Mort Q3. Humour


This is the same discussion that we have every time we have a 'funny' book, but, again - what is funny about the book, and is there any way to emulate that in RPGs? Does Pratchett's approach - to lean into well-worn tropes, cast likeable protagonists and poke fun at the whole process - offer a way in to run 'humourous' RPG sessions?


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    Leaning on well-worn tropes is part and parcel of the RPG experience, so I do see this as a way in. Tropes allow us to communicate a lot in a short time, so they're useful at the table, especially when the group needs to make up a lot (setting elements, scenes framing, and pithy dialogue) at the drop of a hat.

    Likeable protagonists also help - I remember one player made a 'companion' character in our Ars Magica game who was a very large, ham-fisted monk but who spoke in a very high pitched voice. He would also describe his entrance into a scene in his player voice with a certain amount of rising tension, then burst that tension (to many hoots and sniggers) by saying something mild-mannered in his high character voice. I've also introduced many an NPC over the years that have a comedic aspect to them: people who are obviously not best suited to their career, though they try; people with an obvious embarrassing trait that everyone ignores; or people who just find themselves in ridiculous situations but soldier on.

    I think the hardest thing to achieve are the witty observations, most of which come from the narrator. In an RPG session, these would mostly need to come from the PCs or NPCs, and I think they're too elaborate for most players to effectively deliver without pre-planning. Some examples:

    As one man, the assembled company stopped talking and stared at him with the honest rural stare that suggests that for two pins they’ll hit you around the head with a shovel and bury your body under a compost heap at full moon.

    Scientists have calculated that the chances of something so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one. But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

    I think this kind of thing might fall flat in a session, but works fine in a story.

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    There are fascinating studies of character tropes in literature and how (and when) they should be subverted. I came across these studies in connection with ancient world / biblical literature, but they exist everywhere. Take the classical Western setting - we have a trope of the Good Guy who is blindingly fast on the draw with a six-shooter, rides a white horse / wears a white hat, appears out of nowhere with a mysterious past which is rarely revealed but is obviously tragic, and so on. So then you introduce a protagonist who meets many of these criteria, but has a withered arm and carries a Winchester rifle across his saddle. So you play with your readership - is he still a Good Guy in thin disguise, or a Bad Guy who is usurping the image?

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    Pratchett obviously loves the genre, tropes and all, so his satire of them is full of sympathy and warmth. I don't think this would work with an author who was hostile (or even neutral) to the genre.

    As for how to run humorous RPG sessions? I have no idea. I think simple and obvious would work best: the gaming table isn't a place for subtelty. But making humour work reliably is something else.

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    I talked a bit about subverting tropes in Question 1. I hadn’t yet read this question. I agree that he loves the genre. Even when he makes a joke about a fantasy trope, he is not emptying that trope of meaning.

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