How To Improvise Better With Connect & Shift
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1194
By Jonathan Hardin, sojournersawake.com
Discuss these tips on their dedicated thread here at Campaign Community.
Improvisation seems scary and sometimes difficult, especially for new GMs.
I have learned a few tips from people who think quickly on their feet.
And I think the pair of techniques I’m sharing with you today will:
- Improve your improvisational skills
- Help your games move along
- Give your stories a natural flow
Let’s dive in.
What is Improv?
Wingin’ it, making it up as you go, responding on the fly, faking it till you make it, improvisation….
All of these silly phrases define a performer creating content on the spot and under the pressure of an audience.
In these techniques, the game master is the performer and the players are the audience.
The good news is, like any skill, you can improvise better with practice.
Two Techniques: Making Connections and Perspective Shifting
Improvise well via information gathered from the table.
Do this by connecting disparate objects or shifting your perspective.
Make Connections Through Randomness
One popular stand-up comedy technique involves getting a topic from the audience.
The comedian takes one word and riffs off that.
Tabletop RPGs have forever used random tables for this very purpose.
Such tables generate a new thought, encounter, or idea into the mind of the game master.
However, the skill of improv comes into play as the GM draws the connection between the current situation and the random topic.
The gamemaster gets stuck as characters wander around a tomb.
Despite preparation, the game slows to a painful crawl through an unplanned and “empty” space within the setting.
The GM has nothing else prepared, so they grab a random table and roll.
The dice points to the word “crocodiles”.
There are three connections the game master can make between the current situation and the word crocodiles:
At first guess, one would think drawing up 1 crocodile for each player and fighting to the bloody finish.
The crocodiles are hungry and mad, and if fighting is fun, then this works to continue the story.
Alternatively, the GM might incorporate the random word as some feature within the setting.
In this case, characters arrive in the next room where a large statue of a crocodile stands in honorable worship during a ceremony.
This provides some exploration for it requires further investigation on the players’ part.
Now, the story can continue through the tomb as the players explore and introduce their own actions in the setting.
Finally, the random word could be used to start a conversation.
In this case, the players find an archeologist who made camp while selling crocodile-based products.
It’s all of the supplies available a player would find in the rulebook, but with a crocodile theme.
For example, clothing made from crocodile skin or a longsword inlaid with crocodile bone.
Mechanically, all such items grant a +1 bonus when used for or against all things crocodile.
In conclusion, use this improv technique of accessing a random word and connecting it to the story through something to fight, explore, or interact with.
Shift the Perspective by Listening
Listen to players talk through the story to fuel your next improvisational encounter.
One player speculates there will be traps located in the dungeon, so he prepares a few methods to disarm.
Another player laughs about the last encounter she had with the shopkeeper who swindled her into buying a potion of giggling.
The players discuss their preparations for the dungeon. They mention that, after clearing the dungeon, they want to go back to the baron to inform him they will accompany him on a dangerous mission.
I’m prepared for the dungeon encounter, but I want to use my improvisational skills as well.
So while the players are talking I scribble down three words:
I heard the word trap, so I plan to deliver a trip wire that releases a swinging scythe.
I hide it in a long hallway bridge and deliver the blade to the character next to the PC who triggers the trap.
I heard about the potion of giggling and think that a great opportunity for it to be used is to set out food and drink in the guard room.
I’ll describe the guards taking it easy, but ready to defend if they spot the party.
This spread of food and drink might prompt use of the giggling potion to incapacite a few guards.
I also heard something about the players wanting to help the baron on his dangerous journey across the wilds.
So I make sure to have players discover that the castle owner plans to send an envoy to attack the baron.
This last piece of the improvisation helps me connect the dungeon to the next adventure.
Now the players have some intel on the quest they already want to embark upon.
I know you spend hours preparing for your sessions.
And despite how well you know your players, you can’t prepare for everything.
Improvisational skills, such as making disparate connections and listening to players, will help you improve each session as well as build your improv skill.
May your story continue!
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