Comedy is hard

51CRDYZHAJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Today, to celebrate my return online, I’m doing something different – I’m doing three posts on three different blogs, all of them connected.
Sort of a blog tour of myself.
First installment – GreyWorld, and roleplaying games1.

And I’ll talk about a great sourcebook that…
OK, let’s start at the start…

GURPS Discworld is not on my special shelf – and this is strange, because I loved Terry Pratchett‘s stories, and I enjoyed very much the GURPS sourcebook.
It’s well written, witty and filled with wonderful art.
There’s a catch.

If there’s one thing that Terry Pratchett taught me is, you can write fantasy, and comic fantasy, and be a damn fine writer.
Granted, Leiber had taught me the same thing much earlier, and many others contributed too – but Pratchett could be all-out farcical and still write wonderful prose.
That’s a tough lesson to learn.
And if there’s something that GURPS Discworld taught me is, comedy in roleplaying games is damn tough.

Because the premises are excellent – I mean, this is the Discworld!
Incompetent wizards, octuagenarian barbarians, assorted weirdos, the Mime Liberation Front and the Luggage!
There’s enough comedy fuel to grant long hours of pun-infested fun and adventuring, right?
Well, maybe.

And yet, when i dropped the GURPS Discworld book on the table, and started playing, a dreary chill fell on my players.
Why?
First – none of them was familiar with Pratchett, whose work has been translated in a very debatable way in Italy, often killing much of the comedy.
Second – puns and wordplay do not translate from English to Italian… lots of work for the keeper.
Third – while absolutely marvelous, the book is not inherently comedic (more about this later)
Fourth (but this might be just me) – GURPS is too clunky a system for comedy2

The Discworld is seriously comic.
With a stress on seriously.
It’s not necessarily an absurd world – it’s a standard, well-constructed and very logical imaginary world, that tends to be skewed on the comedic side thanks to Terry Pratchett’s masterful writing.
A keeper must be damn good – and their team must help a lot – to pull a Pratchett.
In case of failure, the scenario might turn out to be, at best, somewhat comic.
Which means very bad.
There’s nothing worse than a half-comic joke.

In this sense, older, less sophisticated games – such as Paranoia – worked a lot better and made comedy much easier.
cover_lgBecause they started with appatently absurd universe, in which patently absurd stuff was going on3.
In the end, simpler settings like Kobolds Ate My babies or GURPS Goblins or Teenagers from Outer Space worked a lot better.
The players did not need to be funny for the game to be funny.
The fun was built into the setting ad did not require any work on the part of the players to spring out.
You don’t need to be a funny guy to play (or keep) one of these games – although it may help.
In this sense, the Discworld was merciless – the distinctive lack of wit of some gamers (very busy calculating modificators or debating GURPS statistical distributions), basically killed the fun.

So, I love GURPS Discworld.
But I found out my team can’t play it.
What a sad bunch!

And you?
Is there a funny game that never worked for you?
And what did work?


  1. further installment will appear presently in my English-language writing blog, Karavansara, and on my Italian language anything-goes blog, strategie evolutive
  2. with the possible exception of unwitting comedy (but again, that’s just me, probably) 
  3. I could make some examples based on paranoia, but then I would have to kill you. 
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3 thoughts on “Comedy is hard

  1. Daniele

    Hi! I must say in advance that my english is, at best, very bad. šŸ˜›
    Feel free to indicate me my mistakes, if you want šŸ™‚

    I don’t have a lot of experience in “funny” rpg: only three awesome game sessions in “Teenager Manga Mutanti” (italian title, I don’t know the original). Very funny, because the gamemaster was crazy and inspired.
    After three sessions, he gave up because to mantain the rhythm and to follow five crazy players and theirs characters was, for him, exhausting.

    Now: the handbook was funny to read, and it contained some suggestions on comedy (like on mechanics of “routine” in certain mangas) but rules wasn’t really designed for comedic results – I don’t know if exists some game designed to generate comedy (almost) without fail – so I think that the three funny session were so unforgettable because of epic inspiration of GM, with some help from players, especially another crazy friend of mine, a natural source of jokes XD

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment!
      The game is “Teenagers from Outer Space”, which I mentioned in my post.
      As for games with “automatically funny” rules, both Paranoia and Toon come to mind.
      But it is certainly true that keeping up a funny game can be very heavy on the keeper.

      Like

      • Daniele

        Lol, I have not recognized the game with english title, thanks!
        I even forgot Toon: almost twenty years ago, I played Toon in”wacky races” incarnation. Another GM, with a heavy storytelling approach. Only one session šŸ˜¦ but I won the race after a lot of absurd twists! I haven’t read Toon handbook, so I don’t know if rules were used all…

        Like

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