Dungeons + Drama Nerds
Dungeons + Drama Nerds is a podcast produced by Todd Brian Backus, Percival Hornak, and Nicholas Orvis, three dramaturgs interested in the intersection of theatre and tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs). In the summer of 2019, they decided to take a break from sitting in the corner of rehearsal asking “But why?” and turn a Twitter exchange into reality. Dungeons + Drama Nerds is mixed and edited by Anthony Sertel Dean.
Episodes release weekly on Wednesdays, alternating between Actual Play episodes featuring a group of theater artists playing a game and Commentary episodes that offer analysis of the game system and parallels in the theatre world. The podcast explores what kinds of storytelling different game systems foster best.
Each season features different TTRPGs and systems; our first season featured Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Apocalypse World, and Paranoia: Red Clearance.
Season 2 will feature Blades in the Dark, Bluebeard's Bride, Kids on Bikes, Oh Dang! Bigfoot Stole My Car With My Friend's Birthday Present Inside, and Lancer. To find out more about the upcoming season listen to the episode below.
Cast + Crew:
Todd Brian Backus
Audio Designer/Engineer: Anthony Sertel Dean
Casts rotate from game to game; for a full list of artists who have been featured in our Actual Play campaigns, see: https://www.dungeonsanddramanerds.com/players-playwrights
average ~500 downloads per month
10,054 all-time downloads (as of 4/12/2022)
Wrote “Theatre of the Mind” on Howlround
Linked to in “Amid a pandemic and a racial reckoning, ‘D&D’ finds itself at an inflection point” in The Washington Post
Who Are We?
Todd Brian Backus (Co-producer, he/him) is a literary manager, director, dramaturg, occasional playwright, and perpetual RPG addict. Todd has always been fascinated with storytelling regardless of medium: from books to plays, video games to comic books, and weird avenues in between. Trained at SUNY Oswego in Theatre and Graphic Design, Todd was introduced to a number of artists both theatrical and visual that forced him to consider the ways form and content interact and how they inform, support, or subvert a narrative. When he’s not playing TTRPGs (or JRPGs), Todd can be found researching the sequel to his ahistorical romp Emily Dickinson: Paranormal Investigator. Todd is Portland Stage’s Literary Manager, a diamond-ranked Moira main on Overwatch, and a level nine Warlock in Dungeons & Dragons. Keep up with him at toddbrianbacks.com or just about everywhere as @tbbackus
Percival Hornak (Co-producer, he/they) is a dramaturg, playwright, dungeon master, and community organizer who loves theatricality, ghost stories, and plays about lesbians. He proudly serves as literary manager of Team Awesome Robot, an indie play development collaborative based in NYC. During Percy's two-year tenure as Literary Fellow at Arena Stage, he worked on several world premieres as script supervisor and production dramaturg, including Aaron Posner's JQA and Tom Kitt, Nell Benjamin, and Thomas Meehan's DAVE. Other companies Percy has worked with include Luna Stage and Andy’s Summer Playhouse and he is a proud alum of Albright College, where he studied English and Theatre. In addition to his work in dramaturgy, he has been a dungeon master for several years in various editions of Dungeons & Dragons as well as various Powered by the Apocalypse games. Find him on Twitter @techxni, on Instagram @percy.hornak, or at percivalhornak.com.
Nicholas Orvis (Co-Producer, he/him) is a dramaturg, director, literary manager, and tabletop roleplaying game enthusiast who’s dedicated to fostering new stories in media of all kinds. As the Literary Associate for Premiere Stages at Kean University, Nick served as the dramaturg on over a dozen workshops, readings, and productions, and grew the company’s annual submission pool by hundreds of playwrights. He’s also worked at Portland Stage Company, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Luna Stage, and the Tank, and his short (fan) fiction has appeared in Wayfinder magazine. He has over a decade of experience in tabletop roleplaying games (mostly as a GM). He’s on Twitter @nsorvis, on Instagram @norvis13, and online at nicholasorvis.com.
Anthony Sertel Dean (Audio Designer, they/he) is a sound artist, composer, and media designer working to build community through an embrace of openness and experimentation in art. This work takes a multidisciplinary approach to media and performance, hoping to create a more inclusive, personal art. Anthony’s sound work can be heard in theater (The Kennedy Center), film (Film at Lincoln Center), radio (WNYC), and art installations (The Tank). Anthony is the technical director for The New York Neo-Futurists and is an MFA candidate at Columbia University’s Sound Art program. For more on Anthony, visit anthonydean.org
How the Show Began
In the summer of 2019, three dramaturgs (Todd, Percy, and Nick) joked on a Twitter thread that they should start a podcast doing analysis of tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) the way they analyze a play or theatrical text. Almost two years later, they’re embarking on the second season of Dungeons + Drama Nerds, a podcast that does just that.
