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Aunty Donna teaches us how not to play Dungeons and Dragons

We asked comedian Mark Samual Bonanno how he's doing (emotionally) after dreaming up two Aunty Donna Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.

DnD Aunty Donna game photos

Australian comedy group Aunty Donna are the latest celebrities to jump on the Dungeons and Dragons trend, with a Patreon-exclusive series documenting their chaotic Aunty Donna DnD games. And one thing makes this series stand out from the Critical Roles of the world – Aunty Donna don’t have a clue what the fuck they’re doing.

“None of us know D&D”, Aunty Donna member (and Dungeon Master) Mark Samual Bonanno tells Wargamer. “We really quite like it – I’m learning to quite fucking love it – but none of us really understand it.” His summary of what to expect from the new series? “A bunch of bozos finding their feet”.

The D&D series is largely Bonanno’s brainchild, inspired by the comedians’ time making guest appearances on existing Dungeons and Dragons podcasts. Now, Aunty Donna are striking out on their own, with zero knowledge of how to play Dungeons and Dragons. “Now [the DMing] is being done by someone who’s a little confused and doesn’t understand how combat works”, Bonanno says.

Originally, Aunty Donna were set to share a DnD campaign with their Patreon subscribers called The McMuffin MacGuffin. It would have seen three half-invested adventurers (played by Aunty Donna’s Zachary Ruane, Broden Kelly, and Sam Lingham) chase down a McDonald’s McMuffin in order to cure a treacherous case of poisoning.

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The first episode of that campaign is currently live on Aunty Donna’s Patreon, but it also might be the last we’ll ever see. According to Bonanno, a “horrible tragedy” with the Aunty Donna hard drive means the footage was destroyed – and the team had to film an entirely new campaign.

Despite the setback (as well as a car accident and several pieces of unbuilt IKEA furniture in his new home), Bonanno has managed to put together another adventure. ‘The Tale of the Ghost King or Something’ debuts on Patreon on November 30. Bonanno dropped us a few hints about what to expect – the classic DnD setting of Greyhawk, characters with story-affecting secrets, and a literal bottle of bleach.

The Aunty Donna Patreon is designed to show what the comedians are like when they aren’t performing, but their D&D campaign still has plenty of the group’s off-the-wall style of humor. That’s more than enough reason for existing fans to watch – but as lovers of Dungeons and Dragons, we reckon this series has another unique offering.

The fact is, there’s something relatable about watching a group of newbies struggle their way through a D&D game. Watching Bonanno figure out how to be a DM for the first time is more than just hilarious – it’s nostalgic for every one of us who’s been there.

DnD Aunty Donna game photo of Mark Samual Bonanno

We asked Bonanno what he’s learned about Dungeons and Dragons since starting the series, and his answers will be embarrassingly familiar to every experienced player. “I learned a lot about what not to do”, he says.

“One of the major challenges on my end was trying to run it without making it confined for [the players]”, he tells Wargamer. “It’s a very big Dungeon Master thing, right? You have to be able to improvise your way out of any paper bag the group presents to you.”

Bonanno goes on to describe a situation every DM has encountered. “In one episode, Zach made a suggestion to do something completely different that I hadn’t planned for, and I sort of froze up – I let them do it, and it didn’t really go anywhere interesting.”

“I’ve tried to be more open in some ways now”, he says, “but the biggest challenge really is the balance between leading them down the path and being flexible enough to go where they’re taking you.” “Especially with these guys”, Bonanno adds, “who are psychos – crazy people”.

Mark Samual Bonanno and Zach Ruane playing an Aunty Donna DnD game

Bonanno has bigger ambitions after his first stab at D&D, and he aims to “create a world where curiosity is either rewarded or punished” in his next campaign. But he’s also learned not to overprepare, creating “smaller but denser” locations.

As well as learning how to play D&D, it’s clear Bonanno has figured out how to enjoy the game. He even calls the hard drive disaster “a blessing in disguise in a lot of ways – because this has just been fucking sick. I’m really enjoying it.”

“What I’ve come to really like about Dungeons and Dragons is that there are just so many different ways to play it”, he says. “I’ve never had hardcore D&D people be like ‘you’re doing it wrong’, which is really nice. Everyone’s just like ‘yeah, you do you bro’, and I love that about it.”

Aunty Donna has also discovered the crux of a great D&D game – messing around with your friends. “We’ve spent our careers fucking around with each other”, Bonanno says, “but now the difference is that I hold all the cards and they have none”. “They don’t know how I’m going to fuck around with them, because it’s not scripted to a degree. It’s really fun.”

Broden Kelly and Sam Lingham playing an Aunty Donna DnD game

Bonanno even says the standout player is Aunty Donna head writer Sam Lingham, purely for his capacity to “be a real jerk”. “He always wants to make it as bad as possible for me”, Bonanno tells Wargamer. “He wants my experience to be as bad as his experience.”

“He’s the one I have to be most careful of because he knows the expectations and how to subvert them”, he adds. “Broden and Zach are a little easier to lead down a path because they aren’t sure what they’re supposed to be doing.”

One of Bonanno’s goals is to get the entire party invested in the next campaign. When asked what to expect from Aunty Donna’s second attempt at D&D, Bonanno says: “You’re gonna see what kind of players the guys are”.

“In the last [campaign], I think they were just along for the ride”, he explains.” “In this one, I’m hoping to take their masks off a little bit more and get rid of any ‘too cool for school’ attitude. I’m trying to nip that in the bud by making it really interesting for them, and they really have to be like ‘fuck, I’ve got to do something here’.”

Sam Lingham, Broden Kelly, and Mark Samual Bonanno playing an Aunty Donna DnD game

Bonanno’s schemes are helped along by the Aunty Donna fanbase, who got to suggest new ideas for the next campaign when the original died its horrible death.

“The responses I got were amazing”, Bonanno tells Wargamer. “So much great stuff, way too many ideas to put in [the campaign] unfortunately. And that’s really helped flesh it out with fun, actual D&D mechanics – but I’ve then put my twist on it.”

Bonanno still has a long way to go as a Dungeon Master, and he knows it. He even reckons he’s the worst at the game among the bunch. But there’s a lot of joy – from Aunty Donna and their fans – driving this D&D game forward.

“I think this one is a little more refined and a little more in the actual spirit of a D&D campaign”, Bonanno adds. “The first one was just a madman trying to figure it out.” “If I can get a better grasp of this, I think we’re really in for a treat.”

For more celebrity D&D antics, check out what Scream star Matthew Lillard had to say about his new Dungeons and Dragons series, Faster, Purple Worm! Kill Kill! Plus, Daredevil actor Deborah Ann Woll has just penned an official D&D adventure all about food.