I mention briefly in my review of the scenario compilation Great Old Ones a bit where a piece of somewhat humorous dialogue is suggested in an encounter. I also imply that I found this less than optimum for gameplay, and I would like to take this opportunity to address the topic of humor in Call of Cthulhu (and indirectly, humor in role playing games in general).
Players of table top rpgs tend to be intelligent, and witty people, with the wit having a wide range of expression. Players also often vent various bits of nervous energy by falling back on humor. Games often struggle to keep in character (less in Call of Cthulhu than most games, I find), but the games themselves lead to expressions of humor between the players or the characters as part of the game and the flow of it.
That being said, there are some scenarios that have been published where the humor is part of the scenario. The scenario referred to above, Still Waters, is one of the least offenders in this category, and the strangely ironic way the statements are made by the entities in question can keep them from being fully humorous, but in reading the scenario there is a bit of a feel that the writer was trying to input a humorous note, either for his own feelings or a possible Keeper tool. I have to admit I’ve never run this scenario, and while I would keep those bits of dialogue in mind, I am unsure if they would slip into the game, it would be situational, depending on how the players were taking things up to that point.
Then we run into scenarios where the humor is more blatant. The worst examples of this you will find in published scenarios occur in the second volume of Blood Brothers, and one particular scenario in Atomic Age Cthulhu. I have reviewed the two Blood Brothers volumes over in my reviews section and will let my negativity over the luchadore scenario and the alien beach horror scenario stand there. The one in Atomic Age Cthulhu (that is on my review list but it will be a while before I get to it) is a direct take on Elvis’ films, with two competing brands of cultists trying to further their agendas and feud on a movie set. When I read a scenario that goes to this extent, I find it hard to believe anyone wrote it with intent to play it, more of an ‘in joke’ for keepers to read and get a laugh at. Similarly, we have a few of these creep into the volumes of the Halloween Horror Series, where in one case we get what I would swear was a scenario inspired by parts of the film “Son of the Mask” (“the Mask of Neil Marlow’s Pet” by Simon Yee, in the volume Halloween Horror Returns. The author of this particular scenario has actually produced several other scenarios I really like so I am fairly certain that this was a similar attempt at a lighthearted jab at keepers taking themselves too seriously.) and in another we get an amazing mix of Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Producers by way of Arkham (Great Old Ones on the Great White Way by Joseph M. Isenberg in the volume Dead Leaves Fall. This is another scenario that I enjoyed reading but would have trouble running, even as a one shot) a few scenarios distributed on the web take this path too, the ‘Drooler in the Dark’ and ‘an Eldritch thing happened on the way to the Forum’ are the ones that come to mind immediately, both available in the files section at Yog Sothoth.com. The first of those is presented as a minor irritant background element to introduce into a campaign for comedic effect, and just not my cup of tea. The Eldritch thing actually can work to a point as a viable scenario, but it is also one big in joke as the people of Yog Sothoth.com themselves victims and npcs in the story as it unfolds. In this, one would have to weigh carefully to determine if you want to dip your toes in that water.
Do I disapprove of humorously written scenarios? No, I have enjoyed reading each of these scenarios. Well, except for the Elvis based one, but that’s more because I never cared for Elvis’ movie career, and while this was clearly a parody, it pushed all the wrong buttons for me, but that’s a matter of personal taste. Having stated that I’ve enjoyed reading them, these are scenarios I would be less inclined to run however.
I like to think that I am not too far gone in the sense of being a Keeper who takes himself too seriously. But I prefer the humor to grow from the playing of the game itself, not fed to the players. Of course if you disagree, in this case you are fully within your rights to say ‘well lighten up then,’ and we can agree to disagree on this point.
An interesting addendum to this before I get to post it, I have received some feedback from my review of the Great Old Ones scenario compilation, specifically about a person who remembered playing through the scenario referred to above, Still Waters, and he disagreed with me, stating that the somewhat humorous statements ended up having a chilling and frightening effect during play. This proves that this is a subjective matter, and my feeling less negatively about it is a viable feeling. I have to say that in the right circumstances I would probably risk introducing that element, but it would depend a great deal on the players, the overall chemistry.