Second Star to the Right (SSTTR) is a Dungeons and Dragons actual-play show developed by Second Star Productions and led by professional Dungeon Master and WizKids RPG Producer Joe Nuzzo. Airing bi-weekly on Fridays at 7pm CDT, SSTTR boasts a glorious line-up of seasoned TTRPG players: Faeforge Academy actor and Into the Motherlands star Michael Sinclair II, psychology expert Desirée Strother, who explores relationship dynamics through D&D, creative producer for The Initiative Order and ambassador for Jasper’s Game Day Breanna Flaim, host of Roll for Persuasion and Head of Marketing at Dwarven Forge Andrew Strother, and TV producer, voice actor, and 20 Sided Stories cast member Emily Ervolina.
The Neverland Setting
SSTTR follows Andrew Kolb‘s Neverland setting, a feature-length hex crawl campaign intended for sandbox exploration published by Andrews McMeel. Kolb takes inspiration from the classic world of Peter Pan’s adventures, adding a unique twist that makes for a more appropriate, and perhaps more interesting, environment to wade through for mature TTRPG players. To this, Second Star Productions affix Nuzzo’s many years of pro DMing experience and distinct hands-on narrative style. As the players are guided through an at times comical, at times emotional journey to retrieving a fallen star, each hex of the map reveals new aspects and components of Neverland’s island, championing its characteristically spontaneous setting.
Before exploring Neverland however, SSTTR does a great job in its first episode at making its community feel immersed in the setting of Fantasy London. Dipping its toes into WWII England, the show makes a point to mention the “cool crisp air”, the “loud bells”, Big Ben, and Whitehall Street. Imbuing the city with magic, the players are introduced to a mystical version of the British Museum, as the DM paints an upgraded picture of what the world might look like right around the corner of the Darling’s household, had they been NPCs in a D&D campaign.
Complementary, self-reflective acting
SSTTR’s acting is both genuine and funny, not to mention consistent. As a native South West Londoner, I’m a harsh critic, but the English colloquialisms are there when they need to be. The cast have no qualms when it comes to making fun of themselves, highlighting their lack of a repertoire of UK accents: “I’m gonna put on my worst British accent because I don’t know how to do that.” (Michael Sinclair II, playing Dante).
Each party member adds an invaluable layer to SSTTR’s story, with well-balanced pairings. Genevieve is a careful, intelligent, and poised Wizard. Sharing some of those characteristics, Dante embodies the more serious and forthcoming persona any adventuring team needs to accomplish their goals. Despite this, he often finds himself in the most unlikely of comedic situations, sometimes spearheaded by nonchalant, mysterious, happy-go-lucky Talith. Finally, leaving a memorable impression are investigative Síofra and strongwoman Helen, two opposites of a sorely-needed spectrum; small ball of energy meets fount of knowledge, and buff Hollywood one-punch wonder.
Dedicated to an upward path
The campaign moves at a slower pace than some TTRPG productions, but the storytelling and person-to-person synergy are especially captivating. This is no easy feat for the podcast format, as seen in SSTTR’s first episode, but the cast and crew managed anyway, eventually switching to incorporate video as well. From there on out, the sessions begin to benefit from both the added imagery, as well as intro music by Travis Reaves and recently acquired gameplay music by Alexander Nakarada.
A stand-out quality of SSTTR’s production is the considerable progress it has been dedicated to since first airing, fixing any sound issues, upgrading camera quality, working with sponsors, and at times weaving audience suggestions into their canon.
Sharp comedic quality
SSTTR is all laughter from the get-go. The big bad behind the missing pixie dust is the British Museum, and brief introductory filler baddies include a guy with “Tattoos all over his face, not that there’s anything wrong with that!”, described in the wokest of ways.
The comedy has a skilfully improvised feel, and the humour of the least carefree characters finding themselves in the unlikeliest of situations is not lost on the audience. None should be so bold as to discount the fun in Dante being assailed by both husk dolls and water in equal measure. An opinion piece would also be remiss if it didn’t mention the meta-level anachronisms and self-referential material that has the show’s Twitch viewers in stitches. We love a Walt Disney name drop and a fantasy OSHA violation warning.
Maps and minis
True to his style, Nuzzo did not disappoint when he showed up with a mini terrain. Customising these builds and making minis for D&D gameplay is time-consuming and sometimes difficult to arrange (camera placement, lighting, perspective), and even more so when the game is remote. Although the players can’t directly interact with the field, it gives them an idea of their exact surroundings, as well as offering viewers some nice visuals to look at.
Teamwork makes the dream work
What I love most about SSTTR is that every player cares about the next. There’s nothing worse than a tabletop game where everybody cuts each other off, no one pays mind to anyone else’s backstory, and characters don’t pick up on subtle cues to play off of. The total lack of disrespectful roleplaying edgelordery is a breath of fresh air. Without a shadow of a doubt, it seems that the cast are both professionally and emotionally in tune with what it means to be a good and considerate TTRPG player.
Second Star Show is, in essence, an incredibly well-produced experience tailored to Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts on the hunt for a light-hearted setting with a beautifully narrated and acted story, full of intriguing turns, and the occasional plunge into the darker, more obscure moments.
Second Star to the Right airs every second Friday at 7pm CDT on Twitch.
