As gaming becomes more mainstream and less the shameful pleasure of basement dwellers, people are beginning to appreciate the value of watching other people play games. Recent popularity is due to the common love of facing challenges, tough decisions, and sudden changes, without the effort and hassle of having to do those things ourselves. It can also be incredibly funny. Giant Dwarf’s new monthly live Dungeons & Dragons show, Dragon Friends, proves it.
Every game sees players at the whim of the godlike, objective, emotionless figure at the head of the table, the dungeon master (in this case, Dave Harmon, director of Sydney Uni Revue). It is him that creates the world that the players (Michael Hing, Alex Lee and Simon Greiner) inhabit, rolling dice to determine the outcomes of each decision and interaction.
Unlike other games, no player is inherently in conflict with another. Everyone playing works together to develop characters and the story, which is why having a cast of brilliant improvisers work so well. But the comedy of the show doesn’t just come from funny people riffing on stage. These moments, as when Michael Hing’s character, “Freezo” spontaneously murdered a fedora wearing prince (wonderfully played by Story Club‘s Ben Jenkins), aren’t just funny things that happen in the vacuum of an improv scene, they have real, lasting consequences for the story to come.
The central cast of three is enabled by Ben Jenkins’ hilarious performance of the show’s non-player characters (NPCs), and the fantastic music of Benny Davis, whose years of experience improvising for theatresports supplied a rich atmosphere.
It is important to remember D&D was created in the mid-70s in an age where complicated rulesets and multiple dice rolls were the best option in town. We now play tabletop games for the social interaction and the roleplaying element we can’t get from computer games. Dan Harmon’s (no relation to Dave Harmon) weekly show at Meltdown Comics in LA uses a stripped version of the game that acknowledges that in the 21st century we don’t play RPGs for the twenty sided die and intricately detailed rulebook. It streamlines the game, highlights the roleplaying elements, and makes it easier for newcomers and guests to play on stage without having to know about various stats and rolls. It’s a model that Dragon Friends would benefit from, for all that some of the old school parts are enjoyable.
Even so, it’s a really fun, clever, and rich way to put on a comedy show and worth seeing if you have any interest in the game or seeing talented people play it well.
Feature art by Simon Greiner, photography by Patrick Morrow