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Knights of the Dinner Table    by Jolly R. Blackburn order for
Knights of the Dinner Table
by Jolly R. Blackburn
Order:  USA  Can
Kenzer, 2002 (2002)
* *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

From the title, one might think this is a high-fantasy adventure of dueling chefs in search of the perfect meal. Or deduce a mystery series about a troupe of manners police trying to rid the world of bad table habits. Both are absurd, but what can one expect with such a title? And, of course, absurdity is what you get in Knights of the Dinner Table. Let out your inner nerd or geek and enjoy this series about the adventures of dueling role-playing gamers. For the neophyte, role-playing games are a mix of fantasy and free choice within the confines of a rubric of rules about an imaginary world. Essentially, players create characters and are instructed by the game master about the rules of the world their characters inhibit. Players seek to increase the abilities and worldly goods of their characters as make their way through various obstacles. Though it's more complicated, think Monopoly with a tour guide/director. Role-playing games took off from Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s and 1980s. While still popular, they have been largely replaced by role-playing video and computer games and of course, the Internet.

Now before you put on the geek repellent and bypass these graphic novels with a disdain usually reserved for former classmate run-ins, rest assured that if you have a moderate awareness of pop-culture, you'll enjoy them. Tales from the Vault includes the first comic strips of Knights of the Dinner Table, originally appearing in Shadis and Dragon Magazine through the 1990s. These one-to-two page strips featured a band of four or five role-playing gamers entrenched in a (made-up) game of HackMaster. Brian, Dave, Bob and Sara make up this motley crew with Felton as game master. Other characters make occasional appearances (full profiles are provided in the back of the book). Quibbles over whose character is better, nit-picking on the rules, and sometimes all out brawling over the fine points of role-playing games, provide a decent share of laughs throughout. Bundle of Trouble presents the first three issues of the comic book: Not Ready for Syndication, Gluttons for Punishment, and License to Loot. This selection of strips has two-to-four page short pieces as well as character profiles at the end. This series continues the adventures of the games, finding newer and funnier ways to mock the sometimes extremist persona often associated with gamers.

Since the main focus is on what is being said, the art doesn't need to be extraordinary. Though well and consistently drawn, it is similar to what you find in any newspaper's comics section. But it works, and when physical attributes are emphasized, it's easy to follow. The text stands as both vessel of entertainment and a bane for the eyes in this series. The comedy derives from what's being said but sometimes, it's too much. Often, these books can't be digested in one setting. The strips vary from three to four vertical panels per page. When they use four panels, with lots of text, the eye can quickly exhaust itself. Though Tales of the Vault does this frequently, Bundle of Trouble sticks to three panels vertically, making it easier reading. Even if you're not deeply into the world of fantasy and role-playing games, there's much to be enjoyed in these graphic novels. Black and white and simply drawn, they offer great comedic material - the series can best be described as a Discovery Channel special on Nerds or maybe an example of the latest reality TV show on NerdPlanet.

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