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  • Writer's pictureBryce Chismire

Encounter Party - Season 1

Updated: Apr 11

Tell me this. How familiar are you with Dungeons & Dragons?

 

I’ll admit, I’ve never played that game before, but no matter where I go, Dungeons & Dragons almost always cropped up in everyone’s subconscious as one of the most talked-about and famous RPGs ever. Everyone talked nonstop about its endless gameplay and went nuts about its imagination and storytelling. I remember getting a general feel for the game via homages to it, such as what I’ve experienced out of shows like ‘Regular Show’ and ‘Gravity Falls’. As for the game itself, the closest I’ve ever been acquainted with it was through ‘Stranger Things’ and the movie ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.’ So that was the closest I ever came to understanding what Dungeons & Dragons was all about.

 

However, just recently—you can find it on Freevee and Plex—there came a TV series that demonstrated the functionalities of Dungeons & Dragons. Yet, at its core, I think the way it displayed its gameplay was most astounding. It would do more than demonstrate how Dungeons & Dragons works. It would also take you through unprecedented journeys, unimaginable circumstances, and engaging scenarios that would only have added to the experience the farther you go into the show.

 

That show is entitled Encounter Party. 


So, what’s the story?

 

That is the most intriguing part of this show. You know those radio plays where you watch a team creating different components for the story they’re telling, and how they’d leave you unsure whether to close your eyes and listen to the story like you’re listening to the radio or watch the behind-the-scenes collaborative efforts in action?


From center to clockwise: Brian David Judkins, Landree Fleming, Khary Payton, Andrew Krug, Ned Donovan, Sarah Babe, David Lee Huynh

Here’s how it works. All you have are six players and Brian David Judkins, the ‘Dungeon Master,’ huddling together to play Dungeons & Dragons. That’s it. However, if you think that watching these seven people huddle together to play the game and discuss where to go next sounds boring, stick with it. Once you follow the rhythm of what’s going on and grasp enough of their sense of gameplay, suddenly, you’d be transported into a cavalcade of adventure, intrigue, suspense, and, to my surprise, some unanticipated complexity.

 

What’s happening is that as the participants played the game together, they all experienced a variety of in-world events exposed through the gameplay as they went along. In this case, the story the players came up with as they played the game centered around six strangers who all shared a similar vision. In it, they all encountered what looked like a black blob monster with many eyes in the future, and all but two of them survived this outcome. When they first had it, they were on a boat bound for a town called Baldur’s Gate. From there, it’s just the six of them uncovering bits and pieces of clues, circumstances, and uncertain scenarios as they tried to get one step closer to the originating source of their vision. Would this have led to the prophesied outcome they witnessed in their vision? Only time would tell, as would the gameplay. 

 

There are two things that define this show for me. One is the gameplay, obviously enough. When I saw the seven players gathering to talk about their strategies, gameplay, and what they believed their characters would’ve done, I suddenly found myself watching an engaging game that conveyed a lot more character and story than its presentation would suggest.


This leads to the second thing that defines the show, and that’s the story within the game. Each of the six players playing the game represented a specific character in the story who all furthered their role in the story and their journey as the players continued. One of the players, Ned Donovan, plays a crafty yet troubled bird-like creature, a Kenku named Flik. Among his jobs was working as an undercover fetch for a crafty serpent-like lady, Erenakya, who oversaw all the situations Flik reported and all the items he brought back to her, like an undercover thief. He can investigate certain decisions, items, and whereabouts, but at the same time, he was suffering from a condition where he had a voice telling him negative things inside his head that he wanted to get out in some way.

 

Another player, Landree Fleming, plays an intriguing mystical rabbit-like creature, a Harengon named Asher. She possessed all kinds of magic, making her almost like a wizard. Among her possessions was a sentient frog who can open his mouth for Asher to carry whatever possessions and magic tricks she kept in her arsenal, almost like Mary Poppins’ bag. But what made her story so gripping was that she went to Baldur’s Gate to search for her lost sister, Iris, who, the last time she was notified to have been around, partook in a proposed play that was about to premiere in town but fell through due to technical complications, not to mention had been entangled with a mysterious, ominous group called The Future.

 

Another player, Khary Payton, unleashed his inner passion and engagement as the Tabaxi—kind of like a humanoid lion—Tolo, who was distinguishably the most emotional of the six-character party, not to mention the most violent. He was always the loudest of the group and always prone to lunge forth in battle and annihilate his foes every time. That, and he had a tragic backstory of his own, where he was the son of a proud king. But as Tolo watched his home burn to the ground, he roared in anguish before suddenly being able to communicate with a mystical force from beyond and developing a talent for smelling magic, especially the Orange Blossom Honey. Frankly, whenever I think of this character, I always look at him like he is everything the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz wished he could be. That’s how impressed I was by this character.

