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I am currently the GM of an A Song Of Ice And Fire RPG game for a small group of old classmates. As we do neither have a set schedule nor meet very often, (once every couple of months or so) I spend a fair amount of hours in between sessions attempting to create the most entertaining experience for all my players, and preparing what I can in advance (character creation with each player over skype, etc) to save time during the actual session.

The date for our next session is April 1st. I queried my players for their opinions on having an April Fools theme, and they expressed unanimous enthusiasm for my idea.

In retrospect, however, I found my idea to be flawed. How would I fit the lighthearted nature of April Fools' Day into our campaign set in a fundamentally somber world, populated by players who are quite attached to their characters?

First, I thought of simply running an ordinary session but without the dark tone. I quickly realized this would serve as a major immersion break, not only for that session but for the continuity of the rest of the campaign.

Second, I thought of "playing pranks" on the players. The idea was to have the players be aware they would encounter rather arbitrary/unfair hazards and obstacles, but again I soon dismissed the idea, this time because it would involve punishing the players for simply playing, and again, ruining the immersion. Also, if I were to send 40 000 soldiers after them in a hyperbolic attempt at "fun", I would unquestionably guarantee the opposite – (accidental) character death would ruin everything.

Third, I thought of creating an isolated adventure removed from (but related to) the current plotline. This way any deaths would easily be retconned, and I would be at creative liberty to create a session fitting of the comedic and unserious April Fools' Day. However, there again exists a problem: I am quite the inept GM; I can count on two hands how many times I have GM'ed the last two years. I simply ignorant of how I would craft a creative product so removed from the core idea of the game.

Should I even attempt an April Fools theme? If so, how would I balance theme, tone, and pure fun for such a game session?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Thomas Jacobs, LegendaryDude, Oblivious Sage, Miniman, Bloodcinder Mar 20 '17 at 23:04

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does the session need to be canonical? \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Mar 20 '17 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I may have worded it unclearly, but that was the point of the second last paragraph; running a noncanonical adventure midway through the campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Arizan Mar 20 '17 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ How long will your session be? If you want to be properly thematic and/or you really want it to be a one-shot, we should know how much time we have. \$\endgroup\$ – Falc Mar 20 '17 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, what setting? Courtly characters, wandering adventurers, Night's Watch, ... ? \$\endgroup\$ – Falc Mar 20 '17 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Falc 5-6 hours. The setting follows a young noble and his retinue. They are in a sense adventurers, but stay within their realm and the surrounding lands. \$\endgroup\$ – Arizan Mar 20 '17 at 21:36
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Even a "fundamentally somber world" will have moments of levity; it is basic human nature.

Now, this is a fantasy world, so you do have a lot of leeway as to what April Fool's means. You can easily scavenge from many existing traditions and you can easily decide that given tradition is a local thing. This helps frame the events of your one-shot so that the borders with the rest of your campaign are both clear and natural. Your noble goes on a trip around his lands for reason X (might even be going towards their next serious goal) and they pass by a village which just so happens to be holding a local festival.

Furthermore, it's not because the village is holding festivities that there isn't a chance for serious business. Maybe it's tradition that everybody wears a mask, and someone has abused the situation to murder someone. Or, if everybody's gathered at the party, someone is breaking into some houses.

Now there is some magic in the Song of Ice and Fire, so you can easily add some supernatural flair. Some sort of local spirit requires that once per year, the village cheers him up. Maybe this year the harvest was bad and the village really isn't in the mood. Good thing there's some additional people showing up, maybe they can cheer up the spirit. Or finally exorcise him.

All of these are based on roughly the same idea: the fun and games can easily be background color to a serious event.

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If your players would react the way you predict, it is not advisable to do at all.

It sounds as though your group values continuity, immersion, on-going characters, and storytelling. This is great! Unfortunately, that means that any attempts to make a non-canon session in the same universe will almost certainly rub people the wrong way.

