Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Frayed Knights: Humor and the Knights

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 25, 2014

fkwebtitle640x333Humor 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.

fknoframeAnd 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.


Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

  • Cuthalion said,

    I notice that a lot of things that start out as funny subversions transition to more dramatic as they go on. Darths & Droids, Harry Potter and the Natural 20, and that one book I started to read that one time. I realize both my named examples were fanfic of a sort, but I can’t help but feel this happens everywhere.

    That said, the humor does have a knack for sticking out after a string of more sober moments, so I’m looking forward to it.

  • Cuthalion said,

    Oh, and Order of the Stick, too.

  • Modran said,

    Dominic Deegan started as pretty light-hearted and got darker and darker as it went on. Sluggy Freelance.
    Oooh, look, a shiny tvtropes link: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CerebusSyndrome
    (I’m so sorry)
    The key is, of course, not overdoing it.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    The self-aware tropes are what attracted me to Frayed Knights to begin with. It really harkened back to the kind of meta-gaming that would go on during PnP gaming sessions when I was a teen.

    I still recall how our adventuring group needed to get across an inland ocean to reach somewhere and the DM let us know that a ship was waiting in the harbor. The entire adventuring party let the DM know they planned to walk the entire distance around the shore, so they wouldn’t get attacked by a sea monster or pirates at sea.

    The DM accused the group of meta-gaming, but we pointed out that these same characters had been shipwrecked twice, attacked by a sea dragon, attacked by a kraken, attacked by pirates and sold into slavery, etc. and who in their right mind would continue sailing on ships in this world?

    The DM admitted we were right, and engaged in a bit of meta-gaming himself by swearing if we took the ship, the ship wouldn’t be attacked by any pirates or monsters. So we took the ship. Half-way through the voyage, the crew mutinied. Our characters swore off any body of water larger than a bathtub.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    One thing that might help is that I’ve had the main plot planned out for a very long time, and it’s always been a combination of lighthearted and dark. So unless I totally rewrite the story between then and now, it can’t really get too serious, like, ever. As you can tell if you played the first game, there’s a major, major trope going on, and you KNOW I’m not going to be able to play it straight.

  • Xian said,

    I have found that visual humor works best for International audiences. My wife is Thai, and often does not understand the subtleties of the English language, puns being especially hard to grasp. However if you have some slapstick like the Three Stooges, she is rolling in the floor laughing. That would be very hard to translate to gaming though.