Without a doubt, unquestionably, 100%, RAT QUEENS could be a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D for short) campaign. The series creator, Kurtis J. Wiebe, called the series a “love letter,” to D&D and as a long-standing player, I agree.

RAT QUEENS, as a comic, is full of violence, drugs, and sex (probably in that order). D&D, depending on the age and consent of the players, can also dip into that subject matter. In my in-game time playing or running sessions as a Dungeon Master, I have experience with all three — for better or for worse.

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Yet it’s important to remember that, as a series, RAT QUEENS isn’t just about these three activities, and neither is D&D. Though juvenile on the outside, the violence, drugs, and sex can be defining and important moments for characters in either universe. In the moments created by these shocking and unforgettable subject matters, relationships form. The resultant relationships between the characters of RAT QUEENS and between D&D players alike are what makes the series and the game reflections of each other.

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The Rat Queens assemble, in RAT QUEENS #1, courtesy of Image Comics.

But enough about me saying that — it’s time to tell the stories and show these moments at work. If you are already a fan of Hannah, Violet, Betty, and Dee’s, some of the following stories will be familiar. I hope I can convince you to give D&D a try. If you’re a player of D&D and other role-playing games, I’ll hope for the converse: that you can experience this excellent series for yourself and see the points you know so well reflected in such a delightful way.

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It Wouldn’t be D&D Without Copious Violence — Because Danger Brings out the Best in Heroes

I had taken a break from playing D&D because I was convinced that interesting stories couldn’t come from violence. So when a friend invited me to my first Adventurer’s League game — the organized, nationwide D&D play — I was skeptical but hopeful. After all, D&D offers options for conflict other than killing. So when I arrived at my local game shop, I asked: should I create a character who can fight? Without even looking up from his character sheet, a senior member of the group answered: “It’s Adventurer’s League. There will be combat.”

I remember sighing on the inside, figuring I lost my shot at an interesting game. But I was wrong. I just needed the proper experience. That came when my low-level party — full of low-health spell casters — fought something slightly smaller than in the picture below:

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If you want to know what we were up against, Game of Thrones offers a hint. Image courtesy of HBO entertainment.

We had to face a zombie ice dragon. It surprised us as we were crossing a frozen lake, immediately spraying my party and me with its ice-breath. That was enough to almost kill all of us. From that point on, we had nothing but our wit and teamwork to save us. My heart was in my throat each time the DM picked up his dice to attack — but also each time we fought back.

The violence of combat forces you, as a player, to face the consequences of meaningful decisions you make as a character. I learned that day that the violence and combat of D&D is not solely about killing — it’s also about surviving.

RAT QUEENS also Makes Violence a Meaningful Experience

Throughout all of RAT QUEENS, Wiebe makes good use of violence as well. All of the characters can fight — and fight well. Hannah, the magic user, wields pure energy like sharp knives to slice, impale, and intimidate her foes. Violet, a proud dwarf, prefers hewing limbs and bodies in half with her sword. Betty tumbles, leaps, and stabs, using a signature move — the “Betty Climber” — to kill large opponents. Dee, the party’s cleric, uses a sword or a bow to protect herself, eschewing magical attacks for healing.

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In a more comedic moment, Dee heals a serious wound in RAT QUEENS #2. Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Yet even if the Rat Queens sometimes make light of the damage they give and receive, there are plenty of times when the damage is serious. In the first arc of the series, when they’re defending their home of Palisade from trolls, the battle gets fierce. Violet lowers her guard to save Hannah, but Violet ends up taking an arrow through the neck in the process. Like my team facing the zombie dragon, she’s at critical health and about to die.

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Violet takes an arrow through the neck in RAT QUEENS #5. Image courtesy of Image Comics.

