We Talk to the Hosts of Not Another D&D Podcast, the Funniest Dungeons & Dragons Podcast on the InternetImages courtesy of Not Another D&D Podcast and Headgum Games Features dungeons & dragons
This article contains light spoilers for both of Not Another D&D Podcast’s main campaigns and for Frozen 2.
Dungeons and Dragons podcasts have taken the audio world by storm in recent years, with the likes of Adventure Zone and Critical Role helping to push the game to a popularity level rivaling the halcyon days of the 1980s. But what if there was another podcast that stood above the rest? Better yet, what if there was Not Another D&D Podcast?
Affectionately known as NADDPod, the podcast launched in February 2018 on the Headgum Network and exploded in popularity from there. The show’s Patreon page reflects this popularity—at time of publication, NADDPod has the 14th most patrons on the whole app. The team behind the podcast—dungeon master Brian Murphy and players Emily Axford, Jake Hurwitz and Caldwell Tanner—is also working on a videogame based on their first main campaign, Bahumia. The videogame, an RPG, is fittingly titled Not Another RPG: The Search for the Chronocruxes.
NADDPod recently finished a successful second main campaign, set in Eldermourne, a dark magic world overrun by horrors, fairies, and religious fanatics. But The Witcher this is not, as the show is never lacking for well-earned laughs and goofs. The fact that this does not come at the expense of emotional or dramatic stakes is perhaps the show’s special sauce.
And though NADDPod is in fact a D&D podcast—they play the 5e version of the game with some homebrewing courtesy of Murphy—mastership of the rules is not at all a prerequisite to enjoying the show. In fact, Hurwitz had never played before the show’s first episode, and this makes it easier for newbie listeners to enjoy the show while slowly absorbing enough of the game’s mechanics to follow along.
The show’s whole cast started their careers at CollegeHumor, and their improvisational skills and chemistry—not only have they all been friends for years, but Murphy and Axford are married—elevate NADDPod to the upper echelon of D&D podcasts. The cast announced that Bahumia will once again be the setting of their third campaign, although this time the show will be set 200 years after the end of the first campaign. They will begin releasing episodes of the third campaign in February, and they are embarking on a series of live shows in 2022, which started with a show on Jan. 6.
In December, Paste spoke with Murphy, Axford, Hurwitz and Tanner about the success of their podcast, their live shows, and the future of NADDPod. The interview has been condensed for clarity and length.
Paste: So you are about to embark on your biggest tour yet, right? Many different stops.
Caldwell Tanner: Weather permitting!
Jake Hurwitz: Omicron permitting, yeah.
Brian Murphy: This is supposed to be our biggest touring year. We shall see if that all comes to fruition but kind of our craziest schedule was probably September 2019? We did 5 cities in 5 days when we did our Nannerfly Effect tour which was very fun but also completely insane.
Hurwitz: Punishing. (Laughs) We learned a lot.
Murphy: Shows were being written the day of the show. The last two ones were.
Tanner: I feel like we do a lot of things specifically to learn we should never do those things again. Sticking our hands in fires. (Laughs)
Paste: It’s a pretty extended tour right? It’s starting in January and I saw you announced stops in April.
Hurwitz: We bake in some breaks. So we have three shows back to back in January, then we have a month off, then we have three shows back to back in February. And then two dates in April. And I think we might book some more after that.
Emily Axford: We also still have another campaign to do!
Tanner: We thought about just getting a big tour bus and just living and recording out of that but I feel like my family would be upset with me.
Axford: But we could all coparent. (Laughs)
Paste: Are you all worried about the January shows and what’s going to happen with them? I guess things are in flux.
Axford: It’s hard to comment on. I would love if it worked out. I feel that’s all I can say.
Murphy: I think it’s out of our hands in more ways than one.
Paste: Yeah it’s like a frozen tundra and also…
Murphy: And we’re Olaf.
Hurwitz: Will we die?
Axford: We’re Olaf [from] Frozen 1.
Tanner: I would say we are like moments before Olaf dies and we don’t know. We just don’t know.
