Let’s face it. Things are bad right now.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s hard to be happy about anything at the moment, unless you’re, I don’t know, a bridge troll, I guess? You need something to take your mind off things for a bit so that you don’t spend your nights and weekends staring into the Void.1 Sure, there are innumerable excellent podcasts about history, news, and politics that you could consume, and perhaps you should. But if you want to keep your sanity, you occasionally need some time away from them.
I’ve hand-selected nine podcasts below that I listen to regularly, and are exceptionally good at making you laugh, helping you grow, or simply giving you a reason not to choke on your own rage. I’ve also included a recommended starting episode for your enjoyment. Your mileage may vary, but if you happen to be the same kind of nerd as myself, you’ll find these worth your time.
One thing you’ll note on here: no tech podcasts. They are just a substitute for the same drama you are trying to avoid. Let’s begin shall we?
Do by Friday
Do by Friday is a weekly challenge podcast hosted by Alex Cox, Merlin Mann, and Max Temkin. Each week, the hosts challenge each other to complete a task and then record to discuss the results. The conversation in each episode spans a wide range of topics, and regularly leaves me rolling with laughter.
I’m cheating a bit here because politics do come up sometimes, but it’s always with good humor.
Recommended starter episode: Lesbian U-Haul Moment. This episode’s challenge: Cry.
Pseudopod is one of the great granddaddies of audio fiction podcasts, and its weekly horror stories never disappoint. They are well produced, and deeply unsettling. This podcast is part of the Escape Artists network, so if horror isn’t your thing, you might want to give Escape Pod or Podcastle a try, but I’ve found Pseudopod to be the most consistent in quality.
Drunks and Dragons
Drunks and Dragons is my favorite real-play podcast right now. It follows the trials of Dungeon Master Michael DiMauro as he weaves a tale using D&D 5E for players Mike Bachmann, Jennifer Cheek, Nika Howard, and Tim Lanning. The group have excellent chemistry, and will have you laughing often. Their love for each other and the game is infectious.
Recommended starter episode: Life Goes On and Storm’s a-brewing. Honestly, it’s worth it to listen to the whole story from the beginning, but with over 200 episodes in the can, this would be a good starting point if you wanted to jump in at the natural break between two major campaigns.
What to say about Lore that hasn’t already been written elsewhere? It’s a staple of any respectable podcast directory. Each episode, Aaron Mahnke covers a different folk tale or urban legend with the intent of raising the hairs on your skin, and he usually succeeds. If you are a storyteller in any form, you can learn a lot from how Mahnke structures each tale.
Recommended starter episode: Deep and Twisted Roots
Oh man, Monsterhearts is delightful. This is another actual play podcast, this time using the indie RPG of the same name. The conceit of the game is simple: monsters are real, they’re in your high school, and you may be one of them. The game involves playing out teenage drama as a collaborative story of the supernatural, and this show —appearing as part of Geeklyinc’s Random Encounters feed— is so much fun. Tara, Nika, Bijaya, and Kym are a raucous group of players who go all in on the concept.
Recommended starter episode: It’s a new podcast, start at episode one with Dear Diary.
Back to Work
Back to Work is ostensibly a show about learning to work better, be more productive, and get things done. However, the conversations span a wide swath of topics, often venturing into media, parenting, or whatever else hosts Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann feel like discussing. There is always a gem of advice in each episode, and in particular, their answers to listener questions are insightful.
Recommended starter episode: The Second Arrow
Are you a writer? If so, Writing Excuses is the show you haven’t realized you’ve been craving. Each quick episode is full of valuable advice on the craft of writing from authors Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, Dan Wells, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Later seasons have featured additional hosts as well, but the core crew is excellent.
Recommended starter episode: The Four Principles of Puppetry
Ok, so I may be a little bit into gaming.
Brute Force is another real-play podcast, this time making use of a heavily customized version of the World of Darkness storyteller system. Storyteller Adam Bash leads players Carly Shields, John Caulfield, Bijaya Shrestha, and Patrick Rankin though the medieval world of Eorith as the group plays an adventuring troop of well-meaning monsters. Each episode is bookended with Adam Bash playing the part of Jasper Spitwhistle, the down on his luck bard who happens to be sharing the tale with his somewhat attentive audience.
It’s very well done, and a great example of a well produced gaming podcast. In particular, Patrick’s performance as Ezra the Golem will have you rolling on the floor laughing.
Recommended starter episode: It’s new, start at the beginning with Smooth as Marble
Last but not least, I have to include Spektrmodule for your use in any creative endeavor. It’s released randomly, but within each episode, author Warren Ellis curates a collection of ambient music that’s certain to get your imagination primed.
Recommended starter episode: Any, but Burned City Spires is particularly good.
So there you have it. Nine podcasts to help prevent you from screaming at the sky. Give them a listen, and let me know what you think.
Are you stoked for the Void, yo? So stoked. ↩