The Chain of Acheron

DMed by none other than Matt Colville.

Matt Colville is a well-known figure within the world of D&D. He’s been advocating for D&D for …, I don’t know. But I do know what he’s been around for decades. I’ve seen his books but didn’t know he ran D&D campaigns.

A Youtube playlist for the series is here.

Now, I ran into this series completely blinded because it came up as a result of a simple Youtube search, and I was puzzled for some time what to make it of it. As I watched episode 1 without a clue, it became clear that there is more to its backstory, so I had to dig around a bit. I feel this is a flaw that needs to be mentioned. New comers would be completely lost.

After some digging from google as well as reddit, what I’ve come to understand is that the Chain is a mercenary company and that the world peace is threatened by Ajax. Many feel that it is only a matter of time before he (Ajax) achieves world domination.

At this point, I fail to see why Ajax conquering the world is necessarily a bad thing because nothing suggests that he is a bad guy. Well, let’s move on. I will get back to this later.

The story follows a group of five mercenaries from the Chain hired for an assassination job in a port city of Blackbottom. They are given 5 special arrows that are pretty much guaranteed to penetrate any armors or protection spells. Seems like an easy job on surface. Take the target out and leave.

Of course, things don’t go as planned. In fact, Hell breaks loose. I am going to spoil the story a bit here. It’s not much. I will spoil up to half of the episode 1.

When the Chain attempts to carry out the job, they realize that their cover is blown, and their foes are expecting them. Not only that, Ajax himself descends down on them. The assassination job quickly turns into flee-at-whatever-the-cost job. That is because the players are only level 5. I am assuming that Ajax is a level 20 legendary creature. He brings his friends even.

The Chain flees as everything around them cracks. This is their story.

Now, this is a kickstarter backed D&D campaign based on 5th edition. Perhaps because of that, you can see high production value from the episodes. For one, the video is crystal clear. Matt mentioned that new camera & light equipment were purchased for the campaign, and it shows.

As for the plot, it’s pretty refreshing to see a group of who are essentially fugitives trying to survive. You normally get a progressive story where a group of level 1 players are given progressively tougher challenges. It’s important to mention that the players are level 5 in the beginning.

Starting at level 5 is a fairly big thing in D&D. Some prefer this kind of start because low level battle is usually just smacking each other until either side reaches zero health. That is because, at level 1, pretty much all classes are equal. There are hardly any differences between wizards, cleric, and warriors at level 1. It’s at level 5 where classes become more specialized in their roles.

At the same time, I’ve found the show quite …. dull. I understood barely any jokes due to some audio issues where voice volume increases bizarrely high whenever they increased their voice, and the DM, Matt, is just too stoic for most of time. It’s also not helped by a fact that players themselves are quite stoic toward each other.
This might be fine for home games but certainly not for viewing.

Additionally, I find their undying loyalty to the Chain a bit odd. The Chain is a mercenary company, and mercenaries are bound by money. The players are given offers to defect by the DM numerous times. It isn’t a demand to surrender. It is an offer to defect. However, the players don’t even discuss the offer, and their situation early on is quite precarious. I can see why the offer to defect is not discussed among players because that would probably mean game over. Still, if they are role-playing, the five mercenaries should have discussed about the offer to defect.
I could understand their stern refusal to defect if there is more than money at the stake, but viewers are not given any background info on the Chain anyway in the show. I mean, I had to dig info up from the internet to find out that the Chain is a mercenary company even.

Finally, I see no evidence that Ajax is a villain early on. Yes, he commands demons, but that is not necessarily a bad thing in D&D. I mean, one of the mercenaries is a tiefling, basically a half demon. Another is a Goblin even. It is said that he is a merciless “wanker”.
Well, when a dude is trying to conquer the world the hard way, I doubt it won’t be without blood, lots of it. If you look at this differently, world domination generally equals to world peace for some generations. This is historically true. A dude conquers a country, and a period of peace comes. So, I fail to see why Ajax is seen as a bad guy.

Basically, this show is really hard to get into for new viewers without actually doing some homework on your end, and it seems this is Matt Colville’s style according to Reddit posts.

In the end, I do not recommend this D&D show unless you are willing to do some homework first which…, let’s be honest here, is not something people nowadays do. Even when I’ve done my homework, I’ve found the show hard to watch still. Like I said, it’s just dull.

The Chain of Acheron, at the time of this entry, is not complete. It has aired up to episode 27. Each episode has average runtime of 3 and half hours. It has been on hiatus since 2019 due to Covid and several other reasons, one of which appears to echo my complaint (being dull to watch).

It could come back. I have a feeling that it won’t. Even if it does, it won’t be the same.

Until next time.

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