Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thundercats and D&D's Influence on Popular Culture

I don't know how many folks out there caught the premier of Cartoon Network's relaunch of Thundercats. Having fond memories of how wonderfully awful the original series was, I have had occasion to show my older kids some of those old episodes. Thus, my children were very eager to watch the new series, which we did.

Besides creating a much better foundation and background for an ongoing series than the original ever did, I was very much struck by how much D&D has seeped into our popular culture. While the show does owe a lot to the sci-fi/fantasy mash-ups of our pulp heritage, I don't think this iteration of the Thundercats could exist in a world without D&D.

In addition to telling the tale of the fall of Thundera and the ascension of Lion-O to the title of Lord of the Thundercats, the primary purpose of the first episode was to gather a diverse group of characters to go on a quest. Sound familiar? It hews even closer to our beloved game. Note how the iconic characters are portrayed:

  • Cheetara is the last living Cleric. Yep. Cleric.
  • Wilykat and Wilykit are street urchins who steal for food. (The party Thieves, anyone?)
  • Tygra (who is Lion-O's adoptive older brother) is a gifted warrior who is an expert marksman and uses invisibility. (Fighter/Ranger type?)
  • Lion-O is a fearless warrior who, of course, wields the powerful Sword of Omens. (Fighter/Paladin type?)

One of the more intriguing aspects of the relaunch is the idea that technology is a lost/mythical treasure that Lion-O gets criticized for dreaming about by both his father and older brother. The way the show depicts technology, once it shows up, kind of reminds me of a type of re-skinned magic. Panthero does not make a personal appearance in the series opener, but if the series follows in the footsteps of the original, he will be the party's expert in technology, setting him up as the party magic-user.

I was pleasantly surprised and look forward to watching more episodes with my kids. I also plan on taking notes in order to incorporate some of its better ideas into a FRPG campaign — because, if we are honest, that's where this iteration of Thundercats began.

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