Thursday, September 3, 2015

Improv vs. Prep: Play on Target Podcast Ep. 44

Last week the Play on Target podcast returned with renewed energy. We tackle "Improv vs. Prep." It isn't a battle for the ages, but we do wrestle with when & why to prep or wing-it. Also I think I only mentioned our last episode, "Genre Mixmaster" so I'll mention it in passing again. That show has ustaking on random ideas and try to build a campaign from them. It's a mental exercise, but I encourage other GMs to listen to the and see what you would have come up with. In re-listening, a couple of new approaches hit me and I want to revisit my answers. But I won't, because I'm on to other ideas...

Genre Mixmaster: Play on Target 43

In an interesting collision of topics, I also covered something similar in an episode of This Imaginary Life recently. Our discussion of GM prep went in another direction. More importantly the vastly improv nature of a couple of the GMs bowled me over. In our PLOT discussion,  the four of us, for better or worse, have similar approaches. You can see that concretely in another PLOT episode What We Actually Do to Prep.

I want to link to a couple of things I mention in the episode. Here’s my post on the GM Prep surveys I did. From there you can get to the actual data, in case you want to see the numbers. I think I mention it in the episode, but I’ll say it again: consider looking at Impro for some high-level thinking on the topic. If you want something more concrete and focused on gaming, you should pick up Unframed. As I said in the podcast, it’s one of the best Gnome Stew books and full of interesting ideas you can execute easily.

I say it at the end, but I want to stress a technique worth doing. Analyze what you do to get ready for a game. We use the term “comparing dice bags” in the podcast to describe the process of aggrandizement GMs do it talking about prep (either towards more or less prep). Clear your mind of that. If you don’t do that, then I’m being cynical and jerky and you don’t need to clear your mind. But think about what you have done for say the last 3-5 sessions to prepare. Let’s leave out the twiddling and contemplating we GMs constant do when driving, riding on trains, waiting in the elevator, etc. What did you do that involved interfacing with something else? Grabbing images online, stating monsters, painting figures, marking up modules, outlining incidents, writing up the previous session, finding random tables.

Ask yourself what really comes into play? How much of what you write down is used or referred to?

And I suggest this not to say: cut everything else. Instead look at the work you do that generates meaningful results. Why does it? How can you make that better, stronger, more useful?

As well, sometimes in talking about improv and process and we lose sight of a key fact: for some GM prep is fun. I have a set of prep I love, love doing (NPCs lists, Triad sheets, problem sheets). I’ll refer you to The Rhetorical Gamer’s post on this.

You already know this, but index cards (or post its, flash cards, or rewritable do-dads) are your best friend as an improv GM. When things appear, write them in big letters and drop them on the table. If it’s something for a particular player, hand it to them. Aspects, things "Held," NPCs, hard bargains. Maybe spend time at the beginning or end of sessions getting the players to sum up the plot or threads, perhaps with a little direction on your part. Write them down.

Collect everything you haven’t handed to the players at the end of the session. Not only have you been showy and grabbed attention at the table, you now have notes. And you haven’t had to stop while running to write down names or ideas on a sheet of paper off to the side. You’ve done that, but in a way that engages the table.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing and have had some success with.

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