Monday, August 26, 2013

One Hit Die (web-series)

Sorry, folks…took the weekend off for “family time” as my wife just got back in town after being on the road for a couple weeks. Also had to deal with the tail end of the crazy houseguests (they left today after nearly three weeks), a flat tire (because my twelve year old car doesn’t have enough issues), the Mariners dropping three in a row (at home), and the general excitement of NFL preseason. Hmm…now that I think about it, do I really need to apologize for my slow posting?

Well, a few quick notes:

I’m heading out of town Wednesday myself (well, Thursday, but I’m sure Wednesday will be crazy in preparation) and won’t be back till the following Wednesday. A quick/short vacation, but a necessary one. What this means is that Tuesday (maybe Wednesday) will be the last day I’m able to mail out copies of Five Ancient Kingdoms this week…if you place your order after Tuesday, the books probably won’t go out in the mail until next week sometime.

In addition, people should be aware that there’re only a couple more than a dozen packages left for mail. I’ve got more books, but I’m currently waiting on the new dice order (which I’m expecting by next week if not this week) so I can do another shrink-wrapping session. If you don’t get one of the next fourteen packages, your order might not be mailed for a week-ten days anyway.

Still waiting on Book 3 and the adventure to be approved over at DriveThruRPG. Not sure what the hold-up is. This is a little frustrating, in part because I haven’t seen much said about Book 3 on the blogs…and Book 3 is (I feel) where I’ve made some of the more drastic departures from other “old school” clones and heartbreakers. If you’re interested in what people are saying, here’re are a couple of the reviews I’ve seen (if you’ve written one I haven’t seen, please feel free to email me a link or post in the comments section).

Okay, that the housekeeping stuff (other than I’m hoping to get my fighter stuff written and scheduled for post in the next couple days). Here’s the “fun stuff.”

Spencer Estabrooks writer-director of the “web-series” One Hit Die, emailed me about a week ago suggesting his new show as something my readers might be interested in, and saying they would be interested in having reviews or doing interviews or “whatever” to publicize the project. Much as I like having that kind of blank check to hold over someone’s head, I’ve never been much of an interviewer, and my reviewing ability is notoriously slack unless a moment’s passionate inspiration happens to coincide with a block of free time. I’m actually backlogged on writing reviews of the free shit people have already sent me (which probably doesn’t endear me to said publishers/writers/creators)…but, well, what can I do? I’d love to spend all day reading, watching, and writing reviews but the gig doesn’t pay enough.

Which is probably just as well, as it allows me to be a little more honest when I do write a review.

Fortunately or unfortunately for Mr. Estabrooks, I have a bit of a dramatic background and I tend to watch more TV than I probably should. I’m not much for “web-series” drama, but after seeing the success of shows like Adventure Time (which is all over Mexico now…backpacks, lunch boxes, etc.) making the jump from web to television, and after devouring the straight-to-Netflix House of Cards, I’m not about to underestimate the power of “what’s possible.” Back when I was in college, a group of actor friends were trying to put together something for public access television with the idea of morphing it into something bigger. However, that pipe dream died due to the strict regulation of PA and its prohibition against commercial gain. The internet is the freaking Wild West for people with the right amounts of ambition, audacity, and organizational ability.

So, yeah, maybe One Hit Die is a hard sell, but it’s not altogether a pipe dream.

OHD is a weird little animal. The one sentence description (provided by Mr. Estabrooks) is “like D&D but shot like The Office.” For those familiar with The Office, this means it’s in that pseudo-documentary style that uses hand held cameras and one-on-one cast interviews, to give it a casual, reality show feeling despite being a scripted comedy. The difference is that shows like The Office and Parks and Rec which it apes all take place in the (more or less) “real world” while the setting for One Hit Die is a fantasy environment/setting. The protagonists are not people playing Dungeons & Dragons…instead, they are actual characters (as in player characters): a fighter, a thief, a wizard, and a healer/cleric.

Or are they? The characters constantly make reference to game mechanics…like “gaining experience points” and “leveling up” or attack bonuses and the effects of surprise…which makes it feel like they are LARPers wandering around in the brush. And yet the world is also “real” with actual monsters (nicely done goblins), and killing and bloodspill and magic. This makes for a jarring effect at times. It’s an additional breaking of the 4th wall (already broken by the style of the production); a break in the (razor-thin) suspension of disbelief that shows like The Office have helped to build with regard to this type of show.

[what I mean by this: regular viewers of the pseudo-doc-comedy are used to the style of this filming and have no problem believing that we are simply watching a documentary of real folks who happen to be buffoons, when the reality is the show is completely scripted and acted by professionals…even the “documentarians” who occasionally appear in later episodes are still actors pretending to be members of the production crew. However, people used to a more traditional television production like, say, How I Met Your Mother or whatever can find the style incredibly distracting. People of my parent’s generation and older, for example, don’t always like or appreciate this type of show and find it “hard to watch,” as I’ve been told on more than one occasion]

I’m used to watching this style of show but…perhaps because I hadn’t known what to expect…it felt disjointed to me. I guess, the way to make sense of the program is to think of the characters living in an alternate dimension called “D&D World” where the people are self-aware of the mechanics that underpin their universe. In our universe, someone “counts calories” because they’re trying to watch their weight; in D&D World, characters count XP to track their sense of self-worth.

Or something like that.

