I’m back from D&D Live 2019 (May 17-19) and full of inspiration. Not just from the content, but from the overwhelmingly positive interactions I had with influencers and fans alike.
So this is what went down. I traveled to Los Angeles to play in a live-streamed podcast GM’d by Victoria Rogers of The Broadswords alongside Jef and Jon of System Mastery, Eoghan of How We Roll Podcast, and James D’Amato of the One Shot Network (parent to my show, Asians Represent). In costume, I played Fizz Bubblefist of House Sparklewater, Chief Hydration Steward to the Earl Willoughby Twizzleton of Gnomandy. Despite my character’s admittedly goofy name, our adventure was one of many that would introduce the audience to the new Wizards of the Coast storyline – Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, a hellish adventure featuring war machines fueled by the souls of the damned. Think Mad Max meets Evil Dead.
Once, our show was over, I had the rest of my time in LA to enjoy the festivities and hang out with many of my favourite friends in the industry.
“Mingle with D&D Luminaries, Grab Exclusive Merch, and Play in a D&D Epic!“
This was truly an event made by fans, for fans. This was not your average “convention”. In general, it’s really hard for me to assign that label to this “event”. Yes, there was a marketplace for purchasing D&D-related merchandise like Death Saves streetwear or Wyrmwood dice containers. Yes, there were celebrity signings. Yet, everything about D&D Live felt distinctly unlike a convention in all of the best ways.
Over the course of three days, attendees of the event were able to get a glimpse at the kind of narrative and mechanical content Wizards plans on releasing in the future through panels, games, and incredible epics. The focal point of this event was definitely the live shows, which provided fans with the opportunity to watch their favourite personalities engage with the new source material. I managed to watch the Relics and Rarities session featuring Deborah Ann Woll, Jasmine Bhullar, Julia Dennis, Janina Gavankar, Xander Jeanneret, Matthew Lillard (childhood me was screaming), and Tommy Walker. Each main stage live show was not only hosted in front of an audience of fans, but also simulcast via Twitch, Twitter, and YouTube for the rest of the world to see. It’s brilliant. While fans can pay to attend the event, purchase exclusive swag, and mingle with celebrities, others can still enjoy the event from the comfort of their home by watching ANY of the Descent games or panels. On the last day, I joined some fans of my podcast in the exclusive epic, an adventure where all of the tables in the room simultaneously interact with the same adventure and affect each other. We descended into hell aboard massive war machines of our design to steal soul coins for a sinister character known as Mahadi. It was…epic. They had hellish atmospheric lighting, costumed actors portraying imps, kenku, and devils that wandered the room soliciting tables for deals, and several characters that provided in-character updates on the status of the heist. During the intense 3-hour game, one player made a deal with a devil that resulted in everyone in the room losing half of their hit points (they later gave their life to Arkhan the Cruel! Our table managed to get killed not once, but twice in this frantic, morally ambiguous adventure.
One of the questions I kept asking myself and discussing among my peers was, “how does it grow? Should it expand to the size of say, Gen Con?”
While there were certainly improvements to be made on the production side (many of the streams suffered from extreme lag or poor connections), in my mind it really can’t (or shouldn’t) expand in size. The small number of attendees made for a very intimate event. With a seemingly equal ratio of talent to attendees, fans were given a unique opportunity to mingle with their favourite creators and form genuine bonds with fellow event-goers. I found myself chatting with people like Joe Manganiello, or engaging in intense conversations with fellow podcasters like the D20 Dames and fans of both our shows. At D&D Live, you felt like a member of a community. The only real change I’d make to future events would be to invite content creators from around the world to truly and accurately showcase the international scope of D&D’s fan base.
That factor aside, I’ll say this now. D&D Live is the future of tabletop conventions.