New Year, New Dungeons and Dragons Campaign? Perhaps you’re not quite there yet and hosting a one-shot or two is more up your alley. Whatever the motive, planning the first game of any adventure can seem daunting. Luckily, the core event of your session is pre-determined; the heroes have to meet. All you need now are a place, plot, and some people – the definition of a manageable workload. Except, your wizard rolls a Nat 20 Intelligence Check, figures out that her father is her brother, pulls out some bat guano and pulverises your starter BBEG for 96 points of fire damage. Holy shit, sick and rad indeed, but… now what?
Here are some suggestions on how to maximise your chances of running a smooth and interesting first Dungeons and Dragons game.
Playtest or Kick-off
Typically, a session 0 and session 1 of Dungeons and Dragons differ in structure and level of preparedness. Session 0s can act as improvisational games where adventurers playtest class and race combinations, try out roleplay accents that they are unsure of, or metagame and ask questions that might otherwise disturb the natural flow of the session. On the other hand, nothing says that a session 0 cannot or should not be the actual kick-off of your campaign or two-shot. You might well feel more comfortable with a pre-written set of intrigues. What matters above all is transparency between Dungeon Master (DM) and players. Talk to your party about what they expect of a first game – this includes addressing triggers and consent – and being honest with them about the kind of adventure you’re looking to run.
Set the mood
Determining the type of game you’re hosting includes setting the appropriate tone and mood. Whether you tend to rely entirely on theatre of the mind, or have a proclivity for fully-fledged battle maps, D&D is always about immersion. Even diehard metagamers rely on a constant commitment to breaking character. To that effect, there are ways in which a game can be made to feel like quasi-VR madness, where everyone is an actor in the universe woven collectively by DM and players.
Adopt the mindset of becoming your Non-Player Characters (NPCs)
Adjust your tone of voice to fit the mood of narrative descriptions
Consider register and mood; for example, formal RP English for a Victorian Era setting
Consider word choice and mood; “deep dark pit” is serious, and “big-ass hole” is comedic
Make use of silences and pauses to heighten suspense and punctuate important information
Rely on fast-paced narrative for (pre-)combat, urgency traps, and timed missions
Practice accents, timbre, pitch, tone, pace, and linguistic quirks
Study sound effects and try to incorporate them into your narrative
For the hearing and seeing community, audio-visual stimuli can be a crucial step to achieving immersion
Platforms such as Watch2Gether, or bots like Groovy on Discord, facilitate autoplay and looping
Free battle maps, ideal for combat, can be made on Inkarnate, as well as other platforms
Online whiteboards like AWW Board provide a backdrop for your session for maps, NPCs, and minis
The mood has been set and the main event is certain: forming a party of people who trust each other enough to venture out on deadly quests together. Though the topic is simple enough, allowing for players to become a cohesive unit organically without engaging in illusionism or railroading is a big question mark DMs often grapple with.
With only two or three players at your table or on your screen, the possibilities of planning a narrative-only session 0 that allows for players to find each other naturally are endless. The story can jump from player to player until they find each other, or follow a linear timeline. The goal will almost always be to end up in the same location with a mission that is, to some degree, shared. Having some plot elements that tie characters together beforehand is helpful, and will have them wanting to work together, either out of empathy, sympathy, or necessity. Although this might give the narrative a “chosen ones” feel, injecting this into the larger picture early on means less railroading overall.
Flashbacks not railroads
Due to the tedious nature of meeting sans Deus Ex Machina and how time consuming it can be, Dungeon Masters who have more than a couple of players might lean towards preparing a session 0 that relies heavily on railroading the players into meeting up at a tavern, palace, shop, or battlefield. Upon arrival, five or more strangers are suddenly thrust into the same situation and must all find time to quickly develop a connection.
Though railroading players in a session 0 is, in my opinion, entirely acceptable and sometimes even necessary for sheer practicality, there are ways of avoiding this. Instead of having players travel to the same location in real time, give them a chance to delve into their past. They could all start off in the same location, together in a room for example, and are in each other’s company already for reasons that will soon be revealed. Cue a series of flashbacks that allow them to snoop on each other, so to speak, and catch a glimpse of what other characters are like without engaging in unreasonably deep and meaningful conversations on day one.
A flashback is also a useful tool for DMs as it provides them with a steerable narrative that is limited; as we are in the past, not much can be changed about where the players find themselves now and what their quest is. However, players can impact the “how”, and some choices or rolls might affect the future, i.e., the present. In tandem with this impact, players are able to develop their characters and roleplay what kind of backstory they intend to embody.
Of course, a more light-hearted approach that handles relationships with humour could erase the need to care about meeting organically, or about bonding as companions altogether. The vibe of your game might just be listen here you piece of shit gnome, I don’t give a hoot about your problems, but you’re coming with me, and that’s hilariously okay too.
The Tavern Trope
First encounters inevitably beg the question of where the party will meet. If you’re a seasoned Dungeon Master, you’ll probably want to show your players something unique, and discount the idea of a medieval tavern entirely. That said, if you’re dealing with a bunch of first-timers, The Tavern™ often fulfils novice player TTRPG expectations, and denying them this so-called rite of passage could be a disservice to their entry into D&D.
