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What GMs Can Learn From Gaming Comics

Posted By John Arcadian On February 2, 2009 @ 3:33 am In GMing Advice,Tools for GMs | 12 Comments

Aside from Role Playing Games, one of my favorite pastimes is reading comics. Specifically, webcomics. More specifically, Role Playing Game related web comics. There are a slew of gaming webcomics out on the world wide inter-tubes and they have unique takes on gaming. Some look deep at the mechanics of the targeted game and integrate them into the core concept of the comic. Some merely run parallel to the game by having the same type of genre for their setting. There are some things we can learn about setting up role-playing games, and lots of ways to get inspiration from a comic. So read on dear gnomish reader and experience the head on train wreck of gaming and comics!

gnomecha
Gnomecha concept courtesy of Matthew Neagly
Art by Rochelle SimpsonPortfolio

What makes a Gaming Comic
Quite simply a gaming comic, in my humble definition, is any comic that deals with, or touches on, trends found in gaming. A gaming comic can parody or honor a particular game or gaming style. It could be set in a similar genre. It could touch on the subject of gaming rarely but in an in-depth way. That’s about all it takes.

What Gaming Comics Can Do For Your Game

Gaming comics can teach about telling a story in chunks.
If a gaming comic does more than gag-a-day stories then they usually have to divide that story up and put some payoff in each comic. That means each comic generally, but not always, functions on its own. This is very much like a game session, standing on its own with its own required payoff.
Each story arc in a comic fits into the main story or stands on its own, just like a side quest, or chapter of a campaign.

Finally, the overall story of the comic has to move and flow with these sub-elements, all the while making each interesting in its own right but keeping them in line with the main story. Continuity has to be maintained over a long period, and often fixed when it spirals out of control. This can be compared to the overreaching campaign that is being played.

Different comics have different ways of setting up their daily, story arc and overarching stories. Looking at the way this is done in different comics can help us learn about our gaming styles. What does each individual session consist of in a game? How does that fit into a bigger story arc, and then into the overarching story? Does everything lead to the main goal, or are individual session payoffs more important?

Gaming comics can teach about the lead up to the payoff.
Most comics are about the punchline or the final panel of the day. The same holds true for most game plots. Things that happen in the beginning of the session are all about the final payoff, boss fight or quest goal. Picking apart the techniques that a comic uses to get to its payoff can help you analyze how you get to your own payoff in a game. Is it a slow leadup? Is the payoff telegraphed right in the beginning? Is there a point somewhere in the middle of the campaign where things start to move towards the payoff?

Gaming comics can teach about visual cues for characters.
I envy people who can draw. Drawing a character and making him/her/it detailed and eye appealing is one thing. Doing it over and over again is another. Comic artists have to do this from panel to panel. The more detailed the character design, the more it takes to draw the character in each panel. To save on drawing time comic artists will usually pick one or two elements of the character and focus in on them. < a href=”http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0619.html” target=”_blank”>Character X’s unique scar, Character Y’s interesting clothing, Character Z’s one distinct and unique feature. This is what sticks out in the reader’s minds. Following the same tract with your NPCs and characters can help the players keep firm ideas of them in their heads. Pick one or two things to detail. They’re going to pick up on that and fill in the rest.

Gaming comics can teach us about the layout of our sessions.
While this one is a bit more of a stretch, looking at the structure of a comic and comparing it to the structure of a session can uncover some pretty interesting things. Before a comic artist starts drawing they have to decide on the layout. Single Panel, 3 Panel, 4 Panel, Continuous, Vertical panels, Mixed Size Panels? This sets up how much space they have to tell the story in and controls what kind of stories are told.

If you can relate your games more to single panel events, then the space is limited and there is little but the payoff. Delving the dungeon is the only thing. If you tend to fall more towards 4 panel sessions or continuous, then there are a lot more factors and a lot more space to get to them in. Take a look at one of your typical sessions and consider how many panels it fits into. Then ask what is right about that and what is wrong. Maybe single panel games get to the payoff quicker but don’t provide character building opportunities. 4 panel games may feel unwieldy but players feel like they have more room for personal goals.

Gaming comics can teach us not to take gaming so seriously.
Since gaming comics take a more lighthearted look at gaming, they tend to get to the meat of what we are looking for in a game. A good time. Dispensing with some of the seriousness we attribute to our games, while still following a centralized plot and party goal is a great lesson to learn from gaming comics. The funny stuff can be dropped when the serious bits need to happen. You can shift from humorous gags to serious deep plot without damaging the story. Each session can focus on what is coolest in the current scene.


To cap my part of this discussion, here are some of my favorite gaming related webcomics and what I take away from them in relation to gaming.

Gaming Guardians by Graveyard Greg and Various Artists (We miss you webtroll)
http://gamingguardians.com/

Wow. I’m so sad this comic isn’t being updated anymore. It revolves around a multi-dimensional organization that polices gaming systems. . . How awesome is that. Many of the members of the guardians are NPCs who are awakened from their NPC state upon learning about the nature of their world and become fully fledged individuals. The storytelling style mimics a comic book and stays cohesive throughout, while incorporating many unique characters and plot points. This one is a 5 star.

Knights of the Dinner Table by Jolly R. Blackburn
http://www.kenzerco.com/images/periodicals/kodt/webstrips/120/

You can’t talk about Gaming comics and not mention KoTD. This one is quintessential and hits all the little gamer quirks in depth. Sometimes it’s like watching your own group playing, sometimes it’s all about the cringing because you know you’ve been that guy who built an extensive back-story just to get a few more points out of the GM . . .

Order of The Stick by Rich Burlew
http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0001.html

Much like KoTD, Order of the stick deals frankly with gaming, but focuses more on the in game antics than the out of game interactions. Order of the stick throws everything to the wind in terms of seriousness and goes balls (stick-balls?) to the wall with goofy 4th wall breaking. OotS is definitely a template to use when you want to run a non-serious game. One of the most beautiful things I find about order of the stick is how much and how often it breaks the 4th wall. If you’ve ever run a game where this happens you know how off the wall adventures can get.

Erfworld by Rob Balder
http://www.giantitp.com/comics/erf0001.html

Erfworld is an excellent comic about a diehard gamer who gets pulled into an alternate reality where his gaming skills are the only thing that can win the day. Face it. You’ve had this fantasy. Many things about erfworld are off the wall, but there are some beautiful things to be said about world building. Balder takes a completely off the wall concept and makes it feel epic.

Geebas on Parade by Jennie Breeden
http://geebasonparade.keenspot.com/

Geebas on Parade is about a different type of gaming. Larping. I’d never even known that fantasy larping existed until reading geebas. The comic has some very interesting things to say about gamers and how much of an outlet gaming is. By drawing things both in reality and in “game” it highlights the suspension of disbelief that we all do as gamers. (Disclaimer: Jennie has done some art for me and licensed me some of the Geebas strips for a project of mine.)

What’s New With Phil and Dixie by Phil Foglio
http://www.airshipentertainment.com/growfcomic.php

What’s New With Phil and Dixie is one of the first comics to deal with gaming that I ever read. It was published in Dragon magazine in the early 80s, and later reprinted in the 90s. Phil and Dixie would talk about various topics relating to gaming, and throw more than a few jokes at the reader. If you want to look at the beginning of gaming comics, this is a good place to start. I’m still waiting to see the ever anticipated “Sex in D&D” comic!

DM Of The Rings by Shamus Young
http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=612

What if the Lord of The Rings was played out ala Dungeons and Dragons. Yup, it goes exactly how you think it will go. An excellent look at the way that a story that is written and a game being played differ, plus hilarious as all get out.

Chatty Dm’s Out of The Box by Philippe-Antoine Ménard
http://chattydm.net/tag/chattys-out-of-the-box/

One final entry that I’ll talk in depth about is Chatty Dm’s Out of The Box. While this was more an excuse for Phil to play with and take pictures of his miniatures, it pulls off some of the same tricks as other more established comics. Breaking the 4th wall, laying out a context for the characters that lies somewhere between their in game descriptions and out of game roles, and providing funny punchlines with character driven dialogue. I know Phil has a tendency to pick up and then drop projects, and the last comic posted (that I know of) was from May 2nd, 2008. I hope Phil picks up the camera and starts the comic at some point.

I won’t analyze all the comics I read that have to do with gaming, but that is the important thing to do with them. Read them, then figure out why you like them and what their structure and layout say about them. So what comics have I missed? What else have you found inspiring or thought provoking in gaming comics? Share your thoughts or draw a picture. Comment away!


Psst (Here are a few other comics I couldn’t help linking to.)

Girl Genius By Phil and Kaja Folio
http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php

Nuklear Power by Brian Clevinger
http://www.nuklearpower.com/

Errant Story by Michael Poe
http://www.errantstory.com/

Looking For Group By Ryan Sohmer and Lar Desouza
http://www.lfgcomic.com/

Dresden Codak By Aaron Diaz
http://www.dresdencodak.com/cartoons/dc_031.htm
http://www.dresdencodak.com/cartoons/dc_059.html

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.