Paste: So a little over a month ago, you finished another main campaign. What was that like? This one was obviously a lot shorter and quicker than Bahumia. Do you think the next one will also be something more like that, something in between, or is it way too early to say?
Murphy: I imagine it’ll probably be longer but I can’t really commit anything. With Eldermourne, we didn’t know how many episodes we were gonna do going in. I was a guest on Three Black Halflings, I talked about it there—check out that show, it’s great. But I was saying basically that I wrote myself into a little bit of a corner where I made the quest chasing someone. And it got to a point where if they don’t catch up to her, then that’s frustrating. That’s just constantly throwing up walls at the players. But once you get to her, then you need to either completely shift the story and make some other thing the big new thing, which becomes tough after like 30 or so episodes of build up towards this one thing, to make something else feel big. So it got to a certain point where I was like, yeah, I gotta wrap this in five or 10 more episodes because I can’t keep dangling this carrot.
Tanner: I really like how it turned out though because the Bahumia campaign felt more conclusive. It was a very contained, full story. It felt like the first chapter in a long book or its own little contained saga that we could return to in a way. It had a different flavor but I really liked how it ended up and am very excited to go back to those characters one day.
Axford: Yeah, I definitely feel the same. It definitely was a different experience but… I remember when we finished Bahumia, I felt closure eventually. And like I just don’t feel closure with Eldermourne. I’m like, we’ll be back.
Hurwitz: Bahumia was a movie, Eldermourne was season 1 of a show.
Paste: I know the very end of campaign one was also recorded over Zoom and not in person, but for Eldermourne, almost all of it was, other than the last few episodes. What were the challenges of that in terms of y’all developing your characters?
Tanner: When we got back to recording in person, we realized the thing we missed the most was just the post-session chat in… Murph and Emily have a nook in their house and we normally record over there and it’s just a great nook for getting into it after you record. A solid conversation nook.
Axford: I’m thinking about wall-papering the conversation nook.
Tanner: Whoa! Send me some swatches.
Axford: I got some coming! (Laughs)
Murphy: When we’re all together, it feels more like a real D&D game. It makes it easier where we can sit there and can play two or three sessions in one night which feels very fun and feels very much like off-mic games where you’re just playing all night with your friends. Whereas it’s very hard to sit on Zoom, if you’re gonna do two or three episodes, to sit on Zoom for eight hours.
Paste: This is about four years now that you have all been doing this podcast, and obviously, I’m sure you’re all aware, but it’s very successful! You guys are doing really well.
Axford: I mean I’m talking about wallpapering a conversation nook so…
Paste: The wealth is streaming in.
Axford: I’m considering affording wallpaper. (Laughs)
Paste: Could you all have ever imagined when you first started that you’d be here and that, I’m sure it’s your main job now, and that it’d be going so well?
Murphy: I mean, when we first started it was so much work cause we were also getting used to… you know I was getting used to editing and everything… I was spending even more time at the beginning ‘cause I would mess up an entire file by scooching something and not realizing I did it. I would lose entire files and at that point we weren’t making any money and so it was in addition to other jobs, we’re making this very, very high-effort show. Without the support of people, this is absolutely not something we could do just for fun. It is very fun but playing D&D is the fun part. Editing it and working with the audio is not super fun so this probably would’ve become a home game pretty quick had we not been able to make it a full-time gig.
Hurwitz: I remember after we recorded the first two sessions, I remember talking to my wife and her asking if I thought it was going to be successful. And I was like, ‘I really hope so cause I had an awesome time playing.’ I remember thinking ‘We laughed so much while recording that I think it’s good.’
Axford: It doesn’t always translate like that! I’m really grateful this did.
Hurwitz: Same. I think I’m still able to tap into that, especially when we’re recording in person, I think we tap into that same exact feeling even years later. It’s just as fun and silly and I laugh just as hard as I did the first time. And that’s the magic of D&D, baby! (Laughs)
Murphy: We had the podcast that preceded this. That was 8 Bit Book Club with me, Caldwell and Em on Headgum Network, which Jake is involved with, which was sort of the genesis of NADDPod, Jake approaching us and being like ‘Hey I heard you were playing D&D on your show a little bit, we should just do a full D&D podcast.’
