Lessons improv can teach you about playing Dungeons & Dragons

Improv acting is when two or more people improvise a scene with one another rather than following a script. You’re always going to find moments in your roleplaying games where you have to make things up on the spot as it’s impossible to plan for everything and improv gives you tools to do exactly that.

I recently finished an 8-week improv course with the folk at Monkey Toast which has been an eye-opening experience. Though the course was focused on improv comedy it has taught me a metric tonne about how to run Dungeons & Dragons games and I wanted to share that golden info with you and tell you how that can translate some improv lessons to your D&D games.

The 3 line scene 

Tabby Kittens on Floral Comforter

The 3 line scene forms the core of improv training. A 3 line scene is exactly that, a scene with 3 lines between two people. Person A will enter the stage with Person B and say a line. Person B will respond to that line and Person A will respond back.

Simple as.

The tricky bit is that within those 3 lines you need to establish the who, the where and the what of the scene. This is for the benefit of your audience and your scene partner. Your audience needs to know where the scene is taking place, who it is taking place between and what it is about. Your scene partner needs this information so they can have the context to be able to respond in the scene. Establishing the who, where and what within the first 3 lines allows the basis of the scene to be formed so you can expand upon it.

The best ‘who’ to lead with is some form of relationship such as mother and daughter, husband and wife or sisters. Everyone can relate to these relationships so they allow your scene partner a lot to build on and mean you don’t have to explain as much to your audience as they already have an idea of what a relationship between a husband and wife might look like. The best ‘where’ is somewhere specific like a doctors waiting room or a supermarket check out. You can draw on a familiar environment to add details to the scene and your audience can immediately understand where you are.  A ‘what’ is also important as it provides context to the scene but it’s a good idea to keep it simple. Drinking tea together is a good enough what, as is simply taking a walk in the park.

This leads to saying sentences that seem an entirely absurd way to actually start a conversation such as, “My dear wife, this is a beautiful day at the beach for us to have a picnic.” In practice you only have 3 lines, you don’t want to waste one of them with ‘You alright?’ or other forms of normal small talk. You’re not going for natural dialogue in improv, you’re going for utility so that you can start swiftly building up the scene.

In D&D that means setting up scenes using dialogue and trying to hit the who, where and what beats. For example..

“Welcome back to the Lion Heads tavern adventurers, I’m the barkeeper Tabatha,  stay and enjoy one of my fine brews.”

Here we have the where, the bar, the who, the barkeeper Tabatha as well as the adventurers and the what, ordering drinks at a tavern they frequent. This quickly and efficiently establishes the scene and does so directly through dialogue in one sentence.

In D&D you do have the luxury of being able to use descriptive prose to narrate these details, however framing them in the form of dialogue allows you to engage players directly through speech whilst also filling them in on pertinent details. Ideally, then your players can add to the scene with their own dialogue and decisions rather than glazing over at your long descriptions.

The 3 line scene can be used in a pinch to explain NPC relationships to the players. If, for example, you have two NPC who are sisters and you’re not sure how to translate that you can say when the players are in earshot of them.

Sister A: ‘Thanks for meeting me in this forest grove sister, it’s a beautiful day to go for a walk.’

Sister B: ‘Yes it is a beautiful day to go for a walk, and I can’t wait to meet to start worshipping Selune.’

Sister A: ‘Yes I do love the way we worship Selune together and sing to her in this glade.’

This dialogue sounds incredibly forced on paper but the point isn’t to channel your inner Shakespeare, it’s to translate the information of the scene, we know from this exchange that there are two sisters, they’re in a forest grove and they’re together to worship their goddess Selune. Setting this up with dialogue allows players to engage with it directly and also gives them the information organically, their characters literally heard it which allows for a more organic response.

The three line scene is your bread and butter, practice it, practice it, practice it.

‘Yes and’

Short-furred Brown Tabby Cat With Open Mouth

‘Yes and’ is the core technique of how to respond in an improv scene. Simply put if someone offers something you agree with it and then add to it with a statement.

