393: Ultimate Game
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 that 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 that 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. But it does make a different kind of sense when you consider Jesus a personal enemy of Death (Revelation 20:14).
- [Split screen down the diagonal. Upper left: A man with only hair around the back of his head is standing to the left of a desk with a hand on it, speaking on an office phone on a 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 frameless 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, there is 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 against something white behind him (presumably the backrest of his chair). 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 dice and some 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.
- This is the third comic in a row about game-rules.
- 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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