Fantastic Comedy

Since today is still April 1st (in GMT+1) , and I really dislike April’s Fools, I decided to make a serious post about comedy at a D&D-gaming table. Why only D&D? Because there are systems which are meant to be played in a comedic style (like Toons) or those who are so unbelievable in terms of character feats, that you transcend the grasp of realism (like Scion).

A normal D&D-campaign balances around realism and fantasy, in most cases it does so well, even though (in the typical American Fantasy Style) it’s always turning into an epic story with powerful characters which defies the laws of realism in one time while being very vulnerable to realism otherwise. For this, I point to the Tyranny of Dragons Story, which is good imho, but bringing Tiamat t the Forgotten Realms and fighting foes which can shape the realms to their whims, while there are a ton of situations, where you can easily die? It’s very over the top, which is not something all people enjoy.
But like I said, normally D&D balances the realism and the fantastic moments pretty well. So we have a sense of seriousness, coming from the realism, and a sense of freedom, from fantasy, which can turn into humor. Is it bad? Of course not, since everyone having fun is one of the main-goals of playing after all. Can it disturb? Definitely.
Now I simply write about my personal experiences of having comedy in D&D (with some insight in other campaigns).

Comedy-based campaigns

Maybe some of you experienced a comedy-based campaign already and in most of the times: It won’t last long, since the DM will run out of ideas (s)he wants to master. The problem is to find a balance between serious story-telling to get the characters to where the fun belongs and the jokes which are cracked to be cracked. In movies it works well, since the characters aren’t sentient beings, in P&P it’s problematic, since the players often don’t recognize when to stop.
If you give the players the whatever-bag (in: take out whatever you want), you can be sure, that they pull out a grenade launcher to bomb the villain you’re just introducing. But if you don’t give the whatever-bag, of course in the end they end up in only having the resources they have, without much spark of creativity. It’s basically only what they do in normal campaigns, except they’re more brave, like trying to make a Looney Tunes routine (“Duck-Hunt.” “Rabbit-Hunt.” “Duck-Hunt.” “Rabbit-Hunt.” “Rabbit-Hunt.” “Duck-Hunt!”)
How do you work with that? There are several ways. One of the easiest: Only one side is comedic. If the players like to play the fools, let them form a party which doesn’t take anything serious (like the old TMNT) and match them up with serious plots. Since only goofing around won’t stop the plot, they will somehow or another pull themselves together when needed and make it right through!
Or maybe the heroes are serious, while the villains and plots are somehow strange. Like a wizard, who tries to reshape the weave, so every spell will create cookies. Or another is just a maniac, who wants to break out the 4th wall, trying to convince everyone, that they’re nothing more than notes on a paper.
If only one side goofs around, it’s much easier to control the plot itself and make something like a story. With a real story, a DM is much better able to keep the campaign going, since one scenario will flow into the next and in the end it’s simply a direction to follow. Those who play regularly needs something like that, since simple and connectionless-episodic is very tiring when done repeatedly.
Another got rule in the DMG (p. 269) are: Plot points. This optional rule allows the players to shape the story to their own ideas and of course limiting the access of unbelievableness is another great way to make a comedy without playing randomly.
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Comedy as a supplement

Normally, I don’t play comedy-based campaigns, but I do add often some comedy as supplement. So when you (for example) play Tyranny of Dragons, you might think: Hey, this might work. Why don’t I add a bullywug, which is actually thinking, it’s a transformed princess. The bizarreness of the situation is something that might enhance the story in a funny way without breaking it. Just be sure, that the players can’t possibly think of it as a subquest or story-hook.
Funny things happens in real life and in Fantasy, you can make it more funny with just a bit of work. Like adding a fart-sound to the evil wizard’s Stinking Cloud or just a description, how a critical hit looks like on the enemy: “Your sword cuts deep into the body of your enemy and splashes hits the adjacent one, which complains: “Hey, look where you’re leaking!”

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In the end the most important thing is to determine how much comedy your gaming-group can process. If you’re joking as much out-of-game as playing serious, maybe you should consider to add some more comedy to the game itself as a DM or a player, to keep the rest more focused on the game. So maybe your character has the flaw, that he regularly messes up serious situations. Or maybe you add, as a DM, an additional condition to your lich, like that his phylactery can only be destroyed while he can see it, so you can deliver this line: “Erm, how do you… wait, I meant, what are you holding there? Seems like a very valuable treasure, so it might be better if you keep it somewhere safer than this battlefield. I know, I’m your enemy and trying to kill you, but I really had the urge to give you that piece of advice. Take it, seriously!”
And often the most memorable moments of a campaign are the most funniest. And that’s definitely better than the most annoying ones. -_-

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Why PG can be annoying and how to deal with it

Like I said already some times: I don’t particularly hate power-gamers or power-gaming (PG) in general. But sometimes they can be a very strenuous experience. Every time I read the forums, I see some hate/annoyance/arguing between ‘PGers’ and ‘PG-haters’, threads about how to optimize and posts about how power-gaming is fucking everything up.

