Someone named Meatface got kissed — and hard — for what was probably the first time. A buzz saw came out of a person’s chest. And then a player rolled a “natural 20” and the crowd erupted.
It sounds like a wild time, but really, it was just six people sitting at a table on the stage at Seattle’s Neumos nightclub last Thursday night playing Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop role-playing game that is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.
To the untrained eye, D&D isn’t flashy at all. All the action happens in the minds of the players — and, in this case, the Neumos audience — as they respond to the prompts of the storyteller and rule-enforcer, also known as the dungeon master, or DM, and rolls of the dice.
The event, which played to a packed house, teased the Nov. 19 release of Dungeons & Dragons vs. Rick and Morty: Tabletop Roleplaying Game Adventure. The game is a collaboration between the Dungeons & Dragons brand — spun out of the Renton-based Wizards of the Coast — and the popular Adult Swim cartoon, that launched its fourth season Nov. 10. (Adult Swim is the nighttime block of shows on Cartoon Network).
The cartoon is about an awful, aged but brilliant scientist named Rick Sanchez and his not-so-bright grandson and companion, Morty Smith. D&D is pure fantasy, with spells and doors and monsters and death and revival, all churned along by the dungeon master and the roll of a multisided die.
“It’s pop culture and nerd culture,” said Jim Zub, a comic-book author who wrote the first “Rick and Morty”/D&D crossover comic, and who played Morty in Thursday’s game. “We’re cheering each other on and creating something cool.”
The new game’s lead designer is Kate Welch, a Wizards of the Coast designer who, until now, has only co-designed games, most notably Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
“I’m very ambitious and wanted to lead product,” Welch said. “This was a huge vote of confidence from (management) and a good opportunity for me to prove myself. ‘Rick and Morty’ is also male-dominated, but that’s shifting.
“The trick is that I knew I could do them justice, and I have a punk, 13-year-old mind,” she continued. “You ingest enough ‘Rick and Morty’ and feed it through a wood chipper. It’s avant-garde stuff.”
That came through from the very start of the game at Neumos, when Welch — who held court as DM — relentlessly ribbed each cast member as they joined her onstage. It cut the doom immediately.
“D&D is not comedic,” Welch said. “And generally, as the DM, you’re the straight man. But it will turn into absurdity.”
The collaboration was dreamed up two years ago by a small group of comic-book writers including Zub, who has been playing D&D since he was 8 (he’s now 43). He thinks the collaboration will further expand D&D’s audience, which continues to grow, thanks to being featured on shows like “Stranger Things” and “The Big Bang Theory,” game nights in bars and livestreaming platforms like Twitch.
“This isn’t like sports, or a video game,” Zub said. “You can’t break it or do it wrong. If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.”
Besides, he said, they already have a lot in common: “Both are about people with a shared purpose trying to make something together, to tell a story.”
In the audience were local “Rick and Morty” fans and D&D players of all stripes.
“They are nerds,” Welch said, “but they are nerds of two great tastes that taste great together.”
They included Sydney Adams, 26, a game designer who appreciates how D&D’s recent editions have included characters diverse in race and sexuality.
“It’s the first game that I’ve played that allowed me to create representation at a time when there wasn’t one,” she said. “And it’s lighthearted.”
Software engineer Alex Mazzeo, 28, and his wife, Ali, 30, have D&D brunches with friends.
“It’s a nice way to get together,” Ali Mazzeo said.
Alex Mazzeo often plays the DM, which can be a lot of work — but worth it: “D&D lets us all be the heroes we think we are.”
The onstage game went on for two hours — time Neumos security staffer Kevin White stood against the back wall, watching, with a smile on his face.
Did he know D&D? “Oh, absolutely!” he said. “This is great.”
After the game ended, people walked to the front of the stage for autographs from the cast, or headed out into the night. No fuss. No scuffles. Just six people, some dice, a happy audience and a collective imagination.
“Easiest day of work in my life,” White said.