THIS REVIEW OF ‘ROLLED & TOLD’ #0 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Clyde Hall. If you think that RPGs and comics aren’t connected by gossamer webs of equal parts fanatic devotion and voracious fantasy appetites, you don’t remember the halcyon days of Dungeons & Dragons, when TSR enlisted the likes of artists Bill Willingham and Jeff Dee to produce D&D ads in a comic strip format for periodical publications. Both artists were working for TSR in the late 1970s and both had an interest in comics. When Dee saw the first comic strip-styled D&D ad, he did what any RPG player/comic fan double-threat talent would. He pointed out all the ways in which the ad violated various and sundry established D&D rules in its content, and what a poor example it was of the comic strip format it sought to emulate. Dees and Willingham got handed the project, and their exciting episodic ad pages starting in Marvel books lured many comic readers into the world of tabletop RPGs.
Comic art was an integral part of gaming’s Dragon Magazine during the same period. Some players and DMs may have read up on the latest NPC character class, or new monsters to use in their group’s weekly sessions, but they all checked out the comics, including that month’s “What’s New?” page by Phil Foglio. Eventually, DC and TSR combined forces to produce successful comic titles utilizing the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance AD&D adventure settings, proving the interconnected nature of both hobbies.
What may be the next evolutionary step linking RPGs and comic books has arrived. Lion Forge’s new Quillion imprint has released a special free edition of Rolled & Told #0, a new series that showcases its ambition as a hybrid comic book, informative gaming guide and tabletop role play module.
That’s a vertiginous combination, and dependent on successfully courting two similar, yet different, yet equally exacting, fandoms. Never mind that many readers will hold dual citizenship, that can simply mean double the grousing if their expectations remain unmet on either front. As the launch of an entire banner, it’s an audacious roll of the polyhedral die for Lion Forge/Quillion.
Judging by #0, it’s also a natural 20.
The issue begins with a map section; it’s aesthetically more related to what a DM would make for a homebrew campaign than to the bird’s eye, graphed and largely soulless maps of many previous adventure modules. It’s a dazzling bit of brilliance to start the issue with these organic, detailed, and lovely pages of cartography. These set the clarion tone for all that follows, and it just keeps getting better.
The comics section comes next, and it’s is a spoiler-free set up for the module adventure, readable by PCs or DMs. It chronicles a low-level delver group preparing to prove their mettle and establish their reputation by besting an arduous dungeon crawl event at the Thunderlock Tavern. Owned by two grizzled campaign veterans who’ve lost many companions during their adventuring days, the bar is also a training facility for would-be novice delvers.
The Thunderlock was once a brewery, now converted into a sizeable drinking and gambling hall. In the cellar level below, the owners have established a veritable boot camp experience masquerading as a contest for the next generation of young, unwise, and poorly prepared delvers. It’s designed by the veterans to give delving noobs a taste of the dangers, pitfalls, and puzzles awaiting them on the road to fortune and glory. The contest, known far and wide as the Thunderlock Barcrawl, can even be lethal though the proprietors have geared the challenge to be more instructive than deadly. Losers can nurse broken bones and bruised egos while they rethink their choice of adventuring as a career. Winners get a night of free food and drink, and their group is added to the prestigious Thunderlock Wall of Crawlers. It’s like winning your Saturday night bowling league championship, except that you could maybe die before the final pin falls.
Next comes the game module, ‘The Thunderlock Barcrawl’ which is presented in the 5th Edition AD&D format. It’s so well written by gamer and designer E.L. Thomas that it could easily be converted to the system of one’s choice. It also lends itself to alteration depending on a varying number of factors. It’s made for a group of four 1st level characters, but for experienced Dungeon Masters, adjusting for additional members of low levels would be very simple. For new DMs, this is a complete package deal and provides everything needed to run a session straight from the module with little or no variance. There are insightful guides and notes leading the DM through the storyline—and it provides monster stats, illustrations, and multiple ending wraps depending on how well the delvers have done in conquering, or being conquered by, the Barcrawl. And there’s a guide to giving out XP at the end, as well. It’s a very challenging, compact adventure scenario that will provide evenings of RPG enjoyment for any group of players, be they beginners or seasoned pros.
After the module, Thomas provides an article on creatively utilizing a traditional, standard D&D monster, the Mimic, in clever and unusual ways. While the adventure is also seasoned with such insights and hints, this section more pointedly addresses yet another goal that Quillion has set for Rolled & Told: To make Game Masters better storytellers, and to assist in improving their narrative skills. How effective is Thomas? In the next game I run, there will be some Mimics the likes of which my players have never seen, I guarantee. Thanks, E.L.
#0 ends with character stats for the four pre-generated delvers we see prepping in the comic section of the issue. Artists Stephanie Mided and Jonathan Hill presented a natural, flowing comic narrative attuned with the rest of the book, and here they unleash heroic portraits of the available characters. (I can say that gamers will be wearing these on t-shirts.) More, the character sheets again include all the information that, with access to 5E handbooks, provide a DM and a hardy group of players all they need to launch into role play euphoria.
As a half-century comic book fan and a nigh-onto 40-year RPG addict, I believe Rolled & Told succeeds on every level. Depending on how closely Quillion stays to this issue’s format, they will have to make some calls as the publication continues. Will they make the comic section a spoiler-free part of the book so that players and GMs alike can read it before play? It’s possible, given that some modules have lengthy backstories to relate before the players set foot onto the path of their demise—adventure. There are several innovative approaches the comic book portion can take, and Lion Forge has thus far been nothing if not innovative in their comics.
As for the module and adventure portions, I’m curious to see if Quillion sticks with AD&D 5E or covers other systems and other game settings as well. Online sources list subsequent R&T issues at $7.99, and if true, that’s an RPG bargain, especially as many gaming companies are enamored with putting out hardback tomes averaging $50 a pop.
No surprise that I’ll be subscribing to Rolled & Told, not only as a GM always looking to improve his scenario-building and narrative story skill, but also as a comic book fan curious to see what those sections will be like in future editions. Quillion’s taken many of the best elements of past gaming publications, added several original ones, and produced an impressive promotional issue. They’ve downed a publishing polymorph potion with many exciting variations now possible, and their future resulting chimeras hold much promise.
Lion Forge/Quillion/FREE (#1 priced at $7.99)
Written by E.L. Thomas.
Art by Stephanie Mided, Jonathan Hill and Shing Yin Khor.
10 out of 10
Issue #0 is available now on comiXology. ‘Rolled & Told’ #1 hits stores September 26.