Join Dave & Molly and a panel of creatives as they work along with audience chat to write and finalize a short sketch during the show’s two-hour run time. Between episodes, the sketch will be recorded and presented to the audience the next week! Tune into INT. Writer’s Room every Monday at 4PM on G&S Live!
While improvisation offers a wide range of stories based on a few prompts, there are still rules that are set before everyone begins. We’ve talked about a few of the common ones, but we also can see their influence on tabletop role-playing games over the past few decades. Good Dungeon Masters need to know how to improvise. Any game that provides tips on how to keep the game moving when the plot spirals away from an expected direction is a good one to have in the library.
In the series of games inspired by Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World, these rules of inspiration are known as agendas. The best Powered By the Apocalypse games, as they are known, stand as excellent guides to the genre of game they represent, but there are a few agendas that are common to all the games. These agendas are useful in any game to keep inform the Dungeon Master of their next move.
Be a fan of your player characters
The role of the DM is tough because it has to balance out opportunities for the characters to shine with challenges that will cause issues if they fail. It can be useful to look at the players as if they were the characters of a favorite TV show. Dungeon masters ultimately want their characters to live, thrive and survive. If everyone dies broken and penniless, the chances for everyone coming back to the game next week are pretty low. But players also want that feeling of watching their favorite show and wondering how the good guys are going to get out of this week’s jam.
Address players by their character names
One of the common challenges a Dungeon Master must deal with is focus. It’s hard to stay in character and engaged with the plot for a long session. Some tables have strict rules about phone and other distractions. A simple way to get a player back in the game is to ask them a question using their character’s name. Whether the player prefers to answer in first person or third person, directing the question at their character gets them to think like the character, even if only for a moment.
Ask provocative questions and build on the answers
Dungeon Masters are the eyes and ears of the players as they explore a fantasy world. But sometimes, letting players take the wheel can offer up a stronger connection to the story. If the players walk into a dingy tavern, asking the rogue “Who here doesn’t like you?” not only gives them narrative control but lets them build a ready rival that can come back later in the game. These questions can be situational or they can be ones based on the choices made. Asking why a paladin chose their weapon during character creation can turn it from just a weapon that does damage to the lost blade of their father seeking to strike out the heart of the dragon that took their father’s life.
Declaim decision making
It’s very easy for Dungeon Masters to go in over prepared and have something decided for every move the players make. It’s also exhausting. It can be more rewarding to leave things up to fate. In the moment, letting the dice fall where they may sometimes be a better solution. Leaving whether or not the king aids the heroes up to a Charisma roll can make for a dramatic moment as the dice hit the table. These moments are best used when the story moves forward regardless of success or failure, just in interesting directions.
Watch and see how the crew on INT. Writer’s Room on Twitch uses these ideas to make their sketches work!
What is your favorite agenda? Let us know in the comments.
Feature Image Credits: Lumpley Games
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves, Vulcans and sometimes all of them at the same time. His blog is here, his Twitter is here and his meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.