393: Ultimate Game

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Ultimate Game
RIP, Gary.
Title text: RIP, Gary.


Gary Gygax was a game designer best known for co-creating the iconic nerd pastime Dungeons and Dragons (D&D); as such, he is commonly described as the "father of D&D." He died on March 4, 2008, three days before this comic was released. It made him the first person to receive tribute in conjunction with his death on xkcd, but not the last!

The idea of playing games (typically chess) with supernatural entities in exchange for one's soul is an old one and has been referenced in many works, but mainly known in the form of playing Chess against the personified version of Death, which was made famous in Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal (1957). The last part of this trope is used in this comic. Here, the specific twist is that the victim can choose which game they want to play. Naturally, it is only fitting that Gary would challenge Death to D&D. The trope was later revisited as one of the tips in 1820: Security Advice.

The problem is that Dungeons and Dragons isn't so much a game as it is a set of rules for describing stories. It requires the intervention of a Dungeon Master (or DM) to create a scenario which the players' characters must overcome. It's unclear exactly how the game between Gary and Death works, but given that D&D generally takes a long time to play due to the setup time and large amount of dice-rolling, and the fact that Gary seems to keep adding extra rulebooks (official or pseudo-official books which add new classes, items, spells, etc. for players to use), it's understandable why it would take longer than Death's boss would like.

Part of the humor in this comic comes from the fact that Death's boss, who would presumably be an extraordinarily powerful entity, appears to be a completely ordinary man in an ordinary office, complete with bald patch and potted plant.

Death's usage of the name "Jesus" in the final panel may be considered ironic given that he's, well, Death.


[Split screen down the diagonal. Upper left: A man with only hair around his neck is standing to the left of a desk with a hand on it, speaking on an office phone on the desk. There is a photo in a frame behind the phone. Bottom right: Death in a cloak, black hole to the left where the head should be, speaks on cell phone he is holding up in his skeleton hand.]
Man: Death?
Death: Speaking.
[A frame-less panel with a zoom out of the man on the phone, showing more of his office. Behind the desk there is a potted plant and above it a window (or a white board). The reply over the phone is indicated to come from the phone with a zigzag line.]
Man: This is the boss. Where are you? You haven't been up to the office in days!
Death (over the phone): I've been held up.
[Full panel with Death speaking on his cell phone. It is apparent that he is leaning back again something white behind his back. The two replies on the phone are again indicated with zigzag lines.]
Man (over the phone): What happened?
Death: You know how when someone dies, they can challenge me to a game for their soul?
Man (over the phone): Sure, standard procedure.
[Death is revealed to be sitting on a chair to the right of a table leaning back against the chair's backrest (which could be seen in the first two images of Death as well). He is still speaking on his phone and in the other hand he holds his long scythe down with the blade below the table. On the other side of the table is a man (revealed to be Gary Gygax in the title text). The man has curly hair that seems to turn into a ponytail, but as he is looking out of the panel a little to the left away from Death it is hard to see the ponytail. He also has a full beard. Gary Gygax is leaning over his bag behind him taking out a book while resting the other hand on the table. On the table are already two other books of the same type. Behind them are two figurines (one Cueball and one with a pointy hat), then two dices and paper strewn about in front of Death.]
Death: Well, we didn't count on this guy. I might be a while.
Gary Gygax: I add the paladin to my party.
Death: Oh, Jesus. He's getting out another rulebook.

See also[edit]

  • Although Gary is the father of D&D, Dave Arneson's contribution should not be ignored. Although xkcd did not cover his death in April 2009, a stick-figure tribute to the man who created the concept of role-playing games does exist, courtesy The Order of the Stick.
  • On tvtropes this comic's last two panels are used for their article on Rules Lawyer.

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Why would Gygax choose to play such a luck-heavy game for his life? Davidy²²[talk] 02:18, 23 February 2013 (UTC)

You are kidding, right? Just in case not: Because it can be really long to finish it (therefore gains time by just playing it) and also because he created it. 19:44, 25 April 2013 (UTC)
In this situation, I'd rather play a luck-heavy game than a strategy one. Not that I'm a bad chess player, but Death is probably better. He's probably not better at Chutes/Snakes and Ladders, though. 03:43, 24 June 2015 (UTC)

"...Death's boss (satan?) would like." I'd guess Death's boss, in this case, is Jesus - at least he is addressed like that in the last frame ;-) 20:25, 22 May 2013 (UTC)

I would think that the "boss" is not meant to be any specific or well-known figure, Satan or Jesus. Based on his depiction, he seems rather generic. I think "Jesus" in the last panel is just used as an exclamation. 03:15, 23 June 2013 (UTC)

Couldn't Gygax just get a terrible role that makes him fail initiative and keep missing, then get totally pwned by a critical hit from Death?

Terrible rolls (or roles, if a bad character choice?) aside, with the alternative being eternal-whatever, it's probably worth a go to spin things out unless you're convinced that the eternity concerned is a better thing. (And actually a thing, not oblivion.) And if Gary's rotating new members into the party, as seen, then it could become a very long campaign indeed, lasting long after all the original group of characters have retired, become NPC flavour or individually succumbed to the many and various trials and tribulations thrown at them. Unless Death is the DM/GM/whatever (rather than a shared participant in some freeform collaborative game, which probably gives Gygax more than enough leeway to keep going) with enough experience to succesfully bring about a "Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies" event or foresee and prevent useful tricks such as the casting of Air Wall in naval battles to slew odds in the Adventurers' favour (<-true story... and even when the caster had run out of power, he bluffed enemy ships into colliding with each other by just waving his arms as if he had created yet another invisible barrier in their paths!) I could see him as outclassed in D&D as Discworld's Death apparently could sometimes be by chess ("REMIND ME AGAIN," he said, "HOW THE LITTLE HORSE-SHAPED ONES MOVE.") 14:54, 18 June 2013 (UTC)

"Anyone want to play Dungeons and Dragons for the next quadrillion years?" 21:11, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

Now if you could challenge Death to any game, would not "The Game" be the ultimate win against Death, as he would then always be the looser? -- Para (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

you made me lose. goddammit. 08:58, 3 June 2015 (UTC)

This is the page image for the TV Tropes page "Rules Lawyer". Just wanted to let you know. :) 09:42, 14 May 2015 (UTC)