Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

To those in the know, what I’m writing about will seem like old, old news. But still, Knights of the Dinner Table is such a cult hit, that I suspect plenty of people will catch a glimpse of what I’m writing about here and be pleasantly surprised.  Simply put I LOVE this comic.

The art of the ‘strip’ hasn’t exactly had a heyday since guys like Gary Larson and Bill Waterson stepped back and left a huge gaping hole in the Sunday afternoon comics page. I do think Dilbert is pretty hysterically funny, but I have a certain fondness for Aaron McGruder’s EXTREMELY UNDERAPPRECIATED Boondocks (animated or otherwise)…

But if I could pick something to run weekly in your local newspaper? My god it would be this cartoon. It’s so unbelievably hilarious.  KODT actually gets published in its own mag; a monthly collections of cartoons, complete with running story arcs. It centers on the exploits (real and fantasized) of a group of tabletop gamers.  Now, the sensibility in this comic…how do I explain it…

You sort of have to have been there? You have to have been staying up late on Saturday night drinking Dr. Pepper and playing Magic or Dungeons and Dragons to really get just how off the rails hysterical this comic is?  But if you’re that type -or if you even dabbled in it- you can appreciate this strip.  And mostly? It’s the ‘game talk’ that kills me the most. I swear, the humor of this comic is a lot more highbrow than it seems; sometimes the only ‘joke’ is just hearing the players discuss the game that they’re playing. These discussions are filled with EXACTLY the kind of LUDICROUS stuff that you hear IN these games- bags of ‘infinite holding’, demonic belt buckles that swallow your soul, ‘saving throws’…

Of course, the other joke, namely, is this. Most people who play these games play them with such a neurotic fixation on rules and details that it often defeats the purpose of the game itself. Ostensibly, the purpose of role playing is for a bunch of people to get together, roll some dice, and sort of make a good story. Of course, every attempt the KODT’s dungeon master makes at putting together some dramatic narrative for his players to participate in fails, miserably.

Why? Because the knights are a certain brand of gamer known as a ‘power gamer’. They don’t care about the story. They want to kill the most monsters they can, to get the most experience and gold they can, to buy better equipment and level up. That’s it.

This results in the knights immediately attacking or robbing any person they come across, rolling charisma checks to persuade villagers and passer-by to serve as cannon fodder in their campaigns against dragons and demons, and constantly shouting "I disbelieve!" whenever they encounter anything remotely dangerous (this is an in-joke to a famous Dungeons and Dragons module written by the man himself, Gary Gygax. I forget the module, but the adventure had this twist in it where when you got to the end of the dungeon to fight the horrible evil that your party was questing against, the only way to overcome it was for a player to announce that they didn’t believe in it. The knights, of course, just use it by rote for whatever they encounter, completely lacking any sense that this was a story gimmick, not an attack that a player could use).

And that’s kind of the point, really. For some reason, MOST gamers ARE power gamers. It’s funny, when you think about it- millions of pages put into print to help people describe fantasy worlds and yet, most of the players who play these games are more obsessed with rules and numbers than in the majesty of the campaign setting they’re playing in.

Still, KODT isn’t really a slam on gamers. It’s actually kind of a celebration of gamers. I mean, c’mon- who doesn’t have that one friend who can recite stats out of the Monster Manual or neurotically belabors their next move in Risk or Axis and Allies as though they were directing an actual war? The truth is, it just wouldn’t be gaming if we didn’t do it THIS WAY. We LOVE being neurotic about gaming. Gaming IS neurotic. Why fight it?

I’m really happy to say that this strip has stood the test of time, too, and continues to crank out new, hilarious material. I’m such a big fan of this strip, that I’d actually get behind a weekly animated series for it on Adult Swim or something like that. I know this is a little out there, but I hear that people actually read it, live, in front of an audience while they sit at a table on stage acting out each knight’s ‘part’ in the strip and that the shows are pretty hilarious. I’d love to see one.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of KODT, please do. Really. Funny stuff.