Thursday, May 12, 2016

Review: Rat Queens Volume One ('Sass and Sorcery')

One of the interesting things about tabletop gaming is the way that it transforms the material that informs it. That is to say, the clear inspiration for fantasy RPGs (lawsuits and denials aside) is 'Lord of the Rings' and its successors. It is intended to create epic fantasies in which noble and stalwart heroes from a curated variety of races quest for the means to defeat a major, world-shattering tyrant in glorious, dramatic fashion...

But in practical terms, this "epic" is being interpreted by regular human beings with puckish imaginations and wild improvisational skills, resulting in battles where the villain is defeated by a horde of zombie chickens or the cave troll is repelled by the newly-researched spell "Bigby's Fist of Forcible Intrusion". Half the fun of gaming is warping and perverting (in the non-sexual sense of the word...usually...) the tropes of high fantasy into something more like what actual people would do in a fantasy world.

All of which is by way of saying that 'Rat Queens', the comic by Kurtis J. Wiebe, manages to capture the spirit of fantasy as it's practiced on the tables of the world far better than just about any of the fantasy novels that inspire said campaigns. The heroes aren't noble, wise, honorable warriors--they're debauched, selfish, vengeful, and mostly in it for the cash and the glory. They bicker, they plot petty revenge, they pack field rations that are entirely hallucinogenic drugs and candy, and they treat magical healing as a convenience rather than a gift from any god. (One of the best running jokes in the series is that the cleric is an atheist.)

All of this makes it sound like the protagonists of 'Rat Queens' would be unpleasant to spend any length of time with, but Wiebe is smart enough to realize that style and charm make up for morality any day. So Betty, the halfling thief, is loopily adorable, and Hannah the necromancer is smart and sexy, and Dee the cleric presents an interesting and thoughtful analysis of what atheism means in a world where the gods are real and present gifts of power to their worshipers. And Violet, as a dwarf who shaved her beard to present the face that she saw in her mind every time she looked in the mirror, is a welcome and meaningful representation of a group traditionally marginalized in fantasy stories.

Basically, 'Rat Queens' is a gloriously absurd, amoral, glamorous look at fantasy on the sharp end. It's about real people doing not so much the right thing as the thing that seems right at the time, and it's a whole lot of fun. I'll be picking up Volume Two as soon as I can.


Michael Healy said...

That's some unfortunate timing. I don't know if you're aware or not but the artist of that volume, Roc Upchurch, was arrested for domestic abuse. He was replaced for a time by Tess Fowler who last night revealed that she's being pushed off the book for Upchurch to come back.

All in all an unpleasant situation.

John Seavey said...

Eeg. I'd heard Fowler was being pushed off the book, but I didn't hear that it was in favor of Upchurch to return. That's pretty damn awful.

Bael said...

Did you ever try the John Rogers D&D comic? Not as NSFW as Rat Queens, but very much game play influenced.