Submitted by guest writer One.D.Twelve.
Now, I know you’re busy with work or school or kids, so you don’t always have time to prepare for your sessions. That’s okay because it’s your first step to running a great improv session. Remember, the less you actually prepare, the better off you will be. Now, I’m not saying don’t prepare anything; create monsters or NPCs or dungeons as appropriate to your gaming style. Just don’t make too many, or you’ll ruin it.
Step 2 – Reveal Nothing
Players are a funny kind of animal. They like to believe that they’ve figured you out and know what’s coming up next – use this to your advantage. If your players think you’ve planned everything, they’ll try to predict you. This will be useful to you in later steps. Remember to take advantage of the players making things up. Take more credit than you deserve. Let the story create itself as you go. If you have no secrets to keep, there are no secrets that they can expose.
Step 3 – Maps Are Easy
Maps are easy to make, if you use them. They are nothing more than shapes within shapes, usually boxes. Just make sure you put the shapes in place so that you create some obstacles for the PCs to maneuver around, and enough room for all the PCs to fit.
Step 4 – Steal from Your Players
Steal from your players. This is probably the most important thing to remember. Whenever your player says,
“They’ve probably got an alarm system in place.”
They have an alarm system in place whether you thought of it or not! Whenever your player says,
“He’s probably running to get back-up.”
Guess what? He’s totally coming back with back-up even if he was just running away. Your players will never know you stole from them, they’ll just think they were smart enough to predict something that happened. This relates back to Step 2 – Reveal Nothing; don’t say why somebody is suspicious or running, and don’t give more than the essential details – let your players fill in the rest.
Step 5 – Continuity is for Pansies
Don’t worry about continuity. If your players catch you messing up, use your awesome brain skills to work your way around it. This is probably the hardest thing to learn, but practice makes perfect.
GM – “The ogre knows your plans.”
Player – “The ogre doesn’t know our plans to infiltrate their tribe and mess up their rituals – we whispered that part.”
GM – “Aha! He knows your plan to booby trap the bridge because you didn’t whisper that part!”
Make sure that when you do this you do not look surprised or the players will realize what you’re doing.
Step 6 – Let the Players Create the World
When the players look for something specific, let them find it, or at least let it be around. Don’t hesitate to add things to the world that your players have made up. If your rogue thinks there must be a hidden compartment full of treasure in the large featureless hallway – there is now! Let him look for it, and if he’s successful, let him find it (just don’t be afraid to set some booby traps in the way).
This step is designed to make your improv session so much easier. The less you have to make up, the less you have to worry. This will also keep your players engaged. If they feel like they’re smart enough to figure out some secret you placed in the King’s bedroom, they’ll feel better about themselves and their characters.
Step 7 – Let the Players Create Their Own Plot Points
Plot points are the point of most Role-Playing Games and, let’s face it, sometimes they’re just so darn hard to come up with. Then, once you’ve created this awesome plot point, your players will ignore it. We’ve all been there. That’s why you should let the players create the plot points. These plot points can come from background stories or from role-playing; don’t be afraid to steal anything the players throw at you. If a player decides that some random NPC that has no point to anything is a jerk, give the player a reason to hate him.
Player – “That guy makes me feel uncomfortable and he’s kind of a jerk.”
GM – “Well, he is known for killing puppies.”
Player – “That explains it.”
If your players decide that they don’t care that the king was murdered, and that they just want to get out of the city, give them a way out of the city and drop any plot you may have started working out. Let them find a smuggling ring in the outskirts of the city, or a secret tunnel out. If it’s what the players want, let them have it.
Step 8 – Don’t Be Afraid to Say Yes
I lied. Step 4 is not the most important thing to remember – this is. Don’t be afraid to say yes. Say yes to most everything the players want to do. If they want to one-shot the dragon, you’re allowed to say no. If they want to run on the wall and flip onto the dragon’s back to stab it in the neck, say yes. Let them pull that off and they’ll love you forever. Besides, the more you let the players make up, the less you have to make up. The coolest things you can do with a game are the things that are not in the rules; remember that.
I’m not saying you should neglect all mechanics to let the players do whatever they want all the time. I’m saying that you should adopt the players’ ideas into the mechanics. If your player wants to flip off the chandelier, land on the giant’s shoulder and hit the robot with his boomerang, just make that player roll the appropriate skills and see if it’s successful. Letting the players know that there is a chance of success – even if there isn’t – will make them happy.