Friday, October 24, 2014

Fandom Classics Part 78: Roll for Initiative

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

When did "roll for initiative" become a catchphrase, anyway?  You've got to roll for surprise before you can roll for initiative in most situations; wouldn't "roll for surprise" be more apropos?  Unless this is one of those post-1st ed things.  Do you even have to roll for surprise anymore?  I'm going to be annoyed and grumpy if the answer is "no."

That said, I can't fault an author for what phrases do and don't enter the tabletop lexicon.  My review of Prak's Roll for Initiative, after the break.


Impressions before reading:  Well, I like D&D, I like ponies, and I like comedy... but my experiences at the gaming table (for the first) and online (for the last two) have shown me that all three can be easily perverted into something horrible, and even if that's not the case, this could easily end up being one of the great number of "ponies doing a thing people do... that's the joke, get it?" stories which litter FiMFiction.  That all said, I've still got high hopes for his one going in based on the fact that, inherently, I like everything this story purports to be.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight runs the local Ponyville D&D group, in which the main six (and one new member) try to save the day via fortuitous 20s, among other things.

Thoughts after reading:  The thing this story does really well, and which kept me entertained throughout, was parodying the way people play D&D (or any similar game, really) in a humorous yet accessible manner.  The foibles highlighted are spot-on, and their presentation both fits within the context of an Equestrian game, and don't require a hyper-detailed knowledge of games or gamers to appreciate.  In addition to, you know, being consistently funny.

Where this did all run aground, though, was in the characterizations.  An early joke is made of Dash running through characters at an absurd rate, for example, and when she dies in a trap, we get: "The group soon passed the arrow trap and hopped across the spike pit, not even bothering to spare a glance downward at the carcass of their short-lived rogue.  After all, there was no way to recover her gear from the pit."  Funny (and true) enough of a general group, but even knowing this isn't the first time Dash has done this, it still feels like a missed opportunity to do more than make a joke about player callousness.  This kind of characterization-subsuming occurs several more times throughout the story.

Combat is another weak point.  Fights are often presented in list-summary fashion, with several paragraphs of "character did this, then monster did this.  Character got hit, but killed a monster.  Then character cast a spell, and this happened," and so on.  The result was that, any time the party got into combat, the (story) action ground to a halt.

On the other hand, though, there's a pleasantly light-comic touch to much of the rest of the story, and when the ponies aren't being briefly sidetracked into gamer jokes, they play off of each other well.  Twilight I found I could particularly relate to (as a foreverDM myself), and Prak works in a lot of small touches that lend a pleasant air of realism to everypony's interactions within the main group without sacrificing humor at the alter of verisimilitude.  And when the new member shows up (about halfway through the story, at which point it abruptly but not unpleasantly becomes much more plot-driven), she is over-the-top enough to stand out from the group, in a positive way.

In a bit of a departure from the earlier comedy-driven narrative, the story ends on a very "lesson of the week" note.  Without getting into the details, it was kind of hokey, but in a way I found appropriate to both the story, and the setting (FiM), rather than mood-breaking.  I imagine that shift won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I didn't have a problem with it.

Star rating:


There's a lot here to like, for both D&D players and those who have only a passing familiarity with role-playing games.  There are regular places where the story looses its breezy charm for a bit, but while this is a disappointment, they're rarely more than a few paragraphs at a stretch.

Recommendation:  Readers looking for some goofy but not random comedy, especially those with an appreciation for pen-and-paper RPGs, will almost certainly enjoy this.  Those particularly sensitive to plodding blow-by-blow combat descriptions may be put off by what they find here, though.

Next time:  Rainbooms and Royalty, by Trinary

13 comments:

  1. Prediction for "Rainbooms and Royalty": 1/5 because I couldn't make it past the first chapter, which ends with "Soon sister…soon."

    ReplyDelete
  2. If I remember correctly, 3e sorta had you roll for surprise, but in the form of a Spot check. I'd imagine later editions work similarly

    ReplyDelete
  3. There's isn't a generic 'roll for surprise' anymore. You might be asked to make spot/listen checks to be aware of a threat, but the mainstay of 3rd edition (let us not speak of the evil that dwells thereafter) was that you were 'flat footed' until you had acted. Generally, though, you're either surprised or your're not.

    Flat Footed: A character who has not yet acted during a combat is flat-footed, not yet reacting normally to the situation. A flat-footed character loses his Dexterity bonus to AC (if any) and cannot make attacks of opportunity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I instinctively dislike it because it's different from what I know. Rolling opposing d6s and consulting a table to see who, if anyone, is surprised (and for how many rounds) is just how things are done 'round these parts!

      Delete
  4. I'm surprised this is considered a "classic", since it just came out this year. Can't argue with the review, though. :D This is the second really great "ponies play D&D" story (the other being Ponies Play D&D) I've read!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So by second, you mean last, right? :P

      Delete
    2. No, the last shall be my ponification of The Magician's Ring :p

      Delete
    3. OK, now I feel really stupid. Somehow I didn't notice you already used a similar emoticon. Seppuku's the standard response, right?

      Delete
  5. Any proper D&D story would not be complete without mentioning Friendship is Dragons (Link below, if I can get it to copy).
    http://friendshipisdragons.thecomicseries.com/comics/first/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure, I'll third. I've gotta admit, though, I hope we're actually getting away from the Rarity stuff for a while; I was every bit as apathetic towards her little political/rogue drama as Dash's player was (incidentally, tl;dr notes for players who'd rather just roll dice and go play pool for half an hour when the talking starts is the best bad idea I've ever heard!). I started having flashbacks to Darths and Droids (from about episode 2 on, anyway); checking the link each day full of hope, only to realize, "oh, we're not going to make a joke today, either."

      Delete
  6. At the risk of being biased, I rather liked the upcoming story. It had some rough bits but the premise was very interesting. It also opened up into its own expanded AU that has some fun twists with the show's chronology.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think this story is on my RIL list. I'll have to check it out soon.

    ReplyDelete