GamePress Interviews Brennan and Ally from Dimension 20

GamePress Interviews Brennan and Ally from Dimension 20 banner image
  • Season 3 of Dimension 20: The Unsleeping City is now streaming on DROPOUT.

Overview

During the first day of RTX, I had the chance to sit down with Brennan Lee Mulligan and Ally Beardsley to discuss their experiences with D&D, the next season titled The Unsleeping City which is coming out on July 9th, and other projects they are currently involved in.

Brennan can be found on Twitter @BrennanLM and on Instagram @brennanleemulligan and Ally can be found on Twitter @agbeardsley and on Instagram @allybeardsley.

Dimension 20 Season 3: The Unsleeping City

Season 3 takes place in fantasy New York City and Ally shared a little bit about their character, Pete the Plug:

Dimension 20 Season 3 Full cast

Ally: Pete the Plug is a guy who lives in New York City and is kinda part of like the artist scene there. He sells drugs; through this season he’s kind of learning...why he uses drugs to escape. He suffers from insomnia and he’s a Wild Magic Sorcerer who has Wild Magic surges and has to roll which is pretty detrimental to the party, which I think was kind of our way of talking about drugs in that way like--it’s wild, it’s crazy, but it affects people other than you and let’s watch that pull on the party. 

He’s also trans and in the first episode we see him freshly out of top surgery, which is insane to imagine him when I think about the recovery time for top surgery is like 6 months so pretty much this entire first season is he’s just been like “Ow!” but like not telling anyone!

Haha, like a disadvantage on constitution saves.

Ally: Mhm, yeah!

So he’s a Wild Magic Sorcerer, it’s kinda crazy when you have to roll for 100, let’s see what happens!

Ally: Will it be blue feathers or will it be everyone’s dead but me?

Behind the Scenes of Dimension 20 and House Rules

Do y’all collaborate with each other when building characters so that everybody's kind of well rounded not just in party build, but in character types?

Ally: Absolutely, yeah we kinda have a meet up where we’re sharing ideas that are on our minds, which in retrospect, I’m thinking about like, Brennan is such a freaky genius and we never hear what he’s working on, we just willingly share what we’re working on for this season and he’s just sitting there thinking, “Hahahaha…”

(Brennan laughs)

“I have just the thing for that!”

Don’t you just love when a DM does that?

Ally: Oh Yeah.

Brennan: I’m getting “Freaky Genius” printed on my business card. (Ally laughs) Brennan Lee Mulligan, I am a freaky genius.

Ally: Freaky Genius!

This led into some discussion about how Brennan as a DM had a few homebrew rules to make D&D more compatible with the shorter timeframe of Dimension 20 campaigns:

Brennan: in the upcoming season, The Unsleeping City, I cribbed a home-game rule--a house rule--from one of our editors, Noah Diamond Stoltzman. 

He’s got a thing in his home-game where the chance of a Wild Magic surge increases cumulatively every time you succeed, so it’s 1 on a d20 normally. 

If you make it and you don’t wild surge, it then becomes 1 or 2 and if you make it again, it becomes 1-2-3. 

Ally: Yo

Brennan: So rather than a slim chance, it’s like no-no, it’s building up--Wild Magic is building up within you and it needs to release.

I need to remember that for the future, that’s cool!

Ally: Yeah it was, the stakes were freaking crazy. And throughout the season we were getting in more and more dangerous territory and I was just being there like, “And my Wild Magic surge is up to an 8” like great…

Brennan: Right exactly, and one of the things, too, that I think is important to remember about Dimension 20--and why I do include a lot of homebrew material in it--is that one of the big dangers of homebrew material is whether or not it is balanced. 

In a given season of Dimension 20, we’re only going to have eight battles so, you know, a thing doesn’t need to be as rigorously playtested if it’s only going to appear in eight combats, as it does if it’s going to go into the Dungeon Master’s Guide and be used by thousands of games all over the world. 

So I think for people in your home-game--for Dungeon Masters listening to this--balance is critical but remember that there’s a higher standard for material that’s gonna be used by thousands of people than there is for something that’s gonna be used at a limited time, at a limited number of people, for you and your home-game.

