This summer, living alone has given me the immense freedom to do whatever I want, however I want.
Apparently, ‘immense freedom’ is just slang for ‘binging copious amounts of Dungeons and Dragons content.’
I’ve been watching a lot of Dimension 20, a tabletop RPG game show produced by CollegeHumor. The show has multiple seasons, with each season being a new D&D game with a usually familiar cast, with the occasional guest stars here and there.
And I. Am. In. Love.
I’ve always had a fascination with Dungeons and Dragons. For those of you who do not know, Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy TTRPG with…an incredible amount of rules and complexity, but for the most part, you can just imagine it as a bunch of people sitting around a table, roleplaying to a significant extent, and rolling a bunch of dice to make decisions in their made up world.
As a kid, I thought I was going to be an author and I really loved worldbuilding and character creation. In fact, I used a lot of D&D resources to write a lot of my novels growing up. I found that the character sheets really helped me make a fuller, more three dimensional character. It was always my frustration in media when characters were introduced willy nilly, obviously carrying no depth to them aside from just serving as the protagonist’s main source of development or plot pushing.
As I began watching Dimension 20, I was absolutely enthralled by the depth everything had. Brennan Lee Mulligan, the typical game master for the show, creates such complex universes and, in his style of GMing, usually has big reveals and plot twists in the story.
I’ve watched about three seasons of Dimension 20 so far:
- Fantasy High – the very first D20 season. I highly recommend this as a starting point for anyone that has not watched D20 before or any D&D. The first episode is so, so good.
- Fantasy High: Sophomore Year – the direct sequel to Fantasy High.
- A Court of Fey and Flowers – This is the current season of D20. If you love Austen or Bridgerton or Downton Abbey, this is for you.
I wish I got introduced to D&D earlier (and I hope to eventually play..?) because there are just some things I’ve noticed that scratch my hyperactive, media-focused brain juuuust right and I absolutely had to write a blogpost about it:
Character Driven Stories
My favorite kinds of books are the ones that are character driven — there can be little to no plot at all, as long as you have some really fucking cool characters.
And that’s what D&D essentially is, at least the Dimension 20 shows. I am so captivated by the depth at which the cast creates their characters, the intricate backstories that all of them hold. But not only do the cast have these intricacies, but the NPCs as well.
Improv, Improv, Improv
I played pretend a lot as a kid, and one thing that would piss me off was when people just couldn’t commit to the story and the characters. They would giggle or laugh or get embarrassed and just ruin the immersion completely. What I love about D&D is the way that people are just fully committed to the bit. They put on character voices, they cry, they laugh, they monologue. And while yes a lot of this is pre-planned as you build your character and backstory, a lot of it is also dialog that occurs in-game. So many of my favorite moments in D&D are improvised conversations between party members, as the players just get fully enraptured in their character and the environment and just go at it.
Commit to the Bit
As I watched more and more D&D, the thing that stuck out to me most was the level of dedication and commitment players had to their characters.
A lot of D&D is determined by rolling. Rolling for insight on a situation, rolling for deception, rolling for perception, etc. If these rolls are high, you can maybe notice things that your character or even the player wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. If these rolls are low, well, even if you as a player notice it, your character will not.
For example, if you try to do something cool, or say a piece of dialog with the intent of being intimidating and cool, but you roll a Nat 1 on intimidation..well, it’s safe to say you’re no longer going to be as cool as you thought.
And I think this is where the game gets interesting, how people create and play characters that are so vastly different from them that they must do things within character. Obviously this is just, well, acting, but it really makes my heart happy seeing that a game as beloved and as popular as D&D has such an intense element of acting and empathy within it. That you really, really must be your character.
Rule of Cool
The rule of cool in D&D essentially is when a player does something reeeaaallly fucking cool…even if it doesn’t quite align with the actual rules and mechanics of the game.
This is one of my favorite parts of D&D. It encourages players to think creatively, to call back on their inventory or past events, to scour the room and just do really cool shit in D&D. Some traditionalists might view this rule as irritating or annoying, but I think it really livens up a game and lets players really have full jurisdiction over the game and their characters.
Here is Matt Mercer, arguably one of the greatest GMs of all time, talking about it.
Research & Breaking the Narrative
The new season of Dimension 20 is A Court of Fey and Flowers, an Austen-inspired season that uses the Good Society ruleset and expansion. This season is less combat focused and instead is social and relationship focused. There’s a rumors sequence prior to the season, where players must write and generate secrets about themselves that will appear later in the campaign. Characters have reputations that can improve or decrease with each session. There are epistolary phases where players can write letters to characters of their choosing, as well as monologue tokens to help drive a character narrative.
I was so impressed by the attention to detail of this season, not only through the new ruleset, but just in the character creation itself. All of the cast thoroughly researched the era, some players opting to read Austen classics like Emma or Pride and Prejudice while others looked to more modern representations like Clueless or even Star Wars (lol).
But what captivated me most about this was the creativity players took with this genre. Players like Lou and Emily wanted to play villains, and so they researched the most hated Jane Austen characters and modeled their D&D characters after them.
Brennan, who is playing in this campaign rather than GMing, decided to go the route of ‘What if there was a character who was the direct antithesis of regency and high nobility, but had to play the part?’ and so he creates a goblin character that is trying so desperately to follow the rules, but the rules of goblin society is breaking the rules. It’s an incredibly entertaining character to watch and some have described it as a perfect representation of a lawful chaotic.
Then there’s Surena’s character, Gwyndolin, who essentially doesn’t buy into all this regency stuff and talks in matter-of-facts. Where in the typical Austen novel, characters are going to talk in roundabouts and dance around the point, Gwyn is direct and blunt.
I really love seeing the leaps and bounds and creative directions that this cast has taken with the genre and it really makes for a unique experience and show altogether.
This blogpost was just a silly excuse for me to nerd out about D&D and D20. I highly recommend watching if you weren’t already convinced and really D20 has a special place in my heart. Watching the show, I feel like a kid again and honestly Dimension 20 has inspired me to start writing fiction again. It is a piece of media that has really kept me sane during a difficult summer and I am very grateful.