Aabria Iyengar Discusses Burrow's End Finale, Dice Telling A Story, And What Happens To Lucas

Aabria Iyengar sat down to discuss the finale of Dimension 20: Burrow's End, how important it is to let dice tell a story, and what happened to Lucas after the credits rolled!

Published: December 6, 2023 7:00 PM /


Aabria Iyengar and Lucas with white text

The Dimension 20: Burrow's End finale has aired and wrapped up a season filled with warm family vibes, deep conspiracy, and a terrible truth. To celebrate the finale we sat down with DM Aabria Iyengar to talk about some key moments in the season and the final battle against Phoebe.

The Core Ideas Of Burrow's End Was The Fears of Humanity

Before talking about the final episode I asked Iyengar how it was that the idea for Burrow's End came to be. During the campaign references to popular books like Watership Down were frequent but I wanted to understand if the idea came from a root idea, or whether it was built around an encounter and expanded from there.

"A joke came up in a photo shoot about what if there was a Cyberpunk Watership Down?" Arabia explained, "That was just like a bit between a couple of us that I definitely was like 'Oh, oh no, I'm taking this personally"

"Watership Down talks about the things that we value and fear in humanity through the lens of animals, which is how we teach children what it means to be human. [...] And then Watership Down being extremely traumatic and horrifying and graphic. Those things you can be when you're talking about rabbits, not about people."

Rashawn embracing hats in Burrow's End Finale
Finally... headwear is a thing

Continuing to discuss CyberPunk as a genre Iyengar talked about its roots in "economic and social fears in America in the eighties."

"Moving from that I was like 'cool, [Burrow's End] is something about fear and what it means to be human and taking that as the heart inside of what Burrow's End ended up being."

Expanding on the idea of fear Iyengar highlighted that she wanted to explore other ways that humans experience fear."Personal loss of agency, which is where a lot of the undead themes and exploitation themes pop up. [...] Political fear about ideologies and what are thresholds for authoritarianism and Fascism and 'what is the level of governmental behavior at which we [say] this far and no further?' The nebulousness of that point is a point of anxiety in people now."

"It feels like everything is getting worse, but at what point do you do something enmass about it?"

For how they settled on Stoats, Iyengar explained if they wanted to truly get into the topic of exploitation that couldn't be done with "little vegetarian bunnies running the world." It was in trying to create a closer parallel to humans that they were looking for "carnivores, but still kind of cute, which is how we get Stoats."

Trying to create the angle of "us vs them" it was important to Iyengar that the party was a tight-knit unit "so it ended up being a family. And again, I didn't come into our session 0 saying 'you guys all have to play family members' I sort of said 'you guys are all from the same warren, and you are very close in that there are 40-50 stoats in this Warren [...] but feel no pressure' and they came to be this family unit on their own."

"We're going to run out the gate with this very strong interpersonal sense of 'us' and all the tension that comes from family things that are very real and grounded"

Horror And It's Use In Actual Plays

Iyengar is also no stranger to telling D&D and TTRPG horror story. Many fans of TTRPG Actual Plays will also know her from Exandria: Unlimited and she's the GM for the current season of Candela Obscura: Tide & Bone.

"I have always loved horror" Iyengar began to detail her history with horror "I'm one of those kids who saw Alien way too young where my dad just had it on TV and I was like 'what's this'?" After seeing the chest-burster scene she thought "That's horrifying, more pleased"

The party reacting to the Burrow's End Finale Boss
Aabria successfully scaring the table with a new setpiece

"Not to lean into the Jordan Peele of it all, but there's something really really close between comedy and horror. Both of those use surprise and expectations that are subverted to bring in a big emotional reaction." Iyengar dove deeper into the topic "It's the same patterning once you get it down and I think there's something fun and difficult in the brief of 'how do you scare the table in a way that's sensitive and safe and how do you scare the audience?'"

As her love of horror has grown Iyengar explained her interest has grown to the point of fascination with "how to execute on it in this form because I am,obviously , obsessed with the form of Actual Play and Narrative Play and RPGs as a storytelling artform.

