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Humerous Games

Started by AChicony, February 28, 2005, 06:46:39 AM

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I'm in the concept stage of game design, my first game design, I'm a virgin, and reading the forums here concluded that this is the right place to start. I'm actually in the phase right at the beginning of Roy's sticky on Structured Game Design, that is; imagining play.

I'm not familiar with the vast plethora of RPG's out there, nor much of the philosophy expounded here (I'll get there), in short I've had a fairly limited and short lived gaming experience. But this is what I want:

I want the game to be fun, to have a light-heartedness about it, or a warmth, yet perhaps be serious at times as well. I imagine the players laughing a lot and generally having a good time. I'm thinking along the lines of "The Princess Bride", any of the Terry Gilliam films, the Narnia series, the "Arabian Nights" etc. I'm not after a beer and pretzels game – oh that's another thing; I want the game to appeal to the pre-teens age group, which my children will hit one day soon (most likely sooner than later).

Risus is tempting but I think they could handle something with a little more depth. Here are some offerings in the sacrificial forge:

What was it about the game; the tone of the text in the rule book? The comical pictures? Or the mechanics of the system?
In short, what encourages this sort of play? The setting obviously as humour, how is this mimicked by the system?
And most importantly,
What games have you played that captured this spirit? So I can check them out.

Gracias amigos,

Ron Edwards


Welcome! I greatly appreciate the time you've taken to read over the forums and get an idea of the posting practices. It makes it easy and fun to reply.

I think your distinction between text and play is important. Most of the so-called "beer and pretzels" games are not really intended for fun play, but for funny reading. They're parodies, and parodies do not have to work well; in fact, they can work poorly and that might be part of the fun. Ninja Burger is a lot like this.

Usually, when people ask this sort of thing, I start talking about my game Elfs, which is satire - a little different. Its humor does derive from a subject external to itself (specifically D&D play of a certain stripe), so if one isn't familiar with that, Elfs isn't especially funny. But if the group is, then the game plays humorously, if a little bitingly.

But in your case, it seems to me as if you're talking more about gentle or appreciative humor, the kind that's based on loving something rather than kicking it a good one. So here are some games which often have hilarious stuff happen in them, but which do so by enjoying the wonderful, sometimes absurd stuff in the source material, and in most cases by allowing a great deal of creativity to get expressed freely:

The Shadow of Yesterday
Extreme Vengeance
Army Ants
Soap (a little cold-blooded though)
Greak Ork Gods (a little violent/gory though)
The Questing Beast
The Dying Earth
Primetime Adventures

One last thing, though - it also so happens that the same kind of appreciative, joyous interactions can occur among a group when the game doesn't concern funny stuff at all. I'm not entirely sure that you're distinguishing between humor involving the imagined stuff and appreciation/joy among the role-playing group. So far, I'm sticking with the former because you specifically asked about it, but it might be worth considering whether you're really talking about the latter.


J. Tuomas Harviainen

Continuing on Ron's assumption of gentle humor, I'd like to add a whole genre: Pulp games. (Adventure! would my personal choice example from those) They have a nicely light-hearted, loving-yet-silly way of treating very serious issues. Modern action/agent games (Extreme Vengeance included) also work on the same principles of what's seen as funny, so comparing the approaches of those two genres might be fruitful for observing how certain nuances in design affect the humor of games.



I've got a work in progress that might warrent a quick look if anything.
The Imp Game is based on your stereotypical minions of the bad guys- think Pain and Panic from the Disney Hercules movie- and their feeble attempts to try and live up to their master's expectations while frequently blowing it.
As humor can, my AP posts here are a little crude, but thats considering its played as a "beer and pretzels" game with several 20 somethings. In the right hands with the right supervision you could play out a typical saturday morning cartoon show instead of razing a village.
Imps benefits from a very free environment- players say what they do on failures or successes, no GM is needed to micromanage, and rolls are simple.

Playtest doc is available at
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!


This is a little off topic, since you're specifically asking about humor, but I recall several discussions about sacred cows of rpg design, and one in particular struck me:  character death.

What I mean is this:
Lots of rpgs have damage or combat systems that can lead to character death. In many cases, this possibility is unwanted by gms, players, or both. Some games then work really hard to then get around this issue ( providing some sort of "save" points, have accumulative hit points) or have soft rules suggestions such as GM Fiat type to save the characters' bacon.

The thing that struck me was that some designers have tackled this head on, by making character death "voluntary", based on player choice. Lots of bad things can still happen to the character, but the ultimate choice to rub them out resides with the owning player.

While this doesn't specifically relate to humor, having something like this as an open, discussed rule might allow a more laid back approach to gaming, and could be worth considering as a design aspect.
Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys

Ben Morgan

I'm currently helping Dregg develop Spookybeans, an RPG based on the works of Jhonen Vasquez, Roman Dirge, and Serena Valentino, and other similar goth comics. In general, we're aiming for a fairly lighthearted tone (even when 'nny goes around killing people).

A couple of things we're working on to encourage this:

1. Basically, no PC death; at least, not in the usual D&D "Game Over" kind of way. The idea of Hit Points has been abstracted even further than in D&D (we call it Tar, as in "getting the tar beaten out of you") in order to transform what would normally be a combat system into an all-purpose conflict system, which could just as easily take the form of trading insults or a pie eating contest as it could be regular combat (in fact, in such a game, I envision actual regular combat to likely be a pretty rare thing). When you get to 0 Tar, you don't die, you just lose the conflict. Your character will bounce back in whatever situation they find themselves in as a result of losing the previous conflict.

