CollegeHumor is releasing a six episode "side quest" continuation of its Dungeons & Dragons show Dimension 20. Last year, CollegeHumor released the first season of Dimension 20, a new tabletop RPG show featuring Brennan Lee Mulligan as DM. While the first season focused on a "Fantasy High" setting that put players back in high school, the next installment of the anthology series will see players try to survive the cataclysmic collapse of their evil empire. The new season stars Mulligan, Critical Role star Matthew Mercer, Erika Ishii, Amy Vorphal, Mike Trapp, Rekha Shankar, and Ify Nwadiwe as the evil generals of the recently deceased Lord of Shadows as they attempt from his Bloodkeep.
We had the chance to speak with Mulligan via phone about this special "SideQuest Adventure," along with the challenges of building an evil campaign. New episodes of Dimension 20 air each week on Dropout.TV, with the first episode of "Escape from the Bloodkeep" available now!
This interview has been edited for clarity only.
ComicBook.com: How did you feel that the first season of Dimension 20 went?
Brennan Lee Mulligan: Oh, man. It was an absolute delight, both in terms of the actual making of the thing and getting to play D&D with six of the best improvisers and comedians in the world. And then the reception to it has been overwhelming. It's been really, really exciting. Some of the cast was able to go do a live show at C2E2, and having this packed convention auditorium filled with people cheering and laughing and crying. It was really something special, and I think being a part of this awesome Renaissance of not only D&D, but of D&D actual play shows, it's been overwhelming. It's been really a privilege and an honor.
Dimension 20 is totally switching gears between season one and season two. Season 1 was set in a fantasy high school setting and now season two is something completely different. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Dungeons & Dragons has a long awesome history of these holy grail multi-year campaigns. I've been playing my home brew campaign with my friends, outside of professional D&D playing, for about ten years. And there's a lot of great actual play shows that are out there that feature these long awesome campaigns. So, we're coming into this space, wanting to do something comedic under the banner of CollegeHumor and entering the actual play space with edited shows that were really highly produced that had awesome production value.
We decided to make an anthology show, so that we could go to multiple different worlds, and multiple different seasons, have different guest casts come in and play our side quests. We really embrace the idea of a show that was built around anthology and concluding stories. It's a really great gateway for people that want to dip their toe into actual play, because compared to other things in the genre, we're a little bit shorter and more digestible than average.
Our first season is two hour episodes and it culminates after 17 episodes, right? By the end of the 17th episode, you've really gone on a journey with these characters and I think especially with something that is a little bit more comedic in nature? It's helpful to present a sample platter of each different world. You know, this time next year, there will be probably four or five seasons out of this show, and you'll have the ability to see a show that is connected in terms of its tone and its humor, but that tells you a bunch of very compelling little stories that you can break into the genre with.
So, what is this season about?
Escape from the Bloodkeep is a story of the six lieutenants of the Lord of Shadows, Zownage, who has lost his last crown, his sort of talisman that contains his soul and essence. Our game begins with the event leading up to, during, and immediately after the Lord of Shadows' crown being chucked into a volcano by two hobbits. Now if this sounds kind of familiar, it's because we're almost doing a direct parody of one of the seminal works behind Dungeons & Dragons.
We wanted to tackle something that was a parody of a moment that I think we never get to see. If you look at Lord of the Rings, you know, it's this long journey to destroy the One Ring, right? From the perspective of the good guys, it's this epic quest. From the perspective of the bad guys, it's a total nightmare with no foreshadowing at all. Everything is going great, they're about to conquer the forces of light, and then boom their boss blows up, the tower collapses and everything goes to hell.
I think there's something really funny about that. Rather than doing a parody where we make fun of the Fellowship, we're doing a parody of something else that would have been happening in a world like that. The average orc would have got no idea that Mount Doom was important, no idea that any of this stuff was going on.
The other big motivator is that playing villains and playing evil PCs is an object of fascination for all D&D players. Every little teenager that's playing D&D, it gets to that edgy teenage thing, “I want to play an evil character.” We're sort of figuring out how to do that. And because a lot of times when you try it, you go, “Oh, playing an evil character is a bit of a bummer.”
