Typically, a game of Dungeons and Dragons or another tabletop roleplaying game relies on the imagination of the dungeon master. Like inviting friends over for a home-cooked meal, stewed over hours of notes and ideas, the DM has to carefully put together an experience from scratch.
But sometimes it’s too late for a home cooked meal—or you don’t know your guests’ tastes well enough. Sometimes you want a meal—or a game night—prepared by someone who was paid to make it for you. That’s where a pre-written adventure comes in.
Do you like roleplaying games? Of course you do! They’re excuses for friends to get together and be doofuses while slaying imaginary dragons. Now, what if your friends were all famous funny people? And what if you weren’t playing at all, but sitting back and watching them do it instead? Then you’d have Harmonquest, a show where Dan Harmon, Spencer Crittenden, Erin McGathy, and Jeff B. Davis play fantasy RPG Pathfinder for your amusement and edification.
Tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, Monster of the Week, and Dungeon World, have become more popular than ever thanks to podcasts and shows like The Adventure Zone and Critical Role. For many, the appeal of tabletop games is about returning to a local, communal style of play that’s also cooperative, a stark contrast to online competitive games.
One area where gaming has seen a significant increase in attention is academia, where games are found inside the classroom as objects of inquiry and pedagogical tools, as well as outside the classroom, where they serve social and psychological functions for students.
The idea of tabletop gaming as public entertainment is nothing new. Japan published “replays” of Dungeons & Dragons campaigns (with one becoming the famous Record of Lodoss War), and just about anyone with a camera can set up a stream of their friends’ gaming group. But what if the people behind the characters were actually actors — and familiar voices, at that?
That’s the concept behind Critical Role, a gaming group’s D&D 5th Edition campaign done live on Geek & Sundry. But as of 2018, the take of Vox Machina has expanded far beyond its earliest days.