‘Woodlands & Wyverns’ an entertaining adaptation the Dungeon & Dragons game by Audacious Theatre

Thanks to Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and other fantasy-based series, fantasy as a genre has jumped the rail between the world of nerds and the mainstream. And Woodlands & Wyverns is definitely designed to appeal to the nerd in all of us. A unique immersive play with multiple potential endings based on the role of polyhedral dice, it is written by Audacious Theater’s own Elizabeth Porter. Porter also plays the integral role of The Story Teller in this local takeoff of the role-playing world of Dungeons & Dragons.

This is Porter’s debut play and she’s done an admirable job pulling various fantasy elements into a cohesive story. It’s obvious that she’s a devotee of the genre between her comprehensive knowledge of the complex D&D game and from her insight into the personalities and interaction between the players. Her character development is a little rough, but the physicality and pace of the play helps draw attention away from that shortcoming.

As is often the case with today’s adaptations or revisions of the fantasy classics, it helps to have a background or base understanding to fully appreciate the revamped version. And that is certainly true of Woodlands & Wyverns. And as with most fantasy genres, it’s best to check your reality at the door and just go with the flow.

Before we venture further, I need to acknowledge that my knowledge of the world of Dungeon & Dragons is limited at best. I attended the play with by husband, who knows even less about the game than I do, and my brother, who has been playing for over 40 years and is a Dungeon Master. My brother, the family nerd, caught most of the veiled references to D&D and other fantasy games and media, while most of them went over the heads of my husband and I. So forgive any unintentional gaffes with the game or the genre.

The quest begins

The story focuses on two sets of friends who come together to learn to play the fantasy game Woodlands & Wyverns. Each of the four players has already created a character for the quest they will take together under the tutelage of The Story Teller. Rachel is Vyx, the well-meaning traveler with a full detailed back story. Her girlfriend, Urie, isn’t nearly as knowledgeable of her druid skills as she focuses more on using Faedolenaurie’s skills to save the forest than to further their quest.

Meanwhile, Brett has created a blustery, headstrong Palladin named Braun, who is ready to take on any challenge sword-first — despite the pleas for moderation from his seemingly beleaguered former college roommate Theodore, who plays Earnest, a mysterious and dark magician. (And, yes, Earnest is quite ‘earnest’ – an example of the tongue-in-cheek references used throughout.)

The Story Teller outlines the rules of play and launches into her prepared storyline for the journey, giving players opportunities to test the skills and talents they have created for their characters. A small screen in the background provides the settings as the players begin their quest to find the kidnapped child of the mysterious Lady Kaldora.

As the plot unwinds and the characters encounter dark and evil beings and other impediments on their way to the Charred Forest to rescue the child, the players individual stories also begin to reveal themselves as we learn about their relationships and their own personal challenges and issues. At one point, their varied temperaments flare and the ensuing clashes threaten to end the game.

But the players persevere and, by the final scene, they’ve won the grudging respect of each other and reaffirmed the friendships that brought them together in the first place.

The players (Sam Randall as Vyz/Rachel, Joey Laughlin as Earnest/Theodore, Ren Manley as Fae/Urie and Jordan Aburto as Braun/Brett) do a convincing enough job in their roles that it initially takes a few minutes to realize that the bickering is part of the plot and not off-script. Despite this, the overall production came off a bit amateurish – but that didn’t seem to deter the audience from embracing it.

The venue for the play, at Vision Comics & Oddities on Federal Boulevard, is another hint that Woodlands & Wyverns is targeted to a niche audience who appreciates the fantasy genre. The small stage area is nestled toward the back of the crammed store and is an apt setting for the tale. Director Logan Custer has taken advantage of the space to the fullest extent possible, as cast members run around the audience member tables and exit through a back door.

Immersive experience

The most appealing part of the play is the audience participation. Audience members who select the VIP tickets can use their very own dice set for a chance to roll a huge polyhedral die during the play to determine the outcomes of specific storylines or to go on stage as an NCP (non-player character). During the performance we attended the participants clearly relished their roles and definitely added to the overall energy of the production.

Cast members also ask the audience for help at certain points, whether it’s The Story Teller asking for skill/talent levels from character sheets provided to the audience to determine a character’s fate, or the players asking for help in solving a riddle to open an impenetrable door blocking their path.

Audacious Theatre claims that with 10 possible scene variances and four unique endings, no two viewings of Woodlands and Wyverns will be the same.

Create your own

During intermission, audience members also have the opportunity to participate in their own quest. Character sheets are available that can be completed using the provided dice set and instructions.

However, the character development, which involves selecting or rolling a die for such things as ability scores, talents, alignments and equipment, is somewhat complex and can take several minutes to complete. So arrive early so you have time to complete it before the break. Again, this is easier to tackle if you have a background in D&D or similar games. At a glance I figured it would take more than 30 minutes to complete, while my brother, the Dungeon Master, guessed 10 minutes.

Despite it being a bit rough in spots, the show is worth an evening’s entertainment for those who are willing to leave reality behind for a while and embrace the fantasy world of Woodlands & Wyverns.