Comedic games

edited August 2009 in Game Design Help
I never intentionally watch comedic movies, I haven't read a book focussed on comedy since high school. But for some strange historic reasons I am now writing a comedy game.

Rpg:s focussed on comedy is certainly not common, and for a good reason, I believe. But now I am finishing one and it would be interesting to get some perspective from other people on comedy gaming. The only rpg with a large portion of intentional comedy that I have played is Paranoia. In a different thread someone pointed out Ghostbusters and Toon as other examples. (In this Distance and Comedythread.)

First of all, are there any comedy oriented games in the indie-production? Any noteworthy discussions on the subject?

Second, dos and don'ts for designing comedy?

One thing that I see as an obvious problem (it is with our game, for sure) is that if you have a game mainly focussed on comedy you might get too distanced to the characters. It starts out as really fun, but since you never get connected to the characters and because of this won't enjoy specific jokes and ideas as much as you would if, say, the same joke had been done in a more serious game with heartfelt connection to the characters.

Comments

  • It's Complicated is designed as a comedy-drama game, but tends to get played as high farce.

    This conversation in distance and comedy is one of the most useful and interesting threads I've read on SG.
  • A previous, related, thread you might want to look over: Humour
  • Elizabeth,

    The distance-thread I linked to above (although without really understanding how to do it properly, it seems). I have read about It's complicated. It seems relevant (although very different from what I am doing). I have put it into my to-buy-list.
  • Most games are comedic in the Aristotelian sense. But if you want a game that goes for laughs, the best way to do it is to play it straight. Focus on unusual characters in mundane situations or mundane characters in unusual situations. Remember that irony is easy to do in an RPG because you are not your character. Encourage players to be available in comedic situations and don't have rules that shut down such opportunities.
  • Sometimes the comedy part of a rpg is almost only color, in the setting typically. I think of the French game Bitume for instance (OOP from the 80s). Bitume was a post apocalyptic rpg where humanity had lost literacy and history knowledge. The comedy kicked in in the way the survivors interpreted the culture of the past. For instance the tribes your character could belong to figured indians, vikings or pseudo knights. It was fun to play a character that took seriously his/her cultural identity based on some worn down page of a comic book. Scenarii playing on this irony was a blast too, like when our vehicle deprived viking tribe discovered a steam engine and cheered that it found its new drakkar!
  • Posted By: bouletSometimes the comedy part of a rpg is almost only color, in the setting typically... It was fun to play a character that took seriously his/her cultural identity based on some worn down page of a comic book. Scenarii playing on this irony was a blast too, like when our vehicle deprived viking tribe discovered a steam engine and cheered that it found its new drakkar!
    Any game can be played for laughs. If the rules don't support comedy, then it's not a comedy game. It might be funny to read and it might be funny when you play it, but that's all on the players' skills as entertainers. Comedy is not color.
  • You know, I can think of several games that get played as comedies the first several times through and then morph into more serious games. Inspectres is one that our group morphed into a serious game after we got tired of the slapstick. Zombie Cinema is also a great example. The Roach as well tends to get played for comic value, but could easily be played as horror.

    Nothing in these books says that these games are comedies, it's just that most people tend to play them that way.

    Hopefully something to consider.
  • I've got a few games that are comedy based.

    First one is Super Action Now!, which is for a farce/absurdist sort of humor. You could play Naked Gun or Airplane with it, although it's usually used for stuff even weirder.

    My second one was Knuckleheads, which is for slapstick in the Laurel & Hardy, Three Stooges, Buster Keaton tradition.

    And then there's Coffee & Cigarettes Live Action Roleplay, which is funny in the same way that Coffee & Cigarettes is. Because watching people fight over status in passive-agressive ways is funny.

    Oh, and Double Crazy Bicycle Go! is also funny, but broken.

    If you want to discuss anything about these, I am game! Heck, I'm game +1. I'll let you start, though, 'cause I don't have a clue where to start. I'm bad at starting.
  • Og : Unearthed Edition is a very comedic game about cavemen.

    The funnyness of it originates mostly from the restrictions put on players on the number of words they may know at the beginning of the game (only a handful for most). They can only use those words when communicating with each other.

