Features | Written by Ed Fortune 03/08/2022

DAGL – TWENTY SIDED TAVERN AT EDINBURGH FRINGE

David Andrew Greener Laws, a.k.a. DAGL, is the co-creator, writer, and resident Gamemaster of The Twenty-Sided Tavern. a fantasy roleplay themed improv show that combines actual play gaming with interactive technology and improvised comedy. The Twenty-Sided Tavern can be found during the Edinburgh Fringe at the Pleasance Dome (King Dome), 4.30pm, 3-28 August (not 15) 2022. Click here to book tickets.

What is TwentySided Tavern? How would you describe it to someone who doesn’t play fantasy games?

The Twenty-Sided Tavern is where stories live. It’s a physical place that is where we gather to recount adventures, and it’s a story place where we dive into a fantasy world to play games, solve puzzles, and become heroes. Imagine if all of your best friends were hosting a party in a place where you were totally welcome and comfortable to make all sorts of decisions that determined the outcome of a mystical quest. That and maybe play some Fantasy Beer Pong.

Why fantasy?

Fantasy is really just the first stop on this proverbial adventure train. It seemed the most logical place to dive in because it’s so open and explorable; there are so many kinds of swords & sorcery stories, and we get to draw from all of them. It can be homebrewed without a lot of rules, but games like D&D have the structure that allows for focused storytelling. We’d love to develop more stories in other genres: The Twenty-Sided Saloon for our spaghetti western, The Twenty-Sided Manor for our murder mystery, The Twenty-Sided Bordello for…probably a late-night version, let’s not get into that right now.

What is Gamiotics?

Gamiotics is the magical tech that fuels our ability to tell stories in this unique way. It’s a browser-based software (so no apps, no downloads, no sketchiness) that puts the power of choice in the audience’s hands (literally). With it, the audience becomes a fourth character in the story, making decisions for the onstage heroes, competing in minigames, and ultimately determining the outcome of our story.

How is it going to change the nature of interactive comedy?

It’s fostering this shift in dynamic storytelling where the audience’s impact can be immediately registered, felt, and analyzed for future experiences.  We are constantly rewriting these quests when we feel that a decision isn’t balanced or think of a new challenge to offer or when the audience just straight up surprises us. Since the audience sees the results of the actions they take in real time, our ability to immediately communicate with them and adjust to what they’re providing is (pun only slightly intended) a game changer.

What should I expect when I come to your show?

You should expect to be welcome and for us to be excited to see you. You should expect to hear a lot of words (the Douglas Adams influence is strong) and to meet some truly wacky characters. You should expect to use about 10% of your phone’s battery and about 97% of your daily tolerance for puns. And that’s really where the expectations end. Whether you use your phone to participate or sit back and answer the riddles in your head, whether you volunteer to come onstage or giggle from the back row, you will have a truly unique experience in the fantasy land of Dagland.

How different is this from actual play streaming shows like Critical Role, Questing Time, Dimension 20 etc?

The biggest difference is TST’s interactivity. There are no limits to our storytelling, because the audience and these brilliant performers work together to create something that is truly unique every single time. We immerse you in a way that makes you partially responsible for what happens to our heroes, and that makes you an invaluable part of the experience, which few other experiences can say.

The Fringe has seen interactive fantasy shows (such as Knightmare Live) before, what makes this unique?

Gamiotics is a huge part of that. The absolute thrill that comes from simply tapping a button to see if the audience can overcome an obstacle is incredible. I have been constantly blown away by how invested and excited our audiences get when naming an NPC or at a player rolling a nat 20. Our audiences are ravenous, brilliant, hilarious, and statistically more clever than 87% of other theatregoers.

What’s been your favourite moment so far?

Hard to choose. There was the infamous “Turkey Kiss” where the Big Bad Evil Guy was defeated with the power of love. There was the time a villain’s plans were foiled when one of the players baby-birded seltzer into my mouth. There was the time a four-year-old in the audience named an evil wizard Bripey McDoogle. And of course who could forget the time that the audience decided an onstage scarf was actually a turtle named Leonardo, whom the players then protected with their lives. We still get fan art of him to this day….

What’s your favourite prop from the show so far?

Has to be The Decider. It’s our giant twenty-sided die that helps us make our most pivotal decisions. It even gets into an audience member’s hands for the first roll of the show, and the results are…dynamic.

What’s the biggest challenge facing improv comedy today?

I think the biggest challenge is the stigma attached to the word “improv”. One imagines a black box theatre and overly-enthusiastic actors in different colored t-shirts skipping onstage while clapping for themselves, soliciting suggestions from the audience followed by a series of moments that your brain identifies as jokes but your body doesn’t have the willpower to physically respond to until in a desperate attempt at validation the performers continue to try and one-up one another until it devolves into a Yes-And-fueled scene of absolute chaos.

Well, in our version, sometimes the actors wear collared shirts instead of t-shirts.

What tabletop and video games are you playing at the moment?

I’m always playing Dungeons and Dragons every moment that someone will allow me too. I’ve also been playing Gloomhaven, and am only slightly embarrassed to admit that I have a solo game ongoing in my basement.

As I prepare for a very long flight, I’m making sure my staples are all loaded up just in case – Fallout: New Vegas, Civilization VI, Disco Elysium. And we can just edit out this part here where I admit that I’ll probably spend a majority of the flight playing The Sims 4 instead.

What are your favourite fantasy tropes?

I love a good MacGuffin, specifically when it’s an egg. And obviously I’m a fan of “the NPC you fell in love with was a bad guy all along”. (Not in the campaign we’re bringing to Edinburgh though, I promise, wink)

Would you allow my druid to wildshape into an Owlbear?

Hey, I get that reference! I would allow you to roll for it, and depending on the outcome you would either become an owlbear or a bearowl or a bear who thinks it’s an owl or an owl in a t-shirt and no pants.

Is the genre world more accessible these days?

Certainly, and becoming more accessible every day, I think. As well it should be. Everyone has an imagination, everyone should be welcome, everyone should be invited and able to create and celebrate and enjoy.

Which comedians inspire you?

Early days inspirations were Robin Williams and Eddie Izzard. If I play my cards right, you’ll see those reflected in my performance onstage between the absolute manic energy and the dry, acerbic witticism. These days you’ll also catch a dash of Noel Fielding (mainly my wigs) and Dylan Moran (when my players are giving me a hard time). I have also been described as the lovechild of Bo Burnham and John Mulhaney, proving that talent isn’t genetic but having a big forehead is.

What tropes / gags do you personally avoid the most?

We definitely try to avoid the whole light = good vs dark = bad. It’s unspecific, it’s problematic, let’s find something new. Really any stereotyping, whether it’s all orc are bad or all elves are fancy, anything like that. More dainty, violinist orc bards and ungainly, yee-haw barbarian elves please!

Would You Pick:

Tolkien or Pratchett?

Pratchett, and I feel strongly that this is the most dangerous question I have ever been asked.

Game of Thrones or Doctor Who?

Doctor Who every time. Eccelston was my first, Tennant was my favorite, Whittaker’s a revelation, and Gatwa will be phenomenal.

Simpsons or Futurama?

Futurama. I cannot for the life of me think of a clever rejoinder here, that’s just my opinion.

Fringe Theatre or Audio Drama?

Fringe Theatre. And that’s not just pandering. (It’s not *just* pandering)

Truth or Beauty?

Booooooooth? I mean, they’re both subjective. I feel like this is a genie’s curse. Is this a genie’s curse? You legally have to tell me if this interview’s being conducted by a genie or else it’s entrapment.