#6 Touch Attack

By Shamus Posted Sunday Mar 10, 2019

Filed under: DM of the Rings 166 comments

Players can roleplay with each other, or they can roleplay against each other. The former lends itself to creating great stories filled with interesting people. The latter is just a good way to amuse yourself if the campaign sucks.

Shamus Says:

Here is the most unpopular strip I’ve ever written. Some people became very, very incensed at what happened to Marcus’ character. Enraged. I wrote a strip about one comic character’s character groping another character’s character during an out-of-context aside that didn’t even involve the GM, and I was accused of making “rape jokes”. I actually thought what I wrote was pretty tame compared to some of the crazy griefing stories people have told me.

But the difference between what I was trying to say and what people were hearing was so big there was just no reconciling the two sides. I never stopped to figure out how many people quit reading, but some did leave and never came back. This was probably the low point of my webcomic adventures.

Internally, Shawn and I called this event “OMG RAPEGATE”.

But just to be clear: Rape is bad and you shouldn’t do it.

Shawn Says:

Here we go, ZOMGRAPEGATE ‘07. (Shamus left out the “Z”.)

In any collaborative endeavor, you’re going to have the occasional bump or misfire, where things don’t turn out as planned – especially early on, when you’re still finding your legs. This was ours, with the added bonus that thanks to the popularity of DM of the Rings, we had several thousand people around to see it.

I think part of it was hit on the head pretty solidly by one of the commenters on Twenty Sided back in ‘07. The real punch line of this strip isn’t here, it’s in strip #7, with Chuck’s line about “exploring gender roles.” So part of the problem was that instead of one day of a joke that could be taken in a way we didn’t intend, people had like a week+ of that joke.

We actually spent quite a bit of time writing and rewriting this strip before it went live. I thought the basic premise was funny (“New guy makes a ridiculously sexed up female character, old player is annoyed, has his character make out with her”) but that we needed to handle things carefully so that it didn’t come across wrong.

And then it came across much wronger than either of us had anticipated.

This might get us in more trouble, but here’s a peak behind the scenes. I don’t remember what Shamus’s original punchline was, but it wasn’t “Improved Stamina.” I came up with a number of alternate suggestions, and Shamus made a few more, and in the end he settled on Improved Stamina, which was I think a mistake. As one of the commenters back in ‘07 pointed out, you don’t need Improved Stamina to make out, but you would want it for sex. Anyway, here are some ways this strip almost ended.

Some of these are every bit as “sex, not makeouts” as the final punchline, but I think a few them would really have lessened the negative reaction back when this originally ran. (In particular, “Where is the Clasp on this thing?” works very well, but I’m a huge fan of “Lend me some suger, I am your neighbor”, even if Chuck would probably never make an Outkast joke.)

Ah well, hindsight, 20/20, all that.

A few more thoughts:

A: I find it fascinating that even this early on people were willing to read the reality of the Player Characters as being every bit as valid as the reality of the Players. We’d barely shown the PCs, but most of the people who were offended weren’t upset at what Chuck did to Marcus, they were upset at what Ramgar did to Sapphire. This was a reaction I don’t think either of us had expected.

B: This was the first time I’d really come across the idea that if someone creates a piece of media depicting an act or opinion, that it must mean the creator is endorsing or supporting that act or opinion. We had a lot of people who thought Shamus and I were saying rape is ok, or that playing female characters is a terrible thing to do, or that we were homophobic, or all kinds of things. This was very strange to me, as my previous comic featured chain smoking, graphic murder, sex, torture, and much more. I don’t think anyone ever thought I was endorsing any of those things. (Except sex.)

For the record – I generally find the characters in CB somewhat repulsive pretty much all of the time. That’s kind of the point. These are horrible players who are also generally self absorbed, rude, obnoxious, hypocritical, and slightly insane.

C: I think it was a matter of expectations among the audience as well. People reading Doors and Windows knew it was a film noir/horror story, so sex and violence were to be expected. Coming from DMotR, people expected the occasional Legolass style joke, but not Gimli molesting the new guy.

Anyway, see you on Friday when the saga continues. If we can have a thoughtful discussion of 2007’s dramasplosion and what went wrong here, that would be awesome.

EDIT 2019: I still think this joke can work. Or at least, I think it’s possible to do this joke without upsetting a major segment of the audience. I think Shawn is right that “Improved Stamina” is what really put an ugly image into the heads of some readers. That, combined with the way I took what was conceptually a single joke and stretched it out over three strips, is what led to the unpleasantness.

If I’d gone with one of the other punchlines, I think this could have gone a lot better.

Not sure why I went with that line and not the others. I think I liked that it referenced a misapplication of the rules. I’ve always loved making that particular style of joke. I love situations where players use the rules in ways that are technically legal but obviously ridiculous. If you can create an absurd situation by obeying the letter of the law while flagrantly violating the spirit of the law, then that’s a huge win in my book.

For example: Your party finds themselves in a fantasy-world town where everyone believes the world is flat. It’s actually round in this setting, and you need to somehow convince the townies of this before they’ll agree to fund your voyage. So the bard uses his “deception” skill to convince them that the world is round. The DM will argue that this isn’t deception because you’re trying to convince someone of something that’s already true. So the player argues that actually, their bard ALSO thinks the world is flat, thus making this count as a deception. Silly meta-gaming stuff like that really tickles me.

Looking back 10 years later, I’m thinking a better version of the “improved stamina” line would be, “If I try to undo this clasp, would that be a grapple roll, or lockpicking?” That’s a little wordy, but it sort of works as a dual joke. You’ve got the misapplication of rules, and you’ve got the old joke about how guys find bras hard to take off.

Even if you object to the joke – or even if you object to people objecting to the joke – please try to keep it civil in the comments. Thanks!


From The Archives:

166 thoughts on “#6 Touch Attack

  1. Did Shamus or Shawn ask any women for their input during the creation of this strip?

    Since the joke does involve a female character being sexually assaulted by a male character, perhaps getting a real woman’s perspective would have resulted in a more nuanced approach to the subject?

    1. Shamus says:

      That would require knowing ahead of time that it’s going to be a problem. (Why would I seek out advice if I don’t anticipate trouble? I don’t write any of my other material that way.) But if I’d known it was going to be a problem, then I would have written it differently.

      1. But you specifically wrote:

        We actually spent quite a bit of time writing and rewriting this strip before it went live. I thought the basic premise was funny … but that we needed to handle things carefully so that it didn’t come across wrong.

        Please understand that I’m not angry or attacking you. I think it’s important to have a respectful discussion about this issue. The above quote suggests that you and Shawn knew this was a sensitive topic. In light of this, maybe it would have been helpful to seek input from people who are not the same gender as you, since this is a gender-based joke.

        I think the biggest problem with the entire premise of this joke is that societal norms change over time and just like black face is no longer considered appropriate or entertaining, neither are jokes about sexual assault.

        1. MadTinkerer says:

          More importantly: did Shamus ask any fictional women for their input?

          Because at some point, we really do need to acknowledge that Chuck wouldn’t act that way if Sapphire was a real person. Also, he’s not committing an actual act of sexual harassment. The whole premise of the joke rests on that fact.

          As for the punchline: Chuck is being a jerk to Markus and Chuck is the butt of the joke because the rules don’t work that way. The punchline isn’t even really about sexual harassment. It’s like making a “Comeliness” joke.

          1. Raygereio says:

            As for the punchline: Chuck is being a jerk to Markus and Chuck is the butt of the joke because the rules don’t work that way. The punchline isn’t even really about sexual harassment. It’s like making a “Comeliness” joke.

            That’s one way to interpret it. Personally I’m not seeing that. What I read is that the punchline is that Chuck’s character gets to shove his spear up a certain hole.
            The joke may not have been intended to be about sexual assault, but it is using the imagery of sexual assault to deliver the joke.

            This isn’t directed at anyone in particular but is meant as comment in general: If you’re trying to construct a joke and when thinking about what the best delivery mechanism for the joke would be, you arrive at “rape” you’re going for the lowest and laziest form of shock humor. Think again and harder to come up with something better. If you want to make a joke, put some actual effort in it and maybe not aid the systemic trivializing of sexual assault.

            1. ghostinZshell says:

              Tivializing stealing, looting dead, and killing during parley (three times in a row) in DMotR is pretty much fine, though.

          2. Mephane says:

            Because at some point, we really do need to acknowledge that Chuck wouldn’t act that way if Sapphire was a real person.

            1. This is not a case of e.g. an author writing a scene where sexual assault happens, this is an interactive event between two people roleplaying their characters. It’s not the same as the real thing, but due to the nature of roleplaying it sit somewhere in between, and thus carries heavier weight. This is especially because it is clear that Marcus is not okay with what Chuck has his character do, so not only is there no consent between the fictional characters, but also not between the people roleplaying these characters.

            2. It throws a light on Chuck’s personality (both by forcing gross actions on fellow players and by finding amusement in this played sexual assault) and regardless of the point that it is a fictional event, I wouldn’t want to continue roleplaying with someone like that.

        2. Sartharina says:

          Actually, jokes about sexual assault are hilarious, even today. I think the comic works very well because of the implied extreme action (And the offense/shock of the DM), while keeping everything extremely abstract (No details about grabbing or restraining the victim, just a “grapple roll”, and no detail about what he’s doing, just a feat name that doesn’t lend itself to any other outcome), and it’s between two straight dudes messing with each other.

          The ‘bra clasp’ one would have been far worse, because despite technically being ‘more tame’, it gets a LOT more detailed about what’s going on – Instead of just references to game mechanics to try and imply sexual assault, it goes into stating he’s trying to remove the bra, in a detailed manner – The best tool for trying to remove a bra or chastity belt remains the classic Jackhammer anyway.

          1. decius says:

            There might be hilarious jokes that involve sexual assault, but every one I’ve heard has either substituted ‘horrible’ for ‘hilarious’ (a la the dead baby jokes), or has simply been cringe for the sake of cringe.

            It’s not the detailed description that makes rape jokes bad, it’s the fact that in around 5-12% of the population they cause trauma. Compare that to a ‘joke’ about seeing your puppy hit and killed by a car, when that’s a thing that had actually happened to you.

            1. Sartharina says:

              I find them hilariously horrible. Especially dead babies. And no naming kittens Butterscotch, either, because then we’re in for dead kitten comedy.

          2. Mephane says:

            No details about grabbing or restraining the victim, just a “grapple roll”

            Actually, a grapple roll is exactly that – grabbinging, restraining, physically subduing.

            1. Sartharina says:

              Yes, but “Alright, I make a Grapple Check. 17.” is far more abstract and ‘silly’ than “Alright, Ramgar attempts to grab Sapphire, holding her by her arm with one of his strong hands and easily overpowering her, his other hand grabbing her…” etc,

        3. Dreadjaws says:

          There’s a difference between “anticipating some people might interpret this wrong” and “anticipating a huge amount of people are going to interpret this the worst way possible”. When you’re setting candles on a birthday cake you might try to be sure they’re properly set so one of them doesn’t fall on the table after you light them up, but you don’t call the fire department in advance because you just don’t think the entire place will catch fire.

