Jingles & Dragons
- By gentleguide
- On Sat 15 dec 2018
Ok, here’s an upcoming event that’s a bit different from the usual theatre stuff covered on the Gentle Guide. While there is a story and the outline of a script here, anything can happen when local role-playing game podcasters Des Moines & Dragons presents Jingles & Dragons, live at the Basement Bar on December 21. What you can be sure of is a raucous crowd and audience participation in a wild adventure fit for the yuletide season… with a twist.
Live Performance Dragons
“Jingles & Dragons is our second foray into the ‘live performance’ space for Des Moines & Dragons,” says Paul Privitera, the leader of this merry band of performers. “Every live show has a theme, and since it is the holiday season, what better theme than a riff on the holiday classics: Santa, Rudolph, Elves, Abominable Snowman!?!”
It definitely will not be what you would typically expect from more traditional fare like The Nutcracker and such. “The show will feature 4-5 players role-playing as adventurers attempting to save Saint Klaus from his once-loyal Elves,” confides Privitera. “As the players go through this custom adventure made just for the show, I as the Dungeon Master will put obstacles in their way. These obstacles can be monsters to fight, puzzles to solve, or characters to negotiate or trick.”
“Someone new to our shows can expect to see 5-6 nerds dressed in costume sitting at a table; laughing, cracking wise, using ridiculous accents while they work together to tell a story using a very ‘rules lite’ version of Dungeons and Dragons. Performing DND for an audience, I personally believe ‘rules lite’ systems are a great choice. They allow all the fun and randomness that dice rolls provide while also not getting in the way of player expression.”
The live show grew out of the regular Des Moines & Dragons podcast, which has been going on for a while now. The idea of podcasting role-playing sessions has become a rather popular thing online, with shows like Critical Role and Adventure Hour finding not just a home, but significant audience followings. Players/performers are treated like stars at game conventions, and there is merchandise and such available for these groups just as there would be for a Hollywood movie or a Broadway show. While the Des Moines group isn’t quite that big yet, it’s new and fresh… and it’s growing. Privitera and his friends wanted to see how the concept would work here in Iowa.
“The podcast was something I always wanted to do, because I love listening to that kind of content. I love the serialized nature of DND shows so I wanted to make my own. I see these sorts of shows as a way people can engage with the genre while not requiring the upfront time sink that hosting a game or participating in a game can cost. Critical Role averages between 5-7K viewers live, and on YouTube some episodes have over 700K views!”
Obviously, this isn’t just a “let’s put on a show” type of thing. To do it right, storylines for these live events (like the podcast itself) have to be planned out, even though the choices of the characters are made on the spot. Privitera has to be ready for literally anything that could happen....
“From my perspective as a DM there is quite a bit of change that goes into these ‘One Night’ event shows [compared to the podcast]. I use the show’s theme to help me find 3 story beats to hit (intro, rising action, and climax) and then within each story beat 2-3 things that could happen. This give the game structure (so the audience has something to latch onto), but also gives the players some freedom to explore and play their characters. Getting a DND game in under 2 hours is tough but very doable, you have to focus on only what is essential to a ‘DND experience’ (fighting monsters, using charisma or subterfuge to deceive, or solving puzzles).”
Oh, but there are a few extras to the live theatrical experience. There are sound effects and other atmospheric components, provided by the “sound bard” Chris Williams. But one of the key items is the audience itself. They actually take on the part of “the winds of fate”, for example, and at certain points during the show Privitera turns to them for direction and inspiration… and his players have to live with the result.
The first live event held by the group was the Halloween-themed “Tixis Claymore Massacre”, and at one point the audience was asked what form the bad guy’s magical familiar should take… and the suggestion ended up being “giraffe.” This was a field day for the cast, many of whom come from improv and acting backgrounds, and ultimately there was a battle being described with the Barbarian swinging around the poor dead giraffe’s head and neck like a quarterstaff, to the delight of the assembled audience.
“The cast is definitely making their own choices. [Before the show] I don’t tell them anything different than what is in the promotional material. The real trick is, as a Dungeon Master, constructing a series of encounters that logically follow each other and presenting them with a few obvious choices. The real skill comes when they go way outside the box and you as a DM have to think on your feet to get them back on the ‘plot’ so to speak. You want to let them maintain their agency and make decisions, so if they decide to go down the deep dark cave instead of the castle, you adjust the game on the fly to make the cave as interesting or plot-important as the castle was.”
The audience, and the cast, have one other enjoyable element in Jingles & Dragons. This is an excuse to cosplay, to dress up as various characters from their own role-playing adventures and enjoy that experience. While not everyone does it, it’s a venue where such expression is encouraged and definitely not frowned upon. Privitera welcomes the practice, both for players and viewers. “The cosplay element is really as an outlet for people who (like me) enjoy dressing up with a sword but don’t have places to do it. I don’t see the players’ costumes prior to the show, and I encourage them to go as silly or ridiculous as they want, so long as it somehow ties into their character. There are a couple of cast members who have a costume surprise that they have worked out with me ahead of time that I don’t want to spoil here!”
I guess you’ll just have to get out to see the show for yourself if you want to see all the surprises in store. Jingles & Dragons is a one-time only presentation, in the Basement Bar at the DM Social Club. It’s a free event (and no tickets are required), and it starts at 8pm on Friday night, December 21st. Enjoy the cash bar, the laughter, and the adventure of the Des Moines & Dragons crew as they bring you a decidedly different holiday experience.