As we are told at the beginning of each hour of Adventurers Wanted, Dungeons and Dragons is a role-playing table-top game. Its players take on individual characters and complete quests together, run for them by the Game Master who plays all their allies, enemies and even weather systems. What the team behind Adventurers Wanted is attempting is to run a 250-hour long game taking place throughout the Fringe. Attendees can buy a ticket for an hour to either watch or play, so I went along and did a bit of both.
Before going I saw that Adventurers Wanted had been included on two ‘Weirdest Shows At The Fringe’ lists. My experience of it makes me thoroughly disagree with this categorisation.
At first I thought it might be weird. I (and I assume most players of D&D and related games) am used to playing with close friends for an extended period of time. I thought playing for an hour with people I’d never met would be either intimidating or unfulfilling. In the end it was neither. There was admittedly the occasional joke or aside that obviously came from one of the previous 70 hours of game-play, which occasionally made me feel out of the loop, and I imagine would do so even more for someone who’d never played before. However, the atmosphere is warm, welcoming and relaxed, with players and audience chatting between sessions, and the audience is instantly taken into the group. What’s more the game is masterfully run (by the skilled Leo West in the session I attended) so that it feels like there is plenty going on in the hour you attend. I got to spend the first hour watching a dwarf trying to teach a gnome the evils of stealing, and the second trying to unionise robots whilst discovering their secret underwater lair. Not bad for a Wednesday morning.
I would also say that Adventurers Wanted doesn’t fit into the ‘Weirdest Shows At The Fringe’ because it isn’t a show. While it may have an audience, it is wholeheartedly a game. It would be flippant to say D&D is what both audience participation and narrative improv want to be, but I’ll say it anyway. Not held back by the need to create something for an audience, with meaning or layers, the players can create a space where everyone’s imaginations are fully used, where creators and ‘audience’ are collaborating fully. This meant it didn’t have the feeling of tension that often accompanies improv, with some people responsible for entertaining and others judging whether they have been entertained. While players were ‘playing’ characters, they slipped in and out of character even within sentences, and it felt as thought they were performing just as much for the benefit of each other as for the audience.
Even within plays which are trying to remove the power imbalance between audience and theatre-maker, the participating audience members are in a place of uncertainty, in thrall to the will of the creators. While by no means do I dislike interactive or immersive theatre, I do often find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop (or for any to drop at all). I’m either waiting to be given a hint what to do, to be told that I’m doing it wrong.
D&D in general and Adventurers Wanted in particular is more welcoming for two reasons. Firstly, the veil between fiction and reality is much thinner; there’s what feels much more like a real person next to you, ready to suggest spells or reassure you or explain something than an actor who can’t break character to tell you what to do. And secondly, it’s in everyone’s interest that you know what you’re doing. While in theatre a sense of uncertainty can enhance a meaning or message of a show, when you’re all trying to collaborate to problem solve then suddenly you feel on the same side as everyone else. Even the Game Master (who is technically in control, with the information you want and guiding the routes you take) feels more on the level of the players, with back-and-forth between them and the players for control of the story.
Both the casualness and the un’show’ness of Adventurers Wanted made it quite difficult to write about, but it is those aspects that make it so brilliant for the Fringe. It’s the perfect place to recover from theatre-fatigue, where you can switch off your critical faculties and just play for a while. I would recommend it for players and non-players alike. If you want to join in but are a bit nervous I would thoroughly recommend it. Watch a bit of the game on their Twitch feed, book early so you have time to familiarise yourself with your character or bring a few friends along to do it with you, but don’t stop nerves stopping you attending the most fun hour at the Fringe.
Adventurers Wanted is on until 28 August 2017 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe 2017. Click here for more details.