Monday, October 6, 2014

Solo RPing as Improvisation Warm Up

One thing I noticed at DragonCon in my 2nd session of The Dungeon of Akban was that I was decidedly  freer with my improv than either the session of the Purple Worm Graveyard or the first session of the Dungeon of Akban. After giving some thought to it, I believe that it wasn't because it was the 2nd time I ran Akban that weekend, or the 3rd time over all, but rather, it's that I played Ganakagok for 4 hours beforehand.

I'm sure those who do improv acting warm up in some way or another - but I only have an episode of Family Guy as evidence of that, and that may not be the most authoritative source. Never the less, having played a character for several hours preceding my own game, I stepped into the role of GM with my improvisational muscles thoroughly loosened up. 

By way of example:

When they found the dented helmet, which  I figured looked like something a Roman Centurion would wear, I described the sensation of coldness that they felt as the approached it, simply for effect but this was enough to land it stuffed in the backpack of a character (of a 1st time tabletop role-player at that).

In the final combat, she lobbed it toward the White Witch and her wererat collaborator, hoping to somehow release whatever magic she imagined it contained. 

Seizing the opportunity, I described an array of mystical lights, shooting forth from the helmet, and a ghostly glowing form of said Centurion taking shape beneath it. He attacked the Witch on behalf of the character who had released him, and when the Witch and the wererat were finally dead, he saluted her (the character who threw it, not the witch) in thanks for freeing him from his earthly bonds.

OK, that's not mind blowing or anything, but it's not part of the adventure as written, it was a spot light moment for the player, it vindicated her taking the helmet and her hopes that it was magical, it "awesomed up" the experience of the game (important for a 1st timer), and it was an "F*** yeah!" moment for the table (literally, enthusiastic explanations were made).

I'm not sure I would have come up with that idea in that moment if I hadn't been playing earlier in the day.

So, before the last Trelleborg session, I decided to conduct a rather poorly controlled experiment:

I broke out Cthulhu Dark, a free and very rules lite game of Lovecraftian horror, some Rory's Story Cubes (the three 9-dice sets) and a d6 and went to work improvising an adventure. I set up each scene by the roll of 3 Story Cubes, and handled GMing with the d6 using 1- "Yes and", 2-3 "Yes, but", 4-5 "No, but", and 6 - "No, and", and game mechanics as needed (particularly the investigation roll). 

I played on and off throughout the day.

I didn't play for four hours or even remotely close, but when I got to the store to run Trelleborg, I felt ready to go, to react to the players with less hesitation and more awesome. I certainly felt like I relied less on my standard reactions to their activity. Clearly this is all anecdotal,as well as poorly documented, and the players would have to tell you if I did in fact deliver anything worth noting.

While I can't prove it, I also believe it was the warm up that allowed the idea to give them successes when they roll a success to come to the fore, in the moment, rather than on reflection during non-game time. 

Whether or not solo role-playing is the most efficient way to warm up for improvising in a social game is another matter and I'm happy to consult other sources if anyone cares to enlighten me. In the meantime, this will be my new go-to prep the day off a game.


  1. Remember that simple maxim . . . "If it works, it works" . . . and apparently for you, it works.

    Good stuff, sir.

    -- Jeff

  2. Nice!

    Breaking boundaries makes for good games.


  3. I have never GMed an rpg (other than 2 separate attempts decades ago that never went anywhere), so I can neither confirm nor deny your hypothesis.
    I love the story about the helmet, though! I can imagine that made the game so much better for the player who lobbed it, and for the rest of the group as well.

  4. If it works, it works!

    The helmet moment sounds great. It also sounds like you've won a new roleplayer.

  5. Yes, as someone who has done a lot of improvisational acting, I totally approve and certainly urge you to continue to act upon those impulses.

    -- Jeff