My Embarrassing Improv #Fail

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1120


My Embarrassing Improv #Fail

Hola dfdfd!

Last time I told you how terrible my game was when I tried running the published adventure, Princes of the Apocalypse.

That was a 255-page $65 disaster.

But if you don’t use published adventures, what do you do?

Building adventures is tough.

Where do you start?

How do you plot a great story?

How do you create cool and challenging encounters?

And how do you build up to that epic finale encounter with Demogorgon?

Uh Oh, He’s Going To Fall

Rather than doing what I should’ve done, I got lazy and tried the improv route.

Minimal prep.

Just a few notes before sessions.

And make up everything during gameplay.

Sounds perfect, right?

Alas, it failed terribly.

The first couple of sessions were ok.

I was panicked before each game.

And I was exhausted after each game.

And without a safety net, each session felt like walking a terrifying tightrope 10,000 feet up, with no safety net.

I was trying to make up the next thing….

While GMing the current thing….

While trying to make sense of the previous thing.

It was fun. Sometimes. And the players had total freedom.

But the stress of sessions built up and finally got too much for me. I was forced to quit and recover my desire to GM again.

Improv works best if you already have a detailed campaign setting and a whole bunch of prepped tools and ideas.

In my experience, improv rarely churns out fantastic plots.

With no story prepared, the plot just runs all over the place, making a sticky mess like melting ice cream.

I Burned Out Fast & Couldn’t GM For A Long While

This was in 2017-2018.

I canceled all my games.

I had no desire to GM. I had zero creativity. And I switched to board games, abandoning my beloved hobby entirely. It was a bad time.

My Game-Fu Was Weak

While trying to cobble together improvised adventures, my plots were full of holes.

My players would point them out, embarrassing me greatly.

And my stories never gelled.

They devolved into a series of boring encounters.

The stress before sessions made me mentally tired at the table.

I was sunk before I started.

In a last-ditch effort to save my games, I tried sandbox and West Marches style campaigns.

But those just frontloaded me with a ton of work that rarely paid off.

Players missed half the stuff.

And, Murphy’s Law, my players always gravitated towards what I was least ready for.

The stories coming out of gameplay were weak, undramatic, and also felt like a series of loose encounters.

I guess I just don’t have the DNA to be a 100% improv GM like the lucky few.

Next Time…

So I doubled down on figuring out how to make wondrous, epic, homebrewed adventures.

It’s what I should’ve done from the start.

I researched plotting, storytelling, and deep game design.

I have one entire bookshelf dedicated to adventure building now (turn images on if you don’t see a photo of my adventure design bookshelf above).

And out of all this research I figured out a secret on how to build awesome adventures.

I figured out a specific way to homebrew adventures in about half the time that also yields epic, unforgettable sessions.

And it’s this adventure building secret I’ll share with you on Friday.

See you soon!