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.

We have some very exciting news. The cover for the next issue of The Blasphemous Tome comes courtesy of many-time Eisner Award-winning comic artist and good friend of the Good Friends, Evan Dorkin!

Evan has also generously sent us a multitude of Lovecraftian spot art, which will be found dotted throughout the issue. Having seen the rough versions, I can tell you that they are ghoulishly delightful.

If you want more details about what to expect, check out our recent post announcing issue 4. And if you need more information about what The Blasphemous Tome is, we have you covered as well.

As we mentioned in our latest episode, we have started work on issue 4 of The Blasphemous Tome. This is the old-school fanzine we put together for Patreon backers of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias. If you would like to know more, please check out our page about the Tome.

This issue will feature “The Hero Affirmed”, a brand new Call of Cthulhu scenario from our own Matt Sanderson!

Once again, we are aiming to release the Tome along with the Christmas cards we send to all our backers. If you are a backer between publication (late November) and the end of the year, we will send you at least one copy. Our page about the Tome has full details about who will receive what.

If you would like to submit a short article (up to 500 words) or some black-and-white artwork, we would love to hear from you! The Blasphemous Tome is licensed by Chaosium, so we are able to include stats and other game mechanics for Call of Cthulhu. The deadline for submissions is the end of October.

The current table of contents goes something like this:

  • The Ludomancers
    • Our favourite game sessions of the past year
  • Cocktail Corner
    • Matt shares another recipe that man was not meant to know
  • Mythos Fiction: The Sixties and Seventies
    • Scott’s series of story recommendations continues
  • The Hero Affirmed
    • A brand new, full-length Call of Cthulhu scenario from Matt Sanderson
  • Vinyl Corner
    • Paul discusses another musical artefact from the 1970s
  • The Sanderson Collection
    • Matt reveals another rarity from the dusty corners of his bookshelves
  • 2018: A Year in Horror Films
    • Scott talks about the films that impressed and disappointed him this year
  • Episodes of Insanity
    • Some background on our favourite episodes of 2018
  • Die, Die, Die!
    • Matt punishes another die that failed him
  • Plush of the Month
    • Matt makes Scott sad
  • Strange Eons
    • Scott offers an overview of Robert Bloch’s unjustly forgotten Mythos novel

We shall update this list as we receive more submissions.

The Stone Tape

The Stone Tape

We’re back and we’re watching in helpless terror as echoes of the dead past haunt us, screaming endlessly. This is our look at the classic 1972 British horror film, The Stone Tape. Fittingly, the BBC originally broadcast it as a ghost story for Christmas. We may be a day late on that front, but the nights are still cold and dark, and the air filled with ancient menace.

And weird dancing lights, for some reason.

Main Topic

Although not explicitly Lovecraftian, The Stone Tape shares some themes with Lovecraft’s work, especially in its scientific investigation of the unknown. This is not too surprising, considering the script was written by Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame _who we mentioned in episode 5). His work is always easy to mine for Call of Cthulhu inspiration, and we cheerfully do so in this episode.

“If you can write a stat block for the Colour Out of Space, you should be able to manage a bunch of spooky lights.”

News

At the time of posting, you only have around 24 hours to back the Idol of Cthulhu Kickstarter Campaign. This features a new scenario from our very own Matt Sanderson, adding new layers of horror to Lovecraft’s tale, The Call of Cthulhu.

And speaking of time-limited offers, you have less than a week to act if you would like a copy of issue 3 of The Blasphemous Tome, the 1980s-style fanzine we produce for our Patreon backers. This is the first issue to be licensed by Chaosium and features a brand-new, fully statted scenario for Pulp Cthulhu. If you would like a copy, simply back us at any pledge level by the end of 2017. The Tome will then find its way into your hands, as if by eldritch and unwholesome magic.

Our good friends over at Chaosium have announced an exciting new scheme. The Miskatonic Repository allows Call of Cthulhu fans to publish and sell their own material, subject to editorial approval. Chaosium have even provided templates and art packs to make the process easier. The first publications are already available, with many more in the pipeline.

And, in a Christmas miracle, Patreon have cancelled the changes to their fee structures. Backers will not be charged extra processing fees, and will continue to pay only the amount they pledge. Even so, we will continue to investigate alternative options for backers. Watch this space for updates.

Other Stuff

We are still working our way through a long list of people to sing our thanks to. This is our hideous way of praising those brave people who back us on Patreon at the $5 level. For reasons of basic human decency, we limit ourselves to two songs per episode. The recent surge of backers brought on by the new Blasphemous Tome means shall we be singing for many episodes to come.

 

The Mythos as Religion (Part 2)

Main Topic

We’re back and we’re starting a cult. No, worse than that — we’re starting three of them! Last episode, we looked at how real religions and their practices might inform our depiction of Mythos sects in Call of Cthulhu. Now we’re taking things one step further. Building on what we’ve learnt, we try to picture what life might look like from within these sects. Then we create three Mythos sects of our own, trying to use our understanding of religion to give them more complex agendas and practices than the usual sacrifices and summonings. We also offer some context by talking about our own religious backgrounds and how they might have shaped our beliefs and prejudices.

We’re traditionalists, on the whole.

News

As Matt mentioned recently, on this very site, he has been asked by Delphes Desvoivres to write a Call of Cthulhu scenario as part of the Idol of Cthulhu Kickstarter campaign. This scenario will be a follow-up to Lovecraft’s story, The Call of Cthulhu, running approximately 20,000 words. It may grow to a more cyclopean stature, depending on stretch goals. The campaign ends on the 27th of December, so act quickly if you want your New Year to be filled with unhallowed idolatry.

You may have seen posts in your social media feeds expressing dissatisfaction with Patreon’s new charging scheme. Patreon have shifted their fees from content creators to patrons, increasing them in the process. While there seem to be some understandable reasons for this, they have handled the entire situation poorly. More importantly, it disproportionately hurts backers who make smaller pledges. As a result, we are currently investigating alternatives to run alongside Patreon, allowing greater choice for backers. We will keep you posted as this develops.

There will be a slight delay in getting issue 3 of The Blasphemous Tome fanzine to our Patreon backers. We received the first batch of the print run late last week, only to discover that it was missing four pages. Getting this resolved shouldn’t take too long and we still hope to get the Tome to most of you before the end of the year. Some backers will receive their Christmas cards ahead of the Tome, as we didn’t want to miss last posting dates. If your envelope is suspiciously Tomeless, don’t worry — our unspeakable blasphemies shall take to the ghoul winds and find their way to you soon.

Other Stuff

There will be a lot of singing over the next few months. Thanks to the imminent release of the third Blasphemous Tome, we have had a surge of new Patreon backers. Many of these people have been generous and brave enough to pledge at the $5 level. This means that we currently have a backlog of around 10 people to praise through song. Putting more than two songs in an episode risks our vocal cords, your sanity and the very fabric of the universe. It is only prudent for us to work our way through these thanks cautiously. With great cacophony comes great responsibility. If you are still waiting, please bear with us — your song will come soon. Enjoy the sense of creeping dread until then.