Laurel & Hardy; the Three Stooges; Buster Keaton; Charlie Chaplin
WHAT YOU NEED
Pens & paper;
A big bowl of dice, in two colors. It doesn’t matter how many sides; it’s an even/odd mechanic, so as long as they’re not those fabled d7s or something, you can use any combination of sizes. It also doesn’t matter which two colors, but I’ll be referring to them as white and black.
You need to decide who will be in charge of antagonism & adversity. This can be one person, or you can share the responsibility, whichever you feel most comfortable with. This person is hereafter referred to as the Antagonism Player, or AP.
Now it’s time to make your PCs. If the AP is just one person, he doesn’t make a PC, but he can make an Antagonist Character (AC), which works the same way. Give your PC a name, and write it down on a sheet of paper. Then come up with some traits that describe the PC, in terms of appearance, personality, ability, whatever, and write these down on the sheet. Create your characters out loud; that is, as you write down “Baggy trousers” as a trait, say out loud, “My guy wears baggy trousers.” Just come up with enough traits for everyone to get a good picture of your character; you can add more whenever you want.*
Now you need to decide the situation. The PCs need to be working toward some sort of identifiable objective that is accomplished through smaller, accumulated tasks. Building a house, courting lovers, selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, etc. If you can’t decide on one, just put a bunch of ideas into a hat and draw one at random. The AC, if there is one, needs to be working against them in some way. ACs are usually authority figures (the boss, a stern mother-in-law, a cop, etc.), and they should be played as though they have a personal grudge against the PCs.
During the game (including chargen!), anytime your contributions cause someone to laugh, claim a white die from the bowl. If they laugh so hard that they fall out of their chair, do a spit-take, or spew fluids from their nose, take five white dice. White dice are good, so you want to be at the top of your funny. In-character quips, sound effects, miming, and facial expressions will be good ways to do this.
Next you have to frame your first scene. Everyone participates in this, contributing an element at a time to the scene, until everyone feels like you’ve got enough. Again, you can add stuff later when you want,* so don’t sweat it; just get a good picture of it.
Later on, you can call for a new scene when it’s appropriate (like if you need to change locales).
TASKS, PROGRESS, AND FRUSTRATION
Once the scene is in place, players controlling PCs will take turns around the table. On your turn, you can either attempt a Task, try to overcome a Setback, help someone else overcome a Setback, or vent your Frustrations. I’ll explain those other ones in a minute; here’s how Tasks work.
Describe how your PC performs some small task that contributes to overall progress towards the objective. The AP then describes how something goes wrong. Then it’s time to roll dice.
For each of your traits that is involved in any way with your description of the Task, you may take one white die from the bowl; hold these dice in your hand. If you do this, put a check mark next to that trait on your sheet; you won’t be able to get a die from it again this scene. If another PC has traits that are involved, that PC’s player may let you use them for dice as well (these traits are still checked off). If this is the first time the Task in question has been attempted in the way you described, take one white die from the bowl, and add it to the dice in your hand. If you feel like you need more dice, you can take some of the dice you’ve earned by making people laugh.
The AP gets one white die if this is the first time the misfortune/accident/whatever he described has happened. If his AC is involved, he may get dice from the AC’s traits just like PC traits. He may also use dice he’s earned from making people laugh. Finally, he gets all the black dice that you currently have (if you’ve just started, you don’t have any yet).
Now that you’ve both got your dice, roll ‘em. You’re looking for even-numbered results. If you’ve got more evens than the AP, you win; you make some progress despite the misfortune, and gain a Progress point (make a hashmark on the bottom of your sheet somewhere). If the AP wins, then you fail to make any Progress, and, if he can think of one, he may inflict a Setback on you or one of the other PCs as a consequence of what just happened. Also, if the AP wins, your PC gains some Frustration: take a black die from the bowl.
If you tie, then the thing that went wrong doesn’t cause any Setbacks or prevent Progress, yet. Instead, it triggers a chain event, which the AP describes, and you describe your PC’s reaction to it, and then you roll dice again. If it ties again, then there’s another chain event, and so on, until you either win or lose.
