A Quick Improv Trick

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1016

RPT GM Haukur asked how to improv better.

It’s said that up to 60% of our brain processes vision. I am definitely a visual person. I understand and remember better what I see and read.

Why not take advantage of this to help game table improvisation?

Look at something. React to it. Transfer it. GM it.

Look At It

Build a collection of images categorized to find quick when you need inspiration.

You can use Campaign Logger (which now supports images), MyInfo, OneNote, or other app of your choice.

Google for images on topics you struggle with. Link to or paste images in your tool.

A popular weapon of choice is Pinterest. Check out my small NPCs board.

Images really do convey a ton of information and ideas.

React To It

Take a breath. From the diaphragm. Get your brain a fresh batch of oxygen.

Look at the image.

How does it make you feel?

Great gaming comes from helping your players experience emotion. Wonder, surprise, curiosity, humour, fascination, passion.

Use the image to evoke an emotion within yourself.


Transfer It

Convey that emotion so players feel it too.

This feedback loop is powerful.

GM => Players => GM.

The best storytellers have learned a skill that sets them apart from basic storytellers.

They can feel something and can broadcast that so others pick it up too.

Reaction => Transfer => Reaction.

If you can make your players excited, awestruck, surprised, or fascinated you are a great storyteller.

So take a look at the image you’ve picked and let it make you feel something.



To transfer emotion to players you have a few tools.

First is description. Be concise.

Second is enthusiasm.

Third is body language.

Fourth is hooks.

Fifth is story framework.

Sixth — my favourite — is character impact.

Choose one, two, or more of these.

Using the image as a guide, transfer emotion to your players.

Improve Your Improv

With an image as guide you remove the biggest fear of improv.

We all fear the unknown. The lack of safety net. The lack of control. Uncertainty.

With image in hand we’ve got something specific and substantial.

Worst case: we show our players the art.

But aim higher and use the image to not just get a representation of something, but get a reaction from it for your encounter.

Improve your improv by using great images as starting points for descriptions, actions, and interactions.

Build the key skill great storytellers have mastered.

And first step today is to start a collection of inspiring images.