If your scene partner says ‘It’s bloody pouring down with rain in the park today.’ You say ‘Yes, it is raining terribly and that’s making it difficult for us to go on our jog.’

You’ve taken what they said, agreed that it’s raining and added detail to it, the fact you’re jogging.  You can never really go wrong with ‘yes and’ in a scene and if ever in doubt simply repeat what your partner just said and add any detail to it and you’ll be able to build the scene. This is called the

In D&D terms that means learning to say yes as much as possible to what the players want to do and then adding detail to what they say. For example…

‘I visit thieves guild in this town.’

‘You do visit the thieves guild, it’s in the basement of the black swan inn and its members all carry poison blades.’

You’ve taken the character’s action, agreed to it and added to it.

What if there isn’t a thieves guild in town? Make one up! That’s why ‘yes and’ is so great because you can constantly add to and build your world through what the players say and do within the game.

Or take an example within a combat scene.

‘I jump on the giant scorpions back and stab it with its own tail!’

‘Yes, and it will suffer poison damage from its own poison!’

You’ve taken a cool thing your player wanted to do and added to it with an extra fun detail that makes narrative sense too.

But what if your system doesn’t have any rules for jumping on a scorpion’s back?

Here is where you apply the principle of ‘rulings, not rules’ to your games which fits snugly with ‘yes and’. The rules of the game will sometimes contradict the actions that players want to attempt and for the most part ignoring those rules in favour of what the players want to do is the better approach as it allows engagement and agency within the game.  Working out an appropriate ruling and applying it rather than worrying about how the system says it should be resolved is a much better approach to running the game. The scorpion fight example could be as simple as an attack roll with a -2 penalty or be resolved with a dexterity check to see if you managed to leap onto the creature’s back followed by an opposed strength check to see if you manage to skewer it. It doesn’t really matter what the resolution is as long as it’s simple and makes sense.

This doesn’t mean you have to discard all rules, or your dice, that’s an important part of the game but the point is to give players a fair chance to attempt all the crazy things they want to do.

Yes and can be a tricky one in D&D because of a couple of factors on both sides of the screen. As a GM you may not want to let go of creative control of the world, you may have a fixed idea of what the world is about and what it isn’t about and so may want to say no to your players coming up with ideas that go against this. Whilst this is understandable if you’ve spent time building your world, I think it’s not the best approach unless the player is being particularly egregious. For the most part, simply saying yes and to everything your players do will keep up a constant momentum in the game and will lead to far fewer moments where everyone is stuck or unsure of what to do as you’re constantly providing a back and forth exchange of ideas.

For a player, the problem with ‘Yes and’ is one of information and expectations. Players tend to be wary of simply making stuff up, D&D is a game of limited information and it tends to be assumed that information belongs to the GM who drip feeds it to the hungry players, so simply adding details to the world isn’t often encouraged.

Certainly, it’s fun to design things and allow players to explore them, the art of drawing a dungeon is exactly that and requires a high degree of planned specificity but that doesn’t mean you can’t improv elements. For example, if a player wants to try to see if there’s a secret tunnel into your dungeon and you hadn’t added one when you designed the dungeon, why not ‘yes and’ the player and say they do find a tunnel that leads to a storage room in the dungeon?  If a players idea makes sense within the context of the world and narrative and you simply hadn’t thought of it there doesn’t seem any good reason not to say yes and see what happens. That might change up some of your planning but the player will be rewarded by being allowed agency.

Many GM’s don’t subscribe to the philosophy of ‘yes and’ and instead tend to have a tightly controlled vision of how the world works and how each session should play out. A lot of players play in these sort of games or play a lot of video games where the world is a defined thing. They’re not used to playing in a game where they have agency and control. It’s your job to tell them directly at the start that this will be a bit different to what they might be used to and you’re going to be saying ‘yes and’ a lot to what they want to do and encourage them to do the same as well. This will lead to an engaging experience.

