Podcast brings locally made Dungeons and Dragons content to listeners
"Twin Portals" is Duluth's D&D live-play podcast. The group of improv folks, actors and a musician get together monthly to play and record their characters' adventures.
DULUTH — There's a lot of content being made every day for fans of the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. But only one's being made live by a group of theater actors, improv comics, musicians and producers from the Twin Ports area: "Twin Portals."
This D&D podcast hosts four live shows locally every year and the next one is Saturday. The podcast is currently 42 episodes and two seasons in, but co-creators Scott Hebert and Matías Valero say listeners do not need to be caught up to enjoy the live show.
"I always tell people, you don't need to know all 42 episodes because, first of all, the actors don't," Hebert said. "I listen to these episodes more than anybody and even I forget pretty quickly."
The solution? Cheat sheets and a recap. "Twin Portals" cast member Justin Peck creates and prints programs with short bios for each of the characters, including race, like elf and dwarf; class, like fighter, wizard and bard; and levels. Valero has started writing recaps of the group's most recent escapades to help provide context for the evening's adventure.
But if you want to go back and start listening to the adventure, Hebert recommends starting with Season Two.
"The start of the first season was one microphone in a very echoey room. We've come a long way since then," Hebert said. "You can go back if you really like it and want full context, but try it out at Season Two and then go back."
The podcast was started by Valero and Hebert in 2018, but their D&D history together goes back to 2015. Hebert found himself watching many live-plays in 2018 and brought the idea to Valero.
"I said, we're kind of funny. We do improv together. And I've got the tech skills after Twitch streaming for a few years," Hebert said. "Why don't we just throw something together and see if we can't make it happen?"
"That's how a lot of stuff that we do happens. It's like, hey, we can probably do this and then we do," Valero said.
The cast includes Hebert as Scoot, Beth Brophy as Ylka Gralhund, Justin Peck as Lark Wavesilver and Kendra Carlson as Xae Rumblestride. Valero is the dungeon master, or DM.
After recruiting more players to their game, the two had to come up with a name for the show. At their session zero, or pre-game session, they bandied ideas back and forth revolving around Zenith and Duluth until Valero mentioned "Twin Portals."
"We wanted to have a local reference, but we didn't pigeonhole ourselves, either. ... It's a fantastic nod to home," Hebert said.
Valero is the game's dungeon master or DM, which means he comes up with scenarios for the characters to encounter and plays all of the additional roles that the group meet on their adventures. The group uses the Fifth Edition system and rules for game play and use various dice to determine how events play out.
The game is slightly different than how it is usually played among a group of friends, Hebert said.
"We've gotten better at just taking action instead of taking too long to make decisions," Hebert said. "Like, say you come up to a door. How long do you spend examining the door because you're worried the DM is trying to throw something at you? I used to get paranoid about my character because you don't want them to get hurt and you want them to succeed. But you end up having to trust that the DM wants to keep this story going in the best way possible."
"The goal through all of this is to have a good game that is interesting," Valero added. "Something that we can recommend people spend their time on."
The formation of a local gaming community around the podcast's Discord (instant messaging social platform) server has evolved in the nearly five years since they started the show. There are around 150 mostly Twin Ports residents who visit the podcast's server and connect with members.
"There's a channel for people who are looking to join a local group. There are West Marches campaigns, which feature 15-20 players and multiple DMs," Hebert said. "It wasn't something we really foresaw in the creation of this show, but it's been nice, especially with the pandemic, to have this community to keep in touch with and bond with you."
Valero added that it makes the live shows "feel like reunions."
If you go
What: "Twin Portals Live"
Where: Zeitgeist Teatro, 222 E. Superior St., Duluth
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Cost: Free; first-come, first-served general admission seating
This story was updated at 9:58 a.m. March 14 to correct the date of the podcast's live show to Saturday, March 18. It was originally posted at 6:30 a.m. March 13. The News Tribune regrets the error.