Behold the power of the Rule of Funny

Years ago a friend of mine and I developed a fantasy role-playing game.

Part of the fantasy world map I devised, with friends, for our RPG. This is the bit I managed to digitise.
Part of the fantasy world map I devised, with friends, for our RPG. This is the bit I managed to digitise.

It was pretty much of the classic Gygax AD&D variety, except we rejected everything that AD&D held dear. Why? Because the game was a clichéd, unimaginative, plodding and humourless mashup of Robert E. Howard and J. R. R. Tolkien.

It wasn’t hard to break Gary Gygax’s Judaeo-Christianised ‘character alignment’ system, either:

Player: Sir Bottomwiper slaughters Sir Nosepicker and takes the treasure.
DM: You can’t do that, you’re Lawful.
Player: Haven’t you heard of the Law of the Jungle? Bwahahahaha!

Our game, by contrast, worked on a single rule. The Rule of Funny. If something was silly – well, it was going to work. That applied even down to the map, which was filled with town names based on eighties synth-pop bands, motorcycle parts manufacturers, and – inevitably – laxatives.

Game mechanics included the ability to summon demons by saying certain words. These words happened to be the ones used most often by one of the regular players in our little group, but that was only slightly deliberate. As for the demons – well, they all talked like the French Taunter from Holy Grail.

See what I mean? Rule of Funny.

Now, it seems to me that this can be made to work in writing. Take Harry Harrison’s stuff – which is laugh-out-loud hilarious. If you haven’t read Bill The Galactic Hero, go and do it. Now. It specifically lampoons Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (with a bit of Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ setting thrown in), and apparently Heinlein never spoke to Harrison again, afterwards.

Again – rule of funny applies. Stuff that’s supremely silly actually works – providing you can suspend disbelief along the way. That’s the trick. Harrison did by making the settings brutally real. There was a scene, near the end, where a soldier reached Bill’s squad in powered armour. The power ran out just as he plopped into a mud-pool. Nobody could help him – the armour weighed 3000 lbs. All very believable. What gave it ‘funny’ was the fact that the armour, inevitably, failed above the mud.

All of this, naturally, takes a good deal of skill to achieve – Harrison was one of the best sci-fi writers of his day, and he could do serious when he wanted to. Personally I quite like the approach – not least because the ‘rule of funny’ happens to be one of my favourite rules, generally.

What’s yours?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


One thought on “Behold the power of the Rule of Funny

  1. Well, I can’t say as I’ve ever created a game, let alone a funny map (though it sounds tempting), but I also can’t imagine writing a novel lacking humor. There must always be contrast. At the same time, I’ve always found I couldn’t plan humor. It must be spontaneous or it sounds contrived. For me that means allowing it to hijack the story at times, but not always. Sometimes I have to tell it to shut up, go away, and come back later.

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