Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: TOON

Prior to this post, I have only tagged Toon, the Cartoon Role Playing Game created by Greg Costikyan and Warren Spector for Steve Jackson Games in 1984, seven times on this blog before today.

I have mentioned it briefly a few other times.

That's just wrong.

I love Toon.

I think, no, I'm almost positive, I love the idea of Toon more than the game.

That doesn't mean I don't love the game. I do. What I mean to say is that I love the fact that there is a Toon RPG.

I am enamored with the knowledge that amid the Rolemasters, GURPS, and Space Operas which have clogged up the annuls of Table Top Gaming History, there has also been Toon. Not just a one shot product which was gone from memory mere moments after it hit the shelves, but a game with 7, or 8* products, spanning a good 20+ years.

Actually, that may have been the production span for the game, and its expansions, and supplements, but Toon has been with us now for 32 years now, and I know a number of people who still play it from time to time.

Myself included, although its been a while.

I rarely mention it (or at least haven't in a while), but I went to art school, attending both The High School of Art and Design, and college at The School of Visual Arts. I majored in Cartooning, and Illustration, and minored in Animation.

A fan of Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, Felix the Cat, Popeye, and numerous other cartoons practically from birth, I eventually went on to create, and draw many of my own characters.

I'm sorry, are you sure this is the 'Intro'?

Finding a Role Playing Game where you could play cartoon character was, for me, a natural progression. Like Science Fiction, and Superheroes, a Cartoon game made sense to me. I got it. I could easily imagine what you could play, what you would do, and what it would look like.

Between the games debut, and the mid-90s, I played a heck of a lot of Toon.

In addition to various one-shots, and short campaigns, I ran a couple of long running ones that I am still quite proud of today. Among the best were:

Bleep, The Space Guardian

From his orbiting, manned satellite, intrepid space hero Bleep, The Space Guardian, protects the universe with the help of his trusted companion, Cha-Wump.

Resembling a toothy, purple marshmallow, Cha-Wump is the real hero of the campaign, with Bleep being a brave, well-meaning, but ultimately dimwitted, klutz. Bleep's abilities come from his high tech space suit, ray gun, space battle cruiser, and his limited skills at using these. Cha-Wump can eat virtually anything, then open up his mouth to a cavernous size, enabling Bleep, or others to draw out the item latter.

There was initially only one PC in this campaign, my friend Pete who played Cha-Wump. Other PC's would come, and go, making the campaign very similar to a long running TV series with frequent guest stars (or guest voice actors). Among the reoccurring guest were Captain Cosmos (a rival space hero always trying to show up Bleep), the insidious Doctor Diode (one of Bleep's main enemies. Arguably his arch-nemesis), and Nina Nebula (Bleep's love interest/femme fatale enemy who resembles interstellar gases in a curvy, female shape).

In a classic case of goddammit-they-stole-that-from-us, the 2009 video game, The Maw, features characters who bare an uncanny resemblance to Bleep and Cha-Wump (the games lead characters, Frank and Maw).

The Boys of Cellgate

Largely inspired by the book, and film Who Censored Roger Rabbit, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, respectively, this campaign focused on a gang of 'animated' would-be ne'er do wells who become involved in a major organized crime heist, only to end up working for the side of angels, and trying to thwart the big, bad guy. The story was set in the late 1930's or perhaps early 40's.

Most of the PCs are typical Toon cartoon characters, called Toons, Toonies (derogatory), Animatics, or (as was suggested by one character) 'Animated Americans'. Instead of having a separate 'Toon Town', they live in one of many Toon ghetto sections of Los Angeles called Cellgate. Also in the area, though living in an even more run down section, are Strips, or 'Funnies', illustrated characters like those in Newspaper comic strips (and closer to Gary Wolf's original novel).

Among the PCs were Toons, Frankie the Ferret, Mr. Mooch (a Muppet-like Monster who constantly mooches off others like Wimpy from Popeye), and a Robot 'Strip' named Mal Function.

One PC was a 'Funnies' police department detective, very much in the visual style of Dick Tracy, while another was his Toon partner Robbie, a rabbit in a police outfit who could change into a superhero (Rocket Rabbit, I believe). They lived in a nicer part of town with Human neighbors (the Dick Tracy guy even had a Human girlfriend).