    -Me Bang Big Big Food!
    -You Rock!

    Skills are funny too, because if you ever roll a 1 on your die, it means you temporarily forgot how to do what you were trying to do.

    And of course the whole book is written for laughs, with funny cartoony illustrations.
  • I love how MonkeyDome handles it. You roll dice for "grim" or "zany" narration. However, the humor doesn't have to come from one or the other.
  • edited August 2009
    Posted By: Jared A. SorensenAny game can be played for laughs. If the rules don't support comedy, then it's not a comedy game.
    So what kind of rules support comedy? I know of several games that I've played for laughs, but thinking back on it I'm not sure if any of them specifically supported the humor in their rules. At least, not in any way that doesn't also support most other moods you'd choose to play them in.

    -Greg
  • I find Drowning & Falling hilarious.
  • Posted By: Jared A. SorensenMost games are comedic in the Aristotelian sense. But if you want a game that goes for laughs, the best way to do it is to play it straight.
    I entirely disagree. The best was to go for laughs is to empower the players to be funny, reward them for being funny (pretty easy, everyone likes making people laugh) and making sure the rules don't get in the way of that (Toon, with your overcomplication, I'm looking at you).
  • Jack, what do you mean when you say "empower the players to be funny"?

    It's my experience that funny doesn't become easier when we expect it to be delivered; often, the contrary. But I'm not sure if that's what you are saying.
  • Posted By: ldd23Posted By: Jared A. SorensenAny game can be played for laughs. If the rules don't support comedy, then it's not a comedy game.
    So what kind of rules support comedy? I know of several games that I've played for laughs, but thinking back on it I'm not sure if any of them specifically supported the humor in their rules. At least, not in any way that doesn't also support most other moods you'd choose to play them in.

    -Greg


    Paranoia is funny because it's so awful (in a moral sense not in a design sense). It's black comedy, satirical and wicked. Played in the Zap! style, it's more like a Warner Bros. cartoon and is only funny if your group is funny.

    Elfs is funny because you can hate your character and work against his or her goals (which are petty and stupid and selfish). The comedy lies in the disconnect between the two entities: character goals and player goals.

    InSpectres is funny because of the Confessional and because of the mundane aspects of the otherwise ridiculous situation. When the GM lets you blow off a zombie's head without much opposition but you need to roll Stress because you slip in the resulting spatter of blood, that's funny... especially when the game rewards you for falling down.

    And Grey Ranks is funny because children fighting wars is hilarious. Ok, I'm not serious.

    BTW, "playing straight" means that you need something non-comedic to put up against the comedic aspects of the game. You need an Abbot to go with your Costello or a Venkman to go against your Stanz. Otherwise it's "zany whacky!" and that's just plain ol' comedic hack-ness.
  • edited August 2009
    Posted By: Alex FJack, what do you mean when you say "empower the players to be funny"?
    Encourage it, expect it of them, and set things up so they're free to be funny without having to fuss too much about their ability to perform the actions they think is funny. So stiff realities, and complex rulesets sit poorly with comedy, for example.
    It's my experience that funny doesn't become easier when we expect it to be delivered; often, the contrary. But I'm not sure if that's what you are saying.
    It's always worked fine in Great Ork Gods, and Killin' Kthuloo.
  • I agree that complex rule sets could get in the way of funny (tragic, romantic... though not tense, which can feed off of high points of contact rather better).
    For me, comedy can absolutely come out of not having the ability to perform your actions. The ineffectualness of Paranoia, for instance. Failed actions are great grist for comedy, and I find myself delighted more when I do not predetermine the failure, but am surprised by it.
  • I'm sorry, I've not been clear. I certainly don't mean the characters should always succeed. Failure, especially failure mediated by another player, borders on a must. What I mean is that worrying too much about the continuity and coherence of the shared imaginary space is a problem. Whereas in D&D, the following snippet might be okay:

    Player: "I pull a torch out of my backpack, thrust it into a fire and try to set fire to his beard!"
    GM: "Do you have a torch?"
    Player: "Um, let me check my sheet. No. Okay I grab one from a bracket on the wall!"
    GM: "There aren't any torches on brackets."