      2. Matthew says:

        you should have been MORE THAN INTELLIGENT ENOUGH to know that its going to be a problem when you wrote it. the fact that you didnt think RAPE JOKES arent a problem, EVEN FIVE YEARS AFTER makes you a disgusting human being in general.

    2. Sartharina says:

      Frankly, I think any nuance or tact would have ruined the joke. I find it hilarious because it’s so ‘wrong’. And I don’t buy that it’s not supposed to be an outright a rape joke. I find it too over-the-top to be offensive, like the climax of Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

      1. evileeyore says:

        “Frankly, I think any nuance or tact would have ruined the joke. I find it hilarious because it’s so ‘wrong’.”
        Agreed. It’s humour comes from its blunt and appalling nature.

        “And I don’t buy that it’s not supposed to be an outright a rape joke.”
        I do. But I also see where it went hilariously awry. And honestly, I find this version to be the best of the bunch.

    3. Because it’s WELL KNOWN that women are a homogeneous mass with a single opinion.

      I’m sure glad you have nothing better to with your life do than to condescendingly lecture people about a twelve-year-old comic strip.

      1. Cuthalion says:

        I get that it was kind of condescending, but this seems a little harsh.

        I don’t think the age of the strip matters much, either, since it’s just been re-posted.

      2. Jennifer – I’m not certain if you’re responding to my original comment above because the layout of this blog’s comments are a little confusing to me.

        But if you are, I’m sincerely confused as to why you perceived my comment as condescending or an attempt to lecture? That certainly was not my intent in any way.

        I have many things that I like to do with my life. But being unkind to people I don’t know on the internet isn’t one of them.

        1. Cuthalion says:

          I can’t speak for Jennifer, but for myself it was the bolded text. It made it sound like scolding, like reminding a kid or a subordinate about the part you keep telling them to do and they keep forgetting. From your other comments, I don’t think you meant it that way (or as verbal emphasis at all), and I think your point is valid regardless.

    4. Paul Spooner says:

      Women aren’t the only kind of people who are subject to unwanted physical advances. Most cultures don’t really allow men to fight back against this kind of thing either, so I wouldn’t be surprised if most men had more experiences of receiving unwanted erotic touch than most women.

      1. Cuthalion says:

        It probably happens much more often than most people think. Still, I pretty strongly doubt that it happens to men in generally literally more often than to women.

        (And I’d caution you about how you bring the question up — it could easily be read as, “This problem you, a woman, care a lot about and want us to seek your advice on isn’t so bad — us men are the real victims here!” Saying it’s a problem for men, too, doesn’t conflict with running a joke involving a woman being assaulted past women to get their opinion. Responding this way unnecessarily pits your observation against hers as if you’re dismissing her concern, because why else would you phrase it like a counterargument?)

        1. Gautsu says:

          Considering that male rape has only been investigated as systemic for less than 30 years as and that some countries today, such as China, do not even consider male on male rape as a crime to put on the books, any broadly made generalizations should be suspect. Male teenagers are often not given the same treatment and advice that female’s are, in that any situation where you lose the ability to consent (I.e. drugs and alcohol) precipitates the possibility or a rape occurring. Thus between lack of knowledge of being raped (by the legal definition) and the fear of being labeled or given a stigma by society, I have seen reports that between 70-90% of male rapes go unreported. Having served in law enforcement for over a quarter of my life, I can honestly say that the number of actually occuring sex crimes versus both men and women every year, are significantly underrepresented. Whether due to fear, shame, or lack or physical evidence to prosecute, I saw way to many victims go without any reciurse.

          That being the case, while this comic was in poor taste, I don’t think it really should cause a witch hunt. Yes it is offensive, and the commentary maybe defensive, but it is a joke about 2 fictional men fucking around with their fictional characters in a fictional game. And context comes into play here. Nowhere else does Shamus come off like a raging misogynist, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt, compared to what it would be like if someone like say, Alex Jones posted this comic

  2. sheer_falacy says:

    I think you’re really misunderstanding what people object to in this strip if you think changing up just the last line would have fixed it. The issue starts the moment he mentions a grapple roll.

    In D&D, it is true that you could play a character who is a rapist, and whose instant reaction to the first woman they see in the campaign is to molest them. You’re not actually hurting anyone (unless there are trigger issues). But the people you play with have justifications both in and out of character not to want to play the game alongside that character. And treating it as comedy just makes it worse. The idea that Sapphire would agree to be in a party with Ramgar after this is ridiculous.

    And it really is kind of odd that in a game or comic or whatever, rape gets such a much worse reaction than murder. But it does.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      It might be easier, or at least the popular media have taught us that it’s easier, to abstract violence than sex. Also, while we can sort of justify killing people (self preservation, revenge etc.) there isn’t really any such justification for sexual aggression.

      1. Scampi says:

        I’d disagree on the notion that we can justify killing people but not sexual aggression.
        No, I don’t justify sexual aggression, I just think that human beings are sadly capable of justifying pretty much any behaviour to themselves if it suits themselves.
        I’m very glad that there are no massive majorities among us that do justify sexual aggression, racial murder and equally abhorrent behaviours (though many feel this is up to debate, which is of course also clearly justifyable) and that these behaviours are in many countries outlawed and criminalized.
        I just thought it deserves a mention that, as there are people who do actually commit horrible deeds, they obviously have some justification for themselves to rationalize their own actions.

        Also: I totally agree to deletion of this post, if anyone finds it too offensive or if Shamus deems it too political in nature.
        I understand it might rub people the wrong way, though that is absolutely not my intention in writing it and I hope that it’s generally understood the way I meant it.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Let me maybe rephrase/specify. Of course the actual perpetrator will usually have some justification, even if only to themselves, no matter what it is they’re doing. I meant that as a society we can quite easily enumerate a bunch of reasons for physical violence even to the point of killing. With sexual aggression we generally argue whether or not something was harassment or rape, not whether the harassment or rape were justified.

          I would furthermore point out that when you’re setting up a D&D game the underlying assumption is that you are going to kill stuff. Sure, maybe the players can negotiate their way out of a situation, or sneak, or maybe you’re using some kinds of homebrew modification to have a non-violent campaign. But in its pure form D&D is about dungeoncrawling and killing things and most of the game’s systems are used to express violence.

          1. Scampi says:

            I like to assume that there are only so many rules for combat and related matters in RPGs because it’s the part that doesn’t lend itself to being resolved through pure dialogue. Sure, if the GM and the players agree on how they want to resolve it, they can find alternative routes to go, but they’ll usually just establish some (alternative) rules and mechanics that are to their liking, while many players intentionally dump social and knowledge stats and skills, assuming they can roleplay/metagame around them and mitigate consequences in other ways.

            Also, I generally agree with your first paragraph. as I hope could also be understood from my previous post.

      2. decius says:

        I could compose a long list of actual cases where actual sexual aggression was considered to be justified or at least partially justified. But I’ll just leave a pointer to it: TW: Affluenza.

        1. Sartharina says:

          The bigger one that shows up in fantasy, and I actually enjoy because it’s not a realistic scenario, is “ravishing barbarian”, more animal than man, driven by instinct and emotion untempered by societal norms. He (or she) knows what he wants and will take it, with minimal regard for expectations of society. He fights those that make him angry, helps those that make him happy, tries to comfort those that make him sad… But also tends to try to molest those who make him lustful.

          In fact, I’m playing one such character in my current online D&D game – Hoarfrost, a tabaxi barbarian abandoned and left to survive on a treacherous mountain pass. It helps that he’s a big fluffy cat person, and does not enjoy uncooperative “partners”, generally restricting his shenanigans to nothing more than the same sort of surprise aggressive cuddling humans are prone to ambushing cats with.

      3. Mephane says:

        It might be easier, or at least the popular media have taught us that it’s easier, to abstract violence than sex.

        This is because there are plenty of situations where violence can be morally justified, and usually it is those situations that fictional media invoke (e.g. self-defense, preventing greater evil, etc.). You simply can’t morally justify sexual assault outside some really obscure situations specifically constructed for that purpose, at which points it begs the question why the author would, of all things, choose that as the only viable course of action of their protagonist(s).

        1. Sartharina says:

          But we don’t need to morally justify violent power fantasies and mass murder to have fun with it. Why did my Red Dragonborn rush down the streets of a city in a runaway cart running over everyone he could, and calling out for the mothers to cast their infants before him so he may trample them to death? Because it’s fun being a ludicrously over-the-top mass-murderous villain sometimes (Think Saint’s Row, or some ways to play any ES game, for video game examples). For a less extreme example – Well, most D&D campaigns tend to feature excessive violence against undeserving targets at some point

          I think the big reason sexual assault isn’t something that happens is because of the sex part, not the assault part, and everyone gets sanctimonious about all sorts of fantasies.

    2. krellen says:

      This comment assumes that Ramgar’s actions occurred in-character. This is very obviously an out-of-character dispute and out-of-character actions.

  3. Ester says:

    I’d like to question the assumption that if Shawn and Shamus had only asked a woman back then, everything would have been fine. I am a woman. And I, personally, don’t see the problem with this strip. It’s gross, yes, but I think it’s gross in an over-the-top, funny way. Not in a horrible, sexist, out-of-line way. I actually find it rather annoying when people assume that all women have the same views on sexism.

    Not an attack on Leslee.

    1. I did not say that if a woman had been consulted “everything would have been fine”. That is a strawman argument.

      I did not assume that all women have the same views on sexism.

      Just because you are not offended by the material does not mean the material is not problematic.

      It is possible to have a discussion about a difficult subject without attacking anyone. That is what I am attempting here.

      1. Scampi says:

        I understand where you’re coming from and I agree that the strip has its issues (and, personally, I think I agree with you on the specific issue), but your argument here I believe kind of cuts both ways.
        While it’s true that the material doesn’t automatically become unproblematic just because someone is not offended, it might be turned around and the claim be made that, just because someone does (claim to) feel offended doesn’t make the material automatically “problematic”, unless the problem lies in the fact that people do feel offended. I don’t like that idea, as it implies a degree of weaponization of offense that I believe to be socially unhealthy.
        I think people are right claiming that offense is taken not given as there are imho some terms and expressions that are not by themselves offensive but only because people take them in a certain way.
        My issue about specific words and their spelling is such an issue, for example. Another issue that I believe may be similarly overblown is the offense taken at some specific trigger words which are only offensive because people decide to take them in a specific way.

        The act of being offended, thusly, would imho not by itself mean something is wrong with the thing that someone takes offense with, but instead in some cases it might actually just be an issue of people taking offense at things that are, by themselves, not necessarily offensive in nature.

    2. Kathryn says:

      Asking me wouldn’t have helped either. At the time, I both got what Shamus was going for *and* didn’t think it was funny. The less charitable interpretations didn’t occur to me; I shrugged, chalked it up as not my thing, and moved on.

      1. Liessa says:

        I read the strip during its original run, and I remember thinking the reaction was way over the top (it was obvious to me that the point of the joke was Chuck being an asshole, not “rape is funny lolz”. On the other hand, I did originally interpret it as a reference to rape, and it did make me a bit uncomfortable. It just seemed way nastier than the situation warranted, even for Chuck.

  4. vexus80 says:

    I think it will be difficult to fairly deconstruct or discuss what went wrong with a bad joke in ’07, given how far things have changed since then culturally in the direction of making the subject matter of the joke even more objectionable and unconscionable for many people.

