Saturday, April 10, 2010

Comedy Fest review: +1 Sword


If some wizened gnome had prophesied that I'd be fronting up to two comedy festival shows based on Dungeons & Dragons this year, I'd have laughed heartily. If the same godforsaken goblin had then told me I'd thoroughly enjoy both I would have had to deliver him a kick in the scrying ball. But what rude and arcane enchantment is upon me! I did like 'em! Liked 'em both!

Now if, when reading the preceding paragraph, you wrinkled your nose in distaste at my substitution of “goblin” for “gnome” as if they were the same old thing, then +1 Sword is for you. Where Tripod vs the Dragon will appeal to those with little intimate knowledge of fantasy roleplaying games, Ben and Richard McKenzie (no relation) have gone full geek in their homage to the world of D&D. It'll still make sense to outsiders, as a lot of the piece takes us through the history and mechanics of the game as well as providing a running example of the thing in action. But, to the delight of most of the audience the night I attended, there are also enough deep references to keep seriously committed gamers chortling, when not interjecting to question the accuracy of statements. Of course, as the show proves, this interactive interrogation of the facts is just what makes the game so obsession-worthy. According to Ben, it's like an improvised radio play of intrigue and adventure. For Richard it's a chance to kill monsters and steal their stuff.

This difference is key to the fun of the show. Richard paints D&D as an expression of violent childhood fantasies, while Ben portrays it as a kind of romantic collaborative storytelling. Both are right, in their way. The show's real strength is probably in the way it questions the desires that fuel this passion, and there's a sense of thicker awareness when Ben notes that even though the game flagrantly ripped off a long tradition of fantastic fiction, these were books he'd never read until he found D&D.

It's unlikely that +1 Sword will reach a massive audience for whom roleplaying is a mystery, but for anyone who's ever thrown a dice with more than six sides it will provide more than a few knowing chuckles.

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