New & Familiar Faces Return in the Premiere of ‘Rivals of Waterdeep’
Diving into Rivals with the cast behind the popular D&D live-play show
Four adventurers enter Revel’s End, a maximum-security prison meant to hold the most dangerous of criminals. There is a small window of opportunity to escape and a group member is missing.
Where is Rinn? Is he okay? Fear and doubt begin to fill the room. This is their only chance to escape. They need to leave now! The group eventually hears Rinn is being taken care of, but the uneasiness doesn’t leave.
Four entered Revel’s End at the start of Season 8, but only three stand outside of the prison at the finale.
It won’t be three for long, however. Two unfamiliar faces and a dear friend will stand by their side in the upcoming Season 9 of Rivals of Waterdeep, premiering January 31st on Twitch.
Rivals of Waterdeep is a D&D actual play stream show that continues to roll critical successes in creating meaningful stories for all to enjoy. Bringing stories and characters to life defines Rivals of Waterdeep and its strength comes from its talented cast.
Sadly, Brandon Stennis, who plays Rinn, will leave the cast after eight seasons. In no way does it mean goodbye forever, with Season 8 DM Tanya DePass stating that the door is always open if Brandon would like to guest.
Joining the table this season, with new characters and stories, is Brian Gray and Eugenio Vargas.
Their two characters stood next to Selise, a Paladin turned Blood Hunter played by Tanya, at the end of this past season. The last we saw her was in Season 7, having gotten her revenge. What has Selise been up to since then?
How will Gazrick (the rock gnome druid played by Masood Haque), Shaka (a tiefling warlock played by Shareef Jackson), and the rest of the Rivals react? And the last time the characters saw Rinn he was inside Revel’s End, not outside. How will this impact the Rivals?
I sat down with the cast to find what we can expect this season, try to snag some spoilers, and discuss in-depth the magic behind Rivals.
SUPERJUMP: Rivals of Waterdeep made its debut in 2018 and has grown since then. With Season 9 premiering January 31st, how would you describe Rivals to those new to the series?
Tanya: Rivals is a show that started in Waterdeep and has taken us across the realms. We are all a bunch of adventurers where some days we know why we’re together and other days we question why we got out of bed and kept on fighting.
Masood: Rivals has a really awesome cast with a focus on good storytelling above everything else. What is the best story for us to be telling here?
Brian: I agree with Masood, the storytelling aspect always draws me to any RPG experience. Not necessarily having to know the game backwards and forwards, bogged down by the numbers. You have people who are playing and acting and are being good givers and takers. That’s the most entertaining for me watching the show.
LaTia: We are just a D&D show, yo! From my experience both as a fan prior to joining and a cast member now, we are a D&D group that values storytelling above the mechanics of the game.
Shareef: It’s more about the investment of the other players. We have enough experience with each other and know what everybody reacts to or we have an idea of what people are looking forward to to have fun. And that takes priority over getting the technical parts down.
People should check our Rivals because there are not a lot of shows in the Midwest. A lot of the shows are on the Coast, because of that we all have a collective energy and this was more so when we were physically together. That energy of being together in one place helped make the game come alive. Now, we brought that online, but the source of that comes from that physical place.
Also, you should check us out because we’re all invested in making sure everyone has a good time. We’re not playing against each other. We’re not playing against the DM. We’re not trying to win the game. Things can go in a variety of different directions and we’re not afraid to be openly surprised and excited.
I’ve had a lot of people comment that they feel that other games are more rigid, that you don’t openly see and feel the reactions from the players. Which I find is important.
LaTia: We’re also a really good example of different levels of experience with Dungeons and Dragons. When Rivals first started, there were a couple of us who had no experience with D&D. There was a wide range of player levels across the table, it was a really good example of how you didn’t have to memorize the player’s handbook to have a good time/have a good story. That’s reflected in how we play. None of us are afraid to make mistakes.
SUPERJUMP: How has Rivals of Waterdeep evolved as a series over the years?
