Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dying is easy, Comedy is hard

Last week's entry was a distillation of a good bit of research into the soul of comedy gaming.

It started with the ninjas. The jokes were flying fast and furious around the gaming table, some of them at my instigation. As I was browsing the forums on, I found a thread which had people recount their funniest gaming moments. There were a few good ones, but then one fellow jumped in with something like "Comedy gaming is fun for a one-shot, but make sure to kill all the characters so you can do something serious next week." Which makes sense for Paranoia (which I placed in the "joke game" category last week), but not for what I was trying to do by incorporating comedic elements into the setting of a continuing game.

That's when I turned to GURPS Discworld, the officially licensed roleplaying game of Terry Pratchett's Discworld stories. For those of you familiar with GURPS, you might be thinking "Why is such a crunchy and realistic rules system being used for a comedic setting?" A couple reasons were mentioned in the book itself. What it generally boils down to is "Not everything is a joke." When someone stabs you with a sword, it hurts A LOT, which suits the realistic tone of GURPS quite well. While the fellow may be trying to stab you for a funny reason (explained only in footnotes), it still stands a very good chance of killing you (at which point, you get to meet Death, who's not a bad guy all 'round).

That was my first big realization: The only way for comedy to be sustained is if not everything is a joke. If the players of the game have a serious interest in what their characters are doing, they will want to continue to play. Most people didn't tune in to "Friends" because all the jokes were that funny, but to keep up with the character and relationship drama. The jokes were just icing on the cake, really.

The next step also came from RPG. net. On a thread regarding horrible experiences playing at a convention, one poster recounted a scenario he played in once that required the characters to re-enact the punchline to a scatological joke in order to "win."

Second big realization: No punchlines. For one thing, Baum didn't use them either. My thoughts of comedy in Oz always bring me back to Utensia (visited by Dorothy in "The Emerald City of Oz"). Nearly everything in Utensia was a pun of some sort. The whole scene was a collection of rapid fire puns and jokes with no build-up to a punchline whatsoever. And trying to steer a group of players into creating a specific conclusion for a set punchline smacks of railroading (I think I've just found next week's blog topic), which is generally considered a bad thing.

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