‘Dimension 20: Pirates of Leviathan’ Episode 1 Review: A Heaping Helping of Trouble

Pirates of LeviathanPirates of Leviathan finally aired last night! I was a little leery of how our new Side Quest cast was going to handle the virtual game table, but overall I think it’s working out. This is going to be a great season, you guys.

Dimension 20: Pirates of Leviathan is unique in a couple ways. It’s the first Side Quest to be filmed virtually, like Fantasy High: Sophomore Year. I was sad then to miss out on sets by Rick Perry and his crew, and I’m sad again. But! I’m sure they’re working on the next regular season, so I’m trying to be cool about it. 

About building rapport with each other and with the audience – that was my biggest concern. FH:SY had an edge in that area because we all knew the characters from the first season. I was a little unsure how easy it was going to be to warm up to an almost entirely new cast. Matthew Mercer is the only returning character.

Last night demonstrated that this season’s players have strong enough personalities to overcome the technical divide. We have (in order of appearance):

  • Marcid the Typhoon, a bugbear tough guy with an anxious trident called Alycon (played by B. Dave Walters)
  • Myrtle the Bitch, a merfolk priestess of Umberlee and low-key hoarder (played by Aabria Iyengar)
  • Barbarella Sasparilla Gainglynn AKA Bob, an aasimar with a killer voice (played by Krystina Arielle)
  • Sunny Biscotto, a teenage Aarakocra who really needs to sort out her family life (played by Marisha Ray)
  • Cheese, a deeply underappreciated scavenger kid (played by Carlos Luna)
  • Jack Brakkow, a barbarian literally haunted by his past (played by Matthew Mercer)

Despite the disconnected medium, we get a good feel for the characters’ personalities. I love the sinuous head and shoulder movements Iyengar gives Myrtle, and Jack’s stiff hunch, and Cheese’s nervous prattle. Marcid’s voice is probably the most distinct and evocative so far, though Bob’s breathy tones are a lot of fun. My other half is very taken with Sunny’s awkward parrot self. In short, there’s a character (or characters) for everyone.

A couple of the players – looking at Matt Mercer and Krystina Arielle – could stand to get better cameras or better lighting as we move forward, but after the first few minutes, I wasn’t overly distracted by the slight graininess of their images. Fantastic news, because it means even if there are technical issues going forward it won’t ruin the story.

pirates of leviathan
The view changes from this grid to a smaller portion of characters, depending on what’s happening at the moment. I had a lot of fun watching uninvolved players react to the action when it’s not their turn. They feed off each other like they were at a physical table.

Pirates of Leviathan is also the first time Dimension 20 has run a game set in the same world as another game. Leviathan is the floating city the Bad Kids visited during Spring Break in FH:SY. Home to a million pirates, it’s an incredibly dangerous (and partially underwater) location that I know we all wish we’d been able to explore more deeply. 

Maybe that missed opportunity is why the DROPOUT audience has responded so strongly to Pirates of Leviathan (there was fan art flooding social media before we even saw the first episode). FH:SY introduced this incredibly complex and interesting setting and we were only able to explore a tiny corner.  I’m not sure if a Side Quest was always in the cards, but I’m stoked to dig into more of that sprawling map. 

With so many changes, I had some concerns that this Side Quest crew wasn’t going to feel as interactive as Escape From The Bloodkeep or Tiny Heist did. Table talk is a big part of what makes watching actual play shows so good. I wasn’t sure how well the group would gel. Having seen the episode, I think the character interactions are coming together nicely.

First episodes always have a bit of a learning curve while characters get folded into the story, and a few players did up sitting idle while others had their moments. Mercer wasn’t even introduced until the last half hour or so. At least they’re all together now. Well… they’re all in one place even if they’re about to kill each other.

I was a little surprised by the number of musical interludes in Pirates of Leviathan. Several characters get songs, and Dungeon Master Brennan Lee Mulligan even sings one for Jack’s entrance. This is very cool. I am 100% behind characters bursting into song. 

The overall storyline is still vague at this point. We haven’t seen much of it. All we know is that there’s a tablet artifact that can control storms, and Marcid’s employers at the Crescent Moon Trading Company want it badly enough to have traded several chests of platinum for it.

I thought there might be a little fight there, actually. Myrtle seems to LOVE gold, but selling that tablet violated the one rule her goddess gave her. Only Marcid’s quiet promise to help her steal it back prevented combat. That promise makes me wonder why he’s trying so hard to get the tablet back when he can see Myrtle is close to retrieving it herself. Does he need credit or something?

Something I want to give credit to is how Pirates of Leviathan (and Dimension 20 in general) handles consent. During Sunny’s introduction, there was a lot of intense religious talk from her Sol-worshipping family. Walters interjected with a quick, “Yellow X” and mentioned his Southern Baptist upbringing. The action rolls easily onto another topic with no big deal made of it. I didn’t even catch it the first time.

That is a BIG DEAL. We don’t often get to see consent and comfort signals shown in actual play shows. If you’re not familiar with the “traffic light” model of consent, yellow means something like “not comfortable with what’s happening but we can keep going with something else”. The action doesn’t need to stop, but whatever’s going on needs to stop because it’s making someone uncomfortable. (A player who says “red” is asking for the game to stop entirely to deal with something.)

No one asked for an explanation or teased Walters or really made much comment at all. It was just, “Oh, player uncomfortable, let’s move on.” As the game unfolded Ray didn’t fall back into the same pattern either, though it’s something pretty characteristic of her character. She found other ways for Sunny to express herself that wouldn’t infringe on Walters’ boundaries. 

I am a sucker for consent, you guys. I love that someone felt safe raising an objection, I love that everyone accepted with no protest, and I love that the whole group will probably have an email chain offline double-checking how they can avoid the same problem when Sunny’s family comes back into play.

Final verdict: this is definitely going to work. I can’t wait for the next episode, especially since poor Cheese has to start literally unconscious on the floor from a single hit by Marcid.

Did you watch? What did you think? Get in the comments and let us know!

If you missed this week’s episode, you can catch up on DROPOUT or wait a week for the premiere of Pirates of Leviathan to hit YouTube. 

Author: Khai

Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology being published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.


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About the author

Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to "True War Stories", a comic anthology being published by Z2 Comics. When she's not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.

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