The Future of Dimension 20

When asking about a potential future player resource for Dimension 20 I got a little insight into the team is currently working on and what’s being prioritized:

Are there any plans for you to kinda put together a book for people who want to do D&D in the worlds you’ve created in Dimension 20?

Brennan: That is something that we are passionately pursuing right now. The big hurdle to getting a module or a campaign setting out for both Elmville and the Unsleeping City or Escape from the Bloodkeep, is that I need to either be cloned or get some kind of time-turner. 

So we have two irons in the fire on that--no that’s--I’m being glib, it actually isn’t a time thing, we’ve been having so much fun making Dimension 20 and we are making so much of it, that there’s almost always work to be done on the world that we’re about to shoot, rather than sort of codifying  and making concrete--taking my insane chicken scratchings notes and turning them into a presentable document for all to engage with. It’s on a burner, it’s just the burner’s in the back. 

Ally: Yeah. I mean, we’re filming season 5 in a couple months, so that’s crazy. 

Brennan: A couple weeks.

Ally: A couple weeks, yeah. So we’re just like, making so many seasons of this.

Brennan: Yeah. 

Wow, so y’all are already basically finishing season 4 then?

Brennan: Yeah. Season 3 is airing July 9th. Season 4 is in the can being edited, and we’re about to start shooting season 5.

Ally: Yeah, this has just been our life--in the best possible way, like I can’t imagine a better job than hanging out with all these people who make me laugh and Brennan leading us. 

Brennan: for the people listening at home, please let them know I did a hand gesture at that compliment. 

Yeah, it was two peace signs crossed together over the chest. 

(All laugh)

Ally: Much like a dead person in a--

Brennan: Yeah, when I flash a sign, it’s always, the implication is that I’m dead in a coffin, yeah.

If I do not find a Wikihow image to match that I will draw a stick figure myself--

Ally: Hell yeah

It will be awful,

brennan's hand sign
As promised:

Brennan: Haha, I love that! Um yeah, Dimension 20 has become far and away the thing I’m devoted, in my CollegeHumor time, to doing. And rightfully so, it’s just that the response has been so overwhelmingly positive and CollegeHumor has completely gotten behind the show like, “We support you one hundred percent. As much of this as you guys can make, let’s make”, which is tremendously exciting.

Before Dimension 20

While Brennan has had tons of experience in D&D before DMing for Dimension 20, Ally was completely new to the game, which might not have been obvious to viewers of the first episode of Fantasy High.

Ally: I actually started playing in the very first episode of season 1, the first game of D&D I ever played. It’s all Brennan, I’ve been wanting to play D&D but I was raised, much like my character in season 1, so religious. Unbelievably religious, and my mom thought D&D was evil, so I wasn’t allowed to play it and I’d always been D&D curious, and Brennan was mentioning some people at work were starting to play games and I had wanted to play those and it never worked out and it was like, “Do you wanna just play it on camera?” and I was like, “Yeah! For sure!”

Brennan: But I think it was one of those things where it was like...I don’t think you could know that from watching Ally play in the first season.

Yeah, that was a surprise for me.

(All laugh)

Ally: Let the audience know I’m making a hand sign!

Ally hand sign
Equally promised, equally awful:

Brennan: You got ‘em all! And I don’t think you could know that because the truth is that it was like a no-brainer for Ally to come play because--5e, first of all, is an incredible redesign of the game (Dungeons and Dragons) that makes it relatively--not effortless, but eases the transition for new players to come in--and Ally’s one of the best improvisers in the world, so it was not a hard--and we have so many talented people at CollegeHumor and even amongst those, Ally has such a specific training and background and history in improve that made it like, “Oh! Let’s get Ally in the mix doing this show, that’s gonna be not a problem.” So I think it’s easy to learn an aspect of a thing if another aspect is something truly not troubling to you.