The answer to this conundrum is simple enough – ask your players about the fantasy worlds or locations they are interested in. Of course, DMs should take their own preferences into account too – never put forward a proposal that doesn’t speak to you, and always be honest with your table, lest you be unexpectedly stuck for five years in a K-Pop-themed campaign set in outer space. Come to think of it, that sounds kind of interesting…
Nat 20s, Nat 1s, and Flukes
For DMs that prefer to be overprepared like myself, it’s often hard to come to terms with the improvisational nature of D&D, and the very real possibility of having to deal with many unforeseeable events determined by dice rolls alone, or unanticipated Player Character (PC) choices.
Strokes of luck
Beyond making sure you aren’t too set in the story you have in mind, there are techniques you can use to deal with the unplanned, or the improbable. For example, a PC might roll a Nat 20 Intelligence Check on a piece of lore you were hoping would remain a mystery for half of the campaign. This is a stroke of good luck that has the potential to warp any DM’s plans, and yet the best way to avoid feeling defeated is by 1) understanding from the get-go that anything you prepare can be subject to a Nat 20 or a Nat 1, 2) recognising that this is a moment of utter satisfaction for the player and reward them with the answer. After all, there will be other obscure mysteries to come.
Other times, Nat 20s and Nat 1s have less to do with taking the DM by surprise, and more to do with managing a situation that seems improbable, or virtually impossible. Dungeon Masters and D&D players Brennan Lee Mulligan and Lou Wilson discuss such tactics in detail in Dimension 20’s Adventuring Academy episode Creating Rounded Characters. Other than the by now well-known “yes and” rule of improv that seems to fix any situation, unlikely events can be narrated in ways that make them seem more probable. Here are some examples from my own campaigns and one-shots (hosted and played):
Half-elf Cleric rolls a Nat 20 on dragging an unconscious polymorphed Firbolg Monk (bear) out of a pit
Kenku Rogue rolls a Nat 1 Dex Check on tinkering with a lock in a Silverymoon library
Warforged Druid with proficiency in Perception rolls a Nat 1 Perception Check on seeing a house, twice
Halfling Wizard rolls a Nat 20 Strength Check on pulling a 6ft Warforged Druid out of a village well
Fire Goliath Barbarian rolls a Nat 20 on an Acrobatics Check to jump over a dozen fragile tavern stools
Fire Goliath Barbarian rolls a Nat 1 on a melee attack roll, inside a closed tavern against one enemy
All of these situations seem unlikely, and can be difficult to justify on the spot; however, adapting your perspective to favour each PC’s individual qualities and flaws can help. The Half-elf Cleric was suddenly inspired by God, the Kenku Rogue hasn’t slept for 2 days, the Warforged Druid is lost deep in thought, the Halfling Wizard cleverly repositions her companion so that they may use their own Strength to get out of the well, and the Fire Goliath Barbarian is so strong that his momentum pushes him forward, somersaulting over all the old furniture, unfortunately causing him to mistime the swing of his axe.
Fluke rolls can also be tackled with balanced encounters. Preparing beforehand that X amount of enemies at level Y will storm a tavern if the BBEG drops below 50% HP before a specified time can often solve PCs being accidentally overpowered (OP). Balancing also makes combat fairer and more interesting.
Though some might interpret this type of balancing as a form of railroading, relying on logic is enough to support this method; how many times has a superhero or supervillain prepped some backup in the event that they should meet their demise? You know, the whole “If I’m not back in 10 minutes, send in the tanks.” You get the gist.
Despite all of these pointers, the 2020+ covid-19 pandemic has led to a decrease in IRL gameplay, and a huge shift towards remote Dungeons and Dragons. As Ari would say, when all is said and done, virtual D&D sessions could end up being your biggest challenge yet; your internet might let you down, and awkward silences can stack like Jenga blocks.
Tech mishaps and solutions
Computers crash; prepare to temporarily join Discord (or the platform you use) via phone if possible
For cuts in PC audio, the DM can switch to narrative describing scenery, or move on to other players
Any general technical difficulties with a short waiting time can be solved with a water or food break
If a single player’s internet connection drops for a long time, narrate the character’s sudden departure
Discord flops happen; try a temporary switch to Skype, Zoom or Google Meets
Digital dice page won’t load? Siri rolls polyhedral dice too! Or ask a fellow player to determine your fate
Frozen or broken battle maps might be your cue to go off-script and engage in theatre of the mind combat
Silences, they’re unavoidable. Call for a break, load some cricket noises, further describe the scene
Mistimed music can be humorous; AC/DC combat music on at a romantic date? Narrate the stage bard’s strange take on what a candlelit dinner ambience means. Her manager will be having a word with her…
Rule #1 – Have fun
Although the DM is in charge of gameplay prep and keeping an overview of the direction of each session – especially the first session – the point of TTRPG is ultimately to have fun. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many Nat 1s you roll or how far you stray from the intended path. All that matters is that you’re having a great time at the table, be it a material, or virtual one.
Michael Habiger, who lives in Vienna, is a part-time web developer and university project assistant – but his spare time is spent on enriching the world of Dungeons and Dragons by creating the tiniest, fluffiest oddball creatures. His instagram, @the_fluffy_folio, began on July 31st of this year, with digital art focused mostly on creating races and classes for D&D. On September 7th however, interest shifted primarily from people to curious critters, with the publication of his first ever creature; the Twiddletoad.
Basic Snitch and The Fluffy Folio sat down for a remote chat about all things D&D art!
How did you first get into illustrating?