    I think it was generally unfair, and is generally unfair, that the principle of the “benefit of the doubt” has and was largely ignored. Rather than approaching the subject with the understanding that its simply a bad joke or a mistake born of ignorance, people seem these days, and even back then, to have believed that you were trying to make a very hateful or hostile statement with the joke.

    I find this truly baffling. But, at the end of the day, it was a bad joke, and while other punchlines might have been better in the context of the time, it was a risky subject and the idea behind the joke wasn’t strong enough to get through to people over all the other stuff they got out of it or brought to it.

    Could, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the joke have landed and the drama been avoided? I honestly don’t think so. People even then were ready to be very sensitive about certain subjects, and i don’t think the idea you were going for, of “misapplication of rules”, could be strongly conveyed enough to overcome the taboo, whatever the context.

    1. Blue Painted says:

      This, exactly this.

  5. Yerushalmi says:

    “ZOMGRAPEGATE” sounds like a scandal about grapes that eat the brains of other grapes.

    (Why yes, I am deliberately trying to divert the conversation to something lighter. Why do you ask?)

    1. BlueHorus says:


      (Actually, he might. Grapes are pretty damn tasty.)

  6. Thomas says:

    Reading the first two panels: Oh that’s not a great joke, but not worth a controversy.

    Hit the last line: nope. Done with this joke.
    Its unfortunate, it entirely flipped on whether I read it as light harassment or forced sex. The last panel sounded like the second.

    One of the trickiest things about writing (for any purpose, to anyone) is you already know all the context in your head which the other person doesn’t have, so I can totally understand why the other interpretation was missed.


    Some people would have taken the strip down. Out of curiosity why didn’t you?

    1. Joshua says:

      IIRC, it gets worse as the next strip shows the humiliated character trying to put their clothes back on or something.

    2. Sartharina says:

      Frankly, the ‘forced sex’ is what makes it hilarious (Because it’s the very-straight Chuck harassing Marcus) – it’s an offensive action, but that’s what makes it work – The punchline is the WTF reaction.

  7. Chris says:

    I think a better punchline would be the DM being annoyed and asking marcus if he wants to bite Chad’s tongue. Or a joke about kneeing ramgar in the nuts with marcus making a snide remark about a female character being better for rollplaying as well.

    The incident reminded me of the dickwolves joke of pennyarcade. That also gave a backlash and them trying to point out it was a joke and they are against rape only made people more angry. I think its kinda interesting how you can make jokes about murder (someone dying in a funny way or in a stupid way, or someone casually killing someone else) but making light of rape only gets you a lot of trouble. I guess the reason is a lot of women get sexually harassed and seeing it being played for laughs upsets them, while murder is something most people dont come into contact with. In movies male rape is played for laughs while female rape is used to show how terrible a bad guy is.

    And wouldn’t the punchline being about the clasp/lockpicking imply rape as well. You dont need to remove a bra if you are just going to kiss someone.

    1. MPR says:

      I guess the reason is a lot of women get sexually harassed and seeing it being played for laughs upsets them, while murder is something most people dont come into contact with.

      Exactly this. The problem is real and pervasive. Find some women and *listen* to them, don’t just talk or make assumptions. There will be a spectrum of experiences, which can inform a better joke, honestly.

      Or a joke about kneeing ramgar in the nuts

      Or … Sapphire rolls for a sneak attack to Ramgar’s groin with the +5 Morningstar of Enhanced Crushing (reference picture in previous comic).

    2. decius says:

      People don’t get offended about murder because none of your target audience has been murdered.

    3. shoeboxjeddy says:

      The one thing that you can give the Penny Arcade strip is that the joke part of the joke is that the game (WoW) trivializes terrible world realities in order to provide content for repeatable quests. And the players are asked to solve those terrible problems in a visibly half-hearted way, which makes them seem heartless. They chose rape in order to shock the readers, but that was maybe not the wisest idea. They weren’t trying to say that rape is funny.

      The joke in the above strip is that the one player casually has his PC at bare minimum sexually assault (or worse) a teammate. So the joke is either the pretty lame “this guy is outrageous at crossing boundaries!” or the not better “this guy uses the rules to commit horrible crimes without even thinking about it!” or the even worse “it’s funny that he had his character assault the other character!”

  8. Geebs says:

    Should probably have just made a running gag where Marcus takes cold damage every turn and all of the others keep refusing to lend him any clothes.

    (If it’s at all helpful, I think all of the other alternative punchlines read as more unpleasant than the final one)

    1. BlueHorus says:

      If it’s at all helpful, I think all of the other alternative punchlines read as more unpleasant than the final one

      Yeah, that or ‘as bad’. ‘Improved Stamina’ at least keeps the ‘D&D roleplay’ tone.

  9. Zaxares says:

    I’m of two minds on this joke. On the one hand, if you’ve ever been in a D&D (or any other tabletop RPG) game with a bunch of hormone-crazed teenagers, a situation like this is bound to occur sooner or later. If you’ve had that experience, then you know that (hopefully) everybody at the table is just horsing around and they’re not ACTUALLY making their characters engage in rape. (Unless you’re playing one of those evil campaigns, but let’s not open that can of worms right now.) Usually the entire situation ends with the DM going “OK, come on, guys, let’s get back to the game.” And reality just magically rewinds back to before the situation occurred and things go on as if nothing had happened.

    On the other hand, I can definitely see why some people might be upset at this joke, whether it’s due to real life experiences, having encountered this sort of behaviour over and over in other settings, or simply feeling a great deal of investment in the (or their) characters. All I can advise is that to avoid this kind of situation crop up at your own game, make sure you have an understanding with your players about the tone and nature of your game and what your players might expect to find in it. (For instance, the Witcher often deals with some very grim or unsettling topics, and I’ve known players who passed on that game because they preferred their RPGs to be more traditional high fantasy where the lines between good and evil are clearly delineated.)

    1. Gethsemani says:

      I’ll agree with this, because I’ve been in several gaming groups and sessions where the joke among the players was that one character molested/tortured/mesmerized/cast polymorph on another character. As a joke it has several layers; it is partially a gag about the choice of characters, it is a joke about how weird RP rules can be (something as traumatic and complicated as rape can be boiled down to “roll opposed grapple”), it can be a joke about powerplaying and it can be a way to make fun of group dynamics among the players (ie. letting the pushy guy get his comeuppance in a harmless fashion). No matter the gender, all the people I’ve rped with have made jokes like this. As such, I find the comic itself pretty unproblematic, because it mirrors a behavior which I’ve seen often among roleplayers.

      On the other hand, not all RP groups are like mine and the common nominator among all of them have been me. So I probably skew towards RPing with a certain kind of people. So what I find is ‘common’ behavior in RP groups might just be occurring in certain RP groups. So undoubtedly there are groups out there that are more restrained and careful around the topics of sexual abuse and inter-character assault then mine have been and that’s fine too. To someone used to those kinds of groups, where the character is more personal or more sacred then they are in my groups and the mood not as irreverent and gutter-minded, the above joke is surely out of place and even offensive. Because they don’t joke like that in their RP.

      And finally, we should never forget that topics like rape and sexual abuse are really, really sensitive. To those who haven’t suffered it or been near it, it can seem like just another thing to joke irreverently about. To those who suffered it and who have been near it, the mere hint of it (intended or not) can be enough to set off severe emotional reactions. Which is all to say that it is one of those topics that *I* think you can joke about if you do it right, but you should always be ready for a backlash if you do it in public. Because people have a right to be upset when they feel you aren’t approaching serious issues with the gravitas they deserve. Whether that makes them right in thinking the joke is terrible, tasteless or out of touch is another matter.

    2. decius says:

      I once played in a Vampire game that touched on dark themes. I used the R-rated movie trope and once everyone knew roughly what the outcome would be just said ‘fade to black’ and set up the aftermath scene.

  10. Sleeping Dragon says:

    So for the record, because I suspect it’s going to be necessary, I do not condone rape.

    I hear you when you say that this is nothing compared to stories gaming groups tell. Heck, my roleplaying group were among the first people I came out to as gay way back in high-school (because dammit if I couldn’t be out in real life I was at least going to play a gay character) and the jokes that were exchanged later (both ways) would not fly in polite company, so part of it is definitely people interpreting media as opposed to what happens in real life.

    That said thinking on how to improve it… maybe if we had more clearly established that this is meant to be a broken group? Like, these characters are clearly roleplayer archetypes and as such exaggerated but I don’t think it’s entirely clear at this point that they are meant to be, in your own words, somewhat repulsive. Especially comparing with DMotR where the chracters of the players were flawed but generally sympathetic. Similarly, the dynamics of the group have not been established yet, we are not dealing with people where we know one of them makes crass jokes that the others take in stride, especially since Marcus does not embrace the joke (the only indication might be that he makes a grapple roll)… at least at this point, I honestly don’t remember what exactly comes next.

    1. methermeneus says:

      That said thinking on how to improve it… maybe if we had more clearly established that this is meant to be a broken group?

      I’m pretty sure this joke is part of establishing that the group is broken.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      I always got the impression that Marcus was new to the group. He’s not actually having much fun (the others seem to spend a lot of time bullying him or stealing the limelight) and is a pretty passive.
      He definitely doesn’t seem to be embracing Chuck’s actions.

  11. Scampi says:

    First: I always wondered whether the comments from your interview on Fear the Boot somehow figured into this line, where you said you didn’t know how you’d have to adapt the D&D rules to having sex among characters. The interview was clearly (?) conducted during the writing of DM of the Rings, so it might have influenced your future projects

    Second: This may be inflammatory, but please try to understand my perspective: I believe pretty much anything, no matter how offensive it is, can be made funny somehow. Monty Python made at least one rape joke, maybe more, and I thought none the less of them and still believe in the context where it happens (in “The Life of Brian”, to anyone who might wonder about it) it’s a really good joke that still gets me to laugh, as the joke is not funny because rape, but because the joke imho is in the ambiguity of the description by the victim, where the topic just happens to be rape. Thus, I’d claim that there actually can be funny rape jokes.
    That doesn’t make the act of rape any less horrible in my opinion, I just think that any topic can be made funny if the joke is made by the right person and in the right way and, of course, to the “right” audience. This is not supposed to mean “if the audience finds the joke funny, it’s a good joke”, but “if the audience is smart enough to understand where the humor of the joke comes from”.

    Third: I always believed (and I may be wrong about that) that an important point of Shamus’ campaign comics is how horrible the players (and GMs, to be clear) actually behave during their games, poking fun at and at the same time exposing gamer culture, which I agree to be in many though not all cases broken and malicious.
    So: If a person, who is implied to conduct themselves horribly, always behaved appropriate, it would not get the point across.
    As a GM I tend to reserve the right to have villains behave despicably in my games, though I’d agree if a player asked me to keep specific topics off the table, as long as I have the possibility to present them as abhorrent people in some way.
    After all: Why would there be any conflict, if nothing about a villain was repugnant to the players?
    Despite this, I find it a sign of exceptionally bad taste if players write and play their characters in such a way. A character might have shades of gray and occasionally even a “dark” streak, but I think a PC should never have outright “black” character traits that have the potential to destroy any group dynamic.
    I had a player who would regularly display antisemitic behaviour, even in settings where it didn’t make the least bit of sense, multiple of my players would regularly engage in torture (on innocents, on top of it) and occasionally there would be implications of rape or sexual abuse. I felt it made it really hard to handle the players as anything but villanous characters themselves who seriously needed to be dealt their comeuppance regularly.
    Even a villain doesn’t necessarily need to be a baby eating maniac, though. Sometimes rather small character flaws can do an amazing job characterizing a person as a designated villain.
    For example, a character can be very impatient and violent-tempered, while his entire basic character might seem nice and friendly at the surface. Under the right circumstances, they will suddenly reveal their underlying issues and present their ugly underbelly to the party.

