Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons: A Review of Chapter 1

Rick and Morty, the cartoon inspired by Doc Brown and Marty McFly's relationship from the movie Back to the Future, has taken sci-fi comedic nihilism to new highs and lows. The Starter Set, in which the dungeon master plays Rick DMing a Dungeons & Dragons session for his family, has its roots in Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons, a comic series that firmly positions the fantasy tabletop game in the Rickiverse. The first chapter, divided into three parts, is a surprisingly nuanced conversation about what it means to play D&D and makes some barbed commentary about different play styles that will certainly resonate with gamers. Please note that this review contains spoilers!

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First and Second Edition

Anyone familiar with Rick Sanchez's dimension-hopping capabilities knows that "playing" D&D can be approached from an infinite number of ways. The first chapter takes three different approaches, beginning with a virtual reality game hacked from Roy: A Life Well Lived in the Blips and Chitz arcade (it first featured in "Mortynight Run").

The reason they get involved in D&D at all? Because Morty wants to impress a girl he met at a hobby shop. This news is very well-received by Rick. It will be a surprise to no one that Rick is also an old school DM:
RICK: Morty, I'm OG! I'm down with DMG! I was dungeoning the dragons before the red box!
What commences is a harsh introduction to First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Rick calls up his old buddies and they drag Morty along on an adventure. It does not go well:
MORTY: I died SEVEN TIMES, Rick! SEVEN! You all got levels and magic items and junk! I had a ten-foot pole and 15% chance to pick someone's POCKET!
Despite Morty's misgivings, Rick declares that Morty has in fact passed the test:
RICK: You're RIGHT, old school D&D was BALLS. I just wanted to make sure you were ready for the REAL DEAL.
And that's how Morty and Rick end up in a virtual reality simulation of Greyhawk (using Second Edition rules). Rick plays Alkazaar the Magnificent, a 36th level wizard. Marty plays a paladin. Things go bad to worse when one of the Blitz and Chits workers unplugs them from the machine. Eventually, Rick and Morty get dumped back into their home reality and are resurrected by a Cthulhu-like janitor named Gary. It's complicated.

Third Edition

Rick decides to drag the whole family into the game this time after his granddaughter Summer and daughter Beth both decide they want to play. Instead of a virtual simulation that takes place in the player's mind, Rick makes a hard-light simulation complex. It took him four months to create.

This go round, Rick is still a wizard, Beth is a fighter, Summer is a thief named Winterblade, and Marty takes on the cleric role. Rick makes it VERY clear he hates bards (he made that super clear in the first issue, but he reiterates it here after Marty considers taking the class). They hack and slash their way to glory which is entertaining ... for a little while, until everyone realizes that it's just endless fighting and that Rick's wizard is absurdly overpowered compared to the rest of the party. When they abandon Rick, he proceeds to solo the rest of the dungeon (including the first dracolich I've ever felt sorry for, who responds to Rick's rampage with "excuse me?" before being instantly obliterated). There is a sad moment where Rick, having beaten everything in the dungeon, echoes Conan the King ... slumped alone on his throne and looking bored.

It all comes to an end when Morty does something bard-like, which causes the whole simulation to break down. Also, Jerry's involved.

Fourth Edition
MORTY: Hold on, we did D&D first, second and third edition, what happened to fourth?
RICK: We don't talk about Fourth...
MORTY: But...
RICK: We DON'T talk. About. Fourth.
Fifth Edition

After Morty invokes his right to choose every tenth adventure, he demands Rick take the whole family along (including his dad Jerry). What ensues is an homage to the D&D cartoon that takes place in the Forgotten Realms. It comes complete with a Dungeon Master who shifts between little red-robed character from the cartoon and Chris Perkins, among other celebrity DMs. The Dungeon Master immediately goes to work leveling the playing field. This isn't the first time magic has taken Rick by surprise--he had a similar issue in the animated episode, "Claw and Order," but was able to overcome it with typical Rick ingenuity. Not so in this case, he ends up in a ironic twist as Gee-Whilickers Petalbutt, a 4th level gnome bard.

This go round, Summer is Ari Strongbow, a 6th-level half-elf ranger; Beth is Lyan Amaranthia, a 6th-level wood elf cleric; and Jerry plays Kiir Bravian, a 6th-level half-elf abjuration wizard. Morty returns to play a rogue, 6th-level half orc Keth Silverson.