There was always some kind of affinity to drawing and painting in my life. When my family got its first computer – 8 MB RAM and it was a powerhouse, so you can imagine how long ago that was – I immediately declared the drawing program to be my absolute favourite. Graphic tablets weren’t available back then, and I had just learned how to use a mouse. I don’t remember when I got my first tablet, maybe 10 years ago? I remember that I loved it! At that point, I was also starting to get more serious about painting and reading corresponding literature. I watched tutorials, or studied other paintings in much more detail than I had ever before. I didn’t go to art school, so painting still remained more of a much-loved hobby. Of course, I also took breaks, sometimes very long ones, but I never completely dropped the pen.
What pushes you to never drop the pen?
I’ve experienced three considerable motivational pushes to keep painting these last few years. I began illustrating a card game, which I’ve been working on for three years. I also started playing Dungeons & Dragons, and would draw my party’s characters. Around this time, I received my first commissions after posting my work on social media. This exposure, sharing and discussing art as well as engaging with the community, is a great joy for me and it really keeps me going. Although painting isn’t my full-time job, I hope it someday will be. It would be the dream!
How has your style as an artist developed over the years, and what’s something you’ve learned by sticking with it?
That’s a tough one. I think it’s hard to notice how your own style develops in the making. It’s mostly an unconscious process. What happens, though, is that I notice bad habits from time to time – or notice that I’m losing track [of what I want to be creating]. That’s when I engage in research, and study other art to tweak my skills actively. What I really want to maintain is working with different levels of detail within one painting. It’s a process in which the painting is able to suggest several points of focus to the observer. [On the topic of] sticking with it – if something doesn’t work, don’t give up, try again.
What sort of programs or tools do you rely on, and what could you recommend to other (D&D) artists?
I use the classic Photoshop and a graphic tablet combo – it’s what I’m used to. But I can advise that you don’t always need the fanciest tablet out there. I have two; a sophisticated one full of buttons and features, and one very basic, small tablet. And well, I haven’t touched the sophisticated tablet in months. The portability of the smaller one is very useful, and I don’t usually take up that much space on the drawing area. But, it all comes down to personal preference.
I love taking a closer look at tiny details, like moss, bark, or roots. I try to think of them as tiny worlds and imagine what creatures might live in there.
What or who do you draw the most inspiration from? Pun intended!
My wife! She patiently listens to all my ideas, and I tend to have a lot of them. She helps me reflect on them, and I can’t thank her enough. Another inspiration is nature – I love taking a closer look at tiny details, like moss, bark, or roots. I try to think of them as tiny worlds and imagine what creatures might live in there. Mostly, though, I’m inspired by my 6-month-old son. Never in my life have I painted more productively, both in regards to time management and content. I started with smaller works – naturally time is a bit scarce now! I tried to paint as much as I could during his naps. Funnily, lack of time somehow did the trick for me.
When did you get into Dungeons and Dragons? Do you have a favourite D&D show?
Sometime in 2017, though I already owned the books in my youth. These were mainly books concerning creatures; I really loved the illustrations and backstories, and I remember spending hours reading through them over and over again! The stats didn’t interest me that much yet. Now that I play, I have a preference for the roleplaying aspects of D&D and I like the simplicity of 5e. Of course, I also love all the awesome homebrew stuff available to players. It makes it vivid and diverse – I like that. And my favourite show would be Acquisitions Incorporated – love everything about it, from the cheesy website to their PAX shows – always good for a laugh 🙂
Is there a class or type of folk that you tend towards playing?
Hmm, not really. I like playing a cleric, but all classes and folks have their own charm. For me, it’s more about the character and how they interact with the world. And well – I have a whole cohort of characters lined up, each one waiting for their turn. Once I start playing one, I tend to make a plan about how to get the next one into the game, [be it their departure, or death, for example]. Poor characters, now I feel bad! Fortunately for them, I’m more of a Dungeon Master anyway.
What is your favourite thing about D&D?
It has no boundaries, it’s social, and it’s fun! As a DM, I love listening to all my players coming up with plans. I like how they role-play their characters and shape the world they are in through them. For me, it’s a great pleasure be immersed in another universe, and not have to think about the real world for a few hours. Combine that with meeting friends, and it’s the perfect evening 🙂
Where did the idea of drawing fuzzy, strange creatures for D&D come from? Do you feel that this is something that’s missing in D&D?
The Twiddletoad was the first of my critters, and the idea was relatively spontaneous. Late one night, I felt the urge to finish this digital painting. The idea to actually make stats for the Twiddletoad then came about a few days later, when I thought about implementing this fella as a fun little encounter for my adventurers. Since then, I’ve really enjoyed both aspects; the painting process and the stat creation. Somehow, I felt a push to populate the world of D&D with a mass of tiny creatures 😀 I always had the idea of a scholar in my mind, on a search for unique and rare critters, documenting and describing them. I liked the concept, so decided to stick with it!
Do you play any other RPG games, or are you looking to get in to any?
Not at the moment, but I’m a big fan of RPGs, and have played them my whole life, mainly digitally. From Nintendo to PC, this genre has definitely remained my favourite. I’ve always wanted to try Call of Cthulhu, pen and paper – I love the lore!
If you had to explain D&D to a newcomer, how would you go about it?
D&D is a game about great, [collaborative storytelling]. Nobody wins and nobody loses. Even if you fail on a roll, consider it an opportunity to create an epic scene. If The Lord of The Rings were a D&D session, even the Fellowship came out [on top] with bad rolls!