Joking that we could expect more horror from her in the future she excitedly professed "yeah, I'm not done! I've got lots of stuff I'm scared of we can do this all day!"

How The Dice Tell A Story And Using Bad Rolls In Your Favor

Knowing that one of the stoats, Thorn played by Jasper Cartwright, continued having issues with dice rolls not being in their favor I wanted to ask Iyengar her thoughts on how dice will "Tell a story"

"I think there's something so beautiful about dice and the external randomizer" Iyengar began

"If [the dice] weren't important we would just be doing improv"

"Once you acknowledge and surrender in some way that the dice will influence this game in ways that, support and uplift AND blow apart intentionality and player agents [is] the moment you go 'the dice are a character and the world has it's sort of say in this story'"

The party planning next moves in Burrow's End
Time to consult the character sheet

Even as the GM of Burrow's End, who knows the general path the adventure would take, Iyengar has to surrender some control to the way the dice roll. "I love the phrase 'the dice tell a story' I believe it with my whole heart because it's that ability to roll with the punches that makes for moments of transcendence."

Thinking back to the final episode and Rashawn rolling a Natural 20 to deal some incredible damage to the final boss Iyengar had to sit back and thing "welp, that's the coolest thing in the whole wide world."

Speaking to the not-so-cool moments Iyengar added "It's also just as fun to lean into the misery of having a terrible rolling day. [...] Turning that into 'Okay, the dice aren't here in the story with us, so how do you justify inside of you these low rolls"

She continued to compliment Cartwright not just for his ability to take on Thorn as a role, as well as it being his first time in the Dimension 20 dome, but that to know where he began as "a cult leader and [he's] very good with people but these rolls don't agree with me so what does that mean?"

Iyengar broke down the growth that she saw throughout Thorn's character and the different relationships and standings he had with his followers compared to the family he had married into. "We had this beautiful character going through a very vulnerable arc within the context of his own family to then come through and triumph at the end."

"Going back to the finale, having his in his epilogue be our diplomat out to the world. That once again comes back and confirms that yeah, you were a leader for a reason. This is always in you, and you could only come back to it at the scale that changes the world once you dealt with whatever's going on within the ecosystem of your family. Feels like such a personal arc that paid off in the end and there's something really nice about trusting that whatever the dice did isn't ruining your story, it's helping you tell it.

When Player Resistance Can Do More Than "Yes And…"

By contrast, Erika Ishii's character, Ava, took pride in certain low dice rolls and the unwillingness to learn how to read, while pushing for the invention of hats. I wanted to know from Iyengar when so much of D&D and improv is described as "Yes and…" what was it in Ishii's performance that made her "No but…" so successful?

"The power dynamic of a GM to the player has a different lens to it but at the end of the day this is two friends that are just giving each other a hard time"

Iyengar reflected on Ishii's unwillingness to read and acted out the stages of realization as this became a core part of Ava's character.

"Hey, Everyone's learning to read!"
"What do you mean you don't want to learn?"
"Ok, roll about it"
"Ok ok, so you're just not going to learn"
"Now I've seen that this became a bit and now you're making your whole personality about it, I love that so now we're going to keep playing this"

"It was very fun having Ava as deeply resistant to that kind of change within the walls of last bast that is a deeply funny bit, and the dice were really in her corner 'we will not let her learn, she simply cannot know." Iyengar recounted "but also Erika is a brilliant storyteller and understood that the thing within Ava resists this kind of change most of all." 

"Of course, Ava would embrace all of the powerful physical growth markers that come from this experience but the mental stuff, the thing that she feels the most insecure about being not very emotionally intelligent as a character she would be deeply resistant to that."

Erika roleplaying her grandmotherly Stoat in Burrow's End Finale
This reaction gives "Werthers Originals" energy

"That felt like a bit, but also in the hands of an expert storyteller is also telling you something really important about the arc that Ava's going through as this generational trauma embodied within a stoat holding a racoon dickbone, which is again crazy but brilliant in the right hands."

