What is an Actual Play?
An Actual Play is typically a podcast or video where people play tabletop RPGs (TTRPGs).
There are so many Actual Plays in existence. You can't venture into anything TTRPG-related without bumping into a few along the way.
That's 100% a good thing, by the way.
There are so many to choose from, and there's more than just D&D APs. Practically every system, big and small, traditional and indie, has a handful to choose from with diverse groups of hosts and players.
Do we need to talk about the success of Critical Role? Okay, moving on.
Actual Plays have made our favorite obsession into a way of bringing together the community, entertaining us when we're bored, and even providing lots of work and job opportunities for so many people. They can also introduce unfamiliar players to the mechanics of a system, or to the fact that a particular system even exists. For its third season, Me, Myself, & Die uses a somewhat-obscure system called Dominion, with lots of interesting mechanics. I would have never known it existed without him using it for an Actual Play.
Despite videos being the popular format, they aren't right for everyone. That's where podcasts come in, and there's a wonderful selection of those to pick from, allowing you to multitask while visualizing all the epic details they describe.
A lot of Actual Plays have both: a video with details about specific elements, yet are also suited perfectly for audio-only. The Bad Spot is one example of this. Matt Risby's video portion has dice rolls and dialogue, but if you just listen to the audio, you lose out on nothing. I frequently go from watching the screen to just listening as I crank out code at work.
Still, what about those that just really like to read? Is there a format that doesn't have audio or visual, at least not as its primary media?
What is Actual Play Fiction?
In an attempt to classify the work that other writers and I do, some of us have been knocking our heads together to come up with a term that encapsulates this area.
It's been a bit of a struggle.
It seems as if we're mostly made up of solo roleplayers and writers, which leads to a bit of a headache when looking at all the terms that could apply. For instance, I've called my own work a few things so far:
- a collection of serialized play reports
- a serialized Actual Play
- "A serialized Actual Play (think of an Actual Play mixed with a web serial/ web fiction / web novel)" (I figured maybe describing it with all the terms would help?)
We're not quite Actual Play, at least in terms of what others are used to. When audiences hear the phrase "Actual Play," most people would think video or audio would be the focus.
We're also not a play report, though there are definitely elements of it within our work. The play reports I've seen happen from our point of view as the player. A Japanese "Replay" is similar, though that's a more literal transcription of the game session. What we're creating is from within our world, like a typical piece of fiction.
Yet, we aren't a completely made-up piece of fiction like a novel or short story. We're similar to GameLit and LitRPGs in that our world takes place within a "game," yet it's only a game to us. We're playing the game as we write, using the game mechanics to shape the fiction.
And depending on the format, some of it has elements of web fiction, web serials, and web novels.
We're bits and pieces of all these areas, without fully resting in any particular one.
We needed a term that felt familiar and did not alienate or confuse newcomers, yet still stands out enough that our audience knows how to find the work.
"Actual Play Fiction" is the term we've come up with that feels right.
Actual Play Fiction vs GameLit or LitRPG
In GameLit or LitRPG, those characters know they're in a video game. They know that Levels, Classes, and Inventory Screens exist. Typically, they're sucked into the game and have to survive, or they spend most of their time in a game-like world, such as Ready Player One. The website LevelUp says this about GameLit:
There’s a growing sub-genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy that focuses on stories involving game worlds. Often the scenario is that human players have to enter a virtual game for some reason and do well in that environment. But it could be that players are passing through a portal into an actual game world. Or, that the characters aren’t exactly human at all, but are characters within a game. All of these are examples of GameLit.
In Actual Play Fiction, however, it's told just like any other story. The only difference is we're showing you what the dice and other mechanics are and how they have shaped the fiction, just like an Actual Play.
In an Actual Play, you know they're playing a game, but the players will roleplay, roll dice, and interact with scenes as that character would.
In Actual Play Fiction, it's the same, there's just typically way more prose.
Examples of Actual Play Fiction
After doing some googling, there's a lot of content that fits into this category. Authors have been doing this for quite some time, though we've all been a bit lax in hammering down any strict terms. I see a lot simply refer to their works as an Actual Play or a play report.
But here are some of my favorite examples.
"The Unspoken Vow," by Margot Hutton
THIS. THIS is the piece of fiction that is an amazing example of what the Actual Play Fiction category looks like. Margot has over 50k words of her Ironsworn campaign, fleshing out this gritty world, with dice rolls and more mixed in.
She has "loading screens" between the chapters with more game mechanics and statistics and they are just
The Unspoken Vow has also turned out to be a great tool for teaching Ironsworn, as she breaks down the moves and what they do in the loading screens and the fiction, and creates this wonderful narrative. Whereas some Actual Play Fiction may make the game mechanics an optional flavor, Margot incorporates it so lovely that taking in both is the optimal experience.
You can grab yourself a copy of The Unspoken Vow over on Itch.io!
Also, check out Margot's guest post here on this blog!
PTFO (Play To Find Out)
I stumbled across PTFO while on Twitter and was shocked when I read what it was about.
"Hey, this description sounds like ⚡ THUNDERFANG!"
Instant follow! They use a system called Stonetop and release sessions weekly. One thing I love about PTFO is the use of polls. Readers can vote for what actions certain characters take and have a hand in influencing the story.
(coughcough Totally probably going to incorporate some of those coughcough)
Shameless plug; sue me. This is my own work! I feel like I've struggled to get this work out to the correct audience. Now, my work is still in its infancy, but I have been trying to pay attention to how similar works are talked about and nothing exactly fits. My hope is that with the term Actual Play Fiction (#APFic) coined, it will solidify a few things for me and how I approach getting ⚡ THUNDERFANG to a wider audience.
Do you have any more examples of #APFic? Let me know on Twitter and let's get more of our work talked about!