In my final year of university I decided to knuckle down on a really long and complex piece of work that I felt my experience had built myself up to. No it wasn’t my dissertation. It was a massively open world Dungeons and Dragons game. I was going to have five different continents , dozens of factions all vying for power over one another. Dragon Kings of the North and Warrior monks of the east. The world would have its own complex pantheon and creation myths from the bottom up. The players could be anything they wanted, do anything they wanted. The world was going to live , act and react around them. In fact I was going to run multiple groups in the world at the same time and they’d see the effects of one another an be able to interact. It was ambitious, beautiful, mind exploding.
Unsurprisingly this didn’t exactly come to fruition especially as it coincided with the break up of a five year relationship and my rapid descent into mental health hell.
I called a hiatus on my group for a period. See I didn’t want to run as the goals I had set for myself above I realised were impossible in my current state. Of course they were also virtually impossible from the get go but I’ve a bad habit of my ambition never matching my actual capacity. My group eventually badgered me to just run a session and I went fuck it and did exactly that.
It was through this process that I learned how to improvise. For about half the year I ran a weekly , 6 hour ( God I miss university) D&D game with no prep what so ever. Before this I’d always meticulously planned my games. It wasn’t uncommon for me to bring a 3000 word document of prep to every session. So it was quite a step out of my comfort zone to say the least.
Yet I managed it and in the process I learned that I could carry a group through session after session with nothing but a stack of books, some hastily printed off maps and my wits and guile. Also probably a lot of cider.
The best part about improvisation is that you go to a session with as little idea as the players what they’re going to encounter and what will emerge from the various choices made at the table allowing you to be just as excited as they are. Emergent gameplay is a wonderful thing to behold and allows a group to stitch together memorable stories and adventures.
So I share with you now some of my tips on improvisation.