There are many ways to enjoy the Dungeons & Dragons hobby, but at GenCon, Dwarven Forge showcased the pure joy of the game- and of roleplaying in general-, that proves how D&D has managed to sink its claws into our imagination and never let go.
To celebrate the launch of their Kickstarter Campaign for 'Dreadhollow Forest', Dwarven Forge invited a group of celebrities and influencers to play in a live game of D&D using the titular terrain set.
The party included illustrator and author Satine Phoenix, actor Joe Manganiello, Matt Mercer and Liam O'Brien from Critical Role, GenCon owner Peter Adkison, and CEO of Dwarven Forge Stefan Pokorny.
“It is a dismal time in the Kingdom.” Dungeon Master Nate Taylor announced,”The King has summoned six heroes... or six murder hobos off the street- because his court jester has been kidnapped: The most famous entertainer in the land, Mercer the Magnificent!”
The reference had both Mercer and the audience in guffaws. The use of a Non-Player Character (NPC), to directly reference a friend or inside joke set the mood for the rest of the session- things were going to get silly, and in the best possible way.
While D&D has both a mechanical and narrative structure, the ability the players have to influence and change the story on the fly is at the core experience.
“I would like to smell the bones of the cavern,” Phoenix said, after Taylor described the cadaver-ridden entrance of the cave they were entering, in an attempt to locate the missing Jester.
“Jester smell is very distinct.” Taylor replied without pause, a trait among many veteran Dungeon Masters. “...what does Jester smell like?”
“Cotton Candy?” Phoenix offered, hopeful.
“Sandalwood and dreams,” said O'Brien, once again poking fun at Mercer who sat to his right.
D&D is often seen as a creative outlet, particularly for Dungeon Masters who spend hours structuring and writing adventures to share with their players. But a DM's ability to lean into the off-the-cuff storytelling that results from a die roll can have the strongest positive play impact. Particular when a DM uses the mechanics of the game to do so.
“Wait, so you're going to try and aim your fireball at the feral dog she is holding in her hand?” Taylor confirmed with Manganiello later in the adventure when the party was doing combat with dire wolves.
“If I lock eyes with her first,” Manganiello said, turning to look at Phoenix, “do I get an advantage?”
“Any time anyone locks eyes with Satine, they get an advantage.” Taylor replied, to laughter.
Manganiello rolled his dice and grimaced. “Okay, so that's gonna be a 9.”
“…Can I assist?” Phoenix asked, in hope that her character wasn't about to cop a fireball directly to her face.
Her character then copped a fireball directly to the face.
“Thats's gotta be a high-end exfoliant.” Manganiello joked, “People pay a lot of gold for that.”
“Sure,” Taylor laughed, before ruling that Phoenix would receive a +2 charisma bonus for her fiery beauty treatment.
Table dynamics are integral to any memorable game of D&D, and the interplay between the party members during the Dwarven Forge live stream proves that roleplaying, when used as a collaborative storytelling medium, is truly unrivalled.
Shortly after the battle with the feral dogs, Liam O'Brien said his character would use dark magic to animate one of the skeletons laying in the cavern. O'Brien launched into an evocative description of the process, to which GenCon owner Peter Adkison replied: “I Object.”
“Doesn't anyone care that [O'Brien's character] is casting Necromantic spells?” Adkison added, given he was playing a Lawful Good character.
Mercer, who played a paladin, was quickly called to action- he attacked and felled the freshly quickened skeleton before declaring to O'Brien; “You're safe! Be careful, Undead magic is afoot- you can thank me later!”
O'Brian turned to the audience and said in character, “well, that's one 3rd-level slot gone.
Many D&D games see the players embarking on an epic quest as earnest as that of The Lord of the Rings. But the true fun comes from letting go and embracing the fact that D&D is no different to when we were kids running around the yard. Laughing. Imagining. Making pretend.
It was refreshing to be reminded of this kind of pure creativity that bred laughter, wit and bonds between players. It was nice to be reminded of when D&D is at its best.
All Dungeons & Dragons core books and game aids are available through your local Good Games store.