Why Deborah Ann Woll's D&D Show Is for Fans "Burnt Out on Dragons"

The actress and host of Geek & Sundry's 'Relics and Rarities' doesn't want to transition into directing movies and TV. Here's how she's doing it anyway. 

Geek & Sundry

While most people play Dungeons & Dragons to slay orcs and feel powerful, that’s not what Deborah Ann Woll likes about the game. On the Geek & Sundry web-series Relics and Rarities, the 34-year-old star of True Blood and Daredevil leads a group of adventurers through a wildly different and quirky D&D campaign.

Instead of swords, axes, and bows, the heroes of Relics and Rarities are armed with “junk” — walking canes, sunglasses, knit blankets, and pocket watches — that come with magical properties. The emphasis, Woll says, is a kind of imagination that action-oriented adventures don’t often inspire.

“For me, it’s creativity,” Woll tells Inverse. “If you get the +2 sword, that’s great, but that just means the numbers get higher. It doesn’t change how you play the game. I like the idea that you get a spool of thread, it has a minor magical property that allows it to be extra special. That is all I wanted. I wanted to say, These are the items, and they’re only powerful in the way you use them.

“There’s this core value of, ‘We just want to have a good time,’” says Xander Jenneret, a musician for the band Library Bards and co-star of Relics and Rarities with Woll. “It’s more uplifting, I think. There are serious and dramatic moments but for the most part we are four bumblers who get stuff done. Kinda.”

At a studio in Los Angeles, Woll is besieged by her favorite hobby. This is D&D Live: The Descent, a weekend-long mini-convention that celebrates all things Dungeons & Dragons. Relics and Rarities, which uses D&D Fifth Edition (5e) to tell its story, will play a special live “episode” on the main stage on Friday.

Unlike most enthusiasts, Woll didn’t play D&D as a kid. She was introduced some seven years through her manager, and has been hooked ever since. “It changed my life,” she told D&D Beyond in a 2018 interview.

In an interview with Inverse, Woll teases Season 2, explains how Season 1 happened in the first place, and reveals why Bob Ross is the secret to tabletop roleplaying.

Is there a Relics and Rarities Season 2?

We don’t have a pick-up or anything like that. I can say I have written a second season, or at least I’ve outlined it. It’s ready to be fleshed out. Whether or not we get picked up, Xander and Jasmine [Bhullar] and Tommy [Walker] and Julia [Dennis] will be coming over to my house and playing it, cameras or not.

What about Relics and Rarities and tabletop RPGs make you fired-up?

As an actor, I’m a brick in the wall, but it’s someone else’s wall. They’re designing it, they’re building it. This is the first time I get to go, “Hey, this is my blueprint for a wall. What do you think?” We ended up building something that felt very much like I had authorship over it. That’s been really rewarding. That’s why this makes me especially excited.

Relics and Rarities isn’t an action-oriented power fantasy like other D&D games. What interested you about this kind of story?

I just think we’re different. If you’re burnt out on dragons, there are other areas you can play, and I hope that encourages other people to create their worlds. When I was writing it, I was like, What do I like? I like The Exorcist. I like Indiana Jones. So my world is gonna have all that stuff.

I’m more interested in how brilliant Xander and Julia and Jasmine and Tommy are than I am their deep past as characters. I want their characters to be in the present. The story of Rikki is stepping in front of that mummy’s fist for Beryl — it’s not in the past. It’s present and alive. It’s about what he does now, not a war that happened a hundred years ago.

As Dungeon Master, you’re exhibiting talents in storytelling and directing. Do you have aspirations to transition into writing and directing?

I know how I’ll be the new Martin Scorsese: I’ll use Dungeons & Dragons! It’s the perfect plan! No. I have no interest in directing. Mostly because I don’t care. So much of directing, you have to keep that big picture in mind. You have to care what a camera angle is or what the lighting looks, and I just don’t care. I just love being present.

Writing and showrunning for D&D is different because it allows you to take on those roles and still be there with the story. I haven’t written this thing going “Do this thing.” I’m going, “Help. Come do it with me.” It’s a way to act more.

'Relics and Rarities,' a D&D web-series created and hosted by Deborah Ann Woll.

Geek & Sundry

What does it mean to “be present”?

"I watch a lot of Bob Ross as inspiration.

I watch a lot of Bob Ross as inspiration. One of the crazy things about acting is that you’re given lines and you know everything, and yet you have to act as if it’s spontaneous. The only way you can do that is if it is actually spontaneous. You can’t fake that.

I like Bob Ross because he knows how to paint a mountain, but he doesn’t know what that mountain looks like until he’s on the canvas. I use that as a metaphor for acting. I know what the words are, I know how I feel, but until I’m looking at the person in the face, I don’t know how I’m going to sound or move. D&D is great practice. I’ve been trying very hard to take the experience that happens in D&D and keep that alive in the script.

Relics and Rarities has one of the most gorgeous sets in tabletop. How did that happen?

Geek & Sundry reached out to me, they gave me their pitch: Six episodes, and a celebrity guest each episode. I sent them reference photos and ideas just to get a sense of what was in my brain.

I said we can absolutely just sit at a table in a nice room. That’s fine. I can print props out, I can buy parchment for two dollars at Office Depot, and it will look great! And they were like, “Honey, we can go to props houses.”

I love this idea of a curio shop, that you can hide magical things in plain sight. They look like junk. And the great thing is that junk is cheap. They went around thrift shops and antique stores, a lot of those props are actually ten cents. You can fill a room with ten cent props and it looks rich.

It was important imagination be front and center. I didn’t want us to literally be dressed [in characters]. I want to be very clear that we are us, playing a game, and anything you see happen is because we are brilliant. We want credit.

Isn’t that directing?

Nah. Ehh. Yeah. We have a director who is great. But I want to evoke a sense of where we are than define it. It’s one set, and we just dress it a little. Our second episode is one of the most talked-about sets, and it’s just green vines and light. It was one of our cheap ones, and it looks gorgeous. It’s not, “This is what it looks like,” it’s green and leaves, and whatever that means to you, you run with it.

Who do you hope to guest star in Season 2?

We have a huge list. I’m glad we have the first season so I can show it to people. Because the first season was, “Hi, we worked together. You know I’m a nice person. Would you like to come on this weird little show?” The trust is amazing.

You had a lot of first-time D&D players. Simone Missick never played before.

Never! Her first time playing D&D was on camera.

Kevin Smith too!

Kevin Smith did not know how to play D&D. Still does not know how to play D&D. And he’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with. I picked people I knew were silly, open-minded, “game” people. Charlie [Cox] pitched himself. It’ll be interesting to see a second season.

Relics and Rarities Season 1 is on YouTube.

This interview is edited for clarity.