I try to remain neutral, but honestly: If something makes me start hating PG it’d be that PG-hate. Because I actually understand both standpoints, since I’m pretty good at PGing, too, if I were to cut loose. So maybe I should just talk about it.

 

Why PG is so fun: PG is a special kind of amusement, which can’t be understood by everyone. It’s a time-consuming activity, which only kinda enhance a game, which you might play only 1-2 times a month. But PG can be pretty mood-dependent, even a down-to-earth person might just pick up a new rulebook, seeing those rules and ask herself/himself, how these rules would work together.

Here are some of the fun parts of PG:

  • Some people just enjoy to organize, strategize and see things through, those might become DMs (like me) or if the imagination is missing, becomes bookkeepers and PGers. If you don’t like those things, it’ll be hard to understand what kind of enjoyment it is, to see all the things working or to adapting them until they work
  • You feel like you’re smarter than the game-developers every time, you see a rule-hole or something like that. After trying to create a game-system by yourself, you’ll see how hard it is, to get the rule-holes down to it
  • You feel like you’re smarter than the DM, whose tendency of torturing your whole party is getting on your nerves at some point
  • You feel more prepared for said of torture
  • You either get the feeling of power compared to your party-members or are glad, that you’re more of a help for those. Or both, depending on personality
  • Since the DM will definitely challenge your build at some point, you might proof that your result is almost perfect

There are some more reasons, but these should cover the major ones. If you’re prone to the first one, it’s actually hard to really build a character without taking the ‘power’ into consideration, even I will never forfeit easily obtained power for any of my characters, as long I see it worth. Taking a feat, no prob. Multiclass… only if I really think, that it’s doable for my character concept.
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Why PG offsets the other players: In D&D you’re normally in a party with some other players. Some of them might be offset after realizing, that a PGer is in the party and even though some people may ask ‘Why?’, they’ve actually good reasons to be. Here are the main ones.

  • P&P is a hobby for most people. And when enjoying your hobby, you want to have your part of the cake, have the times to shine and get some screen-time. PGers are actually stealing a lot of spot-light, depending on the build, since the easiest and for most people most fun is a combat orientated PG, that player will definitely get his show stolen, especially if the PGer kinda compete with said character (like paladin and fighter as melee combatants) or even worse: If the PGer shouldn’t be able to compete (like a sorcerer, dishing out more melee damage than the fighter)
  • Most often combat-orientated PGers are pretty useless outside of combat. Especially if they don’t get spell-slots or only use them to enhance themselves or damaging enemies, which means that for all the planning and sometimes really annoying and slow stuff, more work falls to the non-PGers
  • Even non-combatant orientated PG will make a character falls behind in some serious basic issues and even though there are some things like ‘each character should be a specialist in what he do’, most challenges address more than one field of expertise and if a character is too focused or unwilling to carry on with its weaknesses, it’s another burden for the others
  • To be able to compete with PGers, some feel the need to PG themselves and not many like it, if they didn’t do so in the first place. And often aren’t that good at that

You should never think about these non-PG players less and especially less able to play P&P. Because a role-play isn’t about the system generally, the ability to abuse a system is no requirement or measure in how good you can role-play.
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Why PG annoys the DM: Argh, after thinking about some cases, I actually grumbled in bitter rage, grinding my teeth, while writing these points. PG is a curse for most DMs, because it makes simple issues much harder than needed and are always hot spots of conflicts.

  • Ever had a player with a perception score of +40 in the mid-levels? Even though it wasn’t 5e, those players deem to noticing every tiny detail, which would make an ambush obvious, a secret compartment detectable and those little things which should either surprise your players or should actually require a bit of care
  • Or a +40 Stealth character at the end-beginner levels? I think you can see that point, even if the character remains hidden
  • In combat department it can be even more annoying, like having a Rogue in 4e, who seems just unhittable with anything but Fort-attacks (using really any power, item and combination to reach that goal); when adding more accurate monsters, the other characters suffers, if using special means the player will get pissed. Or a build with a myriads of attacks, which can kill a supposedly powerful foe in one turn, before said foe could even blink. And many, many more.
  • PGer get pissed, when the DM is using the easy way out to decrease their power, while the other players aren’t thinking highly, that you use extra resources to downgrade that specific character
  • Often, PG characters are shallow and don’t provide anything useful when creating or adapting an adventure. If the PGer is lacking imagination, the character is just a bunch of stats
  • Some PG options are ridiculous if you’re looking at them from a more pedestrian point of view. It’s understandable, that someone wants to be the ultimate skill-monkey, but at the first glance, the combination of Rogue(start), Ranger, Cleric with Knowledge Domain and Bard seems to use some explanation. Or monk/druids. Or paladin/rogues. To just call a few. OK, paladin/rogues with the Oath of Vengeance would be the Avengers in 4e, I guess.
  • If the other players aren’t as satisfied as the PGer, it’ll definitely make your whole game days suffer