Although the series frequently follows Rick and Morty's adventures, it's worth pausing to reflect on Jerry's role in the family. As Beth's sometimes husband (depending on the dimension), Jerry is everything Rick is not: meek, cowardly, and not very effective. And yet he has a very strong moral compass that is frequently overshadowed by his incompetence. Not here; in D&D, Jerry is Rick's equal and veteran writers Jim Zub and Patrick Rothfuss use the balance as an opportunity comment on why people play D&D. They use Jerry to share what makes D&D great:
JERRY: Well ... Rick is a power gamer. He plays D&D like it's a math problem, like it's a race he's trying to win. Me? I don't need to be the smartest wizard. I'd rather play someone brave, clever and charming. Someone interesting ... someone who always knows the right thing to do. That's the beauty of D&D. Sometimes it's nice to pretend you're someone different for a little while...
At one point Rick berates Beth for incorporating a prophecy into her backstory. The Dungeon Master's response:
DUNGEON MASTER: Rick, after all these years, you still don't understand. I am a scaffolding you build upon. I am the shape that gives your story form. I am the wind upon the water ... I can be calm, or cruel as any storm. You are the boats upon the waves. You rig your sails, you ride the swell ... you take the tiller with the tale you tell, the tack or tactics are all yours to choose ... I make the game, it's YOURS to win or lose.
After asking what everyone really wants, the the Dungeon Master sends the adventurers go on a quest to save a little girl. There are several twists in the story, but the plot is really about the Jerry vs. Rick dynamic:
JERRY: Morty, Rick's NEVER been cool. Don't get me wrong: He LOOKS cool. All the time. But he's not. He's just able to do cool things. Big difference. You've got eyes, look at him ... there he is, same as always. Snarky, bitter, self-centered as a gyroscope. If you take away what he can do, you see what he is. And it isn't pretty. The thing is, bards are great these days. He COULD fight. He even has SPELLS ... he's just not interested in helping. Never has been. He's only interested in amusing himself. He could feed people, cure cancer. But he doesn't. He makes death rays and gets high. Right now, I'm not cool. I can just do magic ... The difference between me and Rick isn't that he's cool and I'm not. It's that I'm not good at caring FOR people, but Rick, he isn't good at caring ABOUT them.
This dialogue feels like a response to the toxic elements of Rick and Morty fandom that views Rick as a role model, but it's also railing against the types of players who embody Rick's style of play, the chaotic neutral jerk.

It's clear that the authors have much love for D&D but are clear-eyed enough to see that the game--and its fans--have changed over time. That nostalgia elevates the Rick and Morty comic to a worthy addition on any gamer's shelf.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
TLDR - If you love D&D more than Rick and Morty you'll enjoy this comic a ton. If you are an R&M purist you may wish to look elsewhere, but you'll miss some great D&D moments.

* **

Having read through, I saw it as a love letter to D&D with a casual side of Rick and Morty. I felt it violates basic tenets of R&M in its narrative arc (can't say more with spoilers, but some of it is described in the article). Plenty of great D&D moments and illustrations but R&M fans may be disappointed that the authors choose to nakedly moralize using R&M's characters. This is something that R&M does in its own, unique, and often unpleasant way; it is a shame that this story doesn't follow a more subtle path.

But mostly Rick's head is slightly wider than it should be and I just couldn't see past that =)
 
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Iry

Adventurer
It's definitely an entertaining comic and worth the time to read. Don't go in expecting perfection - it starts off ham fisted with how much everyone loves D&D, the humor is not as morbid as Rick & Morty usually are, and it messes up many spells (like Jerry casting Shield and Arcane Ward on someone else). But if you put aside these quibbles, then there are some great Rick & Morty style humor moments, and plenty of jokes about D&D both past and current.
 

jayoungr

Hero
it messes up many spells (like Jerry casting Shield and Arcane Ward on someone else).
An abjuration wizard can effectively cast Arcane Ward on someone else at 6th level, which Jerry is, according to the summary. (It's under "Projected Ward" in the subclass features.)

About shield, though, I got nothin'.
 

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
They got the voice of most of the characters on pretty well. There's a bit of a "a wizard did it" with Jerry's behaviors, but I guess DMs are wizards, no?
 

Zarithar

Explorer
I thought it was wonderful. I picked it up with low expectations and instead found a love letter and homage to the history of D&D from its roots to 5e. Some of the Easter eggs are amazing.
 
An abjuration wizard can effectively cast Arcane Ward on someone else at 6th level, which Jerry is, according to the summary. (It's under "Projected Ward" in the subclass features.)

About shield, though, I got nothin'.
I've seen real life DMs and players make bigger mistakes.

Also, two reactions in one turn. ;)

Adding "cast at level34, shield gains a range of 60' and targets a creature" isn't an insane modification. ;)
 

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