Ally: Totally. And I remember I kind of felt like “D&D...oh is it gonna be complicated, will I be able to do it?” and Brennan described D&D as, “It’s storytelling with gambling.” and I was like, “That’s amazing!” like, that I could do, I fully signed my name to that, that sounds incredible. And that’s what it was, exactly. And on the gambling side, there were a few times I won big, which released some major dopamine into my brain like I am absolutely hooked on this game.

I love the big money wins, it’s less fun when you’re like “I’m gonna do this really stupid thing and I’m gonna make my DM let me” and then it fails…

Ally: Yes, nat’ 1 and you’re like “Okay…”

Kristen Applebees, The Chosen

While discussing Ally’s start in D&D we talked a little more about their first character, Kristen Applebees. Specifically, if they made any changes to the character after getting to play them for a bit:

kristenapplebees
​​​​​https://fantasy-high.fandom.com/wiki/Kristen_Applebees

Ally: Absolutely, yeah, that’s Kristen Applebees like 100%, I was like, “I’m gonna play this church girl, like...exactly who I was growing up, tie-dye shirt like, ‘Yeah, the Lord,’” and in playing the game, it was just like, “I don’t want to play a caricature, like I want to play a fully formed human,” and being faced with all the god stuff that wasn’t adding up, I’m like, “To continue to be so gung-ho about this would be disingenuous,” So that’s when I started second-guessing stuff and that sent Kristen on a fully other...I became a searching person with no religion, you know.

Halfway through the season and was just kind of like, “Hey, philosophy? I don’t know, I need help, I might be gay.” So yeah, everything just kind of like... unraveled. I went in thinking I’d be like holy praying until the final episode. Not true.

Brennan: Not true. I love it. I specifically remember...It’s one of those incredible things where you look back and you see the genesis of an incredibly--to me--meaningful story because there’s a lot in Kristen's character that to me--Ally and I are both philosophy majors--and I think similarly, the parts of Kristen that are auto-biographical, I strongly identify with the idea of like...I was not raised faithful, I was not raised part of the faith, but I went to school for philosophy when I was 14. 

I was very young and the part where you’re deeply in pain because all the explanations of why the world makes sense don’t make sense and you’re like, “No one’s freaking out about how this is all nonsense, which is a very important thing to teenagers, it’s a very teen thing, very coming of age thing, but the truth is that teens are right, and adults aren’t right to be calmer, they’re just tired.

Other Projects

Brennan has a podcast called Adventuring Academy where he talks more about D&D

Ally also has a podcast called Tales from the Closet and hosts a game show called Paranoia, which can be found on the streaming service, DROPOUT.

In Tales from the Closet, they and others discuss their coming out stories and answer questions from listeners--some of whom are still in the closet. 

Paranoia is a game show where a group of people play weird games and try to guess who got high beforehand.

Full Transcript

So my first question is for Ally, can you tell me a bit more about Pete the Plug the character you’re going to be playing this season?

Ally: Sure, yeah, Pete the Plug is a guy who lives in New York City and is kinda part of like the artist scene there. He sells drugs; through this season he’s kind of learning...why he uses drugs to escape. He suffers from insomnia and he’s a Wild Magic Sorcerer who has Wild Magic surges and has to roll which is pretty detrimental to the party, which I think was kind of our way of talking about drugs in that way like--it’s wild, it’s crazy, but it affects people other than you and let’s watch that pull on the party. He’s also trans and in the first episode we see him freshly out of top surgery, which is insane to imagine him when I think about the recovery time for top surgery is like 6 months so pretty much this entire first season is he’s just been like “Ow!” but like not telling anyone!

Haha, like a disadvantage on constitution saves.

Ally: Mhm, yeah!

So he’s a Wild Magic Sorcerer, it’s kinda crazy when you have to roll for 100, let’s see what happens!

Ally: Will it be blue feathers or will it be everyone’s dead but me?

Or you’re really sweaty for a while and it’s noticeable to everybody.

(Ally and Brennan laugh)

So rolling off of that, do y’all collaborate with each other when building characters so that everybody's kind of well rounded not just in party build, but in character types?