Do you have any favourite artists you’d like to shout out? Who should we be keeping up with?
There are so, so many talented artists out there, that it is really hard to pin down. Overall, I enjoy the many shared influences, the exchanging, and the mutual support! Lately, I learned the word Amigurumi, thanks to @konsumlumpen on Instagram, and I really love the tiny creatures he’s creating! So, [style-wise], I always keep an open mind.
Who or what has supported and helped you most along the way?
Everyone and everything. I take each experience, and use it to drive me to keep working on my paintings – be it positive or negative experiences. It’s all valuable and helpful somehow. Concretely, I want to thank my family and friends for their support, and of course my supporters on social media for their awesome feedback!
What’s hardest about being part of the art or D&D community, and where do you think we can do better?
At the minute, it’s difficult for me to advise on where to improve. Luckily, I haven’t had any truly negative experiences in either community.
What’s your final message to all the D&D nerds out there?
Keep on homebrewing, and keep playing D&D!
You can find Michi @the_fluffy_folio on Instagram, and u/michifromkmk on Reddit. If you like his work and would like to support him, give him a like, comment, or follow on either account! Though he doesn’t currently run a Ko-fi or Patreon, plans are being made for the future. In the meantime, he’s keeping busy taking care of his 6-month old son, hanging out with his ever-supportive and awesome wife, and populating the world of Dungeons and Dragons with the most unforgettable, tiny, fluffy critters!
After releasing the fourth episode of its sixth Side Quest entitled Pirates of Leviathan, Dimension 20 has made clear that playing Dungeons and Dragons remotely is not the confused and disorganised mess some tabletop fans had perhaps feared it would be.
With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, many in-person tabletop roleplaying enthusiasts, professionals, and hobbyist home gamers found themselves obliged to go on an initial hiatus before implementing social distancing measures. Others decided to play remotely for the first time ever.
When the trailer for Dimension 20’s remote D&D series Pirates of Leviathan was released, many ttrpg community members expressed their worry about whether the virtually played game would be able to run as smoothly as it usually does on set. The overarching concern seemed to be that such a series wouldn’t live up to an in-person, professionally produced actual play Dungeons and Dragons game.
The Geekiary had first admitted they were “a little leery of how our new Side Quest cast was going to handle the virtual game table”. In fact, some Dimension 20 fans revealed that not only had the pirate setting not (initially) appealed to them, but the lack of production, sets, and miniatures would make the series unwatchable.
Strong opinions and disheartened regular viewers expressed their doubts on Dimension 20’s SubReddit; “I think this is the first season D20 has done that I will skip entirely.”
But the apprehension some Dimension 20 fans had expressed towards a remote game, and the fear that disorganisation, cuts in internet connection, and lack of engagement would prevail, has been overthrown entirely. Instead, viewers have been met with a vivacious, incredibly professional, and extremely engaged cast who are committed to showing that virtual D&D is not only watchable, but also very entertaining.
Why is Pirates of Leviathan a D&Digital success?
Of course, that is not to say that all remote play is watchable and deserving of being a D&D series, with many people experiencing or having initially experienced technical issues or lack of enthusiasm from players and DM alike. That said, in-person games can also fail to meet the criteria for becoming a professional D&D series. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to watch a remote D&D game, or whether to watch a game at all, here are some great examples of why Pirates of Leviathan might subvert any negative expectations you might have of virtually payed Dungeons and Dragons.
Theatre of the mind is not synonymous with visually uninspiring
What many viewers enjoy when watching an in-person tabletop roleplaying game are the interactions and banter between the cast. Players react to each other’s physical cues and emotions, either reciprocating or not. Not only does this interaction strengthen in-game bonding, but in the case of Dimension 20, it can be wildly comedic. Alongside these visuals are the incredible sets and miniatures often used for the purpose of combat; however, arranging for this remotely can be challenging when also filming a show, and all combat so far in Pirates of Leviathan has relied heavily on theatre of the mind. No sets, no minis.
That said, the cast has made an incredible effort – seamlessly, might I add – to be visually inspiring to its viewers. Filming several episodes in one day has awarded some continuity to the character’s outfits, which includes Myrtle the Bitch’s stunning makeup and Barbarella ‘Bob’ Sasparilla Gainglynn’s breathtaking dress.
The cast’s commitment to being present audio-visually is unequivocally there, and is mirrored by body language; have a look at how Aabria Iyengar has Myrtle’s death stares pierce through others even as she remains silent, how Matt Mercer has Jack Brakkow tilt his head and hunch his back to make apparent his self-perceived inferiority, or how Krystina Arielle expresses emotion through Bob, by laughing, pouting, crying, and singing. Carlos Luna’s Cheese has eyes that sparkle when he speaks, and a voice that quivers at the sight of danger. Marisha Ray’s Sunny Biscotto flaps about her aarakocra wings in panic and excitement, and shows reverence to her goddess by way of voice acting. Marcid the Typhoon’s threats will send a lawful neutral kind of shiver down your spine, contrasting with his deeply just and almost selfless acts.
It’s also worth saying that maps are not entirely absent from the show, and that Dungeon Master Brennan Lee Mulligan does an incredible job at describing scenery and sets so that the usual distances and ranges of D&D combat don’t matter as much to gameplay. But do expect a roleplay heavy series.