Hurwitz: That gives me way too much credit! I think I just asked you to play D&D with me.
Axford: Jake actually came up to him and said “I’ve been working on this world called Bahumia.” (Laughs)
Murphy: Jake wrote it all.
Hurwitz: I gave Caldwell the character sheet for Beverly and I was like, ‘I have the role for you.’
Tanner: I fought it tooth and nail. (Laughs)
Hurwitz: Jake is kidding. This is not real. (Laughs) I told Murph that I wanted to play D&D with him and it was his idea to make it into a podcast.
Paste: With this devoted of a fan base, and especially the makeup of a D&D fan base, there’s a lot of, I don’t want to say downsides, but complications with that. I know the concept of parasocial relationships has been really coming up a lot, especially for other D&D podcasts too. What has y’all’s experience been there?
Axford: I think I’m not very online so I don’t really have that experience too much. I think just by nature I don’t remember to post. So I think that really hasn’t come up for me.
Murphy: I think that is part of it, is having to a little bit disengage with the discourse about the show, just because you want to give people the freedom to be able to not like the show or not like an episode. Or be fans and have problems with certain parts of the show or something. And yet it’s a bad idea for us to sit there and read all of those things because it would be very easy to let it change the show. Even positive stuff… Oftentimes it’s just a thread or something with 10 people talking back and forth and you can’t base your entire story on people’s discussions cause they don’t even have all of the information. So I think the answer for, at least me and Emily, has just been to kind of step back from it. Otherwise I will be affected by it, absolutely.
Hurwitz: We’re lucky that the show is so big that it’s almost like we have to ignore most of the discourse because the volume of it is enough that we would get lost.
Axford: Any episode, any moment, some people are going to like it, some people aren’t. Everyone has different taste and I think it’s a good thing to remind yourself to be comfortable agreeing or disagreeing and having different taste than other people. It’s good to feel safe to carve your own space to have your own taste.
Murphy: I will give the caveat that it’s definitely good for me at least to dip my toe in and see the forest and not worry about the trees necessarily. If I’m making something and if it’s like, everyone absolutely hates campaign three and Murph’s doing everything wrong, I would like to know that. (Laughs)
Axford: I think you’d hear that from me. If it was really bad, I’d be like ‘Hey, Murph… I actually got some ideas.’ (Laughs)
Hurwitz: We’d have a D&D intervention.
Murphy: I think I’m online enough to know generally where the wind is blowing, but I’m not reading every single comment and I think that’s pretty necessary.
Axford: I read our Patreon though because it’s really fun to. That’s almost more like a community, you know. That’s like a different type of engagement and I like having that community engagement cause, we’re about to record a Mixed Bag today, and it was just that someone commented ‘You guys should do this sometime’ on the Patreon and I was like… that’s a great idea. So I like that. And we do our D&D court and I read through all of them. I don’t know if that counts as parasocial but I like having that engagement.
Hurwitz: Giving more oxygen to the spaces in the community that feel positive and good, and just kind of ignoring channels that feel a little more toxic is how I’ve approached it too.
Tanner: You must walk the razor’s edge of online. Neither falling in one direction or the other. Simply remain above it, knowing that death awaits you on all sides.
Hurwitz: It’s like a mushroom trip where you’re just like, uh oh, I don’t want to go over there.
Murphy: I do want to say, I think that 99% of everything everyone is saying is very nice and thoughtful so there’s no actual fear of us going and reading feedback. It’s more of just the fear of letting it, positive or negative, affect the way the story is told. That’s the big thing for me.
Tanner: Murph’s right that it needs to exist. It needs to be there, we just need to not see it.
Axford: I also really like meeting people after shows too. I think there is something about the fact that it’s a D&D podcast so it’s almost this shared hobby. So when we meet people they’ll always tell us about their D&D games, or rather, I’ll make them tell me about their D&D game and their D&D characters and it’s such a fun glimpse into another person.
