Day of the Tentacle

Yes, And…

Good Idea

We spend too much time saying no. All of us. As GMs, we say “No, that doesn’t work.” As players we say “No, my character wouldn’t do that.” There’s a place for that, but I think we’re too fast on the draw, and it curtails our creativity. So here’s a better idea than saying no.¬†

In improv theatre, there’s a rule. You ¬†have to say “Yes, and…” You can’t say no, because it means blocking your partner and disrupting the scene. If they say “Oh god, you’re changing into a banana!” You can’t shrug and say “No I’m not.” You change into a banana, and add to it. Maybe you’re a sentient banana with ambitions of being the world’s potassium rich overlord. Maybe you’re compelled to join a still life painting, or you’re just a wax banana. But you don’t say no, instead taking what they throw you, and adding to it.

Day of the Tentacle

The only worksafe tentacle pic on the internet.

Of course, rpgs are games, not just theatre. They’re serious business, and a random factor for a character can interfere with someone’s vision and have dire consequences. All true. Still, we should say yes more than we do. The inclusion of other people’s ideas can help fill dimensions of our characters and settings that we’re not aware of. This goes for spaces, characters, monsters, whatever. It forms a creative discourse between you and someone else that more often than not makes things more awesome. Here’s an example of a time when I used “Yes, and…” to make a space more interesting.

GM: “You’re just approaching an inn, it’s called…”
Player 1: “The Dusty Tentacle!”
GM: “Yes! And there’s a picture of a tentacle emerging from a lake on the sign.”
Player 2: “Yes, and inside, around the bar where you’d have brass, there’s an old tentacle from a giant squid.”
Player 1: “Yes, and the innkeeper has a peg leg, but he’s not a sailor.”
GM: “Yes, he lost it to a land shark.”

And it goes on. We not only created a space, we created a space that everyone was invested in. They came back to the Dusty Tentacle over and over again, because it was theirs. All I had to do was say “Yes, and…”

This isn’t just for spaces though, it works for characters. Even PCs. Especially them. This principle works incredibly during the Lightning Round, which I’ll describe next week. It’s basically a round-robin storytelling session we do before starting the first session, in order to help characters build relationships. It encourages players to loosen their control on their characters, and be more open to new opportunities by taking random elements and creating opportunities. Here’s how one conversation on that worked out, regarding a very lawful warrior.

GM: “Player 1, tell me one secret about Player 2′s character.”
Player 1: “He’s a wanted criminal.”
Player 2: “Yes, and he broke the law out of loyalty to his clan, to serve a higher purpose.”
Player 1: “Yes, and he’s proud of it, but not of the consequences, so he keeps it a secret.”

The initial reaction wasn’t quite so favourable, but Player 2 found something his character held in higher regard than the law. And his character developed a new relationship and story opportunity, all because he was willing to say “Yes, and…” At the end of the day, even if the element that’s added is completely out of character for them, it’s just a reason to add to their story. “Player 2′s character punched a baby once.” “Yes, and she was being mind-controlled by her nemesis.” Done. “Yes, and” gets past illusions of ownership and into investing in a cooperative game.

“Yes, and..,” Is just one of the valuable principles that I’ll be discussing over the next few months. How do you use it in your games?

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9 comments

  1. pdunwin says:

    I also use improv for encounter design. Fights drag less when they are fought against the enemies players helped choose, for the reasons they helped choose. While we’re at it, we also work out how the encounter can be won or lost by without one side needing to kill the other. Yes, and is also useful in exciting scenes when players are coming up with a unusual and rule-bending ideas.

    The biggest turn off I see to improv as described above is that it seems to put people on the spot to be creative. Unlike stage improv, there’s a DM to help guide the creativity by asking questions & offering suggestions that aren’t the sort a drunken audience member might throw but are focused on the game and making it cool.

    • Jim says:

      I agree. There’s lots of people who are uncomfortable with being put on the spot. I oversimplified the examples to make things clearer. there’s always room for leading questions and guided creativity, not just from the GM, but from other players. I find that the kind of drunken audience member suggestions that might happen at an improv night tend never to get off the ground. After all, that person might get to invent something about you, and the last thing you want is them seeking revenge. More importantly, everyone understands the kind of stake they have in the game. If one PC suddenly has an illegitimate child with a giraffe, it impacts everyone’s game.
      Jim recently posted..Cupboard Nibs and Apple SlicersMy Profile

  2. Bob says:

    But it’s D&D, not improv. You do not have to say yes to everything.

    • Jim says:

      Of course not. There’s all kinds of things you can say “No” to. For example, “My character is the king of the universe,” or “My character automatically succeeds at all challenges.” But there are lots of opportunities to make things more interesting by saying “Yes” that we often miss because we get too caught up in saying “No.”
      Jim recently posted..Scuba MediaMy Profile

  3. illegitimate child of a giraffe says:

    Wow.

    There are a lot of things you MUST have the right to say no to. “Your character is Gay.” “Your character has male and female parts, and impregnated itself”. Those are just being “nice”.

    Even on a less abnormal (or adolescent) level, the player has somewhat of a realm of possession over their own character. To take your character and just let others do what they want with it turns a good session into Monty Python.

    • Jim says:

      I never made the argument that you cannot say no, only that we should say yes more often than we do. I’ve never had a player attempt to make that kind of change to someone else’s character, mostly because the Lightning Round will give the other player an opportunity to do the same. Trying that sort of thing is how PCs wind up with a elephant trunk for a butt or somesuch.

      This approach requires that the players take into account each other’s interests and respect each others goals, and improvise with those in mind. “Improv” isn’t code for “Anything goes.” “Yes, and…” opens players up to the fact that their character isn’t an isolated artifact that belongs to them by virtue of their creating it, but instead that the character is one piece of the game that belongs to them. It encourages them to interact with the setting on other people’s terms rather than just their own.
      Jim recently posted..Kalamazoo 2013My Profile

  4. illegitimate child of a giraffe says:

    Also, things can get ugly with Improv when a player loses dominion over their character.

    Players should always have dominion over their character; no player should feel entitled to “control the world”.

    I could understand a game where the players create the map, and the classes and races and everything else. In that case, players should have control over the world because they “co-created” all elements and have the “right” to use them.

    Personally, I would get irritated with the constant interruptions and just being present to resolve piddly squabbles, while a mockery unfolds of everything I created.

  5. M says:

    OMG! “to the Chrono-John!” I guess Day of the Tentacle is a thing of the past.

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