There is a reason you’re supposed to railroad the player characters together via the classic “tavern meeting”: Most players are selfish and unruly and likely to kill each other with their attempts at roleplaying.
Besides, that sort of thing just distracts everyone from the story you’re telling.
ZOMG RAPEGATE, part two. Of three.
Part of the problem with this arc was that I wrote it as a single comic. I was still using my DM of the Rings approach to humor, which was to write a long absurd conversation. (In fact, I see the exchange between Chuck and Marcus to be a lot like the meeting of Stonergorn and Lego-lass.) Then I would take the conversation and try to divide it into three-panel jokes. This is much worse than just writing a three-panel joke in the first place. I don’t regret the grope jokeEDIT 2019: Twelve years later, I do find myself wishing I could take another swing at this scene. This was pretty extremely upsetting to some people, and that’s not why I make comics., and I’ve always felt it was a perfectly legitimate subject for a strip. But I do regret it not being very funny. In any case, I think there would have been less shock if people had read “both” strips togetherEDIT 2019: This should read “all three strips together”. I’m not sure why I originally said “both” here?.
This one drives home the ambiguity over what was actually going on. People were arguing over whether Ramgar raped or groped. “You don’t need improved stamina to grope”, which I think was said again in the comments to the previous strip.
But here it’s obvious that the actual events aren’t even clear to the players. Chuck had to explain to Marcus what he thought was going on, because all they had done was roll some dice that made Chuck the “winner”. None of it was roleplayed. Chuck was simply griefing Marcus, not trying to weave a story about their characters.
I think I pretty well covered everything on Wednesday. See you on Monday, when ZOMGRAPEGATE ‘07 hits it’s grand finale.
For the record: When Shawn and I referred to these three strips as “ZOMGRAPEGATE ‘07”, we weren’t belittling the people who complained. We were making light of the drama, not the people involved with the drama. This was the first major controversy either of us had ever experienced and it was pretty alarming at the time. I’m well aware that we’re not victims here. These three rounds of backlash, while unpleasant, are actually incredibly tame by modern internet standards. The internet can be a savage monster to people who fail at comedy, and we got off easy. The worst that happened is a bunch of people were extremely angry at us in the comments. The vast majority of those people were reasonable about it.
Still, without the shield of internet anonymity, having a large number of people be very suddenly angry at you is quite an experience. “ZOMGRAPEGATE ‘07” was our own attempt at gallows humor when dealing with it.
Also, I’d like to note what a good guy Shawn is. I was the writer and the joke was my idea, so responsibility ultimately landed on my shoulders when this vignette blew up in our faces. Shawn would have been within his rights to throw me under the bus and say, “Don’t blame me, it was HIS idea!” when people got angry. He didn’t, and stood with me. I’ve always appreciated that.
In the comments to the previous strip, lots of people pointed out that it makes no comedic sense. Chuck perpetrates a crime, and… that’s the punchline?! Everyone knows that the proper structure is for a character to say or do something wrong / idiotic / offensive / annoying, and the punchline is where they get punished for it. You get a joke, but you also get the karmic retribution that makes fiction satisfying.
This three-strip vignette was written as a single comic in the style of DMotR, by working backwards from the punchline. The last panel (which we’ll see at the end of #8) requires Marcus to punish Chuck in a cartoonishly over-the-top way. The first section was a setup that would allow Marcus to physically assault Chuck at the table without coming off like a psychopath. For it to work, we have to WANT Marcus to assault him.
But then I cut it into three parts, which leaves us with this odd structure. For two strips in a row, Chuck goes without being rebuked. At this point, the audience doesn’t even have the assurance that he will be punished. For two strips in a row, the bad guy seems to win and the joke is at the expense of Marcus, who has done nothing wrongEr, aside from his ridiculous character, but EVERYONE at the table has a ridiculous character.. This injustice is naturally frustrating to people, and a few half-jokes about the misapplication of rules doesn’t really soften the blow.
The audience has to wait for two more strips to see the result, and by that time Chuck’s comeuppance doesn’t really feel satisfactory because the audience has been stewing for a whole week.
This would be very different if everything was resolved in a single strip. Chuck’s griefing would be ignored or retconned away, rather than taking root in the minds of the audience. People say stupid stuff at the table all the time that doesn’t actually become part of the story. Maybe one player jokes about flipping off the king. Everyone laughs, and makes some jokes about how much emotional damage that should do, and whether or not he’d need to make an opposing fortitude save to avoid crying. Players would maybe even roll some dice and laugh about the result. But then the GM steps in, the game gets back on track, and it’s clear that the king was never actually flipped off.
By taking a single exchange and splitting it into three strips, I lost the ability for the audience to dismiss the exchange as this sort of absurd aside. It was now part of the story as far as they were concerned. On top of that was the lack of justice for Marcus, the weak punchlines, and the fact that readers had way more empathy for the player characters than I ever would have imaginedI cared about Chuck, Casey, Marcus, Josh, and Ivy. But beyond their usefulness to my plot, I had zero empathy for the D&D&D characters and would gladly have burned them all alive for a joke. I thought of them as completely disposable props. I quickly learned that the audience DID think of them as real characters and even empathized with them. Later in the series I’ll talk about some of the adjustments I made in response to this.. It was pretty much a perfect storm of misjudgment.
I get that, for a lot of people, Chuck’s crime was beyond the pale and there’s no level of comedic payoff that can save this exchange. Making all three strips into a single full-page joke wouldn’t fix this. That’s fine. But breaking things up definitely made a bad situation worse. Or rather, if I’d thought about how these three strips would look in isolation, I might have been able to avoid throwing gasoline on the fire.
Part of the problem is that DM of the Rings gave me a massive case of overconfidence. I’d throw together a strip at the last minute, and the whole time I was thinking “Ugh. This isn’t very good. I don’t know how to make this funny, but maybe people will overlook this one.” Then I’d post this sad, un-funny strip to a chorus of, “HILARIOUS!” and “Best one yet!” People would quote the lines to each other and new readers would show up. In the entire run of DM of the Rings, I don’t think there was a single dud. Sure, a few were less funny than the others, but I never had a joke completely bomb to the point where I was met with indifference or silence. Someone was always laughing.
This is it? This is all it takes to write comedy? This isn’t even hard!
And yes, it is pretty easy when you’ve got unlimited page space to work with. I could throw a dozen jokes at the wall, and odds were good that one or two of them would hit the mark. It’s okay for a third of your jokes to whiff if you make a dozen of them in a single strip. But if you only have the space to do 1.5 jokes, you can’t afford to miss. And if you’re messing around with controversial subject matter, then you REALLY can’t afford to miss.
But here in Chainmail Bikini I had to learn that I am not a magical joke machine and it is possible for me to write something that people don’t find funny. In an ideal universe, I’d have learned that lesson before we got to THIS vignette.
 EDIT 2019: Twelve years later, I do find myself wishing I could take another swing at this scene. This was pretty extremely upsetting to some people, and that’s not why I make comics.
 EDIT 2019: This should read “all three strips together”. I’m not sure why I originally said “both” here?
 Er, aside from his ridiculous character, but EVERYONE at the table has a ridiculous character.
 I cared about Chuck, Casey, Marcus, Josh, and Ivy. But beyond their usefulness to my plot, I had zero empathy for the D&D&D characters and would gladly have burned them all alive for a joke. I thought of them as completely disposable props. I quickly learned that the audience DID think of them as real characters and even empathized with them. Later in the series I’ll talk about some of the adjustments I made in response to this.
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