Monday, January 10, 2011

The Danger of Improvisation

Yesterday, we had a guest player at my 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars campaign. Naturally, people tried to bring him up to speed with what had happened in previous sessions. The resulting summary was unbelievably bizarre.
There's next to zero planning going in to these sessions, which is a big part of it. 10 to 15 minutes GM prep per session tops, and at least once it didn't even get that (as a player once showed up half an hour early and arrived before I'd put any thought into the session at all). Week after week, it's all almost entirely improvised.

Plus, I've made a few attempts to emulate bits out of Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato. Cacciato has served as my primary inspiration. Like 60% Cacciato,  30% Band of Brothers, and 10% all other war movies I've seen. Going After Cacciato, for those unfamiliar with it, is sort of a surrealist take on the Vietnam War, told from the point of view of an unreliable imagination-prone narrator.

So when a crazy idea pops into my head mid-session, I make a point of just going with it, instead of suppressing it (or even asking myself if it's a good idea or not).

It all pretty much made sense while we were playing it, and seemed only a little over-the-top at the time each element was being introduced. I had suspected that the ridiculousness was beginning to accumulate, but trying to summarize all that went before for the benefit of a new player made me kind of cringe. What seemed "a little out there" when take by degrees, ends up being completely bonkers and really hard to swallow when dumped on you all at once.


Siskoid said...

I've run improvised games and kept them in check. Basically, I'd think about the campaign a lot, which meant day dreaming counted as prep. Then, myself and the players could be counted on for genre emulation, keeping things in the framework of the reality set for the game (there would be a big difference in what improvised avenues would be followed between a procedural spy game based on MI-5 and say, James Bond).

What we got out of it was great joy (as you seem to). I wish I did it more, but I've fallen into bad habits and I think the players I have now need to be prodded as if they'd never had any freedom in all their lives. Need to shake things up in 2011, thanks for reminding me.

Anonymous said...

Games, especially Sci Fi or fantasy, tend to really work within their own internal logic. Even though they are heavily thought out ahead of time trying to explain one of my Harbor City games one or two sessions in would probably sound just as odd to anyone who wasn't there. I think that it is more the nature of the hobby than the nature of improv.

Lee 'Spikey' Nethersole said...

pretty much any RPG campaign sounds cringe worthy when related to people who 'needed to be there to get it'. The subtle parts of the story which let the freaky stuff make sense don't get told when you sum up what happened. I wouldn't sweat it. :)

r_b_bergstrom said...

Thank you all for the insight and input. Definitely, "I guess you had to be there" gets said a lot when summarizing RPG sessions. You've all helped me worry a little less.