Murphy: It is a very nice instant connection. Because if you have someone who recognizes you from College Humor or something like that, it’s always very nice and very appreciated, but it is always just kind of a ‘Hey, I like your work!’ ‘Thank you so much!’ And then you don’t have anything to talk about in that moment but with D&D it’s like, ‘Hey we like NADDPod.’ ‘Awesome. What is your character’s name?’ (Laughs)
Tanner: ‘Tell me about your elf that died three years ago.’
Paste: So, you’re working on a videogame. There’s a game in the works. I was wondering if you could give me updates on how that’s going and also if there are plans to do books or anything like that.
Axford: The videogame is very time-consuming so I think it is our main project based off of the campaign.
Murphy: I think while keeping the podcast week to week, we can only take on one project at a time. The videogame, it looks gorgeous. Caldwell’s done an amazing job as the art director.
Axford: The backgrounds transport me.
Tanner: I would say that it sounds gorgeous. We just got a review in for a very basic walking around demo. We got to hear some of Emily’s music seeded in for the first time and it was really fantastic.
Murphy: It’s in the very early stages and we’ve got a very small team so, as of right now, we’re very excited about the game but the finish line is not in sight yet.
Axford: Murph’s writing it. Caldwell’s doing art. I’m doing music. And this is all of our first time doing that for a videogame. Correct, Caldwell? Have you ever done this for a videogame?
Tanner: Other than the endless runner based on BearShark …. I guess this is technically the second time I’ve worked on a videogame but that doesn’t really count. This is very much the first time I’ve gotten my hands dirty in this way. It’s been a really good learning experience in a lot of ways. But it is true that the main thing we’ve learned about making a game is that it’s hard, and we’re just gonna keep working on it and I’m excited to show people more when it’s ready.
Murphy: Pillowfight, the studio that we’re partnered with for this, is also a small team. Everyone that we’re working with is super talented so we’re looking forward to it, but (he literally shrugs his shoulders) videogames take a long, long time.
Tanner: Hopefully we’ll have more to show or talk about in the new year, but I think we’re still perfecting it in a lot of ways and really kind of figuring out the gameplay. The story and the music and everything are locked in. There’s a whole other side that you have to work on with games that we’re still trying to perfect before we’re ready to reveal any more information.
Murphy: And also, even on me as the writer, I’m rewriting things as we figure out things with the game. We’ll be like, oh this part of it is actually gonna be super fun and that part of it that I wrote is actually not cool at all. No one wants to sit there and watch these two characters talk for a cutscene for 10 minutes. So I’m going back and rewriting things and everything, so we’re kind of learning as we go. videogames are hard enough to make on their own.
Axford: In terms of other projects though, I’m just gonna absolutely speak out of turn and say, I do dream of someday, maybe Murph makes a module and then Caldwell illustrates, cause I just think it’d be really cool to see a Caldwell-illustrated module especially. That’s what it’s called right? A module. Or like a source book.
Tanner: We’ve talked about doing like a Bahumia starter set book.
Murphy: I had a great time running the starter set when I first started because it’s just a pamphlet. There’s something there of doing a Bahumia-Moonstone starter set where you do a pamphlet that comes with minis and that comes with character sheets. I think that might be the next big project somewhere down the line.
Paste: So y’all’s influences in terms of how you both act and DM and play your characters are kind of from really different places. I feel like each of you have different things that you mesh together. What are your influences and how do you make those mesh?
Murphy: As far as DMing and world-building, definitely Final Fantasy for Bahumia, things like Diablo for campaign two. I think for me it’s very videogame focused over even folklore.
Axford: Every time I ask Murph, ‘Oh what should this musical world sound like?’ He’s always like ‘Final Fantasy.’ And I’m like, ‘Murph we need to think outside the box.’
Tanner: Sorry, Nobeu Uematsu already thought of everything.
Murphy: It’s true! Sometimes if you’re sitting there like, oh I want to base it on this folklore or something and then I’m going back and having to do research, it can feel a little bit more like homework. Whereas the videogame stuff feels very accidental, especially with Bahumia, that didn’t even really have a consistent tone. It was like okay this town is like The Witcher, this town is like Final Fantasy, this town is like whatever. You can very much hear what I was playing at the time. Just together, I think we were able to make it kind of coherent.