Ally: Absolutely, yeah we kinda have a meet up where we’re sharing ideas that are on our minds, which in retrospect, I’m thinking about like, Brennan is such a freaky genius and we never hear what he’s working on, we just willingly share what we’re working on for this season and he’s just sitting there thinking, “Hahahaha…” (Brennan laughs) “I have just the thing for that!”

Don’t you just love when a DM does that?

Ally: Oh Yeah.

Brennan: I’m getting “Freaky Genius” printed on my business card. (Ally laughs) Brennan Lee Mulligan, I am a freaky genius.

Ally: Freaky Genius!

Speaking of freaky genius, are there any behind the scenes homebrew changes that you make to how D&D works for your particular setting like, house rules?

Brennan: Absolutely, actually I can share this: in the upcoming season, The Unsleeping City, I cribbed a home-game rule--a house rule--from one of our editors, Noah Diamond Stoltzman. He’s got a thing in his home-game where the chance of a Wild Magic surge increases cumulatively every time you succeed, so it’s 1 on a d20 normally. If you make it and you don’t wild surge, it then becomes 1 or 2 and if you make it again, it becomes 1-2-3. 

Ally: Yo

Brennan: So rather than a slim chance, it’s like no-no, it’s building up--Wild Magic is building up within you and it needs to release.

I need to remember that for the future, that’s cool!

Ally: Yeah it was, the stakes were freaking crazy. And throughout the season we were getting in more and more dangerous territory and I was just being there like, “And my Wild Magic surge is up to an 8” like great…

Brennan: Right exactly, and one of the things, too, that I think is important to remember about Dimension 20--and why I do include a lot of homebrew material in it--is that one of the big dangers of homebrew material is whether or not it is balanced. In a given season of Dimension 20, we’re only going to have eight battles so, you know, a thing doesn’t need to be as rigorously playtested if it’s only going to appear in eight combats, as it does if it’s going to go into the Dungeon Master’s Guide and be used by thousands of games all over the world. So I think for people in your home-game--for Dungeon Masters listening to this--balance is critical but remember that there’s a higher standard for material that’s gonna be used by thousands of people than there is for something that’s gonna be used at a limited time, at a limited number of people, for you and your home-game. 

Yeah definitely. Speaking of that, are there any plans for you to kinda put together a book for people who want to do D&D in the worlds you’ve created in Dimension 20?

(Brennan and Ally exchange a glance)

Brennan: That is something that we are passionately pursuing right now. The big hurdle to getting a module or a campaign setting out for both Elmville and the Unsleeping City or Escape from the Bloodkeep, is that I need to either be cloned or get some kind of time-turner. So we have two irons in the fire on that--no that’s--I’m being glib, it actually isn’t a time thing, we’ve been having so much fun making Dimension 20 and we are making so much of it, that there’s almost always work to be done on the world that we’re about to shoot, rather than sort of codifying  and making concrete--taking my insane chicken scratchings notes and turning them into a presentable document for all to engage with. It’s on a burner, it’s just the burner’s in the back. 

Ally: Yeah. I mean, we’re filming season 5 in a couple months, so that’s crazy. 

Brennan: A couple weeks.

Ally: A couple weeks, yeah. So we’re just like, making so many seasons of this.

Brennan: Yeah. 

Wow, so y’all are already basically finishing season 4 then?

Brennan: Yeah. Season 3 is airing July 9th. Season 4 is in the can being edited, and we’re about to start shooting season 5.

Ally: Yeah, this has just been our life--in the best possible way, like I can’t imagine a better job than hanging out with all these people who make me laugh and Brennan leading us. 

Brennan: for the people listening at home, please let them know I did a hand gesture at that compliment. 

Yeah, it was two peace signs crossed together over the chest.

(Break for laughter)

Ally: Much like a dead person in a--

Brennan: Yeah, when I flash a sign, it’s always, the implication is that I’m dead in a coffin, yeah.

