So what is the weird? We're using "weird" in the sense used for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and similar games: an undermining of expectations and the stretching of boundaries.
What's comedy? The core of comedy is the mechanical encrusted upon the living, the unexpected appearing beside the expected, the improper with the proper. And we laugh.
It's no coincidence that Raggi's games swing between funny and horrifying so easily, it's because they're almost the same thing. Comedy merely tickles, while weird pins you down until you start to cry.
The weird can be made with a simple formula:
Take a situation or object, as mundane and everyday as possible. Twist it.
That's the basic set-up and would be enough for the most part. But there's so much to make it more than a cheap thrill.
Let's use an example. If we look at Death Love Doom the weird is produced by undermining the concept of love and familial relations, knocking it 90° into horrific and metaphorical territory (in Raggi-ist Russia foetus abort YOU, and don't forget sexually violent grannies) and pushing people's boundaries of taste. Nothing goes so far it becomes so strange as to put us into auto-pilot "oh look, another thing" mode, everything is built from perversions of our typical daily experience. Only the mundane is scary or funny. There's a reason that every good horror antagonist is essentially human.
So now to better illustrate how funny this is I'll recreate Death Love Doom in the medium of jokes:
"What's the difference between zits and a Catholic priest? Zits wait until a kid's 13 before it comes on his face."
See? In fairness both the adventure and the joke picked children to get a cheap emotional response but that's not to say it wasn't good value for money. You shouldn't abuse it too much and should occasionally go for higher hanging fruit or else it loses all impact, but it would be a waste not to grab for the low stuff on occasion.
Before I go further I must curtail any possibility of this turning into a review of Death Love Doom. I liked it, I agree with everything it stands for, done.
So why am I talking about abusing weird? Well because I've been working non-stop on a weird zine and a weird Dead City of Duven'Ku and ran a weird The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time. All these elements came together as I butted up against another roadblock in building my vision of this horrible city: there is only so much boundary pushing horror you can sling at the players before it stops being subversive and becomes normal. Un-undermined normal isn't weird!
Oppressive horribleness would have to take the occasional break to recharge the player's terror. Could comedy help us? What if there was the occasional dick monster or bumbling lich official? It still maintains the weird. Switching to comedy from weird is just like switching to your left hand when the right's tired. They do it in cinema all the time.
We need breaks from the horror, and a mega-dungeon doesn't allow for that. Raggi's adventures have worked so well because they are short, the terror will end and the world will settle back to how it was. If it was that way all the time then there would be no weird, just a continuation of a strange normality. This is why the Dead City of Duven'Ku is so hard. The players will switch to auto-pilot, they'll not bat an eye-lid at gutting the ghoul child to retrieve their ring, they won't care that their rations turn to blood in their mouths.
This led me to another thought: Sigil. Sigil, the central town of the Planescape D&D setting managed to run a line close to what would be needed by the Dead City. It was exceedingly strange but had a strong human element. We were grounded and had others to stand alongside us in our confusion in the face of the unknown.
Does Duven'Ku needs to be a functioning city with a human element?
Easy enough. Duven'Ku has themes in place already, themes we've learnt from the Death **** Doom adventures and Green Devil Face zine.
- Destructive love
- Sexual violence
- Emotional distance
- Punishment for wrongdoing
- Betrayal of those close to you
- Typical undead-ly stuff
- Self hatred
One questions how a society like this kept itself together, but that's the challenge. The Aztecs were pretty full on and they did well for a long time. Sigil was insane and that worked well enough. Can we do this again for an undead city? On one side we have a crazy fun-house, breeding detachment and familiarity. On the other we've built just another boring fantasy city supplement with humans replaced with zombies.
Now to tie this rambling essay together. The city must be weird, it must be the weirdest. There is no break from the normal so we need to wander into (dark, dark, barely even there) comedy to look for the players' psychic breaks. We need to nail the theme, nail it hard so there is a definite "Duven'Ku normal".
Next I might have to start making the physical thing and see how it works, planning is an endless process otherwise. As ever, opinions are welcome in this matter.