A new boxed set from Renton, Wash.-based Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons & Dragons vs. Rick & Morty, made its public debut at Neumos last week in Seattle. In a live play session, run by Wizards of the Coast’s Kate Welch, the players weren’t just playing D&D; they were playing as the cast of “Rick & Morty,” who were playing D&D, with Welch, playing as Rick Sanchez, turning out to be a particularly sadistic sort of old-school Dungeon Master.
It was already weird. Then one of the characters contracted a bad case of “lycanthropickle,” which is more or less exactly what you’re picturing it would be, and it got weirder.
The D&D vs. R&M boxed set takes its inspiration from IDW’s official Rick & Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons comic book, written by Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind) and Jim Zub (Skullkickers, Uncanny Avengers, and soon Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comic) with art by Troy Little and Leonardo Ito.
The series is an extended parody of D&D as seen through the lens of the TV show’s characters, as Morty’s attempts to learn how to play the tabletop game are assisted (read: sabotaged) by Rick.
In the boxed set, Rick has made an original adventure for Morty and his family to play through. The result, “The Lost Dungeon of Rickedness,” is a surreal blend of ‘70s-era D&D modules, particularly those made by D&D co-creator Gary Gygax, with the trademark strange humor – there’s a trap in the dungeon that steals the victim’s butt – of ”Rick & Morty.”
The boxed set also includes a starter guide for D&D newcomers, which is extensively annotated by Rick himself: a cardboard screen/quick reference guide for the Dungeon Master; a set of polyhedron dice; and a set of five pre-generated characters. Four of those characters are the ones that Morty, Summer, Beth, and Jerry play in the comic book; the fifth, Meatface, is a barbarian with no equivalent in either the comics or the cartoon (he was a placeholder character who took on a life of his own during the writing process).
D&D vs. R&M was written and designed by Welch (a.k.a. Rosie Beestinger), Ryan Hartman (a.k.a. Donaar Blit’zen), Adam Lee, and Ari Levitch, with the comic’s co-writer Zub on hand to contribute character dialogue and a few ideas to the final product.
Welch described her team’s work to me as an attempt at self-parody, where it initially intended to mock the strange early days of D&D – “We set out to make fun of all these tropes,” she said, “and it felt wrong.” Instead, they ended up leaning into much of the weirdness.
“The Lost Dungeon of Rickedness” is an adventure made just like Gygax used to do it, with constant action, harsh punishments for stupidity, rewards for creative problem-solving, and most crucially, no rhyme or reason to it at all. Later D&D writers would go out of their way to make adventure modules that had their own kind of internal logic, but in Gygax’s work, especially early on, no such rules applied. The map for “The Lost Dungeon of Rickedness” is deliberately laid out as a series of unconnected, dissonant traps and encounters.
Despite that, the boxed set is distinctly pitched towards D&D beginners, who might pick it up due to their interest in “Rick & Morty.” The starter guide is a fairly standard newbie’s manual for D&D, albeit one with running, disparaging commentary by Rick, aimed at Morty. (Sample: “People need to be rewarded in their hedonistic hamster wheels to keep themselves entertained – and that’s okay!”)
Most of Rick’s dialogue in the guide was written by Zub. “I put a lot of jokes in about D&D and Wizards of the Coast that I thought would get pulled,” he told me, “but then they weren’t.” Zub is also the author of IDW’s current Dungeons & Dragons comic book, which he describes as a passion project, and ended up writing the “Rick & Morty” tie-in due to the “rapport” he’d built with both IDW and Wizards.
I’m not much of a “Rick & Morty” fan, but I am a long-time D&D player, and it’s impressive how the D&D vs. R&M boxed set manages to thread this needle. If you’re familiar with the old ‘70s modules it’s parodying, there’s a lot here that you’ll get a laugh out of; if you’re also familiar with “Rick & Morty,” many of the gags will hit at least twice. It’s a fully playable, albeit strange, D&D adventure that also works as a sort of lost episode of the TV show.
If you run it the way that Welch and her crew did, you also get an additional bizarre roleplaying challenge, one that’s been sort of a running gag in the tabletop community for years: you’re running a character who is him- or herself running a character. Welch and company really leaned into that, with Prosser as Summer Smith getting a lot of hands up from Welch as Rick, doting on his favorite granddaughter, while Beth’s husband Jerry (played by Zub) ended up as the table’s punching bag.
Dungeons & Dragons vs. Rick & Morty will be available for sale on Nov. 19 for $29.99.