Robot 6

Robot reviews: King of RPGs

King of RPGs

King of RPGs

King of RPGs Vol. 1
Story by Jason Thompson; Art by Victor Hao
Del Rey, 240 pages, $10.99

Jason Thompson is a talented, erudite guy. He knows more about manga than I can ever hope to absorb in the rest of my lifetime. His Manga: The Complete Guide is one of the best reference guides on the subject around and one of the most frequently pulled books off of my shelves. His monthly (or whenever) column on Comixology brims with intelligence and wit. Plus, he’s got a helluva collection.

All of which makes it more than a bit sad for me to report that I didn’t very much care for King of RPGs, Thompson’s his first official entry into the world of published comics (along with artist Victor Hao). Part of the problem may entirely be with me, as I’m not much of a fan of the comic’s (or OEL manga if you prefer) subject matter, classic, tabletop role-playing games, to begin with. My friends in high school in college would constantly attempt to get me involved in a game and I’d go along to get along, only to be bored stiff after the first hour. Why is it taking so long to set up my character? What do you mean I have to “roll for initiative”? It’s been three hours, can we stop playing now? Aren’t there better things we could be doing with our time?

But I don’t think my dislike for the book is solely due to my distaste for the topic. The main problem with King of RPGs is it’s too loud. The characters are so broad and two dimensional, and the situations so over the top in their attempt to be “zany,” that they stretch the limits of credulity to the breaking point and sink any hope the reader may have at identifying or at least sympathizing with the characters. With the volume constantly turned up to 11, there’s no room for nuance. I didn’t once find the main character Shesh’s split personality — he turns into a psychotic maniac when he gets too involved in role-playing — amusing, mainly because Thompson seems to find the situation itself funny and doesn’t try to make it funny, if you see the difference. It doesn’t help that guy has a name like “Shesh” either.

Hao’s art has some of the same problems as Thompson’s text. It’s unnecessarily cluttered and busy, bearing a rough, shakily thin line that suggests a lack of polish more than anything else (there’s way too much greytone shading as well). His backgrounds feel generic and boxy — I never got the sense that I was in an actual town or college, more that the walls and tables were mere decorative props that would fall over if someone leaned against them too hard.

King of RPGs had the potential to be a rich, amusing look at an offbeat hobby. It’s certainly full of colorful characters, both in the real world and in the various games. But Thompson and Hao haven’t entrusted the subject matter enough to give the work any real depth or humor, relying instead on thin cliches and forced absurdity. The end result is a comic that’s unlikely to please either hardcore devotees or those unfamiliar to the medium.

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5 Comments

This is the third bad review I’ve read of this, but I have to stick up for it.

If you’re not an table-top RPG player, you’re probably not going to get some of the better jokes and certainly not the subtle ones, like the thief character getting the ruby eyes off the stone idol (AD&D Players Handbook cover). That said, it’s a great, albeit somewhat painfully accurate, representation of the hobby. It is actually mostly written from the perspective of outsiders, so it’s still accessible.

The over-the-top situations are right in keeping with some manga/anime conventions that I’ve seen that cover otherwise fairly sedate activities. I don’t know if because this being produced by Americans, that it’s being judged differently, but this type of extreme storytelling wouldn’t stand out at all in Japan.

The biggest sin of this volume is that its target audience, manga/D&D fans, is probably too small to get a fair shake from most manga fans.

My reaction is almost exactly the opposite…my interest in this dissolved when I found out that the author isn’t really into tabletop games himself. I’ve been playing D&D for many years, so anything that’s off would stand out like a sore thumb. Kind of like the WoW episode of South Park–they had the general idea, but there was also a crapload of stuff that was just *wrong*. Most people wouldn’t notice, but for the really nerdy types it’s a buzz kill.

@Blankaden, the author is a passionate GM of many tabletop systems. While in his meta role-play/viral promotion of the book, he’s cast himself as a tabletop noob, he is far from an outsider. Not only is Thompson true tabletop expert, but there are plenty of other gaming culture references ranging from a critique of dungeon dice, an homage to the classic board game Cosmic Encounter and obscure, controversial CCG cards turned on their head for comic effect. The tabletop system in the game isn’t supposed to be true DND — the differences you note are more than likely deadpan parody or a reference to another system. And how can it be “wrong” if it’s a fictional system of his own making? Whether you like the book or not, Thompson’s gaming cred is the real deal.

“While in his meta role-play/viral promotion of the book, he’s cast himself as a tabletop noob, he is far from an outsider. ”

If he has so much experience, why on earth does he advertise that he doesn’t? Do authors of history books pretend they don’t know anything about history? Do authors of cookbooks pretend they’ve never been in a kitchen? Why would he do that?

I’m baffled. I can’t imagine any situation where it would be good promotion to pretend that you know nothing about the subject of your own book.

@Blankaden

In the build up to the books release, Thompson ran a blog as Theodore Dudek, as well as creating a fictional persona, the “Street Master” who was a DM who preached D&D on the streets of San Francisco. (the video’s on the KoRPG site). Thompson was playing a weird sort of meta-LARP (which continued at the book’s launch party) in which Thompson pretended that he didn’t know anything about gaming but basically ripped off his ideas from Dudek and the Street Master — his alter-egos. At his launch party, he was even “assassinated” by gaming extremists for being a fraud. (The street master intervened and solved the mystery). It was wacky, and clearly had the chance of backfiring, but it’s very Jason Thompson.

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