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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bewildering genius John Darnielle thinks the best part of Dungeons & Dragons is rolling for stats

Illustration for article titled Bewildering genius John Darnielle thinks the best part of Dungeons & Dragons is rolling for stats
Screenshot: YouTube

Updated, October 18, 7:25 p.m.: Highly relevant information:

If your favorite part of Dungeons & Dragons is the organizational stuff, that’s lawful. If you then take the organizational stuff and make it a story-generating engine of chaos that speaks to the way humans (and orcs, and tieflings, and so on) never stop changing, that’s pure, unadulterared chaotic good. This writer retracts her previous alignment assessment.

Original story, October 18, 2:25 p.m.: There’s only one complaint to be made, in this writer’s opinion, about this video of the Mountain Goats’s John Darnielle playing a custom Dungeons & Dragons game inspired by his newest album, In League With Dragons, which is itself very D&D. The complaint is this: It is too short. We learn almost nothing of the character Darnielle is playing! We assume he is a Bard, as he has spell-casting abilities and centers the campaign’s sole encounter around song—and is John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats—but we don’t get to hear how that encounter ends! And we definitely do not get enough of Darnielle talking about the power of storytelling, because this video could be an hour long and it there would still not be enough of John Darnielle talking about storytelling.

Produce by Noisey, the video offers plenty of little pleasures and interesting tidbits. The Dungeon Master’s screen is the album’s cover art. The campaign itself is riddled with Mountain Goats references and easter eggs. (If it continued, the two-person party would certainly encounter the Alpha couple, then cast Fireball on the junkyard a few blocks from them so the rising black smoke would carry them far away, and they’d never come back to their town again in their lives.) But perhaps most interesting is this nugget of information: John Darnielle’s favorite part of Dungeons & Dragons is... rolling for stats?


Now, we should mention that it’s not clear that Darnielle rolls for stats. He may take the standard array and then spend his stat time researching spells and mulling his options with regard to class and specialization and ability checks and whatnot. But if he likes it so much, we’re guessing he rolls. If you had asked an hour ago, “Hey, what do you figure John Darnielle’s alignment is?” we would probably have pinned him down as chaotic good. Anyone who wrote “The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton” must surely be chaotic good. Anyone who covers Ace Of Base like this is clearly chaotic good. And yet:

His favorite part of Dungeons & Dragons is rolling for stats!

That is lawful, no question. His favorite part is the part where you get organized before playing the game. That’s maybe the most lawful D&D thing ever. His weekly campaign is also centered more on role-playing than combat, which is the most Mountain Goats D&D thing ever. The video is a delight, that fact is wholly bewildering, and we’d really like to play Dungeons & Dragons with John Darnielle. Enjoy—and cheers, Noisey.

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!

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