Some years back I was helping some friends of mine run a LARP. It was actually a reasonably large operation; we had around 20 to 30 players if memory serves. When discussing my LARP activities with non-gamers, I found myself describing it as an improvisational acting group. At the time it seemed to make sense and was a lot easier than telling folks that every other weekend I pretended to be a vampire. While I was using this as a ruse to hide my geek activities from those in my life that wouldn’t understand, it was, on some level, true. When you really break it down, role-playing games are projects in improvisational acting.
The degree to which this idea relates to your gaming table is subject to your group’s play style, but on some level, it still rings true. Everyone at the table is playing the role of one or more characters, there are no scripts (although extensive notes may or may not be used), and the outcome is uncertain.
So why am I talking about improv, and how will it help you as a player? Well in improv there is a very important rule: do not negate the premise. The idea being, when you are working with someone and they throw an idea out there, do not shut it down and try to make things what you want them to be. Instead, work with what they gave you and build on it. When employed correctly at the gaming table, this can be the difference between a great session and a night of disappointment and resentment.
Let’s face it, everyone at the table wants their time to shine. So when the quiet guy in the corner finally speaks up and does something, only to have it shot down by others at the table because they think it is dumb or want to do something else, how is the fun of the group being served? By no means do I mean this as a pardon for the completely ridiculous, but on anything short of the absolutely absurd what is the harm of going with the flow? I am willing to bet that you will tell more interesting stories that way and everyone at the table will have more fun.
At times this will require players to compromise current desires for the sake of the greater story. In turn, this means that everyone has to trust each other to work towards the goal of telling a great story together and having fun.
I am sure most of you out there have been playing a game where there is that one person at the table that just does not want to do what the rest of the party is doing. Now when I am a GM, I absolutely love this, because it gives me a lot of ways to pull the party into the story. But even as a player, I can use this to my advantage.
For starters, it is always possible that this character has an idea for the current scenario that is better than my own. Sometimes even if I do not see the merit of the character’s actions, it can be the catalyst that brings me to the solution that was eluding me. Finally, there is always the option to use the character’s acting out as a distraction.
In one of my former gaming groups, one guy insisted on charging into battle every time, no matter the circumstances. At first this would drive me crazy because I normally play the strategist/scheming kind of character, and this would invariably throw a wrench into my finely-crafted plans. Eventually, I realized that nothing was going to stop this guy from his mad charge into battle, and getting angry over it was pointless. So I started planning for this guy to charge blindly in and often times used him as a distraction to make sure the enemies never knew where I was coming from.
At the end of the day, if all you want is to be the hero of the story and get exactly what you want, then it is far easier to play a video game or write a story. When you sit down at the gaming table, you are doing so to have some fun and tell a story with friends. Everyone involved has a vision of what that story should entail. The surest way to make sure that the vision comes to fruition is to make sure that you do not negate the premise.