It’s okay to resist sometimes too

Cat, Fight, Play, Kitten, Siamese Cat, Siamese

Once you’ve internalized the philosophy of ‘yes and’ you can learn when to resist in a scene.

If your scene partner says ‘I’m going to shoot you in this car park, brother .’ *Points gun* and you say ‘Yes bro, I love being shot…’ *Bang* the scenes over.  Resisting in that scene means saying ‘Hang on bro, let’s talk about not shooting me.’  Resisting isn’t the same as blocking. Blocking is denying the reality of the world.  Blocking means saying ‘You don’t have a gun bro.’ Resisting just means reacting as your character might do to such an extreme.

D&D does come with a lot of resistance baked in, there are rules about how the ‘physics’ of the world work such as how far you can jump, there are classes which determine what the character you’re playing can do and you often use dice to determine whether an action succeeds or not. That’s why it’s probably far more important to learn how to say ‘Yes and’ than to worry too much about when to resist in D&D. It’s still something to keep in mind however and especially can come in use when you feel a player is starting to cause problems as it gives you a ‘soft’ way to step in and steer things towards a better direction for everyone than straight just blocking what the player is doing.

There are no mistakes

Picture of Two Cats Playing

Improv involves a lot of silly games. For example ‘What’s on your stupid t-shirt.’ is a game where everyone stands in a circle and chants ‘What’s on your stupid t-shirt’ One person in the circle looks to the other and says any description that comes to mind of what’s on their t-shirt such as ‘A man, flying on a balloon, in a hurricane’ The person who they are talking to responds with a slogan for the t-shirt such as ‘Got wind?’ They then turn to the next person and describe their t-shirt all whilst everyone chants.

The real aim of the game is just to keep the rhythm going whilst positively reinforcing everyone in the game irrespective of what they say through the chanting and cheering, it doesn’t matter if what you say is funny, or clever or even intelligible. Just that you think of an idea and say it. This slowly teaches you not to worry that what you say might somehow be wrong.

Translating this philosophy to the scene, imagine you say some words ‘wrong’. For example you say ‘That’s a belicious tie’ instead of ‘That’s a delicious pie.’ Your partner is showing good form if they respond ‘Yes that is a belicious tie.’ Then someone else can come in, eating a tie and saying ‘Bloody belicious these ties.’  This can now be a world where that’s just how everyone pronounces delicious and people enjoy eating ties. Roll with it, the worst thing you can do is try to correct things or simply freeze up after making a ‘mistake.’

D&D games tend to be full of long-winded names, lore, background. Whilst this type of world building can be great, mistakes are going to happen and the truth is these mistakes don’t matter. If you create the village of Hobbiton but pronounce it Fobbington then just let it be the village of Fobbington. If you get a rule wrong in the moment, just leave it be, it’s better to have a consistent ruling that is ‘wrong’ but keeps the game going than it is to slow down the game to a crawl as you look up rules and forums for an answer. You can, of course, check and correct it later if you must but at the moment just let it be.

There can be a lot of fear in playing D&D that you’ll make a mistake too. Mistakes in D&D can be costly in game terms, your character can die and maybe your friend’s characters might die from a bad decision you make. But when you step back does it actually matter if your fictional character gets killed? Can’t you just make another character? You don’t literally die like Blackleaf. Then when you consider the consequences of making no decision, that the game doesn’t move forward, that nothing happens, that you just have it seems apparent to just make a decision whatever it is.

Except sometimes there are mistakes

Black and White Cat in a Tree

Improv is Zen. It follows the principle of dialectical thinking as you have to hold two things in your mind that are both true but both contradictory. For example that there are no mistakes, but there are also mistakes.

The real ‘mistakes’ are when you break your scene principles.

The biggest Neddy no is blocking. Blocking is when you deny the reality of the scene. For example, if your partner enters the scene and says ‘Good morning brother, it’s a fine day to be ice skating on the Thames.’ and you respond ‘You’re not my brother and we’re in a supermarket.’ You’ve just collapsed the scene as now one or both of you have to be crazy for the scene to work and there’s nothing to build upon.

