Rivals of Waterdeep, one of Dungeons & Dragons' longest-running shows, returns to the air this week for its seventh season. A large part of today's Dungeons & Dragons community centers around streaming shows. Some shows, like Critical Role, are independent productions, but Wizards of the Coast also hosts a number of live play shows on D&D's official Twitch channel. The longest-running of these is Rivals of Waterdeep, an innovative live play series that frequently breaks the mold of how live play D&D shows are presented.
Rivals of Waterdeep started in May 2018 at the Stream of Many Eyes, a predecessor of sorts to D&D's current annual D&D Live event. While every other streaming group that participated in that show has either gone on hiatus or ended, Rivals of Waterdeep continues to go strong, with its seventh season starting later today. The show's current cast includes Tanya DePass, Brandon Stennis, Shareef Jackson, LaTia Bryant, and Masood Haque - a mix of video game streamers and comedians based out of Chicago, IL. Under non-pandemic circumstances - Rivals of Waterdeep's presentation differs from the other streaming shows aired on D&D's Twitch channel. The show is usually filmed in a Chicago studio with the players sitting around a table (although the current pandemic has forced that to change) and every season features a different cast member taking on the mantle of the DM.
The changing DM style gives each season its own flair - Jackson, the DM of the upcoming season, likes to throw lots of puzzles at the party while Bryant recently ran a delightful one-shot titled Undermountain: The Musical - giving both the players and viewers the chance to experience a variety of different game styles. "The way we rotate DMs across the seasons lets everyone show their particular flair for the game," Bryant said in an email interview with ComicBook.com. "And shows that there is no one definite way to play Dungeons and Dragons."
Another strength of Rivals of Waterdeep is how the cast takes official Dungeons & Dragons storylines and makes them their own. Officially, the show has spent its last two years playing through the likes of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus. However, watching any episode shows that the cast has no problem going off-book and turning the official adventures into something unique and different. After all, Descent Into Avernus or Dragon Heist don't usually feature hip hop concerts that become battlegrounds between the forces of good and evil!
In a lot of ways, Rivals of Waterdeep represents the ideal D&D table. The game has survived several cast changes, adapting to each one without an interruption of its storyline. When asked about how the players have adapted to multiple changes, Stennis noted that communication is key. "Life happens and we have to be realistic and know that things may change but it is also a good time to introduce new people, new voices, and new characters in the game. I believe that Rivals of Waterdeep has always been about the story and how the characters have been able to adapt to changes within the game or characters within the game." The players also share the responsibilities of running the game together, taking turns acting as DM and even splitting responsibilities like tracking initiative. Not only do these little nuances help keep the game from growing stale, it also shows off everything that D&D can offer.
Rivals of Waterdeep is a wonderful show, a D&D series that highlights the collaborative style and community building that makes the game so enjoyable to play. It also highlights the most important aspect of Dungeons & Dragons - that it's a game meant for everyone. When asked about what viewers can learn from watching Rivals of Waterdeep, DePass replied "That D&D and [tabletop roleplaying games] are not just for a few folks, or for people who don’t look like us. That anyone can pick up a character sheet and dice, and learn to play. You don’t need to memorize the rule book, monsters guide and more. Also, you can have fun."