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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Joy of Improvisation

Over Spring Break, just recently, I had the opportunity to play some 4th Edition, which I've not been able to do for a while. It was definitely fun, and one of the things which lent itself to that fun was the fact that I had to employ some very heavy improvisation and on-the-fly roleplaying. For both games (one on Saturday, one Sunday), I had to step in and fill the role of an NPC, something which I did more or less well. I know, though, that it was definitely fun. Here's how it broke down.

William the Paladin
This was the character I played in my first game. I haven't played the RPG Dragon Age, but I'm a bit familiar with it. I was told that this guy was inspired by Alistair. Fair enough. I got a little bit of the lay of the situation, was told that my character was best friends with another character, very protective of her. That works. So I play him as somewhat battle-weary, supporting, a little sarcastic. Then I fail a Stealth roll in a skill challenge. After noticing just how low my Stealth modifier was, thanks to armor penalties, I declared that my paladin went "clank, clank, clank"...something no doubt familiar to paladin players.

I didn't just blame my Stealth problems on the armor, though. I eventually started blaming it even when I rolled natural 1's. All I had to do was point at my armor, even when I failed a Heal check. Long story short, it became one of the best running jokes of that session. It points to one of the first rules of improvisation: don't be afraid to play around with your character and have fun with them. Make a character you can laugh at, and laugh with. It also greatly helped that there was a fun party dynamic.

Gaffin the Gnome
The second game, my character didn't end up coming in for very much of the game, because of how the story ran. But when he did come in, well...it was fun. To say the least. The DM showed me his sheet, told me he was an insane gnome chaos sorcerer. I could run with that. He showed up at the start of a combat encounter. For you guys who know the rules, he ran this one, uniquely enough, as a skill challenge. That means I couldn't exactly rely on my character's powers to showcase the theme of chaos. That's all right. I worked with it.

First off, I took a decidedly hyper approach to the character. Let me tell you, an ADHD and insane gnome sorcerer...is amusing. He pops up to the battlefield to announce that his inventor friends have finished the airship--and sees the combat. Zap. In the middle of all of this, I started thinking. If he's random and erratic, perhaps I should start picking random skills to use for the challenge. So I did. The big moment? When I decided on Bluff. The action? Lightning sizzling all around him, my character jumps up to get the attention of his allies, and cries out (in a funny little squeaky voice), "The power of the HEAVENS is with us!!!" It works. Our forces are sufficiently boosted, and fight on against the zombies. On a following roll, I failed my Sorcerer attack, and when my DM started to narrate it as a lightning backlash, I said instead that it was a backlash of force, slamming my character back into the ground.

Rule of improv? Don't be afraid to describe bad things happening to your character. It always makes things more epic or at least funny. When I failed an Athletics roll on a skill challenge with William, the DM said he'd slipped and fallen in the mud, trying to run. I played along with that, and described him continuously wiping mud off of his blasted armor.

In the end, that's what improvisation is really about. Keeping things playing fast and loose, not getting tied up about the particulars and specifics of characterization. You don't have to have an elaborate structure for your character in order to play them. But what you do need to have is a sense of enjoyment. It's gotta be fun.

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