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.

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The nat 20 meme or how I stopped worrying and learned to love saying yes.

I was reading this post over on r/dnd and became filled with a deep well of sadness. The player in question was arguing that the idea that the player can do something really cool or interesting on the roll of a nat 20 was an awesome thing as it actually allowed them for a brief, joyous moment, to have some agency and narrative control over the game they are roleplaying in.

I realised this is the reality of play for many players. Like cattle being gently ushered to slaughter they must follow the choreographed series of gates that eventually leads to the GM putting a metal bolt through their head. The only way they can at least make this journey vaguely entertaining is by declaring that they actually want to temporarily escape the confines of the slaughterhouse walls imposed upon them. The dice offer a 5% chance of them at least being able to temporarily breathe air before they are once again herded back towards the bolt pistol.

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Oh fuck tomorrow’s game night.


Game night is tomorrow. You want to do some prep but time is limited. What should you put your effort into and what shouldn’t you?

What to Prep


Having a linked structure allows you to create depth even in a prep lite game.

I’m a big fan of the three clue rule as popularised by the Gumshoe system and this blog over at the Alexandrian. Effectively you think of three interesting things the players may investigate in your scenario and link them together so that each of them has 2 clues that each link to the other ones.

These things could be fairly abstracted such as town, dungeon, forest near town, caverns in the forest. Or you can go highly specific, such as a single NPC, an event such as an assassination or one house in your village. Naturally, a mix of both works too.


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Oh fuck it’s game night.

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.

Continue reading Oh fuck it’s game night.