Different methods for introducing different forms of comedic content

edited February 2009 in Story Games
In another thread, Jarod has been touching on different types of comedy.
Posted By: BurrOn another note, I can see making explicit what kinds of humor may be kneaded into the genre. It seems like comedy of manners would tend to sink into the fiction; whereas, even a subtle pun would tend to pop out of the fiction. But then, maybe both could be used to weave the real and fictional contexts in and out of each other.
I think Jarod's nicely nailed some of the consequences of different approaches, and I couldn't agree more that sophisticated use of e.g. those two could produce something really rewarding.

Taking your wider point, about different types of comedy, I wonder if we tend to rely a lot on one basic technique: be mindful of tone. Do be wacky, keep it understated, that kind of thing. Actually, I think in of itself that can do a lot - people can be smart and sensitive and manage this stuff by directing their attention towards it. However, I think that more support can be given, and I'm wondering how to get it.

Firstly, does it already exist in the rpg community?, I'd be curious to how some of the big funny-oriented games like Toon, Paranoia, Ghostbusters, etc approach things. Do they gather up active advice for how to introduce and run with funny content? Are there suggestions for how to sustain different comedic moods?

Secondly, what forms could support take? Personally, my mind is on attention-directing stuff. Things on the character sheet, advice for the GM in the form of "when this sort of thing happens, consider this". Not so much around concrete mechanics. Is there scope for other stuff?


  • Examples to give some meat to this:

    When two people meet, consider how one could form an arbitrary reaction to another - want an autograph, be disgusted by their order. Gently reincorporate this throughout the session, but be prepared to find an ending -> this could mimic the events you can find in sitcoms

    When a piece of furniture/inanimate object is introduced, consider how it could become an awkward impediment/be lost. Consider the environment as threatening, and make sure to mention it - embed it in the fiction from an early (innocuous) point -> could work for slapstick
  • Wow. I don't have the design chops to do it, but a comedy-humor RPG would be awesome.
  • I know you can build a game that codifies the creation of situations and interactions that are inherently amusing. Differences in status can be funny. Differences in objective power can be funny. Forcing players to subvert their character's own power and status is always funny. Heightening and reincorporation can be funny, so why not require them? I think putting in procedural cues is enough - you don't need to call out the humor at all. In fact, doing so will probably kill it. Paranoia is a good example of each of these points.
  • edited March 2009
    Dying Earth is a comedic game. The way in which this happens is thus:
    - archaic language used to add a veneer of eloquence true meaning (it was not obviously useless)
    - pomposity and self-importance
    - the tagline mechanic

    In purist games, experience is only gained from the use of a character's taglines. These are best chosen by another player. The owner of the character is then forced into comedic situation in an attempt to use the line.

    Examples are:
    "Until work has reached its previous stage nympharium privileges are denied to all."
    "You may take my other leg, I have no further use for it"
    "It was a mere accident of digital expediency"
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarDifferences in status can be funny. Differences in objective power can be funny.
    A really tall thing next to a really short thing is funny!
  • edited March 2009
    Both Paranoia and Dying Earth use status techniques. Paranoia does it by encouraging you to screw each other over: that is, reduce each other's status. Dying Earth encourages you, in the source material, to be self-serving and increase your own status, but then the die mechanics mean you lose, badly, a lot of the time. It's only a matter of time before your pomposity is pricked.

    In Toon, you get a Plot Point when you're funny.

  • Graham, you are spot on with your status-difference humor, but let me dissect: another thing that Paranoia does — an astonishing thing, when you think about why so much D&D sucks so hard — is turn whiffing straight into fun. (It sounds like Dying Earth gets a lot of mileage from the same thing.) Rather than being a frustrating side effect of low level, it is central to play that the skills a Troubleshooter would nominally require to complete his mission have nothing whatsoever to do with the skills required to be chosen as a Troubleshooter. You are good at toadying and betrayal, at turning in your friends for fun and profit; you need to be good at shooting trouble with a laser. Your negative skills drive the story forward, such that if you don't have a high Laser Pistol skill, that counts as a flag to the GM that you want to fail in firearms combat. And so failure, really abject rolling-around-in-the-vatslime failure, smoking boots failure, laser holes in torsos failure, circular betrayal debriefing failure, bot treadmarks on the forehead failure, total-party-kill failure, is assured and awesome. This is true even if you elect to play it 100% straight: you get that double-fine, pitch-black Dr. Strangelove-type humor from the mismatch of organizational goals and the traits that the organization selects for.

    This ports well to non-comedy games. I've run Call of Cthulhu straight every time, more than a hundred times. No saying "cyclopean" and smirking, no genre-savvy characters (as in Scream), no cross-genre exports ("Scream for Jeeves"), no postmodern nothin' allowed. And yet, we've had our share of laughs at the expense of characters who are the only people in the world who know what's wrong, since they read the book, but then... how do an academic librarian, an antiquarian, and a mathematics professor stop a doomsday cult again?

    MP: "I know — I'll prove theorems at them!"
    AL: "And I'll catalog their cards!"

    When the characters say it, it's out of frustration and horror. The audience is allowed to laugh.

    As an adversity-slinging GM, you can take a more general technique away from this. Consider what your party isn't good at, in light of how they aspire to see their characters change. The situation is that they need to use the skills (or equipment or whatever) they wish they had; their reward is a chance, maybe, to get those things. In between, there is comedy that doesn't take excursions from the fiction.
  • I'd like to talk about this. It'll take me some time to get anything verbalized, but in the meantime, here's three humorous games that I've written:

    Super Action Now! (madcap & farcical; it's sorta like Naked Gun, Spongebob Squarepants, and Looney Tunes mixed together, but weirder)

    Knuckleheads (slapstick in the manner of Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, and such)

    OBLITERATI (a comedy of manners, sorta)

    All three of these are funny when played, and all in different ways.
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