Two of the best episodes of the cult-favorite TV comedy Community revolve around RPGs. The first, Season 2's "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," has the study group playing good ol' fashioned tabletop D&D with a depressed classmate named Neil in hopes of cheering him up. It's a delightfully imaginative episode, with even the opening credits reflecting the D&D style. From rules-lawyering DM Abed to uninvited guest Pierce turning himself into a powerful villain to spite the group, it has lots of character-based laughs along with plenty of jokes that fantasy and tabletop fans will love.
The second RPG-style Community episode is found in Season 3. It's a love letter to the 16-bit gaming era called "Digital Estate Planning." The episode's rather ridiculous premise is that Pierce and his friends need to play and win a video game in order to unlock Pierce's inheritance from his recently-deceased father. This sets the stage for an episode chock full of references to beloved RPGs (and games of other genres like Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog), along with great character moments like, "Troy and Abed shooting lava!"
Fans even created a 2D platformer based on the game, which can be found here. Gameception! — Becky Cunningham
Freaks and Geeks
"And the best part is, you get to pretend to be someone you can't be in real life." – Gordon Crisp
Freaks and Geeks was a gem of a television show in the early 2000s. Featuring a wonderful cast of characters, and looking at high school clichés and social cues, the show should have received more success than it did. It also brought us actors and actresses who would go onto bigger projects, such as Seth Rogan, James Franco, Linda Cardellini, John Frances Daley, and Martin Starr. Although it only received one season, the episode Discos & Dragons never saw air time, and it's a shame really, because it's one of the best episodes in the entire series.
For the purposes of this feature, we're going to focus on the Dragons side of the title. In it, Daniel (played by James Franco) is forced to work with the AV Club with our fellow geeks, Sam (Daley), Neil (Levine), and Bill (Starr). Harris Trinsky, the proprietor of the AV Club, discusses the geek crews weekly Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and while the geeks are hesitant to let Daniel, a "freak" participate in the game, Harris eventually wins Daniel over with dreams of "slaying dragons and saving princesses."
Watching the clip, it's clear that since the show takes place in the 1980's, the group is playing Advance Dungeons and Dragons. Daniel rolls for his character, and disappointedly at first, finds out that he has rolled for a dwarf (who he then names "Carlos"). Through Sam's guidance, and Harris' encouragement, Daniel finally let's his guard down, coming to the conclusion that there's more to the geeks than he realized. He learns how to play D&D, and even goes on to admit how much fun it was to play.
The scenes that follow are some of the best in terms of Daniel's character growth — he's been rejected by his fellow group, but in turn finds solace with Sam's friends, realizing he can be the person that perhaps all along he wants to be.
Furthermore, this episode has some fantastic and quotable lines. Even in my own Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, I always say Bill's famous line, "Yeah, yeah, being a dungeon master gives him the license to mess with our heads." Let's face it, Dungeon Masters can be real sneaky jerks when they want to be. However, there's also the Dungeon Masters who lets you have a sequinned wearing, fashionable necromancer who has an undead horse and wields a triton. That's a pretty rad DM, I must say.
The best part is the realization at the end of the game session, where Sam asks: "Is he now a geek or are we cool guys?" and everyone agrees that they are officially "cool guys." This sweet moment wraps the episode up quite nicely, and it shows how something as "geeky" as D&D can make anyone feel like they matter or belong. Daniel is kicked out of his social circle and while he thinks his social credit is destroyed, he comes to find new friends who actually like him for him. While D&D was considered a closeted activity in the 80's, this episode reminds us how games like D&D can bring us together, make new friends, and strengthen our relationships. — Sam Wachter