The Desolation of Smaug is excellent, but not in the way you are thinking

First, if you haven’t seen John C. Wright’s hilarious skewering of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, go do so now. It’s hilarious, and I stole one or two ideas from him for this review.

Are you back? Okay. Against my better judgement, I went and saw the second film. I was pleasantly surprised. I had been the victim of false advertising. I had gone into the film expecting an adaptation, however terrible, of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. No one told me that what they had in fact made was a Darths & Droids movie. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Darths & Droids is a webcomic that lovingly mocks and sends up the Star Wars films by treating them as if they were tabletop roleplaying games. It was itself inspired by DM of the Rings, which did the same thing to The Lord of the Rings films, which perhaps makes it a more apt comparison. Anyhow, during this process, many plot holes are cleverly filled and inconsistencies easily explained away. So too in this latest film: every single discrepancy, plot contrivance, and out of character behavior in The Desolation of Smaug makes perfect sense if we view it not as an adaptation of The Hobbit, but as an adaptation of the game of The Hobbit.

Take the beginning sequence, for example (well, okay, the beginning beginning sequence is what happened while they were waiting for the other players. I’m talking about once the whole group is together). The film jettisons Gandalf’s humorous scheme of getting all thirteen dwarves plus hobbit into Beorn’s house by taking advantage of his curiosity and hospitality, slipping the dwarves in two at a time as he tells his yarn. Instead, it opts for an action packed sequence as the company flees across the countryside from both the orcs and Beorn, making it into his house and locking him out just in time. Why? Easy: nobody wanted to start the night’s game session with a lot of talking and Persuasion checks. They know how it really happened, but they want some action! This is also why they hurry on straight to Mirkwood, pausing only to regain some hit points from Beorn’s table. As a side note, the players are using a mixed collection of actual Lord of the Rings miniatures and Warhammer miniatures, which explains the strange, cartoonish appearance of certain characters.

As the company reaches the edge of Mirkwood, the players realize with horror that they forgot to tell the pizza man to deliver. Since Gandalf isn’t supposed to be in the story at this point anyway, they send him off to fetch the pizzas. The DM promises him he’ll get a sidequest later to make up for missing out on the game. Still, with fourteen players remaining, it’s not long before the party gets hopelessly lost in Mirkwood, and ambushed by spiders while Bilbo’s player is in the bathroom. Bilbo finally climbs down from the tree, then, dispatching a spider with a witty one liner, he takes off the Ring. Why?!?! shout the others. Why would you do that? He mumbles something about wanting to try and play more in-line with the Middle Earth of The Lord of the Rings, but secretly he’s hoping to set up a precedent for later, when he plans to epically derail the DM’s Fellowship of the Ring campaign.

Anyways, the party has good fun hacking up spiders, Bilbo even goes after a non-aggressive one to get that last bit of XP, when the elves show up. And the DM’s girlfriend. She wants to join in, so he gives her an NPC he had on hand, Tauriel, and also takes this opportunity to introduce his pet NPC, Legolas, so he can “teach her how the game works”. Of course, normally, the elves wouldn’t have any reason to leave Mirkwood until much later, but the players, fresh off their victory over the spiders and tired of Bilbo doing everything, are eager for some more action, so the fairly uneventful ride down the river provides the perfect opportunity to works some orcs in, and show Tauriel the ropes of combat. The DM also takes advantage of this to punish Kili’s player, who has been flirting with his girlfriend, by “randomly” targeting him with the morgul dart. Never mess with the DM’s girlfriend. Just don’t.

Now we get to Laketown. As Bifur’s player sets up his lovingly assembled Warhammer buildings, Gandalf returns with the pizza, distracting everybody. The DM improvises some sidequesting with Gandalf as the pizza is devoured. Kili, still resentful of the morgul dart, makes sure to snag the last leftover slice before the DM can reach it. Back to Laketown: the terrain is setup and the minis in place, with Bifur’s recently painted ballista placed proudly atop the tallest tower. At the players’ request, Laketown is a hotbed of intrigue and tyranny, as the group has been watching Game of Thrones recently and couldn’t wait for a proper Westeros campaign to get their fix of ‘realistic’ fantasy (this is also why Thranduil executed his orc captive).

Kili had a bit too much pizza, and is nodding off at this point, and a few of the other players have to work early, including the DM’s girlfriend, so he sends in some orcs for one last fight before they leave. And it is getting late, so nobody sees anything wrong with making them ninja orcs. Worth more XP that way too. Much to the DM’s annoyance, Kili has been explaining all of Tauriel’s combat feats and other abilities to her, and she puts them all to good use, healing Kili and cutting down orcs. The DM also deploys Legolas again as the some of the other players begin to pack up their dice and books. He pulls out Orcrist to face off against Bolg, when someone asks why he doesn’t just shoot him. Well he would have, if it hadn’t been Kili who suggested it. Bolg makes his exit, as do about half the players.

At the Lonely Mountain, things look like they’re starting to get back on track with how The Hobbit is actually supposed to go. Sure the players are already fixated on the Arkenstone, but a little metagaming is bound to happen with a game based off a book. Anyway, things are going fine when Bilbo’s player decides to take off the Ring again. But that’s okay, because he makes some excellent Riddling rolls whilst Smaug fails all of his Spot checks spectacularly. And then, it hits that time of night. If you’ve never been part of a dungeon crawl, know that they often carry on into the wee hours of the night, by which I mean 4:00 in the morning. At that point, everyone is pretty hyped up on more Mountain Dew than is healthy for a man, or dwarf, for that matter. The decisions made during this time are not always the best. The remaining dwarves decide to storm Smaug’s lair, and hatch an elaborate plan to take down the worm, despite missing half of their party. They all survive the initial engagement, due to some incredible Savings throws and a furious argument over how often Smaug can use his breath attacks. Gandalf also keeps interrupting the proceedings to try and advance his sidequest, which heads in an equally absurd direction. The Necromancer and Smaug end up sounding alike as the DM switches back and forth between fights. Also, Smaug continues to horribly fail his Spot checks. When their plan to kill Smaug with molten gold fails, as it obviously would to anyone familiar with the monster manual, they decide to call it a night, and as a joke, send Smaug off to torch Laketown and give the other players a nasty surprise next session.

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Posted on February 28, 2014, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Excellent! *clap clap* (especially for referencing 2 of my favorite webcomics) If you ever decided to start screancapping the hobbit movies, oh do let me know.

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