Genre: Mystery/supernatural/horror web series/RPG
Synopsis: A group of friends meet up a year after experiencing supernatural danger, to head back to the same place it happened the first time. None of them have truly managed to move on from it. No matter the consequences of going back, of tempting fate after they survived the last time, they all agree to go. In the hopes of discovering what actually happened to them, and of finding some sort of closure.
Series: Sagas of Sundry will have other seasons, though I believe it will be an anthology series.
I’ve Watched: All of Dread.
This series is an amazing experience. It takes a simple mechanic, and ramps up everything about it into a powerful, character-driven mystery that uses every second to build up anticipation. This is a show where the cast improvs through a story designed by the game master (GM). The success of their actions is determined by drawing a block from a tower without knocking the tower over. If it is knocked over, that character is finished.
The story for Sagas of Sundry is a follow-up to a one-shot game this group played on International Tabletop Day–that was a nice, fun survival where a bunch of friends went out camping in a restricted area, only to have to escape an inexplicable danger. I’d thought it was pretty good, pretty entertaining. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Sagas of Sundry.
Sagas of Sundry gives us a multi-episode sequel to the story presented in that one-shot. It’s no longer a survival game, but a mystery where the characters try to piece together the truth of what they’d experienced. The character work is intense, hitting the next level. We feel the players move through every scene, the slow tension creeping up on us as they take their next action. The staging, the props, the atmosphere–everything is heightened in Sagas.
The original game couldn’t portray the story like this, because it just didn’t have the same level of production. In Sagas, the cameras zero in on the actions and expressions of the characters, letting them convey their personalities through nonverbal cues. The music lends to the feel of the whole experience. And the players can interact with the setting, combining the GM’s narration with a tangible environment.
It’s super creative, and really takes the storytelling to another level.
I only really have one caveat, though it’s an important one to keep in mind–and it’s that, I’m not sure the game manages to avoid all of the pitfalls of using Native Americans for the setup of the setting. I could be wrong, of course, but I’m just not sure based on what I’ve read.
Tension and Characters
The GMing ratchets up the tension in Sagas, with Ivan (said GM) reaching further into the characters’ minds, like a voice in the back of their heads. In their moments of weakness, he draws them deeper into that despair, reminding them about the worst parts of their lives. While they pull blocks from the tower, where a failure means death, he flat-out taunts them–it’s a glorious dynamic, taking an already tense moment and adding these layers of psychology.
The characters themselves are evocative and compelling, a varied group of friends who’d gone their separate ways after the prior haunting incident. It’s so much fun to see the players embody them, especially since the way the game is staged lends itself to nuanced portrayals:
Darby has this earnest, focused belief in the explanation she’s come up with for her experiences. She’s decided the strange goat-like creature they’d run from in the one-shot was trying to talk to them, and that this was a good thing. Her certainty simultaneously draws me in and puts me off, if that makes any sense. It makes her fascinating to watch.
Tanner has been trying to figure out what happened a year ago, when they’d encountered the strange creature. The mystery drives him, haunts him. A really cool thing about him is how expressive he is. He has these minute facial expressions, especially in reaction to Darby’s…um, let’s call them, goat-worshiping tendencies. The slightest flicker of emotion across his features gives away his feelings in a subtle, powerful way.
Kayden’s personality comes alive in Sagas, his fuck-all attitude accompanied by these in-your-face mannerisms that the staging brings to the fore. He’s so much fun to watch. And his character continues developing from there, finding things to care about despite himself.
Raina just wants to move on. Her ex-girlfriend is convinced a goat spirit is trying to talk to her, and Raina wants the girl she fell in love with back. She wants to forget about what happened. She exudes this sweet sincerity, evoking sympathy. It kind of just make me want her to be happy.
Sat has this chill attitude that covers up a lot of the negative parts of her life. She wants carefree fun and a connection with her friends. She clings to that, even as her world’s fallen apart. Out of everyone, she’s probably the most matter-of-fact about the group’s experiences. But that matter-of-factness is covering up a lot, including just how much getting this group of friends back means to her–and why.
It was a really powerful story, seriously enjoyable, though there is that uncertainty over representation.
Here’s the original one-shot that inspired the story for Dread, back when these characters were sweet and innocent: