10 Reasons Why Dimension 20’s Fantasy High is a Hit

dropout.tv

Dimension 20 is a tabletop RPG comedy show hosted by DM and actor-writer Brennan Lee Mulligan. Produced by CollegeHumor‘s subscription service Dropout, Fantasy High is set in a 1950s through 1980s American-style city Elmville, Solace. This campaign follows the exploits of six courageous High School students from the Aguefort Adventuring Academy. Here are ten reasons why this Dungeons meets Detentions campaign played by a group of talented comedians should be at the top of your binge list.

1. Complex character building in a digestible timeframe

With a group of comedians behind the wheel, the potential for a show lacking in depth and complete with farcical chaos was necessarily on the table from the very start. This comedy campaign, however, is refreshingly well-structured and thought-through, all whilst remaining lighthearted; no easy feat to accomplish when also doing justice to world building, character development, and narrative coherence.

All players, including DM Brennan Lee Mulligan, have built complex characters with unexpected depth, questionable flaws, and personable qualities. Fantasy High has few clear-cut bad guys vs good guys, and even NPCs who at first seemed almost devoid of emotion might unintentionally divulge their gut-wrenching ails to the party through a Detect Thoughts spell.

Yet what truly stands out about Fantasy High when compared to other campaigns is not its fully-fledged out characters with emotional background stories (the likes of which can be found in many DnD adventures), but its ability to include this level of profound character building in such a short amount of time. Rarely surpassing the 2-hour mark, Dimension 20’s sessions are half the length of a Critical Role episode, and therefore perhaps better suited and more digestible to excited DnD newcomers.

2. Incomparable and yet complementary to Critical Role

Though its generally ill-advised to compare any unique DnD campaign to the next, Critical Role has set the bar so high in all that it does that the juxtaposition has become inevitable. As an advocate of everything Critical Role with a profound admiration for Matt Mercer’s DMing skills, I was formerly convinced that no other set of players, and no other DM, would ever come close to inspiring the emotions and relatability that Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein do.

Dimension 20, by virtue of not being comparable to Critical Role but instead complementary to it, does not pressurise the viewer into favouritism, but lets their fans add another gem to their shelf of unparalleled campaign shows. Simply put, Dimension 20 is Critical Role’s silly sister; though they share many qualities, their DNA is different.

3. High quality improvisation, description, and narration

imdb.com

If you put aside the perfectly produced set, amazing camera quality, and professional lighting and sound, all of which can be prohibitively expensive to a lot of players, one key factor that makes Fantasy High thrilling to watch is the solid acting and storytelling. Never a dull moment, the players find a way to solve the main quest whilst still making time for inappropriate hospital ER romances, strange sex talks with their parents, and killing a villain with a spoon – no, a ladle.

Similar to other campaigns that are also made up of professional actors, the storytelling and improvisation (CollegeHumor’s forte), is so spot on that the show almost seems scripted. Mulligan whips up long monologues about arcane lore in response to a random dice roll, and player characters have comebacks spilling out of their mouths when confronted with High School bullies and vicious villains. Was the Episode 7 one-liner “keep cadaverously cool” conjured in the moment? I sure hope so.

4. Dramatic irony and opposing imagery

One of the comedic strategies used in Fantasy High is constant contrast; everything you thought was set in stone is now up for grabs, and an endless flux of hilarious dichotomies permeate the entire campaign.

Fantasy High uses external character-to-character contrast; for example between half-elf teenager Fabian Seacaster, a wealthy grade A snob played by comedian Lou Wilson, and his father Bill Seacaster aka Papa, a loud-mouthed, overly assertive, and imposingly proud pirate privateer. This same contrast is found between sturdy half-orc barbarian Gorgug Thistlespring, played by Zac Oyama, and his happy-go-lucky, always smiley gnome parents who live in a tree.

Dimension 20 also employs internal character contrast; Kristen Applebees (Ally Beardsley) is a Cleric who pretends to drink alcohol to fit in at parties. Though she repeatedly questions her faith, she does so whilst trying to convert all of her friends to her religion and add them to her Prayer Chain group chat. Figueroth ‘Fig’ Faeth (Emily Axford) is a badass, no BS, bass guitar wielding tiefling whose rebellious nature coats a nucleus of emotions and daddy issues; her elf stepfather Gilear Faeth is a yoghurt-eating, university-educated cuckold, and her biological father is a demon who is partial to a bit of ice cream.

Fantasy High’s mastery of the unexpected, much of which can be credited to Mulligan’s side-splitting NPCs, is without a doubt its biggest selling point.

