Improv and RPGs

Voadam

Legend
I just started an improv class this weekend with an RPG theme.

I had taken an improvisational drama class once in high school but this was the first explicit improv thing I had done in the last 30+ years.

About half the class was straight improv games and warmups and the second half was playing a modified D&D themed version of Honey Heist (a one page RPG rule set which I learned at the table) as a one shot.

The game felt a lot like a normal game, with adventuring and joking, just with a bunch of enthusiastic strangers who like to first person roleplay.

We made characters by rolling a d6 on a chart for an adjective and then for a class, so I was a rookie cleric, but we also had two slick knights, an incompetent mage, a washed up fighter, another rookie cleric, a rookie mage, etc. There were nine PCs so a big group.

My favorite line I came up with was when we found out a hospital was overrun with snakes. I said. "Oh snakes, we covered this!" I turned to the other rookie cleric and said "We should do the Ireland protocol!" he agreed and said "Oh yes absolutely, the Ireland protocol." About 10 minutes later as one of the knights and the thief were instead taking care of the snakes my fellow rookie cleric said to me out of character that he had thought that was just a random thing I said as an idea creation and he had gone along with it in character, but he realized after the fact that it was actually also a nice Saint Patrick joke.

The big noticeable difference for me came at the end of the session. We had successfully gotten the townsfolk loaded up on wagons to flee a Dune sized purple worm coming to eat the town, we had set a huge dynamite trap for when the worm ate the town for it to swallow and blow up from the inside, and we had set off the long fuse successfully. One knight then decided out of the blue that the belltower of the town was actually the magical heart of the town that the worm was after and needed saving so she raced in to recover it on her own. Everyone else besides her and me had spent their actions pulling off this last minute culmination of setting off the fuse and clearing everybody out.

My instinct as a DM is to normally try and do things at base naturalistically for what happens based on PC choices and the situation, throwing fun stuff onto that base, but generally first instinct sticking to reasonable resolution of actions.

My thought was she was dead, running into a town where we had worked hard to set up a ridiculous amount of dynamite on a specific fuse to explode in a massive conflagration, and to then singlehandedly wrestle down a tower bell. The timing and logistics just seemed off and we had collectively specifically made it a dangerous situation emphasizing to get everybody out before the worm and the explosion.

I in character prayed for a miracle to try and help her from the inevitable explosion as all I could think of to help.

The DM went all yes and for her action with her super speed charging in and super strength to wrestle out the bell, almost getting caught by the worm as it was eating the town and then loomed up over her to devour her and the bell whole, then the action movie explosion fireball happened and she flew threw the air along with tons of worm flesh to tumble and be shaken but OK, and with the town's bell recovered.

That ending matched the tone we had developed for the game a bit more than would my DM default judgment that there was not enough time to successfully do her plan and she would be blown up.

Have you had any experience with Improv that influences your games or improv like approaches in how you approach RPGs as a player or a DM?
 

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Voadam

Legend
One of the warm up improv games was going around the circle and assign an emotion to the person to the left, then we do a scene creating a persona with that emotion we were assigned as a hook. For the improv this was a scene in a grocery store.

I've done this in creating PC characters in the past, taking a quick concept as a core hook for approaching a character concept. I played a viking wizard where I tried to be cunning. I played a brujah vampire where I consciously would get angry easily and allowed myself to do so. etc.

It gives a quick hook to work off of so that you can then be in a role quickly and see how things develop from there.
 


Voadam

Legend
That sounds fantastic. Did you use the mechanics of Honey Heist to perform actions?
I believe so, though reskinned.

We had two mechanical action options, cunning and adventuring. DM adjudicated when to roll and which one. So when a wounded dwarf pulled up with snake bites I said I pulled out a first aid kit with antivenom and the DM called for a cunning roll.

Both abilities start at 3. Roll a d6 and roll the ability or below and succeed. My memory is fail and shift one point to the other action stat. So my cunning went down from 3 to 2 when I failed but my adventuring went up from 3 to 4.

I called over the other rookie cleric who succeeded so his stats stayed the same.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I believe so, though reskinned.

We had two mechanical action options, cunning and adventuring. DM adjudicated when to roll and which one. So when a wounded dwarf pulled up with snake bites I said I pulled out a first aid kit with antivenom and the DM called for a cunning roll.

