Thursday, August 21, 2008

Director's Vision, Part 4 (The Inspired Improvisation)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

In this installment of my series on the director's vision, I'll look at the inspired improvisation - when your players take off and do your job for you. This post actually comes more out of the movie Jen and I made that kicked off my thoughts about this stuff than out of any campaign example. The entire hide and seek sequence was her idea at the last minute, and now it's a favorite scene for both of us.

Letting inspired improvisation take off is more a matter of spotting the signs that it's coming and getting out of the way than actually doing anything. The best moments of improv will leap at you unexpectedly - you just have to be ready.

In yet another example from the same campaign I've been mining, the party had decided that the well in the center of the town they were in was where the treasure was hidden. They arranged with the mayor to "cleanse the well of evil" so they would have an excuse to go down and look for loot. Before they could actually act, though, they discovered that the treasure was really somewhere else and recovered it.

I was ready to call the adventure finished and gloss over them leaving the town, but they wanted to play out what happened. What followed was one of the more hilarious scenes it has ever been my pleasure to DM. The gnome wizard was lowered into the well, where he shouted, carried on, and used illusion spells to convince the watching mayor that something akin to Gandalf's battle with the balrog was going on down there. Meanwhile the party cleric stood by the mayor calmly assuring him that everything would be fine and that he should just stay back until it was over. I would like to say I ingeniously saw what was coming and let them go with it, but really I was probably just too tired to argue with them. Still, that's okay, because all I had to do was sit back and let them cut loose with descriptions of the gnome's pyrotechnic antics and roleplaying of the cleric's deadpan reassurances.

One good way to get ready to capitalize on improv moments is to practice never saying no when you can say yes. When we were filming, I couldn't tell how the hide and seek scene looked - I was behind the tree holding the giant plush bigfoot. I had to trust Jen's instinct and agree to follow her lead all the way through until we got home and watched the footage. Similarly, when GMing you need to look for signs that your players are really jazzed about what they're doing. The group was really gung ho about playing out the well scene, which should have clued me in that it was going to be good.

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