All the way back in February, the 2017 travelling RPG Blog Carnival host was Tabletop Terrors. Their nominated topic was a staple of RPG scenarios: the encounter.
This broad term gave me a lot to think about, and my initial essay plan developed into this series. Thus, I am still pursuing the February topic, even though the month has long finished.
The Tabletop Terrors site outlined the topic like this:
This article is part of the magnificent and prolific Blog Carnival, and the topic for this month is Encounters. This month other fantastic bloggers will be exploring things like inventive ways to come up with encounters, different ways to run encounters in play, and even explore using encounter concepts across multiple systems to surprise players and breathe new life into your game.
- To learn more, see the Tabletop Terrors site.
- As February has finished, Tabletop Terrors have posted a summary article.
- In Part 1 I discussed encounter openings.
- Part 2 answered the When and Where encounter questions.
- Part 3 presented the player-focused aspects of the Who question
- Then part 4 explored the GM-focused aspects of the Who question
- Part 5 completed the Who question by presenting the faceless opposition
- In Part 6 I answered the vital What is happening question
- Part 7 explored the final question, Why is the encounter in the story?
- Part 8 examined the mechanical aspects of an encounter.
- Part 9 presented no contest encounters.
- Part 10 explored three ways of weaving together more than one contest in a scene.
- Part 11 presented advice about running contests as an improv GM.
- Part 12 considered the three aspects to closing an encounter.
- Part 13 brought together the plotting concepts highlighted in these essays.
In this, my final essay, I remind the GM how to involve the Players in the improvisation process, and thus create a fun game for everyone.
Gaming is a social activity, and the GM has a duty to ensure the Players are also having fun at the table. My campaign benefits greatly from Player engagement. I adopt a range of strategies to draw the Players into the game. One way to involve the Players in the game is to invite them to brainstorm the setting with you.
Throughout the game, an improv GM should also keep an eye on maximising the group experience at the table. Player enjoyment can be enhanced by using the following methods:
- Playing to the Crowd
- Facilitating Player Agency
Playing to the Crowd
While guided by the demands of the campaign plot, the improv GM should also bear in mind the other Players at the table. At the most basic level, there is no game without the Players. Thus, a game should also include something for the Players. The GM needs to weave into the session a few scenes which play to the crowd, and give the Players what they want from the game.
As ever, this advice varies wildly according to the tastes of your group. If your Players like combat, riddles or long roleplaying scenes, then weave these into the game. Much has been written about different types of Player, and the things they want from a game. You know your Players best, so ensure your sessions include those elements the Players enjoy. Doing so will increase their enthusiasm for the campaign.
When applying this principle, remember to also spread the spotlight around the group. Give your Players what they want as a group, but also individually. This need not equate to an exact division of spotlight time, but ensure the focus of the game moves around the group. Some Players are happy with the chance to drag out their familiar catchphrase once again. Other Players want specific scenes, or even a dedicated sub-plot. Weave these events into your improvisation, and the Players will enjoy the campaign as much as you do.
Facilitating Player Agency
The concept of Player agency deserves an essay of its own. The principle requires Players are given genuine choices within the game, which bring meaningful changes to the campaign. This is a tricky process to balance with GM control of the narrative. There is clearly a sliding scale here, with GMs falling at different places along the line.
In many ways, an improv GM should be more open to Player agency. Lacking a closely scripted outline for the session, there is more scope for flexibility. The session can follow the Heroes wherever they wander without wasting hours of prep dedicated to only one option. Sandbox games also accommodate this style of play, as they are built on the assumption the Heroes will wander about and find plots by themselves.
It is easy for an improv GM to feel all the narrative burden of a session resting upon them. This is true up to a point, but the belief should not operate to the detriment of Player agency. Remember, shifting narrative control onto the Players not only increases their agency, but eases the burden on the GM.
There are times enough when the narrative of the session falters, and the GM needs to inject fresh energy into the game. Thus, if the Players have strong ideas about where to take the session, then the improv GM is heartily recommended to sit back, and follow their lead. Many of the best sessions of our campaign were Player-led in this way.
This spirit of collaboration brings me to the end of my improv encounters series. I am amazed how one simple Blog Carnival topic carried me through 14 essays. Even now, there are other aspects of the topic I could cover, but I shall save those for later essays.
I hope this series has helped you develop your improvisation skills. Is there anything else I should cover on the topic? What tips would you have for an improv GM? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
- Read the summary of all the entries to the February Carnival at Tabletop Terrors.
- The RPG Blog Carnival is under the stewardship of Johnn Four, at his Roleplaying Tips website.
- See my dedicated page for a full list of all my RPG Blog Carnival contributions.
- Do you need more Tales?
If you enjoyed this article, then please share it, or the associated quotations. You may also be interested in the following links:
- Something for the Weekend last week: Improv Encounters 13, Plot Overview
- Something for the Weekend next week: Fourth Year Review