Cannabis is legal. Dungeons & Dragons is making a comeback. Brandon McClenahan combined the two in a popular streaming show
This single-story home looks normal enough from the street. It’s an older, ranch-style house, the kind built in this area decades ago, long before strips malls and subdivisions came to dominate northwest Las Vegas.
But around the back of the house is a set of industrial trailers. Inside one of them on a recent Saturday morning, a band of adventurers with names such as Rial Othrevan and Tynna Smoothhands is locked in battle with a powerful undead creature named Aeromastus. It’s just one fantastic fight in the adventurers’ ultimate quest to defeat the Lord of Shadows, Sithesis, who threatens to destroy the human realm entirely.
Don’t worry. Fortunately for us living in the human realm, it’s not real. It’s a live-streamed game of Dungeons & Dragons organized by local actor Brandon Alan McClenahan that he calls “WeeDnD,” produced from one of the backyard trailers in his northwest compound.
“WeeDnD is a cannabis-positive, collaborative storytelling experience,” says McClenahan, who serves as the game master — that is, the narrator and referee. “It’s a completely original show every week. It stars a cast of some of the finest entertainers from around Las Vegas. It’s a party.”
Pot? D&D? This makes McClenahan sound like a slacker, but he’s actually an entrepreneur. Last year, he combined his two favorite pastimes and launched what’s become a popular weekly Twitch stream in which costumed players get high, slay monsters, and grab treasure.
On this Saturday, Jake Taylor, Brenna Folger, Drew Yonemori and Abby Dandy — all local actors, too — are the intrepid adventurers, connected via webcams, rolling dice and taking bong hits as they vanquish creatures and puzzle over riddles. High or not, they’ve had an epic journey. In the story so far — narrated by McClenahan in his booming voice — they’ve slain a gorgon and used her blood to lift a deadly curse; they’ve obtained the powerful, wish-granting Luck Blade, only to have it stolen by a criminal outfit called The Syndicate; they’ve defended Kris Kringle’s toy workshop against a rampaging Krampus; they’ve even had a psychedelic dream-battle with a villain bearing the unpleasant name Oobrey The Calloused. Much of this session is spent trying to solve a nonsensical riddle delivered by a creature named Glorp: “When the cat wears his pajamas, where does the dog dance?” (“Down the stairs, of course,” Taylor guesses — correctly — and gets to advance.)
It’s all as silly, freewheeling, and fun as it sounds. But McClenahan’s vision is serious. Before the pandemic, he had ambitions to develop WeeDnD as “part of this first wave of green entertainment,” he says, envisioning a live event that would tour dispensaries and game conventions. He had to pivot with the pandemic.
“We rerouted the entire show as a digital production. Can we do something different in those spaces? Can we bring the love of theatrical storytelling that we’ve fostered through doing community theater for 15 years in this digital space?”
So far the answer is yes. The weekly episodes attract up to 600 viewers on Twitch and up to 300 on YouTube. “For a show our size, that’s virtually unheard of. We’re monetizing in a real way. We’re able to cover the cost of running the studio with the show itself and we’re only doing four shows a month right now.”
WeeDnD isn’t the only show to turn old-school fantasy role-playing games into thoroughly modern entertainment. Countless D&D streams, podcasts, and websites have popped up in recent years as the game has not only made a comeback, but broken into the mainstream. The internet made D&D easy to learn.
“The main thing that stopped people from playing Dungeons & Dragons is that they didn’t know how,” McClenahan says. “And it’s hard to learn how to play if you can’t just see somebody do it. Now, because of YouTube, you can watch people do it. Once you see it, it looks fun and you want to do it with your friends. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah. That looks fun as shit.’ Who doesn’t want to be a dwarf and throw a bottle at a dragon? Come on.”
And as for that outdated stereotype that games such as D&D are the province of pimply-faced nerds — well, McClenahan points out, nerds are the hero of this story.
“The stigma of nerds is gone now, too,” he says. “Nerds are cool. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, it’s all mainstream. Nerds won the culture war. We won. Everybody’s favorite movies right now are comic book movies. People love magic again.” And with legal cannabis becoming more widespread and acceptable, McClenahan sees plenty of high adventure ahead.