Improving your Improv Skills as a Game Master

A game master’s life is one of dedication. Most articles and advice segments show how to prepare for the sessions through systemized templates, efficient worldbuilding tips and practicing silly character voices. But when it comes to game time, the preparation can only take you so far before you need to access your skills at improvisation.

I believe that a game master should vacillate between preparation and improvisation. With much content around preparation, I thought I would share with you some thoughts on how to better “go with the flow” in your games!

How do you use “Yes And” – Yes And is an improvisational skill that helps us continue the story by agreeing on the premise. Since table top role playing games thrive on the collective use of our share imaginations, we have to agree upon the majority of the elements of the game in order for it to progress. When a player takes initiative to describe an aspect of their character, find ways to incorporate that aspect into the session.

Francis: my character needs a gem worth 50gp to cast chromatic orb. I don’t have that written down on my character sheet.

GameMaster: yes, and you do have it. Please write it down because it is logical that your character would already have that in possession.

Transitions – In order to move through a book, one must turn the page, but when it comes to RPGs, transitions are the best to move along the story. a transition is a simple piece of narration that you use to tell the players that this encounter is over and the story moves onto another place or time. In other words, since you know where the story is going, you can have ready these transitions to “turn the page” of your game.

Examples – as you walk downtown, a towncrier calls out and…, when you finalize your dealings, the shop closes for the night… before you leave the tavern, a villager approaches you, by the time you reach the end of the woods, the sun falls and darkness covers the land.

Each of these simple narrations transition the story from one scene to the next. The use of the prepositions like “as, before, beyond, when and by” send a signal to the players that TIME and SPACE have changed. The hours in the day or the location has changed and therefore introducing a new encounter. This is important for improvisation because, despite all of your prepareation, you cannot prepare for every possible response from the players. So, when they engage with the encounter and send the story off in a wild direction, keep a few of these transisiton ready for you to “play” to restart the scenes. Remember that of all of the players at the table, you are the one who deteremines time and space in the game, and therefore able to transition the scene from one encounter to the next.

Keep your encounters connectable.

I had a wizard who could help the party, but i didn’t plan exactly when or where the wizard would arrive. I prepared the encounter, the voice of the NPC, the bonds and flaws and the way out of the situation, but didn’t answer the question “when will she arrive?” Instead, I waited for the characters to DO something in their terrible predicament to CUE the wizard’s arrival. In this case, while waiting in the desert, the fighter prayed to an archdevil for aid. I laughed inside and decided that’s a great time to introduce the “help” I had prepared as a DM. The wizard arrived being chased by demons, the players helped fight them off and together they hatched a plan to escape the abyss.

Don’t force the cues, prepare them, but wait for the players to trigger them.

In preperation – develop for outcomes

In game – stay detached from the outcomes.

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