Once you can reconcile that (such that the characters self-awareness doesn’t bug you), it’s not a bad watch. The show currently exists as a four-part “prologue” on YouTube (I’ll posts the links below), each video running around 6-8 minutes. Production values are low as is usual for this kind of grassroots project. Attention is paid to costuming and make-up effects but the armory budget was pretty cheap; none of the characters are wearing the armor one would find in a low level adventuring party, for example. Acting is generally good, but either the script-writing could be improved or (if there’s a lot of improvisation occurring) there needs to be a stronger hand with the editing in order to tighten the soliloquies and dialogue, at least in some instances. Other than that

It’s pretty amusing. I found myself chuckling at several parts, and laughing out loud (something I rarely do) at least a couple times. If you have thirty minutes to spare for cheap entertainment, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed.

It also pays to watch all four episodes, as the series gets better with each. I don’t know if it’s because I got used to the “D&D World” setting, or simply that the production became better as the show developed. I only snickered once or twice in the first episode, and if I hadn’t bothered to watch the later episodes (I almost didn’t), I probably wouldn’t recommend the thing. Webisodes #2 through #4 (which are set-up by #1) makes the whole thing worth watching, in my opinion.

I really don’t want to talk too much about what actually happens, because I think the characters (their levels, their abilities, etc.) are (humorously) revealed over the course of the prologue series. I’d just say: watch the show with a B/X eye for what is occurring. Really…put on your Tom Moldvay goggles and ignore the non-D&Disms (like any references to “mana regeneration”).

Oh, yeah…and I really liked the opening credits with its mash-up of table-top gaming and “Game of Thrones” style graphics; that also made me chuckle. I don’t know how long the people doing One Hit Die can sustain (or even want to sustain) this project, but with a little more budget and a little tighter scripting, it could be a pretty entertaining series…though at this point it’s probably more fun for table-top gamers than for the average viewer. Maybe they can get picked up by the G4 network.

You can check it out at:

I'm happy to discuss the web series (including spoilers) in the comments section of this post.


  1. Book 3 and the adventure are up at RPGNow! Woo!

    1. @ Deadstop:

      Yes, they just notified me, too.

      I'll post the links for people this evening.
      : )

  2. I'm no longer amused by the "incompetent wizard" cliche. It hasn't been funny since at least Dragonlance, but yet it seems to be used in just about everything that tries to be "D&D but funny", or even just general fantasy film that wants some comic relief. Kröd Mandöon and the Flaming Sword of Fire did it. Dragonslayer did it. Krull did it. And so on. And so on. And so on.

    That said, there were some good, funny bits in there. They are going to have to step up their game a lot for that to make it though, I think.

  3. Did you see my name in the credits of this thing, JB?

  4. @ Faol:

    And Peter S. Beagle's "The Last Unicorn" as well. The difference here (I think) is I'm not sure THIS character IS incompetent. One flawed execution based on hubris (and poor targeting) does not an incompetent make. For my money, the line about being "a wizard of the Old Tower and a Harbinger of Ass-Kicking" was some of the funniest shit in the short.

    But I think what's pointed out here is the relatively low level (and thus overall lack of effectiveness) of the group. At least, that's what I THINK it's supposed to comedic effect.

    That being said, the thing still needs a bit of tightening (IMO).

    @ Alexis:

    I didn't...but it WAS your post a month or so back on the topic that made me a bit more open to checking it out. Now that you point it out, I re-watched an episode and DO see your name listed as a "game consultant." I'd be interested in knowing your specific contributions to the project.

  5. I was going to ask if you knew of Alexis' involvement, but he obviously already got to tht. It's actually the main reason I checked the out in the first place.

    Also, guess you didn't hear but G4 is no more. It's now "Esquire TV."

    I think the show might be better off on something like Youtube's "Geek & Sundry" channel. They've already got Tabletop, and the niche audience of "One Hit Die" would probably do better in that environment.

    1. I just double-checked, and it is still G4 here (I'm in the same general area as JB).

    2. Cable companies are notoriously bad about how long it takes them to update their menus and schedules, but G4 is definitely gone, and that's a national thing, not regional.

      If you check the channel and see what's playing, you'll notice all of the classic G4 shows like "Attack of the Show" are not on, and they didn't cover Comicon this year like they always have in the past.

    3. That's cool, but I wasn't looking at the menu/schedule. I was looking at the G4 logo on the screen. I am right now looking at the channel, and the G4 logo is in the lower right hand corner of the screen. So, I don't know what to make of that. I also notice on the website that they use terms like "G4TV Staff" and such.

      Googling around, I find this article, which seems to indicate that the change has not occurred at this point.

    4. Here we go. It's been pushed back to September 23.

  6. Thanks for the review! It's great, except for questioning whether we can sustain the concept. I don't plan on sustaining it, I plan on making it more awesome and epic. This is is just a toe in the water. Introduce the characters, let people adjust to the style... which I totally agree is a "weird animal"

    The next episode WILL be better, more hooks, more characters, and more sudden left turns. Honestly, the only part I'm going to have trouble making better is the intro. Thanks for the compliment, but it almost killed me to make that, and it was one of the reasons I launched later than I planned. I'm gonna try to make the intro better, but.... well I'll think of something.

    I'm lucky enough to have Alexis in the same city as me, so I can call him up at night to brainstorm ridiculous magic bracers that I can sell at the fan expo. I have too many ideas sometimes and sadly the almost always require rush shipping. Here is another one:

    As for future plans, tv channels and other Ideas. I'll be the first to say I have no idea what I'm doing. I have a producer who's hating me for throwing everything up online for free. He's traditional and wants to do features, development etc. I just have this idea, that if I throw something out there and people like it enough I'll find a way to continue. Right now I have full control of this project. I'm not responsible to anyone but the fans and I really like that.

    If you like us, share us with your friends. Follow us on facebook, twitter, or youtube. There's more cool stuff to come. Launching the 1st of 4 behind the scenes videos tomorrow. Thanks again for review.