    1. Joshua says:

      I think there’s something there about the horribleness of the players. If you have watched any of the three Gamers movies, I have enjoyed each one less than the previous, as they tend to focus more on more an abhorrent player behaviors toward each other. The first was just the players being typical gaming dorks and the GM being frustrated because the players are always trying to metagame and act out of character. The second has the GM being more or less reasonable, and the players being jerks. The third ups the jerk factor and even makes one character psychotic. That kind of darker humor wasn’t for me. “Yeah, we do really act like goofballs when we play” vs. “Man, there sure are a lot of unpleasant people in the gaming community”.

  12. Joshua says:

    As someone above said, we abstract violence in our games very much easier than we do sexuality, which most of us are more familiar with than chopping peoples’ body parts off and watching them painfully bleed out in front of you.

  13. Lee says:

    So, I’m a male, and wouldn’t have objected to the original comic, but it does feel uncomfortable. For me, personally, all of the suggested endings were either terrible jokes not funny enough to publish, or just as uncomfortable (especially the bra clasp one). Looking through them, I couldn’t find any ‘acceptable’ ending. That said, the shot to the groin suggested by other commenters manages it for me. It is funny by itself (groin shots almost always are, and that’s another discussion entirely), plus it punishes the character who is doing the sexual assaulting, and removes the victimhood the original forces onto the female character.

    1. Scampi says:

      or just as uncomfortable (especially the bra clasp one)

      Funny: That one struck me personally as one of the more tame alternatives. I agree that none of them were really that funny on their own and that I think it might have been better left out. I just realized a certain degree of disagreement and thought I’d point it out.

      Another thing:

      shot to the groin suggested by other commenters manages it for me. It is funny by itself (groin shots almost always are, and that’s another discussion entirely)

      Despite agreeing on the idea in this context, I do not find groinshots funny by their own merit. I didn’t find them funny when I was very young due to having been a victim to some vicious shots in my youth. Later, I “grew a pair” and, for some reason, became really resilient to them, at which point they became a bit more humorous, but not when they occured intentionally, only when they happened at sports events and were clearly accidental.
      I remember one case only when a guy I knew was kicked in his nuts multiple times per day over a span of 2 weeks and it was hilarious, because it only resulted from him being a horny asshole towards a girl and her retributing when he maneuvered himself into vulnerable positions.
      Anyways: I find groinshots not inherently funny by themselves and in general sympathize with their victims as much as I do with victims of other sexual or physical abuse. It doesn’t help that it possibly triggers my mirror neurons and I can at times almost feel physical pain or at least some creeps from just seeing it.
      I believe the groin shots were probably the least funny parts of the movie Idiocracy, at least to me.

      1. decius says:

        I don’t find videos of people getting injured funny in general; there’s a certain schadenfreude associated with people who do something that is predictably dangerous and suffer a mild to moderate embarrassment as a result, and I appreciate the ironic bits (e.g. the Simpsons gag https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUTVmuqviqE ), but the irony there goes far beyond the nutshots.

        Ow My Balls would be a crap show. It was there in Idiocracy to reinforce some characterizations of the setting. The joke was that dumb people liked it.

  14. tmtvl says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with this comic. Though Josh’s reaction at the end stirred a memory and now I can’t wait for the next chapter.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      If anything, I think Josh’s reaction in the last panel would need to be different to really sell it as a joke. If it’s supposed to be funny, have him smirking in the second panel and rolling his eyes in the last. As it is his outright shock and horror inform us of exactly what kind of subtext we are supposed to read into this scene, and it isn’t a pretty one. I agree that the joke could work as written (though to make it better, have Josh correct him as the punchline. Something like “Nope. Makeouts are straight dex.”) but it would need different art to make it comical instead of offensive.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Josh (not looking up from the rulebook, smirking) “Hey Marcus, you know Ragmar doesn’t have Unarmed Strike, right? That means you get a free Attack Of Opportunity at his nuts.”
        Casey (grins): “Oh yeah! Roll, Marcus.”
        Chuck: “Dammit, Josh! Quiet!”

        The next comic starts with a blue-faced Ragmar kneeling on the ground as a huffy-looking Sapphire adjust her bikini

        Yes, I think changing Josh’s reaction would do a lot to make the punchline less impactful. Make it clear that he’s used to this kind of thing and isn’t shocked by it.

        1. Doug D says:

          Oh wow that is **so much better** than what was written.

          1. kincajou says:


  15. Lino says:

    I think the strip is fine as-is. I see it as a joke that doesn’t mean any offense, and one that this tells us a lot about Chuck as a character.
    That being said, I see why some people took issue with it (and I could see that even before I read your commentary), but I don’t think that any amount of re-writing could have made those people feel differently – there are just some hot-button issues that some people find completely inappropriate for jokes, regardless of the delivery.

  16. methermeneus says:

    I’m honestly not entirely certain why the audience is still addressing this whole thing as if Shawn and Shamus were making light of rape (though at least most people seem willing to accept it was accidental now) when Chuck had already been established as someone who cares more about a power fantasy than the story (in other words, not thinking about what the characters might think of anything) and is messing around not with another person but with another person’s character. A person he’s making fun of because of that character. This is just Chuck’s defining moment as an asshole to more than just the DM.

    I understand that everyone will read a work differently, but for context, I read CB as it came out with my (at the time half-female) D&D group, and no one there thought this was anything but funny. Our DM (a big guy who actually looked kinda like Chuck except not a ginger) mentioned that he’d actually played with someone like that once, and said it was hell on any story-oriented players.

    Honestly, I think the biggest misstep here was establishing Marcus as sympathetic. I know the intent was to describe a misfit group that no one would want to play with individually, but I remember seeing this early abuse of young and nerdy Marcus by big old Chuck and being primed to see him as being bullied by the more asshole players. Yes, even having read DMotR and knowing all of the players and the GM there were jackasses and that was the point. (Yes, I realize they’re not actually depicted as all that different in age, but Chuck’s size and scraggly beard make him look both older and more crass as an artistic shorthand.)

    1. Scampi says:

      but I remember seeing this early abuse of young and nerdy Marcus by big old Chuck and being primed to see him as being bullied by the more asshole players.

      To me, it was a funny detail that Marcus kind of resembled One Piece’s Sanji, who himself comes across as a (though lovable) kind of a creepy pervert. When I first read this strip, I had a kind of head canon that Marcus actually might be a bit twisted and only play female characters to get off. He didn’t come across nearly as sympathetic to me as he might to you and the whole issue felt more like Chuck acting like a giant prick towards Marcus, who was himself kind of challenging this kind of behaviour by having a history of creepiness himself.

    2. Mephane says:

      and is messing around not with another person but with another person’s character

      I’d argue Chuck’s sexual assault on Sapphire is merely a vehicle for bullying Marcus for his choice of a female character. Which is yet another level on which his behaviour is just so wrong. If that happened to me in my D&D group I’d refuse to play with such a player again, and the DM would have to either throw them out or I leave.

      And just for the record, you can play out sex between PCs, even non-consentual one, so long as the players themselves have both agreed to it. But this scene is the exact opposite of that.

  17. Adam says:

    I can’t tell if “Hail to the King Baby” is funnier or worse (or possibly both) since we saw what Duke Nukem Forever actually was in the end – and I bet you didn’t think that would ever have happened at the time you were creating the strip.

  18. Chris Bergstresser says:

    I don’t understand how “making out” with somebody without their consent is all that much better. Sure, it’s better than rape, but for me it conjures up images of those guys who’d corner women at house parties, force them against a wall where they couldn’t get away, and grope them with impunity.

    Oh, and if people haven’t read it already, I highly recommend http://www.juliandibbell.com/articles/a-rape-in-cyberspace/ which details a similar situation, except it happened in real life. Reactions to these sorts of stories generally fall into two camps, those who understand how people can invest enough of themselves into their avatars to be honestly, genuinely traumatized by these kinds of things, and those who belittle and ridicule those people.

    1. Sartharina says:

      I think that despite spending 90% of my free time as some fuzzy avatar on a furry chatroom, I’m squarely in the latter category, because I find that write-up to be unreadable melodramatic “lolwut”-y. Like… It’s not even possible to even interact with someone in cyberspace without their consent. Cyberspace does not allow non-consensual interaction.

      But I’m quote aware of the real-world situation, and it makes Shamus’ backing off from what’s clearly a goofy, abstract but audacious rape joke kinda skeezes me out. “These are just guys horseplaying around with guys in guyspace” is fine with me. As is “the rules are being abused to hilariously wrong ends”, but trying to mitigate what the non-existent Ramgar is doing to the also non-existent Sophie in the non-existent Character Creation plane as “not all that bad” stops treating the characters as non-existent entities in a non-existent space not-doing non-actions to each other as a way of one guy to mess with another, and puts substance on the characters, while also trying to justify the terrible behavior.

      … Why are all my comments pending moderation?

      1. decius says:

        “Cyberspace does not allow non-consensual interaction.”

        I must disagree. Refusing to leave the space is not consent.

        1. Sartharina says:

          But you can’t force someone to acknowledge your nonsense.

          1. Chris says:

            I’d suggest, rather than take the “A Rape in Cyberspace” as evidence of how wrongheaded so many people can be, you take it as evidence that quite a lot of people have different and often significant emotional investments to aspects of themselves (like avatars, like PCs) which you might not share, and that neither makes them wrong nor does it make their reactions silly.

  19. Mike says:

    It’s hard for me to imagine how you didn’t see the problems in this strip when you wrote it; but having written it, and gotten the feedback that you got, it’s even harder for me to imagine how you’d repost it with such a tone-deaf editorial accompanying it, especially in this #MeToo era.

    You should give some serious thought to just letting this particular bad comic die; if you’re dedicated to completionism and reposting even your mistakes, this should come with content warnings and apologies. But first it seems like you really need to understand why this is bad, which unfortunately, you clearly don’t.

    1. Agammamon says:

      We don’t because you don’t seem capable of explaining why its bad.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      But first it seems like you really need to understand why this is bad, which unfortunately, you clearly don’t.

      I’m pretty sure Shamus does understand the controversy. I’m sure he can comprehend concepts like ‘taking offense’ and ‘other people interpreting what he said in a different way than he intended’.

      Whether or not he thinks it’s bad, in the same way you do…would require you to properly articulate what you think is bad.

      1. Olivier FAURE says:

        There’s a bit of a difference between “I understand that people were offended by my X and did not interpret it the way I wanted it to” and “I understand how people interpreted it, and why”.