Masood: It has been really nice, despite us being virtual, it still has the energy of all of us being together at the table. For the actual story itself, you look at the number Season 9 and ask, “Do I need to start at Season 1 to be cognizant of what’s going on?” Season 9 is a good place to jump in. The Rival’s community is very kind in providing resources and history in helping people catch up.
The start of the season is a fun place to go, we have LaTia leading us in the DM seat. She has a lot of great experience and has done one-offs that were a blast. We, also, have Brian and Eugenio coming on board. This is the best place to get started.
Tanya: I think our characters have grown a lot, at least for my character. She has seen some things, as the phrase goes. We’ve all learned each other’s style and collaborate even better as we grow and change casts — as people rotate in and out.
Shareef: Our cast has changed over the years. As of Season 9, Tanya and I are the two remaining people from the original cast. We’ve brought on four additional people since then. That is exciting because it brought new personalities and in terms of the game, new classes. In terms of the dynamics of the group, new ideas, and perspectives on what is entertaining for each other and for fans — both old and new. It also showcases a wider representation of folks as well.
LaTia: We’ve also evolved in playing things that are not just D&D. For example, Rivals on Bikes was something most of us have never played before, our brief journey into Star Trek, and diving into other new systems influences us as players and creators. We take pieces of those games and use them to improve our roleplaying and storytelling.
SUPERJUMP: In Season 8, the Rivals team found themselves going to Revel’s End. Throughout the journey we watch the cast try to survive in this new, dangerous environment. The season wraps up with a tense prison escape. What can viewers expect in Season 9?
LaTia: We first have to deal with the aftermath and the potential fallout of going to prison without Selise, leaving prison without Rinn, and every consequence that is going to come from that. Rinn’s presence will still be felt in the upcoming season.
Masood: We will get two new wonderful characters. Also, I can’t speak for it and Tanya may not want to talk about it, but Selise has been growing quite a bit in the offseason. Just because their character wasn’t present in Revel’s End, doesn’t mean they haven’t been doing things. So there’s also going to be a lot of growth and watching characters interacting with new and returning characters.
SUPERJUMP: So, Tanya, what has Selise been up to in the off season?
Tanya: Stuff and things. You have to tune in to find out!
SUPERJUMP: I have too many favorite moments in Season 8, from Gazrick showing Shaka the different Rivals’ figurines at the manor to D’Hani beating the snot out of everyone. What is one favorite or memorable moment that you have from Season 8?
Masood: My favorite part was trying to have Gazrick’s hopes up in whatever capacity and finding ways to put a comedic spin on it, that Tanya gracefully went along with it. There were a lot of these moments and I wanted to say my piece first before Tanya, because I know I wasn’t the easiest person to DM this season.
Tanya: It was “Did you all forget you were in prison?” every episode. There were times where I wanted to reach through the camera and go, “What is wrong with you?”
It was all hilarious, but it made my job as the DM harder because the group could have left prison three episodes before the finale. They must like prison because I do not know why else this is happening. You’re like the people in Hogan’s Heroes that never actually want to leave.
Masood: Once we got in prison, it felt like that. We had fun in prison as our characters. Them getting into their escapades and from a storytelling perspective, it was nice! It was nice to see Gazrick deal with his past and have heavy moments in-between. As an actor and a comedian, being able to roleplay is why I love doing this. Being able to show that range is what I love about Rivals and this past season.
Brian: The moments that I love was when Tanya, as the DM, goes, “You know you’re in prison, right?” Then there were moments back and forth, where you have a cast with basically all people of color and going, “Actually, no, I don’t know.” Your only reference is fictional things you see. Hogan’s Heroes is perfect.
Tanya: I wish I thought of Hogan’s Heroes during the season. These were escapades.
LaTia: One of my favorite moments — a super small moment — was when we got back to Icewind Dale. When Sierra, the NPC, had fitted us all with rooms in the inn that were catered to all of us, except for Shaka. Shaka was very suspicious of her. D’Hani took one of the plants out of her room and moved it to Shaka’s room, to make it warmer and more comfortable.
