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What If You Were Trapped Inside a D&D Game? Find Out in Kieron Gillen’s DIE

What If You Were Trapped Inside a D&D Game? Find Out in Kieron Gillen’s DIE

Sometimes described ingeniously as “goth Jumanji,” the Image Comics ongoing series Die follows a group of teenagers and later 40-somethings when they find themselves trapped in a fantasy role-playing game world. It’s not all fun and games, as the friends themselves and the readers quickly discover. How will they handle the horrors of this strange, fantastic world? And more importantly, how would you? Thanks to writer Kieron Gillen, you’ll find out later this year in a companion role-playing game that brings the comic book to life.

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At this year’s Emerald City Comic Con, Kieron chatted with us about Die–the book and the game currently in development–to give us a hint of what we can expect from the RPG and a little about the process behind making it.

The Beginning

The idea behind the story began with a simple question during a conversation with friends, Kieron tells Geek & Sundry. “The [origin] was basically me and Jamie and Ray Fawkes walking around a mall and saying, ‘Whatever happened to those kids in the 1980s D&D cartoon?'”

That question might have started as a joke, but it got beneath his skin, Kieron says. Already in the planning stages for a book with immensely talented painter Stephanie Hans, working on a story with her based on this concept suddenly felt like a no-brainer. “The moment that that inspiration hit me, it was like, a Stephanie Hans fantasy world is something I’d like to see,” he says.

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From there, the pieces started to fall in place. “I would just start digging, and researching, and it sprawled,” says Kieron. “And I kept throwing stuff at it. And then it became this large conspiracy-meta-history of the fantasy genre and what it does to people. It’s big. And I’ve written this whole RPG system on the side just as an extended part of my nonsense.”

Die: The Role-Playing Game

While the plans for a role-playing game based on Die don’t go much beyond a free PDF download, there’s a lot to unpack from the material that will be available. “It’s not like this massive monster manual or anything,” says Kieron. “It’s really quite stripped down in certain areas, but it’s also very developed in others.”

The premise of the game sounds very familiar to anyone who has read the first issue of the comic book.

“It’s designed to be like a one-off, by which I mean a one-off scenario, but it can be multiple sessions,” Kieron says. “The basic of what you do is, you get together, sit around, then you generate the group of people, as in a social group who played D&D together and is back together as adults. In other words, it’s literally the comic.

“You ask questions like, how do they know each other? Who fell in love with each other? All the emotional mess of the group. Then everyone steps away from the table, you come back, and you’re role-playing that person. And then that person gets out the Die game and you’ll sit down in character, and generate characters, and at some point you get dragged into the fantasy world and transformed into the character you just made.”

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While there’s room for a session to be just as horrific and dark as the comic book, he continues, you can also make it as light as you want. “The GM uses the persona stuff to turn into this fantasy world they go into. And it can be very dark and it can also just be a fun adventure. It can be full on Jumanji. It all depends on what the players want to do.”

For Kieron, the heart of role-playing games lies in the interaction between players, which also plays a huge role in Die. “Some games are like, go in here, kill the Master, go home,” he says. “It’s a great popcorn adventure. And there are other games where it ends in a therapy session by saying things like, ‘How could mum love you best?’ It’s fun.”

Playtesting With Familiar Faces

The Die RPG is still in the playtesting beta phase, says Kieron, but he’s had some incredible sessions already. One in particular included friends of Geek & Sundry Jody Houser and Taliesin Jaffe.

“A lot of the playtesting has been me trying to find tactics to tell people how to run a game,” Kieron says. “[Taliesin and Jody’s] game was, they were people in orientation at a company, and they got to play a D&D game as part of the orientation… And they got sucked in. I based the dungeon on the offices we were in, so I took the building plan they’re in, and threw a bunch of monstrous, weird stuff in there.”

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Kieron suggests using this same strategy when jumping into your own game of Die with little to no prep time. Use the house or building that you’re in as a guide not only for the dungeons and maps, but for crafting a story as well.

“I’ve used a convention guide to randomly generate encounters. You flip through, and there’s a Buffy the Vampire Slayer panel. So you go in this room and work out how you merge Buffy with [the characters’] own personal issues.”

Fantasy Heartbreaker

The download for the game book will be available the same time as the release of the first Die trade paperback collection this summer, which bears the tongue-in-cheek title Fantasy Heartbreaker.

“The first arc [of the comic] is called Fantasy Heartbreaker, which is design term from the early naughts in the RPG school,” Kieron explains. “A ‘Fantasy Heartbreaker’ is a game designed by someone who’s never played anything but D&D and is not aware of the development of RPGs in the last 20 years. But there’s always something interesting about these games because they’re so isolated.

“It’s also a bit of a mea culpa, aware of the utter arrogance of me trying to write an RPG system on the side. Be kind to me!”

All Images: Image Comics, Art by Stephanie Hans

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