To me the key of playing an evil character is making them relatable. And I don't know about you, but to me, villains are the most relatable right when they lose. Because you might not like what a villain stands for, but I think we all have a moment when we're kind of watching Voldemort get iced by Harry or we're watching the Death Star blow up because of some random exhaust port. Once all of the tension of them maybe winning goes away, you kind of get to go, “Man that's a raw deal for those bad guys. They really had it in the bag, right until that last second.” And even though I'm glad the heroes won, it's messed up! Like, really that one exhaust port, that's what did it?
A lot of the comedy for this is how relatable it is to lose for no good reason. And getting this six ultra badass power villains as characters, we have like Spider Queen Drider and Undead Death Knight, Dread Corsair, Evil Oracle, Beast Master, Demon Queen, all these characters. And watching them at a moment when everything goes to hell, and they're at their most vulnerable and baffled. And that's sort of the comedy of the show.
How is DM preparation different when you're planning an evil campaign, but an evil campaign based mainly on having the characters survive?
If you are going to run an evil campaign in D&D, and you put the character in a kind of static environment, that gets really tricky. Because all of the sudden there's a chance they'll betray each other and backstab each other and not work together. You know, D&D as a game is kind of designed around the idea of the party, right?
If there's betrayal and backstabbing, it can, in a very structural way, mess with how the game works at the table. But, some of our favorite episodes from TV or some of our favorite issues of comic books, have those moments where all of that good and evil suddenly takes a back seat to pure survival. And you watch the villain look at the hero and go, "Listen, I know we've got business to sort out? But, we've got to work together, or we're not going to survive."
So, one of your players this season is Matt Mercer, who is probably one of the top D&D celebrities out there. How did he get involved with this game?
Because Matt is the coolest and nicest guy in the world.
There is no bigger Critter in the world then me. I'm a huge fan of Critical Role, both of Matt and his amazing cast of players and the whole team they have there working behind the cameras and behind the scenes. Matt reached out to me on Twitter because of my CEO videos for CollegeHumor. He was like, "Hey, man. Loved the CEO bit" and I was like, "Oh, my God. Dude, you're the DM of all DM's. You're the LeBron James of tabletop role playing!"
I've been pitching this idea for "side quests", because there was a huge demand for more Dimension 20, and we actually already filled the next full season with the original cast. But we wanted to turn over a shorter mini-campaign, which had the benefit of creating more content for our fans. But it also gave us this cool opportunity to have friends come to the table. The big tragedy of D&D is you can never fit everybody at the table who wants to play. There's always more people who want to play. When we came up with this Side Quest, the six people that you see at the table were our first choices.
And that was awesome. Matt's a genius and someone who is a perennial DM. I know how what it's like to be the perennial DM and never get a chance to really play a character, because it's a totally different experience and it's so engrossing. So, immediately I wanted to invite Matt because he's such a brilliant roleplayer and so incredible to watch on camera, but also because he doesn't really get to play in a multiple episode campaign.
So, how many episodes is this going run?
This is going to run six episodes. We called it a one shot, but that's not even accurate, it's chunky for a one shot. It's a pretty beefy session. If "Fantasy High" was a full season of television, this feels a little bit more like a feature length film. It's like, here's the situation, what are we going to do, and resolving that and everybody's character arc.
I will say, for having only played for two straight days, it's a testament to the talent of everybody at that table. Every one of them took their character on such a journey, in such a short amount of time. As a DM I was blown away by how beautiful everyone managed to nail this arc for their character.
So, when you say that each character has its own arc, do each of the characters have other motivations at play?0comments
Without giving any spoilers, absolutely, and I think that it's on multiple levels as well. You know, there are extremely logistical, tactical objectives that the PCs have, some of which are intrinsic to the story I threw at them, and some of which were totally cooked up by them. They put me as a DM on my heels, introducing plans and objectives that were logical in the world that I could have never anticipated. And then most importantly I think there were objectives that were purely character driven, you know?
Every one of these characters was a general of the Lord of Shadows, and had an intense personal relationship with a living god of darkness. So, yeah you're trying to dodge falling rocks and fight the forces of light or whatever, but also like your god/best friend just died. Because the players are so talented as performers, they're grappling with a complete crisis of faith and going through the grieving process, while making their Dexterity saving throws and trying to score critical hits. It's amazing that we had people that were incredibly proficient at playing the strategy of D&D, while also delivering these wild, comedic, tragic heartbreaking performances as these truly emotionally messed up villains. It was really great.