141: Improvisation in RPGs


Improvisation in RPGs

We’re back and we’re staring at the players with frightened eyes, peeling our tongues from the roofs of our mouths and drowning in flop sweat. This is our look at the role of improvisation in RPGs. Gulp.

Main Topic: Improvisation in RPGs 

Almost every new GM has felt that moment of panic when the players take the game in an unexpected direction. What should you do? Would it be fair to try to force them back towards what you have prepared? Are quick-witted enough to make stuff up instead? Why does this feel like one of those dreams where you’re back at school, sitting an exam you haven’t prepared for? And why the hell are you naked anyway?

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Nude pictures of the Good Friends are only available at the $100 Patreon tier.

We try to address some of these anxieties in our discussion. Improvisation is a natural part of any RPG and you already do a lot more of it than you might think. Every time a player character or an NPC speaks in a game, the players or GM are improvising. Unless you’re using read-aloud text, any narration is a stream of improvisation. (Don’t use read-aloud text. It makes you sound like a bored tour guide.) 

“On our left, we have a stone archway. Ahead, there’s another stone archway. Then, to the right of that stone archway, there’s a stone archway. Whoever built this place really loved stone archways. Anyway, roll for initiative”

With some confidence, it becomes simple enough to improvise more extensively, especially given some useful tools and techniques. Throughout the episode, we offer advice about how to prepare to improvise. This isn’t as much of an oxymoron as it sounds like. We also talk about techniques that will help you do so. One of our favourites is to steal ideas from other sources, usually films or books. In a recent video, Seth Skorokosky talks about stealing from published adventures — a technique we shall, in turn, steal for ourselves.

Probably the definitive work on improvisation in RPGs, which we mention in passing, is Graham Walmsley’s book Play Unsafe. It contains valuable advice for players and GMs alike, culled from improvisational theatre and comedy. It’s also short enough to read in a single sitting.

Play Unsafe cover

News

We offer a brief overview of what we got up to at Concrete Cow 18 1/2. Thank you to everyone who came along and played with us! We hope to see at least some of you in March for Concrete Cow 19.

Concrete Cow logo

We recorded this episode on Matt’s birthday, so you can listen as Paul gives Matt a present that he picked up at Gen Con. This little wooden contraption is apparently guaranteed to exorcise the demonic bad luck from dice. Should you suffer from a similar infestation, the Dice Devil’s Trap is available from Hrothgar’s Hoard.

Dice devil's trap
If your luck is as bad as Matt’s, inquire about their wholesale options.

This leads to a discussion about rubber chickens’ feet, because of course it does. See the video below for all the explanation we can offer.

Other Stuff

As we remind you in the episode, issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome is bearing down on us like a hungry shoggoth. (If you want to argue about whether shoggoths get hungry, please find us on social media.) The Tome is the print-only fanzine we create for our Patreon backers. We recently offered up a sneak preview of the table of contents and of the cover, created by the amazing Evan Dorkin. If you would like to secure your copy or copies, simply back us on Patreon by the end of the year.

The Blasphemous Tome issue 4 cover

And in our social media catch-up, we share a new iTunes review. We are always delighted when someone writes a review of the podcast, whether on iTunes or elsewhere. They remind us that we are not just shouting into the void and, more importantly, they help new listeners find the podcast. Please help us crawl our way into more unsuspecting ears.

We also discuss a few comments on our recent episode about Nathan Ballingrud’s short story, “Wild Acre”. As usual, most of the discussion takes place on our Google+ Community. While we have heard the recent news that Google plans to shut down G+ next year, there is still plenty of time before they do so. For the time being, please join the discussion there. We shall find a new home soon.

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