Review: DND Live at the Fringe: When Dwarves Cry
I wouldn’t necessarily say that Dungeons and Dragons has gone mainstream, but it’s become a lot more popular in the last twenty years. It probably helps that there are so many TV shows these days with a fantasy element, as well as movies like the Lord of the Rings series making sword-and-sorcery stuff cooler.
DnD is a tabletop roleplaying game where players build fantasy characters, and play those characters’ choices in a story facilitated and guided by a DM (dungeon master, the person telling the story they’re part of), with dice rolls dictating the success of those choices. A good DM is a craftsman, colouring in the details of each new scenario with skill and commitment, but good players are also wonderful to work with.
I’m a DnD amateur. I played a little, very badly, twenty years ago, because my boyfriend of the time played. I played a little, 10 years ago, for the same reason. Right now I’m playing a game with some friends because I actually wanted to, and having a ball doing it. I’m still nowhere near good, and the dice maths of it continues to elude me, but I have heaps of fun, and definitely more confidence in my abilities (to mostly hit enemies in the nuts, provide teenaged sass, and occasionally burst into song or awful puns.)
Diceratops, as well as running a pretty cool podcast, “Diceratops Presents”, has been staging live DnD shows at Bats for some time now. A show includes, as well as the DM, at least three of a steady cast of six players (and their characters). The shows stand alone; a newbie won’t be missing half a story if they’ve not seen previous shows, and it’s easy to get the gist of the characters fast. The set-up is the DM at his table, and the players at theirs, with their character sheets and dice. They’re miked, and there’s a simple lighting rig with a few different dramatic light colours, which the operator uses based on what he thinks the action needs. Sometimes that’s a bit arbitrary, but it’s fun to know that he’s lighting in response to the story, ad hoc, rather than following a set schedule.
Full disclosure: The DM, Morgan Davies, is an old friend of mine. But he’s also an award-winning game designer. And on Friday night he set the scene for a superfun and very silly mini adventure with three of the revolving cast. Wiremu Tuhiwai of the Wellington Inprovisation Troupe (WIT) played Ford the Ranger (yep), a pretty competent fighter character. Tuhiwai is a great improviser, and played his ranger lowkey and wry. Steven Youngblood, also of WIT, was a charmingly oblivious Randy Dwarf, producing and distributing magical kittens and stoically avoiding Feelings until he couldn’t anymore. And comedian Jarrod Baker played a sarcastic and mostly atheist priest called Frun Gothilde. Together they solved a mystery, fought some monsters with varied success, and Randy faced some painful emotions.
Davies was a lovely DM to watch, wildly gesticulating as he described the landscape and clearly delighted when his players responded in a funny or interesting way. The adventure is obviously named after a Prince song and the story played with Prince-related themes and puns throughout. Did we know the Purple Rain joke was coming? Yes, of course. Did we enjoy it regardless? Hell yes we did. We laughed helplessly when Randy utterly failed his dice rolls time and time again, and cheered when he FINALLY got a decent one. Loud approval greeted Tuhiwai’s ambitious action attempts, and dismay when he fell short, and when Baker’s taciturn priest fireballed the monsters we were all pretty grateful that someone at least was getting some damage in. I like to think there was even genuine sadness in the audience at the end when a non-player character died. The audience were clearly mostly either DnD players themselves, or somehow fans of gamer/geek culture, and they were into it. We were invested.
Turning a game like DnD into a show depends on the skill of the players, and for the technical side to be super-simplified. We certainly wouldn’t have been as hyped to watch them spend 10 minutes each before their turns discussing what their bonus action would be, whether they were going to employ some device to get extra rolls or extra damage, the distance they were moving, or their armour class and skill level. The players gave us the information we needed for basic understanding, and the rest was left unspoken.
I will absolutely go to the next Diceratops show. These performers are great players, genuinely love the game, and were clearly having a really fun time. They trusted each other’s cues, kept up the integrity of their characters, and worked hard to keep the action moving and the plot progressing. If anything, I wish I’d been playing with them.
Check out Diceratops’ podcast at https://diceratops-presents.pinecast.co/