In its long, storied existence, ‘Dragon Magazine’ really did a lot to create “gaming humor” as a legitimate subgenre. Think of all the great tabletop gaming comics out there, from ‘Yamara’ to ‘What’s New With Phil and Dixie’ to ‘Dork Tower’ to ‘Knights of the Dinner Table’, and odds are they showed up in ‘Dragon’ at least once. A lot of online comics like ‘Order of the Stick’ wouldn’t be around if not for pioneering strips that said, “Yes. Fantasy is weird and people rolling dice to make it up is even weirder. But isn’t it awesome?”
‘Nodwick’, which also has its roots in ‘Dragon Magazine’, is a comic not so much about the tropes of gaming as about the tropes of the kind of fantasy universe you’d get if the rules of physics were supplanted by the rules of gaming. The heroes are a band of not-too-bright, not-too-heroic adventurers who are more interested in killing monsters and getting swag than in actually doing the right thing. They have one truly good person, the team cleric, but even she has her little blind spots…namely, her belief that healing magic and resurrection spells make it not such a big deal when the group’s fetch-and-carry-and-walking-trap-detector henchman, Nodwick, gets badly mauled on account of being the only person who isn’t an adventurer.
Mind you, he’s also the only person with a drop of common sense, which is where the humor comes in. Nodwick frequently saves the day by being the one who spots the intelligent, easy solution that nobody comes up with because they’re all too busy being fantasy heroes and trying to find the official, genre-sanctioned solution. And even when he can’t get out of the obvious and terrible fate awaiting him (thank goodness for magical healing duct tape!) he acts as a Greek chorus, commenting on the absurdity of the way fantasy tropes work.
But the sneaky thing about ‘Nodwick’ is the way that Aaron Williams slides an actual story into things, right under your nose. Silly villains like the exiled god Baphuma’al eventually become serious antagonists, goofy MacGuffins like Piffany’s first kiss become important plot points, and the whole thing builds to a surprisingly epic finale. Williams is a master at this kind of backdoor worldbuilding (see his superhero comic, ‘PS238’, for another example), and you’re so busy laughing that you don’t even see it coming. When he gives unlimited cosmic power to a hamster who’s also the President-for-Life of the Henchman’s Guild, that’s funny. When said hamster becomes instrumental to the final battle between Good and Evil for the sake of the universe, that is freaking METAL.
I don’t want to get too much into detail about ‘Nodwick’, because the best par of humor is experiencing it for yourself for the first time, so…just take my word for it. ‘Nodwick’ is funny. And it’s also good.