Adventurers Wanted’s 2019 show Banishment is running for a limited time at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, from 2 to 4 August, with shows at 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm and 1 pm. Tickets available via the Fringe Box Office, and Player Tickets from the Sweet Venues Box Office.
After having really enjoyed playing Dungeons & Dragons with Adventurers Wanted at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, I was thrilled to be invited to play as a guest performer in their 2019 show, Banishment. This remains one of the most fun things I have done during the Fringe, and it was especially delightful to have a reunion gig with some of the most talented and inspiring friends I have made through this hobby.
This year’s show is just getting started, and it is a much shorter adventure than last year. But some things remain the same: Chloe is a veritable powerhouse running the tech behind the scenes, Chris is a generous and encouraging DM to work with who is so lovingly receptive to every idea, no matter how crazy or ill-considered. The team’s professionalism and unflappable calm when fixing terrible and expensive technical difficulties were exemplary.
Likewise, it was a joy to see just how varied and vibrant the other players were to play alongside. I always have fun playing off of Emma, and we always end up playing characters with contrasting dispositions. I loved the pairing of two anxious characters we had going in one session, when the party almost the story into an episode of Scooby-Doo. Within the first couple of sessions, we already had several running gags going.
I played Hannah Song, a twitchy, anxious Wood Elf who is really fascinated by mushrooms. She has something that’s between a rash and a bruise on her left elbow which she rubs whenever she is distressed. She loves reciting facts about different kinds of fungi to calm herself. And her magical powers are profoundly unsettling to behold and describe. As is my wont, I drew on my PhD research when coming up with the character concept. So, my idea for Hannah Song is in every respect an homage to Anna Tsing and her book The Mushroom at the End of the World: Hannah’s world was ravaged by a war, and she is now looking to mushrooms and the unique economy of their growth as a way of living amidst the ruins of a conflicted world.
A recent source manual for D&D, Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, gave me exactly what I was looking for when they added the Circle of Spores variant for the Druid class. For those unfamiliar with fantasy RPGs, the Druid class in D&D is a character archetype who draws magical powers from nature, and has spells which manipulate the natural forces or the environment. The Circle of Spores is a sub-class which specifically draws its power from fungi. The flavour text describes it as seeing life, growth, decay and death as part of one continuous cycle. And although this does pose the kinds of ontological and existential questions about the meaning of life and death that have become a fairly common trope, I think there are other, more subtle mechanics which open up some really interesting philosophical discussions.
In particular, the class draws its powers by manipulating spore-like life forms that are already present in surroundings. This draws attention to the richness and complexity of microbial life that exists all around and also within us, something which is otherwise neglected in the magical world of the games. Moreover, I love that the character has a special ability to transform into a ‘symbiotic entity’ by awakening the microbes that live within itself. It reflects the intricacy of human dependence on even the tiniest form of non-human life — a prominent theme in the works of Donna Haraway. The character evokes this inter-species kinship in a way that is uniquely corporeal, showing a vast richness and diversity of life even that lives within the human body. Because of this, I really enjoyed emphasising the embodied features of this transformation like Hannah’s ‘rash’ growing to cover her whole body.
It is this unique aesthetic that makes this class especially fascinating: I played to the grotesque and terrifying aspects of this class, manifesting all of my abilities through puffs of spores. If a creature got within ten feet of my character, she could awaken the spores in the air around it to deal necrotic damage to it (which I interpreted as the creature choking from breathing in the air around her). When I cast a spell to blind a monster, I blew a puff of spores at it and, when it inhaled the spores, it grew into its eyes and blinded it. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, there was Hannah’s aforementioned transformation. Finally, there was a moment when one of the Circle of Spores special spells allowed me to turn into a ‘gaseous form’ that was a literal cloud of spores.
Of course, for Hannah all of these creepy and grotesque things were just normal. She had a different attitude towards the world around her, one which was attentive to the complex ways in human life and the invisible microbial life in a much bigger ecosystem are mutually dependent. The works of Haraway and Tsing are a similar call to be sensitive to the vitality of the greater-than-human ecosystem. Hannah Song is by far the weirdest, creepiest and most fascinating character I have played, and the Spore Druid is my favourite sub-class in D&D, because of how they let me think through some of these complex philosophical issues.
My sincerest thanks to my friends in the Adventurers Wanted crew and regular cast, Chris Hislop, Chloe Mashiter, Emma Sheard, Naomi Heathcote, and Leo West, for their generosity and warmth. It makes me feel like a welcome member of the party. And my thanks also to all my friends who saw me perform, live or on-line, for all of our wonderful adventures.