There's a RPG-Themed Episode in (Nearly) Every Cartoon Now
  • There's a RPG-Themed Episode in (Nearly) Every Cartoon Now


    We've known tabletop role-playing games have been on the rise and that professional creatives like actors and writers have been publicly embracing their inner geek recently. For more evidence, look no further than the many tabletop role-playing game episodes featuring in cartoons for kids and adults, some of them released the same week. These call-outs have shifted from simple RPG references to major plot points that reinforce the value of imagination, teamwork and fun in role-playing games.



    Tabletop RPGs have a long history with animation, with perhaps the most well-known being a guest appearance by co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax, as himself in the Futurama episode, "Anthology of Interest I." But since then cartoons have been sprinkling references to role-playing games (D&D or variants thereof) in many popular cartoons as both a plot device or a pop culture allusion. In fact, there are so many references these days that the Internet can't keep up. For reference, see Wikipedia's page on D&D in Popular Culture and TVTropes RPG Episode page. They're both already out of date.

    My Little Pony

    We previously discussed My Little Pony, which debuted its own variant of D&D called Oubliettes & Ogres (or sometimes, Ogres & Oubliettes) in both the comic "Neigh Anything" and the animated cartoon in "Dungeons & Discords." The crossover of the two franchises is notable because D&D and My Little Pony's parent company is Hasbro.


    Voltron: Legendary Defender

    In "Monsters & Mana," the Paladins get together to play a tabletop role-playing game. By the end of the episode, leader Shiro realizes the game makes for an excellent battle simulator for teams, explaining that it "requires problem-solving, teamwork, creativity, all the skills you'd want to imbue when doing team-building exercises!"


    Teen Titans Go!

    The Teen Titans get sucked into a session of D&D in "Riding the Dragon." The game is DMed by Robin who demands the players adhere to his plot. They don't of course. Instead of slaying the dragon, they want to ride it. A power struggle ensues until the dragon himself gets involved and declares that if the players just want to have fun using their imagination (like riding a dragon), then that's okay too.


    She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

    In "Roll With It," the Rebels prepare to retake a Horde-controlled fortress and use a tabletop role-playing game to run through a variety of scenarios. It quickly devolves into each player recasting themselves as a hero with unrealistic expectations on how the assault would play out. Bow, who created the game pieces, grumbles throughout about not having the right miniatures to represent all the monsters and PCs. Ironically, rumors of a She-Ra role-playing game were launched on Twitter before being revealed as an April Fools' Day hoax.


    Star vs. the Forces of Evil

    In a blink and you'll miss it moment, Marco returns to Earth after a long absence in the magical world of Mewni in "Britta's Tacos." He reunites with his geeky D&D friends at the popular taco restaurant. To Marco's surprise, he discovers that his old friends now hang out with a diverse group that includes women and people of color. "Oh, being a nerd has gotten super cool since you left!" declares Marco's nerdy friend Alfonzo.


    American Dad

    In "Fantasy Baseball," Steve's DM skills make him a hit with his a friends but a dud with his father, Stan. Stan much prefers baseball, so makes a baseball-themed RPG to connect with his dad. That doesn't work either. Through a series of hilarious circumstances, Steve ends up becoming an umpire for professional baseball and quickly ascends through the ranks, applying his DM experience to adjudicating rules as an umpire. It goes predictably south after that, but the episode adeptly illustrates how fans of sports statistics are not that different from fans of fantasy tabletop games. Incidentally, there really was a baseball tabletop simulator known as the Strat-o-matic and its use of a 20-sided die to determine results predated D&D by several years.


    The Amazing World of Gumball

    In The Amazing World of Gumball, patriarch of the blended cat/rabbit family Richard decides the only way to get his family to stop squabbling is to have them play Dungeons & Dragons in an episode titled "The Master." The characters keep trying to kill each other so Richard uses DM fiat to force the plot along -- first they're swallowed by an owlbear and later magically teleported to the boss monster, a shapeshifting tarrasque. The episode is notable in that it shows how role-playing creates teamwork, if only because the players learn to work together to defeat the DM's monsters.

    How this media saturation will affect the brand of D&D and role-playing games is anybody's guess, but judging by the ubiquity of RPG-themed episodes across a wide range of cartoons for kids and adults, boys and girls, it can only be a net positive for future generations of tabletop gamers.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. LabyrinthLord718's Avatar
      LabyrinthLord718 -
      For the record, Strat-O-Matic is still well supported in Brooklyn and even has tournaments! You can learn more about it at the Brooklyn Strategist. (I don't play Strat-O-Matic)
    1. EthanSental's Avatar
      EthanSental -
      I’ll have to watch a few of these episodes and check out the list, thanks! First on the list is Teen Titans Go!
    1. Vexorg's Avatar
      Vexorg -
      The nickelodeon Teenage Mutant ninja turtles also had an episode. #41, "Mazes & Mutants"
    1. cmad1977's Avatar
      cmad1977 -
      Gumball is a weirdly smart show. I’ll have to watch that episode
    1. Immortal Sun's Avatar
      Immortal Sun -
      And of the ones that are more than just momentary blips in the episode, they do teach some good lessons on how to handle DM-player interactions.
    1. Unikore's Avatar
      Unikore -
      Speaking of My Little Pony and D&D... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_yjWbguXW4
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