Thought we abandoned that storyline, didn’t you? Well think again! Snowflake has not forgotten her vendetta against Elf Princess, and neither have we! I have no doubt that Lumberjack Explosion is just off panel in the palace’s taxi queue, mouth hanging agape in shock and horror. Dude shouldn’t be too surprised though. Nothing is sacred in gaming.

We touched on this in “Dignified” and more recently in “Edgy.” The takeaway in those comics is that maintaining a consistent tone is hard, and that it takes a dedicated table to make serious-face moments work. However, as much as I identify with Wizard in terms of scenery chewing, I also write a goofy joke-a-day style RPG webcomic. Some of my favorite moments around the gaming table are all about pop culture references, inappropriate one-liners, and fourth wall-breaking banter. And that means building characters than can withstand a little buffoonery.

The problem is the basic power fantasy. On some level we all want to be Batman, with his tragic backstory and no-nonsense demeanor. But every once in a while (about 5% of the time actually) the dice disagree. That means your badass power fantasy protagonist will biff his attack, fail to impress the princess, or fall flat on his ass when it’s time to leap heroically away from the explosion. Happily, there is another way.

As a point of comparison, I present to you my personal action hero. Just look at that pretty floral bonnet! That snappy one-liner! That patently ridiculous situation! Captain Mal can withstand getting sassed, disrespected, and made to look the fool. And that’s because the character is strong enough to survive the comedy. He may seem silly in the moment, but when the tone shifts back to drama, he’s able to transform into a serious-face action hero.

As Elf Princess is discovering today, it’s impossible to survive a campaign with your dignity fully intact. If there’s a randomizer involved, then you’re going to look like a dork at least some of the time. And for my money, it’s better to plan for that eventuality than to roll up yet another standoffish, cold-blooded lone wolf. That dude might feel like a badass, but he’s actually pretty weak against pie-in-the-face attacks.

So for today’s discussion question, what do you say we dive into the waters of pop culture? Let’s see if we can’t find a few other characters that can pull off the same trick as Captain Mal. Here are you instructions: Nominate one of your favorite protagonists, then tell me how they would react to an embarrassing situation. All clear? Then see you down in the comments!


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