The style of game mastery that I personally use at the table tends to heavily rely upon improvisation. This doesn’t mean I ignore preparation in favor of making everything up on the spot. I simply utilize a skill that I’ve developed over the decade or so that I’ve been running these kind of games, allowing me to not need as much preparation as I would otherwise.
Like any skill one might have, the ability to improvise behind the screen can be improved through practice. Today, I’ll present some advice on how to do this.
The first thing you should do to improve your improv capabilities is pretty straightforward: trust yourself. I know that sounds kind of corny, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You have to trust your abilities as a storyteller, believing that you will make logical decisions that will move the session forward, weaving a tale together with your friends. This is probably the biggest hurdle you will have to overcome to enhance your improv skills, but once you do, it will make everything else easier.
Secondly, prepare for the unexpected. This doesn’t mean you should try to prepare for every possibility that could even remotely happen during the game. That is an impossible endeavor. Instead, I’m suggesting you collect some “prop materials” you can utilize at a moment’s notice during a game. These are things like generic NPC stat blocks or pre-constructed encounters that you can re-tool on the fly to cover the majority of unexpected scenarios with very minimal effort.
The third piece of advice: remember to use”yes, and…” & “yes, but…”. One of the most important rules of improv is to always say yes to your partner, building upon their suggestion to further the scene. I suggest adopting a similar, yet slightly altered, version of this rule. When your players do something, try to respond with either “yes, and…” or “yes, but…” Build off their suggestions, incorporate them into the story of the session, make them feel like a part of the process. The trick is to make the continuation as logical as possible, making everything flow as naturally.
These are meant to be very broad suggestions to help you start improving your improvisational skills. I also suggest you remember to take extra notes during the session so you can actually remember what you created during it. I guarantee you will forget good chunks of it within a few minutes of the session’s end. Keeping notes is important regardless of whether you rely upon improv or not, but especially true if you do.
Do you have any improv tips or tricks of your own?