It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.
13th August: Improvise
I learned the hard way how to improvise by diving in at the deep end with a creative group of players that often latched on to elements that I, as a rookie GM, hadn’t expected them to. Some of those situations I handled well, others not so well. Those early experiences have had a massive impact on how I approach games as a player, GM and designer. I lean in to lightweight adventure design that focuses on the situation, the driving forces behind the plot and the goals of those involved. I’ll sometimes plan out key locations knowing I expect to drop a clue that will lead the players there but just as often I end up throwing something together just because they took a left turn.
That all comes from experience though. I once had a new player, during a game of Honey Heist, ask how I was able to come up with all the details on the fly and my response was simple – practice and experience. I’ve been gaming for well over a decade and the majority of the time I’m a GM. What I can do now without thinking would astound the me that first tried to GM and started out with a session of Serenity that was so comically disastrous that we shelved the campaign after that single session. We did eventually come back to it and treated that session like an unaired pilot to be reworked as the plot of the true session 1. While that campaign went on to be a nightmare for scheduling it eventually produced some of the best RP I’ve ever come across.
Improvisation was also at the heart of Project Cassandra, where I wanted to mix the traditional GM role with the player input that many indie games favour. The ability for characters to add details that can drastically shift the plot or tone of the game was key to making it feel like they really had prophetic abilities but that does mean a GM can end up running an adventure that is totally different from what they’d expected. I’ve heard from a few people that have since run it that they found that one of the harder aspects of the game to handle, to flip things in an instant and rework a scene to fit the new truths that had been revealed. I wish I knew how to bottle that, or present the skills I’ve picked up for others to learn as I think being able to improvise is a key skill for GMs. All I can really say is play more indie games, get the practice in. You can learn the skills if you want to.