Improv Rules in RPGs

In a recent post, I made an argument for playing flawed or regular characters in RPGs, and when thinking back on it, I realized that I missed part of the process in that post. Specifically, I realized that, without consciously doing so, I’ve been using a “yes, and” rule from improvisational theatre (which, incidentally, I’ve never actually done myself, because I dislike performing). I listen to quite a few podcasts, and so many of the ones I listen to feature comedians who either explicitly discuss the “yes, and” rule or embody it during the prodcast. I surmise that purely by osmosis, some of that must have trickled through to my RPG experiences.

The essence of the “yes, and” rule in improv comedy is to go with the flow. Don’t contradict what the other person in the scene is doing, but rather go along and build on it. Hence, “yes” to affirm what is going on, as well as adding on to what was said by going “and”. Of course, there’s nothing to say you can’t use that to put an interesting twist on what’s happening, but that’s a whole different story.

I certainly don’t do this as much as I should do, though. A while back, I played in a playtest of a module that a friend of mine released, which was a lot of fun. However, between sessions, a friend of a friend was added to the roster of players, jumping in midway in the game. I don’t know her that well yet and after the session, I realized I didn’t support her the way I would have liked myself to have done. She were trying to portray a caring character who would de-escalate situations. Our two characters were in a situation where her character was doing exactly that, and I had my character committed to escalating things. Rather than have her character take the spotlight, which I think I should have done there, I threw my own character in the mix which essentially blocked her intention. A “no, but” rather than a “yes, and”, I’d say.

At other times, I do run with what I’m given by the other players. I realized that I use their statements as a randomizer, as it were, for my character development at times. I prefer to go into an RPG game without a character in mind–I’ll see where the character ends up through play. At times, I realize I’ll do this in a “yes, and” sense. If one of the other players assumes my character is a scaredy-cat then, sure, they’re a scaredy-cat. If they’ll ask me whether the character is a woman, then sure, she’s now female. Obviously, this only works when characteristics haven’t been set yet. Essentially, though, I’m trying not to play the same thing repeatedly, and using other people’s thoughts and ideas about my character is a great way to not following standard thought patterns.

As I mentioned, it’s not something that I’ve been doing very consciously, so perhaps it would be good to experiment with that a little more to see if I can avoid a situation like the one I described a little above. So far, I’ve always found that encouraging others to be awesome results in more awesome all around.

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