Investing In: Improv in Gaming

After my article two weeks ago on doing my first live GMing on twitch for the Monster Hearts 2 game I ran for Virtual Horror Con, I thought a lot about the improvisational nature of it and roleplaying in general. Of course not all players are interested in such rp or keep it relatively light, preferring to focus on the combat, the strategy, miniatures, or simply seeing the story unfold around them. But for those that do enjoy getting into and developing the character, building the detail and discovering those of other characters is something to look forward to! And when you’re a GM, you’ve a whole world to bring to life often without any preparation!

Improving Your Improv!

To a certain degree you might be utilizing improv in any game, no matter how much RP you’re doing. Do you run? Do you fight? Who do you go after? How do you approach a puzzle? But the core is in interacting with other characters or creating details for yourself or the scene to keep it moving. I know I’m not being revolutionary here, but I had been increasingly reviewing and collecting resources ever since we isolated and so much gaming went online, participating in streamed games, etc. Thus I wanted to call out a few tools I’ve used to improve my improv and my games!

Know The Character

I enjoy the roleplaying aspect of gaming quite a bit, which is probably pretty obvious. It’s definitely the prime focus of my games. When I make characters I spend quite a bit of time thinking about their background history, state of mind, goals, personality, et cetera. It’s from there I decide on their class, powers, what ancestry might be good for their story, and what story might ultimately want to tell with them. Those details help me get into character, but when I’m GMing I usually don’t have much preparation time with NPCs. That’s where some quick tools can really help me as a prompt for improvisational roleplaying.

You might consider for your character creation or quick NPC generation the Gamemastery’s Guide Deep Backgrounds. I still make use of Pathfiner 1E’s Random Background Generator on the Archive as well. The Fantasy Name Generator also has some dynamic generator options for characters names, various traits, and places.  Of course studying other character actors like Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, or your favorite roleplayers helps as well. I’ve learned a lot from watching Critical Role for example, especially how Matt Mercer uses physicality to help him portray the character. For example, how he’ll stoop his shoulders for an older individual or grasp his vest together when portraying Jester’s Mom, the Ruby of the Sea. This has helped me whenever I portray an NPC and want them not only to be memorable for the players, but help me. I assume the muscle memory of the action and a little voice variation that can come with it helps!

Yes, And…

Honestly I heard “Yes, and…” in the workplace before I heard it in Improv. “Yes, we can add that feature to the project, and let’s talk about the impact to budget and timeline…” Funny right? Well it’s true. People want to embrace the positive, the change, and feel confident and supported. The same is true in a game. Be engaged and roll with their ideas! If they’re upset, accept that and find out why! They want to introduce a challenge, experience it with them! This can be difficult if their deciding something that greatly impacts your characters, so understanding your players and the lines/veils discussed during session 0 will be of great benefit to the group!

Embrace Failure And Mistakes

Mistakes are going to happen. Forgotten or changed details, forgetting someone’s name, or simply saying something you didn’t mean to like breaking the fourth wall. That’s okay, go with it! I loved how Ace Adventure had a principle of Embrace Spectacular Failure! Have fun with it, make it a joke, or let it fuel the drama! The audience won’t know it was a mistake necessarily and if you play it off right they either won’t care or will love how you embrace it!

All The Things

It helps to have a few things on hand besides names and character details! Have some varied music ready to set the mood or use a quick adjustment of the light as if meeting at night! A few handy random details can assist you too. Not too long ago I picked up a book that’s been helping me quite a bit called GM’s Miscellany: Urban Dressing. It was printed back in 2014 for Pathfinder 1E as well with a few stat blocks and encounters, but it’s all the wonderful tables that I really love! The table for helping build Inn and Tavern names is basically a descriptor which I can use for characters and if I need a tavern I’m right there too! For example the Grinning Rakshasa. I’d be wary of that Inn’s proprietor actually.

Imagination-land!

And finally, just embrace your imagination! If something comes to mind, then bring it up, try it. Let loose those dangerous details and ideas, though be mindful of the lines and veils of the group. It’s good to break out of your comfort zone and work into the scenes things that challenge and excite your group!

Investing In:

I wasn’t quite sure what to name my article series when I first started but the idea of showcasing or discussing things that make me excited, that I find new and interesting, or maybe I’m otherwise passionate about seemed to fit with the idea of Investing In something like the Pathfinder 2E mechanic. To use some magic items you have to give that little bit of yourself, which helps make these things even better. I like the metaphor of the community growing and being strengthened in the same way!

I also want to hear what you’re Investing In! Leave me a comment below about what games, modules, systems, products, people, live streams, etc you enjoy! You can also hit me up on social media as silentinfinity. I want to hear what excites you and what you’re passionate about. There’s so much wonderful content, people, groups (I could go on) in this community of ours that the more we invest in and share, the better it becomes!

Sources

Banner – Imagination Explosion, Creative Commons attribution, lobster-popsicle

  1. Dungeon Master’s Screen, Creative Commons attribution, DragonsLairArt
  2. From Deep Backgrounds chapter, Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide, Paizo
  3. IMAGINATION, Creative Commons attribution, archaN

Rob Pontious

Rob Pontious works in web commerce by day and is a writer for KnowDirectionPodcast.com's #InvestingIn, a player for Roll for Combat's #ThreeRingAdventure podcast, and also a player for GehennaGaming's #GehennaValley MonsterHearts2 twitch stream. He's a lover of TTRPGs for over three decades, a gamer, and a GAYMER. You can find him on social media as @silentinfinity.