Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ack, You No Know the Funny!

D&D has never been very funny, which is a little bizarre given the underlying concept. I suppose roleplayers have been too busy enduring the taunts from the mainstream to bother ridiculing it themselves.


There were a few attempts in the early going; the occasional humorous illustration or magical object, and some very funny cartoons in the old Dragon Magazines. But most deliberate attempts to be funny were at best a little limp, or at worse, puns. I can even remember a Dragon Magazine article that presented the Jester as a possible character class and went on to outline the D&D rules for a joke fight, because nothing says funny like rolling percentile dice.


But it really isn't hard to see why they avoided the issue. The main reason would be that that comedy is highly subjective. What one person might find screamingly funny might (inspire murderous rage) be seriously off-putting to everyone else. The second is a tendency for yuks to take over a game; an SCA friend of mine once told me that his group had outlawed camp behaviour in all group events because once it starts, nothing else gets done. 


But there have been some very good, and very funny RPGs: TOON, Ghostbusters, Kobolds Ate my Baby, Paranoia! (among others). So why no funny D&D clone? Or even a truly amusing supplement, adventure module?


It is not that there aren't some great examples to draw on, probably officially kicking off (in modern form) with Bored of the Rings, then to Holy Grail, Discworld and up to the gay panic fervour of Your Highness. I am not even counting the few excellent, the many good and the countless awful, on-line spoofs and parodies.


The way I see it there are three main points to stress before embarking on such an endeavour:


1          A little funny goes a long way. Not every trap has to be a black pudding pie in the face.


2          Play the characters straight. Nothing destroys funny more than a character that thinks he is being funny. Just look at the decay of 'The Big Bang Theory' from being a solid sitcom with some genuinely likeable characters, to a smug, hammy yuk-fest.


You can have a bunch of silly knights pretending that coconuts are horses; or a seven foot dwarf that joins the city watch; or an immortal god of time who flies around in a box that is bigger on the inside. The point is that no matter how absurd the situation, to the character, that is the normal.


The one straight man reacting to the absurdity works (Dick Louden in Newhard, Jeff Winger in Community), but you can't have every character pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes, cause then he's just some naked royal dude. 


3          The stakes have to be real. To borrow from a film that illustrates the point perfectly, death is on the line. The Princess Bride, The Goonies, Ghostbusters and even the Holy Grail all have a basic plot that wouldn't be out of place in the most serious of films. If the characters fail, they loose their soul-mate, they loose their homes, they face Armageddon or they fail in a divinely appointed quest.


Still, you might write the funniest thing since Hamlet 2 and still not find an audience. Anyone who has ever spent any time in a forum realizes that some people take this shit way to seriously.


Any good supplements/adventures/games that I'm missing? I have read Portable Hole Full of Beer (and if you haven't, I do recommend having a look).

No comments:

Post a Comment