The One Shot Podcast Network co-founder discussed RPG play for audiences, tabletop content creation, adjusting to new baby life, and the latest installment in his Ultimate RPG Guide series.
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James D’Amato helped build up the thriving One Shot Podcast Network where he still regularly hosts One Shot and Campaign: Skyjacks. He’s the author of The Ultimate RPG Guide Series which includes books on tabletop gameplay, worldbuilding, character backstory, and more. I spoke with James to learn more about his newest book, The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide – Expanded Genres Edition, the rise of his RPG empire, and his insight into the state of RPG play and content creation.
D’Amato describes himself as “blessed” for the experiences he had playing roleplaying games in college. What eventually turned into expertise in a seemingly infinite number of games and rule books stemmed from simply pushing the usual boundaries of the go-to systems.
“I remember when I was in college, before I had really stepped outside of D&D, I was using D&D 3.5 to do kind of every genre imaginable because I had the hunger to break outside into things like noire or westerns or what have you,” D’Amato says.
He places emphasis on the challenge of broadening horizons for characters and tackling new genre conventions as a means of creating something unique.
After graduating, D’Amato headed for Chicago where he went through improv training in hopes of pursuing a career in comedy. Looking for jumping-off points, he started a podcast with friends that was picked up by a small network. It soon came to the network head’s attention that D’Amato had been a roleplaying game player in college, and he was interested in adding live gameplay for audiences (known in RPG circles as “actual play”) to the network.
D’Amato surveyed the actual play scene around that time in 2012 and noticed the category was largely dominated by Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. He saw an opportunity to draw on his rich college experiences across many RPG systems and apply them to a podcast on which variation wasn’t just a feature, it was the goal.
“We really took a look at–how many different games can we feature?” D’Amato recalls. “What can we show people that a lot of people don’t associate with the idea of being roleplaying games? And it ballooned from there.”
When Production began, D’Amato tapped creative performers and leaned into the improv skillset to bring stories to life. This strategy has stayed around, but the team has since moved on to bring in additional talents including game designers.
D’Amato sees improv and running roleplaying games as a closely related set of skills. While Chicago may be on uncertain footing as a hub of improv after the pandemic–live theater can’t thrive without live events–he believes the city has instilled in many teachers the foundational longform skills that translate so naturally to roleplaying tables.
“I kind of think of roleplaying games as very sophisticated improv forms,” D’Amato says. “You can take somebody who has no improv experience whatsoever and put them in situations where they can still leave with a coherent story and authentically make decisions as a character.”
Unique content and skilled performance set D’Amato’s content apart, and the team’s offerings expanded to explore longform storytelling while striving to make inclusivity and accessibility foundational to the platform.
When it comes to thinking on your feet, it’s easy to imagine how the art of improv helps as a player, too.
“You can take some improv classes–kind of learn how collaboration works, the tools of flexibility that help you be a better collaborator–and that, I think, is a one-to-one translation of having more fun at the table and producing stories that are more fun to think about and listen to and be a part of,” D’Amato says.
Producing any podcast well over the last ten years has been a moving target. In addition to capturing compelling gameplay experiences, D’Amato’s crew had to move the listening experience forward with the times.
“Today, the expectation for the actual play market is way different,” D’Amato says. “Every episode of One Shot, these days, is edited to have a soundscape and everything in it which, starting out, that was not at all the expectation. A couple of shows did do that, but it wasn’t something that you had to do, and I think, honestly, if we had to start there, that probably would have gated us out of it…we couldn’t have afforded it.”
Now, D’Amato points to listener support as a reason his team can pay an editor and have immersive sound design included in the roughly 20 hours of work he says each episode takes to produce. At the time of writing, the One Shot network has 1,150 Patreon members contributing a total of $7,599 per month.
If you’re like many adults and wish you could play more but have difficulty getting a group together, you’re not alone.
“I pay everybody at the table with me to be there, and it’s still hard to get everybody in one place at one time,” D’Amato says with a laugh.
The scheduling and business-side challenges of the network certainly haven’t been simplified any by D’Amato recently becoming a parent for the first time.
“The scope of what you can engage with at your job changes,” D’Amato says of the transition. “The way my spouse put it is, it is a massive shift in priority.”
He says he’s it will be interesting returning from paternity leave to determine what needs to change at the network, outside his core responsibilities, to accommodate those new priorities.
The Ultimate RPG Guide Series is published by Adams Media. D’Amato describes the series as accessory books for roleplaying games intended to break down processes like developing character backstories and worldbuilding with exercises and mini games with hopes of making the tasks easier and more fun.
D’Amato’s latest book, The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide – Expanded Genres Edition, came out June 14th (his birthday). “Expanded edition” he says, might be a bit of a detrimental misnomer as there is no repeated content from The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide which is entirely fantasy focused. The cover of the new book mentions genres including horror, sci-fi, x-punk, and more.
“This is a brand new book,” D’Amato clarifies. “This book takes the same approach as the first book…not just with the fantasy genre, but with what I see as the major, most popular roleplaying genres that are out there.”
Interested listeners can search for “One Shot” or “Campaign: Skyjacks” in their podcatcher of choice to hear D’Amato’s shows or visit OneShotPodcast.com to see the full network offerings. To read The Ultimate RPG Guide series, he suggests checking in with your local game store or indie book shop. D’Amato posts updates on Twitter under @OneShotRPG.
Todd Mitchell is a US Midwest-based comedy writer and game developer with bylines at Weekly Humorist, Fanbyte, Slackjaw, End of the Bench Sports, and more. He’s the author of Inside Video Game Creation, the founder of CodeWritePlay, and host of the GameDev Breakdown podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.