Roughly two months into our current campaign, Uncle Junkal's player came across this post on The Mule Abides about silly names, which sort of called us out for having Uncle Junkal and Barbarella Bootay, and NPCs called Porkins and Val Kilmer. I now guess Mr. Minton was really musing about something else that he couldn't define at the time. Anyway, we all got varying levels of excited for being linked to, but indignant for being called "silly" or "not serious" and perplexed that this should be upsetting to some folks.
Out of a few emails between us all, Hazel made this statement. Now, Hazel's player had never played any RPGs before starting the Lab Lord campaign. There was no nostalgia, no notion of different editions, no idea that story and narrative and character background could be OSR blogosphere Molotov cocktails (or 1d8-damage-for-2-rounds oil flasks, or whatever). The idea of role-playing and hanging out with friends is what was attractive about joining this campaign, and unwittingly joining the OSR (i.e., Hazel's player is Cyclopeatron's 6th Generation D&D player).
So Hazel said:
"Hmm.. a guy who doesn't condone PUNS or too-silly names writing on a site titled "The Mule Abides"... hmm... "
Whoa, hang on a sec, let's keep it cool!...
Then Hazel wrote:
My Two Copper Pieces in Support of Our Humor
Coming into this game without any prior experience or cultural knowledge of the gaming world, I simply assumed that some amount of humor was part of a good gaming session. Not the kind of humor that would prevent other players from enjoying the game or totally undermine the rules that undergird the foundation of the game, but rather the kind of humor that is the product of invention, creativity, wit, and cunning. What drew me to trying this experience was the ability to think outside the regular boundaries of the game--the idea that I could exercise my own powers of imagination to formulate a character background (which may be more significant for Hazel as the game progresses) and offer my own ideas to any given situation, rather than simply choosing between a set of game-sanctioned possibilities.
My favorite moments of game-play have been just these kinds of moments: realizing that we could use orc-skin as a covering without needing an invisibility cloak, watching Barbarella Bootay and Innominus figure out how to take an assortment of "idle" materials the game offered us to construct lethal plans of attack, or noticing how Uncle Junkal developed his own check-list of tests and maneuvers to account for lurking contingencies.
Other things Hazel has done that might initially seem like I am thumbing my nose at serious game play--wearing a bear skin*, picking up stuff like a goblin skull, considering an Eagle Eye for my kestrel--are actually, for me, the most crucial "fun" of game-play. Yes, I like the idea of becoming a bear, but it is how I can use this costume to deceive, frighten, or protect myself from harm that motivates when I put it on. Buying some perfume after wearing the bear-skin for an extended time may be funny, but it also indicates the whole-heartedness with which I am imagining all aspects of our game-world and its effects.
I pick up random stuff because I see potential in using it later on down the road. Who knows when I might need to convince a goblin king that I have spoken to the spirits of his ancestors and bring warnings that should be heeded or when I might need to persuade a goblin-king enemy that I also hunt and kill goblins. It is the flexibility inherent in the narrative that makes the game exciting. If I had thought that the game was to be taken totally seriously, I may not have wanted to play.
This is Carter's stroke of genius. He is able to be inclusive, inviting, and creative himself, in a way that keenly responds to our improvisations and encourages us to use our own imagination. And good imagination, folks, should include constructive humor (And beer. And chips. And those curly fries.)
[Emphases in bold were added by Spawn. The title, "My 2cp.", is the subject line of Hazel's original email, btw.]
The Spawn reconvenes: I'd love to try to break that down and analyze the themes that bear (no pun intended) upon topics crucial to gaming, like:
- Is narrative lacking in old school D&D?
- Should we enforce immersive play?
- Should the players' desires be accommodated?
- Does silliness undermine the serious efforts of DMs in their epic world-building?
- Is character background development antithetical to old school gaming?
- Is D&D 5 minutes of fun packed into 4 hours?
- Is the OSR all about nostalgia, and we're just fooling ourselves into thinking we're bringing new players to the table?
If that's not Old School then get me out of the Old School, quick.
*The Bear Skin: We killed a bear at one point, and Hazel kept the skin and had it preserved. Now whenever some shit is about to go down, Hazel puts on the Bear Skin. Even if a Cloak of Invisibility is going over it, Hazel wears the Bear Skin. Old School as all hell. For me, hearing "Hazel puts on the Bear Skin" is like hearing "Alright some hardcore D&D is about to happen, so get your shit together."