Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 25, 2014
Humor is a pretty subjective thing. It’s also something of a cultural thing. I heard recently that part of the decline in film comedies is that so much of Hollywood’s revenue these days is from international markets (more than half), and comedy does not translate well. The kind that does tends to be the overly broad, silly comedy of the type that I personally don’t enjoy.
So I make a comedy RPG, thereby limiting my potential market yet again. I am so brilliant.
Oh, yeah, and the game – Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon – is now available on Steam. Have I mentioned that already?
As I said, overly broad comedy – if it comes on too strong – leaves me cold. I’ve played a couple of humorous RPGs that I really couldn’t take more than a few minutes of. There’s a certain point where things just get too ridiculous for me to care. For me, it still comes down to the characters – if I don’t care about the characters, especially if I cannot care about them because things are just too over-the-top – then nothing else works, and the humor falls flat.
That’s why the characters in the Frayed Knights series are pre-generated. In my mind, if the characters don’t work, the humor and story doesn’t work. Sure, pus golems and “Power Word: Defenestrate” are amusing, but you can’t build a solid, 20+ hour-long game on that. It’ll get old fast.
That’s another issue. Like tragedy, humor is best served by contrast. You can’t just have goofy after goofy forever. You have to ground things in the serious once in a while for whatever is supposed to be funny to really shine. That’s why one of my favorite story points in the game is actually the least funny part of it of all. Those who have played the game and know what’s under the windmill, you know. Now, I know that my skills as a writer are still evolving. (Shameless plug – check out my short story “Dots, Dashes, and Deceit” in Terra Mechanica: A Steampunk Anthology! ) I don’t know if players ever came to care about a certain characters the way I did in my mind. That, and the game plays out for everyone a little bit differently. That’s the interactive medium for you.
And then I still have my weird setting, D&D-campaign-world-as-envisioned-by-an-inexperienced-but-earnest-14-year-old. It’s full of things like pus golems, pimple gods, obsessive puzzle-building wizards, paper mache dragons, jaded adventurers, spells with names like “hotfoot,” “Boot to the Head,” and “Power Word: Defenestrate”, and sorceresses with names like “S’makh-Daon.” One thing I tried to do (and I think I’m getting better at it as I go) is to make this world – if not believable – at least somewhat consistent. Part of the joke there is for old-school gamers who recognize all the tropes that get abused in computer and console RPGs as well as dice-and-paper gaming – I wanted to explain, lampshade, or subvert all these classic fantasy bits in the context of the world.
Sometimes it’s a little over the top. Sometimes its subtle. Sometimes… well, there are spots now where I can now tell I was really trying too hard. It happens.
If I were to do it all over again (which, fortunately, I’m kinda doing right now as I’m working on the next game), I’d do more to ground the characters and the world, and give the player access to their back-story. Again, this would be to make the more humorous parts stand out by contrast. And also because it’s just a fun, bizarre little world that these guys inhabit, and there are forces at work in the world with cool plots and plans in mind that – in my mind at least – amusing, but only if the players feel like they care about the world and what’s going on in it.
So yes, I’m saying I’d try to increase the humor level by … increasing the less humorous aspects. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Not to fear, there will be ridiculous trope-subverting plots and a return of the Rats of Nom and everything else players love about the first game. I’m pretty pleased with how Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon turned out. I’ve heard a lot of great things back from players suggesting that I had more hits than I had misses. But I learned a lot from that game, and hope I can put it to good use in the next one.
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