I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs for almost four years and I’ve found that some of my favorite moments from our sessions have been the funny situations my character or my players have encountered. When I started running games, I felt that it was important to plan humor into my games in order to make the adventures less boring, more enjoyable, and definitely memorable. Here my top five ways to add humor into your gaming sessions.
1. Magical Items with a Twist
Everyone loves epic loot, right? When choosing or creating magical items for my players I like to throw some in that are a little different than what they are expecting. For example, a player might find a ring that enhances their charisma in sticky situations but in order to get the buff, they may have to deal with something unpleasant, like the inability to smell or an infinite wedgie. Sometimes I come up with my own magic items, but to make my job easier I have bought a few compendiums of interesting magic items through the Dungeon Masters Guild.
Some of my favorites include Bazaar of the Bizarre: Rings that Do Weird Things by Jon Bupp, The WhatNot Shop’s Absurd Accoutrements by Sean Hower, and Cursed Magic Items by Erik Hawley, which includes the famed Corset of Strength that our heroine Zeyda purchased rather early on in our campaign.The corset makes the wearer’s strength score 18, but their gender changes to the opposite gender whenever it is worn. Zeyda’s corset has become so integral to her character that she lives a double life as Zeydan, a male version of her character. Most of these compendiums have a suggested price of $.99, which makes the value exceptional for such rich content to add to your games.
2. Unusual NPCs
As a GM, sometimes you miss actually having the opportunity to play. Creating colorful, fun and entertaining non-player characters give you the opportunity to role-play, participate in battles and be a foil to your players. Sometimes I plan ahead and create written backgrounds for my NPCs and sometimes I purchase NPC tables and references from the Dungeon Masters Guild – but my favorite way to create NPCs is on the spot and letting the dice determine the attributes. Most game masters will use a table beforehand to build an NPC and while I may have an outline of the characters’ personality, profession, etc. – sometimes it’s just fun to roll race, attributes, and flaws right in the middle of the game.
For example, one of my characters may be forced to go on a blind date and when he shows up the dice may determine that he is a smelly, half-orc that talks too much, has a drinking problem and loves to cuddle. If you love to roleplay and aren’t afraid to be dramatic, this can be especially fun…for you, but maybe not so much for the character stuck on the date. The NPC tables in the Dungeon Masters’ Guide can be used for this but you may need to create a few new homebrew tables to add to it or download an NPC reference as well.
3. Awkward Situations
Now that you have the unusual NPC, you need put your characters in an “interesting” situation that forces them to interact with that NPC. The blind date idea from before is one option, but you can also incorporate this into quests and random encounters. My players have had to deal with a variety of strange situations including destructive pets, proposals of marriage, ladies night at the local “club,” and much, much more.
One of my favorite random encounters occurred in the very first game of our Heroines campaign. As the players walked the streets of Phlan, they heard and saw what looked to be a baby crying in an alley in Phlan, the question was – do they investigate and run the risk of being attacked or do they walk away and not save the “baby?” Two of the three players wanted to walk away from the situation, but our heroic Paladin Vasa couldn’t, of course, bear the thought of leaving a helpless baby in an alley. In the end, she ended up being robbed and slashed in the face, with a knife, by a one-eared Gnome thief in a baby costume. This scar is a constant reminder for Vasa that she should avoid dark alleys (and gnomes in general.)
4. Character Flaws
Nobody is perfect, even your half-elf Paladin with an Armor Class of 21 has a flaw. As a player, I have always enjoyed adding flaws to my characters. It makes them more relatable and “human.” Flaws can be funny or serious and can vary from addictions, hygiene problems, deformities, to nervous habits and more. I, of course, lean towards the funny character flaws myself.
For example, I’m currently playing in a Starfinder campaign and I specifically asked our GM if we could add flaws to our characters as we built our sheets. Being the creative (and ridiculous) person that I am, I came up with some fun ideas for the other players. Our serious Android Science Officer, in an effort to relate better to humans, will believe that she has mastered the art of joke-telling. Her fatally bad puns will be peppered throughout the game. Our Lashunta (think Andorians in Star Trek) Technomancer kills with her computer skills, but when she gets nervous she starts to sing random songs out loud. Finally, our Vesk (reptilian) Soldier is quite the badass when it comes to strength and weaponry, but when he gets angry he has the overwhelming urge to cry. The next time you GM a game, give it a try and encourage your players to add flaws to their characters.
5. Mystery boxes, machines, and potions
What is it about mystery items that make them so hard to resist? At the last two cons I attended, mystery boxes were huge sellers. People shelled out tons of cash to purchase a cool-looking box full of unknown (most likely clearance) items. The same idea applies in game, my characters can’t resist sticking their hand in a mystery box, drinking an unknown liquid in a bottle or vial, or experimenting with some type of mystery machine.
I’m a huge fan of M.T. Black’s 5th Edition adventure modules. One of my favorites is Expedition to the Lost Peaks where the characters find a crashed spaceship and spend hours exploring the ship. In the ship’s medical bay the characters found a cabinet of unknown medicines and boy did they have the time of their life testing them out despite the fact that they were sometimes hit with negative effects. Black included a Effects table for easy reference and the characters simply rolled a D20. They had such fun, I added new effects on the fly during the session and I’ve continued to incorporate this idea into other dungeons. For higher level characters try Jeff Stevens’ The Throne of Bone, the adventure ends with an interesting turn on the mystery throne where your characters may end up changing color, alignment or even race.
The most important thing is that you and your players have fun while gaming. Trying some of these methods will lighten the mood, make for interesting play and keep you laughing out loud during sessions. Let me know how it goes, I’d love to hear your stories!