One Saturday night last month at Arcade Comedy Theater, a dwarf, an elf, a gnome and a human tossed bags of Doritos into a crowd of 60 people, while battling a stallion-sized dragon, a 30-foot dragon and three cats dressed like dragons (but not in that order).
It was the fifth Knights of the Arcade, a monthly improv show in which actors and comedians play Dungeons & Dragons on stage. Patrons submitted suggestions for the players' mission. (That's where the dragon-cats came from.) The evening's quest? To rescue gems from a dragon — the larger one.
Jesse Landis-Eigsti, who was a gnome named Bardley, played keyboard, cranking out improvised songs and tunes like "Jesus Christ Superstar." As Bardley's ambiguously gendered sibling, Mardley, Missy Moreno sported a duct-tape soul patch and moustache. Other adventurers included: the human Abbot Costello (Joe Lyons); the sword-toting dwarf Stone Cold (Brad Stephenson); and Liz'bethenion the elf (Liz Labacz). Show creator Fred Betzner was the Dungeon Master. And performers periodically tossed out bags of chips — just because.
Using modified rules to speed the game, the show is meant to attract D&D players and non-players alike. When players decide on an action, like singing to the dragon or kicking the cat, the roll of a virtual 20-sided die — displayed on a projection screen — decides how effective the actions are.
"Characters have numbers attached to skills, say a +10 bonus to their ability to climb things," explains Betzner in an email. "When they attempt to climb something in the game," the Dungeon Master produces a number reflecting the difficulty of the climb. When the combined die number and "stats bonus" exceed the difficulty number, the move is successful.
You didn't need to know all of that to enjoy the night, however: Much of the evening involved ribbing and story-telling, and raucous cheering if the die landed on 18 or above.
At one point, Dungeon Master Betzner said, "I'm going to assume that's an automatic hit, because I don't know the rules that well."
Later, Labacz said, "I give the cats treats to befriend them again. ... But it's poison."
After about 45 minutes, the show began to drag a bit — Lyons joked that the parking garages were going to close. But Knights of the Arcade isn't a bad knight out.