Die, Vol. 3: The Great Game by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans & Clayton Cowles

Tho I’m a ginormous fangirl of both this series and its creative team, I must say that I’m glad that this installment was passed over for the Hugo nomination (for purely temporal reasons) because things definitely start to fuzz out of cohesion here.

So! Our intrepid heroes were originally, literally sucked into the twenty-sided world of Die back when they were bored teenagers more or less interested in playing a fantasy role-playing game run by their friend Sol. When they managed to emerge, somewhat the worse for wear, they found that years had passed and that Sol hadn’t returned with them. Almost three decades later, having grown older and wiser and sadder, they get pulled back in again by the lure of rescuing Sol. Trouble is, in order to leave Die for the real world once more, they all have to agree to go. They don’t.

Ash and Izzy, the Dictator and Godbinder respectively, want to stay in order to fix what they’ve done and to make Die a better world for its people. GriefKnight Matt and Neo Angela want to get the hell home. Chuck the Fool doesn’t really care either way, while Sol — or what’s left of him — is Ash and Izzy’s prisoner. While Ash and Izzy struggle to retain control of the land of Angria, Angela, Chuck and Matt go questing for fae gold in an attempt to gain enough power to stealth into Angria and, um, well, they don’t really have a plan (in a realistic reflection of many, many role-playing games.) Mostly, they’re trying to figure out how Die and the Fallen managed to exist before and separately from the game Sol started and what the implications of this are for the future.

To a large extent, this volume is where Kieron Gillen starts getting really wanky about the metaphysics of role-playing games, such that even I, who gushed and delighted over the first two books, was given pause. Like the one party of player characters here, I’m anxious as to whether there’s going to be a point and a payoff and not just well-meaning fumbling about (I don’t know why this paragraph sounds so horny; my apologies.) And it’s one thing when the players are stuck for ideas, because goodness knows, I’ve totally had similar problems in other people’s games — railroading is often unjustly maligned! — but the sheer chaos of this volume had me a little concerned that the author might be stuck for ideas as well. Reading this felt a bit like enduring the middle third sag of novels that aren’t quite sure how to get from their bang-up premises to their kick-ass endings.

I shouldn’t doubt, even if I did feel similarly or perhaps worse at the denouement of Mr Gillen’s The Wicked + Divine series. There’s only one more volume left, plus the role-playing game that I backed on Kickstarter. I’m very much looking forward to reading the last volume and seeing how the team finish this story. Also, mad props to Stephanie Hans for her outstanding work here. I feel like she’s grown in confidence when portraying these characters, and I loved the colour moods supplement she included at the end of this volume. This book also included a bunch of illuminating interviews with role-playing game designers, tho I really wish that we wouldn’t do the white text on black backgrounds any more. My eyes are definitely way too old for that nowadays.

Anyway, off to read the final volume and see if it’s worth of snagging my vote for the 2022 Hugo for Best Graphic Story!

Die, Vol. 3: The Great Game by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans & Clayton Cowles was published December 16 2022 by Image Comics and is available from all good booksellers, including

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