There are countless Dungeons & Dragons podcasts, but not many of them boast top-notch production values — or an A-list actor as a member of the party. Dark Dice, an actual play podcast that uses the D&D gameplay to create an immersive, semi-improvisational narrative experience, already had the former in its first season. The show edits out the pauses that naturally come while playing D&D, re-records NPC voices with trained voice actors, and scores the whole thing with foley work, an orchestra featuring more than 30 medieval instruments, and a live 40-person choir singing in Icelandic, Elvish, and more. Season 2, which begins on May 12, adds Jeff Goldblum to the mix as the Elven sorcerer Balmur.
And Goldblum won’t be saving the day as his character did in Independence Day. No, Dark Dice takes place after an attempt to save the world fails. Instead, Goldblum and his party will come in contact with another player-controlled party; neither party knows exactly what went wrong, and one wants revenge on the other. (Dark Dice uses some homebrewed rules to make player-vs.-player combat, which is slightly outside the standard rules of D&D, more intense.) To make things worse, Balmur’s group is also being hunted by the face-stealing being known as The Silent One.
“Our story so far has revolved around rescuing the missing children of Ilmater's Hope. As the team follows the trail deeper into the Dead Pines, they draw the attention of The Silent One, a sinister creature that can steal the voice and face of whoever it pleases,” Dark Dice producer and editor Travis Vengroff teases. “As it kills and replaces members of the team, The Silent One, now controlled by the deceased player, gets one step closer toward its terrible goal ... Fun, right?”
In addition to Goldblum, Dark Dice features an international cast of players — which is helpful for worldbuilding, it turns out. Players who are fluent in other languages have immersive stand-ins for Dwarvish and other fantasy tongues. Later in the season, actors like Lani Minella (the voice of Nancy Drew) and Emmy-winning actor Eric Nelsen (The Bay) will join the table, and video game composer David Wise (Donkey Kong Country) will write music for the Northern Realm.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Vengroff to learn more about what makes Dark Dice unique in a crowded field, what Goldblum brings to the table, and whether or not the DM is going to go easy on Goldblum just because he’s, well, Jeff Goldblum.
What’s this upcoming season going to be like? How is it different from past seasons and other similar shows?
This season focuses on the survivors from our first season having to deal with the mistakes they’ve made along their journey. It's split between two perspectives (teams A and B, respectively), with each team having a slightly different perspective on the events unfolding in the world around them.
Team A – consisting of a young Dwarven bard (Hem Cleveland of The Lucky Die) and her old weary cousin (Eyþór Viðarsson) — is dealing with very personal matters: estranged family, aging, physical and mental recovery, and memory loss. They are trying to make themselves whole and it's an emotional journey taking place in the quiet moments when they're not under physical threat from the agents of the supernatural forces that haunt them.
Team B is a different kind of story. It's a more traditional horror adventure, as they find themselves deep within the Dead Pines, stalked by The Silent One, Elven slavers, and other threats. They are general do-gooders trying to survive and make the world a better place as they travel ever closer toward revenge.
Our first season was also effectively an isolation horror story that took place in the woods. We didn't get too deep into explaining our world, and the few non-player characters the team encountered were typically deceased or trying to kill them. This time we're traveling to villages, cities, and encountering man-made dangers.
How does the premise of this season — that it takes place after a failed attempt to save the world — shape the plot and the action?
The events at the end of our last story are still a bit hazy to our surviving cast due to the stressful supernatural afflictions they were subjected to. If their memory can be trusted, an ancient evil known as The Nameless God has been released and will soon consume the world. However, the survivors are too hurt to cope with this truth, choosing instead to focus on recovery for the time being. At least one of the survivors also has a different perspective on certain events that took place and is seeking revenge on the other players.
Behind the DM's screen, the players themselves were never actually given a clear indication of what happened, and have been just as horrified as our audience with each new discovery. It's been a lot of fun for us!
What’s Goldblum’s character like? Anything more you can tease or reveal before the premiere?
Balmur is someone that you really can't help but be drawn toward. On the surface, he seems carefree and keeps things light, but much like his partner-in-crime Soren, there's an invisible weight that seems to hang over him. Balmur is a wild elf woodsman, trapper, and sorcerer of the Dead Pines who is initially just searching for his daughter's missing locket.
There's a really great Balmur quote in our upcoming episode:
“I’m a single father, a man of many hats: a trapper on the side, and a bit of a channeler of the gods, dabbler of the magnetically mystifying arts of magic. I also sometimes moonlight as a bard of sorts, but I won’t test your patience with my cadence and predilection for preposterous poetry and rhythm.”
Let’s just be frank about this one: Is Goldblum good at playing D&D? I imagine he’s a natural at the social and narrative aspects of the game, which is probably the more important part. But, is he good at the mechanics and fighting?
For me, D&D is about having fun and getting together with friends (or strangers who ideally become friends) to tell a story. I see "bad" players as those who are self-absorbed, who use out-of-game knowledge, who cheat, or who power game. "Great" players are those who are team-focused, will embrace the role of their characters (flaws and all), and who find creative uses for their abilities. The current edition of D&D is really easy to play, even compared to many board games, and it really focuses on how creative you are, as opposed to how well you know the rules.
That’s what makes Jeff an absolute badass at D&D. On Dark Dice, the players describe their actions in combat, and also what happens when they kill an enemy. For purposes of speeding up combat in the editing closet, you may hear my voice describing the action but it's generally a transcription of what the players described, albeit sometimes a bit more graphic.
Finally, do you have a contingency plan if the DM rolls a crit and kills Balmur in the first session? Are you going to protect Goldblum or are there no holds barred?
As with our first season, I enjoy telling a story that none of us know the outcome of. Rest assured that I will give the challenges our team faces the best possible opportunities to kill the characters — Jeff included…
Season 2 of Dark Dice premieres on May 12 on all the usual podcast platforms. This interview has been edited and condensed.