It’s my last post for improv month, and I want to talk about the truth of improvisation while GMing. It’s an ambiguous term. Some of it is about incorporating good ideas from improv theatre into the game, which is awesome. But mostly it’s a guide on how to bullshit well. That’s often what we’re doing when we get caught off guard, were too busy to prepare for a session, or when the players go in a direction we weren’t expecting at all. We’re improvising sure, but we’re also bullshitting. So today I want to talk about bullshit, some of its important principles, and the key rule when it comes to doing it at the gaming table.
The worry I hear most often about GMing is “I can’t make things up when I need to.” It’s right there ahead of “Doesn’t GMing make me some kind of super-nerd?” (Yes it does). When someone blindsides you with a question or no one’s picking up any hooks, it can get tough. Players interest can start to fade, or more likely, they take an interest in something that you never in a million years thought they would, so you didn’t prepare for that. There’s a fear of choking in those moments that seems to inhabit our skin, cold and wet under the muscles, a fear that saps our confidence and can make us rethink our decision to step behind the screen. Fear not. Through creativity and determination you will conquer it. Today I want to share three ways that I conquer this, make a thing up, and keep the game moving.
Coming to you on a Friday because I forgot what day of the week it was (in my defence, I haven’t had a proper weekly schedule in months), we’re continuing improv month with a look at it from the new GM’s perspective. And especially for those starting out, improv is hard.
Later post today on account of work-related busyness and my growing addiction to Doctor Who. David Tennant is the real Doctor, and while I love Matt Smith, I do not care that he is leaving. Okay, I care a little bit. This is not about Doctor Who.
Today’s post is about how to keep your improvisation consistent. I love improvising at the table, but it can be a challenge when players rely on your to provide accurate and complete information to them. Whatever you say about the world has to be believable, which means it has to fit with all of the other things they know about the world. If Steve is the King of Baltimore, then Jack cannot also be the King of Baltimore. If the treasure of the Unhallowed Hall lies in the swamp to the east, then it shouldn’t also be a dungeon in the north. These kinds of inconsistencies will crop up, and your players will notice some of them. Today I’m going to talk about how to keep them to a minimum and what to do when you get caught (and you will sometimes).
I’ve described GMing as equal parts urban planning, storytelling and psychological warfare, and an essential component of all of those is improvisation. It’s probably one of my favourite things about GMing, despite the amount I rant about the need to have a plan. I love creating characters and their expressions on the fly, adding little bits of flavour to my setting, and it’s saved me more than once in a pinch. Remember, if anyone asks, you planned it that way the whole time. I want to spend some time talking about improvisation and worldbuilding, character portrayal, and adventure design, but today I want to start with some fundamentals.