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RPT Newsletter #1,194 | How To Improvise Better Via Connect & Shift

Are you the improv master?

  • I don't need to improvise. The story is as it should go. Always.

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  • I still don't know what improv is...

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  • Total voters
    46

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
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How To Improvise Better Via Connect & Shift

By Jonathan Hardin, www.sojournersawake.com | Published March 2022

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1,194

Improvisation seems scary and sometimes difficult, especially for new GMs.
I have learned a few tips from people who think quickly on their feet.
And I think the pair of techniques I'm sharing with you today will:
  • Improve your improvisational skills
  • Help your games move along
  • Give your stories a natural flow
Let's dive in.


What is Improv?​

Wingin’ it, making it up as you go, responding on the fly, faking it till you make it, improvisation….

All of these silly phrases define a performer creating content on the spot and under the pressure of an audience.
In these techniques, the game master is the performer and the players are the audience.
The good news is, like any skill, you can improvise better with practice.


Two Techniques: Making Connections and Perspective Shifting​

Improvise well via information gathered from the table.
Do this by connecting disparate objects or shifting your perspective.


Make Connections Through Randomness​

One popular stand-up comedy technique involves getting a topic from the audience.
The comedian takes one word and riffs off that.
Tabletop RPGs have forever used random tables for this very purpose.
Such tables generate a new thought, encounter, or idea into the mind of the game master.
However, the skill of improv comes into play as the GM draws the connection between the current situation and the random topic.

Example​

The gamemaster gets stuck as characters wander around a tomb.
Despite preparation, the game slows to a painful crawl through an unplanned and "empty" space within the setting.
The GM has nothing else prepared, so they grab a random table and roll.
The dice points to the word “crocodiles”.
There are three connections the game master can make between the current situation and the word crocodiles:

Fight​

At first guess, one would think drawing up 1 crocodile for each player and fighting to the bloody finish.
The crocodiles are hungry and mad, and if fighting is fun, then this works to continue the story.

Explore​

Alternatively, the GM might incorporate the random word as some feature within the setting.
In this case, characters arrive in the next room where a large statue of a crocodile stands in honorable worship during a ceremony.
This provides some exploration for it requires further investigation on the players' part.
Now, the story can continue through the tomb as the players explore and introduce their own actions in the setting.

Parley​

Finally, the random word could be used to start a conversation.
In this case, the players find an archeologist who made camp while selling crocodile-based products.
It’s all of the supplies available a player would find in the rulebook, but with a crocodile theme.
For example, clothing made from crocodile skin or a longsword inlaid with crocodile bone.
Mechanically, all such items grant a +1 bonus when used for or against all things crocodile.
In conclusion, use this improv technique of accessing a random word and connecting it to the story through something to fight, explore, or interact with.


Shift the Perspective by Listening​

Listen to players talk through the story to fuel your next improvisational encounter.
One player speculates there will be traps located in the dungeon, so he prepares a few methods to disarm.
Another player laughs about the last encounter she had with the shopkeeper who swindled her into buying a potion of giggling.
The players discuss their preparations for the dungeon. They mention that, after clearing the dungeon, they want to go back to the baron to inform him they will accompany him on a dangerous mission.
I’m prepared for the dungeon encounter, but I want to use my improvisational skills as well.
So while the players are talking I scribble down three words:

Trap
Drink
Enemy

I heard the word trap, so I plan to deliver a trip wire that releases a swinging scythe.
I hide it in a long hallway bridge and deliver the blade to the character next to the PC who triggers the trap.
I heard about the potion of giggling and think that a great opportunity for it to be used is to set out food and drink in the guard room.
I’ll describe the guards taking it easy, but ready to defend if they spot the party.
This spread of food and drink might prompt use of the giggling potion to incapacite a few guards.
I also heard something about the players wanting to help the baron on his dangerous journey across the wilds.
So I make sure to have players discover that the castle owner plans to send an envoy to attack the baron.
This last piece of the improvisation helps me connect the dungeon to the next adventure.
Now the players have some intel on the quest they already want to embark upon.


