A human, a gnome, a half-elf, and a half-orc walk into the Phoenix Opera House. This isn’t the set-up for a punchline; it’s the beginning of a quest. Though there are jokes aplenty, there’s nothing funny about the danger these characters are put in when monsters from Pineapple-Shaped Lamps’ (PSL) rehearsal magically come to life and attack the cast and crew.
The plot is to PSL’s “Oops! All Bards!”—a one-shot Dungeons and Dragons story, helmed by dungeon master and video production manager Jordan Vogt. Not portrayed quite the same as the figurine-filled, hat-wearing and staff-holding experience popularized in shows like “Stranger Things,” D&D here is an online experience, with the biggest holdovers being character sheets (now online) and the iconic rolling of dice. The show is one of the Wilmington-based comedy troupe’s latest efforts to promote their Twitch channel and keep folks entertained during the pandemic. Though, streaming live is not something they’ve experimented with at length, despite having their channel since 2018.
“In streaming, you’re typically looking at a minimum of three days a week with three hours [for] each stream,” explains Mikki Stith, one of PSL’s stream coordinators. “If you’re also doing theater rehearsals on top of that, [the] time just does not exist. It is not in your schedule.”
PSL owner and artistic director Wesley Brown agrees. “We wanted to do it more often and had all these ideas and people that want to do it from different places. [The pandemic] forced us to do that. I know Mikki’s been wanting us to do more stuff. She’d just be like, ‘We need to schedule more streams!’ and we’d say, ‘But we do other things!’ Now that we’re not doing other things, we have to schedule streams.”
Though PSL often provides Twitch’s usual product of gaming live streams, nowadays they’re putting their own spin on the streaming formula. They read unused sketches from past shows, host script readings of the unmade Nicholas Cage Superman film, or do Dungeons and Dragons one-shots.
“Oops! All Bards!” features Zeb Mims as human Preston Everleighton, Matt Carter as half-elf Vickie Spatz, Grace Carlyle Berry as half-orc Alfric Cloudpuncher, and Alex Denning as gnome Benson Wonderbone. Using Zoom to chat with one another, tabletop gaming website Roll20 to map out their gameplay and display their characters, and a Twitch stream coordinated by Brian Brown, the four players and dungeon master Vogt are able to play out the story from beginning to end over the course of nearly five hours.
While playing dungeon master for a D&D campaign can be worrisome—players have the free will to completely mess with your story—Vogt managed to find a way to organize the game by using the one-shot’s setting of a play rehearsal to give the players a bit of a guide. “What I did for each monster was wrote out a single page of script that gave away the identity of the monster, and also gave away a weakness or something that a player could exploit while they were playing,” Vogt details. “I sent these out to the individual cast members before we were getting started just so everybody had one little thing they could draw from.”
The scenes play out naturally. There’s one where Benson smells something awful in the basement and, from remembering a piece of a script he’d read, realizes they’re about to face off with a powerful beast called “Otyugh.” In reality Vogt the dungeon master reminds Denning the person the clue was part of his script, but in the fiction of the story, Benson’s character has the script memorized as a member of the music crew. It’s this threading of the line between fact and fiction that makes D&D both a must-play and a must-watch.
“Roleplaying is, at the very base level, collective storytelling, and everyone needs to be on the same page,” Vogt explains. “If someone thinks this is going to be a high-flying action-adventure, and somebody else thinks there’s going to be an emotional through-line and someone else thinks it’s going to be a horror game, they’re all going to have different play styles. We want to make sure everyone understands this is going to be kind of silly and serious at times, but it’s going to be a fun time.”
With the novel coronavirus shutting down theatre performances for the time being, PSL has had to course correct. Their most recent live show, a Harry Potter-themed play called “Puffs,” was closed down after its first weekend, and their monthly sketch show was canceled through April. Fortunately, “Puffs” is scheduled to be Thalian Hall’s first show once things are up and running again, and PSL’s 10th-anniversary show is still on schedule for fall. In fact, being stuck inside and forced to halt production on other live performances has given Brown and company more time to plan for this big event. As for their online streams, PSL’s members-only Discord chat has been flowing with ideas.
“It’s kind of a mixed blessing,” Vogt says. “You have so much time to do all these really fun streams, and now you’re trying to find time to fit all the streams in. . . . It’s a lot of organizing, and credit to Mikki here. She’s one of the key aspects of us being able to do all of this stuff. She’s scheduling everybody out and really taking charge.”
PSL’s streaming schedule fluctuates each week, so they recommend to follow them on Twitter and join their fan Discord to get immediate updates as to what’s happening and when. This doesn’t just cover PSL’s official streams; many members do solo streams, so the Discord links to them, too, for more fun.
For the “Oops! All Bards!” crew in particular, Vogt says there may be more Dungeons and Dragons gameplay on the way; though, it may come with a different look. Mims also is an experienced dungeon master and may be pegged to DM next, and the same opportunities are on the table for Carter, Denning and Berry.