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Winging It 
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Joined: Mon Mar 16, 2009 4:02 am
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Post Winging It
Now, most gamers talk very fondly and passionately about improvisation in gaming. But what exactly do they (we) mean by this ? I'm interested in actual play examples, methods, tips.....specifics. Which games facilitate this kind of play ? I'll post some of my own examples/methods, later.

Regards,
David R

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Wed Apr 22, 2009 8:02 pm
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Post Re: Winging It
That's a very very broad question, Davidski. I've done a lot of improvising in my RP career.

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Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:29 pm
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Post Re: Winging It
When I think of the term 'winging it' with role-playing it means that you are no longer following any scripted, outlined, pre-planned encounters. It means that if you completely detailed every section of a mega-dungeon, but left out fleshing the sewer and septic system because you thought that the players would never, ever, in a million years want to root around in the septic filth, then the players will declare that they want to check out the sewers. In this case, you completely make up the sewer system off the top of your head, or on the fly. This winging it.

I have a good example of winging it. Hearken back to yester year with, back to the stone age days of 1e AD&D. My winging it revolves around the much maligned (unjustly so, IMHO) Deck of Many Things. This was many moons ago, so some of the details are fuzzy.

  • John was playing a 1st level fighter named Bissmal the Bonesmasher (he got the moniker after this encounter).
  • Richard was playing a wizard named Winston and a Ranger.
  • David was playing a gnome fighter/thief named Masked Marvel.
  • Someone was playing a cleric.
  • There were a couple other players.

Now, this Deck of Many Things was special, in fact, an artifact. I decided that the god of Chaos wanted an instrument on the mortal plane to wreak havoc, the deck fit the bill perfectly. So, the cards drawn from this deck would reappear back in the deck, and you could keep drawing cards until hell freezes over. The party was the unwitting subjects of the Chaos god's fun.

The group finds the deck and starts drawing.

Oh, wait some background on Richard's characters. Winston was a disguise and cover identity for Parrytime Glor, a wizard of ill repute (i.e. lawful evil). Richard's ranger had adventured with Parrytime in the past, and Parrytime betrayed their party which lead to some deaths, namely the ranger's. Naturally, Parrytime didn't want to be recognized, and, the truth be told, got a twisted pleasure out of duping the dumb ranger by his disguise and cover identity of Winston the friendly wizard.

Okay, so back to the drawing. First, I'll start with Bissmal. Bissmal drew the Death card, the one where a minor death appears and always hits first and doesn't miss. Naturally, since Bissmal was 1st level, we all assumed he'd be toast after the first round. The Death rolls minimum damage and Bissmal survives the 1st round, so we think he'll pushing daisies after the 2nd round. Bissmal rolls a critical hit, and at the time we were using Good Hits & Bad Misses from Dragon for criticals and fumbles. He rolls the instant death result on the chart and kills the minor death, and earning the moniker 'Bonesmasher.'

The cleric draws the enmity with devil card. Naturally, I didn't want to have a devil appear and waste the cleric out right, so I 'winged it' be saying to myself that the devil that has the enmity had been recently slain on the mortal plane somewhere and could not return right now to have at his newfound enemy. However, I never told the players about this winging it, and I keep it to myself.

Alright, things are going pretty good for the party until both Masked Marvel and Winston drew the Donjon card, I believe. It's the one were you're transported away never to return. The group had gathered some wishes from the cards, and used two of them to wish the characters back.

Now, the fun has begun! Wishes are tricky business and must be worded carefully. The group did a great job on wording them, and so they were granted. However, I was able to screw them a bit on the wishes because they didn't specify how they returned. So, I winged it and said that they returned devoid of all items, including clothing (well, except a loincloth for decorum).

*bamf* Winston and Masked Marvel appear in the room in nothing but a loincloth. As a consequence of my decision to return them naked, Winston's disguise was gone and Parrytime Glor revealed to all. Richard promptly has his ranger draw his sword and kill Parrytime. Oh yeah, I also ruled that when they returned, Winston had no spells memorized.

After Richard's internal character drama, the party goes to leave the room with Masked Marvel out in front. In the next room was a pit trap, which he failed to see. I inform him that he's falling and going to take damage. David (MM's player) says that it's no problem because Masked Marvel has a ring of feather falling. I informed David that, in fact, Masked Marvel doesn't have a ring of feather falling on because he lost it when he returned.

There was a moment of silence, and David sitting there with a blank expression on his face.

A moment later, he says, in character, "Aaaiiiiyeeeeeeeee!"

Ah, but it's not done and over with. Since I had ruled that the devil that hates the cleric can't leave hell right now, and that Parrytime Glor was going to hell, then that devil was waiting for Parrytime Glor at the Gates of Hell. The devil and Parrytime stuck a nefarious bargain: in exchange for aiding the demon is screwing over the cleric, the devil would restore Parrytime Glor to life. Parrytime took the deal and was returned to life on the cold dungeon floor where he was killed.

Also, the chaos god was impressed with Bissmal, who gained the special deck. Bissmal was a crazy, chaos dude anyway. The first he was killed, the deck, via the Chaos god, reincarnated Bissmal. This happened more several times. What ended up happening was that Bissmal in effect became a permanent 1st level character due to his craziness because he kept getting killed and reincarnated.

All of this came out of 'winging it' and has become one of my fondest memories from the early days of being a 1e AD&D DM, and some of my best creative work on the fly.

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Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:33 pm
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Post Re: Winging It
droog, since you know I'm a fairly lazy poster, why don't you start of by describing the various aspects of improv in gaming you have come across.

And now since Drohem has started the ball rolling with a fairly detailed and interesting play experience, I'll have to write up something....I think it will be about my Over the Edge game. Just have to organize my thoughts.....

Regards,
David R

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Rev. Harry Powell: The religion the Almighty and me worked out betwixt us - Night of the Hunter alluding to the nature of GMing.


Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:57 pm
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Post Re: Winging It
I usually run my game sessions with a vague outline. If the players go their own way- I just improvize (even if they don't, my outlines are so minimal that I have to do some of this anyway)
I actually ran a dungeon last year, with four levels and about forty rooms total. I did everything ahead of time. It was kind of strange, and pretty easy too.
I don't think the game system you use is all that important, what is important is knowing the difference between what will break your game and what won't.


Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:58 pm
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Post Re: Winging It
I used to follow a pretty strict guideline for the games I ran. Did a lot of pregame prep and all that. But then I got invited to play in another group and the GM there changed everything. He was the king of off the cuff gaming. He never had anything prepped ahead of time but still managed to run absolutely amazing games.

Of course I started taking mental notes and began trying doing the same. Taking small steps at first. A few encounters here and there. Stuff like that. Well my players evidently took some notice of the change and liked it. So I really started letting my gaurd down and doing a lot less prep work.

Nowdays my prepping usually consists of a few notecards for major npcs that I will probably be using, a single page note sheet with a very rough outline and a blank notebook for keeping track of small things and taking notes. The players really liked the approach because it counters the old railroading routine and gives them more choice and direction.

It has really helped me improve my games because it forces me to think on my feet. Plus I end up pulling off adventures that I never even thought of before. The players suddenly decide to spend part of the night in a gambling hall trying to make some money... hmmm... there could be a heist, a pickpocket encounter, maybe a femme fatale type looking for some new meat to protect her.....

Personally I think every GM should at least give it a try. Put down the fully written and planned out adventure and just let the players take their characters down the roads they want. Some may like, others may not, but most will probably end up learning a little bit.

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Wed Apr 22, 2009 10:21 pm
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Post Re: Winging It
Quote:
droog, since you know I'm a fairly lazy poster, why don't you start of by describing the various aspects of improv in gaming you have come across.


Hmmm... well, I think impro started pretty early, pretty much when players decided to talk to something I thought they'd be fighting. The old Random Encounters tend to force this every now and then.

The first time I remember improvising more extensively was when two of my friends asked me to run something one night (about 1982). They made up troll characters in Pavis, a well-known city in Glorantha. I can't remember how it came about, but they rescued a very young hooker from her pimp and proceeded to set her up in unaccustomed style. That's really all that happened that night, but it was great fun for all of us and left me open to improvising future games.

But I found through experience that total improvisation, especially if it's all up to you the GM, is a very difficult thing.

The last face-to-face game I ran was Burning Wheel, and I went into it with only the PCs and a vague background detailed. BW makes this sort of GMing almost mandatory, and it also provides the tools to do so. That is, the game is all about the PCs Beliefs, Instincts and Traits. If you're doing your job as GM in that game, you just come up with ways to hit those BITs, whether you jot down some notes beforehand or pull it out of your arse at the table (not necessarily mutually exclusive).

But it's not the same as completely improvising everything. It's a structure within which you improvise. I find this to be the best of both worlds.

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Wed Apr 22, 2009 11:16 pm
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Post Re: Winging It
To me, "winging it" simply means that the Game Master goes into a game session with little or no preparation. I enjoy this kind of play, because it's just as much of an adventure for the GM as it is for the players. You just never know what's going to happen, which makes it exciting for everyone.

I tend to design my RPGs to facilitate this manner of gaming. This is especially true of Slasher Flick. You can basically pick out a cool location (a summer camp, an abandoned hospital, a deserted town, etc.), drop the characters off there and let the psycho killer do his/her thing. Since the game system rewards players for having characters go off by themselves, the GM can even just react to their actions (e.g., the babysitter goes outside to check out the noise, so the GM sics the killer on her), though he can be more pro-active than that too.

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Thu Apr 23, 2009 3:09 am
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Post Re: Winging It
I'd also like to add the element of winging the rules. Unless I play a game consistently for several sessions (which doesn't happen so often these days), I can never keep all the little rules in my head. This is why I like to choose systems that have a very clear and consistent base mechanic. If I'm not sure of a specific rule, I'll just quickly make one up based on the basic mechanic, against the appropriate stat and with the appropriate modifiers.

Barbarians of Lemuria is built almost entirely on its base mechanic. Savage Worlds isn't bad, but has a few subsystems. GURPS, if you can keep it lite, is good as well, but it always wants to get crunchier.

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Thu Apr 23, 2009 7:04 am
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Post Re: Winging It
I run very improv-heavy games. Before the first session, I set up an initial situation, some important NPCs, and the immediate setting - that is, the section of the greater setting we will be playing in, at least at the beginning. From that point it can go anywhere. Occasionally, before a session I create a secondary situation. Again, I have no idea what the PCs will do - I just use it to propel the action. The PCs react, then push it farther, using it like a springboard. This constant switching between active and reactive PCs and GM propels things nicely.

In my own games, I have lots of tools for creating NPCs on the fly. When I play other games I miss these rules! Sometimes I just use them in other games. Making believable NPCs in a consistent setting is, for me, the key to improvisational GMing.

-clash

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Thu Apr 23, 2009 9:40 am
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