What the heck is Shakespeare D&D?
(or, I once was a shy kid from a small town)
So, you want to know what Shakespeare D&D is about? The easy answer is that it’s a fantasy world where the characters and settings of Shakespeare’s plays co-exist with creatures, gods and peoples of Dungeons and Dragons a tabletop roleplaying game. The trickier bit? D&D is a game rooted in improvisational play. Though I’ve got a framework built, the story is created in real time when we gather on May 15.
But I can tell you another story about how I become a theatrical storyteller because of Dungeons and Dragons.
It begins in the early 80s, when two very good friends of my family – Andy and Scott Nagy – arrived at our house for a visit. Andy and Scott were like older brothers to me and had been partying at our table since I was a baby. On this visit they brought something unexpected. “We have this really great new game,” they told us with glee, “It’s called Dungeons and Dragons.”
During that fateful visit, Andy and Scott led my entire family through our first module (or game/adventure) titled The Keep on the Borderlands by Dungeons and Dragons’ creator, Gary Gygax. And it blew my mind.
For a shy, chubby eight-year old kid there was simply nothing like it. Suddenly, I was a brave and fearless hero roaming the land, fighting dragons and delving deep into crypts, castles, and dungeons. The game sparked my imagination, increased my confidence, encouraged creative thinking and collaborative play. Over the years, I would continue to play this game with friends – in grade school, high school, university, adulthood. Heck, I just finished a game with a group of friends that lasted over fifteen years.
More often than not, I took the role of Dungeon Master, the individual responsible for guiding the players through their adventures. The Dungeon Master (DM) envisions and describes the world that the players explore, populates it with people, monsters and creatures, and sets goals and challenges for the players. In addition, the DM plays every other person, creature, monster, animal and/or sentient plant (yes, yes you read that correctly) that the players meet. Silly voices, ridiculous props, theatricality and a love of improv are the tools of the trade.
During the pandemic, D&D has been one of the only ways that I’ve been able to create and share stories with others. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to gather with friends at a virtual table over the internet where we could continue to explore the depths of our imaginations.
At its core, D&D is an exercise in collaborative storytelling, very much like theatre in many respects. The countless hours I’ve spent creating adventures, diving into characters and developing narratives with a group of like-minded individuals has informed and enriched my professional life as a director of live theatre, and vice versa.
And so, as Driftwood began to imagine how we might work our way back towards sharing stories with people in live settings, it only felt natural to invite everyone to join us at the table and experience this strange, wonderful, wacky, and powerful game (but with a Driftwood twist).
Shakespeare’s plays are filled with traditional elements of fantasy roleplaying games: monsters, dragons, witches, magic, interfering gods, epic battles, ghosts, wandering bards. His plays are an embarrassment of riches for anyone looking for adventure hooks and ideas for D&D. And like the best Shakespeare, I’m taking ideas and tweaking them a little. Events and conflicts in Shakespeare’s plays might not occur exactly how he wrote them. This provides us with a rich backdrop upon which to set our own adventures and puts a bit of the unexpected back into these stories we’ve known and retold for over 400 years.
Each of the six players of Shakespeare D&D have been asked to draw inspiration for their character from Shakespeare’s tertiary characters, and imagine why those individuals might have taken up a life of adventuring. What they’ve come up with is marvelous and playful, a truly fascinating group to embark upon the adventure that I have in store for them.
Being an audience for Shakespeare D&D will be a lot like being in the audience for a play. It’s just that this story is entirely improvised on the spot and the imagery, setting, and conflicts which take place will live only in our collective imaginations. And that’s another beauty of D&D: everyone’s experience – the DM, the players, each audience member – will be just a little different, coloured by the visions they create in their own minds based on the description of what’s happening in the story.
I can’t imagine a more theatrical and unique way to welcome people back to Driftwood and set the stage for our new vision of good people sharing great stories. For people who love Shakespeare, Shakespeare D&D will hold a treasure of characters and elements from his plays but with wonderful and unexpected surprises. For me, it’s a chance to play a ridiculously fun game with some fabulous people as we embark upon an adventure together into the unknown. What could possibly be more exciting than that?
Artistic Director/Dungeon Master.
PS: Andy and Scott, on my next birthday we’re playing again!