If I do not find a Wikihow image to match that I will draw a stick figure myself--

Ally: Hell yeah

It will be awful,

Brennan: Haha, I love that! Um yeah, Dimension 20 has become far and away the thing I’m devoted, in my CollegeHumor time, to doing. And rightfully so, it’s just that the response has been so overwhelmingly positive and CollegeHumor has completely gotten behind the show like, “We support you one hundred percent. As much of this as you guys can make, let’s make”, which is tremendously exciting. 

Yeah, have you had any experience DMing before you started this, or did you just kinda throw yourself into it?

Brennan: I have been DMing since I was 10 years old. My whole life has been this game; the amount of hours logged--even with having to shoot season 5--the amount of just home D&D I’ve played is such a staggering number. I’ve run multiple multi-year campaigns, I have a 3.5e campaign that’s in its tenth year, and a campaign I’ve run for five solid years where we would do like 18-20 hour sessions. From the age of 12 to 17 I played a game that literally was every week, 52 times a year, year round that actually concluded at 20th level and the story finished like, ‘And that’s the end of the story!’

Ally: So sick!

Brennan: So I love D&D and getting to play it for a living is an insane privilege and luxury that no human being can deserve, and I wake up in a state of abject gratitude every morning!

It definitely sounds like the dream job.

Brennan: It’s wild. The only elements of the--the parts of the job that are like work are the parts where we make the show: going into edits, working with the production team, meetings, things like that--that’s where it’s like ‘Oh it’s a fun job!’ then we get to the table and you’re like ‘Shoot, we’re just playing D&D!’, it’s crazy. 

So Ally, how has it been--in the behind the scenes videos you’ve mentioned you’re very new to D&D--how has it been throwing yourself into all of this? 

Ally: It’s been great! I actually started playing in the very first episode of season 1, the first game of D&D I ever played. It’s all Brennan, I’ve been wanting to play D&D but I was raised, much like my character in season 1, so religious. Unbelievably religious, and my mom thought D&D was evil, so I wasn’t allowed to play it and I’d always been D&D curious, and Brennan was mentioning some people at work were starting to play games and I had wanted to play those and it never worked out and it was like, “Do you wanna just play it on camera?” and I was like, “Yeah! For sure!”

Brennan: But I think it was one of those things where it was like...I don’t think you could know that from watching Ally play in the first season.

Yeah, that was a surprise for me.

(All laugh)

Ally: Let the audience know I’m making a hand sigh!

Brennan: You got ‘em all! And I don’t think you could know that because the truth is that it was like a no-brainer for Ally to come play because--5e, first of all, is an incredible redesign of the game (Dungeons and Dragons) that makes it relatively--not effortless, but eases the transition for new players to come in--and Ally’s one of the best improvisers in the world, so it was not a hard--and we have so many talented people at CollegeHumor and even amongst those, Ally has such a specific training and background and history in improve that made it like, “Oh! Let’s get Ally in the mix doing this show, that’s gonna be not a problem.” So I think it’s easy to learn an aspect of a thing if another aspect is something truly not troubling to you

Ally: Totally. And I remember I kind of felt like “D&D...oh is it gonna be complicated, will I be able to do it?” and Brennan described D&D as, “It’s storytelling with gambling.” and I was like, “That’s amazing!” like, that I could do, I fully signed my name to that, that sounds incredible. And that’s what it was, exactly. And on the gambling side, there were a few times I won big, which released some major dopamine into my brain like I am absolutely hooked on this game.

I love the big money wins, it’s less fun when you’re like “I’m gonna do this really stupid thing and I’m gonna make my DM let me” and then it fails…

Ally: Yes, nat’ 1 and you’re like “Okay…”

You gotta re-write a character.

Brennan: That’s actually a thing that as a DM you have to learn how to do the most. The fun and easy part of being a DM is narrating your Players’ successes because that’s a mutual celebration and everyone’s having a good time. I think the harder thing for DMs to learn how to do is to...not soften your PC’s failures, but to integrate them into the story in such a way that they are still satisfying. You know what I mean?

Ally: Totally. 

Brennan: To be like, “I freaking failed hard there,”--I’m cursing left and right and I don’t know if that’s okay.

This is gonna be a written interview, so I will…

Brennan: Feel free to cut those bad boys out.