    That kind of quibling shuts down any comic activity, and shuts it down hard. You need to embrace players creativity in comic play.
  • There's comedy gold in the intersection of task and intent resolution. Succeeding at your task, but failing to get your intent, or getting your intent while failing at your task are both pretty funny, and easy to do in an RPG.

    Here's my ultra-lite comedy rpg I made up just now:

    When a character tries to do anything that someone or something else is standing in the way of, the player of that character rolls three d6, and assigns them to the following categories:

    Intent: 1-3: The character doesn't get what they wanted. 4-6: The character gets what they wanted.
    Task: 1-3: The character fails at the activity they were using to achieve their intent. 4-6: The character succeeds at the activity.
    Style: Choose two mutually incompatible styles, such as "Gory" and "Cute" or "Gritty" and "Slapstick". 1-2: Describe the result in the first style. 3-6: Describe the result in the second style.

    And you're done!
  • edited August 2009
    The Sorensenator speaks truth.

    Line 2 says, acting funny is never funny. As someone who has spent far too much time doing straight man/funny man routines, I can tell you that much of comedy comes from situation. Most of the rest comes from characters taking to extreme measures actions that follow an internal logic that, nevertheless, is not real-world logic.

    One kind of comedic situation places the character in a position where the audience knows something really important that the character does not. That's dramatic irony. By defying death, dismemberment, or horrible disfiguration obliviously and still living, you get tension that is most naturally resolved through laughter. In any case, comedy always involves intellectual incongruity.

    I firmly believe in the old adage that dying is easy and comedy is hard.
  • edited August 2009
    Posted By: svenI never intentionally watch comedic movies, I haven't read a book focussed on comedy since high school. But for some strange historic reasons I am now writing a comedy game.
    And people scoff at me when I say this hobby lacks standards.

    I'm going to add something else here, relevant to the character/player divide:

    A guy wearing a funny hat is not funny.

    A guy who doesn't know the hat he is wearing is funny, is funny.

    Edit: Let me just add, in all seriousness, I would not try to write a game about life in Vienna in 1904 without looking at some pictures or watching some movies and at the very least, reading goddamn every book I could get my hands on about Vienna in 1904. You should look into some biographies of great comedians, or books about great comedies, or great comedies themselves. Really look into them. I post here on story-games for a lot of reasons but number one is I like stories in my games. And the number one way I improve the stories in my games is that I read a shitload of stories, and a shitload of books about stories. And if a story in my game is stumbling along it is often not related to the game at all - it is more related to my understanding of good and bad stories. So please, please, do yourself a giant favor. Go and start watching great movie comedies at the very least. There is no reason not to start, so many wonderful comedies are in the public domain. Watch them once for enjoyment and watch them again for analysis. And if you don't enjoy them, don't inflict a comedic game upon yourself. There are people that don't like jokes or comedy, it's not that they don't have a sense of humor, it's just that they don't go there for enjoyment of life and would rather go elsewhere.

    Here, I will give you some places to start, Hulu links first, then Internet Archive:

    Africa Screams - Abbott and Costello
    The Noose Hangs High - same team

    Question for review:

    Why is Bud Abbott there if we have a whole cast of "straight" characters? What does Bud Abbott do? Why is Bud Abbott funny?

    His Girl Friday - Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell

    Question for review:

    What role does romance play in this comedy? Why is this romance funny? Is there anything funny about the new fiancee? What makes him funny?

    The Big Noise - Laurel and Hardy

    Question for review:

    Why is Ollie funny and not just a nasty bully?

    The Champion - Charlie Chaplin

    Question for review:

    There's an extended silent (by that I mean none of the characters speak either) physical comedy routine in this movie. What about it is funny?

    Disorder in the Court - The Three Stooges

    Question for review:

    Compare the physical comedy of the Stooges to Chaplin's and Laurel & Hardy's. What hits right on and what falls flat?

    Okay, that should help everyone in this thread get somewhere.
  • JDCorley, thanks for updating your post. At first I didn't understand you at all. And thanks for all the movie examples.