5. From recurring themes to well-rounded storytelling

As much as this campaign thrives on the unforeseen, the DM and players take heed to one-liners and oddball situations that might make for a quirky comeback later. Riz Gukgak (Brian Murphy) is unanimously referred to as ‘The Ball’ throughout the campaign after having been dunked into a trash can a total of once in the first session, and rolling a NAT 1 Insight Check on an NPC for Gorgug is now synonymous with him believing them to be his dad. When Adaine Abernant (Siobhan Thompson) casts Identify, it is narrated by an immaterial arcane voice that reappears frequently to add some flavour to the spell.

6. Party respect, cohesiveness, and team player attitude

imbd.com

Perhaps most satisfying to watch for seasoned DnD players is the level of inter-party respect displayed by the cast. Both friends and colleagues, the high regard with which the players treat each other is evident in their team player attitudes, willingness to work together to develop each other’s character quirks and backstories, and the caution they proceed with when participating in dialogue.

The advantage of being professional actors and friends is that the cast have an eye for recognising the difference between added dialogue that can take a moment from funny to priceless, and added dialogue that is superfluous, and even bordering on disrespectful. Rarely interrupting each other, instead the seven participants lean back and watch when their pals are having a moment, without the need to insert themselves for the sake of it.

7. The pros of meta-commentary

Meta-gaming is often frowned upon in the DnD community by hardcore RPG lovers, yet Fantasy High makes good use of meta-commentary that has this aforementioned added value. As comedians, the Dropout TV crew play their comedic selves as well as their DnD characters, and are able to expand upon a joke so that it can be appreciated from a meta standpoint. This further encourages the DM to build on the moment, as it is clear that his players are having fun.

In terms of entertainment, this meta-commentary could be seen as part of the campaign’s bi-fold show format, as they are being watched both as CollegeHumor comedians and as DnD characters. The show format also presupposes performativity and impacts gameplay choices. As the party knows they are being watched for the purpose of entertainment, performing meta-commentary provides that extra layer of relatability, and lets us imagine ourselves with our own friends at the table. Because everyone meta-games sometimes. Not only is it funny, but the players are likeable because of it.

8. A twist on your typical Breakfast Club High School stereotypes

Some criticism that a setting such as the Aguefort Adventuring Academy is likely to receive is that it utilises and relies on overused and potentially discriminatory High School stereotypes and tropes, which are extended to gender and race as well. Of course, the same can be said about virtually any DnD campaign or setting, yet the High School scapes seem to lend themselves particularly well to these stereotypes; the half-orcs are the bullies, the jocks are bad boys, the coach can be bribed, and the pretty girls are airheads. The shy and nerdy kids get are tormented, whereas the rebellious party members befriend the seniors, and sneak into the teachers’ lounge to flirt with the Vice Principle. The goblin’s parent can’t afford cereal milk, the elves are rich, and the lead cigarette-smoking tiefling in a leather jacket is literally called Danny Johnny.

At first sight, Fantasy High is like any other loser High School: not very woke at all. But when you dig deeper, it becomes clear that Aguefort is more than what it seems, with a geeky AV club too cool even for Gorgug, a hot greaser who ‘doesn’t fuck’ and embodies cringe-worthiness, a formerly drug-selling bouncer who turns out to be a great guidance councillor, and an angry orc who is coming to terms with the fact that he might be gay.

9. A supportive DM you can trust

thegeekiary.com

Most importantly, it is without a shadow of a doubt that Brennan Lee Mulligan, much like Matt Mercer, Deborah Ann Woll, or Mark Hulmes, is a DM you can trust. He is always supportive of his player’s decisions, frequently starting or ending his sentences with “Hell yeah” and “Rad” in response to their creativity, and rewarding them with advantage rolls or extended dialogue. He claps when a PC rolls a NAT 20, and ‘oofs’ when enemies roll high on their damage.

With several gameplay and DMing styles out there, there is truly nothing better than feeling completely free to make bold and creative choices under the wing of your DM, without unnecessary punishment for attempting a clever move. Not only does Mulligan excel at accents, improvisation, sound effects, character building, world building, and comedy, but he puts up a great DnD fight whilst still remaining fun and fair till the very end.

10. It’s just good fun

If you remain unconvinced, all I can say is that you will be laughing on your sofa, in your bed, and at your desk throughout the whirlwind of crazy that is Fantasy High, and Dimension 20 campaigns in general. You won’t know what you’re missing, until you give it a shot.

