In this D&D web series, we follow a group of kids during their first year at Agueforth Adventuring Academy, a high school where kids learn to be classic D&D adventurers.
Fig has recently found out her elf father is not her real father, and she’s going through a rebellious phase. Gorgug is a gentle half-orc barbarian whose adoptive parents are gnomes. Adaine comes from a wealthy elven family, and is only going to Agueforth because she had a panic attack during her entrance exam for a fancy school. Fabian is the typical high school jock, the son of a ruthless but loving pirate father and a day-drinking elven mother. Kristen comes to realise that perhaps the god she has worshipped day and night for all her life isn’t quite all he seemed. And Riz is a wanna-be detective, desperately trying to solve the disappearance of his baby-sitter.
(This review relates to both season one of Fantasy High, as well as Fantasy High: Sophomore Year)
The cast of Fantasy High is absolutely hilarious. Each and every player is a master of improv, and they all really respect each other, which means everyone gets their moments, and the show as a whole is, apart from being absolutely hilarious, a delight to watch.
One of the things I enjoy the most about the show is how the player’s actions truly shape the story. The characters are truly the centrepoint of the narrative. Not just the player characters, the same goes for the NPC’s.
Brennan Lee Mulligan creates some of the most amazing NPC’s ever. Truly. The man is a master at improv. Whatever the cast throws at him, he manages to twist to his liking and slap them back in the face with. Brennan’s world is populated with lots of funny characters, but make no mistake: they often have quite a bit of depth as well. A personal favourite is Jawbone the guidance counselor (there’s a scene with him that legitimately makes me cry every time), and an absolute fandom-favourite is Fig’s sad elf dad Gilear.
I would recommend Fantasy High to anyone who likes the idea of a D&D livestream but doesn’t want to invest 100 hours into a campaign. Episodes are one to two hours long, and the series has 17 episodes. They’ve also done a second series, which is currently only available on Dimension 20’s own streaming platform Dropout.
People who enjoy “quirky” fantasy like the work of Terry Pratchett will definitely enjoy Brennan Lee Mulligan’s worldbuilding as well.
(This review relates only to the first season)
I have confession to make that I know will shock some of you: I tried to watch Critical Role, and found it massively underwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand it appeals to some people. I am more than a little surprised it became such a phenomenon though. That is not because it doesn’t look like a fine D&D adventure, or because the players aren’t fun to watch. It is just that the content – basically just playing your D&D session right back at us, no edits, no adjustments for viewer experience – just doesn’t seem like particularly appealing content (at least to me).
Result: I figured this type of show was just not for me, and I moved on. I’ve seen a couple of attempts since (mostly other content creators I follow trying their hand at D&D shows), and those tended to be even worse.
So when Lotte recommended I watch Fantasy High, I think it is fair to say I was… rather sceptical. ‘It’s different!’ she said. ‘It’s snappy! It’s fun!’.
‘A snappy D&D show?’ I thought. ‘Is that even possible?’
As it turns out, more so than expected (one could wonder, though, what it says about the genre that 2 hour episodes makes for a ‘snappy’ experience).
Fantasy High exceeded my expectations in many other ways as well. It is exactly the kind of content that I expected not to care for, but as it turns out, I actually had a lot of fun watching it. Episodes are shorter than other tabletop roleplaying shows, content is edited down, little drawings are added for immersion, there is less downtime between relevant roleplay or combat, and the parody setting works surprisingly well. Perhaps most importantly, for someone who tends to dislike most comedy, the humour struck a chord with me.
I don’t want to spoil too much – Lotte and I had a great conversation on the show in our Collection post – so if you want to know more, give that a click. In short, I think the fact that I liked Fantasy High despite my biases is a recommendation in and of itself. My only caveat – and Lotte doesn’t share this opinion, so take it with a grain of salt – I think the show works best for people familiar with tabletop RPGs and fantasy tropes.
(This review relates only to the first season)
I have little to add to the (justified) praise of my fellow curators; Fantasy High is a highly entertaining and (relatively) fast-paced D&D show with at times surprisingly heartfelt scenes.
For someone who absolutely loves the theatre-like experience Critical Role’s epic format delivers – full of emotional ups and downs – Fantasy High won’t quite scratch all the same itches. However, Fantasy High‘s cast full of humorous people who all excel at improv certainly deliver a similarly masterful performance. Brennan Lee Mulligan’s DM skills are astonishing. Not only does he come up with unique NPC’s, a flavorful setting, intriguing mysteries and truly amazing battle scenarios (which get visualized by intricate maps created by the crew), but he almost effortlessly finds ways to let his talented players shine. On a semi-related note, I quite enjoyed his impressions of comparative religion scholars.
In summary, Fantasy High is definitely something every D&D (and urban fantasy) fanatic should at least try their hand on!