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.