Tabletop roleplaying is enjoying quite the resurgence of popularity in recent years. Shows such as Stranger Things and Community probably contributed, as did the pandemic in bringing about a recognition that online gaming can never fully replace genuine human interaction. Dungeons and Dragons in particular benefited from the fertile variety of third-party content independently developed, including shows like the web series Critical Role, which followed a group of voice actors role-playing a D&D campaign. In a similar vein to Critical Role, Dungeons and Daddies is a real-play podcast of an original campaign using the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset.
Dungeons and Daddies won the 2019 Audioverse Awards for “New Improvised Production” and that takes as its heroes those 30 or 40-something-year-old dads who would have been the roleplaying trailblazers of my childhood era. Essentially, it is a podcast of a game of D&D, but slickly edited and produced – think no boring bits and occasional sound effects and mood music. Zero knowledge of D&D mechanics is required. Even my dad (the dad of dads) would be able to pick up the gist pretty quickly.
Dungeons and Daddies is the story of four dads from our world, transported to the Forgotten Realms and embarking on a quest to rescue their lost sons. The dads are Glenn Close, cover-rock band member dad and bard, Daryl Wilson, stay at home sports dad and barbarian, Henry Oak, granola- munching dad and druid, and lastly Ron Stampler, emotionally restrained stepdad and rogue.
The plot is a meandering, crazy portal fantasy, where the dads take a wrong turn on the road, lose their kids, and end up trapped in a bizarre fantasy realm. To rescue their kids, they have to prevail over increasingly weird perils and pitfalls, including an orgy pit, vengeful librarians and child-sized invisible dragons. Escapades include Henry Oak using a box of prophylactics to solve the issue of his
fingers jettisoning streams of poison, the character’s own dad jokes causing psychic damage to each other, and the trials of incanting spells in Japanese to refill their Toyota mini-van’s gas tank.
A large part of the fun comes from the ineptness and emotional foibles of the dads and how they interact with each other. Ron Stampler’s bumbling need for approval and recognition is particularly hilarious. Beth May does his character superbly, she really pulls out all the stops.
The production is so slick and choreographed that one suspects it is scripted to a degree, with some room for improv, but that doesn’t at all detract from the enjoyment. All the boring bits are edited out, there are no protracted and lengthy descriptions by the DM of exotic locales. No inane or mundane conversation or pointless waffle. And it is hilarious. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is the one of the
funniest podcasts I’ve ever listened to.
While the once-fringe pastime of rolling dice and embarking on a shared fantastical story hasn’t achieved mainstream respectability just yet, at least the pursuit is no longer regarded wholly with disdain, as the popularity of podcasts such as Dungeons and Daddies demonstrates. Certainly, this is a far cry from my childhood era, where for the most part D&D was either ridiculed or maligned, roughly in equal measure. (I recall a kid’s dad once tore up the player manual my friend had lent him under the auspices of protecting his child from the devil’s machinations.)
The podcast indeed brought back memories. I played myself in high school, albeit badly and with little regard for the actual rules or the goals of any campaign. Squabbles between party members quickly became fatal. Real world slights fast became gruesomely manifest in the world of back stabs and dice-roll combat. Games involving my merry brotherhood of adventurers had a nasty tendency to descend into fratricidal massacres, with only one player left standing at the end. The task of DM was unenviable.
For our part, we managed to recruit a DM/Mentor from the ranks of the school’s higher grades, an unthinkable breach of that enshrined, hierarchal segregation between the lower and upper years. I recall this elder sage wore a largely bemused expression as guided us stumbling neophyte initiates through the most basic of saving throws.
There’s a pleasant nostalgia to be had in listening to this podcast, at least for those of us creaking forty-something-year-old dads from that era. Listening to this podcast provides a similar comfort to what you’d get from tuning in to a familiar sitcom like Friends, where in jokes and long-running gags abound – only with dragons and…ahem…orgy pits. The chaotic good humour and random faux pas lend the show a realism that really makes you feel like you’re sitting around the table with a bunch of old mates. It’s just damn good fun, plain and simple. Thoroughly recommended, and not just for D&D buffs.