The Guild is arguably the measuring stick by which all geeky web series are now measured. Felicia Day created the show she was meant to be in at a time when networks were quick to ax things loved by geeks when they couldn’t hit the right numbers. The Guild was likely too niche for the mainstream television networks, but it had a place online, and the audience it was intended for absolutely loved it. Day would, of course, go on to create the web channel Geek & Sundry, the original home of Critical Role, which only further cemented her status as geek royalty.
If The Guild was about MMOs like World of Warcraft and EverQuest, what about the other games that tend to be the foundation for geek hobbies? The next heir for cool geek comedy for me was LARPs, which felt like what would happen if the members of the Knights of Good decided to be LARPers (Live Action Role-Players) instead. Like with The Guild, the real story was not the game but the people in the game. Also similar to The Guild, co-creator and writer Jon Verrall pulled from his real-life experiences as a LARPer and what happens when the lines between in-character and out-of-character get blurry.
It was only a matter of time before tabletop gaming got a similar treatment, so a few weeks ago, when someone posted a link to The Party in one of my Dungeons & Dragons groups and said it was like The Guild meets LARPs, I knew I had to check it out.
WARNING: The rest of this post contains spoilers for The Guild, LARPs, and the first 5 episodes of The Party.
The Guild was centered around Codex, LARPs heavily focused on Arthur, and The Party actually focuses more on Viola (April Yanko), the newbie of the group rather than a seasoned gamer. Viola is not a traditional geek or Dungeons & Dragons player. She enters the story when the DM’s relationship blows up and an ex moving out means the DM needs a new roommate. Viola helps to cover the rent and takes over what was previously the game room only to quickly discover that the game night her roomie hosts isn’t exactly Scrabble when her thesis pitch prep is interrupted by the boisterous gaming going on.
Viola does not have the time or patience for these shenanigans as she’s trying to get her thesis topic approved. You see, Viola is enrolled in one of the country’s top communications programs and her parents are covering the bills as long as she’s a student. Her pitch is about to go down in flames until she gets a sudden inspiration watching her advisor put a gift bow on a plush dragon for his nephew. The dragon is resting on top of a textbook on conflict resolution. Viola suggests her thesis will be on Dungeons & Dragons and conflict resolution, and her advisor is all about her getting out of the library and into actual research. Anyone getting Shane from LARPs vibes would be dead on.
Of course, Viola has to get into the group first. DM is reluctant, although it’s pointed out they are technically a player down. She lets Viola in on one condition: Viola has to get the rest of the party to agree. Enter the rest of our cast of quirky players:
DM (Nabila Hossain): Viola’s insecure roommate who is clearly shaken up by her ex cheating on her and dumping her. She frequently questions her skills as a DM and is running her own homebrew world. DM doesn’t want to see any more interparty romance go down so you know this is about to become a thing.
Yorick (Zach Kumaishi): The party’s theater kid Elven Warlock tends to see the game as all about playing a character, sometimes a tad too much. He often sees himself as the main character in every situation.
Jean (Grayson Niles): The party’s fallen Aasimar Paladin. Jean is a bit of a min-max power gamer in contrast to Yorick’s more character-driven tendencies, although it should be noted that his character is in a relationship with Thistle but Jean has an out-of-game girlfriend.
Thistle (Leah Jarvik): The party’s Half-Elven Druid. Thistle’s a bit of a starving artist and her feelings for Jean do seem to be more than just in-character.
Ecstasy (Jewell Karinen): The Party’s Tiefling Rouge is the tough girl of the group who clearly has a thing for DM.
One of the most delightful things the series does is when they pop over to the players being in character you see the actors in their D&D characters’ costumes in some sort of medieval setting. The first time we see it is when Viola approaches the group and they’re suddenly in a tavern setting arguing across the table until Yorick accidentally throws his drink on Viola, and then it cuts back to the dining room table with everyone in their street clothes. It really gives a great feel for how the players see themselves in-game.
Ecstasy is less concerned about whether Viola should join than she is with helping DM steal back her campaign notes from her ex (in a very special guest cameo). Thistle breaks first when Viola points out she can cook which means they’ll be food at the table. When Thistle cracks, Jean does too. Yorick is the hardest to win over—until Viola appeals to his theater kid tendencies and suggests that she can play the wizard twin sister of his character’s dead true love who is finally leaving the white tower of academia for adventure.
She has a rocky start in her first session, but Viola is in this to succeed and it doesn’t take long before she wants to actually learn the game. Jean teaches her game mechanics and player strategy, Yorick encourages playing as her character would, Ecstasy reminds the DM that Viola is new and not to gatekeep, and Thistle paints Viola her character’s miniature. When Viola has her first bright moment as a player, you know she’s now in this as a player and not just a researcher. Hanging over her victory and new friend group is the fact she’s taking notes on them and their game, and what happens at the table may not be staying at the table.
How far Viola may betray the group to protect her thesis research is just beginning to be explored as her advisor warns her that he needs to see what conflict is being dealt with via Dungeons & Dragons and Viola finds herself creating a dramatic situation so she has a conflict to observe. Of course, the true conflict is what Viola is bringing to the group by having ulterior motives for joining even as she starts to love the game. How that will play out, especially when the group discovers her betrayal, is going to be huge. Dungeons & Dragons fans should find plenty of relatable shenanigans and player dynamics as well as a number of familiar faces as guest stars. Like its predecessors, The Party really is a love letter to the game it focuses on. With five episodes currently out via YouTube, and new episodes dropping on Tuesdays, I’m super excited to see what’s going to come up next. You can catch the first one below: