"Gather close that you might harken... the story of Fat Neil."

Last week produced at special and unexpted treat, an episode of the comedy show Community that focused on Dungeons & Dragons.  I don't watch the show (though that is likely to change now), but fortunetly Revil told me about it and let me know that the episode entittled Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was a must watch for obvious reasons.  I'm glad he told me about it because it is one of the best episodes of any show I've ever seen.  It so good that it was easy for me to list these five reason to love it.  

(Beware of Spoilers!)

Reason #1 - Accessibility
Neil feeling better after defeating some Goblins

As I said, I have never seen a single episode of the show other than this one.  Despite the show already being in its second season I had no problem jumping right into the story and its fairly simple premise.  Everything you need to know is provided by the narrator at the beginning of the episode.  Neil, a chubby boy at the college has been made fun of for being fat his whole life, but thought things would change when he left high school.  He finds out he was wrong when he gains the nickname "Fat Neil" around Greendale Community College.  Severely depressed Neil contemplates suicide as a means of escape, but his friends deduce his plans and think of a way to stop him: Make him feel better by having a game of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  They are sure all he needs to do is feel like a winner for a change, something the game is sure to accomplish.   

Reason #2 - The Characters

Just as the story is accessible, the characters are people you can quickly and easily understand and have motives you can sympathize with and root for.  Well, except Pierce, but we'll get to that. 

"I am Brutalitops!  The Magician!  Magic User, baby!"
The episode features eight characters involved in the game, seven players and one Dungeon Master.  The Dungeon Master, Abed is frankly amazing.  He is idiosyncratic, amazingly entertaining, and absolutely dedicated to the game and his role as the Dungeon Master.  Throughout the game he is asked to help the heroes by just giving them items and information they need as well as helping them against the villain, but he always refuses stating that he needs to be impartial or the game has no meaning. 

As for the characters the most entertaining is probably the shortest lived.  Chang, who the group never meant to be there is the first place, proves right away that he is the most dedicated to the game by dressing up in full Drow makeup and wig.  His introduction of his character Brutalitops is nothing short of amazing.  I had the misfortune to be drinking some soda during this part and things didn't end well.  Unfortunately the brightest flames burn out the quickest and this mighty Brutalitops was decapitated not half way though the show. 
Jeff, skeptical about the game

The leader of the group, Jeff, is the one who originally figured out Neil's plan and organized the group to take steps to prevent it.  He doesn't think much of Dungeons & Dragons, Advanced or otherwise, but he is firmly committed to helping Neil.  Just like everyone else, Jeff finds himself really getting into the game by the end, driving the group toward their objective of obtaining a Pegasus when even Neil wants to quit and cheering during crucial moments.

Britta trying to stop the opression

Another one of the characters, Britta, was very entertaining for Revil and I because she reminds us so much of the way one the members of our group (Bear) plays the game.  When the party is ambushed by Goblins at the start of the adventure Britta launches into a theory that it is probably THEIR rightful land and from their perspective they are the trespassers.  Before she can continue her theory though she is shot by an arrow, which I found thoroughly entertaining.  Later in the adventure she continues he Hermione-esc championing of lesser races when she meets an oppressed gnome waiter.  When the waiter later dies, Britta is horrified at the injustice, much to Jeff's incredulity. 

Annie describing her lovemaking techniques
The other characters, Troy, Annie, and Shirley all have their roles to play and their moments in the sun.  In fact, one of the most entertaining parts of the episode was when Annie, who ended up with the character Hector the Well Endowed, had to seduce the beautiful Elf Maiden who guarded the Pegasi so the group could catch up with Pierce.  There is a montage as the she and Abed play out the the love scene while Troy takes notes. 

Each of the characters has something that makes them unique and special, just like a D&D adventuring party.  Their skills and passions, Annie with her love making and Britta with her indignation for people less fortunate, not only comes into play but is essential to the party's eventual success against their dreaded foe. 

