Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Silliness in Gaming and in T&T

I've been very busy with work, and writing two writing projects simultaneously. So short posts might be the rule for a while.

Over on Grognardia, James Mal has a post about a letter to the editor by Ken St. Andre over Lewis Pulsipher's discussion of Tunnels & Trolls.

"Pulsipher's Sanctimonious Pile of Crap"

The humor in T&T does come on strong. Ken St. Andre might rail against that a bit here, but it's a weird stance to my mind. It's not like the jokes in T&T are accidential.

It's not the only game that has humor and silliness, either.

AD&D sure did, with modules like EX1 and EX2 taking the PCs to lands based on Lewis Carroll's books.

Rolemaster snuck in silly monsters to its monster books - Skeleton, Red, for example, a sub-type (kind of) of the jester skeleton.

GURPS DF takes a humorous tone with its material. My own games feature humor - the Apetrium, the Crogar Conference Room, Phase Snake Junction, actual silly gate destinations, jokes about Raggi's day job as a lawyer, accountant, and more. DF doesn't take the source material and game style too seriously, either - perks like "Van Gogh my Van Dyke" aren't exactly totally serious.

It can be played straight, though. I think the point about T&T's spell names, continent names, etc. really is revealing. If your charm spell is "Yassa Massa" and your feebleminding spell is "Dum Dum" and "Whammy" is a spell to enhance strikes . . . you're going to be hard-pressed to play it totally straight. It's a harder pull toward comedy. It's not always timelessly funny comedy, either. Probably would have been funnier when I was 9 than 19, and 19 than 29, and so on.

I haven't played a lot of T&T - only some limited solo play. But the names really make it tough because I have to remember the joke, not the thing the spell does.

Like a lot of spice, humor is good in the right amount, and can kill the flavor of the rest of the game when it's overdone.


  1. Ken St. Andre said in his first edition of T&T to "use as much humor as you can" without being "silly or juvenile." I think it comes down to one's sense of humor, and that will vary. Pulsipher was cranky about silly gamers as far back as January '77, when he complained that was how most D&D players in the UK were doing things.

    1. "I think it comes down to one's sense of humor, and that will vary."

      Yes, which is why I think there is a lot more disagreement on games like T&T, Paranoia, modules like EX1 and EX2, and so on - if it fits your sense of humor, you like it. If not, it polarizes you in the other direction. You get more "hate it!" reactions to games that include more humor than ones that include less, I feel.

  2. I unashamedly admit, the tone of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy put me off giving it try for 7 years. It was honestly some one saying that what I was trying to do in 'rewriting the travel rules' was already well done in DF 16 Wilderness Adventures (which had come out a few months before) to get me to read that book completely and see that DF wasn't a complete lean-into "Orc and Pie", Munchkinism, and Kitchen Sink "D&D nonsense" (I mean, it doesn't have to be).

    So yeah, tone can be a total turn off, even if everything else is alright.

    1. I hear you. Yet, if DF wasn't taking a knowing grin at the inherent suspension of logic you need for a hack-and-slash fantasy game, I probably wouldn't have gotten so interested in it. Nor been able to sustain a game for 149 sessions and going on 10 years of play, I think. Or to have written so much for it.

      So it's very tricky to use the "right" level of humor.

    2. "Tricky" is right. My preferred method is to generally, 99% of the game world, play things straight and seriously, but NPCs will occasionally crack wise, sometimes one will play the fool, etc. But I try to avoid 'joke' monsters or 'joke/in joke/reference' situations.

      They do slip in, even sometimes deliberately like in a fasntasy game I had a group of Froglock (gnome sized frogmen) hunters in a swamp hunting a slime they call Cubert (Everquest reference, itself a joking reference), or in a Fallout game the group meet a guy named Peter and his four wives Mary, Jane, Gwen, and Stacy who lived in a parking garage (and no, no one got the reference, le sigh, granted they met Jane and Stacy first, Mary later in the session, and Gwen was only referenced as she was on a hunt with the tribes hunters).

      But basically, I aim for straight laced but allow for humour, I try not to write humour into the setting itself.


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