When questioned, the average person’s knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons (also known as D&D) probably doesn’t stray too far from the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and Stranger Things. But in the age of blockbuster comic book movies and indie video games becoming mainstream, it was only a matter of time before Dungeons and Dragons finally had its time in the spotlight, and Improv D&D does just that. Fusing improv comedy along the lines of Whose Line Is It Anyway? with the classic tropes of the fantasy genre, and just a few rolls of the dice, Improv D&D creates an engaging and hilarious experience for the noob and battle-worn audience members alike.
Having returned for its fourth year at Fringe with many a sold-out show, it was clear that Improv D&D was a crowd favourite. As a long time Dungeons and Dragons player myself, it felt electrifying to be in a room filled to the brim with fellow nerds, all waiting for the magic to happen. Cheat sheets were available on many seats that provided a quick rundown of common jargon used by D&D players, making sure that no matter your knowledge level, you could still enjoy the night.
Scott McArdle was our Dungeon Master for the evening, narrating the various ridiculous and impossible situations our heroes found themselves in, and did so wonderfully. Our trio of protagonists were delightful to watch, each with their own unique traits that simultaneously played off of well-worn fantasy tropes. One by one they were introduced; Jan (Kate Willoughby), the middle-aged human knight who was experiencing an existential crisis, Gerald of River (Daniel Buckle), the wise old tortle druid and his psychedelic berries, and Gruntie (Sam Knox), the adorable and murderous Irish goblin bard who was fresh out of rehab. The rules weren’t exactly hard and fast regarding the dice roles, with Scott rolling the dice on behalf of the characters, allowing the actors to instead revel in the chaos while focusing on character choices and coming up with witty one-liners. The group was also supported by a band of NPC’s (non-player characters), played by Rhianna Hall, Dean Lovatt, and Stephen Platt, jumping in with various silly props to invoke the menagerie of characters they portrayed.
Initially, among the live music and veiled dice roles, I had my doubts about whether the show was actually improvised or just carefully scripted, though I was quickly proven wrong. Between the use of audience suggestions to fill in the blanks like a hilarious game of Mad Libs, and side-splitting lines that even managed to crack the serious façade of the dungeon master, it was clear that while there was a general goal for the start and the end of the show, how the actors got there was entirely spontaneous. Audience interaction was of course encouraged, and the room was constantly filled with bemoaning boo’s, raucous cheers and riotous laughter.
Although they were actors, Improv D&D felt like a warm evening spent with old friends you haven’t seen in years; exactly how a Dungeons and Dragons game should feel.