I wasn’t able to go to last year’s Stream of Many Eyes, so when Wizards of the Coast announced its next Dungeons & Dragons convention – D&D Live 2019: The Descent – I jumped at the chance and bought my three-day pass as soon as they went on sale. It was a pretty significant purchase: $300 for three days, compared to the roughly $100 for a three-day WonderCon pass. But a lot of people I knew in the D&D community (specifically the D&D community in LA) were very excited about the return of what had been dubbed “D&D Summer Camp”. I was equally excited. I even prepared my first ever cosplay of Father Boyce, a human NPC priest of Mother Night from my friend Gaurav Gulati’s Ravenloft campaign “It’s Always Cloudy in Barovia”. But as much as I tried to prepare and plan for the event, I really had no idea what to expect.
I got there on Day 1 just as the gates had opened to attendees. I was feeling a little nervous about my cosplay, but overall my “dungeon-casual” was well-received. Most of the two hours prior to the main stage opening for seating were spent catching up with old friends and going through our swag bags. I’m not kidding when I say that attending may have been worth it for the free merch alone. We got a copy of The Ghosts of Saltmarsh, D&D-brand dice, an issue of Rick & Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons, a free tabletop miniature, and more. I got a Dragonborn Sorcerer mini, but some attendees were lucky enough to get a dragon!
Even more exciting was the announcements during the opening ceremonies. Why was D&D Live 2019 called “The Descent”? Because the upcoming adventure for Dungeons & Dragons is the Descent Into Avernus. For years, Wizards of the Coast had been teasing the Blood War, a conflict being fought between the lawful evil devils of the Nine Hells and the chaotic evil demons of the Abyss. Journeying from the city of Baldur’s Gate (the Gotham to Waterdeep’s Metropolis, as Chris Perkins so aptly put it), you will descend to Avernus, the first of the Nine Hells and the primary battlefield between these two fiendish factions. The ruler of Avernus is Archduchess Zariel. The D&D creative team didn’t want to spoil too much about her, but basically Zariel was once an angel who was captured and corrupted by Asmodeus (Lord of the Nine Hells). Now she leads the devils of Avernus as Asmodeus’s champion. Has she truly fallen to the side of evil? Or does Zariel have a bigger plan at work? Your character will have to find out in Avernus. The Descent Into Avernus has a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek vibe with characters riding around in “infernal war-machines” (basically Mad Max vehicles) powered by “soul coins”. Will you use such a profane tool? Are you willing to make a deal with a devil? Be warned: deals with devils are unbreakable, and devils often get more out of the bargain than you will.
Day 2 probably would’ve been a better day for me to come in cosplay. On the bright side, I avoided being mistaken for one of the cosplay talent as more than a few attendees found themselves. It was the first day that the Wandering Marketplace was open. In D&D, the Wandering Marketplace is a traveling bazaar on Avernus, so in addition to stalls offering various merchandise, this shopping area had cosplayers wandering around in-character. I ended up getting something from every shop: a dice vault with Infernal writing (the language of devils) from Wyrmwood, a Hellriders badge from Beadle & Grimm’s, a Displacer Beast T-shirt from Death Saves, an Arkhan the Cruel tabletop miniature (by the way, the character Arkhan also has a keep on Avernus, so he is 100% canon!), and a Ring of Dragons by Han Cholo (truly a legendary magic item).
Relics & Rarities had a signing after their shocking cliffhanger the previous day: the discovery of a sort of ‘Anti-Relics & Rarities’ team, the kidnapping of Professor Roundland, and with a mysterious “H” claiming responsibility. Many fans (me included) took to social media with the hashtag “#WhoIsH”, asking Geek & Sundry for a Season 2 to resolve the mystery. It was always a pleasure to talk with the minds behind one of my favorite games, and I seized every opportunity. I talked with James Haeck about the Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting. Todd Kenreck and Adam Bradford talked with me about D&D Beyond. I also talked with Clint McElroy about playing Dungeons & Dragons with his sons. Sometimes, we just talked about other pursuits, like voice acting and game design.
Day 3 started out fairly gloomy. Literally. Because it was raining pretty hard. The signing area on the balcony had to be moved, and we all stood huddled under the awnings trying to stay dry. I had been dreading this day because it was when I was signed up for the Adventurers League Epic. But it was also the day many of my favorite streamers were doing signings and I didn’t want to have to miss either. The weather finally convinced me to go inside the main stage for the three-hour Epic. For those unfamiliar with an Epic or D&D Adventurers League, Adventurers League is an organization that allows you to take a D&D character through multiple official D&D modules and adventures (hence, the title) at any AL event. An Epic throws hundreds of people into the same adventure, divided up into tables of six people each, and tasked with completing a specific sub-quest that contributes to the success of the overall mission. I was particularly proud of my character: when I got my pre-generated character (for those who haven’t prepared an AL-compliant character in advance), a human wizard, I knew what I had to do. Thus, Ron Weasley found himself in Avernus with all those other poor souls. I had a great time in the Epic. Most of my friends are on-camera talent who are either playing tabletop RPGs on-stream and/or in at least eight other home games when they’re not on-the-set, so it’s rare these days that I’m able to play. Ultimately, poor Ron was killed by a barbed devil just as he managed to make it out of the Nine Hells and back to Baldur’s Gate. So if you’re playing Descent Into Avernus, one of those soul coins you find might contain the soul of a panicked eleven year-old wizarding student. To wrap up the day, D&D Live put on a concert with music worthy of the Nine Hells. The Library Bards (*jazz-hands*) premiered a Dungeons & Dragons parody song from their upcoming album. The fantasy metal trio Cardioid performed, and by the time Magic Sword started playing, everyone was on their feet dancing like nobody was watching.
It’s easy to feel out-of-place when surrounded by so many creative individuals. Matthew Mercer hit the nail on the head when he described these D&D conventions as “the largest annual gathering of people suffering from Imposter Syndrome”. It’s easy to feel like you haven’t done enough or aren’t as “talented” as the other attendees. Myself, I found it good practice to fight that toxic introverted urge to isolate myself. I got to share my genuine love for D&D, my desire to learn new things, and I got to meet some great people as a result. I got to talk narrative design with Kate Welch. I got to hang out with Mark Meer (and on the day I wore my N7 hoodie, no less!). I apologize if this sounds like bragging, but I am constantly reminding myself how great it felt to be surrounded by so many wonderful people, to feel like I belonged with them. If you can afford to travel to Hollywood for these D&D Live conventions, I highly recommend it. For the most part, everyone is so welcoming and genuinely interested in getting to know you. Sure, there are always one or two people who are arrogant or excluding. But you’re going to be having so much fun with the literal hundreds of others there, you won’t even think twice about the bad experiences. Because ultimately, this is people coming together who want to share stories: about their work, about their ideas, about their passions. So if you have the time and means, add D&D Live 2020 to your to-do list, because I’m for sure not missing out on this experience ever again!