Improv Embassy puts on Dungeons and Dragons-inspired show

The Improv Embassy, a non-profit improvised comedy space and school, hosted a Dungeons and Dragons (DnD)-themed improv show, Quest Friends Forever, on Jan. 13.

Named after the improv group that created it, Best Friends Forever, the show draws its structure from the game’s mechanics of tabletop role-playing games like DnD to engage its audience.

From character creation to skill checks, which determine if actions can be performed, the show has members of the audience roll a large 20-sided die to decide situation outcomes. Similar to the game the performance references, each challenge the characters face within the story has a difficulty class—a number that a roll must meet or exceed for the character to be successful. The difficulty of a given action is determined by situational factors, and by the character’s strengths and weaknesses, which were assigned randomly during character creation. Such skill checks are requested by an offstage Dungeon Master, who informs and decides when events are dictated by the die.

Rich Hilborn, an actor in the show and the primary concept creator, said he came up with the idea when was starting a new DnD campaign and finishing an improv course at the same time. He pitched the concept to his fellow actors and they were extremely receptive to his idea.

“It is a really open space and no one will outright shoot you down. It’s really in the principles of [improv]. You have to say ‘yes, and,’ to everything,” Hilborn said.

Hilborn added that because of the show’s niche subject matter, he still wanted it to be enjoyable for everyone watching, especially those of the cast who had never played DnD before.

“[The show] is free and open. We took the basics—it’s a fantasy setting and we wanted to roll some dice. I think it works well as a show and an homage,” Hilborn said.

Reception to the show seemed positive, from both Improv Embassy regulars and newcomers. Julie Bourassa, an attendee of the show, said she loved the theme and the use of roleplay mechanics.

“Audience participation gets so much more immersive with the help of the die,” Bourassa said.  

Dani Alon, education director at the Improv Embassy, said that long-form styles were part of the reason that she and her colleagues formed the organization.

“We wanted to bring the unique long-form and Harold styles to Ottawa,” she said. “We started [Improv Embassy in part] to show and teach those different styles . . . that are not as common,” Alon said.

Even though each show is one-of-a-kind, the Improv Embassy is still planning to host new shows of Quest Friends Forever, along with their classes and other programming. The show was also accepted into The Ottawa Fringe Festival and will be presented on a larger scale this June.