*grumble, grinding, grumble*
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How to deal with PG as the PGer: On the other players side, there is not too much to say. The other players aren’t able to deal with a PGer other than by talking and trying to understand it. I believe there are some ways, to actually deal with some issues as the PGer himself/herself, here I’ll address the PGers directly:

  • Don’t leave out of combat capabilities unaddressed. In 5e it’s much easier to do so without losing power, since the Backgrounds in the PHB won’t actually enhance the combat prowess. So pick up some things outside your primary field
  • Choose a character-concept which fits your playstyle: If you’re trying to maximize your sword-skill, play a character who wants to be the best swordman and begin challenging other swordmen to duels. If there is some character-depth to your stats, it’s much easier to accept the PG in that
  • Don’t enter a player competition if not called. If you meet a fellow PGer, compete if you want, but if you don’t, take simply a part nobody else fulfill. Much easier that way, because it’ll become less offensive
  • Remember, that PG isn’t always about the highest stats possible. A fighter as a Defender/Tank with an AC too high and no ways to force the enemies to direct their intention to him/her, won’t fulfill the role, because even monsters get annoyed when trying to hit an unhittable target. If you can’t hold them on you, you’re simply not doing your job!
  • Be a team-player. If you’re actually helps other characters to shine or are able to not address everything in a way, that your build will come in handy, people actually will mind much less. If you want to shine every time yourself without rubbing your fellow players the wrong way, you can still play a Leader-role character, since they seem to PG as much as they want, since it’s a benefit for the party-members instead the character itself, they most likely even really notice all that PG. Or the other way around, make a character build which can only shine when being supported by others (even if PGers are avoiding those builds usually)
  • Talk to your DM beforehand. After playing a bit, your DM will definitely see your tendencies in that department. See a compromise, like deciding in which departments you can PG without calling up his wrath (like with undetectable, all-seeing builds) and if you come up with some strange combinations, have a good character-story at hand and tell it before talking about your build

The most important thing is, to redirect your desires in a way, that won’t offense the other players as much or even make them think, that it’s OK that way. Being a melee-PG-character is much more acceptable, if there are no other main-melees in your party, since there is less competition and if you’re the only one, you’d better be good.

And a important no-go: Don’t suggest or help other players to PG unasked. Some will simply hate that idea by itself, others will actually try it and might lose sight on the parts of P&P, which said player actually enjoyed. If a player asks by himself/herself, be sure to take it slowly, before overwhelming your padawan. 😉
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How to deal with PG as DM: It’s much harder to actually deal with PG as a DM, especially after getting duped multiple times. Remain calm, it’s not the end and you shouldn’t seek revenge, since it’s just a game and at least one player were happy that day. But there are some ways to deal with it.

  • House-rule rule holes. If you get the feeling, that a specific combination doesn’t seem to be intentional, talk to your players about it. Be honest, provide some suggestion how to deal with it, don’t just decide it by yourself, if possible. If you just close anything up (especially after being fooled) you’ll seem upset and petty.
  • If you know that a PGer is in your gaming group, be sure to explain the no-gos, like ‘no over-optimized perception and/or stealth’ or ‘no single levels when multiclassing’ beforehand
  • Remember the players, that most characters which are only build around being the best in a single thing which isn’t that useful in real-life are much less believable. A PG fighter might be a guard for a merchant, but without a moderate INT, WIS and CHA it’s most likely, that he’s buffooned at every opportunity without even realizing it
  • Don’t ignore the PGers forte, that will only invite problems. Address them regularly and sometimes for important stuff, if you’re ready to ‘lose’ some times, you’ll keep the player satisfied enough so he won’t complain as much. Just let be strengths be strengths sometimes. Makes it much funnier, when using a shenanigan to undermine it
  • Don’t take PG as a challenge, trust me: If you do, the PGer won’t suffer, the other players will instead
  • More variation: As long you don’t get a skill-monkey, just open up the game, make more variant adventures like beginning in Sharn (Eberron) with a murder case, which will require investigation, than coming up with a bit of combat, which will lead the party to a specific noble house, which will have a party in a few days, so the players have to prepare and get an invitation (planning and socializing) and being at the party themselves is yet another challenge, investigating further, opening some traps and summoned beasts, finally getting the boss, who will only… I guess you already got the gist
  • If you got a skill-monkey or skill-specialist, don’t roll for some scenes, just let play it by words. If the ability (skill) checks are too good to fail, be fair most of the time, not all the time
  • If nothing work, talk to the PGer after seeing how it worked out. Somehow there is always a compromise
  • If common sense is not heard by the PGer, be as strict as necessary. In the end the player most likely still wants to play with you, but is pretty disappointed, that his build is attacked/ignored/undermined by you. Try to be fair, but honest and if you can’t deal with it anymore, you don’t have to. If you’ve no fun being a DM, than your personal goal is not met and that would be pretty counter-productive