Asking My Campaign: Why You Should Give Dungeons and Dragons a (One)Shot

How do I sacrifice my estranged little brother to a potent god? Maybe you don’t ask yourself that question too, but it’s possible that you’re off daydreaming about other universes, tinkering with machines, or concocting potions: whatever your fantasy world is about, you can probably find it in Dungeons and Dragons.

Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D (also stylised DnD) is the first modern role-playing tabletop game, and the most un-board-gamey-game out there. Created in the mid 70s and recently re-popularised with newer editions surfacing, DnD is different from traditional wargaming in that each player creates their own completely unique character, with a huge amount of mix-and-match possibilities and very few limitations.

All players choose a race (such as goblin or elf) and a class (such as druid or rogue) and pick from a long and elaborate list of spells and/or combat tricks. They roll some polyhedral dice (ranging from d4s to d20s) to come up with their in-game statistics, complete with ability scores and modifiers. These scores, which players roll for and allocate themselves, will determine their abilities: how good or bad they are at lying, convincing, dragging, jumping, sneaking around, recalling information, and so on. Left to fend for themselves with only a modicum of guidance, they walk into a spontaneous, or maybe fully-fledged, fantasy world.

Led by the Game Master (GM), also called Dungeon Master (DM), the characters meet each other, or have already met beforehand and must weave their encounter(s) into their respective backstories. They tackle the world they are in with a simple dice roll determining their ability to accomplish a certain task: perceive, investigate, attack… Unexpected enemies or allies can appear at any time, and players might run out of spell slots, or even die.

The purpose of the game is to go on several, often improvised quests, and the beauty of it all, is that it is essentially never-ending: DnD is not just a game, but a story that involves a lot of character-based calculations, consideration for other players, and commitment to meeting up and playing the part. Conversely, many also choose to partake in ‘one shots’ for a riveting DnD session lasting one night and one night only.

That all sounds pretty funky already, but here are a bunch of expert opinions sourced directly from my own completely unbiased party on why you should borrow a set of dice and sign up for your very first game of DnD.

RISK-TAKING

Our quick and cunning thief likes to take bets on her luck and creative mind. Chantal, who plays Earing the Halfling Rogue, will tell you that her favourite thing about playing DnD comes in packs of three:

“The combination of skill, chance, and creativity. Going on a prolonged journey into the imagination of other people whilst they play a character who does not necessarily represent their own [out-of-game] choices and how that collective effort brings life into the in-game world.”

And try as you may, the dice will determine your fate. But if you think creatively and way, way outside of the realm, then your DM might be humoured into lowering the number needed to succeed. So why not take a chance!

Benefits of the halfing rogue combo

• Nimble
• Dexterous
• Good with traps
• Lucky
• Sneaky
• Able to communicate in thieves’ cant
• A lock’s worst enemy

GAMING, MINUS THE SCREEN

Photo 2 by Espen Meisfjord.

If you’re looking for orphaned royalty, we’ve got that too. Our mysterious and untrusting half-elf ranger was once a noble paladin. Sebastian plays (Tar-)Darion Beluarian, The Strayer, and he likes the idea of gaming without the adverse effects of screen-time:

“There’s no screen, and actually, no writer or director telling you what the fictional world should look like. It just allows everyone in the group to have their own world, and yet play together, in real life. You’re totally free, you can eat and drink at the same time, you can leave quickly to the kitchen and come back, and the freedom extends to you as an actor.”

In DnD, players are free to choose what kind of a person they’d like to play, whereas video-gamers are often limited to a list of pre-made avatars:

“Here, you not only choose your own spells and abilities, but your entire background story, look, and personality.”

And it’s not untrue; there isn’t always a list of narrative A, B, C, D options to choose from, and you could spend years on creating a backstory, or invent it on the spot. If you’d like to swap genders, professions, political parties, or philosophies, go ahead. No one is stopping you.

Benefits of the half-elf ranger combo

• Charismatic
• Diplomatic
• Ability to multi-attack
• Knowledge of various terrains
• Bow expert

LARP THE NIGHT AWAY

*The artwork for these minis have been sourced from the internet and most have been modified to fit our needs with photoshop. The artwork has only been used for our miniatures and non-commercial poster. We do not recommend using artwork that is not your own if you are going commericial or pro.

Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, is not just an activity you can participate in to see what it would be like to be a catastrophically elite version of yourself. Vulnerability is key, so don’t shy away from taking on an insecurity or belief you might not have in real life. Becoming someone else and building a common narrative is tricky, but ultimately very rewarding. As a relatively confident person, recent graduate, and atheist, I play Elyssee Elwing, the paranoid half-elf cleric student. It makes no sense, but it’s a lot of fun.

