I know I said I wasn't going to make anymore The Brave and the Bold-related posts, but I've had an idea for a post simmering in the back of my brain for a few days now and using Detective Chimp to illustrate my point seemed apropos. Plus, I just like Detective Chimp, who, for those of you who don't know, is an intelligent, talking chimpanzee from DC's Golden Age who solves crimes. You can read all about him here if you're keen to know more.
I can already hear people rolling their eyes about a character like this and understandably so. A chimp sleuth is, on the face of it, pretty ridiculous, all the moreso when he teams up with Batman to take on an alliance of intelligent, talking gorillas -- Gorilla Grodd, Monsieur Mallah, and Gorilla Boss, for those who care -- who've taken over Gotham by turning all its inhabitants into apes. For a lot of people, Detective Chimp cheapens not only Batman but the entire DC universe by his existence and they'd just as soon he never be talked about, let alone be seen, again.
Obviously, the fine folks who made The Brave and the Bold disagree and not solely about Detective Chimp. One of the many signature elements of this cartoon series is the way it uses a lot of third string heroes and villains in its stories, characters like Bug-Eyed Bandit, Calendar Man, Kiteman, and Ultra the Multi-Alien and plays them completely straight. They're not presented as jokes, cynical jabs, and self-satisfied critiques of the DC universe. Instead, they're treated seriously as credible friends and foes of Batman, who considers a fight against the Polka-Dot Man just as worthy of his attention as one against the Joker.
But treating these characters seriously does not mean they're treated without humor -- far from it! What makes The Brave and the Bold such a brilliant cartoon is that its creators clearly understand that it's not merely villains like Killer Moth, sidekicks like Woozy Winks, or heroes like G.I. Robot who are absurd but even Batman himself. Heck, all costumed superheroes are pretty silly if you spend any time thinking about them. The notion that it's somehow inherently more reasonable for a man to dress up like a bat in order to fight criminals than for a criminal to call himself the Sportsmaster and undertake sports-related crimes is one only a certain kind of diehard fan could make. I love The Brave and the Bold, not just because it's a great superhero cartoon, but because its creators and voice actors did such an amazing job making me accept Plastic Man and Clock King on their own terms rather than trying to judge them based on criteria that, if applied fairly, would consign all superheroes and villains to the dustbin.
So what does this have to do with roleplaying games? My personal feeling is that most roleplaying game campaigns are a lot like superhero comics -- patently absurd to anyone who hasn't already invested in them. I say that not as a criticism but merely as a statement of fact. I shudder to imagine what someone who's not a fan of fantasy and doesn't play D&D would think if he read some of my Dwimmermount session reports. Most RPG characters are closer to Detective Chimp than they are to Dmitri Fyodorovich, which is probably a good thing from my perspective, but that doesn't mean that most RPG characters are living jokes. Rather, what I mean is that it's foolish to fret too much about how much "sense" a campaign makes according to any logic other than that by which the campaign operates. All fantasy looks foolish if judged by the logic of the Real World™, which is why it's usually a mistake to do so.
On some level, I already knew this, of course; it's more or less the way I've been running my campaigns for some time now. But, once upon a time, after I'd been in the hobby for a while, I started to take it all too seriously and I'd look down my nose at stuff I considered to be "ridiculous" without once realizing the irony of what I was saying. A certain degree of seriousness is good, even necessary, for a RPG campaign to engage its participants and to survive, but when that seriousness calls for banishing fun, if quirky, ideas in its name, I weep a little. I mean, where would Dungeons & Dragons be without monsters like the gelatinous cube, the lurker above, the piercer and almost the entire contents of the Fiend Folio? And let us not forget the uncounted puns, allusions, and homages included in its corpus.
So, don't shun Detective Chimp. Invite him over for a banana and a chat about deductive reasoning. You may soon realize, as I have, that your campaign is better off with him in it than flinging feces at it from outside it.