One challenge in RPGs is getting the balance of comedy right.

It can be bad enough when distracted players might add any amount of off-table jokes and sarcasm, but even in an engaging game the inclusion of something humorous can derail. That Inn Keep with the ill chosen name, the terrible accent you tried to do, or the plot hole you didn’t account for can all steal focus from the immersion or suspension of disbelief.

Keeping the mood in a horror game like Call of Cthulhu can lead players to rebel just as an escape from the tension. There needs to be an awareness of the pace, and a measure of understanding that fear and tension need to break occasionally. If you build in moments of lighter content and bring them into play you can control the shift in mood and signal to the players when it is ok to goof off a little.

Last year at the UK Games Expo I ran two games of Paranoia, this year I’m trying to run games based on the Ghostbusters franchise.

When it comes to games with an in built sense of humour it’s worth setting some time aside in the prep to realise where that humour fits. Like the horror game managing the atmosphere of the game is important. Build into the narrative openings for the players to deliver on the implied joke, play the straight-man and allow the players to pull off the punch lines. Empower them to goof off.

In the Ghostbusters games this year I want to have a sense of seriousness, but as with the films there should be wise-cracks, and a tongue-in-cheek aspect where the PCs don’t have adequate training to deal with supernatural calamity. I’m aiming for the players to have a feeling of being out-of-their-depth and over confident at the same time.

The scenarios can aid in this, as can the rules. In the Cortex+ system locations can have Distinctions (similar to aspects in Fate), a D8/D4 combination, where the players can opt to add a distinction dice into their pool to help/hinder their roll. Using this rule I could add distinctions that aid in the light hearted nature of the game.

A haunted office might have a ghost of an old boss, returning to torment the staff, clearly a terrifying prospect. So distinctions could lend this a comedic element using tropes such as Documentary Film Crew, or Stack of TPS Reports.



In the end the actual inclusion of the distinctions will be situational, RPG humour may compare well to an improvisational sit-com. The characters need to find their own comedy, but the game and story can help support it.

I don’t think I’ve quite identified how I’ll make my players laugh, but I do hope to raise a chuckle with these games. Any advice gratefully received.

PS For more on pacing in games and managing the mood check out – Robin D. Laws’ “Hamlet’s Hitpoints”

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