Top notch production
Some of the initial concern in regards to this series revolved around a potential lack of production, or conversely, an ‘overly produced’ feel. Luckily, Dropout’s crew has really hit the nail on the head in terms of performing delicate editorial work, and we have David Kerns (Producer), Orion Black (Creative/Sensitivity Consultant), Tyler Schuelke (Editor), and Victor Rosas II (Illustrator) to thank for a huge part of the end product. Ultimately, the crew are in large part responsible for setting the much loved editorial tone of D20.
Other than all the unseen work that goes into Dimension 20, Pirates of Leviathan includes the show’s usual sound effects; always appreciated in on-set games, and now a crucial part of production to add to the immersive experience of watching a remote game. All of Dimension 20’s character art and stats also appear on screen. As an added bonus, initiative rolls figure below the players as extra visual aid, facilitating theatre of the mind combat scenes.
The cast has also mentioned the use of a Skype chat private to them which made it easier to produce and come up with certain ideas and tonal suggestions on the fly without disrupting gameplay. The availability of such a chat naturally also made it easier for players to interact with each other regardless of their ability to communicate ideas in person.
A unique audio-visual D&D experience
Overall, the editing of the series is something to commend, as it manages to capture the tone of each cut scene and tidbit of emotion; dramatic pauses cue and follow intense back and forths, and music will at times cut out briefly as a comedic highlight. Krystina Arielle’s Bob regularly goes into song, which perfectly befits her singer-songwriter status as the Goddess of the Gold Gardens of Leviathan, and Brennan Lee Mulligan also graced the audience with a brief DM sea shanty, a rare sight to behold in D&D shows, but much appreciated (a nod to Dashilla’s song in Critical Role). Fingers crossed this turns into a musical by the end of the show with Marcid in the lead.
***SPOILER ALERT EPISODE 1 and 4***:
Roleplay heavy with bold choices and high stakes contains one spoiler in regards to Marcid in Episode 1.
All right, I’m in. But what about the famed Rick Perry minis and sets? contains one spoiler for a non-player character in Episode 4 of Pirates of Leviathan.
Roleplay heavy with bold choices and high stakes
To make up for the lack of in-person interactions, and simply because, Player Characters in Pirates of Leviathan are making some very bold choices, (*spoiler alert*), such as when Marcid picks up future ally Cheese to literally use his child body as a shield. If that is not the raddest and baddest thing you have ever seen within a ttrpg party, then I don’t know what is. Though at times very humorous and lighthearted, the series grants the D20 community with the tone of rivalry and tension that Escape From The Bloodkeep never gave to TPK fantasy-hungry viewers.
Roleplay is also heavy in Pirates of Leviathan, with many instances of characters being expressedly overjoyed, anxious, nostalgic, sad, and even drunk!
All right, I’m in. But what about the famed Rick Perry sets and minis?
It’s true, let the record show that Rick Perry’s mind has not equipped this series with his cool miniatures and out-of-this-world sets. It’s no doubt that any D&D series would be vastly improved with the insight and creativity of Dimension 20’s Art Director, a sentiment very much expressed on Dropout’s Discord; however, a remote show might not have done justice to this kind of gameplay. (*spoiler alert*) Of course, we all hope that our plea for a mini of a T-Rex in a tricorn hat will someday be heard. Rick Perry, we’re counting on you. Until then, sit back and enjoy.
Episode 5 of Pirates of Leviathan airs this Wednesday at 7PM EST, 4PM PST, 1AM CET.
Quarrels, combat, battles, and even wars, are often a necessary part of tabletop roleplaying games, and most players wouldn’t have it any other way! But there might be times when there is too much at stake to risk a fight, or you realise mid-combat that your opponents are completely out of your league. If you’re up two against one level 300 aboleth, you should probably bounce. But, if you find yourself in a more manageable situation, then here are some tips and tricks on what to do before engaging.
1. If possible, talk it out reasonably
It might seem obvious, but players tend to forget all about the option to persuade or dissuade when they feel threatened. Ignore the heat and panic, and take a moment to reflect on whether the opponent might be someone an adventurer could bargain with. If the enemy understands you and has yet to attack, some DMs often leave room for a skill check to even out the odds. Particularly designed for Charisma-based classes, such as the Bard, Sorcerer, and Warlock, this alternative befits the Cleric and Paladin too. At level 5, a Bard with 20 Charisma, and expertise in Persuasion, has +11 to their roll; a high chance of weaselling themselves out of a situation. Add in some extra convincing role-play, and you might be rolling with advantage! Here is a list of persuasive phrases for a few verge-of-combat scenarios:
Win them over by appealing to nationalism
– I can’t help but notice the embroidery on your cape, a fellow Athkatlan. What do you say we put our differences aside for the night? Too much blood has been shed on our soil already.
By invoking race
– From one tiefling to another, I feel how irrevocably misunderstood we have come to be. But we can change this misconception, we can show them we are different, that we can be reasoned with.
By relying on gender
– Long has it been since I have crossed paths with a woman fending for herself in the wild. It is admirable indeed, and no easy walk of life, I should know. Perhaps you would make an exception for a travelling sister in need.
By drawing on shared experiences
– My good man, if you are indeed also a soldier as your comrade claims, then you know well that too many battles have been fought in vain. Many of our men met their end too soon, and we need not fall with them.