A somewhat over supportive Troy
Speaking of their foe, Pierce Hawthorn, played by the always entertaining Chevy Chase, is in so many ways the perfect villain for this tale.  As the narrators points out "For reasons that should be obvious, Pierce the Insensitive, also known as Pierce the Dickish, and Grampa the Flatulent was not invited."  This lack of invitation is what spurred Pierce's ire, much like Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty.  However, much like the black Queen of dread, Pierce doesn't need an excuse to be a dick... hence the nickname. 

When Pierce shows up he demands to be put into the game as himself.  Abed complies and informs everyone that his character will die of exposure because he is naked.  Neil, finally meeting one of his greatest tormentors in an arena where he is both confident and powerful introduces himself as Ducane of Clan Ducan.  He also gives Pierce his cloak so he won't die from the cold.  At which point Grampa Flatulent says that Ducane is a stupid name and takes Neils sword, kills Brutalitops, and runs away.  Everyone shouts at Pierce to give Neil back his sword and Neil himself confesses that it took him "10 years and 50 campaigns to get that sword" which is a one of a kind sword forged by his character's ancestors.   Pierce, the villain that he is describes that he is rubbing his balls on the sword. 

"I Won!  I Won Dungeons & Dragons... and it was Advanced!"
Without meaning to, Pierce has provided the most vital piece of the puzzle for the game to succeed.  All great story's need great villains and you can't achieve true victory without some great obstacle to overcome.  The game really mirrors life in this episode and just as Neil attempts to overcome his tormentors in real life he is now forced to do the same within the game.  Pierce has given him an area to work through his "Fat Neil" issues, not with any good will in mind, but still a vital contribution. 

Reason #3 - The Adventure

The adventure, Caverns of Draconis, is not a real adventure, but it both looks and feels like one the way it is described.  It has a simple premise; nearby dwells the legendary Red Dragon Draconis who possess a mighty hoard of treasure.  The party's objective is to slay Draconis and claim the treasure for their own.   The adventure's simple but effective concept is perfect for this episode.
Abed the Dungeon Master with the adventure

Now like I said, the Caverns of Dragon's is not a real adventure, but I'll be shocked if someone doesn't make a full version.  This episode oozes inspiration and I bet before the end of the month we'll see a playable version or two of this adventure. 

Shirley praying for success

Reason #4 - The Climax 

All great adventures deserve a great ending and this one has one.  Neil, our downtrodden hero recovers the sword of his ancestors hurls it at the amulet that Pierce acquired which has allowed him to take control of the mighty Draconis.  The Dungeon Master informs Neil that his called shot is very difficult and will require an 18 or higher to succeed.  Everyone hold their breath and crosses their fingers as the die is being rolled.

The die lands and the camera zooms in... You might have expected a 20, I know I did, but instead the die reads 19.  It is a success and the group goes wild!

Now many people feel that the one thing wrong with this episode is that it wasn't a 20, and I kind of agree.  It would have been the perfect time for one.  It makes me wonder why the writers opted for a 19 instead of a 20.  Maybe it is because there was a 20 rolled earlier when Pierce decapitated Brutalitops, but I for one would have loved to see that magical two-zero on the die.  Oh well, it's a minor thing I suppose.  

Reason #5 - The Portrayal of the Game

Wherefor art thou, 20?
Amazingly, and in stark contrast to the glory days of AD&D, the game is showed in an amazingly positive light in this show.  Those who play it are not your stereotypical nerds sitting in their mom's basement eating chips and drinking mountain dew, but rather normal people.  Niel himself may be somewhat outcast because of his weight, but he obviously has the capacity to make friends.  Those who gathered for the game are doing it for him because he is their friend.

The game is also portrayed as a safe environment for people to work through their issues.  Neil is depressed, lacks confidence, feels ashamed of his weight, and is constantly bullied by Pierce and people like him.  By the end though he is able to get past that, gain confidence, and stand up to Pierce.  More than that he realizes that Pierce is such a miserable human being who only wants to torture and torment others because Pierce himself is not happy.  At that moment Neil takes an entire turn to pity Pierce within the game and that pity turns out to be the party's saving grace. 

