I'm writing to ask for a third Dungeons & Dragons themed episode of Community.
For "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons", the tenth episode of the 5th (but not final) season of Community, the show revisited Dungeons & Dragons. Just like in the first episode, playing the tabletop RPG was used as a means to solve a problem. In this case the Save Greendale Committee used the game to try to restore the relationship between Professor Hickey and his D&D playing son Hank, played by David Cross. They are joined by other players Jeff, Britta, Annie, Shirley, Chang and Dean Pelton with Abed reprising his duties as the Dungeon Master. Over the course of an adventuring session the estranged father and son start to repair their relationship and the audience is left with the hope they will continue to do so. Who cares about that? We're here to talk about how Abed does as a DM.
If you read the breakdown of the first episode, you will know that Abed is not a "bad" DM, he just does a lot of things that I don't agree with. He repeats most of those habits the second time around, but they don't seem as terrible in the context of this episode. For instance, Abed creates the characters for all the players, but he does it so that Hickey and Hank's characters are father and son. Hank ruins this attempt at forcing them to work together by grabbing everyone's character sheets and redistributing them. Abed also announces what the goal of the adventure. Hank responds to this by saying "That's just what I love about roleplaying games is being told exactly what to do." It's almost like Matt Roller, the writer of this episode, is responding directly to some of the issues from the first D&D episode. Of course, no Abed ran campaign would be complete without him doing all the dice rolling, but even that wasn't awful for reasons that I will explain later.
After calling out Abed for telling them what the goal of the adventure is, Hank tries to discredit him further as a DM by asking if there is anything beyond the proposed quest. Abed responds by pulling out a giant three ring binder full of supplemental material that details the entire surrounding area. He even has information about the age and architecture of a bridge the party crosses. This level of detail is fantastic for a gaming session that is only being run as an excuse to unite a father and son.
Abed also has an excellent control of the game and the players throughout the adventure. Even though he allows Hank to attack another member of the party, it is not without reason in the context of the game. When Hickey complains that it isn't fair that he missed while punching a hobgoblin, Abed straight up tells him to take the game seriously or don't play. This is a good way to handle an unruly player. At the end of the adventure, Hickey once again complains about the game. When the necromancer they are hunting escapes, he states that Abed owes them an ending. What follows is the best quote ever.
I owe you nothing. I am a Dungeon Master. I create a boundless world and I bind it with rules. Too heavy for a bridge, it breaks. Get hit, take damage. Spend an hour outside someone's front door fighting over who gets to kill him, he leaves through the back.
Also returning from the first episode is Abed's use of voices. This time it takes the form of two hobgoblins that Jeff, Annie and Hickey capture to interrogate. Hickey uses his experience as a cop and separates the two hobgoblins, hoping to turn them against each other. Abed not only acts out the part of the two hobgoblins, he has an entire back story created for two random monsters.
Before I get to the verdict for Abed's job as DM, I want to talk about how this episode portrays the actual game of Dungeons & Dragons. One of my main issues with the first episode was that it didn't accurately reflect a real roleplaying session. Some of that was from Abed, some of it was just because of the constraints of television. "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" does not suffer from that problem at all.
I talked about Abed doing all the dice rolling not being that distracting in this episode. There is a simple reason for that; there is a ton of dice rolling in here. Abed rolls dexterity checks, he rolls for attack and damage, and he even rolls percentile to see if a sparrow delivers a message. This demonstration of the mechanics of the games was one of the things that was lacking from the first episode. It is done brilliantly here through the use of montage style editing during the bulk of the game.
What is also great about this session is how well the television characters role play their D&D characters. After a rough start where Shirley ends up getting killed, they take a good hard look at their character sheets and then dive right in to some great game play. The addition of an experience player like Hank has a much better effect on the game than the addition of Fabulous Neil did the first time.
It's pretty clear what the verdict is going to be. Even though Abed repeated some of the same habits this time, they were small in comparison to his excellent overall management of the game. Players who were initially hesitant to even play D&D again were role playing their characters like old pros by the end of the session. In "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" Abed did a good job, this time around he was great.