And then Hannah loses it. Spurred on by Violet’s mortal wound, she’s able to turn the tide of the battle. It’s true — the Rat Queens do save the town. But anyone who has played D&D knows the town is an afterthought. The threat of violence is a powerful way to motivate characters to overcome obstacles — no matter the story. This is the magic of violence used as a tool to add meaningful stakes to a scene, a magic often used in RAT QUEENS.

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In D&D Alcohol Brought my Character Community…Accidentally.

In my first D&D game as a wizard, I couldn’t do much. My spells weren’t that great, and I didn’t even have a decent weapon to defend myself. In game, my wizard found himself attached to a party that was sent into the wilderness to secure an alliance with an ettin chieftain and his soldiers. Part of this involved proving our worth in contests of Strength and Constitution against one of the chieftain’s ogres. We had to succeed as a team or face dire consequences. I cursed when I heard the news.

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Heresy Miniatures shows a good comparison between my wizard’s size (left) and an ogre (right).

That’s because Strength and Constitution — being brawny and hale in game terms — are not stats wizards are known. So when it came time for my character to face the drinking challenge, I already apologized. I had to survive a swig of “Harpy’s Dream” (which “contains the laments of an entire world in one shot glass.”). In most cases, I normally roll poorly; for some reason, Fate forgot me that night.

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My roll on just about every shot: natural 20, automatic success. I had to check and see if I — the player — was drunk. Image courtesy of PicClick.

My lithe wizard outdrank an ogre, and we were able to secure the alliance. Even though I was outclassed, ill-equipped, and weak, somehow the alcohol let me prove myself to my senior players. More importantly, by the end of that session, I felt like part of the community.

…But in RAT QUEENS, the Social Drinking is no Accident

Just like with my wizard, some of the most profound moments of RAT QUEENS involve alcohol and other drugs. And, yes, a lot of those moments are silly. Hannah uses magic to get a stronger buzz; Betty, meanwhile, prefers hallucinogenic mushrooms. We see the aftereffects of Violet drinking ale, and in the preview issue of RAT QUEENS, Dee is upchucking from over-drinking.

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Violet wakes up from a house party in RAT QUEENS VOL. 2 #1, courtesy of Image Comics.

But the thing is, the drinking and use of other substances isn’t for hedonism alone. It’s summed up best by Violet in RAT QUEENS #2, right after they save the two remaining members of a fellow Palisade adventuring party. “First things first: lay the dead to rest…then honor the hell out of them.” In addition to fun, the RAT QUEENS use alcohol to create a community. In this instance, it allows Hannah and her rival spell caster, Tizzy, to put aside their differences and honor their fallen comrades.

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The Rat Queens, Barga, and Tizzie enjoy surviving death in RAT QUEENS #2, courtesy of Image Comics.

So in a similar ken, alcohol is celebrated in RAT QUEENS as it is in D&D. The alcohol represents shared memories — good and bittersweet — that bring disparate people together. 

In D&D, Sex will Only be Encouraged if There are Plenty of Jokes to be Made

Tor — my first character ever — had a bone to pick with his party members. Being one of two “good” characters in a party consisting of a death cleric, a pyromaniac monk, and a barbarian who liked to throw pennies at villagers, he disagreed with their ideas. They wanted to leave Livia, a paladin our DM played, to fend for herself in the wilderness. After some mischief my party members pulled on her watch, her god had become upset and stripped her of her powers. We couldn’t just leave her, Tor argued. And who was going to disagree with the party’s fighter?

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When we holed up in a keep for two weeks, my DM mentioned she felt safe around me. She even sought out my presence away from the others. And when she asked to “deepen” our relationship, I had to make a choice. Although I didn’t feel 100% comfortable with my male DM propositioning my in-game alter ego, I agreed it would be in Tor’s character to give in and consent.

“Excellent,” he said. “The sounds of your constant lovemaking fills the rooms of the keep. For two weeks straight.” I was agape.

“Gross,” said the barbarian.

“Great. I’m going to conjure up earplugs,” our wizard said. 

