Vassals of Kingsgrave is a strange beast. In many ways it’s one of the first podcasts of its kind – a fandom rendered into audio form, where anyone can show up and have their say. The purpose of this post is to provide prospective podcasters with some information on the culture, structure and rules of VOK.
What is the Vassals of Kingsgrave, and where did it come from?
One misconception about VOK is that it’s a podcast with a forum merely attached to it. But in reality, it’s the other way around – VOK is a product of that forum. The forums predate the podcast by over 4 years. They were started in 2008 by the crew of A Podcast of Ice and Fire (which consists of Amin, Mimi, Ashley and Kyle), and were made for fans of that podcast to ask questions and chat about Martin’s books. As you can imagine, in a time before HBO’s Game of Thrones, this was a precious gift. It’s these guys who created the forum and made it such a fun, friendly place to hang out, and over time it grew into a thriving community.
In 2012, Amin created a spin-off podcast called Bastards of Kingsgrave, where the crew could podcast on topics outside of ASOIAF, such as anime, TV, movies, board games, conventions, cosplay, and other geeky stuff. Mimi, Ashley and Kyle would appear in these episodes, but he would also invite members of the forum to participate as well. As the original podcast, the spin-off, and the forums continued to flourish, Amin had the idea for another spin-off, this time hosted and run entirely by forum members.
In 2013, he posed the idea of “Vassals of Kingsgrave”, offering guidance on how to set it up and a subforum in which to organize it. Several forum-members took his idea and decided to run with it. These people were:
- Vikram (aka fortytwo), who recorded the first podcast, a review of a George R. R. Martin short story, and also set up a lot of the podcast infrastructure, such as the WordPress page, the iTunes feed and the YouTube channel.
- Glen (aka Dagos_Rivers), who organized a character-based reread of AFFC and ADWD, which kicked off in episode four, and was very popular.
- Bina (aka Bina007), who recorded the second episode of the podcast with Vikram (a review of Star Trek Into Darkness), and has hosted the most VOK podcasts to date.
Who is in charge?
Amin and the APOIAF crew are in charge of the forums. They have graciously allowed us to use their forums to plan and recruit for our podcasts, and provided tools and guidance along the way. As for VOK, no one person owns it or is in charge of it. However, it is managed by a group of people called “curators”. The original curators were, as you might expect, the people most active in its creation – Vikram, Bina and Glen (with Amin holding a sort of godfather position, offering council but ultimately letting them run it). Initially they were the ones who organized podcasts, moderated the recordings (including devising shownotes), edited them, and published them, with various other members of the forum coming on as guest hosts. Gradually, however, others started to organize podcasts of their own, and VOKs were published at a much quicker rate, jumping from 10, to 20, before reaching 50 by the end of 2013. These podcasters were also brought in as curators, including Duncan (aka Valkyrist), Katie (aka Lady Griffin), Zach (aka Alias), Michal (aka inkasrain), and Greg (aka claudiusthefool). Along with organizing podcasts, curators are also responsible for how it is run.
Since day one, the philosophy of the podcast has been “by the people, for the people.” All are welcome, and all are encouraged to give it a try. Everyone who is part of the podcast has a voice in VOK. However, and there is always a however, curators have a louder voice. All major decisions regarding strategy and disputes are ultimately handled by them. They are the only ones with the power to publish an episode of VOK, and if they deem a podcast to be offensive or contrary to the spirit of VOK, they have every right to reject it or request the editor alter it.
How can I be on a podcast?
Anyone who is an active member of the forums can put their hand up to be on a podcast. However, it is up to the person organizing the podcast (i.e. the person who raised the “Call to Arms”) who they select for their crew. Often they will include all volunteers, simply because they enjoy having a robust discussion with lots of input. However, other organisers may prefer a smaller crew to keep the conversation more manageable. And some others may simply have specific people they prefer podcasting with. It is completely up to the organizer of the podcast since they are putting in the hard work. It is also up to them to decide what they include in the final cut of the episode before submitting (though they may seek the advice of the rest of the crew).
How can I host a podcast of my own?
The first step to organizing a podcast is to raise a “Call to Arms” for discussing a particular topic and recruiting interested parties. There are some rules, however, regarding when you can raise a Call to Arms. They are as follows:
- You can only raise one if you’re willing to organise, host and edit the podcast. Those responsibilities may end up being shared by the crew, but you shouldn’t just assume. If you’d like to participate in a podcast but would rather someone else shoulder those responsibilities, then you can start a “Gauging Interest” thread or simply add it to the VOK topic list.
