As you know, I have been hanging out quite a lot at the “Giant in the Playground” forum devoted to Rich Burlew’s webcomic, The Order of the Stick, and there recently arose there a mini-controversy that I think has an application to our own beloved cartoon.
A reader calling himself “Ancano” posted as follows:
I started reading this comic because it was about D&D, and I’m sure the majority of readers did so for the same reason. While I have nothing against a story driven webcomic, the Giant [i.e., Rich Burlew] would do well to remember his niche. … The worst part is that the Giant is actually proud of this. On the kickstarter page, he boasts that “the gaming references [are] virtually unnoticeable.” One of his recent newsposts reveals that he “barely even reference[s] the 3.5 rules anymore.” Sometimes I wonder if he wishes he never used the D&D framework in the first place.
This was replied to by Rich Burlew himself [I condense two separate posts]:
Ancano, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but I have to tell you that you are going to continue to be disappointed. I have virtually no interest in spending time spoofing the D&D rules anymore … . It simply doesn’t interest me as a creator anymore; I have nothing left to say about it.
Basically, it comes down to a choice between moving OOTS away from D&D jokes, or ending OOTS and starting something different altogether. I’m not done with these characters yet, so I chose the former. …
As far as wishing I had never used the D&D rules, I can’t say that, because it was a major reason I broke out of the pack of webcomics. …
Do you think that when I think about the next 40 years of my life, that I want to spend them making D&D webcomics? … Eschewing plot and character for a lifetime of easy cracks about Spot checks is not a career. … If I’m going to be a writer for a living, then there was ALWAYS going to be a point where I needed to put away the sillier gags and start writing a worthwhile story. … What it comes down to is that I prioritize my overall development as a writer over the short-term enjoyment of that small minority of current readers that only want to see rules-based spoofs. … there are more people in the world who enjoy good fiction than enjoy good jokes about D&D, and I’m in this for the long haul.
Obviously, the original poster was unreasonable in expecting that a work that had gone from a gag-a-day strip about the conventions of one version of a particular pastime to a strongly plotted story with vivid characters should revert to its origins simply because he missed jokes about “Spot checks” — especially as the story actually still includes fantasy-, and even game-based, humor, though it is integrated with and subordinated to the story. On the other hand, Mr. Burlew himself admits that the original basing of the story provided him with a particular point d’appui that served to make his story more effective, at least with a particular audience to whose numbers he was gradually able to add by expanding his appeal. (I would, in fact, suggest that he underestimates how much he was able to interest non-gamers in the conventions and technicalities of the game itself.)
Now, in regards to the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, I myself have been on both sides of this question. I remember becoming incensed when gamers would make snide remarks about “that stupid kiddie cartoon — it wasn’t a thing like real AD&D.” On the other hand, I have never felt quite comfortable with the opinion that, “Oh, the cartoon got better and better the more it cut the ties that bound it to the game.” I always felt that one of the things that made the cartoon great was that it was a balance between the gaming and the traditional animation elements. It was a cross-fertilization process. No, I didn’t want Tiamat to be a Lawful Evil Arch-devil, as she is in the game; she worked much better dramatically as a kind of random Chaotic Neutral force of nature. On the other hand, if it had not been for the gaming basis of the show, I suspect that any dragon featured on the show would have reminded one more of Elliott or Granamyr or Smrgol than like Smaug.
What do you guys think?
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