Ally: I flippin’ failed…

Brennan: But if anything, to hear a failure of your character and to know that it is in-character to go like, “Oh yeah, if my character were to eat it right here, that’s how they would eat it, and it confirms something I know about myself,” is a gratifying thing. 

Definitely...so, during the character-building process, you have an idea of how you want your character to perform throughout the story, but have there ever been instances where you kind of make a minor but distinct change to how you want your character to act or progress in the story after playing them in a practical setting? 

Ally: Absolutely, yeah, that’s Kristen Applebees like 100%, I was like, “I’m gonna play this church girl, like...exactly who I was growing up, tie-dye shirt like, ‘Yeah, the Lord,’” and in playing the game, it was just like, “I don’t want to play a caricature, like I want to play a fully formed human,” and being faced with all the god stuff that wasn’t adding up, I’m like, “To continue to be so gung-ho about this would be disingenuous,” So that’s when I started second-guessing stuff and that sent Kristen on a fully other...I became a searching person with no religion, you know. Halfway through the season and was just kind of like, “Hey, philosophy? I don’t know, I need help, I might be gay.” So yeah, everything just kind of like... unraveled. I went in thinking I’d be like holy praying until the final episode. Not true.

Brennan: Not true. I love it. I specifically remember...It’s one of those incredible things where you look back and you see the genesis of an incredibly--to me--meaningful story because there’s a lot in Kristen's character that to me--Ally and I are both philosophy majors--and I think similarly, the parts of Kristen that are auto-biographical, I strongly identify with the idea of like...I was not raised faithful, I was not raised part of the faith, but I went to school for philosphy when I was 14. I was very young and the part where you’re deeply in pain because all the explanations of why the world makes sense don’t make sense and you’re like, “No one’s freaking out about how this is all nonsense, which is a very important thing to teenagers, it’s a very teen thing, very coming of age thing, but the truth is that teens are right, and adults aren’t right to be calmer, they’re just tired. Teens are correct to be like, “This is all nonsense,” so there’s something really beautiful, I think, about Kristen’s story, and the genesis of that was this one little thing where you died--which we didn’t know was gonna happen--you went to corn heaven, when you came back from that, you literally were looking--It was one thing that your god said--it was sending you back, you went like, “Hey before I go back, I love you,” “I love you!” and everything was good, I was like, “Corn god loves his chosen,” and then you literally went like, “So I have a question before I go back to life: Why do bad things happen to good people?” and because it’s a comedy, I just went like, “Later!” and sent you back. And you were like, “What!?” But you played it committed, so you literally went like, “My god didn’t give me an answer…” It was a joke, but it was also coming from a real place, because there is no answer. Theodicy stands or rather, the questions of theodicy stands. You’re looking at this being and being like, “If you are worthy of worship, then why do you allow bad things to happen?”, and this guy being like, “I don’t have an answer for you.” and it led to this most beautiful narrative of Kristen all the way to the final episode, which I don’t want to spoil here but, you gotta watch it. 

Okay, can I get maybe a 3-5 word spoiler for season 4 if that’s cool, if not then I’ll roll into my second question.

Brennan: The only thing I will say about season 4 is something that everybody already knows: I will say that it is going to be a smaller season than the full season, which is season 3. 

Fair Enough, and do y’all have anything that you want to share about other projects that you’re currently working on or will be working on in the future that you want your fans to keep an eye out for? 

Brennan: Paranoia, probably. 

Ally: Yeah, I have a game show where two people are high and they have to hide it, so it’s really only because of the legal weed laws that are being passed that we’re able to even make this and film this, so the second season of that is coming out. I also have a podcast with other queer people where we talk about how we came out of the closet and then we answer questions from viewers, some of whom are in the closet all over the world. And that is called Tales from the Closet, so that’s my favorite thing.

Brennan: Future seasons of Dimension 20 coming up, you need to check out my podcast, which is Adventuring Academy where we talk about some of this fun stuff, and then you can find me on Twitter @BrennanLM and on Instagram @brennanleemulligan

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