Toonish Lite
by Admiral Jota


Yes! It's an improv game where you play cartoon characters and make up stories.

This is meant to be a casual game that you can pick up and play with no prep work and no long-term commitment. It's designed to be extremely light on rules and setting, with the goal that you should be able to create your characters and come up with a basic premise for your adventure in just a few minutes, then play it through to an ending in just an hour or so.


Just think of classic Warner Brothers cartoons. Anything that would be appropriate there is appropriate here. The exact location where the story takes place will vary from one game to the next: Bugs Bunny is just as much at home in an Old West town or a mad scientist's castle as he is in the forest. The style of play should remain silly and zany, and if things every start to get boring, then something absurd should immediately happen to shake things up.

When you're making up your characters and choosing the setting of your story, make sure to talk to the other players so that you can pick things that will work well together. For example, if your story is set in outer space, then you might choose to play an arrogant duck with a manic disposition and a slight lisp. And a ray gun.


The premise of a story should be simple, and it should be a situation that the characters can reasonably resolve. Things like "A mad scientist has captured you and locked you in his castle!" or "You're searching for Planet X to find the rare element Illudium Phosdex!" or "You're shipwrecked on a deserted tropical island!" are all fine. It's not actually important whether or not the characters succeed: being eaten by cannibals is just as good a resolution as being rescued, and it won't prevent those characters from returning for the next story as good as new.

It's also nice if characters have their own motivations (such as achieving fame and glory, helping the innocent and downtrodden, eating one of the other characters), and these don't have to be the same as the player's goals (such as having your character fail to eat another character in as many different elaborate and entertaining ways as possible). These can even be defined as Quirks (see MY GUY HAS BIG EARS AND A MAGIC WAND), which will give you bonuses for acting in-character.


First, pick one person to be the Dirctor. It's that person's job to manage the world that the characters are all running around in. They That's the person who gets to run the story, and it's their job to make sure it goes smoothly). Then everybody works together to come up with a good premise for the story, and everbody (except the GM) makes up a character they want to play. The characters don't necessarily have to have the same goals, but it's best if you pick ones that will play off of each other, rather than each wandering off to do their own thing. Don't forget to decide how the story should start and how long you want to play for.

Then the story begins! Have fun with your characters and do silly stuff. You know what the basic premise is, but it's up to all of you to make up the rest of the story as you go along. The players get to decide what their characters do. The GM gets to decide if they succeed or not (see "BANG BANG" "YOU MISSED ME!"), and also all the other things that happen.

During the game, the GM should watch to see if things are going smoothly. If the characters aren't making much progress towards an ending, it's time for a deus ex machina to happen! If the characters are about to finish the story way too early, then it's time for a deus ex machina to happen! If somebody is getting bored or frustrated or annoyed with what's going on, then it's time for a deus ex machina to happen! That means that the GM gets to say, "Then a spaceship crash lands in the living room!" or "Then a big slimy tentacled monster bursts through the door" or "The volcano suddenly erupts!". That's the GM's job. (Also see HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK UP SLIMY TENTACLED SPACE VOLCANOES ON THE SPOT?)

When it feels like the story is pretty much finished and everyone is pretty satisfied with it and it's about time to stop playing, someone (probably the GM) says "THE END!" And then the story is over. (Unless someone else wants to quickly sneak in something extra first.)


If you've played the game before, and you want to use your old character again for another story, that's perfectly fine. Your character won't actually get any more powerful, but you're free to change around your stats and Quirks and background story and things to make the character more fun or to fit the new story better. Just because your character was a cowboy last time doesn't mean he can't be a pirate this time. You can also shuffle that stuff around in the middle of a story if something really wacky happens to you (e.g., if you get transmogrified into an orangutan and don't want to turn back).

Also, unlike in some games, you don't have to worry about losing your character because you died. You're a 'toon; you can survive being run over with a steamroller. And even if you don't, you might just go to heaven or hell for a little bit and then come back to life when they decide to kick you out. Or maybe you'll stay dead, and then you can get rid of one of your old Quirks and replace it with "Ghost" and keep on playing. Whatever works out to be the most fun, do that.


If you're the GM, and you're worried that you won't be able to think of anything suitably random to have happen if the game starts to slow down, then here's an optional rule you can try out: before the game starts, have the players list off a bunch of random animate nouns (like an alien, a hot dog vendor, a spaceship, a seventeen ton weight), a bunch of actions (like appears in a puff of smoke, bursts through the door, kisses someone on the mouth, breaks into song, tries to sell you life insurance), and a bunch of sound effects (like crash, ping, splort, kerblewie). Write them all down.

If you get completely stuck for what should happen next, pick a random thing from one of the lists and make a sentence out of it. Or pick one from each list and try to make a sentence out of all of them. If you need to change them slightly or you want to pick an extra something or whatever, feel free to. Whatever you come up with is what happens next. If you get completely stuck and forgot to ask your players for suggestions before the game, here are some some random nouns, actions, and sound effects you can use instead.


  • someone to run the game (the GM)
  • a few someones to play characters (three is a good number)
  • pencils and paper for everyone
  • a normal six-sided die (or several, if you don't like to share)
  • a copy of these rules (or several, if you don't like to share)
  • a sense of humor (or several, if you don't like to share — at least one per person is recommended)
  • a whole bunch of kumquats (or candies or lugnuts or fingernail clippings or pennies or some other small objects)


When making up your character, start by deciding what you what your character is like. What do they look like? How do they talk or act? What do they wear and what kind of stuff do they carry arround with them (if anything)?