If you want to do a silly session for April Fools Day, consider running a completely separate one-shot of a lite, easy-to-run system. There are many One Page RPGs that people can learn to play and/or run (even you, regardless of how incompetent you may think you are) in a matter of minutes, and then have a fun, silly time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! Do you have any recommendations for a specific system for such a one-shot session? \$\endgroup\$ – Arizan Mar 20 '17 at 20:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Arizan Roll for shoes is a good one, light rules and you can get pretty silly with it. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Mar 20 '17 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Arizan I'm a big fan of Everyone Is John. I'm sure you could have a good time with a group of friends with that. \$\endgroup\$ – Southpaw Hare Mar 20 '17 at 23:31
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If the continuity of the story is important but your group wants to run a silly game, consider either running a non-canonical session, where anything that happens doesn't actually happen IC, this can even be included in the canon as a shared dream or something if that would fit the campaign.

This would allow you to have the April fools session with silly antics and merry making without detracting from the story and atmosphere. To further remove this from the canon adventure you might have the players make separate characters with silly back stories and weapons like whiffle ball bats that squeak when they hit, so that once the next session is run the players don't associate the last session with the actual character at all.

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Here are a variety of options, depending on where you want to go with this exactly.

1. A self-contained joke or prank

In my experience, the best way to do this is not to make it part of the actual game. Treat your joke like a more elaborate version of your normal tabletalk &c.: it's part of the social experience of your game but doesn't intrude on the fiction or the mechanics.

For example, one time, playing D&D, the players got to a big encounter, and I started an elaborate description that got sillier and sillier while setting up a bunch of minis I'd prepped (I was using paper minis) of bad-guy monsters from children's cartoons. Then they got the joke, laughed a bit or groaned at the dumb puns, and I put all that stuff away and narrated the scene from scratch "for real."

The result was a self-contained moment of amusement that proved moderately memorable but didn't disrupt the game any more than a normal days' goofing-around or arguing about dinner plans would have. That's about the desired effect for a one-off joke. Simple, easy, non-disruptive.

2. A purposefully goofy session, also self-contained

If you want to spend all or most of a session in a purposefully goofy mindset, I suggest running a different game for the night (or part of the night). Play Roll for Shoes or Toon or something. The change of system encourages players to see it as its own thing. Try to make it feel a little bit disposable to encourage everyone to cut loose and play for big stakes, so you can get a satisfying story in a short timeframe.

If you really want to tie it into your existing campaign somehow, set it up as a work of fiction in-game. I don't recommend the "dream sequence" because that's likely to make you feel like you're making a mockery of a protagonists' thoughts and feelings. (My rule of thumb: play dreams when you really want to go deep and weird, not shallow and fun.) No, make it something like a puppet show or a mummers' play — something that's recognizably a stylized, comical form. One appeal of this method is you can get the slapstick out of your system but also mix in subtler humor in the form of ironic ignorance (retelling a story you've played, but the public version's all wrong). You could also use it as a vehicle for accidental foreshadowing — put some weird stuff out there and see what feels interesting, but don't treat it like an obligation to force it to be true later.

3. Full integration as a thematic element

Okay, but what if you really want to both play your regular game and incorporate the holiday (April Fools, Halloween, whatever)? And yet you're worried it'll mess up your tone and theme?

There's an easy answer here: let your campaign's tone and theme mess up the holiday instead.

Have the background characters of your world celebrate their little holiday (peasants love festivals; nobles and wealthy burghers love parties; monks have a rather suspiciously opulent feast day schedule they observe like clockwork), then put your bloody hand prints all over it like you do with everything else. How many times does your source material show the audience a party that goes really, really bad, after all?

See Falc's answer for some more detailed suggestions on how to run it as a background event in a serious story.


My recommendation for you, specifically

(Based on your specific parameters.)

If you think you can manage the context-shifting involved, start with #2 and pivot to #3. Cast the players as characters/actors in a wild and fanciful story-within-a-story that represents a farcical and muddled retelling of some bit of important history (including, ideally, your PCs' own deeds). Then, when you reach a natural stopping point or the gimmick starts to get tedious, switch back to your "real" campaign and introduce some new twist or complication that resonates with the symbolic story you just played out.

Use a super-simple alternative system — something just above the complexity of coin flips, mostly to add unexpected outcomes and encourage a bit of character differentiation — so that players know they don't have to think strategically or worry about long-term consequences. Roll for Shoes should work nicely.

If you pull it off right, it'll be a big and memorable thing that feels just like one of those TV episodes that suddenly put you in a minor characters' shoes to get a different perspective on the action for a while &mdash. And if the experiment misfires, you can wrap up it early and push on to your "real" session without too much disruption to the campaign as a whole.

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