Blocking in the context of D&D leads to equally messy moments and you can attribute a lot of r/rpghorrorstories to this. For example, if a character wants to make an attack with their magical sword and you decide actually their magical sword is a cursed sword without giving them any forewarning or chance to discover the fact, then you’re blocking. To a degree, the same goes for giving false information, if a player wants to seek treasure and you tell them of a location that has treasure and it turns out the treasure isn’t real and you gave them no indication of that anywhere you’re blocking. I’d argue this applies to fudging dice too. If a player rolls a critical hit that kills you big bad evil boss, then let the big bad evil boss die to the lucky hit. Don’t block the player by ass-pulling some save or saying it doesn’t happen just because you want your NPC to survive.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have secrets or that characters can’t lie to the players, but you have to broadcast that in the reality of the world and the scenes in your game, not as a silly ‘gotcha’ moment that just makes the player seem stupid for no reason. It’s far better to aggressively ‘yes and’ your players than it is to block them.

Just make a fucking decision

Black and White Cat Near

There’s a little anxiety demon that lives inside me and tells me that I’m going to fail, that I’m going to get fired, that I’m going to die alone, that I should probably just never go outside or better yet kill myself. When I listen too hard to that demon I end up in a state of analysis paralysis, it becomes safer to head the demons warnings and not act than it is to do something and suffer the horrendous, life breaking, crippling consequences of failure it keeps whispering at me. So I stare with my resting terror face and do…nothing. What’s failed is that even choosing not to act is still acting and often, especially in the case of improv, the worst choice to make as it means just standing staring silently at an audience doing nothing. Instead, don’t listen to that voice, don’t give it a chance to grow larger and just make a decision.

I understand how hard this is. We tend to be raised in our society through our education systems especially to believe that we must not make mistakes. Any mistake we do make will be met with the harshest of consequences. If you fail your GCSE Maths exam you’re probably going to die homeless and alone without any teeth. As discussed we can instead hold the ideas and just make a decision. Improv has been personally incredibly useful in quelling that demon inside me and it’s associated social programming.

I’d often find myself paralysed making even inconsequential decisions like what to have for dinner, or the wording of some e-mail I wanted to send at work. This wastes huge amounts of time and energy and often lead to me staring at a computer monitor doing nothing productive at work or just binging on crisps for dinner because they were in front of me and I didn’t have to make a complex decision about them. I find myself now able to far more quickly make these choices in my day to day life and it’s had an amazing.

In D&D terms players are notorious for throwing log sized hammers into your well thought out adventure design leaving you gaping slack-jawed in the moment for a way to resolve what is happening. For example, you’ve set up a scene involving your big evil villain Balaxor the Great and your player decides to screw it and attacks them even though you thought that was the last thing they’d do just let it be. This might mean that character or the entire group dying horribly at the hands of Balaxor or that might mean your party getting lucky and slaying Balaxor. Either way don’t sweat it. Just make a decision on how to proceed. The same goes for if a player puts you on the spot about a detail of the world you don’t know anything about, like the name of some character or the types of magic weapons a shop sells or what lurks inside the nearby forest, just make something up and roll with it.

Improv teaches you that the first idea that comes into your head tends to far more often than not be the best, so just trust your instincts and roll with it. Making a decision is far superior to making no decision and learning to trust yourself and your judgement is paramount to keeping the game going. It’s good to take time to reflect of course but that can happen afterwards, during the moment just act.

Don’t ask questions, make statements

White Tan Cat

Questions put the pressure to advance the scene on your scene partner whilst removing any responsibility in the scene from you. They tend to come across to an audience as awkward and they force your partner to carry the scene. You’re meant to know what is happening in a scene, even if you don’t.

A moment I still feel a cringe about in my classes. I was given the word ‘glue’ to start. I laid on the ground and shouted ‘Why are we glued to the floor?”. Haha right?

