Nice Dice, Baby: Closer ‘Encounter’ as D&D gets ready to ‘Party’…

Here be dragons.. and ratings? Time to party as Dungeons and Dragons gaming hits the screen...

The very name of Dungeons and Dragons is forged in fire, the stuff of legends and perhaps a few stereotypes. But in the modern era, it’s fast becoming a bonafide cornerstone of the entertainment industry. And about time, too say some of its most passionate warriors…

Now, I have to roll a six and speak the truth: I’ve never really been a Dungeon & Dragons combatant or role-playing gamer – though that’s largely due to the sheer lack of time rather than lack of enthusiasm or curiosity. Like many, from the outside of it, it can feel both innately interesting as a free-range idea but also incredibly complex in practice. (Dice… with more than six sides… what dark alchemy is this????). The problem in my teenage years was that if I’d wanted to explore it more, I’d need to know more about it…. to know more about it I’d have to find others and with the exception of some comic-store side-rooms and university campuses, such groups weren’t always easy to find. Catch 22.  Films like 1982’s Mazes and Monsters (starring a young Tom Hanks as a player) were the few times it broke through and always with less-than-inviting caveats to the stereotypes.

Yet, the appeal of formulating characters and undertaking quests is hardly new – it’s almost primal and has been around in some form for centuries or even millennia… but there’s also no denying that the advent of computers and the improvement of bandwidth – together with a leap in general technology and exposure in the mainstream  (tv shows referencing it, multimedia gaming adaptations carving the way and movies of varying quality taking the FX from the imagination to the big screen) certainly hasn’t hurt. It’s easier to connect and go exploring. Nowadays, if you haven’t played D&D, you’ve certainly heard of it. Once the purview of quintessential ‘nerd deluxe’ – and I mean that as a compliment – D&D is now the watchword of multimedia empire-building. Here be dragons and model-kits, computer-games, movies and communities sprawling the world.

Some might shirk at the idea of watching other people gaming; that it might not be an attention-grabber… but a raft of YouTube channels suggest otherwise. So, the question isn’t so much why a show like Encounter Party began- it’s one of a number of ventures that has found success in podcasting in recent times – but why such a concept hasn’t been seen on tv this way before. So, the concept and show, the brainchild of producers Brian David Judkins and Ned Donovan, seem more than timely.

Dungeons & Dragons has been on a steady increase for MANY years but especially in the last decade. There’s a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which was the ability to play over video software during the pandemic. There’s also Stranger Things, Critical Role, the Dungeons & Dragons movie earlier this year, etc… Encounter Party launched as a podcast in early 2019. We did 3 seasons (66 episodes) with each episode an average of 58 minutes long between 2019-2021,” Ned Donovan tells me. “That made up our first campaign. The cast from seasons 2 and 3 came to the tv show (produced in collaboration with eOne and Wizards of the Coast)…. where we also added Khary Payton…”

There’s no doubt that having a celebrity name attached helps any production get noticed, but Payton, famous for his role on The Walking Dead, never feels like some ill-fitting stunt casting to grab attention. From the very start, it’s clear he’s a guy who clearly already knows the ins-and-outs of D&D and has played campaigns with Ned and Brian before and eagerly shares in the unapologetic fun.

“The reaction has been outstanding!” Ned notes.”All the feedback we’re receiving has been so positive and a large chunk of the viewers we’re interacting with are new to D&D, have never played before, or haven’t played in many years. We always aimed to make a show enjoyable by D&D fans and those who knew nothing alike and we’re seeing that happen across our viewers. For the fans of the old podcast we’ve heard people say how excited they are that it feels like Encounter Party while being this entirely new version of it. All in all, it’s been so exciting how into it people have been getting as more and more people start watching the show…”

Encounter Party – which you can catch Tuesdays (reruns on Fridays) at 9:00pm on freevee , on Plex  on demand (or streaming) for all of its 22 hour-long chapters (though those outside of the US may need a VPN) – largely works because it both expands the idea to television, but keeps its origins clear… while it is flying a united flag for D&D players everywhere and dipping its toes into a wider and curiosity-driven audience, it never abandons its core values nor the pillars on which it relies. Yes, it would like to get new people interested, but that feels like it’s something that would be cool if it happens rather than the show’s entire reason for being. It’s not begging for your approval nor here to pay lip-service or just act as a hook for something generic. For better or worse, it knows its core audience and decides that’s how to play things out – literally.

Admittedly,  Encounter Party won’t be for everyone – but it shows how much fun it can be to immerse yourself in an adventure and undoubtedly feels like a natural shift to a different medium for people with an existing interest. It’s easy to imagine a future – perhaps not so far away now – where the next step in the evolution is to take quality-rendered footage illustrating the chosen campaign (and decisions made within the game play) in real time and primetime and in more than words.

However, for the moment, Encounter Party acts as a confident step in the right direction, reveling in the innate camaraderie and goodwill of the D&D community and leading the battle-cry…

Check out the how-to-guides for the show at: