RogerBW's Blog

Pyramid 101: Humor 18 April 2017

Pyramid, edited by Steven Marsh, is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's humour, something I've always found tricky in RPGs.

What Fools These Mortals Be? (Phil Masters) looks at generating character for comic games – which starts with the intriguing suggestion that while action-adventure games define heroes by their skills (guns, driving, etc.) and dramatic games by their advantages (reputation, charisma, allies, dependents), what may be most important in a comedic game are a character's disadvantages (and other limitations on the character's ability to be impressive). Where comedy is about the perversity of the universe and how it does things to you, the levers it can pull to do those things become important. The article goes on to suggest some standard comedic roles (straight man, bumbler, casanova, and so on), and how traits can be chosen for comedic effect (Bad Sight isn't funny, Bad Sight combined with "too vain to wear glasses" can be). I don't tend to run deliberately comic games, but this article makes me want to.

Dying Is Easy; Comedy Is Hard (Matt Riggsby) looks more generally at the business of running comic games, starting with some theories of humour (though not touching on Antony Lynn's instructional idea, that group laughter at someone getting something wrong allows you to learn what is "wrong" without having to admit that you didn't already know it). The article goes on to explore how much comedy to use (an all-funny game, or funny incidents between more serious stuff), how to reconcile comic violence with a need for perceived risk, and ends with some practical mechanics of humour. This is a decent companion piece to the first, though working at a rather lower level - if you've read much literary analysis then much of this material will be familiar.

Eidetic Memory: The Monster Mash (David L. Pulver) contains "silly" dungeon encounters: proselytising goblins, a restaurant, and a lich made from a teenage girl – who's doing the detective thing and treating the PC dungeon raiders as serial killers. They're one-shots, and they really need to be set in a fantasy world that follows some fairly standard patterns: the teenage lich is only funny by contrast with normal liches, and so on.

Animating Your Life (Kelly Pedersen) has a template for bringing a cartoon character into real life, very clearly derived from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – even including a power limitation that is essentially "only when it's funny".

Terry Toucan & the Puzzle Pals: The House of 10,000 Sock Monkeys! (J. Edward Tremlett and Christopher R. Rice) is a light Scooby Doo homage that will, in theory, eventually fall through into real horror. This will need very careful GMing to pull off.

Random Thought Table: Amongst Your Weaponry Are Surprise and Anticipation (Steven Marsh) deals with ways of setting up humorous situations into which the PCs can insert themselves, as distinct from ones that play out on their own, using mystery and anticipation.

The first two articles are the really solid ones here for me, and between them they should make the core of a useful toolkit for running comical games or for inserting humorous episodes. I'm certainly more interested in trying out something along these lines than I was before I read this. Pyramid 101 is available from Warehouse 23.

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