HarmonQuest and the Rise of the Staged RPG

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Once upon a time, Dungeons & Dragons games were relegated to the basements, attics, private bedrooms, or anywhere else we could find that was out of sight of the public. It took several decades, but role playing games are finally reaching the mainstream. Not only are players coming out of the dark and teaming up with game masters in well-traveled areas, but some of the games are being presented to audiences online and on stage. One of the most entertaining examples of this is presented by Rick & Morty co-creator Dan Harmon.

In HarmonQuest, the show in question, a party of three individuals are joined by a new guest star in each episode as they journey through a short campaign. They sit at a long, wooden table in front of a studio audience who reacts to their many misadventures with laughter, applause, and the occasional boo at a bad pun. Each episode is animated to show what’s happening in the story, and the editing cuts between the cartoon and the players/actors on stage.

The players and guest stars are cast on their abilities to improv more than their skills at role playing, though a few are experienced gamers. The games themselves are often loose with the rules in favor of a streamlined, entertaining story with a lot of humor thrown in. It sometimes resembles Who’s Line is it Anyway, or NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me more than an RPG session. The episodes are also cut down from the usual four hour game session to a mere 20 minutes, which makes it more attractive for mainstream audiences.

With the growing popularity of both role playing games and their performances, these staged RPGs may start to appear in theaters along with staged readings and improv nights. There is already a proven interest, especially since Critical Role has already held two immensely successful “live” shows.

Meanwhile, the concept of telling a story through the form of an RPG has spread widely on YouTube with such shows as Beer & Boardgames, Whycalibur, RPG Storytime, Nerdarchy, and, of course, Geek & Sundry’s own Titansgrave, No Survivors and The Forever Verse, and the aforementioned Critical Role. The more these programs can appeal to the masses with storytelling, the more it will draw large audiences into the hobby.

With its use of wit, animation, celebrity guests, and storytelling, HarmonQuest has quickly raced to the forefront of this sort of storytelling. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s connected to one of the most celebrated animated shows in geek culture, Rick and Morty, which itself has been turned into a couple of games.

It’s an exciting time for the storytelling art of role playing. With RPGs having a larger appeal and wider exposure through shows and narrative series like Stranger Things, the gaming genre is coming out of the basement to become a common part of our culture. It will be interesting to see if this concept of Staged RPGs will stick the way staged readings did, and if it will expand that interest in gaming.

Would you go see a D&D game played out live? Let us know in the comments and check out more about Geek & Sundry RPGs!

Featured image credit: HarmonQuest

Image credit: Geek & Sundry, Beer & Board Games, RPG Storytime

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