    First of all, I don't enjoy comic movies nor ditto books. I really don't. But I really enjoy joking with my friends. We are writing a game which is supposed to facilitate fun collaborative talk with your friends. I agree, although I never thought about it earlier, that it would make sense to to some degree vwelve into comic posturing and so on. You have a good point, I have to admit. I will watch some of the stuff you mention, at least. But what feels more releant for me would to be to play and read other comic games.

    (But now I remember that I actually like Charlie Chaplin. Like, really like. When I watched his movies a few years ago I just assumed that they would bore me to death. That kind of mindset usually leads makes it impossible to enjoy the films, but I the movies really took my by surprise.)

    Second: The comic aspect of the game is not necessarily the most important part. It is clearly written to create comedy and that is essential, but the setting of the game is also really important. I will take this opportunity to say something about what it is about, even if this might not be the best place to do so. It is cetainly not a genereic 'comedy game', it is written for a very specific type of comedy.

    The game is named after a Swedish scandal man and obscure celebrity, Johnny Bode. This Bode was a successful song writer in Stockholm during the twenties and thirties. Later he worked as a musical writer in Vienna and Brussels. Today he is by far most known for his pornographic songs from the sixites. He was also a thief, a complusory liar and had many sad, but darkly funny things happening to him, like: Fleeing from Sweden to Norway (during the nazi occupation of the latter) to work as writer of nazi musicals, being forcefully put into mental care on return and later steralized (neutered) by the Swedish state. He also wrote pornographic novels and famously stole kitchen silver (probably not the correct translation) from Sweden's most famous movie actor at the time.

    The game itself is about high society drunkards or low society drunkards, who for some reason are allowed to hang with the famous. It takes place in Stockholm in what we like to call the Mythic Thirties. Each game is about a group of these people meeting up and trying to remember what took place during one all-but-forgotten night. (And just to make everyone more comfortable: Is totally lacks nazi-humour. That is just an unfortunate detail in his backstory. Prostitutes and lewd talk might occur, on the other hand.)

    During the game every player is GM for exactly one chapter each. The rules are written to give the players (not the GM) the possibility to quickly change important facts in the game. Our intention with the resolution system is to make big success and big failure equally desirable to the player. (And much more... but that's not for today.)

    So while I haven't watched comedies I have listened a lot to Bode's pornographic songs, read his pornographic novels and also been watching Swedish movies from the thirties. The relevant genre is something called "Pilsnerfilm", ("beer movies"!) lighthearted and low budget movies with songs and complicated love intrigues. Since this genre of movies basically is what people in my generation tend to know about this era we try to pick quite a bit from them, content as well as dramatic ideas.

    Also, we will almost certainly not translate this game to English, since it would be hopeless considering the subject. However, if the new rules work better in actual play (I hope!) than the old ones (the first playtest took place back in 2003, so it's time to finalize...) did I might try to use parts of the rule core for an English language game.
  • edited August 2009
    Folks, thanks for all the answers. A lot of the stuff pointed out here and in the Humour thread, which I had not found (thanks Jack!) are all good stuff. Nothing mindboggling, but things are seldom mindboggling. It is hard to collect all the pieces on your own.

    In post I just want to list things that people have pointed out which might facilitate comedic play. Some of the points will be in form of quote, other my own rendition of people's ideas. At some quotes I put author, at some I haven't. Don't be angry with me. If you feel quoted, but not named feel free to tell me.
    • Sudden change in status is fun. (Graham)
    • Antagonism between players. (Anemone and others. The strong part of Paranoia)
    • A guy wearing a funny hat is not funny. A guy who doesn't know the hat he is wearing is funny, is funny. (JD Corley)
    • Stereotype, stereotype, stereotype (JD Corley)
    • they're funny when everyone is willing to make fun of their own character as well. They stop being funny when someone only wants to make fun of other characters.
    • Failure is funny. Gigantic failures more funny.
    • Humour games are have to be player-driven (anemone)
    • It's also funny to go dark. I've never played a genuinely funny session with "light, positive humor". (Jason Morningstar) / The essence of comedy is people who take themselves seriously. (Somniturne)
    • Use reincorporation
    • There's comedy gold in the intersection of task and intent resolution. (Simon C, see his microgame above)
    • Watch out for slow pacing (due to complicated rules or something else). Beware of look-up tables! (Meserach)
    • Don't make a big deal out of story continuation.
  • edited August 2009
    Posted By: Simon CHere's my ultra-lite comedy rpg I made up just now:

    When a character tries to do anything that someone or something else is standing in the way of, the player of that character rolls three d6, and assigns them to the following categories:

    Intent: 1-3: The character doesn't get what they wanted. 4-6: The character gets what they wanted.
    Task: 1-3: The character fails at the activity they were using to achieve their intent. 4-6: The character succeeds at the activity.
    Style: Choose two mutually incompatible styles, such as "Gory" and "Cute" or "Gritty" and "Slapstick". 1-2: Describe the result in the first style. 3-6: Describe the result in the second style.

    And you're done!
    With a few tweaks, that's pretty much the Dying Earth roleplaying game, and very funny it is too.
  • Posted By: GB StevePosted By: Simon CHere's my ultra-lite comedy rpg I made up just now:

    When a character tries to do anything that someone or something else is standing in the way of, the player of that character rolls three d6, and assigns them to the following categories:

    Intent: 1-3: The character doesn't get what they wanted. 4-6: The character gets what they wanted.
    Task: 1-3: The character fails at the activity they were using to achieve their intent. 4-6: The character succeeds at the activity.
    Style: Choose two mutually incompatible styles, such as "Gory" and "Cute" or "Gritty" and "Slapstick". 1-2: Describe the result in the first style. 3-6: Describe the result in the second style.

    And you're done!
    With a few tweaks, that's pretty much the Dying Earth roleplaying game, and very funny it is too.
    It also shares a lot with MonkeyDome: Roll two d6s, a Grim one and a Zany one. Highest determines the tone. Success or failure of task and intent are entirely up to the players, except when you roll a tie (which means you're unable to perform the task) or both dice are less than 4 (which means you do what you do, but your intent is twisted to teach you a lesson).

    But MonkeyDome is not at all funny.
  • edited August 2009
    Ok, thanks. I just tried the BB-Code.
  • "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die" - Mel Brooks

    Also:

    I've run two kinds of games of Console. The first kind had players who've played console RPGs and know all the conventions thereof. In this mode, Console is a hilarious game. The second kind had players who've never really done much with console RPGs. In this mode, Console is not a particularly amusing game. It can be fun to play in both modes, but it's only funny in one of them.
  • Oh, here's a thing.

    Don't feel that your rules text needs to be funny itself. The text of Paranoia is funny, but it's not a prerequisite: Toon is a funny game, but the text itself isn't funny.

    I've read some excruciating games that try desperately to be funny in the text. But that's not where the comedy needs to come from.

    Graham
  • Posted By: Graham
    I've read someexcruciatinggames that try desperately to be funny in the text.
    Sorry about that, Graham.
  • Posted By: GrahamOh, here's a thing.

    Don't feel that your rules text needs to be funny itself. The text of Paranoia is funny, but it's not a prerequisite: Toon is a funny game, but the text itself isn't funny.

    I've read someexcruciatinggames that try desperately to be funny in the text. But that's not where the comedy needs to come from.

    Graham
    I fully agree. In my specific case I attempt to be funny in the examples of play, anything else would be a bit bizarre. But for the text itself I just try to be a little bit more lighthearted than usually, but I am always when writing mainly obsessed with trying to get the rules through very clearly. I consiously often repeat myself and write everything in a very procedural way, which probable can be seen as boring by those non-engineer people I have read about. (I never see them, except my wife, but she doesn't read anything I write anyway.)
  • Posted By: svenFailure is funny. Gigantic failures more funny.
    Posted By: Colin_Fredericks"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die" - Mel Brooks
    And one more, to drive it home: Comedy is tragedy that happens to someone else... most time, someone who deserves it.*

    * Some UNC professor whose name now eludes me.
Sign In or Register to comment.