 

One of the other players, Sarah Babe, played a Halfling, which is not too different from a human, named Ulavina Thrift. In her case, she traveled abroad and was also accompanied by an intriguing companion: a bear-owl-type creature named Olred. As the pictures demonstrate, this creature looks like he has the cuteness of an owl but the strength and prowess of a bear. So, he’s the kind of creature who can be cutesy but also threatening under the most extreme circumstances. I cannot help but think back on Ulavina as if she may not have expressed enough exciting facets of her personality to help her stand out. However, it seemed to me like, for all her modesty, there was some merit to how seemingly ordinary she felt compared to all the other members of her group. So, she may not have had as much of a striking personality as the others, but in the case of Ulavina, that’s not a bad thing. Plus, Ulavina got entangled in a complicated plot after signing up to learn how to use medicinal potions under a mystical group called the Mediji. And the pieces of the puzzle started putting themselves together from there, especially for Ulavina, who wasn’t prepared for what she was about to uncover about them next with her friends.

 

Next, there’s Andrew Krug playing a Wood Elf named Dryddian Rootwalker. What happened to him was that he was looking for a long-lost black sword called the Myrahang, which belonged to his family back in his Elvin village. But much like Asher, he too was prompted to engage in this journey because he ran into members of the group called The Future. They were the same people who swiped what he said was the most precious heirloom that belonged to him and several of his ancestors from years past. And because they also laid waste to his Elvin village, that prompted him to leave no stone unturned until the cherished and coveted sword that used to be in his and his family’s possession was in safe hands once again. Every time I thought of this character, part of him reminded me of Legolas from The Lord of the Rings movies, possibly because he too was a traveling elf about to do his race proud while working with, well, other people of separate races from him. I remember getting similar such impressions from Dryddian as I watched him contemplate his next course of action in each episode. 

 

And finally, you have David Lee Huynh playing a human knight named Vinh Erikson von Longstrider. Now, this character, I thought, had an intriguing yet potentially tragic past because he was the son of a proud knight who was famous in Baldur’s Gate for providing the town’s plans of attack when confronting enemy forces. But when Vihn had to confront something like his inner demons or past woes, it challenged him to think hard about what was most honorable, not just for himself or his friends, but also for his long-gone family. One of the most memorable episodes from the show was ‘The Corpse Dungeon,’ where he and his friends lunged their way through a skeleton cave and fought all kinds of creatures, including spiders, to reclaim a sword that was thought to have been stranded there. I know it may not have been the Myrahang. But some of the last foes they had to fight there before reclaiming the sword were zombies. And not just any zombies, but zombies of Vihn’s former fellow soldiers, the Longstriders, and the enemies whom they fought to the death as the cave’s entrance became their graveyard. That episode stuck out to me because of how much personal turmoil erupted around Vihn as he and his friends tried to put them all to rest once again. Ultimately, it culminated in the resting of Vihn’s father, who was among the last zombies he fought with his friends, and the parting words he shared with him and the way he let go of his past woes felt emotional and tragic to watch and listen to. 


From left to right: Asher, Dryddian, Flik, Tolo, Ulavina with Olred, Vinh. Artwork by Narinda B. Adi

Every time I dug deep into each character’s dilemmas and what they planned to do individually or as a group, I felt their struggles and budding camaraderie when they all tried to face things together. I should also throw this out: the situations they found themselves in with each quest all felt distinctive for expressing different purposes and the general tone each one would’ve invited. Fighting creatures in the skeleton and cave of a giant monster long dead, and how this journey conveyed a morbid then bittersweet tone, was just one of them.

 

In a surprisingly hilarious arrangement, the group tried to help Asher in her quest to track Iris down after learning of her entanglement with The Future, so they all staged an impromptu revival of the play Iris was putting together, entitled ‘Lovers in Linen’, down to uncovering a symbol she left behind on the stage set that was most associated with that group. As for the play itself, it felt like a cornier ‘Romeo and Juliet’, not to mention grabbed the attention of local vigilante The Velveteen Mask, whom Asher and the gang had to fight while preventing the play from being a disaster.

 

In another progressively exciting quest, they snuck in disguised as members of The Future to learn more about the cult’s shenanigans and what they plotted to do next, even if they dealt with preparatory battles with the members themselves and discovered a caged dragon who spat out green acid and was separated from her babies. Another quest they endured within that one was to find a magical rock that could warp reality into legible visions, such as what they experienced in the town of Subann, or rather, what they thought was the town of Subann.