        Shamus seems way closer to n°1 than n°2.

    3. DHW says:

      > You should give some serious thought to just letting this particular bad comic die

      No. You don’t get to tell other people what they can write and publish. If someone is republishing old work I want the whole thing, warts and all, not something that’s been desperately bowldlerized to try to avoid modern outrage.

      > But first it seems like you really need to understand why this is bad, which unfortunately, you clearly don’t.

      This sounds like a threat.

  20. Agammamon says:

    The ‘I have improved stamina’ is fine. People are really overly-sensitive.

    Its not a ‘rape joke’. Its not a ‘sexual assault joke’ – FFS people, there is no sexual assault here. At all. Even if these were real people sitting around a table playing the game tonight *it still wouldn’t be sexual assault*. None of you would be getting the slightest bit upset if the barb just up and stabbed the elf in the gut. Because you understand that its fiction-within-fiction. Hel, that line doesn’t even really imply anything other than *a sexual boast* in this context. Reading it as rape is . . . its ridiculous.

    What it is is a griefing joke. One guy is doing something the other guy didn’t like. The second guy is using the rules to grief the first.

    Real women – if you asked their opinion – would understand that. At least the ones over 30;)

    1. I am a “real” woman… whatever that’s supposed to be.

      I am 52 years old. 52 > 30.

      I have been playing role-playing games since the early 1980s.

      I absolutely do NOT agree with your statement.

      Jokes that allude to sexual assault are not funny in the same way that wearing black face is not entertaining. Societal attitudes about what are, and are not, acceptable change over time.

      Instead of accusing others of being “overly-sensitive”, perhaps we should all practice more empathy?

      1. Lino says:

        Instead of accusing others of being “overly-sensitive”, perhaps we should all practice more empathy?

        Every person has a different level of tolerance for jokes. What’s offensive to one person might not be offensive to another (even if both of them are within the same social group). So trying to guess what’s going to be offensive to someone is a game of utter futility.
        What authors should do, in my opinion, is present their vision as well as they can, and let the audience decide for themselves whether this piece of fiction is for them or not. According to some comments Shamus has made in the past, this comic has had a stable readership, so apparently most of the audience was fine with these types of jokes. And just like any piece of comedy, some people weren’t.
        I still maintain that this is just a joke, and I see no problems with it – it’s one fictional character’s fictional character doing something to another fictional character’s character, and that action is simply intended to characterise them as reprehensible, which it does in a way I personally find hilarious. It never even implies of doing something bad to actual people (even fictional ones).
        I just see it as a scene of an unlikeable, reprehensible asshole acting like an unlikeable, reprehensible asshole. But more importantly, I don’t see any malicious intent on the character’s part – he’s just too dumb to realise that he’s being an unlikeable, reprehensible asshole…

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Real women – if you asked their opinion – would understand

      So I’m sure you understand the ‘No True Scotsmen’ Fallacy. There’s at least 2 real women in this comments section here who have differing opinions on the strip.

      I’m not offended by the strip either. I think it’s a griefing joke first and a (not astoundingly funny) sexual misconduct joke second.
      But I can understand how other people might interpret it differently and take offense. Are they wrong for doing that?

      1. Drathnoxis says:

        But I can understand how other people might interpret it differently and take offense. Are they wrong for doing that?

        Probably. If you misunderstand something and take offense where none was intended, I’d say you’re wrong.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          There was no misunderstanding. The joke is about sexual assault. Whether a rape occurred or not is a complete red herring. What kind of person would be like “I’m so upset about a rape situation that occurred!” “Oh, actually it was forced kissing and groping, a rape didn’t actually occur.” “Oh, in THAT case, it was all fine then.” Sexual assault is bad enough, it’s not like we’re talking about littering or jaywalking here.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          Even a rape victim? ‘Cos they’re going to have a very different take on this comic…regardless of what Shamus meant.
          Also, intent is hard to prove. I very much doubt Shamus intended offense here, but making offense wholly the fault of the person being offended is problematic – there’s a lot of trolls who would gleefully hide behind the excuse that they didn’t intend to offend anyone.
          (Great example: I remember visiting a site where people regularly used the word ‘fag’ – and derivatives – to describe people. But according to them it wasn’t homophobic; they say that to each other all the time. To girls. About themselves. That’s just what they said on the boards.
          Were they lying? I couldn’t be bothered to find out.)

          But, as I said, people interpret what is said differently and I can see both sides. So I don’t think you’re wrong. Ultimately, the only thing I really object to is blanket statements like ‘any rational person would agree with me!’ or ‘anyone who doesn’t agree is hypersensitive/endorsing rape/stupid.

    3. Drathnoxis says:

      None of you would be getting the slightest bit upset if the barb just up and stabbed the elf in the gut. Because you understand that its fiction-within-fiction.

      I don’t think it’s clear that people DO understand that. That’s kind of what makes this whole controversy so weird.

      I mean, I don’t find it to be funny, and it’d be kind of awkward moment at the table, but I don’t see how it can possibly classify as rape to say “my character rapes your character” and then roll some dice.

      1. Cuthalion says:

        Think about what you’re saying here. Of course people understand it’s fiction (within fiction)! It’s a cartoon. ;)

        I think the controversy is about what part was intended to be humorous and why. Then, based on that, what points the authors were making and how seriously they take the sensitive subject.

    4. Mephane says:

      None of you would be getting the slightest bit upset if the barb just up and stabbed the elf in the gut. […] What it is is a griefing joke. One guy is doing something the other guy didn’t like. The second guy is using the rules to grief the first.

      BS. There are three ways in which Chuck is being terrible here, griefing another player is just one. He’s also quite brazenly misogynist as he ridicules Marcus for his choice of a female character and when he subsequently bullies him, chooses to play out sexual assault. That’s three whole levels of wrong right there.

    5. BruceR says:

      Re your attempt at analogy: In context, said gut-stabbing would be solely because the other character’s character was a woman. I suspect a LOT of people would be bothered by that, in fact.

      1. Cuthalion says:

        I don’t think it’s just because Marcus is playing a woman. I think it’s also that Chuck thinks the chainmail bikini is ridiculous and wants to express that by teaching Marcus a lesson. Of course, the fact that he’s ticked off at Marcus playing a woman at all and what he does in response to the nonsense armor are not great.

  21. cavalier24601 says:

    Kissing can use Improved Stamina, if you’re doing it right

    1. BlueHorus says:

      For instance, these people: http://www.recordholders.org/en/records/kiss.html

      …now THAT’S a situation in which you can say ‘My face is tired’!

      1. Lino says:

        OH MY GOD! 58 HOURS! HOLY FUCK! That CAN’T be healthy, can it? Did these people even survive?!?!

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          I think there are regulation breaks for hydration and other bio needs.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          My favorite bit: the rules regarding sleep, and use of nappies*.
          Just think about kissing someone continuously for 58 hours…with no sleep or toilet breaks.

          *Daipers, to Americans.

  22. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

    While topic of this strip can be sensitive, I think, there’s nothing wrong in it.
    It’ s depicting realistic behavior. That sort of obscene jokes happens at tabletop RP games, especially with all-male party, especially when everyone are bored or drunk, or when game starts to fall apart.
    Lets look at our cast.
    Chuck created dumb over-masculine character in strip #4, compensating for his own shortness and unathletic build, etc.
    Marcus created ridiculous over-sexualized character in strip #5, and that gives him a pervert vibe.
    This strip is a payoff of two previous, game is failed from the beginning, players aren’t interested in game world, RP or game itself and just fulfilling their unrealistic fantasies or compensating for their flaws in real life.
    And because our cast is obnoxious and unlikeable, this type of behavior is condemned. While strip works bad as a joke, it has its message.

  23. Syal says:

    I think Marcus needed more establishment for the joke to land. So far all we know of Marcus is: he’s the quietest player at the table, he’s the smallest player at the table, and his character is a woman in a chainmail bikini that he’s apparently given a personality. He’s the most likable character so far. Plus Chuck has been the voice of the audience up to this point so it’s got more of a “this is how you should treat this decision” vibe than it would once we got a better longer impression of Chuck.

    If Sapphire had a long, overly-elaborate backstory about being a chosen one or something, and been doing the old “silly mortals” thing, and Marcus had been going off on tangents about other fiction no one’s followed, it’d work better.

    …not sure if it would be better or worse if it happened after what’s-her-name joined.

  24. Olivier FAURE says:

    To give my personal account of why this joke still makes me uncomfortable, years after I first read it:

    – Chuck gets the last word in that panel. Marcus just goes along with it even though he clearly doesn’t want to. The panel doesn’t end with Marcus protesting that this isn’t okay, or being upset at Chuck, or wanting to leave the table; I don’t remember if the next panels have any of these things, but as a self-contained joke this one is already lacking.

    – Shamus’ commentary is extremely tone-deaf (up to the 2019 commentary). “The latter is just a good way to amuse yourself if the campaign sucks.” is not a good way to summarize what the panel depicts. Like, I totally get the idea that this is a dysfunctional group of player and they’re going to have unhealthy group dynamics, but then the blurb needs to say “Sometimes roleplayers do really creepy things”, not “Oh yeah, simulating a forced kiss is something you can do if you’re bored”. Like, again, I get the idea that Shamus doesn’t endorse everything that happens “onscreen”, and that the blurb is tongue-in-cheek… but again, the message I get out of the whole thing is “Sometimes these things happen and it’s not a big deal” instead of “… and you should stop the game and have a talk and/or leave the table if they make you uncomfortable”.

    Also, I really want to insist, it’s not about sex or penetration or anything. From the moment Chuck mentions a “grapple roll” to make out, I’m already done with the joke. Maybe it’s me being an idiot, but I would freak out if that situation happened to me at a table, even if no “actual” sex was ever involved or hinted at. None of the alternate punchlines you mention would have made me not dislike the joke.

    (by the way, I don’t think this is a gender thing; that joke would have been gross no matter the respective genders of either players and either characters)

    1. Mephane says:

      (by the way, I don’t think this is a gender thing; that joke would have been gross no matter the respective genders of either players and either characters)

      I wholeheartedly agree with you except for that last bit. Right at the start, Chuck mocks Marcus for choosing to play a female character. That’s a textbook example of misogyny. Chuck plays out sexual assault precisely because Marcus plays a female character.

      1. shoeboxjeddy says:

        I think all he’s trying to say with that bit is that forcing nonconsensual kissing on any gender is bad. It wouldn’t suddenly be funny if Marcus was playing a hobbit male for example.

    2. Guile says:

      It would probably work better if Marcus refused to engage (“I’m not doing this la la la”) than rolling back and getting a seven.

  25. Erik says:

    As I look back on this from 10 years of perspective, I think one of the key problems with this joke is: it’s too soon.

    By this, I mean that it’s only strip 6. We’re still establishing the characters. It was not yet obvious how much of the characters personalities would carry over from the characters with the same names in DMotR, and it was not clear that this was meant to be a form of not-really-happening-in-game player greifing using the characters rather than in-character violence.

    It was also not yet clear whether our main bond would be with the game personas or with the players. Some people could take this as player banter, because the players were the main characters; others as serious actions because the personas were the main characters, and the players merely meta-aspects. How you perceive the “who” that is acting has a major effect on how you perceive the action.