Axford: It is fun to hear you get inspired by different books you’re reading or something. We’re married so obviously I always know what he’s reading.
Hurwitz: You get the intel.
Murphy: Jake, you’re a big Lord of the Rings guy. You kind of came in thinking Hardwon was gonna be Aragorn.
Hurwitz: Yeah, I love fantasy but my entry point is Lord of the Rings. So I came in like, alright Hardwon is Aragorn, he’s probably the rightful king somehow. (laughs) And I also had never played, so I was like, my guy starts off as a hero. I didn’t really realize you have to earn the hero thing. But then he almost became a mix of Thor and Gob from Arrested Development. A blowhard that actually does end up kind of a god.
Tanner: And Henry was based on, you had been reading a lot of the Master and Commander books.
Hurwitz: Yeah, for Henry I wanted him to be the opposite of Hardwon. I wanted to make him as average as I possibly could.
Tanner: Thus began the great walking back. (Laughs)
Hurwitz: I made him a little bit hotter.
Murphy: You made him a lot hotter! (Laughs)
Axford: You made him hot, really quickly! (Laughs)
Hurwitz: In my mind, he was already kind of hot.
Murphy: The D&D Beyond, we eventually got him to switch it to Ben Affleck dropping the coffee. Before that, he had someone hot.
Axford: He had Brad Pitt.
Hurwitz: It was Brad Pitt.
Axford: We all noticed it going on for a while and then I go into D&D Beyond and I’m like, wait a second, Jake’s character’s picture is Brad Pitt.
Hurwitz: Universally known as average! (Laughs)
Paste: One of the hallmarks of the podcast is how well you balance very funny moments with very emotionally affecting moments and then also the general dramatic thrust of the story. How do you all work together to balance that and does anything in your mind take precedence. Jake, I think I heard you on If I Were You saying it’s ultimately a comedy podcast in your mind, and not to sow discord, I don’t know if any of you disagrees with that.
Murphy: How dare he?
Axford: The serious work we do, you call it comedy? (Laughs)
Tanner: You would sully it?
Axford: I think of it that way as well.
Axford: I think it’s a comedy podcast and I go in thinking we’re gonna be funny and I’m open to however it makes me feel.
Hurwitz: I remember the first time that it became serious for me was in Campaign One in Galaderon when I’m attacking a rat man (laughs) and then suddenly the dude is like, ‘I knew your father!’ I was like whoa wait a second, this is what this is. I think I’m always ready to be funny and make a joke and I follow Murph’s lead if something serious happens. The comedy hits harder because the game has dire stakes. So I’m happy to lean into those every once in a while to set the baseline that people love each other and they can die and it’s scary. Then, just like in my regular life, I overcompensate by making jokes and stuff, so that’s what my characters do.
Axford: Making jokes is probably all of our background and where we’re most comfortable and then we’re just willing to get a little uncomfortable for exploring the emotions.
Tanner: Murph is very good at weaving worlds where we’re both getting whomped from a combat perspective and also an emotional perspective so you really don’t know when it’s gonna hit.
Axford: But also the person whomping us emotionally has like, a stupid voice or something. (Laughs)
Murphy: As far as world-building and stuff, it often feels like a Final Fantasy. But I think tone, maybe it feels more like a Futurama or an Adventure Time or something like that where it’s something that’s, moment to moment, pretty silly, but it is sincere and the characters do care about each other. There could be a world where we make these episodes and we just undercut everything we say by making it dumb and we throw away emotional moments.
Axford: If I were playing myself I’d do that, but when you’re playing another character, you’re like, why would I rob them of this human connection?
Murphy: I think it’s just feeling the flow of the episode and where it goes. There is a line with goofiness where it’s much funnier for our show to have someone be making jokes and then for a god to throw them off a tower than it is for the god to be like, actually I’m gonna play a prank on you too! The rule of improv is “yes, and.” Our rule is, “yes, and… I’m gonna throw a boulder at you.”
Axford: Rather than balancing comedy and drama, we’re more balancing comedy and stakes.