Talking more about the table's eagerness to get to hats Iyengar explained that there was a deeper reason why they couldn't have hats during character creation. "You might think that this is Aabria having a weird hill to die on but because I knew that we were going to eventually have them meet the Stoats of Last Bast where the general stoats had bits of stripped hazmat suit, but the first stoats, the ones who saw and interacted with humans, and had the most access to human technology [...] were able to see Joseph Stalin and the coronation of a Pope in 1963 [...] they took on so much more of what it means to be human."

For the player characters who were used to living in the wild Iyengar posed the question "If you have never met a human, why would you want clothing?"

"Gloves make your claws less effective, hats make you hear less, [...] Stoats don't need clothes to defend themselves from the elements so where does the impetus for clothes come from?"

"It was a lot of a bit up top, but as you get the reveal of the DNA of Last Bast you understand that of course they couldn't have clothes" Iyengar concluded "But now… go buck wild and that's just going to serve the 'what does it mean to be human?' theme that we've been moving towards"

Bringing A Gun To A Human Suit Fight

Talking about the final 'explosive' battle I wanted to understand the process behind designing the encounter if there were any other elements, such as lair actions, that we didn't have a chance to see.

"The table rolled incredibly well. I think the biggest turn I had on deck was [...] if [Tula and Ava] had rolled poorly they would have become combatants under Phoebe." Iyengar explained, referencing how both Tula and Ava were deceased characters

Tula with Revenant enegry flowing through her in the Burrow's End Finale
The final battle also brought on new miniatures

"We would have seen them have the same undead problems like loss of agency. When we talk about horror games and the things that you're afraid of death isn't the end because there's an afterlife and people come back from it all the time because we have several spells that bring people back."

"There's something inside 'you can come back, but what if you come back and the agency isn't there', what if you don't get to be you anymore?"

Iyengar explained mechanically if Ava or Tula fell under Phoebe's control "you got a half-level and I had cards in the back with new things they could do that they would use against the party." She also explained that if they regained their agency they would have been able to keep these extra abilities as a "thank you for being a bad guy for me for a little bit, as a parting gift here's this new terrible thing you can do."

Referring to the environment Iyengar highlighted that while there were humans in the arena the Stoats were able to run over or exploit them and how it ties into how "so much of the story is about how humans exploit things and how humans exploit things too."

"There were lots of little things that could be lifted and interacted with if they had chosen to interact with the fight in different ways" revealed Iyengar "You could try to take over a person, you could try to telekinetically move stuff in the scene you're in, but the way it went down was just so brilliant and perfect"

Lovingly Iyengar added "Speaking of the things that were built in is so kind but I wouldn't change a single action from a player because it was just so good.

Character artwork for Lucas in the Burrow's End Finale
When flu season hits, it hits hard

What Became Of Lucas After The Final Battle?

Each party member had a chance to deliver an epilogue for their characters. Jaysohn is now an Olympic level Long Jumper and Lila has become a scientist. As Iyengar had frequently joined in the family's hijinx as Lucas a nasally young stoat I wanted to hear what his epilogue would have been.

Joking about the prospect of a Stoat ENT Iyengar laughed "That has to be it, I've got to believe with my whole heart. Meredith, for all her nastiness in that group interaction, probably once she was no longer tasked with being the weapons specialist was like 'I can learn to deal with some ear, nose, and throat-ness and bent the course of her life to helping her son breath properly."

After Lucas was able to breathe properly Iyengar mused that "Lucas, our little bard became an exemplary musician within Last Bast and in Stoat society. I wanna throw him out as kinda a Prince-like figure. I think he's kind of a playboy, plays a lot of instruments, and makes a lot of music."

"Big pimping! Go off Lucas!"

All ten episodes of Burrow's End are now available to watch on Dropout.tv and you can also watch the first episode for free via the Dropout YouTube Channel

Have a tip, or want to point out something we missed? Leave a Comment or e-mail us at tips@techraptor.net

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