One of the most interesting things we did was a session on improv exercises. Impro for Storytellers is, in my opinion, a great resource for anyone looking to work on characterization and plot techniques in a roleplaying game. It is my belief that almost all of the stuff that goes into making a great improv session can be applied to roleplaying sessions. I know that since my introduction to this book I have come a long way in terms of blocking, tilts, and predicting the desires of players through their actions.
For the retreat we first tried to do a couple of the blocking exercises. For instance, we played the game where you only stayed in until you blocked something. No one stayed in very long (though we did eventually get into the swing of things). Another exercise we tried was the butler, where you only block (one person suggests things to do and you have to agree with them incharacter but block them, like "Yes, going outside would be great, but I'm afraid its raining sir). I thought these went pretty well, though since I had forgotten the book we couldn't do a lot of exercises, only the ones that Mike and I remembered. But that gave us time to come up with roleplaying exercises!
Ever since Mike found the improv book above and thought it could apply to roleplaying he and I have been tossing around ideas for small exercises, like the ones suggested in the book. In general they are short and sharp, meaning they don't take long to do and they focus very tightly on a specific skill. We finally got to try one that we made up on the spot after we ran out of "normal" improv exercises. I'll call this exercise "GM Plot Workshop".
So we had 5 people working on this exercise (Mike, Carl, Evelyn, Brittany, and myself). One person would be the player, and one the GM. The other three would each think of one of Setting, Character, Story Goal (in that order). Then, the player would in a very out of character way, say what the player's plan for achieving or approaching the story goal was. The GM would then say what they would do. One example was with me as the GM, and Mike as the player. Setting: Post-apocolyptic world where humans were forced underground to a Zion-like city. Character: a young scientist. Story Goal: Make the surface safe for humans. Mike said something like "I lead an expedition to the serface to figure out why we can't live up there anymore". I responded with "After arriving on the surface your scientist team finds that there are microbes in every plant and animal that take over their minds, and that these are fatal to humans". After doing this, we would then have commentary from everyone. For instance, in our example one piece of feedback was that the character should have discovered the microbes not just the team he is a part of. Also alternate plot suggestions like "Wouldn't it be cool if they had to fight to the surface or the microbes were caused by his great-grandfather". The plan and response would take 2-4 mins, and the discussion anywhere from 5-10mins. Then repeat. We did 3 of these per GM/player pair. This was really great in helping people see problems with their plots "You're right it would be cooler if there was a rival band they had to challenge to a rock-off" to player anticipation: "Oh, I see that I guided the player down a path they weren't excited about, which was indicated by this action". Plus, for the more experienced GMs it was easy to add in difficulty-increasing elements like "I'm a new player and I don't know how to communicate my story goals other than through character actions, and I get frustrated easily" (which is what mike played for me). Everyone agreed it was very useful and awesome to be able to do basically entire sessions in about 10 mins and get immediate feedback with different ideas and suggestions.
In this vein I have thought of a few more exercises that would be cool to try some time:
- GM player prediction - same setup as above, but have the GM try to guess the hidden story goal only through in character interactions through NPCs
- Player assisted engagement - This time there are 3 players, and 2 of them have to work in character to engage the 3rd one, who is disengaged and not having fun
- Hooking players - each person thinks of a character and setting, GM suggests plot hooks for each.
In all of these cases you would engage in a round of discussion after each round of play. This is the most important part as figuring out what should've or could've happened differently or better is many times something only other people can see (We did the discussion for every game we played at the retreat, not just the exercises, which really brought a new level of awesomeness).
Let me know if you try out any of these ideas. I think I will if I ever find some people willing enough again! I'll try to get another post on the retreat out sometime this week.