Improv DnD @ Biology at Girls School
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Dungeons and Dragons first graced the earth in the mid-1970s, and over the last half a century, has become a cornerstone of nerd culture the world over. “DnD” is played by a group of players who create fantasy characters of various races (such as Humans, Elves, and Dwarfs) and classes (like a Barbarian, a Sorcerer, and a Rogue). This group of players are led by another person, who assumes the role of the Dungeon Master (or DM), who plays the role of every other character in this imaginary universe, as well as having most control over the overarching narrative. The most appealing aspect of DnD to many players is the truly limitless number of ways that a game can play out due to the robust nature of its rules.
Improv DnD takes this base concept of Dungeons and Dragons and puts it on a stage, fusing those rules and ideas with improvisational comedy. Dungeon Master Scott McArdle had a slightly different way of putting it, describing Improv DnD at the top of the show as, “the world’s most popular tabletop game meets the world’s most despised form of comedy.” However, the stigma sometimes possessed by improv quickly dissipated; Improv DnD was a masterclass in improvised story and comedy.
The stage itself in the Girls School Biology room was an elevated, wall-to-wall rectangle in the centre of the room, with audiences seated along the long edges – imagine a runway at a fashion show and you’re most of the way there. As the audience entered and seated themselves, the performers were already hard at work, welcoming the audience and receiving prompts to put into the “Deck of Many Suggestions.”
The show began with an introduction from McArdle, who explained some basic concepts of DnD to unfamiliar audience members, as well as the ways which Improv DnD would be implementing those game rules and ideas into a performance piece. Firstly, whenever one of the players attempted to perform certain actions during the show, McArdle would roll a “d20,” a 20-sided dice, in order to determine the degree of success the player achieves in doing said task, with a 20 being the best possible result, and a one being the absolute worst. Then there was the Deck of Many Suggestions, a small cardboard box full of various prompts given by the audience during the pre-show that performers could use to push the scene forward.
Our DM was joined by a cast of three “Players,” performers who took on the roles of the three main characters of the show: Stephen Platt as Penjamin Teller, Rhianna Hall as Denice, and Kate Willoughby as Maggie Pie. They were joined by three “NPCs,” additional performers who switched between many roles to fill out the rest of the world, played by Sam Knox, Dan Buckle, and Dean Lovatt. Along with this core cast was Ryan Hunt, who played the keyboard throughout the show, providing an improvised soundtrack for the experience, as well as backing music for the improvised songs sung by cast members.
The way the narrative was presented was another interesting divergent from more traditional theatre. On opening night, we were introduced to our three main characters as they began their studies at Pig Pimples Preparatory School. They got sorted into their houses, made some friends (and enemies), got into some trouble, and then ended the show on a cliffhanger! The narrative of Improv DnD is told across its entire season, with audiences being caught up in the story each night. This presents a compelling reason to secure tickets for an entire season, just to see how the full story plays out.
It cannot be stressed just how skilled the performers were in this production. They were always able to deal with whatever was thrown at them throughout the show, keeping in mind the random nature of things like dice rolls and audience suggestions. While it’s impossible to rehearse for a show like this in the traditional sense, it’s clear the cast had put an incredible amount of work in to get to this level of synchronicity with each other. Improv DnD is a showcase of talent from all involved, and a must-watch for those who have a love for improv, Dungeons and Dragons, or all of the above.