“Two weeks, huh?” the pyromaniac monk said. “What do you suppose he’ll get for that?”

“It’s quite an impressive feat of stamina,” said the death cleric. He did have a point. We sat around our tables thinking. The DM chuckled.

“What?” I asked.

“Gain another rank in weapon mastery. Longsword” We laughed hard that night.

In RAT QUEENS, Sex is Silly and Frequent — but also Meaningful.

Although it started as a joke, Tor and Livia became a good couple. My DM knew that Tor had come from the cold north to avenge his murdered wife and child. As such, beneath the veneer of sex played for laughs ran a deeper meaning significant to my character. RAT QUEENS does the same thing.

There is a lot of sex in RAT QUEENS, and a lot of it is for comic effect. Hannah gets called out for making too much noise with Sawyer. Orc Dave can only smile at Violet’s brash libido. And the immature jokester in us all probably gets a kick out of a great page in RAT QUEENS #6:

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The Rat Queens pass the blame on statue vandalism à la The Goonies in RAT QUEENS #6. Image courtesy of Image Comics.

But although there were plenty of sex jokes at the start of the series, RAT QUEENS uses sex to show characterization. In my favorite moment in the series, Hannah’s lover, Sawyer confesses to an unsavory past in the interest of being open with Hannah. He asks her to do the same. In moment of shocking vulnerability, Hannah agrees. It’s the first time we see what Hannah is hiding beneath her hair:

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Hannah reveals her true lineage to her lover and the audience. She’s half-tiefling — a half demon, in other words. From RAT QUEENS #10, courtesy of Image Comics.

In a series that is often times so light and not self-serious, seeing characters behave this way left me speechless. Make no mistake — RAT QUEENS is for a mature audience. But with that rating comes stories for adults who can get the jokes and understand the pitfalls of romance.

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But what really makes RAT QUEENS D&D is the Community

RAT QUEENS and D&D tell great stories, but if I just looked at the subject matter, I wouldn’t know what to think. Violence, drugs, and sex are hush-hush topics that shouldn’t be able to entertain an audience or empower a character. Yet if you give RAT QUEENS or D&D a shot, you’ll find the opposite. How is it, then, that the stories of D&D and RAT QUEENS do this?

In my mind, it’s because RAT QUEENS and D&D tell stories about community foremost. To the individual, violence may endanger the body, drugs may scramble the brain, and sex may create irreparable damage — but only if you face these challenges alone. Of course I’m not advocating rampant hedonism, and if you experience either RAT QUEENS or D&D, you’ll realize that too.

When we play D&D, it really is us out there. We go into dangerous situations that test our physical, mental, and social strength. From there, with your friends, you protect each other, guarding and being guarded against danger. It’s a cooperative experience where you can feel the strength of a community firsthand.

And similarly in RAT QUEENS, it should be obvious that friendship is the theme of the series. Violet and Hannah may argue, and Betty and Dee may go off on their own (for hallucinogenic mushrooms and books, respectively), but they always come back to each other. RAT QUEENS VOL. 2 #9 reveals, at long last, the extent to which at least one character will go to save her friend.

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The Rat Queens share a toast that sums up my thoughts. In RAT QUEENS #11, courtesy of Image Comics.

And so, to Sum up…

RAT QUEENS, in other words, shows what D&D can be at it’s best. As a member of that community — and now, as a fan of RAT QUEENS — I am thankful to Kurtis J. Wiebe and the talented team of artists for their work.

So if you’re unable to find a group with which to play D&D, RAT QUEENS is a good option. If can’t wait for the next issue of the comic, gather your RAT QUEENS friends to try D&D (there’s even a 5th edition scenario available!). If you remember that both are about friendship first, you won’t be disappointed.

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See the similarities between D&D and RAT QUEENS yet? My home community (left), and the cover of RAT QUEENS #10 (right). Images courtesy of Elm City Games and Image Comics.

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