I wasn’t completely convinced about the idea of reviewing a comic parody of a role-playing game. It’s kind of a niche thing and I wasn’t sure about reviewing something that might be inaccessible to someone who hasn’t played D&D.
But Goblins has such a good heart and I’ve enjoyed reading it so much that it’s convinced me to include it anyway.
I’m still not completely sure if you could read Goblins and “get it” without having played either D&D or at least a RPG style game, whether it be a roleplaying or computer game. I’d love to hear from anyone who does read it, without having that background, to find out what the experience was like for them.
The D&D references/jokes are mostly in the first couple of books and get less common as they go along. The parody stuff is funny enough but ultimately that sort of thing is limited. There are generally only so many jokes you can make about the same thing before you start to run out of material.
But from the very beginning there is a larger story being told (or the author has done a fabulous job creating that illusion by working early references into later plot points) and it’s that story that has held my interest.
The characters and comic concept
Goblins is set in a universe based on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Now when I say ‘based’, this is not just a fantasy world populated with the races and lore of D&D; it’s a universe where the laws of reality are based on the mechanics of playing the game. The people in it are aware of, and can abuse, those game rules – indeed the actual game manuals are available to read by characters within the comic.
I’ve spent far too much time trying to puzzle out the rules and implications of the universe mechanics but really it only makes as much sense as the author wants it to make. You just kind of have to roll with it.
The comic conceptually does a couple of different things. Firstly it’s a send up of D&D, lovingly done to be sure, but there are plenty of jokes about some of the nonsensical elements of the game.
But then it also goes into the way people generally play these games. In D&D you’re meant to be roleplaying a “real” person in this world but the usual outcome is that players ravage, pillage and destroy - all in the name of advancing their character. It raises some interesting thoughts about the fact that, given the absence of consequence, we generally choose to play our games this way.
Then beyond that the comic tackles, or touches on, a wide range of issues including bigotry, loss, love, loyalty, sacrifice and the nature of evil. As the comic progresses it often becomes quite bleak in tone but also employs a “gallows humour” to offset this.
There are two groups of main characters in Goblins, the first being the goblins themselves: Chief, Big Ears, Fumbles, Thaco and Complains-of-Names. The character definition is shaky for some of these guys early in the story but they develop quite quickly into more rounded personalities. There is also enough back story, generally referenced without going into overt exposition, to make you feel like these guys have been around a while rather just having popped into existence at the beginning of the story.
The other focal characters are two adventurers; the “unstoppable” warrior Minmax and the dwarf Forgath. These guys get little or no back story but are pretty consistent personality wise from their initial introduction.
These characters are a lot of fun, and in keeping with the initial tone of the comic, they start out as these relatively light, sometimes outright silly, character concepts. However as the comic progresses you run into more serious content and character development. So you end up with this juxtaposition of some silly, fun, character concepts overlaid with sometimes very serious character experiences and development. It’s an odd mix but it works well for Goblins.
The story of Goblins follows both the experiences of the goblin party and the adventuring duo. Chapters are then focused on one of the two groups or occasionally both when their paths cross.
The goblins for their part have some pretty simple motivation. Not to die, and to protect their village from the ever present menace of adventurers. But maybe their traditional tactics of sitting around guarding the poorly locked treasure chest isn’t the best way to achieve that. This tradition breaking concept leads them down a path few goblins have trodden before.
The adventurers likewise have pretty simply motivation. Kill the evil monsters, collect the loot and level up as fast as they can. But as some of their fundamental assumptions about the world around them and their role in it start to look a bit shaky they end up moving in directions that they’d not previously considered.
As mentioned the story is an odd mixture of comedy & violence, followed by some more emotional, character driven content. It’s worth noting that the comic realistically (conceptually at least, the art isn’t super detailed) portrays the often brutal and extremely violent world that a game of D&D depicts.
Pacing is generally pretty good, there is one bit where I felt the story lingered a little too long in a particular setting but that’s an extremely minor quibble. In the latest events I did also feel a bit like the story jumped ahead too quickly but it’s hard to say when you don’t know what is to follow.
The art starts out as very basic black and white pencil sketches but then improves to a reasonable level, if still on the more simplistic side, and switches to coloured. The colouring is pretty basic throughout, though with the odd flourish to lift things.
Author, publishing and timeline
The author of Goblins is Tarol Hunt and as far as I can tell he does Goblins fulltime though I couldn’t locate particular much information on Mr. Hunt.
Goblins is available in an e-book format via a link on the main page or here.
I seem to have hit a run of webcomics where the update rate is, well, on the slower side. I think Goblins would need at least another ten years to complete the story.