Tuesday, September 29, 2015

All Joking Aside

Hello again everyone, this is Barkley speaking.

On Tuesday, September 15th, this station broadcast a post advocating the increased acceptance of humorous RPGs, and identified one of the main reasons we don't already experience this.

It is the policy of this station to invite qualified spokespeople to speak in rebuttal. Here with a counter-opinion on the subject is Mister Floyd R. Turbo.

Mr. Turbo...

Hello! My name is Floyd R. Turbo. American.

What's all this hippie-dippie, claptrap about Comedy RPGs?

If God wanted RPGs to be funny, he wouldn't have created encumbrance rules, complicated initiative, or the drowning mechanics in D&D 3.0. Forget a sword. Bring a sleep spell, and a few gallons of water, and your enemies are done for.

This Nancy-Waist blog is talking about baking cookies for character creation, and suggesting gaming the Peanuts comic strips. This place is more full of it than my Aunt Edna is full of rum spiked fruit cake during the holidays.

Humorous RPGs, huh? What's next? Games with no GM? Diceless RPGs? Save that for the commie pinko gamers. That's not for this red blooded American. Oh no. I like my books thick, my four-siders razor sharp, and hit location charts capable of targeting a spleen.

In conclusion, a wise man once said you have to be able to laugh at yourself. I don't agree. I get along just fine staying serious, and laughing at others. I find it helps to point at them, and slap your knee while doing it.

Thank you.


This post was originally intended to focus on what I believe to be the biggest hindrance to the popularity of comedic RPGs among the larger gaming population (myself, and my groups excluded of course).

However, I am going to table that topic for another post. Right now, I'd like to address a comment made by my good friend Blacksteel of Tower of Zenopus on my previous entry on the subject of why we (gamers) don't play, and run comedy games more often.

Lord Blacksteel wrote:

"I can say that for some of us, identifying a game as a "comedy" game has a similar set of issues to the "horror" game."

I can not disagree with the statement, although I may have a different outlook on what it means. Remember, I am a bit of a genre junkie. Please read on...

A) you can't "force" comedy in a group any more than you can frighten players in a horror game. You can create conditions favorable for one or the other but it's tricky to guarantee it.

Agreed. Sort of.

You can't 'force' certainly, nor would you want to try, since it will only backfire on you.

However, what do you think is easier, and more likely to occur: Actually scaring your players, or actually making them laugh? Horror is often dependent on a feeling of PC powerlessness, and desperation; this is something players don't always enjoy. Comedy is dependent on the PC being inept, or too good, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being the cause, or recipient of the absurd. These are conditions most players like.

B) Describing something as a comedy game doesn't tell me much about it. That's much more tone than setting. Telling me it's a Supers game, or a Star Trek game, or a dungeon-crawling game gives me an idea of what we're going to be doing and whether I'd be interested in it or not. Comedy (to me) is a modifier to that description, not a description in and of itself. "Gritty" or "Horror" or "high-powered" work similarly.

While I agree, I also believe there are Horror games, and Comedy game, regardless of what other genre the descriptor is attached to. Toon is not Sci-Fi. Nor is it Fantasy. Nor is it a Supers game. It could be any one, or all of those things, but it's definitely a Comedy game, no? Likewise, what are Call of Cthuhlu, Dread, and Chill? What genre are they other than horror?

C) Comedy can happen in any game, and typically does with my group. If the point of a game is to have fun people are probably going to laugh at some point. I'm not sure making comedy a focus of the game adds a whole lot more to it.

Ah! It does...or...it doesn't. It all depends on you, and your group.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, with movies of the Avengers, Ant-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy, are full of humor, clever lines, and light hearted moments. That said, they are not comedies. They are Superhero Action movies. We like them. The humor adds something to the total package.

We still go see comedies though?

I've read posts on the internet, and heard people say, that Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie ever made. It's a joke of course, but a popular one. Why? Because although there is often a bit of humor in the Star Trek films, there is a ton of great Sci-Fi Action in Galaxy Quest, a comedy.

Both types of films, and both types of games, serve a purpose.

I know this is a big topic for you BA and please do understand that I am not disagreeing with you on this. I am glad you're doing these posts as it has me thinking about it, sometimes out loud and on your page.

Well I'm glad. If I can get even one person to stop for a few moments, and go 'Hmmm...how about that', I feel like it's all been worth the effort.

Yes, it is a subject near, and dear. With any luck it will spawn others to talk about the topic. If not, well, at least I had fun.

One example, and maybe something you can work into a future post: I think Spirit of 77 has a ton of potential for comedy but it is not really a "comedy" game. With people who "get it" though, I think the potential for humor is one of the biggest attractions. Would that make it a comedy game? Or is it just a good game?

My post on SATASUPE ReMix addresses this somewhat. The idea being that it is not really a comedic game, but it was definitely written (and certainly illustrated) with a distinct sense of humor. I hope to have time this month to address this very element. If not, I will work it in next month when I discuss Ghostbusters, and how I approach running it.

Thanks everybody for tuning in. When we come back from commercial, musical guest Teenagers from Outer Space!

Barking Alien

BTW, this is my 950th post on Barking Alien.


  1. I think that what LB is trying to say is that while death is easy, comedy is hard, especially when you are upfront about trying to make people laugh. Weirdly enough, I studied to be a clown once, and the professor talked about a time when she was a student and the class all had to take turns trying to get people to laugh out loud. No one could do it. They all knew what the student up on stage was trying to do, and it squelched it. The only one who succeeded was this little woman who just got up there with a red nose on her face and stared doe-eyed out into space for ten minutes. By the time it was done, the room was in stitches.

    I contrast that with people who intentionally go to a comedian to be entertained. The comedian hopefully knows their craft, knows the roots of comedy (surprise and the suffering of others), and can draw them into relaxing enough for people to enjoy themselves.

    Now which, pray tell, is the GM in those two stories? The student trying to illicit laughs from other students, or the comedian who is entertaining an audience?

  2. I'm not sure Rob.

    Is the D&D Dungeon Master the professional author in that scenario, or the wise old storyteller of days past? Is the DM a student of mythology, or fantasy literature trying to entertain other students?

    See, it ain't all that complicated, or that different, from what any gamer is doing in any game.

    We seem to think it is, or want it to be. Maybe comedy is scary, in that it requires a bit more thought, or a bit more work, then having the heroes save the place from the villain, or find the McGuffin, for the thousandth time.

    I guess what I am trying to say is, humor is one more tool in the workshop where we build exciting, creative memories. If we can use the action tool, the mystery tool, and the puzzle tool ad infinitum, why can't we find a way to use the humor tool a bit more often than we do?