One of the newest D&D streaming shows on the block actually came from CollegeHumor as they presented Dimension 20: Fantasy High. It's basically what would happen if every teenager and college kid '80s film you've ever seen happened to take place in a world of magic and sexual tension–all while the students try to at least get their associates. All kidding aside, the show attempts to take the game in a direction few DM's would be willing to go, as you're taken out of the traditional fantasy setting and given something a lot more absurd. We got a chance to chat with the DM, Brennan Lee Mulligan, as well as two of the cast members, Emily Axford and Brian Murphy, about the show and what they hope people take away from it.
Brennan Lee Mulligan, Emily Axford, and Brian Murphy
BC: Hey everyone. Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Brennan: Hey! My name is Brennan Lee Mulligan. I write the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist, I teach and perform improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade, and I'm a cast member at CollegeHumor. I've been playing D&D and DMing since I was 10 years old, and I was also a LARP writer for many years with The Wayfinder Experience.
Emily: I'm a writer/performer/musician who appears in Adam Ruins Everything, Hot Date, Fantasy High, and Not Another D&D Podcast.
Brian: I write and perform on a show called Hot Date, I'm the Dungeon Master for Not Another D&D Podcast, a player on Dimension 20: Fantasy High, and I'm a reoccurring character on Adam Ruins Everything.
How did the idea for the series come about? Were there any influences from current D&D shows?
Brennan: Absolutely! We're in a renaissance as far as actual play shows are concerned right now, from NADDPOD to The Adventure Zone to Critical Role, there are so many awesome ways of consuming great gameplay, and we are very excited to offer up our show in this very cool resurgence of the world's greatest game!
What made you decide to go with this particular story, Brennan?
Brennan: It was a big discussion! We were trying to juggle a couple of things: how do you make a campaign that is 1) Funny, 2) Recognizable to fans of High Fantasy adventuring and 3) not so crazy that your characters aren't recognizable or relatable. Mashing up the High School tropes everyone knows and loves with High Fantasy felt like the best way to generate comedy, celebrate some of our favorite tabletop specifics, and have our characters feel familiar and genuine. It's exciting that we've gotten such an overwhelmingly positive response, and I feel like, if anything, the reaction will let us do some of our crazier, wilder ideas in future seasons of Dimension 20!
For the cast, how did you all go about choosing and creating your particular characters?
Emily: I had the idea that someone might be a tiefling (part demon) and not know until their horns grew in during puberty, thus revealing their parent's infidelity and tearing their family apart, and everything fell into place from there! I play the drums so I really wanted my bard to be a drummer, but alas, the bass guitar was better for the mini, so I just listened to a lot of Primus and switched gears.
Brian: I wanted to play a rogue who was a dork and just unabashedly trying to be a good guy instead of the cool, Han Solo-type. I saw the Inquisitor subclass in Xanathar's Guide to Everything and thought it was interesting. A detective seemed like a great direction for the rogue class, particularly in the Fantasy High setting. There are so many teen mystery shows with kid detectives. I like to think of Riz as goblin Veronica Mars.
What was it like creating the first episode and learning the ropes to making a D&D show?
Brennan: Wild and exciting! I've been DMing for 20 years, and the added elements of a camera crew, trying to accomplish goals in a certain timeframe and having an entire crew of people relying on you to deliver was a little daunting. But once we were in it, it was just a game of D&D with your close friends, and it was simply the most fun in the world to make.
Brian: I play in another D&D campaign with Emily, Siobhan, Zac, and Brennan, so it all felt pretty natural — but I do get intimidated from time to time! The rest of the cast has more improv experience than me, and they're all so funny, open, and honest. Luckily, D&D is so immersive, particularly Brennan's campaigns, so it's easy to shake being intimidated once you're in the game.
Having a few episodes under your belts, what's been the most challenging thing for each of you?
Brennan: Time management! In a real-world game of D&D, stopping points are organic, because you know you can always just come back next week. With Dimension 20, we've got to make a D&D game that also feels satisfying as a season of television, so it just adds another axis of consideration to everything else you're worried about as a DM.
Emily: Nothing really! We started a new campaign, and for the first time I am playing a class with NO HEALING capabilities and that has been my biggest struggle so far. My comrades fall and I can't do anything about it!
Brian: The hardest thing about performative D&D is that it's easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of the game and forget that you're doing a show. I'll just be staring at my character sheet or the map trying to plot out the most optimal move, then realize I haven't spoken or made a joke in 10 minutes.
Are you looking to make this a short campaign with a finite number of episodes, or do you want this to be an epic on-going event?
Brennan: Dimension 20 will be ongoing, but Fantasy High will conclude after 16 episodes! Best of both worlds!
For the cast, what's the one thing you'd like to get out of the show as a player (aside from seeing it succeed)?
Emily: Just to get to play more. Like, even socially. It's just the best way to hang out, personally and professionally.
Brian: Opportunities to play more! And lots of cool fan art of my little goblin dude.
Brennan, what do you want to accomplish with this story both as a DM and the host?
Brennan: Ultimately, I want to make a show that is both very funny and also a great story. There are sharp delineations in a lot of narrative structures that create, in my opinion, false dichotomies. The majority of episodic sitcoms avoid change and character growth, and a lot of comedy that's centered around RPGs has tended to make fun of the genre, rather than commit and find the comedy within the truth of the characters. And a lot of fantasy tends to avoid comedy, with grim, brooding characters that are unrealistic in their cynicism, and therefore harder to relate to, at least for me. My hope for this show is that we make is good comedy that's also very easy to get invested in and care about and that we have a lot of fun while crafting a compelling, collaborative story.
What do you hope people take away from the show when they check it out?
Brennan: A zillion laughs, some strong, genuine feelings, and a desire to start up games of their own!
Emily: I hope they all start their own campaigns with their friends.
Brian: I hope it introduces new people to the game. That's the highest compliment. D&D has been such a positive outlet for me and I really love seeing other people get into it. Killing kobolds is one of the great joys of my life and I'm glad other people are getting to experience it too!