By calling on religion
– Let us honour our faith in the Moonmaiden, be it Selûne, or Sehanine as you know her by. She who opposes Darkness and champions Good beseeches us to spread her wisdom, not to fight amongst ourselves.
By bringing up values and family
– I cannot help but notice the great resemblance between you and young Merrowynn here. I, too, am a father, and I should wish to one day see my family again, just as you should wish to keep fighting alongside yours.
Invoking pity, for example by relying heavily on emotions
– Prithee sire, I am but a lowly wanderer, an adventurer with no great ambitions and no money to her name. I have nothing of worth to offer you, and I implore you to spare me. Life is the only boon that was given to me.
Invoking knowledge, and mentioning undeniable facts
– A fight in broad daylight is a suicide mission. Needless to say, you will alert the Dynasty’s national guard, and in times of war, marauding and assassinating without good cause is punishable by death. Your loot will do you no good dead. We can waste away our coin, or we can settle this peacefully.
Calling on logic, and suggesting a mutually beneficial option
– Our party is home to an incredible guide who knows the elemental plane like the back of their hand, and an extremely adept healer. We could be of aid; our Genasi Ranger tells me you are not native to these regions.
The doomsday argument
– Listen, we all know that beyond the Great Forest lies the Empire, an Empire favoured by none. Fight as we may, if we do not join forces to take down the entity that oppresses us, there shall be no tomorrow for us to see. There shall be no freedom to relish. I beseech you all to consider a truce.
2. Flattery will get you far
Your first thought might be that flattery is limited to flirting and seduction, and typically restricted to Bards. Throw that out of the window! If you think outside of the box, then this combat-stopper is a well-rounded option, regardless of class, gender, and sex. Try these before resorting to a fist fight:
Proficient in History? Bring attention to fame or noteworthiness
– Lady Darkblade, First of Her Name, Mistress of the Forgotten Forest, Empress of the Highlands; your name carries across continents. Even my lowborn ears have heard of your unmatched accomplishments.
The classic and timeless “rumour has it”
– Rumour has it that this one over here knocked out two Giants in one punch. I doubt he wants to see time wasted on a group of wandering Snow Elves and Firbolgs. There are greater foes beyond these lands.
Flattery of the mind, especially good for wizards
– Such a powerful, and all-knowing Master of the Arts such as yourself would probably see it ill-fit to engage in combat with a party devoid of any academic and experiential training. Though, perhaps we will be in luck if the lack of challenge bores you to death.
Alright sure, seduction works too
– Sir Quixington, may I have a word, perhaps in private? May I call you Maxwell? How kind of you, Max. To be perfectly frank, duelling with such a handsome and strong man such as yourself would be wasting the more sensorial experience I had imagined upon first seeing you. I have been travelling these lands and never have I seen such an attractive… priest.
Well, trying it with an evil priest is a bit far-fetched, but it sure is a roll with disadvantage that I’d like to see! At least you can say you tried.
3. Call on your background or rank
The least appreciated and called upon advantage is probably the one given to players by their background. This alternative is so personal to PC backstories that examples of dialogue might not be fit to illustrate the point. Have a look at your background Feature; if you’re a traveller, your party may be able to pass through favoured terrain undetected by natural means, or if you’re a Navy SEAL (it’s a thing), maybe you can invoke your rank as Commander Lieutenant of the FrostGuard Garrison. Those with military ranks can usually command the respect of their subordinates, and this might extend itself to avoiding a kerfuffle.
4. Trade, or lend your services
This method of doing your opponent a favour as a means of escape is the one least used by my own party. Approaching level 8, we have sadly only just come to the realisation that perhaps we should be doing odd jobs for gold. Travelling rivals might give you a break upon offering to take care of something that has been a huge pain in their side for a while. For example:
– Instead of killing us all for the platinum shield, rather time-consuming and messy if you ask me, and not a guaranteed win to be honest, we’ll trade it to you for your emerald dagger.
There is strength in numbers
– Well if you’re planning on storming the Castle of Silverymoon, you’ll need more than just four men. How about this, we’ll help you retrieve your stolen artefact, and you’ll let us go our merry way. What say you?
A fresh pair of eyes and ears on unfamiliar territory
– Our party is new to the city, and our business is our own, but we have time to spare at nightfall. Give us no trouble and we’ll see to being your eyes and ears for the fortnight.
Call on your particular skillset
– There need be no haste in this matter; we may be able to strike a deal. I have a highly trained Dwarf Artificer who makes bombs the size of a horse, and a Gnome Wizard-Assassin that can kill your greatest enemy whilst disguised as a Walrus. Solid plan? All in favour, say aye.
5. Offer up a zone of truth
A quick reminder that all your Persuasion checks might be to no avail at all if your opponents disbelieve your party and your worth alive. When in doubt, or when certain of failure, a party Bard, Cleric, or Paladin could offer up a zone of truth as proof of sincerity – immediately, or in a mere matter of hours.
6. Homebrew your bargaining chip: aka lies, lies, lies.
A funner alternative to persuasion when faced with adversity is of course going full chaotic liar. If you’re a Lawful Good Paladin playing on the safe and honest side, then this one might not be for you, but it can undoubtably lead to some hilarious acting. Do be wary, however, of how off the cuff deception checks might lead to absurdity, in which case your DM could have you roll with disadvantage, or severely (and justifiably) increase the DC. Nevertheless, here are some fun ways in which a D&D party can lie :
– I’m awfully sorry I can’t be of help, my liege, I haven’t seen any Dark Elves around here. As you can see, I am a proud Wood Elf myself and great worshipper of the city’s main patron, our Lord and Saviour, Holy Father, Totally My God Lathander.