Paste: Last question. I’m very curious about what goes into each of you when you build a character and then when you embody that character for a session. Are you method acting? Is Caldwell walking around as a teenager at his house?
Axford: I am not method acting! (Laughs) I would be so insufferable.
Murphy: You write and stuff. You’ve got a big prep.
Axford: I definitely think about the characters… I like writing as them because it feels more like discovery, like I’m discovering them rather than controlling them. I feel like with writing you can receive them rather than tell them who to be. In terms of creating a character, it’s really, really almost like grasping at clouds a bit. Like ‘I’m kind of feeling this mood. How do I achieve that mood?’ I think because I play a lot, it’s like ‘I’ve been doing a lot of this lately, I’m gravitating towards this now.’ Then you kind of start getting rid of the fog to try and discover what feels like it might fit that niche. I always get so many interesting ideas just from reading a bunch. And videogames as well I would say.
Hurwitz: I think that is largely what it feels like for me too. It’s almost like you’re… this is so lame, but you’re a sculptor working with a block of clay and you start whacking at things. I usually start with a voice, and then some place geographically where I imagine that person is from. And then I do a name.
Axford: You like learning about history for it sometimes.
Hurwitz: Yeah, when I start thinking about the geography, I’ll read up on real things from history. But I do think so much of it comes at the table. I wouldn’t have known half the things that happened with Henry and definitely none of the things that happened with Hardwon if it doesn’t happen in the back and forth. It’s nice to go in, not with that perfectly sculpted piece of clay but with something kind of rough that you’re not that precious about because everyone’s going to help.
Axford: Sometimes it’s just like, I feel like having this energy in my life, right? Like, ‘I just want to play someone really confident’ or ‘I want to play someone really studious.’ I really kind of want this in my life a bit because I’m going to be living as this character and then, yeah like Jake says, you show up and you kind of find them by bouncing them off other people.
Tanner: The most fun part about character creation is getting to talk about it with the other people at your table… in a separate thread, away from your DM.
Hurwitz: His prying eyes.
Tanner: It is a lot like trying to sculpt something that is partially finished and you’re letting the other people at the table sculpt it a little bit, to continue the metaphor. It’s great. For me, it is a big part of presenting something and being like ‘How does this feel? How does this fit in?’ And then trying to build it from there. For me, it’s like most other parts, it’s collaborative.
Murphy: That’s certainly the case for me because I feel like I don’t have a lot of time to sit and really develop every individual character so characters literally become bigger villains based on how much the crew hates them. The voices get worse as you hate them more. So my instinct is always to be more and more disliked by my players.
Hurwitz: And it shows. Case in point, Galad Rosell.
Murphy: With Galad, originally I was just basing his voice off of the elves in Warcraft 2 that, when they pop up, would be like ‘My sovereign.’ They just have these little quiet voices. I was making a noble knight that was obnoxiously “good” and then it got to the point where everything turned up to 10.
Axford: ‘The light!”
Tanner: Just more and more nasal. It’s always fun seeing how far you can go with your vocal range like that.
Murphy: When we do live shows, the characters are all so much bigger shitheads.
Axford: Murph loves to play a high-status, nasal-voiced piece of shit. And you want to know what? I love to play with it.
Murphy: It all goes back to pro wrestling. As the DM, you are the heel and you’re trying to rile up your players while making the feud feel worth watching.
Axford: I have to be honest, I’m trying to rile you up to Murph.
Tanner: Love winding you up. No other DM has as many pieces of shit under their belt as Brian Murphy.
Murphy: You guys are truly the worst players (laughs).
Axford: You’re a very funny person to rile up. No one does salty like you do.
Paste: I think with ‘You are truly the worst players’ I have the perfect end to the story.
Tanner: There were a lot of quips but that was sincere. (laughs)
Axford: ‘…He said, unironically.’
Paste: ‘He said that and left the Zoom, it was so weird.’
Murphy: ‘He said I got it and then left.’
Hurwitz: ‘He finally said it.’
Hooman Yazdanian is a writer and film superfan based in Los Angeles. He’s constantly debating where he wants a fourth entry in the Before… series. For his movie takes and jokes, follow him on Twitter and on Letterboxd.