Grim’s Tales: Comic Fantasy

Comedy’s bloody difficult when it comes to gaming and in fantasy gaming as much as the other genres what makes for a successful comedy game is generally down to some very simple things.

  • Comedic concepts: Characters with built in schticks failings will tend to supply their own comedy by playing up to it.
  • Incompetence: Failure is much more amusing than success, unless the success is horribly unexpected and counterintuitive.
  • A Formula: THE great comedy RPG is Paranoia, which relies very much on a formulaic approach. This helps build expectations and create recurring jokes. The same is true of some of the most successful fantasy fiction – like Discworld – running jokes become anticipated and can be all the funnier for it.
  • Exaggeration: Whatever characteristics a character or an enemy has they’re more funny – at least can be made so easily – if they’re dialled up to eleven.

Fantasy is probably one of the easier genres to turn into a comedy because it’s so steeped in stereotypes that can be played up to. Dwarves and beards (and gold and Scottish accents). Elves and their androgynous, ambiguous gender, their hippy tendencies and relationship with plants, halflings being fat, orcs being stupid… the whole genre gains much of its success, across media, from the sheer familiarity of these ideas.

Comedy comes from exaggerating or subverting these conventions. Perhaps the dwarf’s beard is so long he trips over it, or he doesn’t have one and is forced to wear false beards, like a sort of inverted Lux Luthor. Perhaps it’s a female dwarf with a long, luxuriant beard who is, nonetheless, very feminine – as feminine as a dwarf can be anyway. Perhaps an elf who overcompensates for his androgyny by being rampantly homophobic and excessively concerned about coming across as masculine. and butch.

Anachronism is another route to comedy and something Terry Pratchett does extremely well. Magic can substitute greatly for technology and do many of the same things – or similar things – but its effect on a fantasy world can be hugely profound and have many comedic side effects. Imagine ubiquitous crystal balls and the ‘television’ that a fantasy world might create, or a thieve’s quarter, dark and dingy, lit up by illusory signs, crossing genres in appearance with cyberpunk. That is another way to get some comedy out of fantasy, subvert the genre, mash it up with others, the beauty of fantasy is that just about anything goes.

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