There are many more, but mainly these are standard forms of interacting with other people and less about being a DM than being a person who can confront conflicts cleverly.
null Now that I was able to talk about it, I’m kinda relieved. Personally I’m more of a story-made-by-players-driven DM, the reason why I want to have back-stories and characters which makes sense, instead of those, who only have their stats as personality. As long that holds, I can deal with PG myself most of the times, but I do have players which can’t do it as good. And there is a limit to everything and sometimes even I get pretty pissed off at specific players. Like getting collywobbles if the first thing I hear about something is ‘If I can combine it with this and that, then…’ or actually downgrading options, just because their lack of measurable ‘power.

Role-play for Dummies

It’s easy to say, that a lot of players don’t care about the RP of the RPG or are just a bunch of power-gaming lemmings, etc., but for some people, role-play is hard. Here 10 things you can ensure to take a first step toward the goal to become a better role-player and it might help a lot of DMs, too, when creating and/or playing NPCs.

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1.) Get a personality: Just 2-3 adjectives are more than enough to start, don’t take too similar ones like “cool, sassy and awesome”, better to take some words, which doesn’t really click together, like “skilled, careful, unconfident”, because you have to actually think how these adjectives would work together.

2.) Don’t be too original: An easy archetype (like the dumb fighter or the kind halfling) are much better than a complicated monstrosity of originality (like a half-elven, half-tiefling [stats half-elf] warlock, which got first trained to be a swordman, but…) because they’re easier to remember and easier to play.

3.) Get some quotes:  If you get a few good one-liners or otherwise powerful quotes, which can be used more often than once, you can get about half an personality. Like a cleric, which screams “UNDEAD!” whenever he sees or hear about undeads.

4.) Talk, don’t talk about: To quicken things up or to play over their insecurity, players and DMs tend to say “My character says” or “The village boy explains”, but as long as you don’t waste hours, just try it in character. This is one of the best chances to actual role-play, don’t waste it.

5.) A bit of back-story: Having the most basic form of biography is still better than none, because if you now what the character went through, it’s easier to see how he/she will react to certain things.

6.) Do not always do the best choice: This is one of the most important things: A lot of players are more about ‘What would be the most effective?’ instead of ‘What would my character do?’ Consider his/her feelings, the personal goals or just the personality. Would a barbarian with the berserker path really participate in a ambush plan, which needs too much details? Even if it might get your teammates pissed of sometimes, it’s much better than too much meta-gaming.

7.) Do the obvious: If you should not act too planned, what should you do instead? Obviously the obvious. If you were your character, what would you say, when seeing and adult dragon in front of you, breathing in just to discharge its Dragon’s Breath? Obviously something along the line of ‘Shit!’. If you’d search a dungeon, would you really jump into the lake of black water, not knowing its dangers and for no other reasons but possible but unlikely treasures? Obviously not! As long you keep the character’s personality in mind with his back-story and the experience you get from the game, you should get to the obvious quite easily.

8.) Actually try to remember things: If you can’t, take notes at the game. Try to remember names of NPCs (or make NPC-names memorable), the meta-plot, some details which are important to your character. If you do that, the game’s flow will not only improve, but you get better into your character which means, that you’ll do better to role-play him/her.

9.) Everyone make mistakes: Don’t be disheartened if something went wrong, try again. Players who laughs repeatedly at your tries are jerks, even though some results (like misspelling, situational humor or putting your foot in something) are hilarious, so just try to laugh when that time comes. If you watch closely enough, everyone will at times make some blunders.

10.) Have fun: If you role-play, you just have to see the fun in it. After getting over the first starting problems, just relax and be proud, how your game have improved.

 

Role-play is not about stats, but about effort. Even though some stats which makes some character traits more believable certainly help.