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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 30 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: When improvization fails. What do you do when you 'got nuthin'?  (Read 2907 times)
Graham W
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« Reply #15 on: March 14, 2011, 03:13:59 PM »

Steve,

I think that being creative, on your own, is actually quite difficult. (In Play Unsafe, I take a very positive tone, but doing it on your own is hard.)

Here are some circumstances that make it easier:

1. When everyone else is doing it too. That way, everyone's improvising, building on each other's ideas. Try to do it on your own, in a traditional GMing-a-scenario role, and it's difficult. It might work if...

2. There are strong genre expectations. For example, in Call of Cthulhu, when the Investigators ask an ally for help, he will get out some books to help them research. In Lacuna, the friend in authority is obviously a double agent. With strong genre expectations, you can improvise all day.

Further examples! As a GM, Poison'd is easy to improvise, because you simply set the players against each other. Lacuna is easy to GM in a different way, because of those genre expectations.

It sounds to me as though you were trying to improvise a plot, by yourself, in a weakly-defined setting. That is very difficult. It sounds, too, as though the plot was drifting long before you ran out of ideas: the thugs failed to capture the PCs, so they went to someone in authority...that sounds like a drifting plot, to me. So I suspect things went wrong before you ran out of ideas.

Can I ask you a question? Were you desperately trying to think of creative, amazing things to happen? (Your comment on Bangs makes it sound as though you were.) That is often a recipe for disaster. One of the main ideas, in Play Unsafe, is that you should be obvious.

Thus, if it's obvious a fight should happen, have a fight. (You can always cut straight to the end of the fight or something.) If it's obvious the friend-in-authority should betray them, then he should betray him; but if it's obvious he should help them, then he should help them.

What do you think? I hope some of that helps.
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stefoid
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« Reply #16 on: March 14, 2011, 06:29:20 PM »

Hi Graham.

What do you mean by drifting plot?  I mean, the 'plot' sure was drifting, but thats because it didnt exist.  I was improvising, hoping to come up with stuff I could reintegrate at a later date that would make everything seem coherent.  And yes, I was working almost alone in that regard.  The two times players did make suggestions, I was el-stupido and hosed them because I couldnt see where they could possibly go.   Even though I had nowhere to go anyway :(
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stefoid
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« Reply #17 on: March 14, 2011, 06:39:42 PM »


Can I ask you a question? Were you desperately trying to think of creative, amazing things to happen? (Your comment on Bangs makes it sound as though you were.) That is often a recipe for disaster. One of the main ideas, in Play Unsafe, is that you should be obvious.


Actually I was keeping in my mind 'be obvious', having just read your text.  The trouble was (it seemed to me at the time) that I was in danger of duplicating the previous conflict where thugs attempt to catch party member because they failed to the first time.  And that would be lame and boring (it seemed to me at the time). 

So in retrospect, yes I was trying to be less than obvious by not being repetitive, even though being repetitive in this situation was logical -- the thug-hirer hadnt (whoever the @#$@ that was) changed his desires, so would keep trying.  So I tried 'switching it up' which in retrospect was a rubbish instinct - first of all I railroaded the players, which meant there was no conflict and no opportunity for them to find their own way out of the situation.  2nd of all, (and I just thought of this) had the players managed to capture one of the thugs, they could have interrogated him.  I guess the problem with that scenario is that I had absolutely no idea what such a thug might say, since I didnt know why he was there in the first place. 

If I had of prepped an antagonist with some motives, I could have happily had a captured thug advance the plot for them
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David Berg
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« Reply #18 on: March 14, 2011, 09:48:02 PM »

Hi Steve,

I love improv GMing (most of the time), and have a long list of techniques that I somewhat haphazardly match to situations as they come up.  Here are a few that I think might help with what you've described in this thread (my browser won't read your googledoc):

Let it Ride
I was trying to be less than obvious by not being repetitive, even though being repetitive in this situation was logical
Instead of trouble-shooting that, make sure it doesn't come up in the first place!  When the players escape capture the first time, the "Let it Ride" principle says that they stay uncaptured.  For me, this means that I have to justify that during the initial escape.  "As you get away, you see that the badguys dropped the device they've been using to find you.  You can now mess with it and send them on wild goose chases."

Ask for a Plan
The best friend of "Tell me more", in my opinion.  Getting the players to spell out what they intend to do allows you to ponder responses.  Hearing what they think will work gives you material!  If it makes sense to them, much of the time it should make sense to you too!  Ask, "Are you taking any precautions to avoid X?" and then invent X as per their response!

As for the kidnapping, I might be reading into what was wrong with that in this game, but here are the three GM best practices that I would turn to in that situation:

Coercion Bad, Opportunities Good
I suck at improvising fun demands on the players.  "You have to do this, or you die / the world ends / etc.!"  What I find easier is to just fling random leads at character flags until something sticks.  "Here, this might be a way toward getting something you want.  And over here, there's another way.  And over here, there's something for a different thing you want."

Storm Warnings
It's the converse of flinging opportunities the players can jump on or not; fling threats they can deal with or not.  For example, give away the kidnappers' presence well before a fight is mandated.  Does the player deal with them here and now, or elsewhere, later?

Signal Value
Of course, no one will jump at your opportunities until they know what they stand to gain by pursuing them!  So try to signal that.  Likewise for your threats -- broadcast why they need to be stopped/averted!

It sounds like you're leaning toward more prep to help with a lot of your problems.  It sounds like you have some good ideas for that, but man, if your goal was to have a low-prep, improv-heavy game, I hope you go for that!
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stefoid
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« Reply #19 on: March 15, 2011, 02:24:02 AM »

Thanks Dave, I like those.

Do you think prepping a couple of antagonists and their motives is overly preppy?  Still dont know what will happen, but sometimes I will know why.
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David Berg
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« Reply #20 on: March 15, 2011, 12:03:13 PM »

I'm a big fan of knowing why!  And yeah, I often use prep for that myself.  I think it's possible to prep the barest basics, like a single word for a motive, and then flesh them out naturally in play with improv. 

Giving the GM lists, tables or charts to roll on, or images to interpret, can be a prep time-saver.  I have a list of connections ("destroys", "shows the way to", "amplifies", etc.) I occasionally roll on to link my elements to each other.
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Ross Cowman
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« Reply #21 on: March 15, 2011, 03:04:53 PM »

When your brain fails, use the player's brain. But don't let them know you are doing it.
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David Berg
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« Reply #22 on: March 16, 2011, 11:15:55 AM »

You got any precise techniques for that, Ross?
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