They’ve explored Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Apocalypse World, and Paranoia: Red Clearance, three games with vastly different genres and storytelling mechanics, and along the way have explored links to playwrights like María Irene Fornés, methods of virtual theatre production, devising theatre, and intimacy choreography.
Reviews + Testimonials
My best friend did science on me… ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
And told me to listen to this podcast, and wow am I glad I did! Todd, Percy, and Nick give such excellent thought nuggets for any theatre maker/ttrpg gamer to consider and bring to their respective spaces. I thoroughly enjoy the format of actual play and commentary. It allows the listener to contextualize the game play and want more as the stories develop. Still in the early episodes, but I am loving it!
“Put ghosts in your stories, coward!” ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
These nerds put on some good games. Their expertise of theatre, and how to play together while weaving interesting (and fun!) stories shines through each episode. If you’re looking for a good campaign that engages you while not being dire, definitely try D
For anyone who loves collaborative storytelling ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
A full-hearted, immensely thoughtful, and incredibly entertaining look at all the opportunities, pitfalls and ideas put on the table by both role-playing games and theatre. The creators talk shop about both fields throughout, but never in a way that’s prohibitive for folks who don’t know, and they pull together casts and storytellers that bring out the best of the various game systems they try. As a theatre maker and a gamer, I’ve found this a really invaluable way to dip a toe into all sorts of techniques and systems I haven’t gotten the chance to try, and the intentionality with which the show approaches everything they do is really refreshing in a landscape where too many actual-play shows tend to coast off their charm and scrappiness. Well worth a look from anybody who wants to learn and play more within both theatre and gaming spaces, and see the ways they can draw on one another.
@NightSkyGames (Meguey Baker, one of the designers of Apocalypse World): Heck yeah inter-sectional everything! Games, theater, story, venue design, everything. Use all the spaces, play with all the tools, turn everything upside down and inside out to see what /else/ it could be. Yes.
@GameCalledQuest (a Quest AP podcast): Here are some APs that we love that make an effective effort support and feature folks from marginalized communities: @TBHalflings @DNDramaNerds @ProteanCity @magpies_pod @moonharborcast @NoInitiativeTV @MeowsterDungeon @aznsrepresent
@Dramaturd (Ty Monroe): Y’all, if you’re not listening to the @DNDramaNerds podcast, then I don’t know what to tell you. It’s everything I love wrapped into one podcast.
How to Listen
Dungeons + Drama Nerds is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or your podcast app of choice (Podcast Addict, Overcast, etc.)
Episodes are also available on our website:
You could start in Season 1 with the intro episode to our D&D, Apocalypse World, or Paranoia arcs (Eps 1, 14, and 34, respectively), in Season 2 the intros for our BitD, Bluebeard’s Bride, Kids on Bikes, Oh Dang! Bigfoot…, or Lancer Arcs (S2E1, S2E15, S2E21, S2E34, and S2E39, respectively), or dive into these Commentary episodes; we feel they reflect some of our best work:
Episode 9: Player as Performer and Audience
In this episode Todd, Nick, and Percy discuss the role of the player as both performer and as the audience in tabletop role-playing games.
Episode 27: Lineage of Craft - Maria Irene Fornes and PbtA
In this episode, Todd, Nick, and Percy chat about the way we pass down creative knowledge from one generation of artists to another. They examine the impact of the incredible María Irene Fornés on the theatre field alongside the way D. Vincent and Meguey Baker have influenced game design in the world of TTRPGs.
Episode 23: Intimacy Choreography in TTRPGs Feat. Ella Mock
Ella Mock, an artist and consent educator, joins Percy, Todd, and Nick to talk about intimacy choreography techniques and how we can use them in TTRPGs.
S2E18: I Want the Rainbow ft. Strix Beltrán
Percy and Nick sit down with Strix Beltrán, one of the creators of Bluebeard's Bride and a professional narrative designer, and chat about Bluebeard's Bride, LARPing, immersive theater, and the games field as a whole.
S2E9: Narrative is the Jelly: The False Binary of Fiction and Crunch
This week, Todd, Nick, and Percy dive into a recurring theme in discourse about tabletop role-playing games: fiction-forward games and "crunchy" games. They dissect what these terms mean, discuss their own takes on the value of each approach to game design, and try to locate Blades in the Dark within that spectrum.
S2E29: Queering Monsters
Todd and Percy chat about two plays in the kids on bikes genre, including the way each play interacts with the conventions of that genre and each play's relation to queerness and monstrosity. Plays Discussed: Wolfcrush (a queer werewolf play) by Haygen-Brice Walker and The Interrobangers by M Sloth Levine.
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