All of it comes with a no-strings-attached policy, because it’s only a character. At the same time, if you dedicate yourself to it enough, it’ll become you. Players in-game usually only refer to each other by their character names, team-members will adopt strange accents and quirks, and, when you die, you die. Back to the drawing board for your new character.

Benefits of the half elf cleric combo

• Charismatic
• Diplomatic
• Necessary healer
• Always useful
• Banish the dead
• Befriend the dead?

MAP-MAKING, WORLD-BUILDING

And just when you might begin to think that DnD sounds unmanageably free and off-the-usual-track, you’ll be pleased to know that the game also offers a wealth of information on how to play. Gimble the Gnome Wizard, played by Espen, dreams of worlds built on travel narratives.

“It gives the gameplay a coherent structure and shifts between an emphasis on ontological and subjective approaches to documentation of places and people encountered.”

You’ll find many maps and treasure troves of information on DnD, which include The Player’s Handbook and Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Our well-travelled gnome is thankfully our living map guide, but there are many digital resources, such as Roll 20, DND 5th Edition, and D&D Beyond’s 5th Edition Maps, if you’re not too sure about investing in costly tabletop books quite yet.

Benefits of the gnome wizard combo

• Intelligent
• Unparalleled knowledge of the Arcane
• Naturally gifted illusionist
• Able to communicate with animals
• Chaotic good fun
• So many spells

BY THE BOOK, OR NOT

With all its books and platforms, any rule in DnD can be interpreted as a long list of suggestions at the discretion of your group’s Dungeon Master. Frank, the team’s hilarious bear-who-was-revealed-to-actually-not-be-a-real-bear (it was shocking), or Varen the Firbolg Monk, is all about the in-game freedom:

“Whilst it’s true that the game involves many rules, they don’t operate by restricting creativity, but rather by guiding it, helping to make the game fun for you and your group. When playing DnD, each player has the freedom to invent their own game, which results in an unbelievably rich and unexpected adventure.”

As a bear who walks and talks in the country’s capital without care, Varen embodies freedom of game, exemplified by his quirky tangential mini-adventures, such as the quest for a decent yet rustic pipe to smoke.

Benefits of the firbolg monk combo

• Giant
• Naturally detect magic
• Naturally disguise yourself
• Invisibility
• Mulitattacks
• Ability to stun and delay

Our inscrutable barbarian agrees. Though he initially had many existential questions on the game’s lack of necessary structure and coherence, Nil, or Tork the Orc, now finds the idea of a freer world built on a semblance of reality to be comforting:

“The people I come across, the places I visit. Do they exist before I encounter them? […] The future could be predetermined, yet I have no means of knowing. Where does free will lie under such an argument? Although these questions occupy my mind often, I have learned to not think about them. It is likely that the DM improvises as he goes, and I have found peace in not questioning his ability to [lead us].”

Coming to terms with the at times strange nature of the game has led to a number of absurd occurrences, such as when Tork killed a wizard in one blow for purely narrative reasons. He didn’t seem to mind, though. Tork smash!

Benefits of the barbarian orc combo

• Strong
• Resilient
• Robust
• Naturally intimidating
• Deal 40 points of damage in one swing

BE THE GAME

There’s one last actor, hidden behind a dividing screen. Arvid, our smiling Dungeon Master, also loves the narrative and geographical world-building that DnD has to offer; after all, the game we play is in many ways the seed of his creative mind intermingled with our own individual and joint choices. In other ways, the game is out of his control almost entirely:

“The reason why I play and act as the Dungeon Master in DnD is mostly as a creative outlet. Whether I play or act as the DM, I see it as a performance of story-telling and as immersion for the players and for myself. I like to improvise and I love to write short little stories in my mind that I can act out in front of the players. I am always curious as to what the players will do and where they will end up. This gives me, as a Dungeon Master, the opportunity to express my imagination both in terms of world-building, and in terms of being an improvisational actor.”

According to our DM, an opinion I am sure our players would back up vehemently, the rich fantasy world of DnD us unlike any other game out there:

“I know of no other game that allows for such freedom of expression and after not having played for a while, I always feel drawn back into this fantasy world to see what ideas may present themselves.”

Benefits of DMing

• Narrative storytelling
• Worldbuilding
• Character creation
• Practice accents
• Surprise your players
• DM and NPC – double the fun!

Think you’ve got what it takes to DM? Check out professional voice actor and DM artist extraordinaire Matt Mercer and his top tips on leading a campaign of players.

So, are you ready to play?