The Rules of Sharing Narrative Control (and Improv)

Sharing narrative control requires a set of skills that are not too different from the skills used in theatrical improvisation (a.k.a. improv).

I’ve done a bit of improv in my younger days and I wonder if and how the « rules » of improv can be applied to DMing.

Improv is an interesting beast. It is cooperative as much as it is competition. You cannot beat your opponent without working with him.

And even while you are striving to win the competition, you are still both striving to provide a good show for the audience.

You need to collaborate with your « opponent ». Its the friendliest and most collaborative type of competition I’ve ever participated in.

No wonder most improv games end up at a pub over a beer!

Rule 1 – Always say « yes »

When sharing, accepting is always better than refusing. This is not a fight, its a collaborative effort.

Rule 2- « Yes, and… »

You want to build atop other participant’s ideas… so add your own.

Rule 3 – Don’t block

In improv, the flow must always go. The most common mean of blocking is saying « no » – outright refusing or ignoring what the other participants are bringing in is downright rude.

Rule 4 – Provide details

Establishing location, delve into the motivations of characters, add subtle « useless » information. This will give fuel to the other’s creativity.

In improv, the winner is not always the one saying the punchline. Anyone who ever wrote comedy knows that the setup is the actual hard part.

Furthermore, as a DM, you should pride yourself at a great setup and allowing your players the joy of the « punchline »…

Rule 5 – Change

Change is what makes a story interesing. Without change, nothing happens. Change makes things go forward. You must not be afraid of it…

Rule 6 – Letting go

By far the hardest part of the game for me. I often came in with a plan, an idea – a plot. And when I did that, I always ended up with a supbar improv.

My plans actually prevented me from actually observing and building upon what the other players were doing. With experience, I learned to use my plan as a guideline only – it no longer prevented me from listening to others, as I had no qualms about changing it or downright letting it go… which I ended up doing almost all the time.

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Les commentaires de 4 sur “The Rules of Sharing Narrative Control (and Improv)

  1. Delving deeper into the subject, I see! Good! It really merits further discussion, this legendary « sharing »-concept.

    I think you tackled the rules nicely there; the whole « accepting before blocking » thing has never really crossed my mind that much. But I will certainly give it some thought the next time I gather my players around the table.

    Speaking of which, on the 28th-30th, we’re having a marathon. Everyone is off from work, no girlfriends, no social obligations, no school, just playing. I am the GM, and I have prepared even less than what I usually prepare for a few hour’s session. I did it intentionally, since I need a little improv-practice. It’s also a great opportunity to practice sharing the narrative control. I’ve prepped the action scenes I really want to do, but they can be implemented for any combat, and that’s about it! I’ll try and remember these rules!

  2. @Flying Dutchman :

    Glad you’re intrigued by the concept 🙂  (Hopefully its more than a red herring…)

    I described the rules of improv and forgot to reflect a bit more on how (and if) they apply to DMing.  I think it works fairly well… I’m not sure if I always saying yes is actually a good thing for DMing, but I believe that seriously considering saying yes is.

    You next session sounds exciting!  I hope to hear about the results of your sharing tests!!

  3. The promised feedback 😀

    I had a three-day session, and winged it, I had prepared for about the first two hours, just storyline, no combat encounters. After that, it was completely free form. I decided to give my players a lot of options, and let them choose which one they liked best. After that, I listened even more intently than usually when they were consulting to draw inspiration from their discussion, and used this more than once, altering my own (improvized) plans to better suit their expectations. Usually, when the players have a drawn out discussion, I use the time to quickly update my story notes (so I can keep the campaign log intact), so I had to insert more coffee breaks and stuff to compensate for the loss, but the result was worth it.

    I must say, that not having a clear idea for yourself what might happen (having not prepared a lot), D&D kind of becomes likes going out with some friends without any idea what’s going to happen and where you’re going. Random nights out are usually much better than admission-paid and long-before-planned parties, which usually don’t live up to expectations. Same with the game, I guess. I had nothing to hold on to, so I fed off the ideas of others, plus what I thought would be cool, not paying attention to too much details and let everything move at the speed of plot. But I did notice that you have to pass it off as if everything is going as you, the GM, had planned. If you hesitate, players immediately get less immersed. This happened two or three times, and it sucked.

    I also had to stimulate the players a bit more to discuss. Sometimes, our group falls in disarray, everyone starts yelling what they do, and there is zero cooperation. When that happens, I chose to kill the reality and told players to agree to action beforehand, so players had long discussion while « in game » they were in the heat of battle, and such discussion would have been impossible. You have to allow your players to toy around with this a little, and not take the « in game » situation too seriously, or you might not be able to get a clear idea of what they’re expecting from the current encounter and use their ideas to make everything generally more awesome.

    Way too long story, but it was great, I heartily recommend winging it much and much more to all GM’s; let go of your own specific expectations, plots and plans, let the story roll naturally, GM’s should not be writing a book or telling a story, they should play with everything. Hence the name « role-playing GAME ».

    And one last thing… Watch it with some players, if you use their ideas too much, then everything goes as they imagined it would, and they start getting all high and mighty, assuming some leadership position over the group. This can be a bad thing, so….

    Rocks fall, everybody dies.

  4. @Flying Dutchman :

    Woah!  Thanks for sharing that!  I’m so glad it went well!!

    What you mention about players being afraid of runining the GM’s game by not following the « script » is quite interesting!

    I do agree that completely free sessions can be very cool!  I don’t know if I’d like  »all » the sessions to run like that, though.

    I think there’s some kind of equilibrium to strike there – having your planned scenario is good, being opened to it getting radically changed by player actions or suggestions is even better.

    Players feeling godlike should be easy to handle – all suggestions do not have to actually be accepted; and even them not exactly as proposed.

    Kinda like we used to handle the old « wish » spell.

    Sharing control doesn’t mean relinquishing it – just using player ideas as fuel for your own imagination. 

    I think most pleayers usually like having their ideas used and twisted in suprising and cool ways.

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