It was something we weren’t able to explore as much because we were dealing with being in prison. D’Hani has been trying to make Shaka feel more at home, especially coming back to a dynamic shift in relationships and people, in the status quo. That was something that I liked.
Shareef: I really liked the idea of Gazrick purposely eating in the bathroom and how that got tied into how he actually met Vaelish. I thought that was great work between Masood and Tanya. It was a cool thing to take this one character quirk and turn it into a huge plot point.
For Shaka specifically, when Shaka was first talking to the Brotherhood and he was trying to talk to a spy. He was dropping awful hints that he was interested.
LaTia: Terrible Arcane Brotherhood puns!
SUPERJUMP: What also makes Rivals unique is its rotating DMs. Anyone can take a seat in the DM’s chair. For this upcoming season, we will see LaTia taking the helm. For those who’ve been a DM in Rivals, how did you prepare for a session?
Shareef: The first time I DM’d, I was really nervous. I was one of the people who didn’t have a lot of experience. I was coming after Carlos Luna, who has experience in improv and just did a phenomenal job. I wrote a lot of narrative my first time. For me, personally, that was a mistake because we didn’t get to most of it. However, it was good for me because in the back of my mind, it built the world, which helps me react to things naturally.
I became really into puzzles and started fitting them into the story. It’s what I did for the last 2 seasons and I enjoyed it. I’ll have the puzzles, bullet points I want to hit, options, but I won’t write any specific narrative.
Sometimes the puzzles will show in areas I didn’t plan. It’ll be cool if it happens in this specific spot, but I’m not going to force them there just so they can do this cool thing. I’ll give gentle clues, but you also want players to be invested in the game. Let them make the decisions. I can always slide the puzzle into another location and the players won’t know. All that matters is making sure everyone is having fun.
Now I focus on puzzle design, creating a fun experience, and adapting to the situation if needed.
LaTia: For this upcoming season, there has been a lot of stepping back and thinking about what we’ve done as players. I’m enjoying figuring out how I’m going to create these experiences in the story that I’ve created. In Season 9, it’s certain character aspects that will be popping up, incorporating what took place in past seasons, what influences past events have on NPCs, and feeling the shockwaves of things that have been done, like with Rinn.
The one thing we’ve all done prior to a season is ask a question of what everyone wants to accomplish during the season. So I can insert it into the season. There is a story I want to tell, but I need to make sure that everyone has their story to tell, too.
Shareef: That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned about D&D. At first I viewed it as an interactive lecture, since prior I was more familiar with movies and video games. Now I view a Dungeon Master as a meeting facilitator. Everyone goes all off, but you’re the one reminding players of the agenda. You’re not necessarily the smartest person with all the information, you’re the person saying, “All right, let’s get through a segment of what we need to get through.”
LaTia: You have Point A and Point B, but there is A1, A2, A3… Players will not always approach it in order, may even revisit prior points, skip a few…
Shareef: That’s one thing I’ve come to love. You don’t know what will happen; you have to adapt. It keeps it fun and everyone energetic. It’s addicting! It’s fun to be in the chair and experience that with people you trust.
Masood: Blue Microphones approached us and asked if we wanted to do anything for September and I threw around the idea of throwing the Rivals into a Kids on Bikes session. Kids on Bikes is a very collaborative storytelling game in itself where it asks a lot of its players as it does the GM in building a world together.
You would spend the week thinking of questions that would prompt the group in a way I can build on. It could be, “What happened over the past five years that leaves you different than before?” What growth is substantive and intuitive to their characters. For me, it was me building the world around the characters and the characters continuing to build it with their decisions and actions. Also, finding the right soundtrack for the things that would be scary!
Tanya: For me, it was one ongoing Google doc. This is the story I want to tell, here are the beats I want to hit. And if we don’t hit those beats, which we often didn’t, then going, “Okay this is what I want to do.” And moving it up a week and then it went, “Okay, what if they don’t get out of jail and what if someone dies?” With the way things were going, y’all were writing a check you couldn’t cash in this jail. I really thought Gazrick and the Warden were going to come to blows.