2. You can turn a failed rolled into a success by taking on Ouchies, or complications. Bascially, these are things that are somewhat external to the actual roll you just made, but somehow make your character's life just a little more difficult. Frex: you got the vending machine open, but you scraped your arm up, and it smarts real bad. Or you managed to get away from the security guard, but now have turned down a blind alley and are completely lost.

Now here's the clever bit: The reward system centers around taking Ouchies. So the more interesting you make your character's life, the more points you earn, which can then be spent to boost subsequent rolls. So Invader Zim spends the whole episode bumbling around, and he bounces from frying pan to fire, but by the end he can usually get it together to at least end up where he started.

-- Ben
-----[Ben Morgan]-----[]-----
"I cast a spell! I wanna cast... Magic... Missile!"  -- Galstaff, Sorcerer of Light


I highly recommend checking out the Wicked-Dead Brewing Company's line of games, which can be found here:

Some of them will not be appropriate for what you're seeking, but a few of special note that might be are Cat, Run Robot Red, and The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men.

Doctor Xero

I'm surprised no one has mentioned either Teenagers from Outer Space or Steve Jackson's Toon.  TFOS provides numerous openings for hilarious play, and Toon has a game mechanic in which players are rewarded for successfully making the game master (Animator) burst out into laughter.  I've run both, and they succeed in encouraging humor through presentation, amusing images, gaming advice, and even the game mechanics (particularly Toon).

Doctor Xero
"The human brain is the most public organ on the face of the earth....virtually all the business is the direct result of thinking that has already occurred in other minds.  We pass thoughts around, from mind to mind..." --Lewis Thomas


My favorite humor games are RISUS, Paranoia, and Ghostbusters, and Run Robot Red!

I've had some very funny sessions come out of my own game, Code of Unaris.

Chat transcripts here:

I also had a My Life With Master play session get pretty humorous.
At the end of our session the group of minions put the Master in a group hug while hanging onto a set of electrodes. The brain in the jar minion lived. Until his nutrients run out. We really played it in the Young Frankenstein mode.



Great Ork Gods (suggested by Ron way back) came to mind as I was reading your post.  I don't know if its The Princess Bride type humor though.  Its more ridiculous and ridiculously violent type humor.  Still, I think it might be a good reference.

Ron Edwards

Hi Chicony,

As you can see, a lot of people have provided a lot of games for you to think about.

What's the topic or basic concept for your game? If I were to make up a character, what might I come up with?



Wow! I certainly came to the right place! And perhaps bit off more than I can chew! I've got a lot of research ahead of me, thanks you all so much for the suggestions.

QuoteOne last thing, though - it also so happens that the same kind of appreciative, joyous interactions can occur among a group when the game doesn't concern funny stuff at all. I'm not entirely sure that you're distinguishing between humor involving the imagined stuff and appreciation/joy among the role-playing group. So far, I'm sticking with the former because you specifically asked about it, but it might be worth considering whether you're really talking about the latter.

Good point Ron. Though I definitely see the humour coming from the story, I'm quite good at character impersonations; pulling faces and peculiar accents, so quirky characters will take a big role, and I hope the unconventional tone of the story will be infectious to the players as well. So to answer your last question; I haven't gone too far in that department yet but imagine a quote of critical appraisal on the front cover saying, "The Princess Bride meets The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (that's next to the star shaped sticker with Best Seller! written on it of course).

So characters like Eric Idles' in Baron Munchausen, the fastest human alive, who has enormous leg muscles from running all the time, or even Invisible Boy (in Mystery Men) who can only turn invisible when no-one is watching. I have to admit I haven't gone too far with it yet.

I could probably ask a lot more questions, but will check my lazy self, and go follow up all of your suggestions.


P.S. Elfs sounds like a game I'd like to play and Ben your Spookybeans has some interesting stuff going on, though I think the setting would have to change a bit for pre-teens! Nate, Imps looks interesting. Geez, where do I end? Man, I'm going to have to keep coming back to this page to follow all the links and games mentioned!


Oh, I read the thing about not modifying posts and may have pressed the 'submit' button a little prematurely (premature submissions are not something I'd like to discuss by the way, let's just say it's been a problem for a while now and leave it at that), but all I wanted to add was a bit about 'theme'.

Theme... Ummm... Tall tales and grand adventures. Adventuring would be the big thing for the characters, exotic lands, exotic people, treasure, monsters, pirates, giants, but definitely not in the D&D sense, in the more romantic sense; that is the treasure will be mostly a concern of the 'bad guys', the monster perhaps a truly exotic creature of the sea that is worshipped by the local community.

I first thought the players would actually play children characters, but it may be a little too Enid Blighton and perhaps playing adults is an important fantasy for them? It may be empowering for them.

Anyway, I'll stop there.


Ben Morgan

Regarding TFOS and Toon, I know of at least one Spookybeans mechanic that owes directly to these two games.

As far as the setting for Spookybeans, the ickiness can be scaled to taste; ranging from up near JTHM, all the way down to Invader Zim.

I would also like to heartily (albeit belatedly) recommend Elfs. Yes, it's a silly little game. However, the sugar coating very cleverly conceals a pretty groundbreaking director stance mechanic, and as far as encouraging players to divorce themselves from their characters in order to gain a greater appreciation of the big picture, it does a damn fine job. After all, it's hard to identify too closely with a character whose defining characteristic is set to either Oral, Anal, or Genital.

As for addressing the tall tale theme, Dying Earth is definitely worth looking at. The more I think about it, the more I really love the Tagline mechanic.

-- Ben
-----[Ben Morgan]-----[]-----
"I cast a spell! I wanna cast... Magic... Missile!"  -- Galstaff, Sorcerer of Light