RPG Evolution: What Makes a Show "D&D"?

Dungeons & Dragons is everywhere these days, and now thanks to D&D-adjacent cartoons, comics, and podcasts, we've got a good idea of what elements constitute D&D-themed media.

DnDmedia.jpg

When looking at some of the media inspired by D&D, there's been plenty of speculation as to the connection, like The Witcher. But why speculate when we have clear evidence of media inspired by D&D, like Critical Role and The Adventure Zone? These blockbuster media franchises started as a streaming and podcast show respectively, but are branching out beyond their D&D roots (and in Critical Role's case, looping back around into official D&D). And now that they're out in the wild in other formats (the Legend of Vox Machina cartoon, the Adventure Zone comics), we can see what they have in common that makes them D&D-esque.

A Permeable Circle

We've discussed before how the magic circle defines role-playing engagement; real life factors influence the game anyway, from bathroom breaks to the physical location of the game, from phone distractions to never-ending tug-of-war of adult responsibilities. This makes for a game that inherently can't be too fantasy-themed even if the characters are true to their roots, because D&D is as much about playing in a shared fantasy universe as it is about playing a game.

As an example, The Adventure Zone actually inserts the Dungeon Master into the dialogue. The characters will often reference out-of-game pop culture and engage in back-and-forth with the DM. To a lesser degree, Vox Machina has its characters use modern turns of phrase when they speak. This has some significant implications on "baseline fantasy."

Humor

One of the defining traits of both Critical Role and The Adventure Zone is their humor. While the occasional character might take himself seriously, it's clear that most don't. It's left to the NPCs to react in a mixture of horror or confusion to the PC's antics.

As most DMs can attest, humor is part of the fun of D&D. Heroes in absurd, often violent situations, failing or reacting inappropriately to larger-than-life threats are part of the game. Part of this humor comes from the fish out of water approach, where "adventurers" are by their nature not usually regular people, but eccentrics from far-flung lands.

Genre Mashups

Basic D&D campaigns have increasingly become kitchen-sink settings in which different adventure backdrops and tones can accommodate a wide variety of play styles, from gothic horror to steampunk, from medieval warfare to Roman politics. While it's possible to create justifications for where these characters come form, the shorthand is that there's a place for each of them: we just don't necessarily see it in play.

This flexibility is part of the game's appeal. DMs can play the kind of games they want, while players can play characters inspired by other genres but still (loosely) fit into the game setting without too much trouble. This is particularly noticeable in Vox Machina, where characters seem to come from different realms with wildly different levels of technology (e.g., guns vs. axes) and levels of magical talent. How does it all work? We don't need to know, because D&D rules explain all that so that the campaign doesn't need to justify it.

To Movies and Beyond

With D&D-adjacent media ahead of D&D's curve, it will be interesting to see what happens when Wizard of the Coast's brand catches up. We have a D&D movie and streaming series on the horizon. They would do well to learn the lessons of what D&D-adjacent media has done so successfully.

Your Turn: What elements of media that makes it D&D-themed did I miss?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

wellis

Explorer
That would include everything from Doctor Who to Serenity to the X-Files.
Honestly they probably could be D&D campaigns. It's just that the motivations are different from the general "There will be tons of treasure and we'll be rich and living off the high hog after this." motivation one sees in a lot of adventuring parties.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Honestly they probably could be D&D campaigns. It's just that the motivations are different from the general "There will be tons of treasure and we'll be rich and living off the high hog after this." motivation one sees in a lot of adventuring parties.
That applies to Firefly/Serenity and Guardians of the Galaxy to name a couple.
 



D&D. The difference between Pathfinder and D&D is mostly the IP. We're specific to D&D in this thread. A show about Pathfinder IP would be a Pathfinder show, not a D&D show.
The difference being, one has D&D in the title and the other has Pathfinder.

We going to split hairs over what constitutes a 5e show and what constitutes an AD&D show next?
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
The difference being, one has D&D in the title and the other has Pathfinder.

We going to split hairs over what constitutes a 5e show and what constitutes an AD&D show next?
If that's important to the show's identity - then that would kind of necessary. And that's part of the issue. If being an official D&D show is important to the show's identity and marketing, it should have some D&D exclusive content that nobody else could have - otherwise, what sets it apart as an official D&D show? If it's a fantasy role playing show that grew out of D&D, it doesn't need it quite so much (though letting people know it does step from a D&D campaign would still be in their interests).
 


Mournblade94

Adventurer
Once a show is relegated to a comedy I no longer am interested. Im not interested in my hobby being made fun of. The D&D Movie has always been a comedy and a drag. I don't mind some humor. I love Guardians of the Galazy humor, but I really really didn't like Thor Ragnarok (Again it felt like they were making fun of Thor, my favorite character). Ive seen GoG dozens of times, and still can't stomach Ragnarok for a second watch.

I liked Vox Machina, but I REALLY thought the modern quips and swearing brought me out of it. My wife liked it much more than I did, but i would have liked it more if it kept the player talk to what characters in a non modern setting would say.
 

i would have liked it more if it kept the player talk to what characters in a non modern setting would say.
How do you know what a character in a non-modern day setting would say? Historians would love to know how pre-recording English was spoken. One thing they do know though, is it involved a lot of swearing.
 

Mournblade94

Adventurer
How do you know what a character in a non-modern day setting would say? Historians would love to know how pre-recording English was spoken. One thing they do know though, is it involved a lot of swearing.
I Don't. But I know what sounds modern. This was far to close to a night out on town listening to modern people.

The show did animate rules situations well though so I was able to tolerate the modernisms. But it brought the show down for me. I especially dislike the Bard. Other than the Bard though the characters were good.
 

Remove ads

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top