    And the wildly differing interpretations of who is acting, both in terms of which level of reality is primary and in terms of how well-understood the characters are on both levels of reality, is what made some people shrug it off as a crude table joke while others saw it as assault.

    And while typing this, I realize there’s yet another layer of misinterpretation available: tabletop RPG players vs. comic/CRPG players. To the former, this kind of table joke is generally par for the course. Lord knows that I heard (and probably said) worse around the table in high school and college, back in the 1st edition days. :) But someone who’s only experienced role playing in a context where the meta level DOESN’T EVEN EXIST can easily miss the joke.

    CRPGs just can’t easily make jokes about their own mechanics without immersion crashing with a sickening thud, so only a very few meta-humor games could go there and only a few of those actually did. On the comic side, a few comics delight in breaking the fourth wall in this way (Order Of The Stick!), but they’re a small minority of fantasy comics. In either case, most comics/CRPGs take the fantasy/MMO world as prime, and the real world as a secondary aspect of the characters, because most of the interesting stories are in the fantasy setting. Someone with no tabletop experience has literally never experienced this type of meta-griefing, which is additionally why they’d find it easy to miss the joke.

  26. baud says:

    Regarding the joke, I found it crude, but in line with could be heard around gaming tables. Also I don’t read the dialogue as going into rape territory, “just” harassment (which is already bad enough and should either answered by a swift kick to the gonads or a GM intervention).

  27. Michael says:

    Yeah, i’m pretty firmly on the “sexual assault jokes at best need to be treated carefully and usually are offensive and harmful” side of things. From what i recall of the comic, its honestly not really my cup of tea anymore; just don’t personally enjoy “assholes being assholes to each other” style humor as much as i did when this first came out, but even when i was into that kind of humor, and hadn’t realized just how problematic a lot of ‘jokes’ were, i had issues with this particular comic. When i first read this at–age 13 or so i guess it would be if this was in 07–I was super uncomfortable with this strip and lost a lot of interest in the comic as a whole, only really continuing to follow either the comic or Shamus in general because i’d read enough of his other stuff to give him the benefit of the doubt. Seeing even the current commentary being so…tone-deaf as others have put it is both surprising and disappointing frankly. Others have gone into better detail than me as to what the problems are, and i’m certainly not an expert on sexual assault and rape culture, so i’ll leave it at that.

  28. Mariusz Pociask says:

    I have no problem with the joke. It’s hilarious and EXACTLY what happens when players start horsing around during RPG session. :-) Been there, done that. One of my friends, for example, patched up the other one’s character using the thread from his puke-covered pants and a splinter from the floor desk because he couldn’t be assed to go get some medical help for him. :-)

    Rape is a sensitive subject and it’s very good that it is. But here, I just see it as being absolutely outside of any reality – players’ and characters’ both. It’s just a vessel of carrying the typical frenemy behavior among friends, with no connection to the world. To me, when this jokes ends, it is as if it never had happened at all.

    Thank you for another episode and the alternative takes, Shamus. :-)

  29. Christopher says:

    Yeah, no, this wasn’t the greatest. I can imagine it working in some other contexts – imagining the guy from the Office performing as Josh in a scene, maybe some more established asshole characters, perhaps some different lines, some kinda different tone to it, the characters in the game being shown less like characters and the focus being squarely on the people around the table, maybe Josh and Marcus co-operating to turn the game around from epic journey to pair up their characters… But what’s here falls pretty damn flat and I understand why this is the one people remember. 6 strips in and one of the characters is trying to do a groping scene that looks like a rape scene on the one chick character, and it works out in his favor. It kinda doesn’t matter that those characters in the game aren’t real, because neither are the roleplayers obviously, and it’s just two layers of uncomfortable situations here.

    I don’t think you were being malicious or anything but it is a bad harassment joke.

  30. Don says:

    I’m another who finds the joke both unfunny (as an actual bit of comedy) as well as in poor taste.

    And yet a potential fix that immediately leapt out to me? Switch the numbers which the two players roll up, so that it’s the aggressor who rolls the 7, and the defender that rolls the 19. Ramgar’s player attempts some roleplay forced sex as a bit of crude humor, but his character suffers over-the-top groinal injury from Sapphire’s defense.

    Not only does this fix the offensive element (male player thinks it’s oh-so-funny to roleplay sexual assault), but it also makes the progression of the strip slightly more interesting. The original strip can be boiled down to “asshole attempts to humiliate other player; tries; succeeds.” Even in a 3-panel gag strip, how narratively interesting is that? Flipping the results, on the other hand, would have the momentary misdirect of the audience thinking the player might succeed – but instead his wrong-headed idea backfires, and he rightly gets his comeuppance.

    1. kincajou says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with your comment, with over people discussing this there is little meaningful left to say but it feels worth pointing out that this Joke didn’t work on any level for me either.

      For all the reasons explained eloquently above, the comic feels unpleasant and i cannto find it humorous at all.

  31. RJT says:

    So, when I read this, I immediately thought of an incident that happened to me in high school. I was required to take drama, and one day, we were supposed to improvise in pairs on the stage. My female partner was listlessly saying lines with as many teenage eyerolls as physically possible, when suddenly she thought of a brilliant idea to send the class into chaos and declared that I had given her the clap. I was immediately disgusted and tried to walk away, but my teacher stopped me and said I was required to play along or I would fail that exercise, and it still makes me shudder a bit even twenty years later. That’s kinda how I feel about Sapphire here. If this were reality, Sapphire might knee Ragnar in the groin or slap him. But in [terrible] roleplay, the squeakiest wheel gets all the gre…er…narrative control. Because you can never “unsay” something, whoever shouts out a dumb suggestion first will have all the power. If you are going to have a good time, you have to trust everyone a lot not to do this. It’s a terrible feeling to be on the receiving end of this, even if it is not literal rape.

    So, my point is that this is a disturbing scene to think about, and it just kind of gives me a dull, grey feeling, instead of being funny. Perhaps if there was sort of context to establish that these guys are friends first it would feel less like bullying. I don’t even feel that they have much in the way of character traits as portrayed so far. I think terrible people can make great characters (I’m thinking of Arrested Development, for instance), but I don’t think these are developed even to earn this scene. If I knew them better, I might be engaged in “yet another” incident of them being just the worst. That is probably how it felt when this was being written, because you and the co-author probably had the fully-fleshed out characters well in mind already.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      Yeah, I think this is pretty close to my feeling on the strip too.

      It’s not even sexual; it would be uncomfortable if the player was, say, initiating a torture scene or humiliating a defeated enemy. It’s the kind of situation that makes you want to say “I don’t care that this is fictional, I don’t want to be in this story anymore”.

  32. Lars says:

    Is the punchline the problem, or is it the comment?

    The latter is just a good way to amuse yourself if the campaign sucks.

    This is calling ZOMGRAPEGATE is just a good way to amuse yourself.
    I don’t see a problem in the punchline or the comic itself. And even this comment is good but doesn’t get along with the strip.

  33. Mephane says:

    Let me preface this by saying that I never read the original run(s) of this comic. Feel free to spoiler me if that can assuade my expectations.


    Here’s what is so upsetting for me about this episode: the only acceptable course, imo, this could take, is the DM throwing Chuck out, permanently. Take a stand, explain how this behaviour is not acceptable, show him the door and tell him to never come to their sessions again, right then and there. Not even give him a 2nd chance. Not accept any (non-)apology. Also not accept mere compliance when the DM inevitably tells him to cut it.

    Unless he shows genuine remorse and understanding why what he did was unacceptable – neither of which is to be expected given all that we already know about his personality as well as this type of non-serious comic – he would need to be expelled from the group on the spot. Any less would mean that Chuck does get away this.

    1. Scampi says:

      Have another perspective from me:
      I was GMing for years in a small town with only very few people nerdy enough to engage in roleplaying at all.
      I already gave examples of my misadventures with my party in different threads around the site, also here, I think.
      I don’t know if this is the background Shamus and his party grew up in, but I know that in my town, if I had thrown out a problem player (and they were kind of a majority in my party), there wouldn’t have been a replacement ready. Instead, there would have been a chance that the entire group would have simmered out over time, and in my case, it would barely have been possible to find a new group at all.
      This may be different for people who grew up with the enhanced possibilities of finding their gaming circles on the net or in more open communities, but for me, when my group dissolved, it marked the beginning of a hiatus in my gaming habit that is now over a decade lasting.

      This considered: If there are more gaming groups similar to my past one, I believe it’s rather unlikely that your suggestion is “the only acceptable course”. It’s all a matter of how much griefing one is ready to put up with, which can vary significantly under different circumstances.
      I wonder if this is some kind of gaming version of Stockholm syndrome.

    2. DHW says:

      >Any less would mean that Chuck does get away this.

      And? He’s a fictional character. They’re all fictional characters. No real human beings were harmed.

      In fact, not even a fictional character was harmed. The person who was assaulted was a fictional character made up by a fictional character! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here.

  34. Matt says:

    A few thoughts on the controversy after re-reading the strip and most of the comments:

    1) Some folks are questioning why Sapphire would stay in the group or speculating on what would happen between these characters if this was real life. That’s a different perspective than mine and, perhaps, Shamus’ because my group just didn’t see our characters this way or expect them to interact in any way that was true to life. It isn’t real life and these collections of stats and a few personality notes shouldn’t be held to that standard. The group always stayed together, no matter how often their goals and methods would have realistically made them diverge. Our attitude wasn’t quite that these characters were disposable or just numbers on a page, but we certainly didn’t get too upset if they died horribly or something bad happened to them.

    2) Related to 1, I know that some people invest a lot more of themselves into their characters and this may contribute to their sense of anger. They can imagine this happening to their PC as an expression of themselves and, in a way, feel violated. I wonder how much of this conflict is just “different group norms exposed to a broader audience?” This joke would have received a modest chuckle at our table and that would have been it. Had there been a woman present, perhaps everyone would have been more circumspect. I think what must be remembered is context – this is among male friends with a relaxed sense of humor.

    3) Humor must transgress in order to be funny. Obviously, not every joke needs to be maximally offensive (then the true transgression would be to be respectable), but I think we have to be willing to tolerate the occasional line-crossing or bit of bad taste in order to have a more expressive society. Someone’s ox is always getting gored.

    4) Thank you for posting this Shamus. It requires a bit of courage to put yourself and your work out there like this, particularly when it is controversial or arguably not your best.

    1. Blue-NINJA'D! says:

      4) Thank you for posting this Shamus. It requires a bit of courage to put yourself and your work out there like this, particularly when it is controversial or arguably not your best.

      I’ll second this. He knew it would be controversial -particularly since he’s been there before with this same strip – and earn him criticism, and he did it anyway.

  35. shoeboxjeddy says:

    The defensiveness in the commentary (old and present day) does you no favors. Neither does mocking those who have a problem with the strip by calling it “ZOMGRAPEGATE”. Imagine if R. Kelly said “I’m dealing with ZOMGPEEPEEGATE, ha ha ha.” Would you think that he was taking the complaints against him seriously in that case? Explaining your intentions and showing us the creative process is fine, even a good approach to material like this. It also shows us that you were wrongheaded in every attempt though. All of the punchlines are “this character thinks he is committing either sexual assault or rape and he thinks that is funny.” How is that a joke for the AUDIENCE to laugh at? It’s a poorly written joke about a generally unfunny subject. I’m not saying no funny jokes have been authored on the topic, but this isn’t even CLOSE. And then your response to criticism is mockery of the people who pointed out how shit it was, which you maintain to the present day. That’s… real bad, dude.

