New York, New York! In this Dungeons and Dragons webseries by Dimension 20, the city that never sleeps is home to more than just cockroaches and rats. In the Unsleeping City, magical creatures abound, hidden from view of average New Yorkers. The story follows a small group, some of them new to the magic of the city, and others long familiar with it. Watch as they navigate the usual troubles found in New York, as well as some… less average troubles.
(This review relates only to the first season)
The Unsleeping City is the third Dimension 20 D&D show I watched, so I knew pretty much what to expect. Still, while the comradery at the table is the same as it was in Fantasy High, The Unsleeping City offers a vastly different experience. This show is urban fantasy at its finest.
The Unsleeping City is very much a love letter to New York. Now I’ve never been to New York, and I’m not hugely impressed by what I’ve heard about it so far. Still, it’s clear that the cast is very familiar with the city, and they love it. There’s definitely things that went over my head (like why no one ever wanted to go to Sofia’s home in Staten Island – because you have to take the ferry to get there), but they don’t detract from the experience, because there’s so much else going on. The Unsleeping City shows us many sides of New York, and Dungeon Master Brennan Lee Mulligan sprinkles some magic into each location in a way that’s almost like magic in itself.
Every time when I review something from Dimension 20, I want to highlight players who’ve really made me laugh (or cry). The problem with this is that it’s basically impossible to pick individual people, as the entire cast really is phenomenal.
Now I wasn’t joking before, The Unsleeping City has made me cry multiple times. Sure, the show is largely comedy, but boy do these people know how to tell a story.
If you’ve read my review of Fantasy High, you will know that I am not generally a huge fan of the “Let’s play D&D and upload our session to the internet”-type content. Even so, Fantasy High was surprisingly watchable, so I gave Dimension 20 another shot with The Unsleeping City.
Like Fantasy High, The Unsleeping City offers a more condensed experience than most similar content. Brennan Lee Mulligan is an excellent DM and he has designed the campaign to have as little dead time as possible. In effect, it feels like all we’re watching is a highlight reel – which in and of itself is an inspirational way to go about a TTRPG campaign. It also a huge improvement on the genre’s usual flaws.
The Unsleeping City is unfortunately still not a particularly dense format. Especially combat sequences – even if every battle is an awesome set piece – still drag. They just drag a lot less than usual.
All the above is really commentary on the nature of the D&D-playing-show-genre, which perhaps goes to show that The Unsleeping City’s format, more than anything else, is a determining factor for (and… an impediment to?) my enjoyment.
The world of The Unsleeping City is really cool, reminding me more than anything of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere: both set up a fairy tale mythology of a modern metropolis (for New York and London respectively), based on history, geography, puns, and urban legend. The players have come up with an original, often hilarious, and occasionally heart breaking cast of characters. The twisting main plot is a bit tough to follow at times, but it doesn’t really matter, because the personal stories of the player characters are the emotional core of the show – and they are really well done and satisfying.
As before, I would probably have loved The Unsleeping City more as something like an improv audio drama with all the unnecessary dice rolling and rules babbling taken out. As fun as a high or low roll at a crucial juncture can be, there are few things as immersion-breaking as stopping to roll midway through an emotional sequence.
In short: these people tell a great story, but perhaps they shouldn’t lean on the crutch of D&D to make it work.