Dexter’s Laboratory: D & DD
Today, the board game girl brings you a review not of a game, but of a fabulous episode of Dexter’s Lab about a game!
Many, many years ago when I was young and much in love with a pizza delivery boy, I used to hang out at the pizza place a lot. There was always a telly running (silently of course), and most of the time Cartoon Network was on. So I spent quite a few hours watching a very silent Johnny Bravo, or whatever was hip and new at the time. As it was 1997/1998, one of the hip and new things was Dexter's Laboratory - and specifically, the episode D & DD.
Episode summary: Dexter is seen playing "Mazes and Monsters" with his friends. Of course, he is the game master - a power-hungry, arrogant, and cheating game master at that - while his tormented adventurers quest for the Holy Grail. When Dexter's sister Dee Dee asks whether she can join in, everyone welcomes her into the group (except for Dexter). When she asks whether she can be the game master, the poor, tormented players especially welcome her into the position (except for Dexter). So Dee Dee does what she (mis)understands a game master ought to be doing - discard Dexter's prepared adventure (complete with floor plans and miniatures and...) entirely and guides the players directly to the fairy queen of mighty rewards.
As a (then, in 1998, hyperactive) roleplaying gamer, I was fascinated! And because it was on all the time and I didn't actually see what it was about, I concluded that it must be a Dexter's Laboratory spin-off... something along the lines of "Dexter's Dorky Roleplaying Group". Years later, after I'd joined The Internet, I remembered the show and found out that it was only one episode - what a waste of potential.
But stilll - D & DD gathered some fame among gamers (of course). In criticalhits.com's poll for your favourite gaming film, D & DD was voted number one gaming experience on telly of all time, even before ever-glorious The Gamers. Granted, that was years ago and only 37 people voted.
So! After all those years, I finally saw it again - and with audio track as well! I must say, it was actually quite funny. I love the bold graphic style of Dexter's Lab and the obviously hand-drawn animation is quite good. Also, I don't find Dexter's unrecognisable accent annoying. I think it adds to the experience and suits a little boy well that strives to be a mad scientist. (I think Tim Burton's Vincent would have liked a creepy accent, too!)
Both director Genndy Tartakovsky and storyboard artist Paul Rudish also worked on The Powerpuff Girls (which I like), Star Wars: Clone Wars (which I haven't seen but despite the reviews am willing to give a try) and Samurai Jack (which I'd never heard of). I might have to kidnap the two and see whether they can come up with an entire series of this stuff...
Naturally, the episode is rumbling with role playing references and charged with comic clichés.
"Mazes and Monsters" is of course a parody of Dungeons and Dragons, or "D&D" for short. The episode's title D & DD references it as well - although for later reruns, the title was officially changed to Sibling(s) and Sorcery. (The "s" in brackets means that I've read both versions on the internet, but I haven't seen it for myself so I don't know the correct spelling.)
There is also a 1981 critical "problem novel" by Rona Jaffe named Mazes and Monsters, about the misadventures of group of college students who are also role players. It was adapted into a film for telly, starring the young Tom Hanks in 1982. The title "Mazes and Monsters" followed what would later turn out as a pattern in regards of role playing (see also: Tunnels & Trolls, Sword & Sorcery, Might & Magic, Plüsch, Power & Plunder etc).
In the episode, Dexter is the archetypical power hungry game master, creator of worlds, who enjoys controlling the fate of his "pawns". When he has to hand over gamemasterhood to sister Dee Dee, he advises her to use the game master's screen full of reference charts and graphs and the rule books including the GM's guide, a magic manual and a creature compendium and, of course, Dexter's hand-drawn dungeon map full of brilliant mazes, traps and... of course, Dee Dee only wants to know: "Okay, who is what?"
The role players' characters/heroes in D & DD are also quite stereotypical. Most amusing is the fact that Dexter's friends do actually look like little-boy versions of the heroes they're playing (for example, the elf archer's player is wearing a green hoody). Except for Dee Dee, the self-proclaimed fairy queen, who is of course a little-girl version of a little girl. The role playing characters are…
- Felcor, the hawk-eyed hooded woodsman, skilled archer, can shoot several arrows at once, loves nature (read: elf).
- The mysterious magician Macabros, complete with exotic accent, can levitate and control the elements (at least fire, water and air).
- Valerian, the chivalrous kni-kni-kni... paladin, who doesn't stutter in-game and sports a chainmail armour as well as a vorpal blade.
- And the furry-footed burrower (read: halfling) Hodo (obviously a word-mix of Hobbit and Frodo), bard, digs holes.
The latter is Dexter's character. He really wanted to play Gygax, the 27th level warrior mage with a class 18 soul-sucking-sword. If the name sounds familiar to you, this is because E. Gary Gygax is the original inventor of D&D and thus grandfather of all role playing systems...
During their role playing session with Dee Dee, the heroes encounter a crazy-scary dragon. As Valerian tries to fight the dragon while being blind (due to Hodo clutched to his face), he's several times advised to use the force. Hodo, unable to fight the dragon with his mandolin, uses his special skill and digs a hole... right through to China, just to face an Asian dragon there. Oh, and of course there is the minotaur chasing the heroes through a dungeon (which Dee Dee turns into a forest... okay dungeon forest), traps, a door or three to choose, an evil and very powerful wizard boss monster, orc mobs under the full moon, and the magical artifacts as rewards... Needless to say, Dee Dee turns the role playing session into a fairy-pixie soap opera, but the boys enjoy the break anyway.
Not all of Dexter's Laboratory has been released on DVD... yet. But there is hope. In 2007, TVShowsonDVD.com reported that Dexter's Laboratory was on Warner Brothers' "maybe list" of potential future DVD releases. TVShowsonDVD.com thought that "no plans for Dexter's Laboratory at this time, but willing to consider it" sounded "hopeful" - well, I don't know about that. But then all of a sudden, an Australian release of Dexter's first series appeared. Currently, seasons 1 and 2.1 seem to be available.
I really hope the Australian region 4 DVD is not going to be the only release... but we'll see what happens next!