Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Behind the Screen Tradecraft - Improvisation

There are many things that I've had standout to me about a solid gaming experience as a player, as I've been quite fortunately to have some rather solid folk behind many of the screens I played before, but one of the top things I've appreciated has been someone's ability to be improvisational. Consistency of rules, in and of its self, is important, however the ability for the voice behind the screen to adapt to unexpected twists and turns of the players is paramount.

Anyone can regurgitate, verbatim, what is written in a published adventure, however the ability of someone to take what is written and manipulate it, on the fly, can make for some memorable gaming experiences. 

One of the best ways to do this, I think, is look more at the emotional content and context of a given encounter or moment and focus less on what is directly written. Sure, the foes in the encounter, especially if it's a combat encounter, matter, but the verbage only matters if it fits the campaign that is being ran, otherwise it is optional. By focusing on the emotional content of the moment, instead of trying to repeat what was written, the flow of any scene is more organic, seemingly more true.

Watch a good improv comic, ones who feed off of the audience that they talk to, as opposed to the ones who talk at the audience, and you will see what I mean. Monte Cook, who happens to be an excellent game designer and developer, talks on his blog about taking an improv class, which just adds to the talk of his excellent tradecraft behind the screen. After all, running a game is helping guide the core narrative to the game, a narrative that the players are also helping to craft, which turns most any role-playing game into a shared story, if those involved so wish it.

In fact, as with improvisation, shared story telling is a choice, as is role-playing, and it's not about the system, but the folks involved with the game. Any group of players, who love character development, can turn the most dry, mechanical game into a role-playing festival, just as any group of folks who just wanna kill, loot, and move on can turn even the most verbose system into a hack and slash event to end all events.

In the end, it is your game, do with it as you like and have a blast.

1 comment:

Bill said...

I think one of the secrets of the excellent DMs is that they are always improvising a little bit. It goes back to rewarding the players for their innovation and creativity.