Despite the predictions of fundamentalist tracts like Jack Chick’s bizarrely classic Dark Dungeons, playing role-playing games as a teen did not result in hellish consequences for my soul. I did not commune with demons, make suicide pacts, mutilate small animals, engage in bizarre sex rituals, or any of the other dire things predicted by the moral guardians of the time.
I actually was quite open to the idea of bizarre sex rituals, but the opportunity never presented itself, especially during gaming. We were much more likely to obsess over the color of our new dice or how best to talk the Game Master into letting us modify our initiative roll so we would survive an encounter with a bunch of surly looking orcs.
Anyone who shares that past (and when the opportunity arises, present) is probably going to appreciate the charm of Johannes Grenzfurthner and Heather Kelley’s image of Dogs Playing Dungeons & Dragons. We all know the original: It’s one of the images from C.M. Coolidge’s series of 16 paintings called Dogs Playing Poker, created in 1903 as cigar advertisements. Grenzfurthner is specifically drawing from the picture called A Friend in Need, which shows one dog discreetly using his rear leg to pass some cards under the table.
You don’t usually get that kind of cheating in RPGs — you’re far more likely to get “rules lawyers,” who will nitpick every decision of the GM because they’ve committed the entire Player’s Manual to memory.
The clutter and atmosphere are really true to the gaming experience, and I’d never thought before about the similarities between poker and RPGs as social bonding experiences. Neither of the pictures really get across the mechanics of their respective games, but they are excellent depictions of the social dynamic of sitting in a room with a bunch of friends for hours on end just playing. If you’ve been there, you can spend a lot of time picking out familiar details.
Coolidge’s original paintings became American icons because they were mass-marketed far beyond the original advertisements. I first saw A Friend in Need on a postcard when I was about 10 years old, and in the last 100 years, the images have been printed on just about anything that has a printable surface. It looks like Grenzfurthner and Kelly are taking the same route: You can get their update printed on clothing, phone cases, stickers, and tote bags at Red Bubble.
Check out more cuteness on Dogster: