So, real talk. When it’s gaming night, it’s about more than having good dice — we want our setup to be awesome. We decorate the table to suit the campaign, we pick drinkware reminiscent of everyone’s characters, and we’ll put together a playlist that fits the evening’s adventure. We may even show up with costumes or accessories if we’re feeling extra fancy.
Sadly, no matter how hard you go, your ambiance will never top what Ivan Van Norman has in store for his players. The Geek & Sundry host has gone to insane lengths to make his campaigns as immersive as possible… and it’s giving us a serious case of Gamer Envy.
How does he do it? It’s a crazy combination of high-end sets and pared-down rules that makes for the truly tense adventure known as Sagas of Sundry.
Critical Role fans will recognize some of the faces in the series. Vox Machina DM Matthew Mercer is a player now, alongside regular Liam O’Brien. Other than that, we’re looking at a new cast. In the show’s first season, “Dread,” the group plays as a close-knit set of school friends returning to the site where they experienced a paranormal horror a year prior. The first campaign, summing up that previous adventure, took place around a fake campfire as a one-shot. But when the story came back, it came back with a vengeance.
For starters, there’s a set — a literal set. Rather than sitting at a table, players are gathered around a campfire in the middle of the woods, with Ivan (the “Storyteller”) weaving his tale in their midst. Players are in costume and equipped with various props. The only real sign of civilization is the front porch of a house. Beyond that, it’s just them and a Jenga tower.
Oh, right. That’s how they play.
Sagas of Sundry does away with character sheets and dice, preferring instead to leave players’ fates up to the whim of a tower of blocks. Whenever the time comes to make a move that requires some degree of effort or risk, the player is invited to “make a pull.” The moment is already tense as steady hands try to prevail over the unsteady tower… but Ivan continues to narrate the scene as the player chooses their block, ramping up the tension even more. What happens if the tower falls? Considering we’re dealing with otherworldly creatures and eldritch magic, the stakes are high.
Sometimes, though, a player is given a choice. Instead of making the pull, they could actually perform the task in question. Want to break down a door to get into a room? Ivan is ready with a piece of wood for Liam to punch through. Need to hunt for a key under an old porch? There’s a box for that… and it’s full of earthworms.
And sometimes there’s no pull to make. Remember that house on the set? It’s not just for decoration! A certain section of the game requires the players to explore the front of the house and piece together clues (yes, actual physical clues!) to move forward in the game. Physical clues and items are common in the game overall, too, with players passing actual props back and forth to investigate them.
The players aren’t the only people that get extra care, either. Sagas of Sundry includes extra onscreen graphics to note when an important clue has been uncovered, and shows detailed maps of areas being explored. So even in the midst of a lot of action, we can stay on top of everything going on.
Be prepared for some intense sessions, though. Veteran gamers already know that a lot can come out between characters, but the interactions can get brutal amongst this group of friends. There have even been points where characters willingly failed pulls out of anger at other characters, knowing that something bad would happen if they did! And stakes are high, with characters having lost their homes and their loved ones as they delve deeper into the mystery that’s brought them together.
What is that mystery? You’ll have to find out for yourself! Sagas of Sundry is available to watch on VRV. And if you like the first season, you’ll go mad for the second… when the production values climb even higher as Ivan leads a new team of players into a Lovecraftian nightmare.