Why GMs are like Vaudeville Comedians

A few years ago at Gen Con, I was running an adventure as part of the Pathfinder Society, Paizo’s organized play. One of the players was really into roleplaying his half-orc as the fish out water. He was a barbarian trying desperately to be civilized.

The PC was talking to a female NPC, and in the middle of the conversation there was an exchange that went a little something like this.

NPC: I’m not available.
PC: Do you have a sister?
NPC: Yes. Well, actually she’s my half-sister.
PC: That’s okay, me half-orc!

At which point of course the whole table erupted with laughter. It was a good joke, and of course it would not have been possible without the set up. According to IMDB (which cannot possibly be wrong) Bud Abbott, the straight man of Abbott and Costello, got paid 60% to Costello’s 40%. Costello insisted because, “Comics are a dime a dozen. Good straight men are hard to find.”

In a lot of ways, I think this is the GM’s job. Not just to support the player’s wisecracks (though that doesn’t hurt). A good GM should set up campaigns, adventures, and encounters that let the heroes show off and do cool stuff.

I’m not a perfect GM, but this is something I strive for in my game. When the PCs expressed interest in opening a tavern, one of the campaign’s villains burned down one of the city’s current tavern, opening up some real estate. (The PCs were inside the tavern at the time of course. I couldn’t be too nice.)

We try to do the same thing with the Adventures from Sneak Attack Press. In Hunting Deathcloud, the final encounter is full of platforms to jump off form and ropes to swing on. My favorite set-up moment is in Good Little Children Never Grow Up. The PCs fight a zombie who can knock the weapon from a PC’s hands. But this won’t leave the PC unarmed for long, because the zombie has another weapon… sticking out of it head. We aren’t going to force the PC to pull an axe out of a zombie’s head and than beat down on the same zombie, be we can help make it easier.

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