posted anywhere, ask them briefly where you should send it.
  • Be genuine, and tell them why you’d like to have them on your show.
  • Be specific about what you are asking of them. This is where a Guest Kit can come in handy. More on that below.

You should assume people will decline, because everyone is busy, and we’re all barely keeping it together in this terrible time. But you may be surprised by how often people do accept. Don’t preemptively count yourself out. Shoot your shot. Even when people cannot or won’t accept your invite, most are still delighted to be asked.

Keep in mind that creators are often busy, so ask them well in advance. That being said, unless they request otherwise, don’t reach out to them to offer a date that’s two months into the future. I’ve made this mistake before when I’ve been excited about guests, thinking that I was making things easier for their schedule, but ultimately I think it decreased their enthusiasm for the appearance.

Have a Guest Kit

Being able to provide someone with a Guest Kit is like a superpower. It tells them immediately that you’re a professional, and you know what you’re doing.3 Send this to them as part of the pitch to come on the show.

Everything I know about Guest Kits I learned from this Twitter thread by Victoria Rogers of the Broadswords podcast.

It’s well worth a read and breaks down all the essential parts of the document. They also helpfully provide a link to their template, which is what I based the EW kit upon.

Screenshot of document containing the Explorers Wanted logo and the following text visible: "Welcome to Explorers Wanted! We don’t get to do a session zero together, so here is a quick intro to the show to get you up to speed. You’ll also receive an updated document on current plot points and info you’ll need for your character at least one week prior to recording."

From our current guest kit.

As discussed in the thread, at least a week prior to recording you should get your guest a follow-up document with plot points their character needs to know, and story beats you want to try and hit during their appearance. Earlier, if they are electing to make their character themselves.

Recording

Start on schedule. Seriously. Don’t make your guest wait.

Be respectful of your guest’s time. Be aware that a guest episode will almost always go longer than a standard episode, because you have a whole other character in the mix that needs time in the spotlight. Factor that in when you set expectations for duration.

Be clear on the structure of the show so that they know when they’ll be introduced, and when they get an opportunity to promote their work, so that they aren’t surprised during the recording session.

Give your guests a chance to feel like they were an important part of the story of that episode or episodes. If they feel like they are only tagging along, it’s not going to be as fun for them.

Edit With Care

When it comes to the editing process, edit your guest’s track with the same care— or even more care —than all the rest of the cast. Make sure your guest sounds the absolute best they can possibly be. Fret the small details in the dialogue edit. Get rid of any spots where the guest sounds confused about the story.4 If they landed a great joke, make sure to emphasize it in the final cut.

You want your guests to feel good about their appearance in the episode, and the post-production process is a place where you can help them shine.

Say Thanks and Hype Them Up

Sign at festival shows the word HYPE spelled out in individual blue lights

Photo credit: Verena Yunita Yapi

Make sure to send guests a follow-up message thanking them for their appearance. This is small courtesy that goes a long way in showing you care.

Then when the episode releases, make sure to hype up the guest in your social posts and show notes. If your podcast website supports profile pages for your guests5, make sure their profile is there at the same time the episode drops. And as with everything else, make it easy for them. Draft a bio for them and send it to them for review and any edits.

Regardless of your guest’s prior following, you should do everything you can to make them feel like a star when you finally get to share this thing you made together with the world.

Take a Break and Do It Again

Having a guest on is a lot of work, even more when they’re guesting on an improvised long-form story podcast. Take a moment afterwards to rest, jot down any lessons learned, and then give your audience some regular episodes afterwards.

Then, if you feel the urge to collaborate again, schedule your next guest, or even arrange for a reappearance! It’s incredibly rewarding, and— as long as you’re not overdoing it —it can provide a rich additional layer to your show that your audience will love.


  1. You won’t. Let’s be real with each other. 

  2. I’m still horrified that we live in a timeline where I have to check these things. 

  3. Ha-ha! You fooled them! 

  4. Their confusion is probably your fault anyway. But even if it isn’t, make them sound awesome. 

  5. And it really should.