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Too late to edit, but an add-on thought. Imagine if you called in a complaint to a company or complained to a manager for whatever reason. And they said “Your complaints are very important to us. What happened was not our intention, but our customers are extremely important to us and we will try to learn from this. We have started a file to keep track of this incident to make sure all the facts are straight and everything is on the record.” And then you saw what the actual file was labeled: WAH WAH WAH I’M OVERREACTING March 2019. How should you react at this point?

      1. Shamus says:

        You left a lot of confrontational comments all at once, so here is a response to all of them. Your entire argument is based on the idea that this joke is:

        1) Universally offensive.
        2) Deliberately so.
        3) Interpreted the same by all.

        If you read the other comments, you’ll see this is not the case.

        Also, you’re assuming that the term “ZOMGRAPEGATE07” is mocking those who were angry. I think I made it pretty clear elsewhere in the text that I’m not mocking people who were offended. I wasn’t doing the “Bah. You just don’t know how to take a joke!” thing. Shawn and I gave the controversy that name because… well, it was a big deal and it needed a name. It’s an alarming thing to suddenly find yourself in a lot of controversy when you weren’t expecting it and using hyperbolic names is a way of dealing with that stress. (Have you ever had hundreds of people REALLY ANGRY at you without the shield of internet anonymity? The dose I got was pretty mild by modern internet standards, but it’s really strong stuff!) If my computer breaks and I lose all my data, I might refer to it as “The time my computer blew up.” Not because I think it was funny, but because that sort of gallows humor is a coping mechanism.

        But none of that is all that important. The real impasse here is your argument to Drathnoxis saying “There was no misunderstanding.” That’s a flat-out refusal to acknowledge that the opposing opinion exists. In another comment you faulted me for being “defensive”, by which I assume you mean the part where I explained the thinking that went into the joke. You’re literally faulting me for offering my viewpoint. There can be no more discussion because you’re rejected the basic premise of the opposition. You don’t want to hear or acknowledge counter arguments. That’s fine. You have the right to your opinion. But there’s nothing left to say.

        1. Grant says:

          Just my perspective on this… I also read ZOMGRAPEGATE07 as mocking or minimizing the seriousness of people who complained. It is probably better not to share your private name for a controversy like this.

          And since everyone is giving their take on the comic as well… I read the original and thought it was a little uncomfortably rapey at the time. In today’s context, with more awareness of the trauma that many many people have dealt with and a more mature understanding of why jokes like this can be hurtful, I would say that it makes a lot of sense that you lost a bunch of your audience over this. I would also say that it may have been unwise to repost it today, perhaps skipping this storyline and substituting a respectful explanation would have been better.

          Also to add my vote the the mix, I agree that the substance of the joke is the issue, not the particular punchline.

          Finally, I don’t know if this has been said already because I haven’t read all of the comments, but I know a bunch of people have defended this by saying that it happens all the time in actual roleplaying. I agree that it does, but I would also say that is a problem and the people who find this hurtful are likely to be pushed away from roleplaying by these kinds of scenes. For them, this comic may be just a reminder of why they dislike roleplaying. The tone of the comic is also not critical of these actions in any way – the intent seems to be to say that the character choice was bad, not that the rapey response to it was bad.

          Just my thoughts!

          1. Lino says:

            I think people who find the comic offensive are going to be offended regardless of whether Shamus posted their internal name for the controversy or not. I still maintain that this whole issue is just a storm in a teacup, and looking for controversy where none was intended, and I don’t think any comments (or omissions of such) by Shamus would have made them feel differently.
            Just like with anything, some people would have taken issue with it, and some wouldn’t – we can’t prove either way which would have produced better results.

            1. Grant says:

              Saying that it is just a storm in a teacup or that those people would be offended anyways is exactly what I mean.

              Imagine that 10% of people find something hurtful (not “offensive” but actually hurtful) – and the other 90% say “this doesn’t bother me so let’s make a joke of it”. That is what will make people feel unwelcome, and ultimately will drive them away from webcomics, communities, and/or hobbies.

              I played some D&D about 10 years ago but the group contained a few people who would do things that I found pretty over the top and offensive. The GM didn’t particulate but didn’t intervene either. I don’t play now. I’m male and have never been sexually assaulted, so I’m not even your worst case scenario for this.

              The problem isn’t really the comic – it was just a mistake and mistakes are fine! The problem is when you respond to people who are telling you that they are uncomfortable by saying “that shouldn’t make you uncomfortable because of A, B, and C”, or even “let’s have a debate about whether or not this is inappropriate”. Just take their word for it! People getting offended for fun isn’t a thing that actually happens as much as you think.

              1. Sartharina says:

                I’d rather drive away the noisy 10% that can’t take a joke and drag everyone else into their pity party than drive away the 30-40% looking to have a good time. Can’t please everyone.

                I found your Customer Service example/analogy completely hilarious, though, because there are all sorts of absolutely unreasonable people demanding ridiculous customer service issues that have to be given a straight-faced “Your feedback is important to us”… then go on to let the world laugh at Ms. “I want to speak with your Manager” over at Not Always Right, which is an entire website dedicated to laughing at “WAH WAH WAH I’M OVERREACTING” customers.

                1. Grant says:

                  Everyone can do what they want, obviously. However, I think you should consider whether a single joke or crude behaviour is worth hurting people and likely driving them away from your content/community/hobby.

                  It also speaks to your level of empathy that when people say they are hurt by something you say “good riddance”.

                  By the way, I didn’t write the original customer service analogy (shoeboxjeddy did). I agree that it isn’t a very good analogy. However, if I were to defend it I would say that it would be unwise for the company to post their internal response to the same community which hopefully still contains the people who objected in the first place. I would also point out that customer service complaints and rape jokes are really not generally comparable (which is why it is a bad analogy).

                2. shoeboxjeddy says:

                  This lack of empathy is… unshocking from the person insisting that “rape jokes are super funny, actually” throughout the comments. You are correct that no humor or story or whatever will end up pleasing everyone. If you try to remove the offending parts every time, you could remove the things people like as well. However, you should also consider the life experiences of people separate from yourself. What to you is just a funny joke that you thought up in the 10 minutes before you stopped work for lunch may be a harrowing reminder of the worst moment of another person’s life. If your honest response to someone being triggered (in the very real medical sense of the term) to your work is “HA HA, get lost ya jerk!” you… might be an unpleasant person. Something to consider.

                  The point of the customer service analogy is that regardless of the authors’ personal opinions on what happened (which they are fully entitled to have) it is unwise to respond to the hurt feelings of your potential fans with the word equivalent of throwing salt in an open wound. Just a “that’s not what I meant” (and then not doing the exact same thing again repeatedly as proof that you really didn’t meant that) is sufficient.

              2. Lino says:

                I never said that people get offended for fun (no definition of the idiom I’ve seen implies that, anyway). What I said was that people misinterpreted the situation and blew it way out of proportion.
                I understand the variance of people’s experiences, and it’s their right to feel that way – no one has the authority to tell you how to feel about anything. And whenever someone tries to impose something on you that makes you feel uncomfortable, then it’s your right to express that.
                But when it comes to free online entertainment, I don’t think that anybody is obligated to cater to someone else’s opinion (even opinions praising the work).
                It’s an author’s right to do whatever they wish with their work, and people need to respect that – just because someone has taken offense at something doesn’t make anyone obligated to change anything.
                In general, one can’t anticipate what’s going to push people’s buttons, and I think people can tell when something is an innocent attempt at presenting a certain vision, and when something is deliberately trying to ne inflammatory. In the case of this strip (and the accompanying commentary), the case is definitely for the former.

                1. Grant says:

                  Apologies, I didn’t mean to imply that you think people get offended for fun. I was just pushing back a little bit on the overall tone here (not necessarily yours) that this is just “drama” and blowing things out of proportion. There seems to be a general disbelief around the idea that this is real problem for some people.

                  Clearly any author can produce whatever they like. No obligations on anyone! As this is Shamus’ site, he is perfectly in the right if he wants to close the discussion and ignore the comments. I would argue that this would be to his detriment, but that is his decision.

                  My opinion is that this joke was in bad taste, but an understandable mistake. I likely made or laughed at many jokes like this one in my life – so it is certainly a mistake I can empathize with and look past. I don’t personally like the tone of the response to the backlash; as others have noted it sounds a bit like “we wrote a funny joke but some people misinterpreted it and crazy drama happened”, rather than an attempt to empathize with the offended group and understand their issue.

                  I understand that nobody was trying to be inflammatory here, but it also seems like there was no effort afterwards to relate to the real problem. This joke wasn’t misunderstood – the panel was attempting to present something that is clearly sexual assault (forced kissing) as a casual joke. People get upset about this for two distinct reasons… it brings up unpleasant memories in some people, and presenting it casually like this with no consequence normalizes this sort of behaviour.

                  I understand that the authors have no obligation to respond in a particular way to criticism, but I just want to say that as someone who has followed Shamus and this site for many many years, I find this response to be very disappointing. After reading so many words by an author, you build a characterization of them in your head, and I personally thought that Shamus was better than this.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      I think you’re reading too much into the (not really a) word ZOMGRAPEGATE. At no point has Shamus endorse Chuck’s actions: not rape, nor sexual misconduct, nor bullying via in-character shenanigans, nor grapple checks, not even big red beards.
      I get the impression that ZOMGRAPEGATE refers to how much of an unexpected controversy there was at the time, and the way the joke got way more attention than he expected/intended. Hence it also being called ZOMGRapeDramaSplosion ‘07 by Shawn.

      I highly doubt that Shamus is mocking people who were offended by the comic; that’s your take on it.

      And ninja’d again. Gonna have to change my name to BlueNINJA’D!

      1. shoeboxjeddy says:

        Can you argue that ZOMG and drama explosion are sensitive to the feelings of the people bothered by the strip though? If the incident needs a name for reference purposes, why not something like “the kiss grapple” or “the controversial early comic”. The former terms are inherently put downs and belittling of the issue. I think it’s EXTREMELY telling that Shamus is saying “I was misunderstood and didn’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings at all” on one hand and referring to the very idea of people being offended as a silly joke on the other. I don’t think this comic is the worst offender I’ve ever seen or anything like that at all. I think calling it the ZOMG drama explosion sounds a whole lot like “sorry, not sorry.” Do you disagree, Shamus? I could see using a silly term when you think about the situation because the situation and remembering it was stressful, that makes sense. That isn’t a term you should use publicly though, for obvious reasons. Otherwise you’re just reopening the wound in the people who WERE offended.

