Darths and Droids

Back in 2006, a guy named Shamus Young posted a couple of strips of a photonovel-style webcomic with the following premise:

Imagine a gaggle of modern hack-n-slash roleplayers who had somehow never been exposed to the original Tolkien mythos, and then imagine taking those players and trying to introduce them to Tolkien via a D&D campaign.

The images in the comic are all screencaps from the Lord of the Rings movies, with word balloons showing what the RPG players are saying. (If that description doesn't make sense, just click the link below to see it in action.) It's a fun and entertaining idea, and pretty well-executed.

The first couple of installments proved popular, so he expanded his original idea, and ended up doing 140-plus installments over the next year, covering all three movies. The result is the epic story known as DM of the Rings. Good stuff; well worth reading if you like tabletop roleplaying, as long as you don't mind someone poking fun at Lord of the Rings. Most strips include a note at the end commenting on some common feature of roleplaying games (and especially of annoying player behavior) that's illustrated by that strip.

At some point, Young noted that he was surprised nobody else had picked up the idea and format and used it for some other movie.

Enter half a dozen Australians, the Comic Irregulars. Who decided to use the same treatment on all six Star Wars movies, in a webcomic called Darths & Droids.

They took a slightly different approach. In DM of the Rings, the DM is the sort who has a story that he wants to tell and railroads the players into experiencing the story, whether they like it or not. (One of the metacommentary notes says: "Players tend to stay on the rails better when you place obvious landmines on either side of the tracks.") In Darths & Droids, the GM is of a different school:

The comic takes place in an alternate universe, where Star Wars does not exist. The players don't know anything at all about Jedi, or Tatooine, or Anakin Skywalker before the game begins. The GM has some sort of storyline and setting details in mind, but not fully detailed. He creates the setting in response to what the players do. If the players make some (not patently ridiculous) assumption, or improvise something in order to explain what they're doing, then the GM adopts it and adds it to the setting.

One of the goals of the writers was to mess with readers' expectations of likability for the characters. So, for example, R2-D2 is played by an obnoxious minimaxing power gamer, and Jar-Jar is played by the imaginative and likable kid sister of one of the other players; Sally's spur-of-the-moment inventions end up driving a lot of the worldbuilding and plot.

Another fun thing about Darths & Droids is that even though every image is a screencap from the movies, usually in chronological order, much of the plot is quite different from the plot of the movies. For example, the characters end up going on a quest to find the Lost Orb of Phanastacoria.

The creators recently finished the first movie and have embarked on the second. At the end of the first (as I mentioned when I linked to the comic recently), they devoted a strip to showing a page of the GM's original notes about what he intended to happen in the story; that was particularly entertaining to read after seeing what had actually happened. (The page includes things like the other names he came up with before settling on "Jedi." The GM is not as good at coming up with names as he seems to think he is.)

One nice meta-aspect of the comic is that each strip comes with a plain-text transcript for visually impaired people. I gather that that's becoming more common in webcomics; I approve.

I've enjoyed most of the series so far, but the one that I found really amazing was the extravaganza they created for strip #50. In the text notes at the end of that strip, they reiterate that in the alternate universe that the players live in, Star Wars doesn't exist, and they elaborate on what side effects that lack has, with bits like "Throughout the 80s and 90s, all the greatest Hollywood blockbusters were big-budget family-oriented musicals." And then they note that in that universe, the Comic Irregulars exist "and are making a screencap comic based on Harry Potter." And they link to strip #50 of the Harry Potter screencap comic, titled Wands & Warts, which comes from the universe that the Darths & Droids players inhabit. (Strip #50, alas, is the only strip from that series that you can read in our universe.)

And at the end of that strip, the alternate-universe Comic Irregulars explain that in the universe of their fictional players, there's no such thing as Harry Potter. And in that universe, the Comic Irregulars are doing a screencap comic based on The Sound of Music, and there's a link to strip #50 of that comic, complete with notes on what pop culture is like without The Sound of Music.

And this goes on through two more levels of this alternate-universing.

It's an amazing tour de force, and I laughed and laughed. Each alternate-universe comic has its own FAQ page, and its own cast page, and my description is not doing justice to it; you really have to see it for yourself. But you'll enjoy it even more if you start with strip #1 of Darths & Droids and read through to #50 before you start looking at the alternate-universe versions.

Okay, enough about that. Like most webcomics I've seen, Darths & Droids posts new installments three times a week, but unlike most, it updates on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Good stuff, well worth reading.

4 Responses to “Darths and Droids”

  1. cj

    These are awesome! I haven’t laughed this hard…I can’t tell you when! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  2. Aliette de Bodard

    This is too funny–thanks for sharing!

  3. JeffH

    It’s worth noting on all the different levels of the alt-universes while they only have the one actual comic, if you click on the Archive link you get titles for the previous episodes. So for example in the Sound of Music one you have “Note 1: The Hills are Alive” followed by “Note 2: We Attack the Hills!”

  4. brainwane

    The creators of Darths & Droids have now added *additional levels* to that amazing strip # 50.

    Thanks for this blog post — I’m now working my way through Darths & Droids with my mouth agape or my knees slapped.


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