So recently, I’ve been running the wonderful Curse of Strahd adventure from Wizards of the Coast. If you aren’t familiar, the book is heavily themed around horror, suspense, and things that go bump in the night. It includes all sorts of common horror tropes, and honestly, it’s as fun to plan as it is to play.
So what does this scary spooky game have to do with Comedy at the Table? Let me explain. I put together a group of players on Reddit (/r/lfg), and got them together on discord. They made characters, we set a date, and we started playing. I was planning all sorts of spooky and slimy stuff to throw at them, and I was caught off guard by a few things. Namely, they were really funny players. They cracked me up quite a lot, and caused every ounce of planning and atmosphere I had designed to just pour down the drain. They were brave, they were goofy, and they were kicking ass and taking names. It was going completely against the point of the adventure! Or so I thought.
You see, the comedy was not a bad thing. It didn’t ruin the tone, it just enhanced it. I had told these guys constantly how spooky and scary the adventure was, but all they saw was needless warnings and pontificating. I was inflating the importance of the tone, and they cut right through it by being goofy. They weren’t scared, because I wasnt showing them why they should be. So I stopped with the warnings, and I started to run it like a horror movie. A mysterious noise here, a wisdom save there. The players start to wonder what it is that’s going on around them. Suddenly there’s wolves that seem to be much more intelligent than any wild animals, and zombies that can take dozens of arrows before being dropped. Then the monk is down. The laughing stops, the jokes calm down. The tactics begin and the tone shifts. The players won, but they almost lost two of their allies.
You see, comedy is great in games like these, because it becomes dramatic when the laughing stops. That’s the thing I didn’t focus on when I started the adventure. You can’t have something legitimately spooky like Scary Stories to tell in the Dark without a little Goosebumps first.
Using Comedy as a Tool
The key to Dungeon Mastering is to embrace the comedy, the drama, the anger, and the emotion that the Players bring to the table, and play off it. Be the straight man to their jokes, be the victims of their rage, and be the one who plays along when they need to be sad or dramatic. This is a game, and you are not here to tell your own story. You’re here to tell a story together.
So how do you embrace the comedy? Well lets talk about it.
1. Yes and….
Never ever shut down a joke before it begins, just go along with it, and keep it going. Add a new layer nobody thought of, and make it even more silly. If a player tries to scare a guard with an illusion of a mouse, maybe it’s way more funny to have the guard actually be afraid of the mouse!
2. Keep the humor real.
Some non-player characters get nervous, and when they get into a situation they’ve never experienced, they crack a joke. Maybe the farm hand you hired to carry your shit into the spider cave is afraid of spiders? “Oh I…I had no idea how many legs we would be dealing with when you hired me.” Its not gut-busting, its not even that funny, but combined with the tone of the situation, and the character’s fear, it could actually break the tension in a great way. Some people find certain jokes funny, and that tells you a lot about who they are, which informs the story, which can be a good for the immersion.
3. Know your audience
I think this goes without saying, but then I read all sorts of stuff about the hobby online and it just makes it clear it needs to be said. Know your audience. Don’t go for the easy offensive joke, don’t go for the edgy dark joke. Sexism, racism, jokes about horrible real-life tragedies, they aren’t fun for anyone. There’s nothing worse than players who say gross things and ruin the fun for everyone.
If you keep this stuff in mind during your games, as well as the simple fact that “We’re all here to have fun”, then you’ll do fine!
Thanks for reading this weeks much smaller article, I honestly have had a crazy busy week after my brief visit to Philadelphia last weekend. Hope everybody has a good weekend, I’ll be seeing you on Tuesday for the next Sense of Immersion!
When you need something funny to happen in your game, why not roll on this critical fumble table?
1-10: The attack fails, your pants fall down, and the target looks away to give you privacy.
11-20: You throw your weapon clear over the head of the target, who watches it as it sails over their head. They grin at you like a smug jerk.
21-30: You finally remembered that word you were thinking of earlier. You shout it out way too loud, and are so embarrassed you forget how to attack properly.
31-40: You were on your phone and forgot it was your turn. You miss the attack and lose the ability to do anything else.
41-50: Your parent or guardian shows up to watch you fight, because you’re always boasting about how great it is. You do something really cool leading up to the fight, and when you turn to see if they’re watching as you attack, they’re actually just reading a book. You miss. You cry.
51-70: You hit, but it does no damage. Boy do you feel stupid, you hit them with the handle of your weapon instead of the part that hurts!
71-90: You mistake the enemy for a friend and smack your friend upside the head. Deal half damage to your buddy as you apologize profusely.
91-95: You miss and then fall over. Oops.
96-100: The enemy gets a free attack of opportunity because you were pretending to attack in slow motion.