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New wrinkle for Dungeons and Dragons

Illustration by Lee Corotpassi

Over the years, the fantasy role-playing game of Dungeons & Dragons has traveled through many times and visited many fictional lands.

A new modified presentation is strong with South Philly roots.

Mythic Thunderlute premiered on July 26 and brings a new wrinkle of the popular game for even the most dedicated fans to enjoy. Created by former and present South Philly residents, it’s a new way of storytelling in which members record a game of Dungeons & Dragons over Zoom and have it edited down, inserting sound effects and an underscore to be listened to in a podcast form. The thing that sets Mythic Thunderlute apart is there are three original music numbers in each episode that highlight pivotal points in the journey.

The music numbers are created and performed by the players, who came to be friends while attending the University of the Arts on South Broad Street. Theater students playing and performing the game they adore seemed like a perfect combination.

“Dungeons & Dragons is very role-playing based so it’s a very natural thing for a group of actors to sit around and do together,” said Jake Blouch, an East Passyunk resident who is a producer, songwriter and guitarist. “There’s that whole creative aspect of it that’s super intriguing from an artistic standpoint. The storytelling aspect of it can be really exciting because it’s completely random. They are generated by the group collaboratively.”

Each episode will be about 40 minutes, and will have about 18 episodes during a season, which follows one main storyline but shakes things up each week with new music and new twists. Blouch is one of four players and is joined by Lillian Castillo, Steve Gudelunas and Leigha Kato. The story depends on the decisions that the foursome makes throughout the game and none of them know how it will turn out, as it is completely unscripted.

“The four players will improvise their way through a fantasy-style role-playing game that I

create,” said Michael Doherty, a former South Philly resident who serves as the Dungeon Master (or Game Maker). “After we record the game, we add sound effects, underscoring, full-fledged musical numbers and special guest voices. It becomes a fully-produced, partially-improvised, fantasy rock musical.”

Jake Blouch, Philly-based artist who is the Composer/Guitarist/Voice of Edgar in Mythic Thunderlute, photo credit Rebecca Gudelunas Photography

Blouch says to think of it “as if you mixed together Lord of the Rings, Spinal Tap and Cheech and Chong.”

Although they are not the first to present the popular role-playing game in a different manner, the group believes it found its niche. They found a way to piggyback on an already successful format of broadcasting game play, as millions of people watch others play the game on streaming platforms like Twitch or listen to games on podcasts. Mythic Thunderlute hammers home the creativity and theatrical polish that makes their brand unique.

Logo by Dan Kontz

“We play a stripped-down version of D&D,” Blouch said. “We all go on Zoom together and into our recording booths at home. We record the session and then Mike pairs that whole thing down to about 40 minutes. We add sound effects and underscoring and take about three major plot points of each session and we replace it with musical numbers. It basically turns into a musical. But it’s not scripted. The plot is up to us as the players and the decisions that we make.”

Behind the scenes, Philly-based actor and director Alex Keiper serves as an associate producer and episode coordinator. Composer, orchestrator and music director Dan Kazemi also weighs in with songwriting contributions on the project.

A new episode will air every two weeks and can be found on all major podcasting platforms including Spotify. For more information, visit the Mythic Thunderlute website at https://www.mythicthunderlute.com/.

The journey demanded hundreds of hours of planning and preparation, which was spurred on during COVID-19. It morphed into an experience they hope to share with many others.

“We’ve been working on this for about a year and a half and we’re just getting to the point where we can release episodes,” Blouch said. “It’s been an insane amount of work that we’ve put in but it’s really exciting.”

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