 

But one of the most intriguing journeys they ever undertook was where they met. In this case, as the six strangers all had their vision, they met on a boat that was bound for Baldur’s Gate and stranded at sea for a couple of days. Questioning the peculiar atmosphere, they went through every corner of the boat, offices, and quarters and asked the captain herself, Ignes, about what happened on the boat to leave it stranded for so long. The way the plot moved forth, the characters investigated everybody on the stranded boat until they got to the bottom of the mystery surrounding it, which felt unlike what I would have anticipated to see or hear out of Dungeons & Dragons. It sounded like something out of an Agatha Christie novel, where the crime scene investigations occurred within a single place, that being the mode of transportation. So, it was fascinating to feel that same kind of storytelling here under the Dungeons & Dragons canvas. 

 

So, as I dove deep into the characters, I felt a sense of respect for them as they underwent their journeys together while also trying to understand their dilemmas and especially the vision they all shared.

 

But that’s not the only thing that works so well about the show. What also works is what’s staring you right in the face the whole time: the gameplay and its participants. 

 

I can tell they were not acting when not in character. Still, there’s something invigorating about watching these six players banter about their gameplay, where they stood in the game or the story, where they stood as far as their character progressions were concerned, and how well they worked together to either finish a quest or feel like they’re held down or held back by another oppressing force.

 



And, you have all the specific details exclusive only to Dungeons & Dragons that you hear them say all the time. Among them was the names of each species of the characters they played, which magic powers they could’ve used, what kind of saving throws they can use to save themselves from harm or perform a designated activity—Constitutional Saving Throw is what I hear all the time in this series—and what kind of hidden tricks they had up their sleeves to gain an advantage in the game and against their enemies. But I think for those of you who are new to Dungeons & Dragons, like me, they may be a little hard to pay attention to in the long run because you’d end up getting more sucked into both the way they played the game as well as the storytelling being concocted throughout. 

 

Sometimes, when things got emotional for the players, they made me straight-up feel their emotions. I can hear it well in their voices. Sometimes, I can see it in their expressions as they reacted to what each character went through. By the time I saw or heard that, I can imagine them being the same reactions their characters would’ve had in such situations. So, I can feel their commitment and companionship during the rough trials they dealt with together. I felt like they were a team, whether it pertained to the players or the characters they played.

 

Another point I must make is that the facets of the game and the show are at their best through two different means. One, when things got a little slow for the characters in the gameplay and the story, such as when they’re out shopping, trying to find a decent place to get a good night’s sleep, getting a nice bite to eat, or anything generally mundane for them, that’s when I felt more invested in the characters, their personalities, and what dilemmas they endured or what things they shared in common. I tended to listen to the players speaking as their characters, which helped me visualize how the characters would’ve communicated or acted in any given scenario. That’s when the characters felt more like people just trying to work their way through whatever situations may have come soon upon them.

 

But when things started getting hectic, or the characters faced other foes or struck them down, that’s when I became more invested in the gameplay. That’s where I became more invested in watching the players try to make their moves in the game and unleash every move and defense possible to accomplish specific tasks or stay one step ahead of their opponents before they’re struck down first. So, it does a fantastic job of balancing these different methods of assessing the show and having them all sink into each other seamlessly because I never knew whether to pay attention more to the characters or the gamers with each episode.

 

However, while I won’t give away what happens in the last two episodes, not only did all the characters’ individual stories finally intertwine, but in my opinion, this was where both the gameplay and the storytelling came to a head together. I was concentsrating not only on how the players would’ve made their next moves but also on the story as the characters battened down the hatches and faced the unthinkable, the type of force that was impressively built upon and foreshadowed throughout the entire season.



That’s one of the most surprising elements I would never expect to have encountered in Encounter Party. You’d come in expecting to be treated to a fun show with all kinds of madcap adventures from the Dungeons & Dragons fans playing the game with evident enthusiasm. But once you get more comfortable, suddenly, you’re sucked into an entire season-long story arc that tests the characters out throughout their quest together just as much as the players were throughout their progression in the game.

 

It was fun to watch the players play the game as they went along. But when things start to get engaging as far as the story and the characters involved are concerned, Encounter Party unleashed some actual value and artistic merit in its demonstrations of a classic game like Dungeons & Dragons.

