Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for Jackassery

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic this month? Things necessary to take your D&D campaign from “eh, fantasy” to “kick ass.” And who doesn’t want that?]

J is for Jackassery…as well as Jest and Jocularity.

It should almost go without saying that humor should be a part of any D&D campaign. ALMOST goes without saying. The fact is, it’s hard NOT for humorous situations to arise…especially when low level characters are almost guaranteed to flub a skill and/or fall on their own sword/spell every one to two game sessions.

“Friendly fire” is certainly a semi-regular occurrence in MY D&D games…and how can you not laugh when such things happen. I mean, I suppose you could cry…but it IS just a game after all.

But I’ll tell you the truth, this is one of those things that I as a DM have a difficult time remembering…I am one of those folks that take these games Way Too Seriously, I do admit. My brother, laughing buffoon that he is, has been known to REALLY get me riled up specifically because he does NOT take the game all that seriously. He knows it’s just something meant for fun and entertainment, and he derives his fun/entertainment both from annoying me, and mocking the game and its setting.

Fact of the matter is, the founding fathers of D&D weren’t any strangers to buffoonery at the game table…at least judging by the monsters, spells, anagrams, and cheap puns found throughout the early texts of the game. Just looking at the names of famous NPCs of the Greyhawk campaign is ample evidence of the whimsical nature of our hobby’s founders (Lawrence Schick’s character “Elrond Hubbard?” Really, Lawrence? Really?).

However, that’s par for the course when one considers the literary basis for Dungeons & Dragons…many of the books, stories, and influences of the game have humor sprinkled (or strewn) throughout their texts. It is only us…old school grognards that we are…who hold such works up on a pedestal. I find most fantasy authors (with perhaps the notable exception of Tolkien) to be quite humorous in their works. Science fiction authors…not so much. Though today’s Sci Fi definitely tends to have more humor (or at least dark humor) in it.

The important thing to remember is that humor is OKAY. Not only that, but sometimes, it is perfectly acceptable to roll with the absurd craziness that occurs at the game table. Most of my favorite “war stories” from gaming sessions involve the humorous or ridiculous things that happened in game…things that would no doubt shoot all sorts of holes in “suspension of disbelief” if viewed in a film or television show. But you know what? Role-playing games aren’t films and they aren’t television! They are their OWN ARTISTIC MEDIUM.

Hell, sometimes they’re not even really “games;” at least not in the sense that they have hard and fast rules. One major source of humor (and player consternation) in the D&D game is the deliberate misinterpretation of wishes by the DM…”misinterpretation” meaning “misinterpretation of intent” while sticking rigorously to the letter of the wish itself. This has long been the purview of DMs in the D&D game…and yet, such twisting of powerful magic often leads to the “breaking” of game conventions or normal game rules. Such is the nature of the beast…and I would rather break a few Rules As Written in order to have an entertaining moment than worry and agonize over “internal game logic” and “consistency.”

Screw that noise…let’s have some fun!

Anyway, as I said, I have often been the “stick in the mud” when it comes to humor at the table…though I’ve tried (really) over the years to “loosen up.” When I’ve been able to do so, the game has certainly ended up being much more fun, memorable, and entertaining. And just because there IS humor doesn’t mean there can’t be anguish and pathos and tragedy right next to it…even in the same game session. But being able to play fast and loose AND find humor in the game can make those darker moments all the more poignant.

After all, when folks cry at a funeral, they’re not missing the bad and dark things about a person, but the fun moments, laughter, and good times, right?

: )


  1. I agree with you. There have to be light moments for the heavy moments to hit hard.

    I find that fact a lot in writing. And while my story has some funny moments in it, there will be a point that my characters will need laughter just to remember who they are... so I let them laugh now.

  2. @ Misha: RPGs are different mediums from books, but many of the same principles apply. At least we should keep 'em in mind if we don't fully adhere to 'em.
    : )