Why watching people play D&D is fun

HarmonQuest D&D

D&D is the best new genre of television.


Remember how, back in the 90s and the 2000s, Dungeons and Dragons was considered a game that only the nerdiest of nerds enjoyed? Oh how the times have changed.

D&D – and tabletop games in general – are more mainstream today than we could have ever imagined. They’re so mainstream, in fact, that we love watching and listening to other people play the game! The animated Harmonquest, created by Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon, is one of the most accessible shows of this kind. But factor in shows like Celebrid&d, CollegeHumor’s Fantasy High, and Matt Mercer’s Critical Role, and you’ve got yourself an entire subgenre of content to enjoy. And that’s without even counting the massive library of podcasts focused on tabletop gaming!

So what is it about D&D that makes it so dang fun to watch? Let’s discuss the reasons why.

It’s great improvisational comedy.

If you’re like me, good improv comedy always provides the biggest laughs. Heck, I get lost on Youtube at least once a year looking up classic clips from Whose Line Is It Anyway? But when you think about it, D&D based shows are so good because they’re an evolution of the improv comedy show format.

It should be no surprise that the funniest D&D casts have experience in improv. Harmonquest stars Jeff Davis, a prolific guest cast member on Whose Line Is It Anyway? CollegeHumor’s Fantasy High is DM’d by Brennan Lee Mulligan, an improv teacher at Upright Citizens Brigade. But more importantly, D&D itself is a game rich with amazing improv opportunities. The imaginative settings let each player create outlandish scenarios that would be impossible in scripted television. The dice rolls also throw monkey wrenches into the story that almost always catch players off guard. It’s all the fun of improv comedy in a fresh new setting, which is why even non-RPG players can get into these shows and appreciate them.

Organizing a game of D&D is hard work.

If you’ve ever been in a group of RPG players, you know your hardest challenge isn’t the quests you have to complete or the dragons you have to slay. Nay, the hardest challenge is getting everyone’s schedules lined up.

Sure, as teenagers, it was easy to get three or four players together after school twice a week. But as adults, you need to organize a spreadsheet of everyone’s schedules to even think about playing D&D. This doesn’t mean playing D&D is impossible once you’re old enough to drink, but shows about D&D become more valuable to us. They allow us to vicariously live out the experiences we want to have, just like how Twitch streamers let fans enjoy new video games without requiring the money or the time commitment. And after a while, the casts of these shows start to feel like they’re our friends as well.

They inspire our imaginations.

At their core, tabletop RPGs are sets of rules that that allow our imaginations to take flight. Whether you want to explore medieval caves, sail the seas of another world, or fly in futuristic spaceships, tabletop RPGs present a veritable multiverse for you to dive into. But just like any creative pursuit, you might need a little inspiration to bring your adventure to life.

This is why there’s never been a better time to get into games like D&D. Unlike video game RPGs, Tabletop RPGs are social experiences. And thanks to the power of the internet, it’s never been easier to share all our adventures and learn from them. So shows about role-playing aren’t just great entertainment, they’re also amazing conversation starters for how to make a gaming session better. How did these dungeon masters create scenarios that allow players to creatively use their skills? What encounters produced the funniest or most dramatic results? What happened when events didn’t go according to plan? Harmonquest fans got a huge example of that last question near the end of Season 2, which further drives home the way D&D creates stories that would never fly in a normally scheduled television program.

Being a dungeon master is a lot of hard work. It’s so hard, in fact, that anyone just working on their own fictional stories can be inspired by a great dungeon master. But even if you’re not a dungeon master, shows about D&D help us appreciate all the work that goes into creating great gaming sessions. From hilarious antics to tense encounters, a great cast of D&D players is the difference between a fantastic adventure and a dry game of numbers. So from all of us fans of fantasy to you, know that your love of role-playing is appreciated by all of us.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m here to look at my spreadsheet of free hours between me and all my other 30 year old friends. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but it looks like the best time for us to start playing is around 2:00 AM on every third Tuesday.

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