12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "What GMs Can Learn From Gaming Comics"

#1 Comment By MarioB On February 2, 2009 @ 4:08 am

All of them are great comics.
But you’ve forgotten this one:

http://www.weregeek.com

I stumbled over it some weeks ago and love it. It’s a very personal look into our gaming world and plays with every cliche you know about gaming. I found myself about a thousand times in these strips. ;-)

#2 Comment By Solidarity On February 2, 2009 @ 6:17 am

If you like DM of the Rings… SW version:
http://www.darthsanddroids.net/

#3 Comment By Rafe On February 2, 2009 @ 6:49 am

I don’t follow Girl Genius anymore. It was good for the first 100 or so, but now it’s just nonsensical. I have no clue what’s happening or who the characters are (or where they are, why, or what they’re doing). Comics like that should be done like a good TV show: Aim for your end point and plan how long it’ll take to get there… then get there.

Darths and Droids is great, as is Weregeek. I like WereGeek a lot because you can choose which game to “follow:” Star Wars, Shadowrun, etc.

Great list, John!

#4 Comment By Rafe On February 2, 2009 @ 6:49 am

Oh, you’ve also forgotten Dork Tower!

http://www.dorktower.com/

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On February 2, 2009 @ 8:16 am

A couple more…

http://dungeond.com/d/20060402.html Dungeons and Denizens covers the running of a dungeon from the back end.

http://www.thenoobcomic.com/index.php?pos=1 The Noob is really about MMORPG gaming, but if the cliche fits…

http://yafgc.shipsinker.com/index.php?strip_id=1 Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic. Pretty self-explanatory, but not necessarily safe for work.

http://www.transstellar.llamaslap.com/first.php TransStellar is somewhere between Firefly, Traveller, and your typical gaming group.

#6 Comment By John Arcadian On February 2, 2009 @ 8:33 am

@MarioB – I’ve never read weregeek, but from the minute or so perusal I gave it, it looks interesting. I’ll definitely have to add it to my personal reading list.

@Solidarity – Darths and droids looks awesome. I know I’ve heard of it, but its been one of those I never had time to get to. I like the fact that it goes the sci-fi route, being, of course, star wars based. I think there are some concepts and play styles that are standards in all games, but some things that are different between each genre.

@Rafe – Girl genius is one of those comics which work well as a comic book, but are hard to do on a day to day basis. I know there are a few comics that I don’t check with every day but do so once a week or once a month. That way I can catch up on the big blocks of story that don’t quite gel when taken in small amounts.I did that with GG for a while, but then got caught up enough to catch on day to day and stay inside the story. Errant Story is one like that as well. It’s hard to do day to day because the story seems to progress slowly.

@Rafe – Y’know, I’ve never read much of dork tower. I love Kovalic’s art on munchkin cards, and I’ve read some of it, but I was never aware they had a web offering. One more to add to my list. Cause, yeah, I had absolutely no motivation to do this article to add to my already huge list of comics to read . . . . None at all . . . . :)

#7 Comment By John Arcadian On February 2, 2009 @ 10:02 am

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – You know, Dungeons and Denizens was in my original list since it was done by Graveyard Greg, and then I took it out because the list was too long.

YAFGC looks pretty awesome from the 7 panels I’ve read of it. I love any medium that takes the monsters’ side of things.

#8 Comment By ChattyDM On February 2, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

Wow thanks for the shoutout. I too miss the comic but I really took on way too many projects this year. I’m slowly recovering from a seasonal crash and may start doing them on a monthly basis or something.

It’s very nice to see that you are still a fan. Thanks John!

#9 Comment By John Arcadian On February 3, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

@ChattyDM – It was definitely on its way to being something bigger. I understand the seasonal crash thing. I’m just crawling out from under one myself. Hope to see more at some point, but I’m also awaiting the adventure you’ve got coming out as well . . .

#10 Comment By Vampir On February 4, 2009 @ 1:00 am

I’ll just add this comic set in Exalted using Order of the Stick art style…

http://keychain.patternspider.net/

#11 Comment By DocRyder On February 6, 2009 @ 1:36 am

The “Sex in D&D” episode was in there final compilation of the “What’s New” series. I also believe it’s available from their site:

http://cgi.ebay.com/Whats-New-with-Phil-Dixie-Collection-vol-2_W0QQitemZ220340272652QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUS_Fiction_Books?hash=item220340272652&_trksid=p4634.c0.m14

Yup.

#12 Comment By Zartes On February 12, 2009 @ 6:20 am

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider

Thanks for the link!
(I’m Jarrah, the artist and over-all plotter of TranStellar, by the by)

Always nice when fans show themselves.


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