- You must have guest hosted on several podcasts before you contemplate hosting one of your own. Having to lead and manage a discussion is surprisingly more demanding than simply participating in one. It will also give you a sense of the tone and temperament of a VOK podcast. There is no precise number, but 3-5 podcasts is a good ballpark. It’s up to you when you feel ready. And hey, maybe, like the majority of vassals, you find guest hosting much more enjoyable anyway.
- If you want to record a podcast on a topic which has already been covered (e.g. a previously reviewed book or movie), you will need to check with the original organizer of that podcast whether that is okay. If you want to take the reins on a CTA that has “gone cold” or a podcast series (such as a rewatch or a reread) which hasn’t been updated in awhile, you also need to check with the original organizer. Nine times out of ten, they’re going to say “no problem” and probably even offer to help. You can check for previous CTAs by consulting the subforum search bar and check for previously recorded episodes on the podcast archive page.
- In cases where a CTA receives more volunteers than would be possible for a single recording or where volunteers cannot agree upon a single suitable recording time, participants may elect to record separate podcasts on the same topic. This arrangement would need to be agreed upon by the organizer and interested parties. Past examples of this have included the simultaneous episode reviews of Game of Thrones, carried out by DragonCast, WolfCast and KrakenCast, as well as two separate reviews of The Rogue Prince.
- All podcasts that have been recorded and submitted will first need to be approved by a curator before publishing. Now, for the majority of podcasts, you will find that a curator is already present, and their publishing of the episode will be a mere formality. However, if it happens that a curator was not present for a recording, the episode will need to be listened to by a curator before it is approved. In rare instances, a curator may notice something in the podcast that they deem unpleasant or offensive. This can be anything from discourteous behaviour, to discriminatory remarks. In such a case they may approach the podcast organizer and ask if they’d like to edit out that section or include a disclaimer. If the organizer says no, then the final decision about whether the podcast is published on VOK or not will need to be made by all of the curators. So far no episode has ever been rejected; however, in one or two cases a podcast has been re-edited in response to curator concerns and listener complaints.
- Non-forum members (such as real-life friends) are allowed on the podcast as guests, however, the main host must be an active forum-member.
What if I have a problem with another podcaster/forum-member?
Your first option might be to simply talk to the person in private, either over Skype or in a PM, to address the discord you’re experiencing and hopefully find a solution. You may find this other person is completely unaware that their behaviour has negatively affected you, and may promptly apologize and try to improve. Alternatively, you can inform one of the 8 curators of VOK or a regular podcaster who you feel comfortable with. There is no right answer to this, and it’s possible that you’ll encounter people who you simply don’t get along with or don’t share the same views as. But as long as people have a basic respect for one another, and act like adults, most conflicts can be resolved amicably.
Is there a “code of conduct” for podcasting?
The closest thing we have to a Code of Conduct is the Podcast Hosting 101 guide. It stresses the need to prepare notes for a recording; to be mindful and sensitive to what your fellow hosts are saying; and to not interrupt people or dominate the conversation. It is well worth a read for prospective podcasters.
As for the actual content of the podcast, there is really no topic that is “off limits”. The podcast was started by fans of ASOIAF to discuss their favourite books and movies. But it has developed into ruminations on politics, feminism, technophobia, military history, serial killers, and bidets. It’s a great thing. However, it only works if people are civil, sensitive and courteous. Remember, this is a forum first and a podcast second. You need to try and get along with people. You need to be a part of the community. There are real people behind those key-strokes and at the other end of those Skype calls, each with their own unique life experiences. You need to be open to other people’s points-of-view, and be polite and compassionate in presenting your own point-of-view. Being dismissive, petty, snarky, or just plain aggressive, talking over people or name-calling, will not endear you to the community. And if you aren’t able to get along with regular members, then no one is going to want to podcast with you.
The podcast organizer/moderator bears the majority of responsibility for the tone and temperament of a discussion. It is up to them to ensure that all participants have a voice and are treated fairly, and that potentially offensive or inflammatory statements are confronted or at least addressed in a mature way. That’s why it’s important for people considering raising a Call to Arms to have a decent amount of VOKs under their belt, to have really joined the community and cottoned on to its vibe. I know it doesn’t always work. We have had problems in the past and I’m sure we’ll have problems in the future, but if you respect where VOK came from and the ideals it tries to imbue, then we’re on the right track.
tl;dr – get involved with the community; get stuck into the APOIAF/BOK/VOK back-catalogue; be nice, be open, be patient; trust that everyone is basically decent (even if they’re having a bad day); listen twice as much as you talk; weather the Long Night with us and we’ll crack the cover of TWOW as friends.
• Podcast Hosting 101 (tips on running and participating in a podcast)
• Submission Guidelines (technical tips)
• Episode Archive (MP3 links to all VOKs published so far)
• “About” Page (list of current curators)