Masood: My best friend? No. Never.
Tanya: I make sure there are story beats and NPCs at the ready. There were a couple of weeks that were heavily improv, just due to life. We’re just roleplaying and I have to give credit to Masood. Gazrick being a con man backstory was not discussed at all, we just ran with it and it went great.
Masood: I’m an experienced improv comedian and Tanya knows that about me and we can trust that. That’s the comfort of coming to the table and that energy of improv content that exists where you’re in that energy and you feel the right story beats happening. Working with someone who is willing to “yes, and….” what your statement is can take the story places neither of you were expecting.
SUPERJUMP: Is there a specific scene, moment, or NPC character in Rivals that you’ve crafted that you’re particularly proud of?
Tanya: It’s between Sierra and Leto. And you know I’m a big Dragon Age nerd. Anyone who has ever talked with me for five minutes knows that Leto was basically Fenris. For him, I had fun with the NPC because it was a sneaky way to get my own little fandom in there, but also to do the things I never get to do with Selise, but through the voice of a NPC.
Masood: In terms of Season 8, I enjoyed the moment D’Hani pushes me across the room when we tried to make it seem like Gazrick wasn’t with the gang. That was really fun to do.
Brian: As odd and frustrating as it was, Rinn’s interplay with Tanya’s characters. It left me yelling at the screen — which is the safest way to rant at a RPG show. How do you not see what’s happening? How do you not see what’s going on? I know you like your protein and working out, but you can’t be this dense.
Tanya: But, also, the room and this bed. I’m sitting here going, “Are we really doing this?” I was still learning towards Leto killing Rinn, but finding out after the fact. But Brandon and I decided that Rinn didn’t need to die. That would be a lot for the group.
By deciding to have Rinn alive, this always keeps the door open if Brandon would like to guest for a week or the group learning what happened to Rinn in his absence.
Shareef: I definitely have NPCs that I love. I always want to make NPCs that are funny and impactful, but I don’t want our cast to grow infinitely. In Season 3, I created a character called Percival, which was a junior mage, part of Blackstaff tower. He was this young and excited mage. I felt proud watching these great and fun interactions between this NPC and the players.
There is a monster in Icewind Dale called a Brain in a Jar. I did not intend this to be a character at all. I had it set up basically as a trap, but the players were so obsessed with trying to open it. I decided to have the brain talk back and then I did another one. LaTia, as D’Hani, was reasoning with it and had a fantastic plan to “free all the brains.” And it led to the brains revolting against the main antagonist. It wasn’t somebody I intended to be a character at all, but when people get attached, you jump on it.
LaTia: Shareef put a house in a world that he was trying to get us to go to, but we never did. For a one-shot last summer that I DM’d, I took that and built a house in the Betrayal at House on the Hill game. I played the game by myself, built the house, placed the items and everything. Then I took pictures of it. For our one-shot, we finally went to the house Shareef was trying to get us into and it became a haunted house.
What I liked about it the most was that it was a weird house. The entire time everyone is wondering what is going to happen. “Is the house about to kill us? I do not like this house! We need to get out!” And I hadn’t pulled anything particularly malicious, but the vibe of the house and the two-headed kitten unnerved them. That was something I was very proud of.
SUPERJUMP: As the newest members to the Rival’s team, what drew you to Rivals of Waterdeep?
Eugenio: I will never forget how much fun the Rivals looked like they were having at their premiere during the Stream of Many Eyes in 2018 and at every one of their live shows I was fortunate enough to attend after that. Their joy, their silliness, their fun, and their capacity for empathy and pathos was everything I wanted from a new stream team.
As the years went on, seeing how they adapted to each DM’s style, how they tackled Shareef’s puzzles or bonded with Surena’s NPCs, was so exciting to me. I can’t wait to see what LaTia will bring to the campaign and how the rest of us will respond to it!