Feign ignoranceand redirect
– Hmmm, a treasure chest, a treasure chest. I think I saw a couple of feral Dwarven swordsmen with eyepatches and pink beards dragging a big old chest in this opposite direction here. In fact, now that I think, I do remember, there was the Emperor’s seal on it, and I did find it rather odd. But my wife Biglie always tells me to mind my own business, and so I do.
– Oh my good friend, my dearest ally, my sweet long lost companion! I have not seen you in decades gone by. Oh how you have changed, and I too it seems, so much so that you have mistaken me for an intruder! Oh, how I long to embrace you once again, lay down your weapons, and let us share a drink in honour of finding each other once more!
– I am, in fact, the sovereign ruler of the Mountain of High Tides, and it is actually you who is tress-passing. Another step, and my hoard of angry but very fair Goliaths will seize you and take you to my Torture Chambers of Treason. The choice is yours.
– Ah, I believe we are caught up in a great misunderstanding. We are not here to abduct the Pope, we are actually conducting an inspection of the grounds of this monastery by order of the King. Official business, all monasteries must be inspected and be up to code.
7. Cause a distraction
Within the subcategory of deception you’ll find distractions, ranging anywhere from a “Look, over there!”, to a carefully laid out plan comprised of illusions and trickery. Much like player backgrounds, distractions are often specific to context. Look around and assess your environment; is there anything that can be knocked over so as to create a sound? Are there any animals that could cause a raucous? Are the fabrics available to you flammable? Would it be safe for you to make a drunken scene? With so many options, PCs are truly spoiled for choice, and any good-spirited DM will entertain a fun diversion or two per session!
8. Consider situationally nifty spells
So often do players rely on spells in-combat that we tend to forget situationally useful cantrips or ritual spells that could end up saving the day. There are some very powerful high level spells that have great out-of-combat uses as well. Here is a Situationally Useful Spell List (not all inclusive) that might get you out of having to lose hit points:
Paralyse your enemy: Hold Person, Stunning Strike.
Escape: Arcane Gate, Astral Projection, Demiplane, Dimension Door, Expeditious Retreat, Far Step, Gate, Knock, Misty Step, Plane Shift, Teleportation Circle, Thunder Step, Transport via Plants, Tree Stride, Word of Recall.
Escape through or over difficult terrain: Control Water, Enlarge/Reduce, Feather Fall, Fly, Freedom of Movement, Gaseous Form, Mold Earth, Move Earth, Polymorph, Shape Water, Spider Climb, Stone Shape, Water Walk, Wind Walk.
Incapacitate or inconvenience your enemy: Antimagic Field, Counterspell, Entangle, Magic Circle, Silence, Sleep.
Dissuade from combat: Animal Friendship, Calm Emotions, Cause Fear, Charm Monster, Charm Person, Command, Compulsion, Dominate Monster, Dominate Person, Fast Friends, Fear, Mass Suggestion, Modify Memory, Suggestion.
Hide and protect: Blink, Etherealness, Greater Invisibility, Invisibility, Leomund’s Tiny Hut, Magic Circle, Meld Into Stone, Mislead, Nondetection, Pass Without Trace, Rope Trick, Seeming.
Remove the enemy: Banishment, Banishing Smite, Polymorph.
Avoid or intercept the enemy: Aid, Alarm, Commune, Detect Evil and Good, Detect Thoughts, Divination, Find The Path, Find Traps, Scrying, See Invisibility, True Seeing.
9. Drop reason, rely on intimidation
So you’ve tried playing nice, and it looks like your opponent doesn’t have an announce of sympathy in their body. Persuasion checks can be tough if you’re up against the big bad, or anyone who lies somewhere on the truly evil alignment spectrum. Puff up your chest, it’s time to intimidate:
Out of your league
– Listen up you puny little knave, we are a party of five ferocious fighters who have seen war and death beyond what you could ever conceive of. I can assure you that if you pick a fight with us, you won’t live to regret it.
A friend of mine
– I can see how you would think that we don’t pose a threat to you, that we are easily provoked. It’s funny, really, how appearances can deceive. Curious, really. I wouldn’t like for you to meet the tip of the poisoned blades that my invisible allies, scattered around this city in the shadows and always watching, have pointed on you as we speak. Think twice next time.
Get out the gore
– Out of my way, I said, or I will rip your entire existence to shred, starting with your heart, which I will gladly and without hesitation force feed to the last man standing on your team.
Display of brute force
– As you can see, Morlasch, standing behind me here, is rending asunder an entire wall made of pure lava. He is immune to fire, and mercy. Imagine what he could do to a tiny face. Fascinating.
10. Run… Hide… Or just fight!
When push comes to shove, you might’n’t have a choice. When desired, engaging in combat is one of the best and most satisfying bits of partaking in any tabletop roleplaying game. After all, you spent good time preparing your moves and/or spells, and your diligent Dungeon Master has no doubt spent even more time preparing a world with intense encounters and riveting combat. So good luck adventurers! May you always face Vampires with a silver tongue, and if they refuse to concede, well, switch to the silver arrow instead.