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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Comedy Relief In Role Playing Games

The idea of using role-playing games for comic relief applies not just to games that are already intended for comic relief, either the system itself (such as Paranoia, HOL, etc), but to more standard (usually "serious") game systems where the players all agree to give comedy a run - playing for comic relief can even be done on a per-character basis, even within a game that is NOT geared toward comedy, though the style, content and intensity of this type of play is best kept within the players' overall tolerance for "shenanigans" - this is not something one should do at every game, but an opportunity which may present itself from time to time.

While rules-lite game systems tend to lend themselves to comedic role-playing a bit better than heavier number-crunching games, due to the freer narrative without the accompanying requirement for dice rolls to perform every action, even game systems heavy in the mechanics department can provide an entertaining venue for the rpg comedian, or as some internet rpg humor lists refer to them, zanies or loonies.

Using the general theme of the scenario or adventure itself, the fairly-universal semi-insurance that the DM isn't going to outright kill you if you're being entertaining (even if not necessarily wise), and the typical probability of the game system's success/failure mechanics, consistent methods of comedic playing, usually of the "incompetent, bumbling, sidekick" slapstick variety, can be played right alongside the swarthy mercenary and the mysterious elven sorceress. Endearing fumblers have long accompanied more serious and heroic protagonists in novels and movies, and so too it can be in role-playing games.

In the case of a more densely-concentrated rules system, for example 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, the urge for comedy can spring as inspiration, as much from happenstance or even frustration, as much as genuine premeditated comedic intent. As a practical example, a player in a four-person adventuring party was of a more "cinematic" bent, play-style wise, and felt he was constantly being penalized by the game system used, for his attempted over-the-top heroic actions, possibly more suited to a swashbuckling or buddy-cop martial arts movie, than a gritty fantasy dungeon crawl.

Deciding to make the system work in his favor (or die in the process, most likely), the player's fairly generic, gruff Dwarf Paladin, evolved into the cluelessly overconfident Dwarf Paladin who saw himself as a righteous crusader, protected and blessed by his faith, hailed by all as a shining icon of heroism and bravery. The ancient drawbridge leading over the bubbling black water to the tower proper, looks weathered and unsteady - this naturally then would be the time for the plate-mail clad Dwarf to make a prodigious leap to the tower. Failing that, as he did, this would instead be the time for him to crash bodily through the rotten timbers and plummet dozens of feet into the rancid murk below, requiring his companions to lower a rope to pull him out, as he patted himself on the back for taking the risk and sparing his friends the danger.

No longer would this holy warrior skulk around in dark corners, giving Evil the satisfaction of waiting for someone to "check for traps", this warrior strode bravely into darkened corridors, hundreds of feet below ground, heedlessly kicking in thick doors leading to unknown chambers, filled with chittering and slithering noises. An inspired tumble between the legs of the ogre, and a failed roll accompanying the action, would find the Paladin played like a croquet ball by the hulking ogre as he slammed the short-statured hero into the next room with his massive gnarled two-handed club. Granite hammer in one hand, shield in the other, crossbow bolts sticking out of his breastplate, the Paladin would charge zealously into teeming masses of kobolds and gnolls, plate armor glinting in flickering torchlight - sometimes he would even emerge from these battles still conscious (though not often).

But there are more ways than bumbling, to get a bit of comedy relief in a game. Sometimes it just takes a quirk for an otherwise competent character, even if the quirk is not-so realistic to the setting. The keen-eyed Elven Archeress, respected among the party for her skill with a bow, when asked if she was ready for the upcoming battle, replied in a bubbly tone, "Like, duh - fer sure!" Some players consider it a mark of success for their fellow players to beg, or better yet, threaten them, to NOT play "so much" in character. The Valley Girl Elf Archer was surely one such time that would count toward this end.

"Mama Cici" proved that you could be both competent AND a bumbler AND realistic, and still provide some comic relief, in the way of pure normalcy. The overweight middle-aged cook and mother of four joined the adventuring party, armed only with her good dishes (including her trusty iron skillet), determination and homespun wisdom handed down to her from her Grandmammy. Borrowing a little from 90s telephone psychic "Miss Cleo", Touched by an Angel's Della Reese, Martin Lawrence's "Big Mama" and Nell Carter, Mama Cici could dispense cautionary tales and advice at the drop of a hat, but her lack of skills in "Ride Horse" and "Fight" really proved to be disadvantages on a cross-country adventure.

As for the Halfling Pit-Fighter and seven foot tall barbarian professional wrestler, perhaps they would be best left forgotten...

Caution, restraint and good judgment should be used by players attempting to "liven up" a game with comic relief, especially if the other players are obviously hoping for a more serious game, and especially when you get lots of frowns, frustrated sighs and even more especially, threats of bodily harm. Sometimes one must put away the whoopie cushions and cream pies for the sake of the gaming group and continuity. You wouldn't want a deranged psycho-killer to suddenly go rampaging through a forest of big-eyed chittering animal characters any more than the tactician and the gunslinger want to be thrown off their timing by the clown next to them priming his water-squirting flower.

Jason J. Patterson - June 29, 1973 - Small town in northeast Oklahoma on Hwy. 66, U.S.A.


In my teens, I began writing short stories and home-made "choose-your-own-adventure" type "books" (really just a few pieces of typed paper stapled together), and personal thoughts on philosophy and metaphysics and culture, as well as personal and dream journals

I have also written a number of informal, freely released supplements, rules errata, resources and scenarios for tabletop role-playing games, as well as a simple board game and a couple of dice game rules sets.

As a child and young adult, I was an avid reader, mostly of fantasy and some horror and science fiction novels (Dean R. Koontz, Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Dragonlance, etc.), as well as books related to language, the paranormal, philosophy and various other references, with boxes of literally hundreds of books - this lead to an interest in developing my own writing skills, and I also have some ability at freehand sketching/cartooning - with examples online at Elfwood and Deviantart.

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