Both abilities start at 3. Roll a d6 and roll the ability or below and succeed. My memory is fail and shift one point to the other action stat. So my cunning went down from 3 to 2 when I failed but my adventuring went up from 3 to 4.

I called over the other rookie cleric who succeeded so his stats stayed the same.
Yeah. That sounds like Honey Heist that's reskinned. Sounds like you had a blast though.

Reading this it sounds like it was basically a normal RPG session with a rules light game. How much improv was involved? Beyond what you'd normally get from a rules light game?
 


Have you had any experience with Improv that influences your games or improv like approaches in how you approach RPGs as a player or a DM?

I have some experience with improv (admittedly, not for a number of years now). Improv stuff works fine for the story part, but I don't think it meshes as well with the game part. IMNSHO, the biggest rift is that improv is "Yes, and..." while TTRPGs are "No, but..."

Player: I attack the goblin, do I hit?
DM: No, but you can still move or do something else.

DM: The orc throws a spear at you. He hits!
Player: No! But I'll cast [protective spell]. Does he hit now?
DM: No, but he does move behind a protective rock. You've lost sight of him. What next?

Player 1: I'm down! Does anyone have any healing magic left?
Player 2: No, but I have a potion. I'll get to you as soon as I take care of this wizard. I hit! Does he fall?
DM: No, but he casts a spell that sets fire to the ground, separating you from Player 1.
Player 1: No! But now who will save me?

The central game mechanics of (almost all) TTPRGS are based in conflict. The dice. The attacks. The rules. The crunch. Combat (and many other forms of RPG conflict) is not in line with a lot of the cooperation that improv teaches. And, frankly, that conflict is the part I like. It's what separates TTRPGs from being just stories. We play TTRPGs because we want conflict resolution and rules, not just freeform fiction.

That being said, TTRPGs still have cooperative parts, obviously. That's why it's so important not just end with "no". It's the "but" that keeps it going. The next round, the next reaction, the next solution. RPGs need big buts. And they cannot lie (you other player's can't deny).
 
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Voadam

Legend
Reading this it sounds like it was basically a normal RPG session with a rules light game. How much improv was involved? Beyond what you'd normally get from a rules light game?

The second half was very much a normal game session with a rules light and setting light game.

We had no equipment or powers list, we pretty much made up stuff as we went like PC hay magic items and horse based magic, my first aid kit with antivenom, things the thief had stolen previously and pulled out. I am used to doing a more D&D thing with specific equipment lists and a few unwritten things that make sense and fairly defined power lists for PCs, but this all felt normal. The magic was very open ended but it all felt like it fit, and it was fun.

Combat was one roll from each PC involved and quick, failure was not PC death just not success. No hp. I have not done a lot of super rules light so this aspect was a bit of a change from playing Vampire or Shadowrun or D&D.

As players we made up a lot of setting elements collaboratively as we went on the fly, interconnections between PCs, the college where all the rookies had been which we referenced learning different powers and techniques and facts at, the mentor mage and rookie mage apprentice connection, horse-human blindness. A comment about one hay based thing (a magic spy glass made out of hay) led to a comment about a horse hat which turned into her being an actual horse or horse headed thing pretending to be a person which tied into her rookie apprentice who jumped in with suffering from horse-human blindness, then later we got the horse mage to turn giant to pull a wagon of people away once she got enough sugar to power her up.

The DM seemed to riff on our ideas as well, one of the goats we tried to wrangle for the getaway cart was the inverse of our horse mage, a goat with a human face.

So a lot of just riffing and going with it and coming up with stuff to add on and then interacting based on that stuff. A bit more open and collaborative than I am used to in most normal games.

I was surprised at how well stuff went with nine players and how much everyone got spotlight time that felt natural.

The next classes are going to include a sustained campaign instead of a one shot as the second half of the classes with a reskinned kids on bikes system. I have briefly glanced over the handout and it is a D&D reskin again.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
IMNSHO, the biggest rift is that improv is "Yes, and..." while TTRPGs are "No, but..."

Player: I attack the goblin, do I hit?
DM: No, but you can still move or do something else.

