There’s a new D&D-inspired comic called Die, and you should read it
Do you remember the 1980s Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, the one where a bunch of kids went on a D&D fairground ride which magically transported them into a D&D fantasy world? (Didn’t happen at my local fair, I tell you.) They became characters in the game: a boy barbarian, the hunky teenage ranger, the nerdy wizard… It looked like fun. But those kids, they never found a way out. Every episode for three seasons they searched to no avail, and then the series abruptly ended, incomplete. They were trapped. It’s like someone locked the Narnia cupboard. The kids were never seen again. What happened to them?
(The final episode of the Dungeons & Dragons TV show was written, incidentally, but never filmed. You can read it online. I shan’t spoil it!)
‘What happened to them?’ It bounced around Kieron Gillen’s head one night at dinner. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. He used to write about video games – on Eurogamer even! Then he co-founded Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and then he became an acclaimed writer in the comic world, working for Marvel before co-creating his excellent The Wicked + The Divine series. It was the fate of the D&D kids Gillen was wondering about when suddenly an idea hit him and he apparently burst into tears. And lo, his new comic series, Die, was born.
Die has only just begun, really: issue four arrives next week, 6th March. I’ve only read one and two because my local shop sold out of three – you don’t care – but I’m hooked. As a game player, it’s irresistible. Die is about games. It’s about a bunch of teenage kids playing a pen-and-paper RPG and then, um, oh golly, something happens, which you can probably guess at but I don’t want to spoil.
It’s like the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, only pulled apart and remade into something new, something bold and fresh and oh so cool – the art by Stephanie Hans is delicious. As though someone, probably like you, sat there and thought wouldn’t it be cool if we spun this RPG trope on its head. Wouldn’t it be cool if a boring bard could do this.
Like… the Dictator. There’s actually a class called a Dictator, and it elicits emotions in people like a musician or performer would in real life. Gillen took that idea and dialled it up a fantasy notch. “Dictators are like Bards,” he explained at the back of Die issue two – “if everyone was fucking petrified of Bards.” I mean, who wouldn’t want to play as one?
Or there’s the Grief Knight, a spin on a paladin, which uses emotions for power; or the Godbinder, a spin on a cleric, which doesn’t so much ask gods for favours as demand them. All the characters are new takes on what has become rote, and it’s so refreshing. When you see what their powers can do, you’ll yearn to play as them.
And you will – you will get a chance to play as them. Gillen fell so far down the research hole he ended up actually writing a Die RPG – the same one the kids play in the comic. He’s going to release it alongside the first Die collection, which arrives 5th June.
It’s the creation of the Die RPG and the Die comic – the two are naturally intertwined – Gillen writes about at the back of each issue. The anecdote about him bursting into tears in the restaurant comes from there, as does knowing the lost D&D kids provided the inspiration. In this way, Die is doubly fascinating. Not only is it a sexy new comic in its own right, perfectly aimed at players of games, but it’s a fascinating deconstruction of D&D and the myriad things it influenced too. I’m only on issue two and Gillen has veered onto the meaning of dice themselves. It’s great.
It’s just the beginning. This is just the opening gambit. But if the rest of Die can live up to the promise laid out here, it could be something special indeed. I am hungry for more.