 

The last time I experienced something related to games that caught me off-guard because of how stimulating the experience was occurred when I started reading Pokémon Adventures, specifically the Ruby & Sapphire saga. Having been familiar with the games and the anime series, I went into the manga series expecting it to do the same thing as the anime series did, which was to tell its story under the rhythms of the games. Instead, while it still abided by them, it unleashed a total force of creativity, compelling characterizations, and narratively layered scenarios that added up to an unexpectedly epic adventure that abided by its most substantial elements. It worked because it was more story-driven than it was game-driven.

 

With Encounter Party, I also came in expecting it to be game-driven since this show centered around Dungeons & Dragons. But what worked about the show was how game-driven half of it was to the point of being easy to follow for those new to the game and keeping its other half more story-driven. In fact, because of how the decisions in the story were whipped up by the players playing the characters within, I’d say that character-driven is a more appropriate description, and I usually consider myself a sucker for character-driven stories. So, that’s nothing short of a compliment regarding what Encounter Party accomplished in that front.

 

On top of that, I noticed a few things about the players that felt intriguing to me, and I noticed all that in the Pre-Party special. First off, Khary Payton mentioned that he wanted to enliven his character, Tolo, as much as he desired to in the hopes that he would’ve made a good role model out of him, especially for his children. The way I saw it, that’s what mattered most to him: demonstrating a good, strong, and lively personality in the face of catastrophe. 

 

That, and David Lee Huynh, who played Vihn, I remember him saying he was most intrigued to play Dungeons & Dragons and partake in Encounter Party not just because of the character he played but because he was completely enamored with the Dungeons & Dragons movie, presumably ‘Honor Among Thieves.’ He said it was an honor for him, a person of a different ethnicity, to play a righteous knight like Vihn after seeing such representation in the film. Judging from all the engaging and honorable personality traits he infused Vihn with as he played him throughout the story and game, I can feel his commitment and dedication to the game through the methods in which he conveyed his character. 

 

And finally, let’s talk about Brian, the ‘Dungeon Master’. He said that only he knew how the events in the story would’ve unfolded as he and his fellow players lunged their way forth in the game. However, while he provided the core beats of the story, everything else about the story being told as they played the game together was added onto it and displayed as such by the players as they continued the game. So, to watch all seven of these people not only play the game but also weave such an engaging, complicated, detailed, gripping, and surprisingly hard-hitting story felt like a true testament to the gamers’ knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons and even a sense of storytelling that added so much more to a show like Encounter Party than I had ever anticipated before I finally gave it a whirl. 



So, everything you’d see being unleashed about Dungeons & Dragons would’ve been displayed here in Encounter Party as it would likely have been played in real life. If that’s the case, then I feel like I may have taken Dungeons & Dragons for granted. I kept thinking Dungeons & Dragons was just a fun game to pass the time with. However, as I did more research on the game, it turned out that this game would’ve taken not a couple of hours but several days to complete. And because the entire game we see of Dungeons & Dragons spanned across all 22 hour-long episodes this season, that should give you a good idea of how the game works and what kind of adventure you’re in for if you’re willing to join.

 

Long story short, if you’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons before or are just a Dungeons & Dragons fan who loves how the game works, the storytelling that comes with it, and the gameplay that you unleash with it, I would still say give this a whirl, anyway. It may be familiar territory with a new spin by clearly professional and knowledgeable players, but to those who are entirely new to Dungeons & Dragons, prepare to be amazed. To say that Encounter Party is an introductory show for Dungeons & Dragons would be a vast understatement. It shows you in salivating detail the general feel, rhythms, and excitement that makes Dungeons & Dragons such a classic game and how there is a lot more to the game than meets the eye, just like how there happened to have been more to Encounter Party than meets the eye. And once I finished up the last episode of this season, I didn’t just feel like I went through an epic adventure within Dungeons & Dragons. I felt a twinge of an appetite to see where the party’s adventures would’ve gone next, assuming there would be a second season for this show.

 

That’s a sign that the show not only did well with what it offered, but that it may have won me over. What can I say? This show took me completely by surprise and I’m secretly hoping this show will prove popular enough to earn itself a second season!

 

What do you do? Strap on in—either on Freevee or Plex—prepare to have your dice at hand and take a lunge into the imaginations and gameplay of Dungeons & Dragons, as only these people would proudly demonstrate.


You can learn more about the show here:

 

My Rating

A low A



Works Cited


Adi, Narinda B. "Asher."


Adi, Narinda B. "Dryddian Rootwalker."


Adi, Narinda B. "Flik."


Adi, Narinda B. "Tolo."


Adi, Narinda B. "Ulavina Thrift & Olred."

Adi, Narinda B. "Vinh Erikson von Longstrider."

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