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Designigng a comedy game

Started by Michael Hopcroft, April 29, 2003, 06:18:34 AM

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Michael Hopcroft

I just acquired a licence for an RPG based pon an American-produced comedic manga series. I have eighteen months to release a game -- I want to do it in five. What I'd like to know is if any of you have had experience designing a comedy game and, if so, how would you advise me to do it.

The basic concept is that the GM and players select a fairly tale and then the players play it out in their own comedically twisted version. It's based on a manga series that started out with "As Told By... Rapunzel" that portrayed Rapunzel as a spoiled brat, a trait she inherited from her rather greedy birth mother (whose cravings for rampion got her husband into a lot of trouble -- what is rampion, anyway?). It's publsiehd by NDP Comics, an independent house based in Seattle.

I was thinking a system similar to Universalis might work, but I can't use Universalis itself for obvious reasons (I respect people's copyrights!). It has to be simple, it has to be straightforward, it has to have as little die rolling as possible and it has to be funny. What kind of things do people do when given a job like this?
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Mike Holmes

Universalis wouldn't work, anyway.

The only observation that I've discovered that's worth a damn about Comedy RPGs is that you can't reward players for being funny in order to get them to be funny. First, pressure is no way to achieve humor (unless you're a Comedy Sportz Actlete). Second, the rewards themselves can only empower a player, not make him more funny.

No, if there's a solution to how to make this work, it's in Characters and Situation. Take Paranoia. Just funny from the get-go. Just create a character, put him in the situation of the standard Paranioa mission, and instant funny.

So that's the way to do it. Make the way that characters are generated and the situations that they are then put into just combine for a humorous effect.

How to do that with the subject material, I have no idea. Maybe it's sooo different that all of the above does not apply at all.

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Jay Turner

There's a difference between writing a funny anime series and writing a funny game. The difference is that the anime series can have the funniest team of creators imaginable, and all the canon material comes from them, whereas in a game, you're giving players the tools to be funny, but you can't give them the talent. Personally, I (as someone who has written humor but hasn't as yet published a humorous game) steer toward presenting the setting in as straightforward a manner as possible, without trying too hard to bring in the humor. You're basing it off of an already funny series, so let the series speak for itself.

That said, the funniest games I've played were so because of the players, not necessarily the game. The best thing about the funny games I've played was that either they were rules-light or we simply ignored the rules for the most part. I ran a game that was, ostensibly, Champions, but I ran it essentially diceless, using stats as a measure ("Okay, your character can lift a battleship? Fine. He smashes down the door without a problem."). Buffy is a great game for humor, mostly because it encourages witty in-character banter with Drama Points, but it also treats its (rather silly) setting with respect. It uses Eden's Unisystem, and it's such a simple system (once one memorizes the Success Level chart) that it doesn't distract from the flow of the humor.

I would suggest a simple rules system and some form of reward for staying true to the setting/mood of the anime. If players have to break mood long enough to consult a table or ask the GM for a rules clarification, that pause could break up the flow of the game, and that flow is where most of the real comedy lies.

Not knowing the property, I'm not sure what else to say. Anime comedy ranges from something realistic like Maison Ikkoku to crazy stuff like Dragon Half. I'm assuming that yours falls somewhere in the middle. :)
Jay Turner
Zobie Games">

Michael Hopcroft

I'd give you NDP Comics' websiote but it makes my browser crash.
Michael Hopcroft Press: Where you go when you want something unique!

Jared A. Sorensen

Quote from: Jay TurnerI would suggest a simple rules system and some form of reward for staying true to the setting/mood of the anime. If players have to break mood long enough to consult a table or ask the GM for a rules clarification, that pause could break up the flow of the game, and that flow is where most of the real comedy lies.

"Dying is easy, comedy is hard."

The best way I've found to make a comedic RPG is to use the schism between the player and the character. Elfs does this by making the character a real dick that the player can feel good about hosing. Ditto the Dying Earth. Paranoia presents characters trapped in a terrifying, hopeless situation (to them)...but it's SO terrifying and SO hopeless that it becomes the players anyway ("I stub my toe, it's a tragedy. You fall down an open manhole and die, it's a comedy." - Mel Brooks). InSpectres presents bizarre situations to the players and has the characters deal with them in a very boring, matter-of-fact way (kind of the opposite of those other games).
jared a. sorensen /


I'd start by getting a copy of Toon and some of the earlier supplements.

What's funnier than Loony Toon-esque cartoons...the system was pretty darn minimal, yet effective.

There were the right rules for the right things.  In the typical Loony Toon, characters didn't die when a safe fell on them.  They saw stars...held up a sign while plummeting off screen, and were back in the thick a few moments later (Who Framed Roger Rabbit played this up to good effect).  So, in Toon, you didn't got Boggled.  

After that, a majority of the common gimmicks that were stock in trade for various characters were collected as Schticks (a perfect word) and the presentation of those Schticks was such that you knew EXACTLY which cartoon characters had them and how they were used.

The tone of the writing should match the tone of the genre you're emulating.  I'm not familiar with the series in question so I can't give you specific advice, but look to the writing of Kill Puppies for Satan or Dust Devils or Little Fears to see how effective matching tone to genre can be in getting players into the right mindset to play.  Toon fell down a little here because it still clung to some old school game presentation standards...but fortuneately the genre was so immediately understood it didn't really matter.

As Mike said, you can't force humor.  You can't really even promote it.  If the series really is funny.  If the players are familiar enough with it that they understand why and how its funny, if they can have that mood conveyed by the text of the game.  Then they're on their own.


I think that the tone of the rulebook will be extremely important. Rules should be extremely easy to understand. Make it as clear and simple as you can... then add clarifying summaries. You may want to make up little rule-summary handouts. If the players need to do work to figure out rules in the first session, that could interrupt the flow of the game. In a comedic game that may end up being more damaging than in most other games.

I wouldn't force humor into the text, but make it clear you are familiar with the material. If something really funny (and appropriately funny) comes naturally, great. If not, you may want to stick with knowing references and inside jokes that the fans of the series will appreciate. Little nuggets like that can be priceless, though...

My temptation would be to clearly differentiate (sidebars or whatnot) between the color commentary and the actual rules, though.

My very own">game design journal.


Orx is supposed to be funny, and I think it pulls that off from a social perspective supported by its mechanic, mainly through the use of Complications:

Some other player gets to make your wanna-be bad-ass look like a moron -- its a primal urge deep in the untapped consciousness of humanity: we want to see others, especially successful people, especially people more successful than us, get hit with pies. And if it makes us come out on top, all the better.

Watch nearly any non-cartoon kids' movie, especially stuff by the Disney channel, to see this in glorious, unapologetic action. And adult movies certainly don't avoid it either, though it's sometimes less obvious. The jackass-bonehead gets stuck in traffic, slips in the mud, knocked over a fence, trapped in the tanning booth for too long, etc.

Orx taps into this by tempting you to nail your fellow players for a concrete bonus. Even if he succeeds, there's still a problem.

Interestingly, this can be shifted out of humor and into tragedy quite easily: it's all in the tone of the presentation and the mood around the table. So, help establish that mood and that tone in play and you are on your way. If you can get the mechanics to support humorous/amusing incidents in some way (even indirectly), you're the rest of the way.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio