Improvising

A skill that is a near necessity for any narrator is the ability to improvise. Things constantly happen that you will be unprepared for. Players are unpredictable by nature and so it is on the narrator to be ready to adapt and improvise. What happens if the characters are on a train and one decides to randomly through the conductor into the furnace? Or if the team decides to kill the King and try to usurp the throne instead of going to rescue the princess for him? These questions can come up often depending on the group. Because of this it’s important for the narrator to be ready and capable of improvising on the spot.

 

Improvising comes in a variety of forms. The most common is story improvisation. Most narrators try to have a plane for what will happen and what to do in case of different outcomes. But the truth is you can never predict everything. So narrators are often faced with how to continue their story in the face of player actions. If the players have done something weird but not story breaking then make sure to fluidly tie it back in. They’ve killed the conductor but luckily the train can still operate on its own or there is someone in the passenger compartment that can at least run up and pull the emergency brake. Or perhaps the party now realizes that the train is heading towards a dead end and have to figure out how to stop it lest they have to abandon it. Depending on why they’re there this can be good or bad. If they’re trying to kill someone on board crashing the train certainly accomplishes that. If they’re trying to steal stuff on it then killing the conductor and pulling the brake allows them to isolate the train from help. The key is to not allow the story to end because they went off script. If the players decide to do something completely breaking like killing the king then it might be worth considering if it’s really so important to follow the original story. If the party show a clear want to deviate then it’s possible that the original story plan just doesn’t excite them. In cases like these it is often more fun and fulfilling to improvise and change the story to fit their actions than it is to force them back onto the story you want to tell. Talking to them beforehand or at the moment they try it is the best idea but if you decide to go with it the story can now become about them having to fight the royal guards and secure new political alliances to hold the throne. They might also face a civil war or a rebellion if their hold is strong enough. Then they have to deal with the politics and they might find that running the kingdom is not as fun as they thought it would be. Or perhaps the princess they left to die frees herself and launches her own coup to try and retake the throne. Perhaps she talks to her kidnapper and they agree to lend their forces to help her retake the throne in return for some territory so now the enemies the narrator made don’t go to waste but are instead put on the offense, rather than the defense. Improvising the story can lead to interesting and fun developments that feel more natural and wouldn’t be possible in a railroaded story.

 

The second most common improvisation is mechanics improvisation. These improvisations will usually result in house rules being formed but are improvisations of necessity. Unlike the story improvisations the mechanical improvisations are unavoidable. Eventually someone will want to do something that the book doesn’t explicitly cover. In these cases you can either outright reject them or adapt the rules to handle what they want to do. Often times the thing they want to do is perfectly reasonable and there is no good reason to deny them. Games like Shadowrun have a rule for everything and so this problem rarely surfaces. Games like Star Wars though are more general. And so it’s usually about determining the skill and difficulty for something. A character wants to do research on the holonet for someone? Well research isn’t a skill really so you choose the skill based on what they’re researching. If they’re researching Tatooine then it’s Outer Rim skill but if it’s about a convict on the run and the character has to look through multiple chatrooms to find the right info then it could be Skullduggery or Underworld. Some might just use the Computers skill to cover all interactions with a computer but it’s possible that a character who doesn’t necessarily know how to hack can still be good at googling. So sometimes it’s better to improvise them using a different skill than normal. Mechanical improvisations are focused on letting the players do more. It’s about saying yes to a player’s request and adding or bending the rules to allow it. Obviously if their request is ridiculous you have the right to say no. No, you cannot use the Force to grab a Star Destroyer and slam it into the Death Star. But it’s about having more fun and telling an interesting story and so if the players want to try something different there’s little harm in allowing it. It also prevents the game from shutting down while the narrator pours over multiple books for the right rule. They can improv a rule and then research the right way later.

 

Improvisation is something that is developed over time and usually comes once a narrator is intimately familiar with a system and world. Once they’re familiar with it they know enough to add additional content at a moment’s notice. Once it is developed it is a skill that can make a good narrator a superb narrator and is a skill useful for far more than just role play. The ability to improvise and adapt is invaluable in a constantly changing world. The world is unpredictable and so are players so once you have it down never let it go.

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