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.

Gen Con 2018

We’re back and we’re discussing all the nifty Cthulhu-related stuff that happened at Gen Con 2018 (and one non-Cthulhu thing). Well, I say “we”, but this largely means Paul, as he’s the only one of us who went. To stop this being a monologue, however, he interviewed some of the people he met there.

Some of Paul’s 60,000 closest friends gather to say hi.

Main Topic

Paul starts with news about the convention, including the Diana Jones Award, the Cool of Cthulhu panel (recorded by our good friends at the gold-ENnie-award-winning Miskatonic University Podcast) and the ENnie Awards

Now I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Chad without puppets, even if only of the finger variety.

He then tells Matt and Scott about all the interesting people he met. These include Chris Spivey of Darker Hue Studios (whose Harlem Unbound dominated the ENnies this year), Sam Riordan of MetaArcade (publishers of the Cthulhu Chronicles app), Bob Geis of You Too Can Cthulhu, and multi-award-winning writer and artist, Zak Smith. You can hear interviews with all of them in this episode.

Paul also mentions a number of listeners he met at the convention, including the hosts of the Dave and Gary podcast. Thank you to everyone who introduced yourselves!

As if Paul hadn’t worked hard enough to make Matt and Scott jealous, he also whipped out a box of goodies from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society that he had picked up at Gen Con. This was the Gamer Prop Set that accompanies the HPLHS’s upcoming Dark Adventure Radio Theatre presentation of Masks of Nyarlathotep. The box contains more authentic period handouts, props and eldritch marvels than you could shake a black sceptre at.

News

Paul and Scott will be joining Mike Mason at Tabletop Gaming Live 2018, at Alexandra Palace on the 29th of September. We will be giving a seminar at 12:00, titled Calling Cthulhu, as well as running some demo games.

Stygian Fox have released Fear’s Sharp Little Needles, their latest anthology of modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenarios. Matt and Scott have scenarios in the book, and Scott also has a short story in the accompanying fiction anthology, Puncture Wounds. Both of these publications are available as ebooks or print-on-demand hardcopies.

Scott also talks about his recent visit to the Grand Tribunal convention in Cheltenham. This friendly little get-together started out as an Ars Magica convention and has grown into something more general over the years. It takes place annually, with the next one due in August 2019. Highly recommended!

Other Stuff

If you miss Matt and Scott’s voices during the interviews, just hold on for a bit. Towards the end of the episode, we all sing our thanks to a Patreon backer. If you’re not sick of the sound of us after that, we have failed.

Speaking of Patreon rewards, we also remind you that we are busy preparing issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome. This is the annual old-school fanzine we produce for backers of the podcast. If you would like to know how to secure your copy and what to expect, check out our recent post.

And in our segment on recent social media posts, we mention a lively thread about our episode on the role of insanity in Lovecraft’s fiction. Most of the feedback we get comes via our Google+ Community, but this time it was a post to the Call of Cthulhu Facebook group that blew up.

Good friend of the Good Friends Cory Welch has been in touch with some exciting news:

The Midwest cabal of the Chaosium Cult of Chaos is back. We will be running our highly regarded performance of the incredible multi-table Call of Cthulhu scenario, Gatsby and the Great Race, penned by 7th Edition co-author Paul Fricker, at Gamehole Con VI! This classic and must-play blowout scenario will commence at the Alliant Energy Exhibition Hall in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, November 10th, 2018 at 2 PM!

We’re going straight for the cat’s pyjamas and opening it up to 5 tables — yes, 30 investigators — for this very special and unique RPG event. We’ve updated the scenario with the maddening excitement of the 7th Edition rules… RSVP your invite for Julian Gatsby’s decadent 1930 blowout!

Chaosium will be generously providing prizes for the event, so come out and trade your best insane roleplay for some POSH swag… In addition to a very special souvenir of the event for a few lucky few players! For more information on reserving your spot and for other awesome games, check out Gamehole Con’s home page.

We’ll see you there!

Subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu

We’re back and we’re strapping on our headlamps, checking our harnesses and spelunking like our lives depended upon it. This is our look into subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft. From his work, Lovecraft seemed to be both drawn to and disturbed by deep, dark holes and the mysteries lurking within.

“Verrry interesting…”

Main Topic

Many of Lovecraft’s stories involve the buried remains of alien cities, caverns best left unexplored or tunnels dug by things that should not be. It’s only natural that many Call of Cthulhu scenarios should build upon this. Or build under. We’re not quite sure how this works.

All right, maybe you can build over and under at the same time.

We try to get to the bottom of the appeal of subterranean spaces in Call of Cthulhu, but the deeper we dig, the more we find to explore. As well as archetypal dungeon-based scenario designs inherited from D&D, we find connections to mythology, symbolism and Hollow Earth theory. We could so easily get lost down here. Before struggling to the surface, however, we find time to offer a few scenario seeds involving sinister underworlds.

News

UK Games Expo is this weekend (1st-3rd of June). Matt and Scott will be there on Friday, running games in the Cthulhu Masters tournament, signing books and generally milling around. Please say hi if you spot us!

Paul attended another Scream Unseen presentation at the Milton Keynes Odeon and offers a very brief review of The Strangers: Prey at Night. This leads to a discussion of what we thought of the first film. Apparently, we don’t like anything. I blame being old and grumpy.

Speaking of ageing, on the 7th of June, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias turns 5. You could be excused for thinking we’re older, given all the grey hair. Back in those innocent days of 2013, we huddled around a shared microphone in Paul’s shed for the first time. 131 episodes and 8 specials later, it’s hard to imagine life without the podcast. Thank you to everyone who has joined us along the way!

Other Stuff

Down here in the darkness, robbed of daylight, hearing is crucial to survival. Every sound could mean the difference between life and death. Was that water dripping on limestone or claws snickering across the cavern floor? The intrusion of a bellowing cacophony could be fatal at a time like this. Mercifully, perhaps, none of the new Patreon backers we thank this month sponsored us at the $5 level, so you are spared our singing for now.

Although the acoustics down here could have birthed something special.

You might still hear snatches of conversation echoing around you, however. These are comments from our various social media presences. Stay very still and they won’t eat you. You can find most of the discussion of our recent episode about comedy in RPGs over on our Google+ Community, or carved on the walls of the lost city that lies buried deep beneath your cellar floor. Google+ might prove easier to access.