I immediately felt my mistake and I’d given us both an uphill struggle in the scene. I’d entirely forgotten to establish my who and my where and had left the ‘what’ to my scene partner. A better approach would have been to just straight up make a statement like ‘Darling, we seem to have glued ourselves to our kitchen floor.’ Now we have a scene between a couple who are glued to their kitchen floor and that you can work with, even if it’s gone to crazy town a little too soon.

In D&D I must admit I fall back on this one as a DM. If I don’t know something I’ll spin it back to the player and put the onus on them to create that aspect of the world. This can be a good technique to use at times in D&D as its good to encourage players to add to the world and make it their own. However, it can also just lead to dead air, confusion and players who don’t feel engaged. For example, if your wizard asks you if there’s a mages guild in town, you can say ‘You’re the wizard, you tell me?’ Which works but puts the onus on the player to do the legwork. A stronger response would be something like ‘Yes, there is a wizards guild in town and they specialise in summoning magic.’  You’ve now given the player something to bite into and they can expand upon that nugget, this serves the goal of expanding the world and gives the player the information they wanted.

If you ask too many questions in games you risk not adding anything to the world yourself and as a DM you want to be adding to the world as much as possible in the game by using ‘yes and’ with your players rather than simply flipping the responsibility back to them. That doesn’t mean there’s not room for questions, D&D can get a bit complicated at times and questions to clarify are normal and useful tools but leaning on endless questions too often means you are paralyzed in actually making decisions.

Space Work

timothy-meinberg-248173-unsplash

Space work is what you are physically pretending to do within the environment of your scene. If you have a scene in a kitchen you can mime making a cup of tea as though you are really doing that. It’s good practice to be authentic with your motions, that means moving your hands as though you physically have that object in them. That also means remembering you have that object in your hands so you don’t accidentally ‘drop’ it when you move on to do something else.

I found this painfully difficult to maintain as I feel gifted with two left feet and a pair of wobbly arms but forced myself to try to keep it up in scenes I found remembering to maintain scene work made it easier for me to come up with fresh ideas within a scene, there’s something about simply moving that makes our brains work more. That’s why you might find you have some of your best ideas whilst exercising.  Such physicality also adds to what your audience can see is happening within a scene which adds texture to the ‘where’ and the ‘what’ of the scene. Scenework is a great gift to give to your scene partner as well as they can physically ‘yes and’ you by imitating your movements and adding their own spin to it which makes the scene come alive to the audience.

If you want to bring a character to life adding some scene work into your D&D games can really spice it up. This can be as simple as miming the NPC the players are talking to periodically sipping from their mug of ale, or even something more complex like a street performer juggling as they chat to the players. It doesn’t really matter what the thing is as long as you keep it up consistently you’ll draw your players in. You can encourage your players to do the same as well and bringing spacework to their character will really help place them within the context of the scene and the environment their characters inhabit.

The scene isn’t about what you’re doing

Cat, In The Free, Nature, Pet, Eat, Striped, Animal

A scene that is simply about what is happening can come across as dull to an audience. If you’re a pair of firemen fighting a blaze the scene can’t be entirely about fighting a fire, it needs to go deeper, like how Fireman Bill just feels inadequate because he’s not as popular as Fireman Sam who gets all the TV spots. It’s now no longer about firefighting, it’s about rivalry which everyone can relate to.

A teaching scene is probably the most common example of how a scene can turn into just being about what is happening. Teaching scenes are common as they emerge from the good advice of creating characters with familiar relationships. Often relationships such as student and teacher or mother and son come with an implied power dynamic. These scenes can quickly fall into the person with authority simply telling the subordinate what to do and the student just doing the thing. This gets old pretty fast.

You can prevent this by finding ways within a scene to flip it from what it is about to the more interesting character relationships and internal relationships. There’s a great example of this in a scene by the House of Lies improv group. The scene is about a lighthouse keeper teaching a new recruit how the job works. Watching it you can tell the moment when the performer playing the lighthouse keeper realises they’re done with the ‘what’ of the scene and just comes straight out with ‘If you’re asking me if it can get lonely, yeah, yeah.’ This is gold as now the scene is about how lonely it is to be a lighthouse keeper which is exactly the kind of character details you want to explore in a scene.