Above all the group is portrayed as having fun during the game.  These are normal people who don't often game, but they have a really good time none the less.  AD&D isn't portrayed as some weird activity that only social rejects can enjoy, it is portrayed as a game that anyone can play and enjoy. 

In the end there are a ton of reasons to love this episode of Community, feel free to add yours in the comments section.  A couple of things of note before I close this one out. 

First, I thought it was odd that the DM did all the rolling for this game.  Has anyone ever played in a game with worked like that?  I'm guessing that this was just the show's creators wanting to keep things simple, but maybe there are those that play that way and I've never heard of it. 

Secondly, why didn't they use D&D 4e?  It is after-all the current version of the game so why go with AD&D?  Personally I'm glad they did, but it is something to think about. 

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 10, 2011 at Thursday, February 10, 2011 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


You last question... is it possible they used AD&D because of the OGL? Alternately, the viewers watching will be more familiar with AD&D than the more recent iteration (since more people played/were familiar with that version than any other)? Lastly, how could Pierce have said his hilarious line "I won D&D ... and it was Advanced!" if they were playing 4E?

February 10, 2011 at 2:23 PM

AD&D is not covered under the OGL. It has been kinda cloned under the OGL tho.

It was a good episode tho.

February 10, 2011 at 2:52 PM

AD&D has more nostalgia value, I think. Also, 4e requires miniatures and maps so would not really fit Abed's description of "playing in our shared imaginations" so much.

February 10, 2011 at 3:17 PM

Well, they did have a copy of Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms on the table (in front of Troy, as I recall). But I think they used the name "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" to keep with the theme of the way they name their episodes. Each episode title could be the name of a community college class - "Basic Genealogy," "Advanced Criminal Law," "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking," etc. "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" fits the mold, if you think of Dungeons and Dragons as a "subject."

February 10, 2011 at 6:37 PM

I appreciated that the show's overtly Christian character, Shirley, didn't balk at playing "The Devil's Game." That was some low hanging fruit I'm glad the writers didn't pick.

February 10, 2011 at 9:07 PM

I must be the only guy to have experienced this, but when I played as a kid the DM was the only guy with the dice.

I think they went with AD&D for a few reasons. For one, it's likely the edition most recognized by the audience. D&D 4e is so much different from AD&D, it might have been hard for a lot people to relate to (i.e., former players). I also bet it's the version the writers were familiar with. I doubt they still play, but that was likely what they did play.

February 10, 2011 at 10:37 PM

I'm going to take the dissenting view on wanting that last roll to be a "20". Obviously someone rolling a d20 doesn't come up very often in popular culture, but every time it does there's always a point when the players need to roll a "20", and it always comes up. In a similar vein, it always annoys me when poker is a spotlight of a movie or T.V. episode, and the hero always happens to get a royal flush at the climax of the story. I kind of find that it takes me out of the story a little at a crucial time.

Also, "19" is my favorite number, and it needs more love. But I'm not biased. As far as you know.

February 12, 2011 at 3:47 AM
This comment has been removed by the author.
February 12, 2011 at 3:47 AM

The actual reason for the name of the episode is that every episode of Community has a name that could be the title of a class, which is fitting seeing as the show is set at a community college. I'm a pretty massive Community fan and this article is the bee's knees.

June 18, 2012 at 4:57 PM

"Those who play it are (...) rather normal people."
There is no one in the study group I would describe as "normal". However, none of them are usually gamers, so you have a point.

This is one of the better episodes of Community, so thanks for your article.

December 16, 2012 at 6:54 AM

Black Chang=AWESOME, can you imagine the writers saying to him that they want him to be painted black for about 1 minute.

Very well written analysis and i loved the episode.
Thank you for the article

June 15, 2013 at 7:04 AM

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