        1. Lino says:

          You know what? You just helped me realize why I started arguing with you guys in the first place. At first I thought to myself: “I already said what I think, why am I writing these walls of text repeating my opinion? Why do we keep repeating ourselves? It’s their right to feel uncomfortable and express it.” And then I realized: I’m not actually arguing with the opinions you guys are expressing. I’m arguing with the fact that you’re expressing them here in the comments.
          See, there are certain topics I’m very sensitive towards (that are usually played for laughs whenever I see them in mainstream culture), and whenever I have something against a content creator who misrepresents these topics in such a way that it moves me to the core, I feel a very strong urge to tell them. Then I look for their contact information, and I email them. What I felt was something personal (due to the way I interpreted it), so I think it’s only fair that I tell them that in a way that only they would see. If they continue doing the thing I find disturbing, and if I see that it’s deliberate, then I express my opinion in a more public place (e.g. their YouTube or Facebook comments).
          In these cases, I equate the corner of the Internet where I consume their content to a weekly stand-upact at a sparsely populated a café. The first time, I wait until the show is over, and I tell the comedian in private what I felt (and since I’m a regular, they’ll probably have an incentive to listen). If they continue doing it, then I’ll start heckling, so that everybody knows what I feel – regardless of what the rest of the audience feels about the act. Some of the comedian’s fans might take that as an attack on their idol, but by this point, I frankly won’t give a fuck…
          Of course, in real life, I usually just stop following the content creator in question, since that piece of content is obviously not for me anymore. I actually don’t mind people who are more active in voicing their opinion – I just think that there are clear lines for interacting with people on the Internet, and I in my worldview, crossing these lines leads to nothing but chaos and outrage.
          Again, in the case at hand, I harbour no ill will toward anybody’s opinion – people see the world in very different ways, and I often wonder how we, as a species, have ever managed to achieve anything given how differently we perceive the world around us.

  36. Shamus says:

    Friendly reminder: I understand this is a touchy subject. I also understand this is the sort of thing where you feel compelled to express your feelings. I also get that lots of people were offended.

    Offended is fine. Disappointed is fine. Disagreement is fine. But if you come in here and call me stupid / a liar / horrible person, then I have to delete your comment. I’m not silencing you because I disagree, I’m doing so because I don’t want people getting the idea its okay to hurl abuse around. Also, literally no good can come of leaving it up. You’ll just get more of the same thrown back at you and we’ll end up with a feedback loop.

    1. Zos says:

      It’s not “abusive” to politely point out that what you’re saying is implausible.

      Here we have a social rule that is very obvious to people in the subculture. It’s widely accepted as perhaps the only near-universal rule across all games and systems. Failing to know about it is punished with severe social repercussions. And you are talking as if you didn’t know about it.

      Perhaps you really didn’t know about it, but even children who try this hobby pick up that rule almost immediately. Your readers know you are an intelligent grownup. that you aren’t utterly clueless, and that you have been in the hobby a long time. That makes it very difficult to believe you failed to know and understand that rule.

      The only other possibility left is that you aren’t being entirely honest.

      I’m not silencing you because I disagree

      I politely point out that this, also, is implausible.

      1. DHW says:

        You are not being polite. You are being a cop. Cut it out.

        1. Zos says:

          What did I say that was impolite?

      2. BlueHorus says:

        Here we have a social rule that is very obvious to people in the subculture. It’s widely accepted as perhaps the only near-universal rule across all games and systems. Failing to know about it is punished with severe social repercussions. And you are talking as if you didn’t know about it.

        This unspoken social rule is so clear to me that I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.
        Is it that rape jokes are bad? Is it that rape jokes deserve an apology? Is it that you never rape in-character while you Roleplay?
        Seriously, is it that Rape is bad and you shouldn’t do it? That’s a pretty common belief, but Shamus did actually say that one…

        I think this social rule (whatever it is) might not be as self-evidently true and accepted as you believe. Though I can’t tell until I know what it is.

        1. Scampi says:

          I have to agree with BlueHorus on this matter.
          I think the original comment might have been deleted, at least the follow-up reads as if this was the case.
          I also have no idea which rule was referred to and thus might apparently become victim to severe repercussions without knowing the crime. Doesn’t sound like a fair rule to me.

      3. Syal says:

        Perhaps you really didn’t know about it, but even children who try this hobby pick up that rule almost immediately.

        Oh I see; you’re talking about min/maxing, and pitting your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses. So I guess you’re arguing that Ramgar shouldn’t have rolled a grapple check against a cleric because she’s got good enough stats to win it.

        1. Syal says:

          …damn. I’m realizing a Charisma check would have been a lot funnier than a grapple check.

          Ramgar rolls his terrible charisma against Sapphire’s opposing roll of combined Intelligence and Wisdom, he gets a 20 and she gets a 1, and ten seconds into character creation Marcus is dumped by his own avatar.

          1. Shamus says:

            Wow. I don’t know if it would have been less offensive to people, but I like that a lot.

          2. Grant says:

            I like this version too! I’m not certain, but I personally feel that it would have completely sidestepped any controversy, since it implies a willing participation.

            1. Scampi says:

              Well, THAT sure is some headache for me there.
              If the character is made to consent by the rules of the game but the player who controls the character doesn’t, which will is relevant to the question of whether consent has occurred?
              I think there are also some further reaching questions about some religious questions hidden in this conundrum, but I dare not touch those on this board.

      4. Shamus says:

        “I politely point out that this, also, is implausible.”

        Over 100 comments disagreed with me without being deleted. You are very quick to call someone a liar and very unwilling to listen, so discussion with you is impossible.

        You’re done with this topic. Full stop.

  37. DHW says:

    Cardinal Richelieu had some words about being able to search the writings of any honest man and finding six lines to hang him with. I’ve noted that this is how these outrage storms generally go: even if the original offense is shaky, as it is here, the response of the target will be picked over to find something that, if you look at it from just the right direction and squint, sounds insensitive, and suddenly that will be the focus of outrage, somebody’s annoyed response to an outrage storm bootstrapped into a process crime and retroactively used to justify the outrage storm.

    Needless to say, this is bad behavior and people doing it need to cut it out right now.

    1. Grant says:

      Agree that the original offense is not a big deal (honest mistake). I disagree that the response is being nitpicked. The response is just as important, if not more so, than the original content. It is also being written with the original feedback in mind, so it will be taken more personally by those involved.

      This was not a good response to what was described as “incensed” and “enraged” criticism, although that was perhaps because the criticism at the time was angry rather than patient. There are certainly legitimate criticisms of the comic, and those were not addressed in any way by the response above.

      Not intending to hang anyone here. I assume that everyone involved had and has the best intentions. This is just my feedback on the comic and the commentary shared above.

      1. DHW says:

        The problem with this is it’s entrapment. Most people are going to instinctively react in a confused and annoyed way to some random on the internet freaking out at them over a minor issue (remember, we both agree this wasn’t a big deal). If that reaction is then painted as disrespect and bootstrapped into justification for the outrage, it’s a recipe for endless mobbing and injustice, controlled by those randoms on the internet.

        1. Grant says:

          Fair enough, but if this was a big deal a long time ago I think it is fair to say that the reaction shouldn’t be a surprise today. I could take that argument for the original post but giving the same kind of response now while being fully aware of the controversy is a different thing.

  38. Guile says:

    I remember I was reading Chainmail Bikini during its first run, but not interfacing with the comments. And my own opinion at the time was ‘Eh, that joke didn’t land’ and moved on. So I had no idea what was going on when I heard, later, about Shamus’s Rapegate allegations.

    Its like whenever someone tries to engage me about the Clinton administration. I was certainly alive during the Clinton presidency, but apparently I only attended in the flesh, and my spirit was elsewhere during that decade.

    1. Syal says:

      That was my reaction the first time too. I think last time I was coming straight off of DM of the Rings, and also had a lot of friends who shouted ‘raped’ any time they succeeded at something. This time around, it’s a lot more off-putting.

  39. WWWebb says:

    Reading through the alternative punchlines, the “cheese on macaroni” one was the only one that got a laugh. Probably because it was the closest to a “Noodle Implements” joke (I’m nice enough to not include a TVTropes link…you can look it up). A Noodle Implements joke would also give Marcus the opportunity to have an immersion breaking last word (“wait … what does that even mean?”).

    It also didn’t help to end with the shocked look on Josh’s face. Some readers wouldn’t realize that it had nothing to do with the dialog. Reinforce that by having more thought/mumble bubbles for Josh (“…carry the one and multiply by…”) obscuring juuust enough of the conversation.

    More not helping was that the “individual fonts” were not really well established yet for all those dialog bubbles from off-panel. The 3rd person in the middle panel could be a statement from the GM which would legitimize the actions (as opposed to it being a true side conversation).

  40. BruceR says:

    I think the pros and cons of this have been well-argued by others.

    I guess my question would be, why was it any less of a problem when basically the same “joke” was used early in the run of Bored of the Rings as well (https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=645)? Then or now?

  41. Lisa says:

    I think part of the problem with the attempted joke here is that there is no comeuppance on the attempted grope/whatever. A person groping another without permission isn’t usually that funny, no matter how much you try to make it so. On the other hand, a person attempting to grope another, and having some misfortune befall them (whether it be retaliation, or clumsiness) can be amusing.
    In this context I think them rolling a critical fail could have led to more amusement. But really, they shouldn’t ‘win’.
    I think one thing that might be being missed here, when saying it’s the comic characters’ characters that are involved, not the characters themselves, is that from a reader point of view they are all characters. It doesn’t really matter how many levels removed you are from the characters – they’re all a part of the fiction, and so can inspire reactions in people.

    1. Falling says:

      “I think part of the problem with the attempted joke here is that there is no comeuppance on the attempted grope/whatever.”
      That might be the path out with a counter joke.
      So it plays out the same, but instead of Marcus looking all shocked, have a panel where he has a wicked grin on his face: “Ok, and after you can roll for venereal disease.”
      Chuck looks shocked/ horrified “No- wait-”
      Marcus: “Still want some of this?”

      Or something like that.

      1. Lisa says:

        I like that idea!

        1. Scampi says:

          I don’t, as it would be a direct repeat of a joke Shamus did on DMotR before.

  42. Metzger says:

    This little joke doesn’t deserve this overly serious discussion, really. It’s nothing…

  43. radthemad4 says:

    I feel like you’ve already done the best possible version of this before.


    1. Stuart Worthington says:

      Man, I forgot about that page. That was pretty funny.

  44. RCN says:

    I was introduced to D&D in my dad’s group.

    One running joke in their games is that new characters found inside a dungeon (as opposed to recruited in town) are found bound, naked and sodomized.

    Note that they didn’t do it to ME. My characters were always resurrected, recruited in town or directly appointed reinforcements. (Now that I think about it, the DM was probably shielding me).

    Still, I always found it a bit shocking when a new character was introduced that way.

  45. Pell says:

    I could write an entire book about this topic, but the number of people who would want to read that book would be comparable to the number who would want to stave my skull in with it, so I had probably best refrain.

  46. orestes says:

    Weirdly, this is the thing that really drives home that Shamus is gone for me :( I would really love to ask him about this strip rn, and previously I would know that he would see it even if no one else would notice. If nothing else, I think there is a good discussion about “Death of the Author” to be had here, but I can’t have that with him now. R.I.P. and know that we miss you Shamus.

    1. LizTheWhiz says:

      Revisiting this comic/comments section, and I totally agree. I’d love to be able to ask for a re re re trospective

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