As in the Roger Rabbit film, Dip could cause Toons harm, and even permanent death. Strips could be 'Torn' (shredded up into bits of paper).


Perhaps the most successful Toon game I ever ran didn't begin as a game at all.

For reasons I can not remember for the life of me, I was just joking around with some of my gaming friends at the house of an acquaintance of theirs, when I ad libbed a character by the name of Jekyll the Jackal. Speaking with an accent that could just as easily be Slavic, as it was South American, it often sounded like I was introducing myself as Jekyll the Jekyll, or Jackal the Jackal, thereby establishing the first of many running gags.

I continued with an impromptu 'sketch' featuring Jekyll as the host of a children's TV variety show. I would 'break the fourth wall', but not exactly, since I made it clear he was talking to the 'audience', and that they, and Jekyll himself, were aware that it was a TV show.

I also quickly dropped hints that maybe Jekyll wasn't all there. When he addresses the kids in the audience, be isn't always perfectly warm, and charming. Sometimes he can seem a tad menacing in his attitude towards children who miss behave.

From the very first ad-libbed sequence:

Me as Jekyll the Jackal:

"Well! Hello boys, and girls! Welcome to my new show! It's called, Zoonatics, yes? It is going to be so funny! We are going to have a great time. I welcome Susy, and Joey, Becky, and Juan, Kim, and Peter...

...but not you Timmy. (In a sinister whisper) Never you."

Within a few more lines we learn that Jekyll is obsessed with America's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln (including going into a tirade trying to warn him to, "Stay Out of the Thee-Tor! Don't go Mr. President! Don't! The play isn't even that good!"), he has hired a pack of over two dozen Jackal lookalikes to get hurt instead of him should be attacked, and in this first episode of his 'new show', he needs to hire the rest of his cast.

Some of my friends then began joining in on my little comedy theatre thing, creating Jekyll's slow thinking rhinoceros sidekick U-Haul (actually a brilliant, Shakespearean actor forced to take this job to pay the bills), The Killer Emu (Dressed in a Batman-like costume, this Emu declares himself the Arch-Nemesis of Jekyll, and tries to kill him, or ruin the show), the Killer Emu's sidekick Manny, the Mannequin Bird (one of my favorite characters), the Ninja Zebra, rival talk show hosts Frog, and Toad, the mysterious Flamingo Rose, and many more.

After about an hour, or so of just riffing off the top of our heads, we notice others in the house (it was the headquarters, and main hang out of at least two, or three gaming groups. Big house.) surrounding us laughing, clapping, and just enjoying themselves. One guy off to the side yelled, "Why isn't this a GAME!"

And so it became one.

I could do an entire post just on Zoonatics, it's hidden subversive humor, the depth of it's premise (once developed), and much more, but...actually...I will. Just not here, not now. Look for it in April.

In conclusion...

If there is a first name in comedy RPGs, I would think it's Toon.

Many humorous games have come out since the initial 1984 release of Toon, and while some may feel one of these other games are better, funnier, or more playable, I would blow you a Bronx Cheer (also known as a 'raspberry'), and throw a pie in your face.

Toon is the granddaddy of them all, and it deserves our respect.

Barking Alien

The Muppet-like cartoon illustrations are the (very old) work of yours truly for an unproduced RPG called, 'The Cell Project'. It was created by a really brilliant guy I've long since lost touch with. In the game you could play a Toon (Animated), a Funny or Strip (Drawing), a Felt (Puppet), or a Pix (a CGI, computer animated character a la Pixar, or DreamWorks movies).

*Apparently there is a Toon Munchkin. I don't know if that counts.


  1. Sometime remind me to tell you offline of a house rule we used to have in college when a person was "Baffled."

  2. Will do.

    One thing I forgot to mention...

    A rule I used in my Muppets RPG originated as a house rule in our old Toon games. We called it 'Getting Cancelled'. If you get taken down to zero hit points, and 'Fall Down' more times during a single game than you have Chutzpah, you get a thumbs down. Get more thumbs downs than you have Chutzpah, and your character is 'Cancelled'.

    Basically, your character isn't popular with the audience, and making more cartoons with you doesn't make sense for the studio.

    Toon permanent death. If you're not entertaining, you're no longer needed.

    Cruel, huh?