by Aiyanna Wade
Whether you’re familiar with Table Top Role Playing Games (TTRPG) or not, The Twenty-Sided Tavern, currently playing at the Broadway Playhouse in Water Tower Place, is a night full of fun and laughs. Although my audience was full of cosplayers sporting their festival best, not everyone dressed up for the occasion. As I wondered why I didn’t get the memo, I noticed some of the cast were helping people to their seats from the lobby and handing out stickers.
When entering the theater, the set was a minimalistic tavern with a rustic bar sporting a gamemaster screen and barstools. There were also three make-shift podiums made from barrels, crates, and the like. Each one sported a tiny aerial camera that was able to capture dice rolls for the audience. Far downstage, past the proscenium on either side, were small spaces littered with weapons, boots, hats, instruments, and various other dress-up supplies. Behind it all were beautifully large projections of rotating images from magic items to maps of mystical locations, and later in the night, the cast’s dice rolls.
From the starting watering hole called the “Curious Hedgehog” all the way to the Temple of the Crystal Cauldron, we were taken on a hilariously fun romp through the colorful land of Hale. At the start of the show, it became clear that the stickers handed out by the cast and found in our Playbills were color coded to separate the audience into three teams. Mine was Team Fighter, or red team, led by Carlina Parker. The other two teams were the Blue Mages and the Green Rogues. After meeting our team leaders, the audience was encouraged to take out their phones (gasp!) and scan the QR code found in the program. This show is led like a choose-you-own-adventure, and by using cellphones to vote for choices throughout the story, the audience can impact the outcome!
Curating the night’s festivities were co-creators DAGL and Sarah Reynolds who played the Gamemaster and Tavern Keeper respectively. Anyone unfamiliar with TTRPGs were quickly caught up with how the games are run. DAGL explained dice rolls and how the numbers affect the success or failures of our intrepid heroes. With some audience participation and a giant 20-sided die, they broke down character strengths and weaknesses, explaining how the players would be using character sheets. As someone who has played and taught Dungeons & Dragons for years, even I found it helpful to level set expectations with the audience on the game system the actors would be using. There were dungeons and dragons, but legally speaking, never at the same time.
The first win of the night went to Chicago native and swing Rogue captain, Madelyn Murphy, who celebrated with a locally festive shot of Malort. If you’re familiar with the show ‘Drunk Shakespeare’, this cast certainly didn’t get plastered, but the revelry of cheering for every small win and drinking is absolutely infectious. I was pleasantly surprised by the voting system technology. If you played as much Jack Box during the pandemic as I did, you’ll be familiar with using your phone as a controller to fill in the blanks or complete mini-games.
Continuing the audience decision-making, the three teams chose each actor’s Playable Character for the evening. Team Fighters chose Jet Finch, a roller derby enthusiast. Team Mage picked Dr. Drewford “Bestie” Black, an unlicensed therapist. Finally, Team Rogue landed on the audience favorite of the night, Katya Mariadoma Fennik, a literal cat cat-burglar. Maddie took to the character purrrfectly and had the audience rolling with laughter with her physical comedy. Jack Corcoran had side-splitting improv as Bestie with lines like “I have to set this boundary and put myself first”, healing himself as a teammate lay dying in front of him with a single hit point. Obviously, I’m biased as a Red Team-er, but Carlina had excellent crowd work throughout the night and really knew how to draw the enthusiasm of the audience. The first roll of the night happened to be a natural 20 by her and the sheer elation was palpable as the crowd erupted in celebration. A “natural 20”, for those who don’t know, is the best possible roll you can get on 20-sided dice and that’s without adding any modifiers from their character sheet. Out of the three nat-20s rolled all night, Maddie rolled one and Carlina rolled two! Each was rewarded with a shot and a hat of celebration, which Carlina sported over her helmet like two horns.
You never would have known our night had a swing step in, as the castmates had incredible repartee. The show itself was well-written and designed. I especially enjoyed the character art by Noah Ruff and wish I could’ve seen more! The concept of The Twenty-Sided Tavern was so fun and creative. The vibes were a mixture of celebrating someone’s milestone at a pub meets playing Mad Libs at Medieval Times. The audience had so many chances to participate passively and hands-on, depending on their comfort levels. Every NPC name was chosen by an audience member, and then properly roasted by DAGL. It’s clear that every nook and cranny of this show was created with care and not a single detail went unnoticed. I highly recommend seeing this show while it’s in town. In fact, I’m considering seeing it again myself! The only bit of advice I can give is to charge your phone beforehand and come willing to have a great time
The Twenty-Sided Tavern is playing now through January 15, 2023 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 East Chestnut in Chicago's Gold Coast. For tickets and information go to https://www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/twenty-sided-tavern/