Monday, August 13, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 92: Ponies Play D&D

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Funny story: my parents actually met playing D&D (well, it was AD&D at the time, and even that was brand-spankin'-new): Dad played a variety of different classes and races, while Mom mostly stuck to half-orc fighters.  So I grew up on what's these days often referred to as 1e, and have intermittently DMed it ever since, in addition to playing a variety of pen-and-paper RPGs.  Maybe it's just the nostalgia goggles talking, but for my money none of the newer versions, or various iterations, can hold a candle to the set so Gygaxian, it was actually written by Gary Gygax.

Though to be fair, the table for weapon bonuses and penalties vs. various ACs was always kind of ridiculous.

Anyway, my review of Ponies Play D&D, by Lucres, after the break.

Impressions before reading:  I've read these all before, and gotten a real kick out of them (though my mind has never really adjusted to the idea that any class and race combination is acceptable in later editions.  Whoever heard of a halfling cleric?).  One thing I'll be interested to see as I re-read is how accessible the stories are to non-gamers; something that wasn't a concern for me as a reader, but could be for others.  Also, I'll be reviewing the first and second stories together, but I'll leave the still-being-worked-on-at-a-glacial-pace-if-the-author-is-to-be-believed third story alone.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Tthe title sums it up as well as anything.  The show's protagonists all get together and play some Dungeons and Dragons.

Thoughts after reading:  To be honest, I don't have a lot to say about this story.  I suspect those who like it will love it, and those who don't will find it meme-heavy and unexceptional.  The question is, how does one determine which category they're likely to fall into?  The short answer is: it depends on your willingness to accept referential humor as a primary comedy engine.

Referential humor often gets a bad rap (and I've disparaged it on a number of occasions in previous reviews) because, in its base form, it's an extremely lazy and unsatisfying way to get a laugh.  However, that doesn't mean that all such humor is bad by definition.  It can be made to work given a few specific conditions: first, that it's not mood-breaking (this is why serious stories where Pinkie breaks the fourth wall generally fall flat: whether or not it's funny, it's out of place), and second, that there's more to the joke than just dropping a name or quote into the story haphazardly.  Although it's somewhat inconsistent, Ponies Play D&D usually manages to meet both these criteria, and as a result is generally quite funny.

The entire story is played firmly for laughs, right down to Applejack expressing confusion at the races in the thoroughly un-ponified game they're playing.  These laughs take two forms: first, mixing the ponies with classic gamer stereotypes.  Dash is the minmaxed fighter-type who sees the whole world as nothing but XP waiting to be harvested, Rarity is the japanophile role-player, etc.  While these characterizations will probably be funnier to gamers than to those who aren't veteran RPGers (if only because those characterizations are so hilariously accurate, based on my experiences), they are well-integrated with the show characterizations, and are likely to be amusing to most readers.  Indeed, this entire story does a good job of keeping its story- and character-based comedy accessible to all readers.

The references are more of a mixed bag, though.  Personally, I'm inclined to give a story with no higher aspirations than absurdity a pass when it throws a "secret but fun!" into the mix.  But at minimum, references should never detract from the reading experience for those unfamiliar with the shoutout.  While I did smile at a Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja reference (in middle school, I had a friend whose dad owned the game on an arcade machine.  We played it a lot), I suspect it will go right over a number of heads, and there's plenty of lines here that went over mine.  As a rule of thumb, if a reader can tell when they didn't get the joke, that's a bad thing.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

This is a consistently funny story, but in the end there's not much more to it than some amusing characterizations and a bunch of fan-jokes.  That said, I still like it a lot, and if amusing characterizations and fan jokes are your kind of thing, you probably will too.

Recommendation:  Those looking for some accessible and just-generic-enough-to-apply-to-most-fantasy-RPGs comedy would do well to check this out.  Those who are going to be put off by the occasional tone-deaf reference might want to look elsewhere, however.  But gamers should definitely check it out, if only to see which pony's role-playing style most reminds them of their own.

Next time: Pony Poetry Series, by Aquarian Poet

And just so you all know, I've either deleted or stopped myself from typing more than a half-dozen asides about how various ponies remind me of characters I or my friends have played, or how a certain characterization or even matched up to a game I was in.  You know what they say: it's easy to get a gamer to talk about his character.  The hard part is shutting him up again.


  1. Wait, where's the second story? <.< I remember that one even better because of the plot, believe it or not.

    So many things to talk about. I always hear from older gamers how they can't get into 3rd ed or higher, and I've never understood that, myself. But then, I started in 2nd ed, didn't like it, and immediately embraced 3rd when it came out shortly after. It's a case of, your game is stupidly complex, so you can either introduce people to gaming via what's current and easy to pick up, or watch as your culture slowly dies out due to your elitism. And I'll be damned if some people wouldn't actually prefer the latter.

  2. The third story definitely is still crawling along at a glacial pace, unless the author has stopped in the couple weeks since the most recent chapter. It's definitely taking ages to get out new chapters in the most recent one, but they're getting out.

  3. >...serious stories where Pinkie breaks the fourth wall generally fall flat: whether or not it's funny, it's out of place.
    Are there any of these you've found that you like? I gave it a shot once, and was pretty successful with it. i wouldn't mind reading other such ones if you thought they were worth it.

  4. Finally back from vacation, so I'll be catching up on your reviews. Not much to say about the review itself, as it seemed fair and I haven't read the story in awhile. I do feel the need to defend 3e, though. Not every race-class combo will work equally well. The designers didn't exclude certain combinations outright because they felt that was best left to the DM (though they did offer guidelines in the DMG which were very similar to 2e's restrictions). 3.5 did move in that direction, and tried to make all monster races acceptable where 3e only made them possible, though poor choices (as they should be). Much of the critiques grognards have about newer editions (such as the change in views on balance) are true of 3.5 and 4e, but I've seen 3e as continuing the essential AD&D spirit but with a more streamlined mechanic and general toolbox approach to the core rulebooks. I won't argue that the game's perfect. Diplomacy was an underdeveloped and broken mechanic, but so much of what grognards hate and these newer players love about the game (such as numbers replacing player skill) are built on misconceptions, mostly regarding the use of mere guidelines as hard-and-fast rules