Sleeping Beauty, the Frog Prince, Little Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio, Puss in Boots, and Mother Goose are all characters whose stories we have committed to memory. Saturated colors of animated movies from our childhood live in our heads as clearly as if we were watching them. But what if all of a sudden the colors darkened and the Time of Shadows descended on the world of fairytales? This is the question Brennan Lee Mulligan and his players ask in the newest season of Dimension 20: Neverafter.
An actual play Dungeons & Dragons show, Dimension 20: Neverafter sees the return of the main cast (Zac Oyama, Ally Beardsley, Siobhan Thompson, Lou Wilson, Brian Murphy, and Emily Axford) led by Mulligan as Game Master and uses the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Set in the Time of Shadows in the land of Neverafter, where a collection of classic fairytales and folklore characters reside, Mulligan tells us minutes into the first episode that this is “the horror season”. In fact, the episode starts with a note about content warnings, of which several are relevant to this episode. The start of the season runs straight into horror, as Thompson’s Princess Rosamund du Prix (Sleeping Beauty) awoke with thorny vines growing out of her throat. There are certainly elements of horror throughout the episode, which combined with visual and sound effects, create an eerie atmosphere for the episode. But fear not fans of the humor and shenanigans that have characterized previous seasons of Dimension 20, there is plenty of this throughout the episode that makes this campaign, at least one episode in, enjoyable even for those who are not fans of horror.
There was a lot to love in this first episode of Dimension 20: Neverafter. The cast’s characters were immediately intriguing and the introduction of these characters through flashbacks was a particularly notable departure from previous campaigns. Axford’s Ylfa Snorgelsson (Little Red Riding Hood) and Wilson’s Pinocchio were notable for the strength of the characters presented in just the opening scenes. Mulligan’s world-building, reminiscent of the world he built in A Crown of Candy, is steeped in lore, political intrigue, and devious, dark forces that are secretly working against the party. The death of Ylfa’s parents, the goose haunting Beardsly’s Thomas, and the shadowy figure of Pinnochio’s stepmother all begin to show us that there is much more to the world than what we see on the surface. And undoubtedly, we will see more of these shadows.
As the first campaign led by Mulligan since his stint on Critical Role’s Exandria Unlimited: Calamity this summer, it is evident how that campaign has influenced Mulligan’s campaign direction. Truly some of the best episodes of television this year, Exandria Unlimited: Calamity was a turning point for Mulligan, already one of the best professional Game Masters in the world, and launched him into a new echelon. And fans are reaping the benefits in Dimension 20: Neverafter. Being an anthology show, each season is hard to compare to others, but what Mulligan and his cast do so successfully in Dimension 20 is continue to tell excellent stories with deeply crafted characters and worlds that allow the dice to help tell the story in a way that’s truly remarkable and that keeps the audience constantly begging for more. Dimension 20: Neverafter, with its cast of familiar characters, dives into a lot of the psychological darkness ever present in a lot of tabletop roleplaying games in a way that immediately leaves you wanting more. There is no doubt after this first episode that this cast will slake our appetite and provide us with an intriguing campaign of fairytale thrillers. The question now is: how much is Brennan Lee Mulligan going to make me cry this season?