I recently came to the conclusion that online forums are like RPG dungeons. You gotta fight through the trolls and muck to find treasures of insight. One day I found some guy hawking his book titled King of RPGs. One diplomacy roll later, I found myself 20 copper pieces poorer with said book in my inventory.
First off, I must commend the authors for picking a great sounding title. King of RPGs is the perfect combination of serious and silly while still feeling dramatic and cool. What you actually get when you buy the thing is a “manga” about “RPGs.” When I say “RPGs” I mean tabletop Role Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons (or Pathfinder, GURPS, and Hackmaster) and not a MMORPG like World of Warcraft. When I say “manga” I meant done in manga style instead of being created by a Japanese person. Honestly, it doesn’t strike me as manga, but when you get published by Del Ray, I guess you count. It seems that the author Jason Thompson also wrote Manga: The Complete Guide. I guess that provides a skill synergy bonus.
If you’re curious, a tabletop RPG is quite different from an MMORPG. It’s like a raid when a group of people agree to meet in the same time and place. However, the norm is that the group assembles in the same physical area and not just on the same website or server. They all play together, usually on a table (hence, tabletop). The game is run by a person called a Dungeon Master (or a DM) who controls all the NPCs, monsters, and the entire world the Player Characters (or PCs) adventure in. The DM has the ability to customize the game and improvise as the situation demands. Playing a tabletop RPG utilizes books, paper, pens, cards, more books, maps, miniatures, markers, counters, even more books and a place to put them all. Above all, the two most important things are a powerful imagination and the ability to play well with a group.
Second, I must commend the author for having lots of ranks in Knowledge (Gaming) and Knowledge (Anime). I get the feeling that I’m missing half of all the references and in jokes that have been crammed in there. I do recognize all the gaming character arch types. There’s a rules lawyer, the business man, the person who’s way into the story, the writer wanna be, and even an otaku. By the way, his name is Mike and he would make a nice audience surrogate for those of you who know the differences between moe and mecha. The author really does know gaming culture.
I do have a problem with the general tone of the work though. It seems that everyone is either a sociopath or a giant jerk (The author really does know gaming). The “protagonist” has an “Ichigo” style evil alter ego that regularly posses him and the Dungeon Master has a “Kira” complex. The author wanted to make a “demented dark comedy adventure” and he got the dark part right. However, the story is not about amoral asinine agents. (Admittedly, agents isn’t the best word to use but RPG writing demands the use of alteration whenever possible!)
Amazingly enough, almost everyone is developed well enough to explain their motivations (and those who haven’t been developed will most likely be developed later). Even the main villain of the first book is sympathetic to some degree (some light spoilers ahead). He does rip people off and cheat during games but he does that in order to claw his way out of teenage homelessness into college. Heck, the only reason he has a vendetta against the “protagonist” is due to the fact that said protagonist stole his car and wrecked all of his stuff! If someone did that to me, I would have a vendetta against them too! (end of spoilers)
I also have issues with the art. I rate it as functional. It does the job but sometimes it seems like it just needed more time to be refined. Recently, it occurred to me that the occasional sloppiness may be completely intentional. The art style is much better when it’s being used to depict a game world. All the weak art occur when the story is in the real world. Since King of RPGs is all about gaming, it would make sense to focus on making the game world cool looking and the real world lame looking. I assume that was completely intentional instead of accidental.
I disagree with the comedy description as well. The “dark” and “funny” combination feels like what you get when you go wizard 10/cleric 10 in 3.5 (In case you don’t know, that’s a bad combination). For Gygax’s sake, one character literally says, “Please. I’ve mopped this floor enough, I know how not to leave bloodstains.” It can be a bit hard to laugh when you realize just how brutal life can be for the characters. I only laughed three times throughout the two books that have been put out so far. Then again, when I laughed, I LAUGHED! The joke was so good I stopped reading and just straight out laughed for a minute. I was laughing so hard I was overcome by how funny it was. I found those moments to be unbelievably funny. I’ll admit that the story is proficient in comedy.
There may be a lot of things about it that I am criticizing but I don’t want you to think that’s a bad book. King of RPGs is a story that will grab you by the D20s and not let go! There’s more dramatic showdowns then you can fit into a giant floating fortress of doom! However, I’m not sure I can recommend that you buy it. Quality isn’t the issue here. I wouldn’t recommend it to you in the same way I wouldn’t recommend Final Fantasy VIII to most people. It’s good stuff but I know it won’t be suited for everyone’s taste. Tell you what; roll a D20 and buy the book if the result is 16 or higher. Add +2 to your roll if you understood all the gaming references I made, another +2 if you have no problems with “dark” stories, and one more +2 if reading this article made you curious about King of RPGs. On a personal note, I will totally buy the third book if it is about the edition wars (it’s as heated as the sub versus dub debates in anime). As much as I hate to admit it, what drives King of RPGs (and RPGs in general) most is conflict.