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Brennan Lee Mulligan and others sit around a stylized campfire in the oil paint art for Worlds Beyond Number. Image: Worlds Beyond Number

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The best new actual play series coming in 2023

Wizards and vampires to be sure, but also... zombies and replicants?

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In 2022, actual play role-playing performers made some big moves. Things kicked off with the return of HyperRPG’s experimental Kollok. Critical Role and Dimension 20 explored entirely new genres, complemented by the award-winning coziness of Jeff Stormer and Possum Creek Games’ miniseries of Yazeba’s Bed & Breakfast. Meanwhile, Justin McElroy’s pivot to Blades in the Dark breathed new life into The Adventure Zone’s latest campaign, Steeplechase.

In the first month of 2023, we find that actual play has grown to become an even bigger part of the wider tabletop scene. But the landscape is changing fast. The next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons, dubbed One DnD, is raising more questions than it answers — especially as a possible new Open Gaming License looms. At the same time, publishers like Chaosium, Paradox Interactive, Paizo, Hunters Entertainment, and Free League are courting audiences to their systems through sponsored shows.

What’s on the horizon? Hard to say, honestly. Most announcements stay under wraps until just weeks before they air. Here’s what is currently on our radar this year.

Worlds Beyond Number

Announced New Year’s Day at the stroke of midnight Eastern time after a viral teaser campaign, Worlds Beyond Number is an artist-owned collaboration between Brennan Lee Mulligan, Aabria Iyengar, Erika Ishii, Lou Wilson, and Taylor Moore. The team includes well-respected veterans of video actual play known for pushing the structures of the form combined with the production talents of Moore, well known for creating sonically interesting podcasts. If you’ve longed to see the omnipresent Iyengar and Ishii seizing the means of production, this is a gift.

The team promises that the multiverse will also include multiple systems, settings, and worlds. The first campaign, The Wizard, the Witch, and the Wild One, will be led by DM Mulligan and is billed as feeling like “the perfect home game of D&D” — a sprawling world to play in. A Patreon will launch Feb. 1 with sneak peeks of the campaign as well as scenes from their Session 0 campaign, the Children’s Adventure. The full 12-hour Children’s Adventure will be Patreon-exclusive and drop alongside the first episode available to the public on March 1. Keep an eye on their site and socials for more information.

Glass Cannon Labs

A glass dragon bust, with the words Glass Dragon Labs written alongside it. The image is formatted for Instagram. Image: Glass Cannon Labs

As major names in video actual play experiment with podcasts, Glass Cannon, best known for its extensive range of podcasts, launches Glass Cannon Labs exclusively on Twitch this year. The project promises “raw, unpolished looks at various groups learning and playing new games together.” The show intends to minimize production costs to showcase games that otherwise couldn’t be played — a striking move as other actual play series move toward heavily edited content.

The series starts with three Free League games: Mörk Borg spinoff Cy_Borg, gritty fantasy Symbaroum, and the new Blade Runner RPG. The show airs on their Twitch channel Thursdays at 2 p.m. EST.

The Walking Dead

Survivors aim down sights at zombies as an explosion rips apart the background. Image: Free League Publishing

In addition to Glass Cannon, Free League is also partnering with AMC Digital Studios to produce a tie-in for The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game. The limited series promises “original events pulled from the series’ writers’ room” developed with former showrunner Scott M. Gimple, and teases possible actor cameos while following new characters who intersect with events in new ways. Keep an eye on Free League’s socials for information as it develops.

New York by Night Season 3

Two coteries — one Anarch, one Camarilla — will square up for battle when New York by Night returns for its third season. Departing from LA by Night’s focus on just one side of the conflict between the the status quo and revolution, Jason Carl has chosen to spotlight two sides in successive seasons, while putting them on a collision course. It’s unclear who will be on whose team this time around — or who to root for among these glorious monsters. New episodes will air on the World of Darkness Twitch channel, and keep an eye on World of Darkness’ Twitter for the latest news on the air date.

Rivals of Waterdeep

Art showing some of the legacy characters from Rivals of Waterdeep leaping into the frame from the right-hand side. Image: Rivals of Waterdeep

Meanwhile, D&D programming continues to proliferate — even as Wizards of the Coast increasingly pulls back from direct production. One of the longest-running campaigns in actual play, the all-BIPOC troupe Rivals of Waterdeep returns Feb. 5 for the beginning of the end. The show’s innovative sharing of the DM’s seat and evolving cast has been an incubator for some of the most groundbreaking creators in tabletop. While it’s uncertain what the future holds for the Rivals, it’s well worth tuning in to see them stick the landing. Details to follow on the troupe’s official Twitter account.

DesiQuest

This summer, acclaimed DM Jasmine Bhullar (Shikar, Battle for Beyond, Dimension 20’s Coffin Run) will lead DesiQuest, a seven-episode all-Desi D&D actual play drawing deeply from the lore of the Indian subcontinent and fueled by a successful Kickstarter. While Bhullar alone is a major draw, the rest of the cast is equally stellar, including Sandeep Parikh (The Guild), Rekha Shankar (Dimension 20’s The Seven), Anjali Bhimani (Ms. Marvel, Overwatch, Exandria Unlimited), and Omar Najam (Dimension 20’s A Court of Fey and Flowers).

Acquisitions Incorporated

three cartoon dnd characters walking ifrom Acquisitions Incorporated campagin book. they’re all wearing armor and have confused looks on their faces. Image: Wizards of the Coast

Acquisitions Incorporated, which has experimented with every form of actual play on seemingly every possible platform, is set to transform once again with an upcoming “Series II” Kickstarter. Beyond the return of Mike Krahulik’s Jim Darkmagic, cast and setting have not been announced, but the teaser trailer included the AD&D 2nd edition title Mind Lords of the Last Sea, a book from the postapocalyptic, low-magic survivalist Dark Sun — a setting that hasn’t been heard from since 4th edition.

In the end, what’s most exciting about actual play this year may still be unknown; after all, the best part of the form is the part we don’t see coming.

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