#RPGaDay2020 Day 24 - "Humour"

Having a good sense of humor is a wonderful personal characteristic. In Role Playing Games, it's an essential quality. Games are at once long, intense, frustrating, fun, confusing and silly. The people you are playing with are often friends, too, but even if they aren't, a connection between the GM and the players, and between the players is critical to having fun. This leads to both situations and people's responses to them often being funny.

There are lots of categories and opportunities for humor, but I'm going to focus on just two of them.

Ad-hoc Humor

It seems impossible to get through a game session without the action devolving to a set of movie quotes, book quotes, references and/or puns. People who play RPG's are generally creative and good at tying different clues or situations together to make a whole. These characteristics are invaluable for the solving puzzles or working through problems. They also mean that any situation the players encounter can be tied to a movie scene, a book, or a turn of phrase. Once it begins, other players will bring in their own connections, and soon there is chaos. If there is a peasant with a brain, an interesting sword, a person calling themselves a king, a major injury or anything otherwise related to Monty Python's Holy Grail...the joke acceleration curve is a vertical.

Puns are perhaps the worst offenders in this category, because they require new source of humor to be brought in. One might think that where a group of experienced players are working to collaboratively tell a story--especially a serious story, that there wouldn't be a need or desire for puns. One would be very wrong. In fact, there seems to be a point of honor, to see who can get the worst puns out the fastest. There was even one time that I had to separate two players because they were feeding an unholy pun cloud by sitting across from one another. I will not actually name Todd and Sean, so that they can remain anonymous, but they know what they did.

I do have to say that I am not innocent to this behavior. In fact, there was one time I spent 45 minute of real time setting up a pun which literally brought the game to a end.

My Ultimate Gaming Pun

We were playing Engle Matrix games, which is a highly narrative system. The GM sets a scenario, and has events that occur to progress the story. As players go through the game, they state what they are going to do, and if nobody disagrees with their actions, it just works. If, however, other players disagree on feasibility of an action, the parties argue as to why it would or wouldn't succeed. After a bit, the GM takes the arguments, and the players roll off, with advantage being given to the player with the better arguments. The winning roll defines the narrative. Example:

Player 1: I jump on the hood of the car as it drives away.
Player 2: No way. It's going 40mph. You would be splattered if you tried.
Player 1: I'm a football player. I hit fast moving things all the time, and hang on.
Player 2: Not 5000 pound chunks of metal. At best you'll be thrown into the street.
GM: Player 1 roll 4's or higher. Player 2 roll 3's or higher....they roll...whoever has the most successes determines the narrative.

We were playing a Miskatonic University story, and our characters were things like athlete, zombie, librarian, security guard and The Book of Ultimate Evil.

Sean (one of the unnamed master punsters from above), chose to be the Book of Ultimate Evil and was having a blast. He was sending the zombie to make more zombies, the athlete had already joined team zombie, the security guard was fighting for his life and the good guys in general were having problems, as all hell was breaking loose in the gym.

I got inspired and when it was my turn, announced that I was going to go to my office. Over the course of the next 45 real minutes of game play, I went to my building, I worked my way to my office, I found and grabbed a sheet of paper, and worked my way back to the gym. Every time my turn came up, I just kept up this narrative going, totally ignoring the mass chaos around me.

Finally, I got to the gym, and the Book of Ultimate Evil pretty much had the game wrapped up. The good guys were about to fall, because everybody else was a zombie.

The GM asked for my action, and I said "I cast a spell of sleeping and banishment on the Book of Ultimate Evil." Sean immediately objected and said "You're just staff here. There's no WAY you know anything about magic." I looked at him, blinking in a slightly puzzled way and said "Maybe not, but I AM a librarian, and if there's one thing I know it's book bindings."

The entire table fell silent, and after several seconds of looking at me with abject horror, Sean collapsed on the table and indicated his unconditional surrender.

If I have enough money in my estate, I want this story on my tombstone.

Constructed Humor

This is the opposite. It is areas of the game which are setup by the GM or the players to specifically be funny. This could be amusing character traits which are role played well, or situations that the GM constructs to be funny. I even have a mechanic that I sometimes use to celebrate a type of humor.

One of the funniest characters ever played was Darby. She was a dancing dervish--fast, lethal, versatile, and always the first to run into combat. But she was also an absolute ball of sunshine in the worst of times--with a truly unshakable view of the rightness of the world. And she was the "victim" of three very different types of constructed humor.

She ran headfirst into a very deadly combat, and should have died but managed not to. However, one of the characters, a worshiper of Lotar the Fool, figured that since there was no way she should have survived...that she didn't. And for the rest of the campaign, referred to her as "Ghost Darby." He would occasionally poke her to see if she was non-material. He introduced her as Ghost-Darby to everybody they met, and to her horror, other people called her that, too.

She was very happy-go-lucky, but in a group of generally dysfunctional or untrusted other characters, she was the most stable. So she got put in charge--much to her horror. As the campaign progressed, she got promoted no less than three times, each time more horrifying to her than before. The last time, some in-game magical event cursed her to be punished in the worst way possible...which turned out to be a final promotion to Senior leadership, and she was assigned a staff.

Third, despite the fact that she was one of the nicest, friendliest most charitable people in the history of Trinity, she only had a 10 charisma, so while not a dump stat, there were events that made up for how otherwise amazingly likable she was. One time, the party was in an elvish country, and found an amazing marketplace. She went and bought the prettiest dress and shoes, that would make her dancing character just glow. After the transaction was complete, she said "how does it look on me?" and I said "Well, somehow it just doesn't work on you the way it did on the mannequin." Crushing "Darby" to the uproarious laughter of the other players, including Marc, who was playing Darby.

And again, I am not immune to the other side of this. The mechanic I mentioned above is something I call "Humility Points" which is an award for either going big...and failing, being utterly confident of unconditional success and failing, or insisting on a roll where success was guaranteed, and failing.

We were running a test game of 5e, and I was a 14th level bard. We were in the middle of a huge battle, and I ran up to the leader and performed a power move like "intimidate" using my huge skill buff, my +d12 bardic buff applied to myself as well as an additional +d4 or so from my magical instrument...statistically, my minimum outcome should have been like a 23 or something...I rolled a 1.

So to set the scene, this means that I ran in front the giant orc thing, pulled out a battle ocarina and made a noise like a gassy moose. He looked at me contemptously and hit me for 75 of my 77 hit points, which pole-axed me and removed me out of the rest of the combat.

The GM who was running that event doesn't use humility points, but I absolutely earned one that day.

Humor is a core part of RPG's. It lightens the mood, makes things more fun and occasionally even changes the direction of the game. And sometimes that event or that change in direction is so dramatic that it becomes one of the legends that live in the group forever. And I leave you with one helpful tip. If you manage to seduce the senator's daughter, don't ask the following morning "Let's see how I did", and roll for it....

About Today's Art

Looking for a piece of header art today, I searched for pictures that represented "funny", "humor", "laughing", "clowns" (just, no), and finally "jester". While there were several wonderful jester pieces, this one, by Lorenz Hideyoshi Ruwwe, was absolutely my favorite. This jester is obviously creepy, not funny, but the sci-fi scenery and black-green color palette made it irresistible to me. Hideyoshi's other work on the site is equally impressive, as is what's found on his Instagram page


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