Second, figure out your stats. They determine what kind of things your character is good at and bad at. Every character has the same four stats. You get to assign each one a number from one to six (higher is better). They should add up to thirteen altogether. They are:

Wham!: How tough and strong you are. This is Popeye's main stat.
Zoom!: How fast and agile you are. This is Speedy Gonzales' main stat.
Hmmm!: How clever and observant you are. This is Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius)'s main stat.
Fonz!: This is how charismatic and daring you are. This is Bugs Bunny's main stat.

You may find it convenient to pronounce the stat you're using out loud when narrating your actions. Note that in this case, "Fonz!" is actually pronounced "aaaaay!".

Everybody also has three Quirks that they pick themselves. They can be personality traits ("Glory-hound") or goals ("Wants to eat the other characters") or props ("Carries a hunting rifle") or mannerisms ("Lithpth when she talkth") or anything else that would make the character more interesting to play.


Rule one: If an action is perfectly reasonable in context, fits with the character concept, and helps tell a good story, then it automatically succeeds. If it would break the story or be unfun, then it's automatically impossible. For stuff in between, you roll the dice (see "BANG BANG" "YOU MISSED ME!").

Rule two: Epic failure is just as good as epic success, especially if the epic failure is more fun or fits better into the story.

Rule three: When there's disagreement over how something should work, flip a coin.


When a player tries something that might succeed and might fail, then it's time to roll dice.

First, the GM should decide which of the character's stats is most appropriate here, and then makes up a number for how difficult the action should be (usually between 3 and 12, where 3 is very easy and 12 is pretty hard). Sometimes an action will involve two different stats pretty equally. In that case, you can just use both of them and make the difficulty a little higher. Sometimes it won't really fall under any one or two individual stats, and then you can just not use any and make the difficulty a little easier.

Next, the player rolls a six-sided die and adds their stat (or stats) to the number that comes up. If the result is at least as high as the difficulty, they succeed! But keep in mind that success isn't always what you want. Sometimes narrating a failure is more fun than narrating a success (and can even let you use your Quirks). And if you've just run off of a cliff, then you might have to make a Hmmm! roll to notice that you're supposed to be falling now. If you succeed at that, whoops, down you go!

Characters who aren't players (like bad guys) don't get to roll for things like players do: the GM just decides if they can do something or not. If they're trying to do stuff to a player character (like when the monster tries to step on someone), then it's up to the player to do something about it (like getting out of the way or tickling its foot or giving it a pedicure), and the GM will make up a difficulty for that.


Everbody gets some little tokens that they can spend to get bonuses when they do stuff. You can use anything you want for them: poker chips, green M&M's, little pieces of paper, actual kumquats. If you want to eat your kumquat tokens whenever you use them up, then it is recommended that you not use poker chips.

If a player wants to make sure that a die roll works out the way he or she wants, he or she can spend kumquat tokens before rolling. You can use up to three of them at a time, and each one either raises or lowers the result by one.

They are also used for things that are really pushing the boundaries for what makes sense, but which won't actually ruin the story. If people were always doing things like breaking into the next cartoon over to bring back a rampaging giant squirrel or pulling out a pencil and erasing the villain's sword, it might be hard to keep everything from falling apart into even more chaos than usual. So the GM can require players to spend at least one or two kumquat tokens on something like that before they're even allowed to try it.

Each player starts the story with three kumquat tokens. Any that you have left over will go away when the game finishes, so don't be afraid to use them.


The GM gets to give out more kumquat tokens whenever he or she thinks you deserve one. There are three ways to earn them:

A) Do neat stuff. That could mean coming up with a clever plan (like breaking into the next cartoon over to bring back a rampaging giant squirrel), or it could mean narrating something absurdly disastrous for your character, or it could just mean telling a really funny joke. If it entertains everyone else who's playing, you probably deserve a kumquat token.

B) Play up your Quirks. If you do a good job at keeping in character and using your Quirks, then you probably deserve a kumquat token.

B) Make the GM's life easier. It's the GM's job to make sure the story works out well. If you do stuff that helps keep things on track, then you probably deserve a kumquat token. Also, if you get him or her a drink and maybe give him or her a backrub.


Check out MY GUY HAS BIG EARS AND A MAGIC WAND at the top of the page. But in the meantime, here are some examples:

Taz is a tasmanian devil. He's a furry little monster with a big mouth and big teeth who likes to spin around like a tornado destroying everything in his path.

Wham!: 6
Zoom!: 4
Hmmm!: 1
Fonz!: 2

Quirks: "Can't use complete sentences", "Always hungry", "Ravenous Tornado Of Destruction"

Obsidia is a witch in training. She's a nine year old girl who wears a black dress and has a black pointy hat and uses big words and is learning how to do magic.

Wham!: 2
Zoom!: 3
Hmmm!: 5
Fonz!: 3

Quirks: "Just a kid", "Uses words without knowing what they mean", "Magic spells sometimes backfire"

Buzz is a bee. He is the size of your thumb. He's rash and brash and likes causing mischief. He is also fiercely loyal to his friends.

Wham!: 1
Zoom!: 3
Hmmm!: 3
Fonz!: 6

Quirks: "Short temper", "Fearless", "Practical joker"