Join the Party is a new Dungeons and Dragons podcast a la The Adventure Zone. The podcast currently has three main plot episodes released as well as several bonus episodes. The show centers on the adventures of Inara Harthorn, a mischievous elf rogue; Johnny B. Goodlight, a charismatic half-elf warlock; and TR8c, or “Tracey,” a delightfully peppy robot barbarian. The characters are all imaginative, fun, and hilarious, but where Join the Party becomes exemplary is in its structure and production.
While the genre of D&D-themed media has become rapidly saturated, Join the Party immediately stands out from the rest. While most D&D media has some sort of jargon breakdown for the audience, Join the Party makes it a feature. The main plot has two different tracks listeners can take: one for those who have D&D experience and one for those who’d like to learn. In the latter, helpful moments of definition and explanation are narrated with sound cues to let the listener know the moment is an informative aside. The tips never come across as condescending or intrusive; they’re kept quick and minimal enough to educate while not bogging down the plot.
The podcast begins not with the direct gameplay but instead features a small vignette introducing each character and the setting. The point is made clearly: the focus will be on the characters themselves, not on the plot–a facet of any good D&D game and any good podcast. The vignettes are short but punchy, lending just enough backstory to contextualize the characters while not robbing them of their intrigue. Because D&D is emergent storytelling, the characters are inherently going to solidify and then further develop as the show continues. These mini-episodes are the perfect way to make sure a character isn’t too tied into traits that will likely shift as the show progresses.
Another way Join the Party sets itself on a higher level than most D&D media is its production. Every single part of how the show is produced makes it more immersive. The players and Dungeon Master all do sit around a table together to record and play, delivering the kinetic energy so integral to D&D. Bed music and sound effects are used to give setting, and vocal effects are used for obvious choices, like Tracy’s robotic voice, but also to give the characters a sense of placement within the setting. The dialogue is kept clear and crisp even with the other production features, and luckily, all of the mics sound exactly the same.
I have two main concerns for the show so far, but both are entirely speculative. First, I worry that the show, which has started off delightfully silly, will have problems hitting any emotional depth; however, I would have had the same worry for the Adventure Zone, which has become a feat of emotional storytelling. Second, I worry about the “After Party” episode, which take each episode and analyze the events, how they could have gone differently, and specific character moments. My concern isn’t that these episodes won’t be good–the first one, which covers the first two episodes, is a delight–but that having one after each episode could be far, far too much analysis. The story and character moments should be able to stand on their own, and discussing the plot going off the rails too much takes away some of the mystique of the Dungeon Master’s position. Still, I could be proven wrong very easily–and if this show’s quality so far means anything, I expect to be.