The Role of Role-Playing in Goblin Slayer

Because “The Role Role-Playing Plays” is too much like the Low-cal Calzone Zone

Having had Dungeons & Dragons be a huge part of my adolescence made Goblin Slayer very special to me, as well as a few other anime. Back when I got interested in D&D, it would have been around 2003-2004. My main draw was that at that time it was somewhat difficult to really immerse yourself in video games as graphics were generally meh, and as a good 14-year old Christian boy, the “good” games at the time were too graphic and violent for me. So, when I learned a bit about D&D, I saw it as a way to have complete control over an immersive fantasy experience, but also have it be very realistic. All the charts, grids, tables, numbers, and 300+ page rulebooks were ways to make living that fantasy life as real and grounded as possible by maintaining the suspension of disbelief because there were rules for everything.

While I don’t feel I had a bad youth that I wanted to escape, I loved the idea of pouring myself into something and living a Tolkienistic, Warcraft-flavored, high fantasy adventure beyond just video gaming or reading. I wanted to feel the adrenaline of exploring the unknown, and the danger associated with it. Death is a lot more permanent in D&D than most video games and combat can be a lot more unpredictable. And I. Loved. It.

Or rather, I thought that I would. I never got to really live out that fantasy as those around me wanted to play D&D for a different kind of experience. Having already read the entire Player’s Handbook cover-to-cover at least once, and gone through much of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, I offered up to be the DM for the few who were interested. So in order to have it be a fun time, I tried to make my DM style match what the players wanted out of it and it ended up being more of your traditional D&D experience: Zelda-like puzzle dungeons, players riffing off each other, pizza rolls and soda, bizarre and hilarious antics, and rule lawyering. And we loved it; it was a fantastic time for all of us, with many very fond memories being created.

The number 4 in Japanese is often pronounced “shi” which means death.

But it wasn’t until I started watching Goblin Slayer that I remembered I never had really scratched that itch of what I wanted D&D to be. Given the option, I would have loved to go off into the woods at night and do sessions by candlelight to really separate myself from the modern life I knew and live the fantasy adventure (oddly enough, LARPing has never appealed to me).  First, Goblin Slayer takes place explicitly in a D&D world. Lyrics of the OP even reference the figurative players of this game: “…laughters above, playful smiles, die gets rolled… Piece by piece the tables turn, and turn again in this eternal game. Biscuits, with clotted cream and milk tea, time to roll your d20…” Same races, classes, setting, spell systems, the whole nine yards. There’s even reference to the D&D alignment chart (Lawful Good, Chaotic Evil, etc.), as well as a round-about “not breaking copyright” Beholder.

Casters have limited spells per day, ammunition runs out, and there are no power ups from friendship or believing in yourself really hard (though there might be D&D 4e’s “Second Wind”). The very first episode, involving a party delving into a cave, is animated in such a way that the lighting is realistic and scary; torchlight only does so much. The danger is real; we see the rookie party get horrifically killed and abused by the goblins.

The later adventures and exploits of the Goblin Slayer and his party, though with skilled adventurers, still maintains this danger and fear.  Goblin Slayer (the anime) asks “What would life in a Tabletop RPG world really be like?” And the answer is: not pretty. You can’t have all these kinds of powerful beasts and creatures, many of which are evil by nature (though I hear in the latest D&D edition that’s being done away with, but that’s a different discussion for a different time on a different blog) and expect to have life be stable. The lore of the Goblin Slayer world is that The Gods of Old rolled dice to determine if Chaos or Order would win each day (a somewhat meta reference to the players, another nod), which reminded me of the classic Greek Pantheon.

Ancient Greece, or Ionia as it was then known, was a very hectic and dangerous place to live back in the several hundred B.C. years. Warlords would rule certain areas, and reigns would be short until the next warlord took over, or they died on a raid, and then everyone’s property, wives, and lives would all get shuffled around. It is believed that the Greek gods were ascribed such volatile and chaotic personalities for this reason. You could explain the chaotic and hectic events of life with “I guess Apollo was pissed today,” or “Seems Zeus is trying to hide another illegitimate child,” etc.

A lot of what I love about Goblin Slayer’s nods and tributes to D&D are things that I would otherwise list as detriments to the show if I were not familiar. First, nobody has names. Everyone is referred to by their class, occupation, or nicknames that other characters give them. This allows for more of that self-inserting that you are doing when you play a Role-Playing Game. Another is the lack of backstory that most characters have. While Goblin Slayer himself has one, it’s pretty bare bones; most D&D players don’t do a character history past what you can say in a paragraph. Another nod that I enjoyed was the not-so-subtle inclusions from other media. Any DM will tell you that they have thrown Easter egg references into a campaign.

The episode after this scene is titled “There and Back Again.”

Maybe it is a character’s name, a scenario, a puzzle, or entire characters.  In Goblin Slayer there are at least two adventurers I particularly noticed (though I suspect the world’s “Main Heroes” and the sorceress are also cameo references that I missed) that were essentially cameos: Guts from Berserk, and Cu Chulainn, the Lancer from Fate/Stay Night. While not explicitly that character, they have extremely similar design, weapon use, and attitude. Ordinarily I would say “dude, what kind of lazy plagiarism is this?” but that exact kind of lazy plagiarism is part of what makes D&D such an enjoyable experience. I patterned my campaign’s first dungeon off the Forest Temple from Ocarina of Time and had a brotherhood of merchants whose visual design, voice, and sayings were lifted straight from The Merchant in Resident Evil 4, for example.

Original on the left, Goblin Slayer cameo on the right.

Another Tabletop RPG nod is the inclusion of players not cheating per se, but definitely taking advantage of certain items in ways they weren’t intended to be used. To avoid spoilers, I won’t give specific examples, but it’s along the lines of this scenario:

Other members of the party even berate the Goblin Slayer for not “adventuring the ‘right’ way,” a frequent complaint when not everyone in the playing group is going for the same experience.

If Goblin Slayer asks “What would life in a D&D fantasy world really be like?” then Konosuba asks “What would a traditional fantasy show look like if people acted the way they do when they’re playing D&D?” Then I guess somewhere in the middle you have DanMachi in which the players and DM like the idea of their characters getting into kinky and raunchy situations but don’t want to actually roleplay any of it out because they’re embarrassed.

I guess if I were to throw a TLDR in here it’s that because of my history with Tabletop RPGs and my childhood image of what it could be, Goblin Slayer was extremely satisfying, emotional, and enjoyable for me. I suspect that the average viewer without a similar background would be turned off due to the brutal and graphic content, and that’s definitely okay; Goblin Slayer doesn’t do a good job in the feminism department. But if D&D, Pathfinder, or any other flavor of Tabletop RPG is in your blood, you’ll likely find this enjoyable.

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