DM: The orc throws a spear at you. He hits!
Player: No! But I'll cast [protective spell]. Does he hit now?
DM: No, but he does move behind a protective rock. You've lost sight of him. What next?

Player 1: I'm down! Does anyone have any healing magic left?
Player 2: No, but I have a potion. I'll get to you as soon as I take care of this wizard. I hit! Does he fall?
DM: No, but he casts a spell that sets fire to the ground, separating you from Player 1.
Player 1: No! But now who will save me?
I'd disagree with you here, in that all of these illustrations you give us here are in my opinion 'Yes, And' all the way!

The thing about 'Yes, And' is that the philosophy of the idiom is not that the characters are agreeing with each other for every statement each one makes... but rather that one improvisor makes a statement about the situation and the other improvisor tacitly agrees to make that statement True. And then adds onto the statement with more clarifying information.

So in your first example, the 'Yes, And' is that the player states they are attacking a goblin... and the DM agrees that you are attacking the goblin and reacts to being attacked. Now in a normal improv scene onstage, the 'DM' improvisor would ordinarily react to the attack by making an offer as to whether the hit was successful or not by either acting as though they were hit and hurt by it, or by "blocking" the attack and not being hit. The first improvisor would then treat the 'DM' improvisor's reaction as True and react to whatever they did.

But in the RPG, rather than the improvisor themself deciding whether or not they got hit... we ask dice to be an impartial arbiter to determine the success of the attack. Then once we get that from the dice, then the DM accepts the die result as True, and then narrates what the goblin does after that. The DM says the goblin got hit and then disengaged from the fight and ran around a wall. At this point, the DM has made an offer that the goblin is around the corner, which the Player says 'Yes' to by accepting this reality as True, and then the Player makes a new choice and does something else (like chase after the goblin.) And this back and forth continues for as long as the fight goes on. Each one accepting what the other offers as their action and accepting the die roll as the truthful adjudicator of the result before making their own reaction to it.

So just because two characters are in conflict doesn't mean they can't say 'No'... it just means the Players are both accepting the truth of the scene as being real, while letting their characters disagree with each other.

The actual 'No, But...' in this scenario would be if the DM says the players turn a corner in the dungeon and run into a band of goblins, then one of the players says "No, we don't. We're not there. We're actually back at camp." That's the player fundamentally not accepting the Truth of the scene they are in and just making up whatever truth they want. Which of course goes against the whole point of the scenes and the game in the first place. No one can just up and decide that something doesn't exist or doesn't happen (at least not in D&D usually), we all as part of the social contract accept the results of things we do as true and real.

This is where the idea of 'Negging' your scene partner comes about in improv. Someone makes an offer of the reality the characters are in and the other improvisor says 'Nah... that's not true. What's actually happening is..." And at that point, until both players agree on what is true, the scene can never move forward because each one just keeps negging the ideas of the other and blocks whatever attempt at reality they make.

And that's when in improv you have truly failed.
 
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Voadam

Legend
So I finished up the class a while ago and it was fun.

We always did a little improv game warm up then the sustained campaign with Kids on Bikes reskinned to be D&Dish. It has a couple collaborative questions to establish the setting you are in which fit well with our improv group with a lot of those details being the center of our plot and adventuring focus.

About half way through the first game after some interaction someone asked me if I was a vampire and so I went with it instead of a warlock as I had originally planned. I talked with the DM afterwards and he was fine with it so instead of eldritch blast I would hypnotize people as a class appropriate power thing. I would also always make sure I was invited into places before entering and never eat or drink with the others.

About the third game the DM asked me "You're an elf right?" so I went with being an elf from then on.

The intro improv games leaned more and more into tying into our campaign, the improv game Five Things (where you get a topic and quickly rattle off five things for that topic) had topics like five names of dancers at The Lucky Halfling (Hefty Harold, Pudgy Paul, etc.), five treasures that might be at the bottom of the giant hole, and so on. One really neat one was to have two people pair off, the group assigns a random scene setting, and the two improv a short flashback scene between the two characters. This created stuff we later used for further interactions in the present and the DM tied them in as well.

The improv was easy and fun, I have since gone to a few short improv jam things where it was straight improv and I think I might do more.
 

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