Sunday, February 27, 2011

Random Reviews: Community Episode Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons generally doesn’t come off well when portrayed in mainstream media.  The best you can usually hope for is that it is used as part of a “Look, nerds!” joke.  At its worst you get things like Mazes and Monsters.  So when I heard Community was doing an episode devoted to my favorite roleplaying game, I had some concerns.


I need not have worried.  This episode has now replaced Bender’s Game as my favorite Dungeons & Dragons themed episode of a television show (although, I admit there is not a lot of competition in that field).

The Good

The focus of the episode was on the interactions between the players.  Like an actual game session, the humor derived from how their “real life” personalities influenced their character interactions.  For example, Britta Perry’s love of championing causes leaks into the game in a way that generates realistic eye rolling on the part of her fellow players.

PierceHawthorneSimilarly, the primary conflict of the episode came from Pierce Hawthorne’s antagonistic play style.  While exaggerated for comic effect, I think any long time gamer has played with someone like Pierce at some point.

It was also fascinating watching as the study group learned how to play.  The episode wisely choose to avoid getting bogged down in game mechanics.  Instead, it did an excellent job at highlighting the unlimited story possibilities available in pen and paper roleplaying games. 

When the game starts, Jeff Winger is stymied by the unlimited choices open to him.  Once the game gets rolling though, it is Jeff who drives the direction of the group.  He rallies them after Pierce’s betrayal and improvises a plan of action.

The unlimited gaming possibilities is the biggest advantage pen and paper roleplaying games have over video games.  I was glad to see this aspect of Dungeons & Dragons got highlighted, rather than THAC0.

The Bad

I may be in the minority here, but I was annoyed by Ben Chang’s dark elf cosplay.


I admit it is a pretty funny visual.  Unfortunately, it has also been way overdone.  If television and movies are to be believed, every time people get together to play Dungeons & Dragons they dress up in elaborate costumes.  This is simply not true.

To credit of the writers, they didn’t dwell on it.  After a establishing the visual gag, they quickly moved their focus elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

I suppose the best thing about this episode of Community is that Dungeons & Dragons is portrayed in a positive light for once.  Yes, it can be silly at times.  It can also be a bit hard to explain to outsiders.  Nevertheless, I think Dungeons & Dragons has been a positive influence on my life.  It was nice to see it portrayed as a positive thing on a mainstream television show as well.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

RIP Dwayne McDuffie

Thanks for the telling your stories

Acclaimed comic book and animation writer Dwayne McDuffie died today from complications due to a surgical procedure performed Monday night.  He was 49 years old.

I was floored when I heard the news.  I am a big fan of Dwayne McDuffie’s work, although I admit to being somewhat late to the party.  I first became aware of him because of his spectacular work producing the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series.  Both of these series did a great job of distilling the best elements of DC Comics nearly eighty year continuity and presenting them in a format easy for the casual viewer to understand.  Since then I have sought out his work and have rarely been disappointed by it.

I believe the reason Dwayne McDuffie was so good at this was because he gave a lot of thought to what makes comic books work and what makes them fail.  His article on “the menace of shared universes” changed the way I thought about comic book continuity.  He reminded me of something that should be obvious: the story being told is always more important than something that happen ten years ago in another book.

Dwayne McDuffie was also an important minority voice in an industry which is still dominated by a bunch of white guys.  As the co-founder of Milestone Media he created a comic book imprint where minority characters could step into the spotlight for a change.  The character of Static proved popular enough to spawn the animated series Static Shock on the WB.

Not to mention he sent Marvel Comics hilarious proposal called Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers when he felt they were being a bit stereotypical in their portrayal of black superheroes.  Considering that he was an editor working for Marvel Comics at the time, that took some balls.

Rest in peace Dwayne McDuffie.  You will be missed.