(From Darths and Droids. Click for full-sized information.)
No, this isn’t breaking up my plans for a webcomic post on Tuesday. This is what Robert A. “Tangents” Howard would call a “secant”, a look at a particular strip or a moment in time for a comic, as opposed to a “tangent”, or a look at a strip as a whole. Of course, if you know your geometry, you might expect those meanings to be reversed, with a “tangent” only touching the circle at a single point, while a “secant” cuts through the circle and thus includes a broader span. But if you prefer, the tangent leaves the circle whole, while the secant takes a section of a circle and looks only at that.
The strip I intend to look at isn’t today’s, above, but the one put out a week ago, in which we finally learned the name of the player playing Anakin. (So maybe the thumbnail should be that strip instead of today’s.) The reason I didn’t write this then was because I was knee-deep in my Ctrl+Alt+Del write-up. And when that was published on Tuesday, there was a new strip up. And so I didn’t decide to write this until I woke up Friday morning thinking, “You know, I should probably write a blog post about this.”
Darths and Droids intends to answer the question, “What if Star Wars, instead of being a series of movies, was an RPG campaign played out by several players and a GM?” I explained the concept some in my Irregular Webcomic! post, but what’s important to understand now is that this means that each character (that isn’t an NPC played by the GM) exists as both a player and as the character in the game/movie that he plays. For example, Jar-Jar Binks, the Gungan that everyone loves to hate, is also Sally, the 9-year-old girl who plays him. Sort of.
To someone familiar with the in-jokes of the movies, it makes sense that Qui-Gon Jinn would be named by someone named Jim, or Obi-Wan Kenobi would be named by someone named Ben. But Anakin was introduced as an NPC before Annie was introduced, as Anakin’s mother Shmi. She then switches to playing Anakin for the pod race, who himself is briefly moved to Jim when Annie is late for a game session, and then moves back to Shmi when the pod race is over, all the while trying not to give away that Annie would play Anakin for good, and in my opinion, failing. All the while, the Comic Irregulars take care never to mention her real name. (In fact, it virtually never comes up at all. This isn’t a situation where all the characters constantly and awkwardly dance around “that thing” to the extent that the effort being expended into keeping “that thing” secret seems like it’s not worth it. There are maybe one or two times where Annie’s name would even warrant mentioning at all.) The annotation for the revelation of Annie’s name reveals the reason for all this misdirection: “Shmi had a meatier role which lined up better with how we wanted to characterise Annie initially.”
And what was it that the Comic Irregulars wanted to portray Annie as before moving her into the role of Anakin? She’s introduced as a friend (or at least acquaintance) of Ben’s who learned about the game in her drama class and wanted to observe it, but was immediately pressured by the GM into joining. She takes to the game almost immediately and not only almost never speaks out of character (unlike all the other players), she quickly becomes a font of ideas about her character, her son, and the game world. (Until I reread these strips I was worried that the Comic Irregulars were themselves getting too immersed in the game world and forgetting the “as a role-playing game” aspect of their premise. In my defense, Sally was being quick to make stuff up as well, and the GM is often disturbing when he’s talking to himself.)
Watching Annie getting introduced to the game early is an enlightening experience. An early annotation sums it up well:
Being a drama student, Shmi’s player was a bit sceptical about this roleplaying game thing at first. She thought it might just be a group of gung-ho guys rolling dice and pretending to fight one another. But she’s rapidly learning a lot of the subtle nuances that can be brought to bear to make the characterisation of PCs intensely rich and detailed.
Most RPG players have probably never thought about their game the way Annie does. They’re probably science fiction or fantasy fans who fancy themselves as their own little Frodo Baggins or Luke Skywalker, out to save the kingdom and ravish the beautiful princess. Certainly that’s how Jim sees the game in Darths and Droids. Some (rather notorious) classes of players, like Pete, ignore the “role playing” and focus solely on the “game” aspect, trying to perfectly optimize their characters as much as possible for the biggest impact in combat. (Pete plays R2-D2, who speaks in bleeps and bips so Pete could use the bonus skill points from making him mute to make him an absolute, well, machine. It’s a well-known RPG tactic: take the weaknesses that don’t hinder you in any appreciable way and make the resulting character unbeatable.)
The Comic Irregulars looked at the concept of what an RPG game would be like for someone completely unlike the standard RPG player stereotype before, when they introduced Sally, who also sees it as solely a “game” but for whom “game” means just having as much fun as possible (not trying to “win” like Pete), except it’s a “role playing” game so it’s also an opportunity to play make-believe. But they hadn’t explored it nearly as much with Sally as they have with Annie. Annie is the complete opposite of Pete: she ignores the “game” and focuses on the “role playing” aspect. For her, this is no different than what she goes through in drama class. It’s an excersize in acting and improvisation. She’s also prone to point out standard tropes of heroic tales. In a sense, it’s a perfect choice for her to go through the sort of development Anakin goes through, turned to the Dark Side through his passions to become the major villain of the original trilogy, all in the name of increasing the dramatic tension. But having her play an innocent little kid from the start might have, by necessity, given people the wrong idea about her character, that she’s fundamentally not much different from Sally, and (without revealing her name) possibly male to boot. Although it’s certainly doable.
(Annie also borders on being a role-playing Mary Sue, making up a new language with the GM without the latter even realizing it and giving the GM virtually an entire book on how she wants to play Anakin.)
The way in which the Comic Irregulars handled a possibly unavoidable problem (they are restricted by the original movies) was a bit clumsy in places, and by their own admission, raised a couple of problems. But now that that’s past, I’ll find it very intriguing to see how Annie spins multilayered tragedy out of a character Pete originally dismissed as “a completely unimportant NPC”. I’m perfectly willing to forgive a few bumps in the road leading to this point for a story that promises to become, immediately, infinitely more rich and interesting, and very… dare I say it… Order of the Stick-esque.
Well played, Comic Irregulars. Well played.