Some adventuring parties approach their quest with a serious mind and no shenanigans. Or, at least so I’ve been told. I’ve never met or played a game of Dungeons and Dragons that’s lacked some serious shenanigans. If that’s your flavor of D&D, have I got the show for you (and some book recommendations inspired by some of the seasons). A few months ago, I stumbled upon Dimension 20, a Dungeons and Dragons actual-play anthology show by CollegeHumor. Each season of Dimension 20 follows a different story line. So, even though the show has eight seasons, it’s significantly easier to jump in knowing you have a 6-17 episode story line to tackle as opposed to other shows which are hundreds of episodes into their stories. While I love a good game of D&D, I’d never gotten as into actual-play series as some of my peers. An actual-play show is one in which you watch someone else play D&D. It’s pretty straightforward. But series are often extremely long and packed with hundreds of hours of lore. Up until very recently I was in grad school and didn’t have enough time to catch up on shows like Critical Role and The Adventure Zone (though these shows are phenomenal and I’d love to catch up eventually). Dimension 20 seemed like the perfect distraction from everything that’s been going on in the world. So, I hit play and my life has genuinely changed for the better because of it.
The cast in the main seasons and the smaller side seasons are phenomenal. From CollegeHumor alumni to Dungeons & Dragons actual-play royalty, each season is packed with laughs, adventure, and genuine chemistry and affection between the players and the Dungeon Master. If I talked about how much I adore each person on this show, we’d be here all day. So, instead I’ll stick to the most consistent players. For the 17 episode seasons, the cast stays the same. For the shorter side seasons, the cast rotates. Each member of the cast has a background in improv/comedy or tabletop role playing games and they are absolutely masters of their craft. If I went too far into detail on how much I love and appreciate each cast member, this blog post would be TOO long and probably a little creepy. I promise I like this show a normal amount. My fingers might be crossed behind my back, but it’s fineeee.
The first season of Dimension 20 is Fantasy High, which is best described as Dungeons and Dragons by way of John Hughes. Magic and wacky high school hijinks ensue. Welcome to Aguefort Adventuring Academy, a school that trains the next generation of valiant adventurers. Ever wondered how to be a barbarian? There’s a class for that. When girls start to go missing at their school, a group of freshmen adventurers who meet in detention decide to crack the case. This first season is all on YouTube. If you’re even remotely interested, watch the first two episodes. If you watch them and you’re not into it, the show might not be your thing. If you get past episode two and it sticks, I guarantee that you will love it. If this blog somehow inspires you to watch the show and you watch the first two episodes, I’d love to hear what your reactions are in the comments. As a book sommelier, I think this season pairs wonderfully with Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. I’m a sucker for teen sleuths having grown up on a steady diet of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Scooby-Doo. If you like Truly Devious, I think you’ll love Fantasy High and vice versa.
The next season I’m going to talk about is The Unsleeping City. New York City is often portrayed as a place with its own innate magic. In The Unsleeping City, the magic is literally all around you even if you can’t see it. Maybe the cat at the bodega down the street is more than meets the eye. Is the angel of the Bethesda Fountain alive? Did that rat just dance or is it a really hairy baby? The entire season is a love letter to New York City performed and created by people who clearly love it very much. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy in the slightest, this season is phenomenal. I would also recommend The City We Became by N.K. Jemison. In The City We Became, each borough of NYC has a human avatar that embodies the soul of each part of the city. It’s the first book in Jemison’s Great Cities series which is currently ongoing. The Unsleeping City is currently airing a second season that's just as amazing as the first.
Now, when I started watching Dimension 20, I didn’t think I could love the show any more than I already did. Then, series Dungeon Master Brennen Lee Mulligan dragged me into the world of Calorum with A Crown of Candy. And holy (insert expletive here) it’s amazing. So, you’ve played Candyland, right? And you’re at least passingly familiar with Game of Thrones? This series mixes the candy coated aesthetics of Candyland or Adventure Time and mixes them with the political intrigue and high lethality of Game of Thrones. While it sounds silly, I promise you, you will cry about candy people. I’ve never been so simultaneously enchanted and horrified by what I was watching. I can’t go too much into this series without spoiling anything, but all I can say is you have to try it. The sets designed by miniature artist Rick Perry are mind blowing. The story has twists and turns and heartbreak you’d never expect. I don’t want to pick favorites, it feels like picking a favorite child, but A Crown of Candy holds a special place in my heart. Sticking with the upsetting fantasy candy-world theme, I would recommend Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire which is the third book in the Wayward Children series. Like A Crown of Candy, Beneath the Sugar Sky explores a beautiful but terrifying food-based fantasy world that will leave you both enchanted and wary of the feelings of your chocolate bar.
If you are a person who works on Dimension 20 and you’re somehow reading this, thank you. I tried not to ramble too much, but you’ve given me joy and community through some of the hardest times. You got me through the last few months of graduate school. I know we don’t know each other, but the characters and worlds you create feel like old friends to me. So, Ally Beardsley, Zac Oyama, Lou Wilson, Siobhan Thompson, Emily Axford, Brian “Murph” Murphy, and last but not least Brennan Lee Mulligan, thank you. I would thank the rest of the amazing cast, but between all the side seasons it would take an entire paragraph just for names. Maybe I’ll do a future blogpost about books inspired by the sidequests because they’re just as remarkable and well-acted as the main seasons. I think about Pirates of Leviathan and the staggeringly talented cast at least once a day. If you’re in need of a comforting show with adventure, friendship, and dice, Dimension 20 is for you.
-Margo Moore is a Youth Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.