One of these things is not like the others. I mean, what kind of name is Solidus anyway? (It’s the proper name for what your Earth culture calls the ‘forward slash’ but it sounds so much like a name for a wizard that I have been waiting 16 years to name a wizard that. It feels good to be free of the burden, like the one ring is finally destroyed. My quest is at an end. Yet some people don’t put over a decade of thought into the perfect character name? Apparently? I have met them but I’m still not sure they exist.)

Oh yeah, baby! That’s right, melon-farmers, we’re doing one of these. We are doing. One of these. And by “one of these” I, of course, mean a webcomic storyline in which all of the characters play a tabletop RPG and you get to see them as their in-game characters having adventures in the world of the game. I have always wanted to do One of These. So it was just a simple matter of starting a webcomic, uploading comics to the website for fifteen years in which nobody plays any TTRPGs and then starting a storyline in which they do. Child’s play.

Now, that previous paragraph contains a single inaccuracy. I haven’t always wanted to do one of these, I’ve wanted to do one of these since I saw Scott Kutz do it in his webcomic PVP back in 2001. Fun fact: that storyline was actually my introduction to the game of Dungeons & Dragons. Scott made making a webcomic and playing D&D look so fun that I’ve spent the last 20 years doing both of those things.

So, full disclosure, this storyline is influenced by, inspired by, a deliberate homage to, whatever you want to call it, that PvP storyline and all of the subsequent D&D comics in the PvP archives. Yes, this is absolutely necessary. Yes, I know it’s a trope now. We’ve all seen the episode of Community where they play D&D, we’ve all seen that episode of Big Bang Theory where they get just enough details wrong to let you know that nobody working on the show apart from one nerd stuff consultant has any idea what they’re talking about. But back in 2001 we didn’t have Critical Role or Flintlocks and Fireballs, we had webcartoonists who took us by the hand and led us into a world of adventure. And I’m pretty sure Scott Kurtz was the OG. At least, he was for me. For years before I rolled my first twenty-sided dice I called D&D “the PvP game”. So, yeah, these days it’s “doing one of these” but for me it is and will always be “doing a PvP“, so consider this whole thing a big tribute to the original and best, the inimitable Scott Kurtz. Game respects game.

So you may notice this page looks… radically different… to any other strip in the archives. To tell you how we arrived there I need to show you even more of how the sausage gets made, so put on your disposable plastic aprons and rubber gloves and join me by the meat grinding machine. So when I write the scripts for the comic I don’t just write them a page at a time. It normally all comes out in a big stream of consciousness, then in redrafts I start breaking the thing up into separate scenes and finding the act breaks. Only when I have my sequence of scenes sprinkled with jokes do I start chopping them up into four-panel comic strips. So each page is a stand-alone gag, right, but when taken as a whole they flow into a whole story like a graphic novel (and you could argue the extent to which the individual pages stand alone… Yeah I see you, person who comes back to the website once every couple of years to binge an entire completed chapter). So anyway, I’m taking my 30-minute sitcom script and feeding it into a prosciutto slicer, and while this is going on I’m doing three other things at once:

1. showing the script to my guinea pig readers to see where the laughs fall
2. punching up laughs on individual pages
3. cutting pages that don’t move the story forward, aren’t funny or both

Why am I telling you all this? Well, as a byproduct I ended up with a weird page, this page, that try as I might I could not get it to fit into four panels. Too much story to cut down, not funny enough to justify being an awkward seven panels long, yet no good place to punch up the humour either. And my guinea pig, my wife who is five times smarter and funnier than me, all she can tell me is that what’s there on the page isn’t really working for her. The last two panels aren’t worth expanding on to make into their own separate page (and you don’t want to drag these moments out more than you have to) but they are funny, at least to me if not my wife. So it’s a problem page, my sausage-making machine had found a gristly prosciutto slice that it can’t slice any thinner. I need to back away from the mixed meat metaphors, this is getting out of ham.

So finally I realised the solution. Like Alexander the Great teleporting a mutated psychic octopus into the Gordion Knot, the simplest solution was the best. I cut the last two panels entirely. And let me tell you, it was excruciating. I had to murder a bunch of darlings to keep this storyline to a sensible length but this cut was the hardest. But I realised why it wasn’t quite working; it was just a reiteration of the punchline you see above. Not quite explaining the joke, but definitely gilding the lily. Then I realised I could save myself a lot of time by turning the top of the page into a big establishing shot, and the end product is what you see here.

Sorry, I’m rambling. I am just so stoked to be doing this storyline and taking it in all the weird and wonderful directions it goes, it’s basically a big Christmas present I’m giving to myself and I guess you can enjoy it too if you want.

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