I like the new D&D. But i miss the old D&D. Especially this bit.
That’s a cartoon by Will McLean from the original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (page 123 if you’re playing along at home). It was one of about a half-dozen cartoons that graced the pages of that classic tome, highlighting a sense that D&D in those days carried itself with a bit of a nod and a wink. And i can’t imagine any circumstances under which Will McLean, NPCs named Gutboy Barrelhouse and Blastum, the gust of wind spell’s material component being a legume seed, an artifact causing a possessor to break out in acne, or the wandering harlot table would be a part of the D&D game today.
What, you don’t believe me?
Successive versions of the game and its core rulebooks have acknowledged that playing D&D will typically involve humor (assuming you’re not gaming with, like, a group of flagellant monks or something). However, in each successive iteration, the rulebooks have taken themselves slightly more seriously, and i think the game has lost something as a result. Especially for younger players, a certain amount of humor is a hook that translates directly into a good time playing — and that in turn translates directly into wanting to play again.
When i wrote up a starting adventure for the RPG club i run at my daughters’ middle school, i made sure to throw in the following:
As the party approaches either of the archways, they will automatically hear splashing water and a deep voice singing:
“Oh, humans make a wholesome snack
And I love dwarves on whole wheat toast
But an elf pan-fried in a halfling sauce
Is the special meal I love the most!”
This is the bedchamber of Narvik the ogre. Narvik is currently in his bathtub, singing. The tub is really just a huge barrel cut in half and filled with water. A massive kettle on the fire heats water for the bath.
Narvik is the leader of the hobgoblins because of his size, but he is a bully and a coward. He is also easily embarrassed. When the party enters, Narvik shrieks and wraps a towel (really an old bearskin) around himself as he jumps from the bath. He then attacks with a large scrub-brush. Because a scrub-brush is a poor weapon, he does not deal as much damage as a normal ogre.
Narvik is a tough challenge, but the party can make him easier to fight by pulling his bearskin towel away. A character can try to do this on purpose by saying that they are trying to yank the bearskin away, then making a DC 16 Strength check. On a successful check, the character has snatched the bearskin, leaving Narvik in his bare skin.
If the players don’t think of this, help them out. Every time Narvik is hit, describe him clutching the bearskin tighter as he howls and swings the scrub brush in retaliation.
If the bearskin is snatched away, or if Narvik is taken to 5 hit points or less, he will shriek and flee through whichever archway the party is farthest from. Because he is not wearing armor (or anything else), Narvik moves 8 squares (40 feet) per round. If the party follows, they will see him run into area 14 and flee up the ladder. Once outside, Narvik heads for the hills.
Silly? Sure. But laughter is one of the key anchors of positive experience, and D&D seems to have forgotten that for some reason.