RPGaDay2020 Day 24: Humour

RPGaDay2020 graphic
The original RPGaDay2020 prompts graphic by @WillBrooks1989

Yesterday’ post in RPGaDay2020 pushed us to the edge (and beyond).

Today the theme is Humour. Everyone likes a good laugh – it’s a great social lubricant, a defuser of tension, a shared experience. (I have been told I perhaps like it too much, and try to make light of situations where it’s not appropriate, but never mind.)

It’s definitely a necessary ingredient at the RPG table. If only there were a neat recipe for humour – something that worked every time for everyone.

How does the dictionary define it? Here’s what the OED says:

The quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech.‘his tales are full of humour’

Hmmm. Not a lot of help there. How about Collins?

Humour is a quality in something that makes you laugh, for example in a situation, in someone’s words or actions, or in a book or film.

Slightly more useful, but only slightly… So it’s something that makes you laugh. Easy…except…

Not everyone finds the same things funny. My wife will laugh uproariously at any doggerel which includes the word “trousers” – she believes there is no phrase which can’t be made funnier by its addition. I just find it lazy and tedious, particularly after the 2746th time… In fact, there is quite a small intersection of the set of things she finds funny and the set of things I find funny.

A lot of humour is situational. In jokes are particularly so. In our group, references to jam tend to trigger reminiscences of when a character annoyed a stone giant, got on the wrong end of a hurled stone and got instantly turned to jam. (He was later wished back to life, so he can laugh about it now…literally). I’m sure you have things which have happened in your campaigns which make you laugh to refer back to.

On the other hand, there’s a limit to how often an in joke is actually funny, and if used too many times or too often it starts to get tedious instead. And unfortunately that threshold is different for different people at the table. We have a player who has decided his character (Malcolm Powder – don’t ask) sells powdered soup, and whoever the group talk to, you can guarantee Malcolm will chip in pretty soon with “do you like soup?” It was funny playing with it for a few sessions, but it has been trotted out too often (and too frequently) and now everyone groans. I have even had one player privately say to me “if he talks about powdered soup one more time my character is going to kill him.”

Photo by Dan Cook on Unsplash

It seems that incongruity is a fairly reliable source of humour. A lot of jokes depend on a reframing at the end so that you reinterpret what you have just been hearing a different way, or taking a standard situation and breaking it, or breaking taboos. But again there is a line beyond which it’s not funny – personally I find using crudity and toilet humour just lazy, boring and unnecessary rather than amusing but a lot of people do seem to find it hilarious. I live in Edinburgh, so there’s a lot of stand-up comedy available via the Edinburgh Festival Fringe throughout August in a normal year, so I have had the opportunity to sample quite a lot, at least of the cheaper acts, and I’ve given up…the rest of the audience will be laughing uproariously but I don’t find it funny.

Ultimately, you need to know your group and what they appreciate and what they find funny. Playing a role can get heavy at times (or boring or tense or scary or…) and being able to elicit a laugh lightens the atmosphere and helps everyone remember they’re having fun.

Come back tomorrow for Day 25, and we’ll look at Levers.

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