Everybody enjoys a good laugh and most guffaws at the tabletop are incredulous reactions to the dice abandoning someone, or a particularly comedic character making their presence felt.
But being funny on purpose? That can be a bit of a challenge. Have no fear however, because the AaWBlog is here to help you with humor and the tabletop!
Artwork is coming in for another AdventureAWeek.com humor piece [The Great Pubo Hunt, the first module in the Varakt’s Halo Adventure Path, a foray into psionics recommended by Jeremy Smith, head of Dreamscarred Press! - MM] so between Mischievous Meadows and what’s in the pipeline, a little coaching may be in order for GMs new to the territory of running a comedy.
Before we get into this, there’s something you need to understand; it is at one time both very complex and mundane, simple and complicated, easy and hard. Being funny is something that eludes many people (we know who they are) for far too long a time, and it is often cited as the most difficult type of material to write.
Are you prepared for the secret?
That’s how I remember it. If you want to get really into the first scholars that took a genuine whack at finding the proverbial funnybone, I very, very strongly recommend going to a good library (preferably at a university—just walk in, nobody’ll bother you) and start reading up on Francois Rabelais—research his academic pursuits, not literary ones.
But that’s the secret to funny and to be a little less foolish about it, one can think of it as inversion. When you hear something come from someone’s (or some thing’s!) rear end, it is funny because bodily sounds are associated with the head (where our mouths and ears are). This is why many jokes have trouble crossing borders—the related idea is an inversion of a cultural belief, bias, or tradition that the subject may not relate to.
Knowing something abstract like that and making use of it is another matter entirely, but to help guide you along when you’re rolling dice at the table, here are a few tips:
1) Critical Rolls, Good or Bad
When the moment is right—strike! A great punchline should be waiting for the success or failure of critical rolls if you can swing it. We’re not just talking about critical hits here, we’re meaning to say, “anything of consequence”.
If the guard chasing the PCs fails their jump check, don’t simply tell them that he doesn’t make it across—talk about how he grabs onto the edge of the building, but it’s too slick with bird droppings and he slips off, cursing profusely as he falls onto the street below!
2) FUIs (Frequently Unfortunate Individuals)
There are some people abandoned by the dice and while it’s funny to crack a joke sometimes about their horrible luck, don’t overdo it! This doesn’t prohibit examples from above either—encourage humor but don’t saturate everything you’re doing with it, or the effect gets degraded.
Unless your goal is to put on quite a unique, vaudevillian show for your players, don’t let them forget that the adventure is still an adventure and not just a goof off session; the PCs actions have consequences and they can still die. The perfect mix largely depends on the proclivities of your group but above all, remember this—that secret above can kick, too.
As always, the HAVE FUN Rule is in effect, but it seems a bit redundant for today’s considerations. 🙂
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