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
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
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
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
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.