Buzzfeed’s first actual play blends D&D with Saturday Morning Cartoons

Magic & Stuff is an all-queer, all-femme animated twist on a classic AP format

Buzzfeed’s first actual play blends D&D with Saturday Morning Cartoons
Credit: Buzzfeed Animation Labs

Over the last 15 years, major entertainment brands have used actual play as a low-effort, high-return content strategy. Get a group of internet microcelebrities around a table to play a game of D&D and watch as fans eagerly consume the goofs and gabs of their new favorite fictional blorbos. Often, these shows exist outside of the core lineage of AP, focusing primarily on adding new value for their pre-existing audience rather than considering how their show exists within the context of a larger artistic medium. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. These types of actual-play-as-supplementary-content expose new audiences to the concept of tabletop roleplaying games, but rarely do they offer more than a high laugh-per-minute ratio and the rare (if existent) emotional beat towards the end of the show’s run. 

Buzzfeed Animation Lab’s new show Magic & Stuff takes this model and, with clear vision and a love for the medium, creates a part-live action, part-Saturday morning cartoon actual play. Led by established AP facilitator Jasmine Bhullar (Desiquest, Dimension 20, Critical Role), the all-queer, all-femme cast consists of Buzzfeed animators Meredith Kesh and Elizabeth Gottlieb, executive producer Elisabeth Riley, and drag performer Syzygy. Directed by Derek Benig, each of the series' eight episodes runs just over 30 minutes, with a smattering of 10-20 second long animated clips throughout the show. 

Leaning into the studio’s expertise, character and setting art feature prominently in the series, providing a foundation for the audience's theater of the mind experience that supplements the animatics throughout. Framed against a black void, the studio leans into a more minimalistic, theatrical experience. The few set pieces that are present—such as curio cabinets filled with potions and bones, dressers topped with a candelabra and armored busts, and a gaming table littered with candles, crystal balls, and velvet DM screen—create a heightened atmosphere of playing a game your witchy grandmother’s living room. 

Though only two episodes have been released as of this article’s publication, the plot of the show is apparent: a dungeon crawl for a band of adventurers with little upfront emotional investment aside from moral conviction and a potential monetary reward to help the characters get out of debt. Magic & Stuff’s style of AP follows in the path of earlier shows like Acquisitions Inc.—the most recent season of which Bhullar was a player in—and HarmonQuest, which focus on classic D&D gameplay and personality (both character and player) rather than a more narrative-centric approach. 

However, the intentional goal of creating an onramp to actual play and D&D for Buzzfeed Animation Lab’s audience influences every element of this show. Bhullar provides basic explanations of mechanics at the series onset, while more complex mechanics are explained through an animated on-screen parchment scroll. The players themselves are new to performed play, though their general familiarity with the game and intensive post-production edits allows Magic and Stuff to avoid the pitfalls of many previous D&D-as-content shows—such as asking an abundance of rules-related questions or meta-narrative personality conflicts, which slow down pacing—but still provides an audience-surrogate experience of learning how to play a tabletop RPG. 

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Rascal sat down with the executive producers of Magic & Stuff to chat about their TTRPG influences, their intentions for blending animation and actual play, and how they went about creating an accessible AP on-ramp for the Buzzfeed Animation Lab audience.

This interview was edited for clarity, length, and flow.