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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Knights of the Dinner Table - The Best Gaming Comic of All Time

Last Monday, I was frantically putting together a scenario for Dungeon Crawl Classics and I needed stuff - magic items, NPC names, that kind of thing. I knew exactly where to go - Knights of the Dinner Table.

KODT is a long-running comic/magazine that contains piles of gaming material and what I think would have to be the greatest RPG-related comic of all time. It also gave me the best NPC name I have ever used: Barlton Stimble.

As I pilfered material in mere minutes (which was all well-received later that night) I got to thinking about how Knights of the Dinner Table isn't really as well-known or acclaimed as it should be. So I decided to let you know why it is good and make a case for it being part of your life. Here is the main reason:

It makes you want to play RPGs
 
In 2003, I thought I had put tabletop role playing games behind me. I had gotten burned out and the dynamics with my old group had changed. Then I sat down and read a bunch of issues of KODT that my brother had (he is a comic fanatic). Before I knew it, I was working on a new campaign and assembling a new group.

Knights of the Dinner Table is about a group who plays a D&D-type game called Hackmaster (which is a real game with really nice production values). It is about their campaign and kind of pokes fun at and celebrates gamer stereotypes. The DM, BA Felton, is always trying to keep his players from abusing the rules while the players just kind of run roughshod over the whole thing.

BA's campaign is so awesome that it really draws you in. It reminds you of all the cool and unpredictable stuff that can happen in a campaign: A hireling who decides not to put up with abuse any longer, what happens when you dump a whole lot of stuff in a bag of holding, and the long-reaching effects of wielding an evil, intelligent sword.

KODT single-handedly drew me back into D&D. Every time I read it, it makes me want to play. It is the perfect cure for when you are feeling down about your campaign.

Awesome Characters

There are a bunch of different RPG groups in KODT. Pretty much all of them are as strong and interesting as the knights. There's a group of.. well.. jerks called the Black Hands. There's a group run by a school teacher who treats her players like students (which is amusing because lately that is what my public play sessions feel like - an after-school club activity). The comic doesn't sugarcoat player stereotypes but it also doesn't denigrate them. Each character is fleshed out enough with good and bad qualities. Some of them might feel very recognizable to you.

My favorite character in the whole comic is this guy Gordo. He always plays pixies and is generally just really odd. He makes everyone a little uncomfortable, but he is a really nice guy. During a "cattlepunk" (Old West Cowboy) campaign, he was in charge of 1000 cows that the group was leading over many miles. He named each cow and gave them each a backstory. Whenever one died, he was devastated in real life. 

Gordo cracks me up because these are the kind of people you only meet in D&D. Since I run so many public games, I have a lot of experience with all kinds of eccentrics and have learned to treasure the ones who do not disrupt the game at all but simply march to the beat of their own drum. D&D is where they can find acceptance and a social outlet.

Min/maxing
Powergaming is a big part of KODT. One of the main conflicts in the book is between the DM and this guy, Brian. I hate Brian. The guy cons his friends out of money constantly. He exploits any rules loophole he can find. He whines like a baby when things don't go his way.

In the earlier issues, Brian's negative traits were made more tolerable by the fact that he was shown as having a truly pathetic life. He lives alone, he would lie about having a girlfriend (who he claimed was a model/spy), and he even went through this phase where he began roleplaying a sidekick with a hand puppet that kind of took on a life of its' own.

In recent years, Brian has been portrayed more of someone worthy of "respect". I recall a fairly nauseating soliloquy where Brian declared that he exploited rules loopholes only so he could then report them to the people who made Hackmaster and blah blah blah. It's all a bunch of crap that these kind of people spout to justify what is, in my opinion, really just them missing the point of the game.

That's my take. I know some of you may disagree. But I'd kick a guy like him out of my group in no time just for scamming friends out of money. This leads me to...

Player vs. GM

Jolly Blackburn, the creator of Knights of the Dinner Table, has stated a few times in the book that the way his real life games go are similar to how the game is portrayed in the book.

The players are constantly trying to put one over on BA. And BA is constantly scrambling to stay one step ahead. The players are frequently accusing the DM of screwing them over, and most of the time BA has done no such thing. It comes off as a pretty nasty, competitive exercise sometimes.

But what drives the game more is that everyone is really into it. While Brian might be annoying, he keeps meticulous logs of the story and pores over them for clues. The players get together during the week to plan out what they'll be doing for the next session.

The Quality of Writing

The stunning thing about this comic is that it has maintained an incredible standard of quality over more than 200 issues. The storylines are incredibly intricate. Plots are built on top of seemingly trivial events that happened 50 issues ago. Everything matters.

I would suggest if you want to try the comic, pick up the Bag Wars Saga. I don't want to spoil it for you, but it is fantastic. Just the stuff BA did with Rotgut the dragon changed my idea of how monster encounters should be run.

Spoony Started Here

Some of you may be familiar with Noah "Spoony" Antwiler. He got his start writing movie reviews for KODT. They are hilarious, and his geeky wordplay leaves me humbled.

It was also amusing because some readers could not handle it when Spoony would destroy a movie they liked (and I mean... destroy). Hate mail was printed regularly. It got to the point where each article was printed with a dotted line and instructions for those who hated his reviews to cut them out of the magazine.    

Here's Spoony's take on Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest:

"Once again, the script is strangely unfocused and fully a half-hour too long, following Orlando Bloom whose character, along with Keira Knightley's, have absolutely no reason to appear in this movie whatsoever. Bloom, who is again more wooden than the mizzenmast, is perhaps the most blatant third-wheel in movie history, something which would be funny if the director had intended his character to be that way. But Johnny Depp, even when he's half-assing it, steals scenes he's not even in because of Bloom's incredible screen absence."

In addition to all this, the comic is loaded with Hackmaster material that can easily be used with any system. Magic items, NPCs, maps, even adventures. I plunder this thing all the time. KODT is a legendary publication that DMs can use to fuel their creativity. It is inexpensive, it is fun, and it is worth it. Check it out here.

2 comments:

C.D. Gallant-King said...

Not just the best gaming comic, but one of my favourite comics ever, period. Let's see any other publisher create such a consistent, deep and engrossing universe without re-setting everything every other friggin' year.

And oh my yes, it is hilarious.

Sean said...

C.D.: It's really true. It is incredible how tight the continuity is.. and so many great characters. It really should be a lo bigger than it is!