Monday, April 21, 2014

Dungeonpunk, and Why Rat Queens is the Most D&D Thing Around

Sometime in the mid-2000s, I started seeing the term “Dungeonpunk” being thrown around online to describe some of the art style of 3rd edition D&D. It seemed to be used to denote “adventurers dressed in spikey leather fetish bits carrying potion bandoleers” as often as it was meant to say “I miss the old art and therefore this is terrible

I’m not going to debate that it’s terrible (much of it was), and I’m not going to rant about the fact that adding the –punk suffix to a noun and calling it a thing is about as punk as the one thousand t-shirt variants of the Black Flag logo that have been bombarding us the last few years (seriously graphics peeps: the Black Flag bars are the new Keep Calm And ______ of tired-ass design jokes).

So, Dungeonpunk. Sounds pretty dumb. In what sort of world would such a thing exist? I suppose Dungeonpunk would become a thing when the Youth get sick of kicking around bumfuck Hommlet and start sneaking off to house parties in Nulb. Checking out dungeons is what amounts to Teenage Kicks in Fantasyland. Like drugs and skateboarding and listening to Slayer, you get into it because it pisses old people off. When all medieval parents want is for their kids to take over the family Serf-ing business, any imaginative teen is going to sneak out of the house, dressed in the leather or wizardly robes that symbolize their rebellion, and hit up the Caves of Chaos for a good time.

By that metric, my game world is pretty dungeonpunk. See, when my players talk about what being an adventurer means, I always say it lies somewhere between being a professional athlete and a rock star. It manages to look glamorous while serving almost no actual function in society. At early levels you’re on the road, sleeping on floors, scraping up whatever gold and experience you can get your hands on. At mid levels, you have fans (and haters) in every town. Kids hang posters with the name of your crew on the walls of their hovels. You might even find a groupie willing to carry your lantern. And at high levels it’s all armor endorsements and a signature line of potions and a fancy home with an entourage.

The Adventurer takes a chance because dying in battle in some ooze-infested shithole still beats the relative-but-guaranteed comfort of gongfarming. They’d rather run away from home and wander the countryside as desperate heroes, dressed like an asshole, killing monsters and busting slave rings, because stuff like that will get you laid.

The Image comic RatQueens captures this philosophy beautifully. The only epic quest the Rat Queens are on is to PARTY BALLZ, which occasionally means killing a troll or casting Evard's Black Tentacles or defending a city from attack. And all that leads to a story, in the same way that rolling on a carousing table can sometimes turn into a great, memorable gaming session. In spirit, humor, and dialogue, Rat Queens is the closest thing I’ve found to what playing D&D is actually like at the table.

I mean, sure: the DM spends all this time building his world and adding arbitrary apostrophes to all the names and making it all cool and dark and perfect, but the moment the PCs finally meet the arch-villain Y’oth the Devil Binder, the party wizard yells “I'ma cast Magic Missile at his nuts!” and it's dumb and funny and everyone cracks up. And that moment is really good, because it took all of you to make it happen, and that’s why you play.


  1. I'm down with the dungeonpunk. Rat Queens looks awesome, I'll need to keep my eyes open for it next time I'm at the comic store.

    1. There's a trade containing the first five issues available at the hilariously low price of $9.99.

  2. I just got the trade - it's fantastic - thanks for the recommendation. Hope it's successful and they go on to put out a second (or I'll see if there are monthlies to catch up).