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Erfworld is all about the little things

Hail to the king, baby

There are two very different worlds of popular culture out there, and most everyone seems to subscribe to one or the other.  The first is the regular pop culture, filled with information about which celebrity is banging what, popular music, movie quotes and trivia.  The second is internet pop culture, filled with horrific images from 4Chan, hilarious videos of stupid people getting hurt in stupid ways, and mighty gems, like the majestic keyboard cat.  Erfworld draws heavily from both worlds to create a deep and involved, self-referential world that doubles as the ultimate gamer’s paradise.  If you’ve got a finger on the pulse of either world, or have spent a few days involved in table top or console gaming, Erfworld might be right up your alley.

I’m a bit hesitant to review Erfworld because, honestly, I’m not feeling so hot tonight and I’m worried I might not be able to do the comic justice.  Written by Rob Balder, and drawn first by Jamie Noguchi and later Xin Ye, Erfworld takes place in a war-torn world that heavily resembles a table top war game.   Battles take place in turns, casters only have so much “juice” to spend on magic and other assorted spells before they are rendered useless for the rest of their side’s turn, and units automatically spawn in cities, complete with personalities and ready to go into combat.  The story begins with the tail end of a very unfortunate military campaign for Stanley the Plaid, overlord of the capital city Gobwin Knob.

Before I go any further I think I should clarify.  Yes.  I said “Gobwin Knob.”  You can stop giggling any time now chuckles.  In fact, most of the names in Erfworld are decidedly punny, from the caster Wanda Firebough, to the barbarian Jillian Zamussles.  It helps if you say these names out loud if you’re scratching your head.  Names of other mythical creatures you might expect to find in a fantasy table top game, like goblins, dragons and spiders, remain mostly intact, except that a W will pop up somewhere in their name.  For instance, goblins become gobwins, dragons become dwagons, and spiders become spidews.

Anyway, now that we’ve got that cleared up, I guess we can move into the plot.  Stanley the Plaid is having a bad campaign.  He is one of the few people attuned to an Arkentool, a hammer the legends say the titans left behind after they crafted the known world.  Stanley sees his attunement as a divine mandate to go out and claim the rest of the Arkentools.  The rest of the world disagreed.

So, at the beginning of book one, Stanley is left with depleted funds, an army at his doorstep, and to make matters worse, his last chief warlord just took an arrow to the face.  Things are looking grim until Wanda returns from the magic kingdom, a sort of bubble world only reachable by portals, with a spell to summon the perfect warlord from anywhere in time, space, and all existence.

What they end up with is THIS GUY.

Parson's a big boy.

Parson Gotti is ripped from his cozy-but-dead-end life working at Kinko’s in a universe that seems suspiciously similar to one you might be familiar with.  A gamer at heart, Parson finds nothing interesting in his life other than constructing and managing fantasy battles.  Prior to getting conscripted into Stanley’s employ, he was working hard to make his own home-brewed game, which involved a large-scale battle in a situation which is similar to the one Stanley’s forces are now in.

But Parson’s not much of a warrior, or a general.  He’s brilliant, but he now has just under a week to learn the strange combat system of Erfworld, from magic system to hex based map system, before the troops are quite literally at his doorstep and stabbing him.  The army approaching is led by Prince Ansom of Jetstone, with generals from sides all over Erfworld looking to end the reign of Stanley the Plaid.

Sizemore the Dirtamancer wrecks some fools. NSFW indeed!

Basically, the summoning spell screwed up.  Oh well.

Erfworld is currently updating at a sporadic pace, as the development staff have begun to focus their efforts to getting the strips collected for print.  The only negative part I can find with this comic is that one update every so often makes the plot absolutely drag.  As someone who has been reading Erfworld since it debuted on Rich Burlew’s Giant in the Playground site, I can say it took me at least a month or two before I actually figured out what was going on.

The second thing to keep in mind is that Erfworld isn’t a good comic if you’re not big into reading.  To help give the artist a bit more time to develop a page, every now and then we’ll be treated to a “text update.”  These updates started with less frequency in book one, giving Balder a chance to go over some of the basics of Erfworld without having to spend an entire full drawn comic on exposition.  Between book one and book two, there’s nothing but text updates, which gave the development team a chance to recharge their batteries a bit.  However, the beginning of book 2 saw the trend continue, as Balder said many fans have emailed about how they liked how dense the plot progression was between book one and two.

The text updates are very well written, and I’ve read them all.  But you know, sometimes I’m just not ready to plow through one of those extremely dense texts.  Sometimes it just doesn’t cull that comic reading urge.

As for the positive, well, Erfworld is very well written.  Parson makes a good front man for the piece, as it gives us someone to comment that the Knights in Stanleys Service are all painted like members of Kiss, or that all the spells and incantations seem to be entirely video game cheat codes, sketchy website names, and more.  Its like the entirety of Erfworld is an inside joke meant exclusively for Parson.

Everyone knows the coalition can't stand the SCREECH of a GUITAR!

The characters take a bit of warming up to.  At first glance, only Parson and Stanley show off their personalities with gusto, but this changes with time.  Everyone, from the lowliest pikeman to the craziest caster, is very much their own person.  Which boggles Parson to no end, especially when he finds they all essentially “pop” as full-grown adults in their capital cities.

Still, it’s a gamer’s paradise.  Food appears at dawn, and each character is automatically cleansed without having to use a bathtub or shower.  Parson communicates with others through his eyebook, which functions as an instant messenger client, and can issue orders to the battlefield from a large map room in the basement.  The magic system is deep and complex, and includes everything from mathamancy and luckamancy to dollamancy.  Hell, with the right leader and units, armies can even participate in dance fighting, which looks as hilarious as it sounds.

Basically, there’s a lot to dig into, especially if you’re interested in table top gaming.  By the way, so far I haven’t heard any rumblings of an Erfworld table top game, but I’ve seen comics less suited to one of those give it a go in the past.  It’ll probably happen someday.

Half the reason I chose not to review Erfworld for this long is because it is still a relatively new comic.  But now that book 1 is done and we’re halfway through book 2, you can actually get a feel for the comic before you run out of updates to decide if this is something for you.  It’s the little things which make a difference sometimes.

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