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How The DIE Comic Book RPG Breaks D&D’s Rules

The Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, a loose adaptation of the D&D roleplaying game, is about a group of teenagers teleported into a world of mystery and magic in order to defeat a great evil and help a mysterious figure called the Dungeon Master. DIE, a “Goth Jumanji” dark fantasy comic series by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, is a deconstruction of both the D&D cartoon and escapist fantasies centered around the story of traumatized, maladjusted adults sucked back into the game-themed fantasy world they survived during their childhood years. In a spectacular attempt to tempt fate, Kieron Gillen, with the help of the Rowan, Rook and Decard game company behind the dungeonpunk game Heart: The City Beneath, is Kickstarting an official DIE RPG adaptation that lets players tell their own stories about a group of friends who sit down to play a D&D-style tabletop RPG, then get sucked into the game world and force to embody the heroes they created.

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Some people see escapism – a core element in fantasy fiction, movies, and games like Dungeons & Dragons – as harmless fun. Others see escapism as a harmful mechanism used to ignore or run from problems in one’s life. A few people see escapism as a revolutionary action – imagining fantasy worlds and backstories where people have the power to achieve their dreams, defy would-be oppressors, and earn fair rewards for completing quests.

Related: Tabletop Fantasy RPGs Inspired By D&D 4th Edition

In the backstory of the DIE comic series, a group of teenagers playing an RPG with classic D&D polyhedral dice get transported into the setting of their game, gain the powers of the characters they made, go on adventures, and come back to the real world utterly traumatized by the doomed fantasy tabletop RPG world they endured. Years later, as haunted adults, they’re dragged back to the icosahedron-shaped world of DIE, there to face the demons of their past and discover what happened to the Dungeon Master friend they left behind. At first glance, this plot seems to land squarely in the anti-escapism camp; however, the homage-filled world-building of DIE and detailed rules Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans wrote up for the official DIE tabletop RPG clearly comes from a place of love for the hobby of roleplaying. Rather than condemning escapism, the DIE comic warns fans and tabletop gamers to be careful about what they dream of escaping to – and the game-within-a-game DIE RPG adaptation is no different.


The DIE RPG Builds Class Mechanics Around Classic Dungeons & Dragons Dice

The RPG group getting ready to play Die

In the opening of the DIE comic, when the protagonists are inadvertently sucked into the world of their tabletop RPG, Sol, the GM of the ill-fated gaming group, gives each of his friends a single unique polyhedral die, reserving the classic Dungeons & Dragons twenty-sided die for himself. The rules of the official DIE tabletop RPG take a similar approach, tying the core abilities of the character classes around a single type of polyhedral die. Each character class is a dark mirror of iconic Dungeons & Dragons classes, granting player characters magical abilities that sound cool on paper, but would torment their wielders in real life.


The Dictator character class of the DIE RPG, a terrifying version of the D&D Bard who can cruelly manipulate people’s emotions, uses a four-sided D4 die to determine the potency of the emotions Dictator PCs instill in their targets. The Fool character class, an embodiment of reckless PC antics throughout D&D‘s history, has a six-sided D6 die the player physically modifies in real-life to give their character strokes of uncanny luck. Grief Knights, Rage Knights, and other Barbarian/Paladin-style warriors magically empowered by emotions are represented by a character class that uses an eight-sided D8 to measure the potency of their current emotional state.


Related: RPG Dice-Rolling Paradigms (& Their Pros And Cons)

The Neo character class blends the D&D Rogue with the cybernetic street samurai from Shadowrun; Neo player characters must constantly plunder fairy gold in order to fuel their cybernetic gifts, and roll a bonus ten-sided D10 die for any Gift-enhanced action. The Godbinder character class, which uses a twelve-sided D12, is a variant of the D&D cleric who strikes extremely commercial bargains with gods and spirits in exchange for access to miracles. Last of all, the character classes in the DIE RPG is the Master, an homage to both the D&D Wizard and the Dungeon Master; with their twenty-sided D20 die, a Master can weaponize core tabletop gaming concepts such as cheating, rules-lawyering, and the gamist/simulationist/narrativist RPG design theory.


The DIE RPG Explores & Examines The History Of Fantasy Fiction & Tabletop Gaming

The original DIE comic book series takes place in a twisted planet of magic, its twenty triangular realms inspired by the imaginations, desires, and beliefs of storytellers and role-players throughout human history. The dark, twisted nature of the comic’s world in no small part is due to the unfortunate implications baked into many of the imaginary worlds people dream up. The war-torn realms of Little England and Eternal Prussia, for instance, are influenced by early tabletop war games of H.G. Wells and George Leopold von Reisswitz (with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbits playing the role of cannon fodder in trench warfare battlefields), while the picturesque city of Glass Town is inspired by the imaginary world created by Charlotte Brontë and her siblings.

The DIE RPG offers players a number of resources and ideas for creating their own fictional settings – both the “real world” their fictional gamer Personas inhabit, and the twenty-sided dark fantasy game world their PCs get sucked into. At the start of a DIE RPG game session, the Game Master goes around the table to ask each player about the mundane lives their Personas lead, the fictional RPG characters these Personas create, and the tone of the game within a game’s Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy setting (an optional rule lets the real players create a twisted version of a real-life RPG they played in the past). The goal of this pre-game prep is to articulate the unfulfilled desires of the RPG’s cast of characters, and how the magical world of DIE fulfills these desires in an undesirable way.


Next: What Makes D&D Tactics & Tabletop RPG Combat Systems Fun

Source: itch.io

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