Monday, July 9, 2018

The First Rule of Improv Often Applies to RPGs

Improv theater, for those who've never seen stuff like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, is a kind of theater where actors get together, and start making stuff up off the cuff. Sometimes the actors are given a prompt from the audience, a general theme, or a prop they have to incorporate, but there's generally no script, and nothing is figured out in advance. In many ways it's similar to what happens around the table when we sit down with our sheets and our funny shaped dice. And there is a single rule that makes improv work, and which can help everything around the table move more smoothly.

Never say no.

With so many possibilities, don't walk around shutting doors.

"No" Kills Pace

If you watch improv, then you'll see that everything a performer adds to the scene is now canon. If one person declares it's Sunday in the scene, then it's Sunday in the scene. If someone says they're getting a call, then they're getting a call. And if someone asks how your character's trip to Montego Bay went, then you definitely took that trip (or, at least, you told them you were).

No matter how odd, unusual, or silly stuff gets, the only real ironclad rule of imrpov is that you don't say no. You can alter, modify, or mess with things as they currently exist in the scene, and you can invent new stuff, but at no point can you fold your arms and refuse to continue onward. Because to do that will completely destroy the suspension of disbelief that makes the improv work, and it brings the all-important flow to a screeching halt.

Often with disastrous results.
So, the next time you sit down, remind yourself that your game needs to go forward. And the only way for you (and the rest of the table) to go forward is by agreeing to participate in the scenario. If you ever find the phrase, "But my character wouldn't do that," rising to your lips, stop, and re-examine the scenario. Find a reason for your PC to participate.

Playing a selfish jerk who is thinking about refusing the request to do some pro-bono monster hunting to save an orphanage? Well, you may suddenly discover that this character has a soft spot for abandoned children, and he's willing to go to the mat for these kids so they don't have to face what he did when his parents were killed. Got yourself a hard case who thinks that going to the ball is a load of fru-fru bullshit? Ask if there's someone there he'd like to impress. Or, failing that, remind him that it's a party full of free food and alcohol. The sort of rich stuff only people with money can afford, as opposed to the hogwash down at the dive you've been hanging out in.

And so on, and so forth.

Your characters are under your control. Find a reason, and go forward. Otherwise it's like the DM pointed you at a door, and you refused to walk through it. Nothing is going to happen until you kick it open.

The Other Side of This Coin

With that said, it's important to remember that player agency is still very much a thing at the table. Which is why it's best for a DM to describe and present, without taking actions on behalf of the players, as I laid out in Some Thoughts On Player Agency.

Put another way, if you're the DM, present the players with the door. Trust that they will walk through it on their own, without telling you, "No." Because they have to be given a choice, otherwise you're just telling a story at them, which isn't fun. Preserve the back-and-forth, and everyone will be happier for it.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Hopefully there are some folks out there who found it to be helpful. For folks who'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive (particularly my Gamers page), or stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my work, then either become a patron over at The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Ko-Fi! Either way, some sweet gaming swag will be yours as a thanks for your help.

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