Did you ever form your adventuring group into an organization: a secret society, a gang, a guild? Not just random folks who met at a bar and decided to rob and murder a dragon, but a group with an identity?
We did in Earthdawn; our group was called “LOOK BEHIND YOU!” because we would shout it and then try to run away, and our battle cry was “WHISTLE!” because we famously all blew our skill checks to make and discern the code of chirps and hoots we planned out in advance. We weren’t scoundrels per se… well, okay, our Illusionist made copper coins seem like gold so we could afford inns, but we were broke! And sure, maybe my character was hiding from the police, but he was a freedom fighter! You know how it goes.
The Rat Queens know how it goes, too; they put the “party” in “adventuring party.” Kurtis J. Weibe and Roc Upchurch’s first trade paperback, Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery, is out now, and quite frankly, it’s a blast.
There is a point at which we all become too familiar with “generic fantasy” tropes. The “default” Dungeons and Dragons setting can become all too banal; what’s the difference between Greyhawk and Forgotten Realm, when they’ve both got forest elves, dwarves under hills and mountains, orc hordes and wizards in towers? Oh, don’t get me wrong: a good Dungeon Master can spice that up— in fact, that is the whole point— but the settings that stand out to me are the settings that twist the tropes themselves.
Things like Eberron, Spelljammer, Dark Sun, and Planescape are all what I’d call “post-Dungeons and Dragons,” by which I mean that they start with all of the clichés of the game as a given, and then keep going. “What if we take reliable, repeatable magic to its eventual conclusion?” says Eberron, using Vancian magic to lay down a dungeonpunk setting. “What if epic characters still go to inns and raid dungeons, but the dungeon is Hell and the inn is in a hollow doughnut at the center of the multiverse?” gets you Planescape.
Another option is to make the characters the fulcrum that makes everything old new again, and that’s what Rat Queens does. Weibe and Upchurch have created a punk-rock adventuring party that actually reflects the kind of adventurers people play far more than most fantasy protagonists—foul mouthed, inclined towards bloody brawls, dangerous and with enough gold to destabilize the economy.
This isn’t brand new territory— people like Order of the Stick have been following in Snarf Quest’s shoes for ages— but unlike a lot of other stories, it isn’t really a loving parody so much as a story about charmingly terrible people. You know who they remind me of most? The “adventurers” in China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station; the wandering murderers who will do anything for gold and the “experience” of it. It also reminds me of Kyle Hunter’s Downer, from the old Dungeon magazine… hopefully I’m not the only one who remembers that super fondly!
The Rat Queens are one of the adventuring parties in the city of Palisade, along with the Peaches, the Four Daves, the Brother Ponies and the Obsidian Darkness. Betty, the halfling— well, “smidgen”— thief, is into hallucinogenic potions and mushrooms. Dee’s the human cleric from one of those strict religious families—Cthulhu cultists, basically. Hannah is the elf magic-user, the rockabilly leader and the starter of fights. Violet the hipster dwarf fighter is probably my favorite; she was shaving her beard before it was cool. Or well, maybe Dee is my favorite; the Mythos cultist parents is a brilliant backstory. Or Hannah, especially when she goes all “Willow eyes.” No wait, Betty, especially when she collects the troll’s eyeballs as spell components; now that is friendship. Alright, alright,
Violent Violet, then Dee, if I’m being honest, but the fact of the matter is, you could pick any one of them as your favorite and I wouldn’t quibble. They are all pretty great.
Rat Queens takes the logic of the game table and commits to it. What that means is, hey, maybe to the player “you take 2d6 points of damage” and then getting healed up a few rounds later is just moving around numbers on a piece of scrap paper, but for Hannah is means having her arm shattered, almost severed, and then forced back together again by healing magic. It ain’t pretty but it is exciting, and that sure sounds like the life of an adventurer to me.
There is a joie de vivre to Rat Queens; this is light-hearted fun, with buckets of gore that wavers smartly on the line between cartoonish and appalling. An army of orcs outside the city gates? Well, a group of adventurers versus an army of orcs sounds about right! I think most gamers have found themselves in that situation before. Or you know, against skeletons. Or goblins. You know how it goes. So do the Rat Queens, like I said. You don’t have to take my word for it: take a look at the free preview.
Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery is available now from Image Comics.