The quality of a Dungeons and Dragons game is often determined by the quality of the DM, or Dungeon Master. The DM guides the game, playing all the non-player characters, narrating the events of the story, and otherwise taking charge of the world the group is creating together. In The Twenty-Sided Tavern, freshly opened on Broadway in Chicago, the cast, crew, and overarching structure of the show all serve as a kind of DM for the audience’s experience, and I personally have never been in more capable hands.
The Twenty-Sided Tavern takes its audience members through an interactive adventure set in a magical fantasy world. This begins with the audience selecting which of three possible characters the Fighter, Mage, and Rogue will play. These chosen heroes find themselves at the Curious Hedgehog tavern, where an agitated priest relays a mysterious piece of poetry containing the qualities of the six ingredients needed to complete a ritual that will bring peace to the land for another hundred years. Off the adventurers set to find the items and save the day. Their success or failure, however, is determined not by the script, but by the choices made by the audience and the luck of the dice.
The show flows beautifully, striking a perfect balance between scripted and improvised portions and between predetermined events and audience decision-making. Said decisions are made via smartphone; audience members are invited at the top of the show to scan a QR code in their program that allows them to vote on choices made throughout the show. Somehow, this doesn’t really slow down the pace of the show, which is a joke-packed, nonstop romp through fantasyland. The seamless incorporation of the gaming aspect is the work of co-creator and game designer Sarah Davis Reynolds, who also helps run the show from onstage.
The incredible skill of the performers is evident throughout; from the early moment when it’s revealed that each cast member has three entire character sheets memorized to the brilliant bits of improvisation littered throughout the show. Game Master and co-creator DAGL in particular boasts oodles of charisma and an impressive sense of comedic timing.
For experienced tabletop roleplaying gamers, there is plenty to love in the familiar world of d20s and dexterity checks. For newcomers, everything is explained clearly and concisely, so that terms like “roll with advantage” are easily understood by everyone in the audience. Despite the madcap atmosphere, the show has lots of heart, and its many, many laughs are interwoven with a sense of real connection to both the performers and one’s fellow audience members.
The Twenty-Sided Tavern is the rare show that is both genuinely unique in its concept and utterly thrilling in its execution. Whether you collect TTRPG characters like candy or have never rolled anything but six-sided dice, you’ll find something to love in this charming, hilarious production.
Dates: October 27, 2022 – January 15, 2023
Location: The Broadway Playhouse (175 E. Chestnut)
Tickets: $40-$65. For more information, visit the Broadway in Chicago website.
All photos by Amy Boyle Photography.