All white dice that were rolled are now returned to the bowl. Black dice are returned to the player. I’ll tell you how to get rid of them in a minute.
Once that’s done, your turn is over. In fact, any time you roll dice, that’s the end of your turn.
The PCs are building a house. It’s Ted’s turn. Ted’s player says that Ted is nailing a doorframe together. The AP says that, as Ted reaches back to swing the hammer, the hammerhead flies off and hits PC William in the head. If this is the first time that someone has attempted to drive nails with a hammer, Ted’s player gets a die for that (and, the next time someone drives nails or tries to assemble a doorframe, they have to think of another way to do it, or else receive no die). If this is the first time that a hammerhead has flown off, the AP gets a die for that.
Ted’s player aslo gets a die from, say, Ted’s “Big and strong” trait, and he checks it off on the sheet. Let’s say that Ted also has a “Whistle while you work” trait, and he’s whistling while he works, so Ted’s player can get a die for that, then check it off. Ted’s player and the AP take some dice from their earned-from-laughter pile. Ted has not been Frustrated yet, so he has no black dice.
They roll. Let’s say the AP wins. Ted’s player takes a black die from the bowl. The AP says that the hammerhead knocks William unconscious as a Setback. The AP should feel free to add sound effects, and the involved players should feel free to roleplay responses. That’s how you’re going to get your extra dice, after all.
If Ted had won, there would have been no Setback or Frustration, and he would have made Progress somehow. Maybe William ducks at just the right moment, the hammerhead ricochets off a conveniently placed tree, and lands back on the hammer’s shaft just in time for Ted to drive the nail. Why not? It could happen.
If the rolls had tied, then maybe William gets hit with the hammerhead and stumbles over to knock the can of nails into the air, and the nails are now falling through the air (pointy end downward, of course) toward Ted, who, let’s say, shrieks and tries to take cover under the doorframe. This is the first time that nails have fallen through the air, so the AP gets a die for that, plus the same black dice. This is the first time that someone has taken cover under a doorframe, so Ted gets a white die, plus, let’s say, one for a “High-pitched shriek” trait.
Anytime a character suffers some consequence that would prevent him from attempting Tasks, that’s a Setback. Being buried by a pile of rubble, getting your jacket caught in the door, being glued to the ceiling, etc. You deal with Setbacks just like you deal with Tasks: say how you’re doing it, the AP says what goes wrong, you claim and roll dice. The only difference is that you don’t get Progress points for success; the reward for winning is overcoming the Setback. If the AP wins, he can inflict a Setback on someone else, or he can change the one that currently affects you. F’rinstance, if you were hanging from a balcony by your beltloops, maybe you fall, break through some floorboards, and are now lodged there, with your legs sticking up out of the floor.
If you have suffered a Setback, you can’t do anything on your turn except try to overcome it. If your buddy suffers a Setback, then you probably want to use your turn to try to get him out of it. Because, let’s face it, you’re going to need all the help you can get if there’s going to be any Progress.
If you can’t think of a way to deal with a Setback, you can scratch off a Progress point and cut to a later time (but same scene), and you’ve overcome the Setback in the interval. Don’t worry about how, it doesn’t really matter.
WHY, I OUGHTTA…
The only way to get rid of Frustration (black dice) is to take it out on other people. Describe how you’re going to take it out on one of the other PCs. If this would not have any lasting consequences (i.e. wouldn’t cause a Setback), then return one black die to the bowl. If it would cause a Setback, then return three black dice to the bowl; then, if that PC’s player wishes, he can describe something going wrong or his PC resisting or retaliating, and then you both roll dice as normal. The loser suffers the Setback, which is defined by the winner.
The game comes to an end when a PC hits 10 Frustration or Progress Points. When this happens, total up everyone’s Frustration and Progress. If total Progress meets or exceeds total Frustration, then the PCs attain their objective. Otherwise, they don’t.
I say “whenever you want,” but, not really, because your fellow players need to be okay with it. In other words, don’t be a jackass about it.