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After listening to podcasts of the Penny Arcade folks playing D&D, I've been wondering, has anyone else tried to turn their role-playing sessions into performance-art pieces? Are there any recordings I could look at/listen?

Has anyone tried to do something different from podcasts?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I Hit It With My Axe is a video log of session gameplay, but edited, soundtracked, etc. GM Zak Sabbath runs D&D for a batch of, well, porn actresses who are into RPGs. I don't know if it's "performance art" but it's more than a simple podcast recording that's for sure.

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It's artistic, and I think it really does rise to Art... His Blog, Playing D&D with Pornstars is a very interesting read. Almost safe for work.... – aramis Jan 29 '11 at 3:13
Oh yeah, it's definitely not a "porn gimmick," Zak's blog is one of the best and he puts more thought into his gaming than 99% of folks (and the girls do too). – mxyzplk Jan 30 '11 at 0:36

Not really performance art but I suppose you could consider LARP's as a sort of improv theater. I know that's how I've described LARPing to people who have never heard of it before over the years.

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It's actually Improv with combat rules... in most cases. – aramis Jan 29 '11 at 3:13
Freeform can be considered as LARP but the rules mostly dropped and with more emphasis on improv. – Alticamelus Jan 30 '11 at 13:25

Lawful Evil is a role-playing session presented as a performance art installation; I'm one of the GMs who will be restaging it at the Big Reality show at the 319 Scholes gallery in Brooklyn on March 17, 2012. Curator Brian Droitcour wrote in the Rhizome essay that led to this exhibit:

Brody Condon also focused on the gamer’s engagement with rules and expectations of character behavior in his project Lawful Evil, a staged game of D&D at the Art LA Fair in 2007. Since its first edition, D&D has prompted players to choose one of nine alignments when creating characters, a kind of moral code that determines certain boundaries of what the character is willing to do. Neutral good and chaotic good are the most common choices, the vigilante alignments that mean a character is willing to do almost anything in pursuit of some righteous ultimate goal. A lawful evil character “cares about tradition, loyalty, and order, but not about freedom, dignity, or life,” according to the third edition of the D&D player’s handbook. “He condemns others not according to their actions but according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank.” That sounds familiar enough, but it’s not a viewpoint that many people would willingly associate with or deliberately choose to perform. Lawful Evil enhanced meta-game thinking to magnify the relationship between medium and gamer.

I think the piece is a Marcel Duchamp-style conceptual jape because:

  • Condon's description says that the game played was Dungeons & Dragons but contemporary accounts report that he and Ryan O'Toole used Hackmaster, which is arguably a prop for performance art in which participants pretend to be gamers at a roleplaying session
  • Condon is savvy enough to know that saying only "the instructions for staging this perfomance art are to have D&D players roleplay lawful evil characters" is like saying "the instructions for this symphony are to have the orchestra play in a minor key". I like to believe he's calling attention to the kinds of skilled performance that do or don't get called art, and the kinds of craft that go into running an event that are or aren't valued.
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Gaming is a popular topic for themed improv shows. "The Dungeons & Dragons Improv Show", stuff like that. I've heard of shows in Chicago and Winnipeg, there was one in Chapel Hill, folks in Austin used Baron Munchausen as the structure for an improvisational show last year. "Roll to Attack" in LA, where nerd notables play a session on stage for an audience. Last year there was a show at Allegra LaViola in NYC focusing on Dungeons and Dragons in contemporary art.

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