I have an Idea.
Pants. The idea is pants. Trousers. Pedal pushers. Leg-sausage-casings. And skirts! Even skirts make the list. Call them what you will, their purpose remains the same: to cover your filthy hide, and protect the world from the sight of it.
But who has time for pants? That kind of selflessness is incompatible with my freewheeling lifestyle. And so it pleases me greatly—and chagrins others, which in turn pleases me even more greatly—to report that somebody has finally invented an official No Pants Day.
As previously reported in this space, the large-ass company that has foolishly employed me encourages its employees to make offices of their homes. In the past six months, I have gone from a full-time office worker to a “half-n-half,” which means I’m at home about two days out of the week. And when the “office” is ten feet from bed, No Pants Day suddenly becomes every day. Everyone knows that an absence of pants leads to a more cavalier attitude toward life in general. Can this distraction extend into the workday? The answer is yes, a bit, but more importantly, it can even extend into one’s biweekly column.
It was in this pantsless manner that I came upon The Greatest Thing Ever. Debreeched procrastination has led me to a better place, a wonderful distraction, a diversion of pleasure: Kingdom of Loathing: An Adventurer is You!
That’s right. I have survived an encounter with the ghost of the Slug Lord, and returned with his mystical pants!
Allow me to explain. Kingdom of Loathing is a web-based, hilarity-based role-playing game (RPG). The price of admission is zero dollars, though donations are encouraged. I am assured that the game works just like every turn-based RPG. This may surprise you, but I have very little personal experience with such games, so I turn to the expertise of the avid player at the desk next to me. As in many other RPGs, you go on adventures, you collect gold, you use that gold to buy better swords and helmets and things, and then you use your excellent new sword to go on further adventures and collect more gold. Yup, that’s all you do, and this is one of the problems I have always had with RPGs (present game included): as a twitch-gamer, I am often overcome with the feeling that I’m missing some crucial element that makes it an addictive pastime. Surely there is more to it than this, I have muttered to myself. As you’ll see below, there is much more to it, and before long KOL really won me over.
In Kingdom of Loathing, your adventure begins with the choice of a character class. There are six different classes that focus on the three in-game attributes: Muscle, Mysticality and Moxie. The Sauceror class, for example, uses magical Mysticality as its primary attribute, and if you choose to be a Sauceror you’ll spend a lot of time casting spells and pulling rabbits out of hats, so to speak. Seal Clubbers, on the other hand, use Muscle, while Disco Bandits use Moxie, and so on. I hasten to add that you can outfit your character in all manner of vestments that modify your defensive and offensive powers. And yes, one of these vestments are the pants of the Slug Lord. I also wear a mullet wig and a shiny ring.
Once you’ve chosen your character, you set about expressing that character as fully as you can. If you’re a Seal Clubber, you do this by accumulating experience points related to your muscles and by performing “strengthly acts.” My character is a Sauceror. My growth as a character depends upon the making of sauces, and as I progress, the sauces get better and better. You should see the Fancy Schmancy Cheese Sauce I can make! Combine that with the fruits of a Pastamancer’s spoils, and you’ve got dinner!
Your character will spend most of his time adventuring and crafting. “Adventures” are a simple concept. You can think of them as encounters in dungeons with hobgoblins (or, in the case of Kingdom of Loathing, “Knob Goblins”), but you can also think of them as a measure of time. A day is approximately forty adventures long and you use those adventures to accumulate experience points and items. More adventures can be had through the consumption of classy snacks and alcohol. Win an adventure, and you receive some money or an item or experience points. Experience points are how you come to be better at your vocation and “level up.” Items are simple objects like “Burning Crutches” and “Dry Noodles.” They can be used on their own, or combined and crafted into all kinds of hybrid items, each with its own mirthful purpose in the Kingdom. You can then use or sell your creations, and buy the creations of others in open markets.
Okay, now here comes the masterstroke. The currency for the entire game, the replacement for gold, the catalyst for all your crafting? Meat. You can get meat from all sorts of places—your vanquished foes, the corpses of defeated colleagues, the open market etc. When asked how many meat you have, you get to say “I have 4,000 meat.” Seriously, try saying that out loud. Rad, huh?
That humour is what I’d most like to emphasize about KOL. Every little encounter with a shopkeeper, every item description, every choice of verb is punctuated with laughs galore. In a fight with a monster called a Whitesnake, you may find yourself “rocked in the elbow.” And check out this rendezvous:
Interview with the Vampire: You encounter a vampire in the Spooky Forest, and he agrees to do an interview. You manage to make him sound pretty good, despite his speech impediment and the fact that he’s kind of dumb. Moxious!
Or this one:
You’re fighting an L imp. This imp doesn’t appear to be in very good shape. Unless you consider “shaped like something with two broken legs” to be a good shape.
It’s so hilarious that you forget that the gameplay consists of clicking the attack button for forty adventures a day. See, that’s the neatest trick of all: at first I thought Kingdom of Loathing was making a brilliant mockery of the RPG form. And it is. But in playing this particular game, I’ve come to a first-time-in-my-life understanding (dare I say a genuine affection?) of role play: you imagine a world, and you have fun doing it. Did I say “genuine affection”? I think I might have meant “rabid obsession.” Does playing while cooking dinner, on my lunch break, between writing emails and while I’m supposed to be working on this column count as an obsession? No? Okay, “genuine affection.” An Adventurer is Me!
David and Vanessa currently live and toil in Toronto--for a large technology corporation and a non-profit, respectively. They met via their blogs, and were married in the winter of 2002. They have a hamster and a dog, but no yacht.