Brian: I had a great time playing with Rivals in a Star Trek one-shot. We had a blast from moment one and it was the best. Knowing that while I don’t always have systems memorized, that the system was just supporting us in telling a good story, absolutely drew me. I told them I would happily play with them again any time and I didn’t know it would mean this. I had a great time playing with them and telling a story — that’s a huge part for me.
SUPERJUMP: Who will you be playing in Rivals, if you’re able to share! Any sneak peeks? Hints?
Eugenio: I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll be playing a tiefling named Kent. I’m really excited about some of the design choices we’ve made for him, and he’s my first high-level character in a long-running public campaign.
Brian: It’s a secret! All I will share is that I’m playing a class and a species I have not played before in an online RPG game.
SUPERJUMP: What would you like to see in Rivals of Waterdeep’s future?
Brian: Coming to it new and watching it virtually, what I would like to play together in-person in one location, at a convention, or a special event. Playing virtually is great, but it’s a whole different thing to learn interplay virtually vs. live. I like the idea of playing live and sitting down. That would be amazing.
Masood: To echo that, yes, I would love to sit live with folks. Ideally, at a convention. I’ve never been to a convention before and I would love to meet people who have been watching the show. I really appreciate the folks who follow and have been listening. I look forward to the moment when we can be together.
In the meantime, being able to hang out with the cast online and chat with fans has been an incredible experience. I love the energy and I am so excited for LaTia to DM this season. She’s really talented and I’m looking forward to seeing where she takes the story.
Tanya: I’d love for us to be a five-year show. I want to be where Critical Role is, but I want it to be because people realize our talent, not go, “Diverse show!” Like cool, we’re Brown, but we’re good at this, too.
Shareef: I would love to continue this story with these characters. With Season 8, we’re streaming from our own Twitch channel. This gives us the opportunity to do more things. We’re starting a video game stream, a Patreon, and other things as well. I would like to have other small things going on and the show is the highlight of it. We’ve built up a solid brand and great people who are doing great things individually.
LaTia: From a purely player perspective, this is a campaign in its own way. I want to see our characters get to level 20. That’s something you don’t see in a lot of campaigns. I’d like us to make it all the way there and see what is waiting for us at the end of the level 20 tunnel.
I’d love for us to be able to support other people as well. Where we grow to a place where we can use our platform to support and sponsor smaller streams, to help others get where we are.
SUPERJUMP: Is there anything else you’d like viewers to know about Rivals of Waterdeep?
Masood: Come for a good show! It will be a blast!
Brian: This is going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to playing with this cast and being in this show with Eugenio. I have now gamed with everybody here. The cast and viewers have been very supportive. The viewers who tune in are a fun and supportive bunch.
Tanya: Just more shenanigans! None of us know where we are going. Once we meet the new folks and hear what Selise has been up to, I have no clue where we are going. So it’s going to be a mystery for us, too!
Shareef: We are proud to be a diverse group that represents a lot of intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and culture, but that is not our defining thing. We are a great group and that is an aspect of us. Sometimes it feels like when people are thinking of shows with diversity, that’s the only time people talk about shows like this. This isn’t unique to D&D, this is all media and fandoms. Often shows like ours are seen as an alternative or a second tier.
You can be proud of your background and be considered a great show outside of it. It’s not a mutually exclusive thing.
LaTia: We’re more than the Brown D&D show.
Shareef: Oh, you like regular D&D, watch this. If you like brown D&D… Everybody doesn’t have to like the show. That’s fine. Like it for the content and the story, all that we talked about in the interview. You can like the representation as well, but we’re more than that.
LaTia: Shareef hit the nail on the head. Anyone who is supporting us despite that, who is watching us for our rotating DMs, for our story, comradery between us all. Thank you. I look forward to reading chat on Sunday as much as I do playing because of the people that we have watching and supporting us.
SUPERJUMP: Thank you Rivals for making time to meet. It was a real treat to talk about Rivals of Waterdeep with you. We wish everyone the best of luck this season. See you on January 31st!
You can follow Rivals of Waterdeep here and catch Season 9’s premiere this January 31st at 10AM PT/12PM CT here.
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