Content of the article: "Don’t know how to improvise an event? Here’s 5 tips!"
The party walks up to the Manor you planned meticulously for a month all culminating to a backyard brawl with an undead crypt. The party decides to not go through the front door, but to climb over the fence. What do you do?
Hi. My name is TheCourte.
I have been a DM for 10 years and have Dm'd more times than I've played.
In my youth I took many improv classes because I loved Whose Line Is It Anyway? And wanted to be decent enough to maybe be in an improv group. That never happened, but it did give me an edge when DMing.
Whether you're running through a premade adventure, a one shot or a homebrew setting you will almost always have to do some improv. Whether it be for NPC dialogue or events caused by your players being able to improvise can be the best part of the session.
Now, for the first tip I need to talk about one word. The most powerful word in all of improv.
- Agreeing is the most important part of improvisation. Whether it be in ttrpg's, on the stage or working as a salesman. Now I don't mean saying yes to every little thing your players want to do. You have to say no sometimes and that's okay. What I'm talking about is: Not making your players feel like what they want to do won't work. They need to find that out for themselves.
When you AGREE with what a player is wanting to do, that sets up the opportunity for growth. Growth of the character, growth of the world, growth of the player and growth of yourself.
What do I mean when I say AGREE?
Well, let's go back to the situation at the top of this post. They want to bypass all of your hardwork (unknowingly) and skip right to the backyard brawl. In this moment you need to think, "do I need them to go through the Manor? Or can they go to the boss fight first?" If the answer is "no" for whatever reason it may be…
You say "okay" and you make them roll checks to get over the fence safely. And once they get over the fence you can have them make another check for a trapdoor that would put them in the basement. Or whatever you think of to get at least one of them into the Manor. If none of them fail, then fine! Let them have their way! In that moment put a magical lock on the crypt door and have the magical key inside the Manor.
The point is. Say yes to their ideas if they work in your world. Don't disagree just because it might take them off the rails. Let them build their own tracks.
- Make Statements
- You are the DM. The players expect you to know everything about your setting and be able to build off their characters actions. When a player wants to do something (as long as it works with the game) you AGREE. You make Statements about what they CAN do. Non committal answers are a large problem in improv. If you aren't as explicit as possible with your responses, it erodes trust in you as the DM and can dampen the players experience. Find an answer and say it clearly.
Example: the party goes to a tavern and you just plan for them to eat, drink and maybe sleep it off for the night. However, the fighter says "I want to go up to the bar and challenge the whole place to an arm wrestle. Anyone that beats me gets a drink!"
Now, you have to respond to that. You have to get it out of your head that you had a expectation. You AGREE and say clearly how many people are intrigued by his proposal. If you want to shut him down, have a large NPC come out of nowhere and tell the fighter that he is "real thirsty" sits down and places his elbow on the table with a smile. Really get into detail how buff this guy is. And destroy the fighter. Now you have a really strong NPC that you can create a story for and the PC's might just want to know more about him.
You can go the other way and AGREE then ask him to make an intimidation check. Then say no one cares on a fail and no one dares on a success.
Really, just follow these steps. Agree, have them roll anything and clearly state what happens.
Avoid words like Probably, Should, Could, Potentially, and Possibly. They are non committal responses.
- There are no mistakes
- yes you read that right. There are no mistakes, only opportunities and happy accidents. If a player thinks a situation is going one way and you thought it was going another, guess what? It isn't going the way you thought anymore.
Hard to grasp? Here:
Example – you tell the party that a goblin with a pet turtle is walking up to their table, you go into detail about describing the appearances of both the goblin and turtle. One of the party members says "I want to stop the turtle from getting closer and tell him off." Now, you may think he wants to talk to the pet turtle and be confused. What he may think is that the turtle is the one walking and the goblin is the pet. Well, guess what? That's EXACTLY how it is. "You stop the turtle in its tracks and the goblin looks at his master for guidance, shaking. Roll intimidation" Now, you both may still not be on the same page but it doesn't matter because he got what he wanted put of it and wasn't diminished for a mistake that didn't need to be one.
It technically was 'a mistake'. Oh wait, there are none! What happened is you take a players idea of what is happening and use it. No mistakes, only opportunities.
- Speak Names
- Use characters’ names when addressing them. You might think you’ve heard this advice before, but let me explain the difference: use names more often than you normally would. Say names by throwing them into your sentences even when it does not seem natural to do so. There’s an emotional response to using someone’s name, so use names when you want to spice up a conversation.
As a DM, you can diversify who in the party is speaking by having an NPC address a particular party member. This gives speaking opportunities to players who aren’t usually first to speak up. Use names instead of addressing the party as an ambiguous group. This will also cut down on instances of an NPC ending their statement only to be met with awkward silence from the party as they wonder who will speak next like a standoff in a western movie (but with speaking instead of guns). If the NPC doesn't know a character's name, use a moniker! It's so simple but it really makes it feel alive and in the moment to have a half-elf NPC call the elf PC "Fullblood".
- Leave your ego off the table
- Yes I know you spent a lot of time preparing this amazing scenario or plot point, but something has just come up that completely ruins it. What does someone with a big ego do?
They create tension.
Having a large ego can be a serious damper on everyone's good time. Instead of relying on feedback from the table to determine your mood, work on developing your inner self-esteem. What does someone with high self-esteem do in this situation?
They roll with it
They begin planning the next opportunity to make that cool scenario happen, even if it has to happen in a way they hadn't planned.
It is ok to not get your way. Leave your ego off the table and put engagement on top to better influence the story in a way that helps you achieve your goals as a DM.
TLDR: Just have fun, and don't overthink. Agree and roll with it.
- When the DM watches far too many films
- Player seems to enjoy being a contrarian
- Alternative Take: Do not take the dice away from your players, but do take the NPC’s dice away from your players.
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