Comic relief PCs are incredibly hard to play yet there are many players out there who try and try again. But why doesn’t this work? Why is it so hard to pull this off in a long campaign?
Once I was running a campaign that involved much planar travel and many visits to the city of doors, Sigil. We had one player fall out of the group due to real life issues and were fortunate enough to find a replacement player. The new player, a seasoned D&D player and quite well versed in the game mechanics and the settings, decided to show up with a LG Mind Flayer cleric of Asmodeus called Bob. Needless to say, this player didn’t last long with the group.
Every time I hear a player plan a comic relief character I cringe. Few days ago a player in my older son’s group was creating a character, one based on a character in some cartoon, a very old human (+80 years old) 1st level wild magic sorcerer who talks like an old Wild West prospector, something the player found incredibly funny. I couldn’t help but sigh.
It is one thing to play an interesting happy-go-lucky character, another thing to create a character that is supposed to be a comic relief for a whole campaign. For the joke quickly gets watered down and boring.
The Burrfoot effect
One of the most lovable character of the Dragonlance Chronicles is the kender Tasslehoff Burrfoot. He’s like a child, yet seems to be able to expose the other members of the party time and a time again with his wisdom. Still, he is also the most disliked character of the party, since his kenderness (that’s a new word, mind you!) and often childlike behaviour gets too much and sometimes even in the way of the narrative. He is however an valuable member of the party and I’m convinced that the Chronicles wouldn’t have had their success if it wasn’t for him.
Still, I admit I’ve tried to create characters like him, only to see my fellow group members’ eyes roll back and have them sighing again and again. Why? Though most of it’s probably because I overdid it, the fact is, that it is incredible hard to create, develop and maintain a character like Tasslehoff. In fact, it is nigh impossible.
Yet we try.
When I run open games at game stores and cons there’s always that one player that wants to play a character like the kender rogue. If I had a gold piece for every LG kobold paladins, half-orc bard jesters or similar builds that were to be a comic relief…
The same joke over and over again
Mind you, I don’t mind peculiar or unorthodox character builds. In fact, the builds themselves are not the problem. It is the approach to character creation that is the problem. Where the player strives to build a strange character so that the build itself will become the joke and hence the character must be funny.
However, no matter how many times I’ve seen this at my tables, no matter how many times I’ve tried this myself, comic relief characters don’t work. Despite all builds, despite how interesting and detailed your backstory is, the problem is that telling the same joke over and over again gets boring real quick.
Don’t create a comic relief PC, let it develop
The reason why Tas is an interesting character, despite all his antics, is that he is more than a comic relief. He plays a pivotal role in saving Krynn and restoring the faith in the old gods, a role that he takes seriously. I can imagine that the comic relief role was something that came second for the player who originally played the kender. The interactions between him and Flint, as displayed in the novels, was probably something that was developed in play.
This is the problem that I have with most comic relief characters and this is the problem that I’ve had with playing such characters. They tend to have the comic relief part as their main agenda and truth be told, I’ve often wondered why the other characters would bring such a character along on a dangerous mission. Why would a group of wannabe-heroes bring along a 80 year old wild mage? After all, the age alone would suggest that the mage has little or nothing common with rest of the group and that the mage will be a baggage.
By leaving room for character development and not create a comic relief, but let the character have moments of comic reliefs, I believe such a character would be a nice addition to any party, especially if the character also has some skills that the party is missing.
Don’t make a funny game, make the game fun
Almost all players I know like their roleplaying games to be fun. After all, that’s why we like to play. The game is supposed to be fun. But being fun doesn’t mean that the games have to be funny all the time. They have their funny moments, but sometimes funny is not what the players are aiming for.
When you show up for a funny game, make sure that everybody is on the same page as you. Because, if you show up with your comic relief character, it might end the fun for the rest of the group. Not to mention the fact, that we often have very different opinions on what is funny. A half-orc barbarian who keeps telling jokes about raping people in a group where one player has experienced sexual violence is highly inappropriate and not funny at all. In fact, such a character is always highly inappropriate, in my opinion!
If you decide to try your hand at playing a comic relief character, be warned. These characters tend to get boring really fast and its hard to keep it up for long. Also, you might alienate the other players, especially if you overdo it. Create an interesting character and let the comic relief come second. And remember, the best comic reliefs are actual relieves, a break from the norm, not the norm.