Our ongoing podcast fiction series continues with the Rusty Quill Network, a London-based UK entertainment production company and multi-award-winning podcast network by podcasters, for podcasters. They’re the creative force behind several popular sci-fi/fantasy audio dramas including Rusty Quill Gaming (tabletop gaming fiction), Stellar Firma (an improv sci-fi tale in the mode of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and the well-loved Magnus Archives—one of the highest performing horror podcasts of all time.
Improv and Story Crafting—Rusty Quill Gaming
Rusty Quill got its start, like many SFF podcasts do, with a tabletop gaming campaign among friends, inspired by RQ’s founder and creative director, Alexander J. Newall’s personal passion for D&D. Launched in June 2015, the Rusty Quill Gaming podcast follows the adventures of a mixed ability group of comedians, improvisers, gamers, and writers playing in an original game world. The series has more than 200 episodes in its catalogue and releases a new episode every week.
What makes Rusty Quill Gaming unique in a sea of D&D tabletop gaming podcasts is the fictional world they have created to showcase the players’ talents and humor. “The elements we wanted to use to set it apart were from Alex’s own interest—a version of Oscar Wilde, a steampunky version of London, but very much fantasy too, magic of different types, orcs, etc.,” explains Rusty Quill CMO Callum Dougherty.
The players also shape the way the game and its audio episodes play out, incorporating improv and freedom to get creative that can take the game in intriguing and hilarious directions. Fans love it, and its audience has continued to grow over time.
Cult Fandom and Horror Tales—Magnus Archives
Building on the success of Rusty Quill Gaming, the team launched a second audio drama series, the Magnus Archives, in March 2016. One of the world’s most popular horror podcasts, the Magnus Archives tells the tale of supernatural cases under investigation by the Magnus Institute and its archivists. The show has a dedicated cult following and multiple awards.
“In the earliest days of the Magnus Archives, it was just envisioned as an anthology piece, in which a narrator would read a horror story,” says Dougherty. “But we took the concept and asked: What if it was more meta? What if the narrator engaged with elements of the supernatural and the occult in a library dealing with these sorts of topics? So, we created a narrative around it to make it more complex and richer.”
Set up like a soap opera, the Magnus Archives offers episodes that provide complete meaning, and are able to stand alone. But there’s also an overall story arc that provides a bigger picture for those that tune in repeatedly. “New fans get hooked, but before long, they understand how things interact with each other and the stakes,” says Dougherty. Listeners can follow the narrator’s journey—which evolves from simply having a difficult job to an attack from a supernatural creature. That leads to their being hunted as a criminal and watching the world being changed. The narrator finds themselves wondering if they can stop the apocalypse and reverse it.
The entire concept is a wild ride. And new listeners can easily enjoy one episode out of sequence, then go back to listen from the beginning anytime.
The RQ Network—by Podcasters, for Podcasters
In May 2021, Dougherty founded and began curating the RQ Network, a revenue share-based service that aids fellow podcasters in building their audience and finding distribution. At its core, the RQ Network is all about finding shows with promise that need a bit of a marketing push that they can provide.
“If you want an audience, you have to break through the noise now,” he says. “We have a robust structure to support other creators, which can be put to good use supporting other shows.
Dougherty chooses the shows by thinking like the audience. “I rate them on criteria such as quality of audio, and the writing. Is this something our fans would like? We look for things that we’re very confident would it appeal to fans of the Magnus Archives.”
“There are a lot of podcasts networks and distribution companies. But what there isn’t is a curated network where people are bringing in content in a very curated way. We’re using our background in audio podcasting to provide support to other podcasters who are also making audio drama.”
Creating Diverse and Inclusive Spaces
In addition to finding great quality shows, Dougherty notes that the RQ Network looks to support creators with like-minded values and goals.
“Diversity, opportunity and representation are very important to us,” he explains. “Integrity is very important to us. We’re a very inclusive, queer-friendly company too, and it’s important that be seen as a positive. Our content is extremely queer.”
Dougherty turns to the Magnus Archives as just one example of this commitment.
“The Magnus Archives has a main character who has a sort of asexual experience, but at the same time is in a gay relationship. And it has two characters who are police and in a lesbian relationship. Yet that’s not what the story is about. It’s just a normal aspect of who these characters are, who are going through very abnormal situations, like the apocalypse. These elements of their character would be there if they were living a normal life.
“What really appealed to people was that element of the writing, and that was a really big thing that writer/actor Jonathan Sims brought to the table.”
This commitment to providing a safe, open community has connected with many fans, he says.
“In particular, some of the greatest stuff we’ve had is characters that are non-binary, and they way they interact with the world and their lived experience. Their identity is never questioned. And a lot of fans have said they realized they didn’t have a binary gender identity because of hearing the way we presented nonbinary characters.