Closing Thoughts​

I know you spend hours preparing for your sessions.
And despite how well you know your players, you can’t prepare for everything.
Improvisational skills, such as making disparate connections and listening to players, will help you improve each session as well as build your improv skill.
May your story continue!
 

ExileInParadise

RPG Therapist
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Gold WoA
Wizard of Story
Improving my improv and speeding up prep are two big reasons I came here.

Dice tables have forever been my friends when it comes to "squeezing more juice from an empty brain in the moment"

Fight, Explore, Parley are 3 of the 5 actions that have been so very helpful to me on designing encounters.

Prepping for the 5 actions AND having some random improv prompts for the moment is a super-key skill I am working toward.
 
Last edited:

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
Could you provide a link to that, Allen?
 

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer

Ashekelor

New member
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
I am fairly good with improvising. I do write material, and follow it as long as it works. I also do what I call "google mapping" where I let the players lead me, follow the path they veer onto and over time, whether quick or slow, steer things back to complete what was left unfinished. That said, I have trouble with remembering what I said on the fly. I have ADHD and memory issues from various sources. If I stop to write things down, I lose train of thought.

My solution pre-Covid when I played at a physical table was to record the sessions with a small voice recorder. I set it in an old dice cup in front of my screen or laptop and it picked up every word. Wallah! Now I am on Fanatsy Grounds with Discord as the voice program. Right now I am mainly playing and running the Starfinder Skittermander adventures as we work some things out before starting a homebrew campaign. My recoder will work to record my voice, but what of the others? I do not want to stream (well, i open to listening about stream) and am loathe to move off a headset to computer speakers and a boom mike.

I would appreciate hearing what others are doing. Is there a Discord recording solution that doesn't cost a lot? If you can help by suggesting a program, please leave the name and description rather than a link, as I do not usually follow links to unknown sites. I do not want to derail this thread, so please remember to reply to the original thread as well!
 

Carol

Member
Gold WoA
I am fairly good with improvising. I do write material, and follow it as long as it works. I also do what I call "google mapping" where I let the players lead me, follow the path they veer onto and over time, whether quick or slow, steer things back to complete what was left unfinished. That said, I have trouble with remembering what I said on the fly. I have ADHD and memory issues from various sources. If I stop to write things down, I lose train of thought.
...

I would appreciate hearing what others are doing. Is there a Discord recording solution that doesn't cost a lot? If you can help by suggesting a program, please leave the name and description rather than a link, as I do not usually follow links to unknown sites. I do not want to derail this thread, so please remember to reply to the original thread as well!
I'd like to know too! Just finishing my current campaign and I want to be more prepared when I start up again. I think one of our campaigns (that I'm not running) is recorded through OBS on Discord. I have no idea how to do it! :)
 

JonGraHar

Member
Gold WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
I'd like to know too! Just finishing my current campaign and I want to be more prepared when I start up again. I think one of our campaigns (that I'm not running) is recorded through OBS on Discord. I have no idea how to do it! :)
I don't use discord, but zoom. There are a few other tools like riverside.fm

https://www.bandicam.com has an article on How to Record from Discord
 

JonGraHar

Member
Gold WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
I would also encourage you to keep recording yourself. I have found it to refine my GMing skills as I listen back.
I am fairly good with improvising. I do write material, and follow it as long as it works. I also do what I call "google mapping" where I let the players lead me, follow the path they veer onto and over time, whether quick or slow, steer things back to complete what was left unfinished. That said, I have trouble with remembering what I said on the fly. I have ADHD and memory issues from various sources. If I stop to write things down, I lose train of thought.

My solution pre-Covid when I played at a physical table was to record the sessions with a small voice recorder. I set it in an old dice cup in front of my screen or laptop and it picked up every word. Wallah! Now I am on Fanatsy Grounds with Discord as the voice program. Right now I am mainly playing and running the Starfinder Skittermander adventures as we work some things out before starting a homebrew campaign. My recoder will work to record my voice, but what of the others? I do not want to stream (well, i open to listening about stream) and am loathe to move off a headset to computer speakers and a boom mike.

I would appreciate hearing what others are doing. Is there a Discord recording solution that doesn't cost a lot? If you can help by suggesting a program, please leave the name and description rather than a link, as I do not usually follow links to unknown sites. I do not want to derail this thread, so please remember to reply to the original thread as well!
 

Auke

Member
Platinum WoA
Gold WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
I am fairly good with improvising. I do write material, and follow it as long as it works. I also do what I call "google mapping" where I let the players lead me, follow the path they veer onto and over time, whether quick or slow, steer things back to complete what was left unfinished. That said, I have trouble with remembering what I said on the fly. I have ADHD and memory issues from various sources. If I stop to write things down, I lose train of thought.

My solution pre-Covid when I played at a physical table was to record the sessions with a small voice recorder. I set it in an old dice cup in front of my screen or laptop and it picked up every word. Wallah! Now I am on Fanatsy Grounds with Discord as the voice program. Right now I am mainly playing and running the Starfinder Skittermander adventures as we work some things out before starting a homebrew campaign. My recoder will work to record my voice, but what of the others? I do not want to stream (well, i open to listening about stream) and am loathe to move off a headset to computer speakers and a boom mike.

I would appreciate hearing what others are doing. Is there a Discord recording solution that doesn't cost a lot? If you can help by suggesting a program, please leave the name and description rather than a link, as I do not usually follow links to unknown sites. I do not want to derail this thread, so please remember to reply to the original thread as well!
If you're playing online, and want to record the audio/video passing through your computer, "Debut Video Capture Software" will do the job. It is free (I eventually paid for it 'cos it is great) and does the job well. I record all our games - some are played over Zoom, others on Discord, as a low-res video (which let's me see which maps/handouts we're talking about). In "Debut", you select your mic source (in my case, a "USB PnP <something-or-other>") and the incoming audio/video stream is automatically recorded.
I also use OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) Studio, which is spectacular and free. This lets me share what video goes out (camera, maps, screens, videos, and any combination of these). I mention it because AFAIK you can also record audio/video with it, but I've been using "Debut" so have never bothered. @Nemsoli is an OBS etc. guru, btw.
 

Carol

Member
Gold WoA
I don't use discord, but zoom. There are a few other tools like riverside.fm

https://www.bandicam.com has an article on How to Record from Discord
I've played in Zoom, but it isn't free and Discord is. The audio/video is fine for our low key fun games. I do think I'll find a way to record when I start another campaign, I'm horrible at notes even with Campaign Logger (which is great for prepping!). I don't multitask well and am tired when I finish a session. Thanks for the link!
 

Ashekelor

New member
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
I only need audio by itself, no video. Can I use Debut Video Capture with no video? Also, does anyone know about Discord Bots? I ran across someting that says you can record audio using a bot. Not sure though.
 

Gedece

Active member
Platinum WoA
Gold WoA
Wizard of Story
I can improvise with little prep, but that little prep helps a lot in providing structure while improvising. This is how I work:

I make bullet points of things that may happen. Some of those tell villain motivation, some tell things about the place. If possible and the scene has something special, I also add some bullet points about potential interactions between specific PC's powers and the setting.

And here is the most important part: I won't use ALL those bullet points, I'll use them as the story progresses, and try to infer things about them and current scene, but if some things don't happen, I won't force myself to use them, as that would be forcing certain things on the PCs when they didn't do anything to suffer those consequences.

It's ok to have more ideas than what you actually use, and cause and effect is your main ally while improvising.

What I'm working on now is on using polishing techniques to ideas before turning them into bullet points.
 
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