D&D scenes often fall into being about what is happening. The game is designed around killing monsters, traversing dungeons, exploring the wilderness, completing quests, finding treasure and so on. It, therefore, becomes easy to focus on the ‘what’ when running a game. Yet when we talk about roleplaying a character we’re not really talking about what the character does, we’re talking about what makes the character who they are, the choices the character makes and how that character relates to other characters within the world.

D&D has a hard time with this. Games tend to be fractured into ‘combat scenes’ and ‘roleplay scenes’ and never the twain shall meet. Ideally, you should be able to merge them into one whole but it’s difficult in practice. The opening scene in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is a  wonderful example of how to do it. The scene is about them fighting a big horrible monster, but in practice, it’s actually about who they are as characters and how they relate to one another. Starlord reveals his ego in wanting to be the ‘gun guy’ and how that relates to his relationship with Gamora. His ego goes on to be one of the themes of the entire film. Gamora reveals her pragmatism in trying to tie the team together and actually focus on the plan. Drax shows his obliviousness in eventually leaping into the beast’s mouth wrongly believing it can only be killed from the inside. Rocket shows his antagonistic, detached but oddly playful nature in defending his choice to focus on making sure the music system works for their fight.  The big monster fight is literally a backdrop to the interesting thing, the characters.

In practical terms in the midst of D&D combat players are going to be looking through their abilities, working out what move to make next, rolling dice, calculating damage and so on. This doesn’t leave heaps of room but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. The simplest way to do this is simply to ask the characters not only what they want to do but how they feel. This ideally will go a long way towards influencing what they do and fleshing out even a combat scene to be about the characters rather than the stabbing. Beyond this you want to always be looking out for moments when you can flip a scene away from being about ‘the what’ and into being able the characters. That might mean your arch-villain confessing the weight of responsibility they feel in plotting to take over the world, using a character failing to disarm a trap as a way to see how that character deals with failure or using combat to see how the characters feel about one another when the shit hits the fan.

Be Boring

Cat, Tired, Nap, Yawn, Tongue, Cute

There’s a temptation in both improv and running D&D to either be funny or make something explode.

Both are not an ideal approach. It’s better to embrace being boring.

If you have a bomb about to go off it’s pretty binary how that works out, either it explodes or it doesn’t. If however, you set up a scene about two bomb disposal experts who are just choosing what cereal to have in a supermarket, like the scene at the end of Hurt Locker,  that becomes a whole lot more interesting as you can now explore the characters as they try to deal with a cereal-based existential crisis. Trying too hard to be funny just doesn’t work either as you end up risking hogging the spotlight and driving the scene too quickly to crazy town, breaking your principles in order to simply get a quick laugh.

The secret is that your scene is going to crazy town eventually but if you start it with the bomb exploding or by making some hilarious joke then the scenes already over. Same goes for D&D. Your game is going to get to a crazy climactic point at some point as your players fend off orcs or fight a dragon. Your game is also going to be full of funny moments that will just occur naturally, attempting to force jokes tends to come off as immersion breaking and kind of sloppy.

Instead, slow things down, focus on specific, mundane details like what type of tea someone is drinking, the shape of the individual runes on a character’s sword or the herb encrusted chicken that the tavern sells. There’s always a fear that doing this that your players or an audience will become bored. In practice, it’s often far from boring as they’re actually drawn into the scene by these seemingly mundane details and able to organically engage with the world.

I’ve been embracing this in my game set in Neverwinter and it’s worked out well. Players ended up doing exciting things like sitting in a cafe talking and sitting in a waiting room…waiting.  But the former led them to crash a wedding in which a character exploded out of the cake and the latter led them to meet a perfumed crime-lord who they arranged part of a heist with. This has allowed the game to breathe, the characters to come up with their own ideas and the world to be fleshed out a lot more than if I’d just made a thing explode for the players to procedurally deal with.

Play games

Kittens in a pot 2

There’s all manner of games you can play in improv. A classic is the ‘one-up’ game that can be seen in Monty Python’s classic Four Yorkshiremen sketch.  In this sketch, four men from Yorkshire sit around a table and reminiscence about their tough upbringings. These stories get progressively more absurd as they all attempt to one-up each other until they’re all waking up in bins, being sprayed with fish guts and working 26 hours a day.

Finding a game like this within your scene is gold as it’s great to watch and is really easy to set up and build with your scene partner. Such status battles can also reveal a lot about the characters involved, in the case of the Four Yorkshiremen they all believe they’ve had a tough upbringing and earned the wealth they now have and that kids these days have never had it so good. You can inject this into your D&D games by finding status battles to play between your players and the NPC’s or between the players themselves.

Imagine a scene between two warriors boasting.

‘Just got done killing some Orcs Henry, time for a fine drink in this tavern.’

‘Oh you killed some Orcs did you, Arthur, that’s cute, reminds me of the time I killed 3 trolls without even wearing armour.’

‘Trolls aye, that’s interesting, reminds me of the time I killed 10 ogres, while blindfolded and standing on one leg.’

You get the idea! This scene could lead to a duel between the warriors, or a quest to find even bigger things to fight or simply an interesting piece of banter that fleshes the characters out.

Another great game is ‘knee to knee.’ In knee to knee, you sit facing knee to knee with someone and make sure you maintain eye contact with them. The eye contact is vital and this game teaches you the value of it and how when you’re in a scene and unsure how to proceed simply locking eyes with your partner can make it much easier on both of you.

One of you starts to tell a story about a fictional day you had, as though the other were a close friend you were telling this story to. It’s encouraged that the story should start in as mundane a way as possible such as ‘I woke up and brushed my teeth.’

The partner in the game responds with a ‘yes and’ statement about what was just said and adds to it as though they have an omnipotent knowledge of their friend and their day. So you’d add to the above by saying ‘Yes, you did brush your teeth and then you washed your face in the mirror.’  Then the person who started the story responds ‘Yes I did wash my face in the mirror and then I got dressed in my suit to go to work’.

It’s worth remembering you’re not actually in the scene you’re talking about, you’re just friends talking about it. It’s good to keep those little leaps small and the details as mundane too, you don’t want to go straight from waking up to skydiving with alligators. It’s fascinating how starting a story like this in a mundane way, such as waking up to get cereal, can end with being chased into the Thames by a horde of toast eating cats.

Knee to knee is a great game to add to D&D. You can use it as a character building exercise, simply sit down with a player and get them to talk about a day in their characters life. You can respond with your ‘yes and’ statement and build this up until you have a fleshed out mini-story about the character which will reveal lots of interesting details about them. You can also use it between a character and an NPC if you want to flesh out that NPC in more detail by having the NPC recount a story and the player add to that.

Trust

Person Carrying Black Cat

Trust is a hard one in both improv and D&D. Trusting your players not to run roughshod over your world by giving them control is tough. Trusting yourself to be able to come up with good ideas in a scene tough. Forcing yourself not to correct everything or try to make immediate sense of it and to just let it be in the moment is tough. Learning to trust is a really difficult one but one that you can teach yourself through time, patience and practice. It takes putting a lot of the above techniques together, especially the fear, as often a lack of trust is a fear that someone else will make mistakes and that will somehow negatively impact you. It means letting go and being able to trust that you have the support you need and everything will be okay.

 

gray cat standing in two feet

And those are the stupid things I’ve learned doing improv! I’m excited for the next 8 weeks where I’ll be advancing on the techniques I’ve learned in ‘Level 2’ of the course I’d also offer my hearty recommendation of Monkey Toast so check them out. I’d also like to thank all my fab ‘Just be Barbara’ improv gang who have been delightful to work with.

Have you had any experience using improv in your games? Let me know @lines_panny or e-mail me at linesp06@gmail.com

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