It’s not often you see a show about a furniture removalist goblin from space fighting a cuckolded real estate agent robot through the power of dance. But then again, not every show can be a Dice Paper Role production–and the world is worse off for it.
Dice Paper Role is the creation of Melbournian mates Lauren Bok, Dan Last, Ben Clements, Emil Freund, Jack Kirby Crosby and Greg Pickering from way back in the before-times of 2017. What began as a home Dungeons & Dragons game has been spun into a successful podcast and a series of live shows that allow the cast to flex their nerdy knowledge of D&D and their excellent comedic timing.
The popularity of D&D has skyrocketed since Dice Paper Role first started, largely thanks to shows like Stranger Things that have brought the game into mainstream pop culture. This growing public interest in a game that has been relegated to nerd culture for most of its life means that shows like D&D Live: Dice Paper Role and Friends have a broader audience than ever before. Not only will die-hard D&D fans be in attendance, but people who in previous years would have never dreamed of attending a live tabletop show may be joining the fray.
This is where the “and Friends” portion of the show’s title is so crucial to its appeal. A new comic guest is typically introduced at every performance. Not only was Mish Wittrup (who was the guest for the Sunday show I attended) hysterical with her sharp improv skills, but as a D&D newbie, she provided an important proxy for audience members unfamiliar with the game. While most parts of the game were old hat for the D&D veterans such as myself in the room, Mish’s questions made the game accessible by clarifying things many wouldn’t even realise would be confusing to someone new to tabletop gaming. This allows new Hellfire-club devotees to come to the show and enjoy it without feeling deterred by the jargon or mechanics.
Whether you’re a veteran or a virgin of the game, you’ll feel like a victim of Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, watching these charming comedians improv their way around the silly setups they’ve been given. Between the intimate venue of the Chinese Museum and the crass but hilarious tangents, the show captures all the best parts of a home game with close friends. An especially nice touch is the audience participation: in these live shows, the crowd is tasked with creating ambient sound effects and music throughout the show. Who can’t help but laugh when your friend next to you is doing the weirdest jazz scatting you’ve ever heard?
There are a couple of areas where the show admittedly falters. The rotation of the dungeon master from show to show means that no one cast member can entirely settle into the role, something which could be felt during the occasionally uneasy narration from Kirby Crosby. The show also lets itself down with an overly convoluted story setting. While D&D is known for chaos, having each performance be an entirely isolated one-shot adventure would be more accessible for an audience who is realistically not attending every show in the festival’s run. Anyone who’s ever played D&D knows that when you miss a session, it’s almost impossible to decipher what on earth happened while you were gone. The complicated set-up required at the beginning of Dice Paper Role hits you with an immediate sense of both confusion and FOMO that feels unnecessary, given its detachment from the rest of the events.
That being said, these things are tiny in the grand scheme of the show, which was the very knee-slapping definition of “you couldn’t write this stuff!” If you can’t make the final shows of this improvised fantasy adventure, fret not, as each performance has been recorded for the show’s podcast, so you too can experience the gleeful chaos of Dice Paper Role’s space story. Now if you need me, I’ll be binge-listening to the entire back catalogue of this magical cast of magic casters for the foreseeable future.