Recommended Improv/Immersion Exercises?

Tod's picture

Given: A group of trad/computer RPG players who are willing but lack much experience in improv or storygames.

Goal: To ramp up to playing more "story-first" and "bleedy" games, with more player agency, character depth, immersion, etc.

Prescription: As a group, we want to learn immersion techniques, develop improv capabilities, and increase interpersonal trust.

Various types of improv exercises (and certain full-fledged games) are easy and effective ways to enhance the storytelling effectiveness and internal trust of a gaming group. I'm interested in hearing some of your recommendations. Keep them simple. No rules over 2 pages. No games over 1 hour. What I'm really looking for here are things that might fall somewhere between a "game" and an "exercise".

Tod's picture

I'm looking for short games or literal exercises that could be run outside of regular play, or maybe before play to "get in the mood", or on random game nights, to strengthen and develop the group's focus, flexibility and trust. Similar to the sorts of exercises that improv/acting troupes do on a regular basis, but I'm specifically interested in those that work best in the context of storygaming.

James Mullen's picture

I can't find any links to the actual text of this game poem about blocking, but I have played it successfully many times with people who have never cracked the spine of an RPG book in their lives!

The basic premise is that the facilitator plays the role of Mrs. Sheffield, a late middle-aged housewife who has just received a phone call from the Vicar that he is coming to tea this afternoon, so now she must get the house in order. Now each other player gets a turn to suggest/narrate a problem or obstacle for Mrs. Sheffield, who then resolves it as best she can, until the game is over (usually in about 15 minutes) when the Vicar finally arrives.

The problems in the first round should be trivial, e.g. the best china tea service is a little dusty or the milk has gone sour, and Mrs. Sheffield responds with an equally trivial solution ("I put the china tea service in the dish washer.") The problems should escalate with each round though, becoming either harder to resolve or having more serious consequences; in the games I've played, by the third or fourth round there are usually things on fire, punk rebels sitting on the best furniture, bodies in the back garden and doctors in bio-hazard suits quarantining the house. It's the facilitator's role to end the game when they decide the problems have stacked up high enough, beyond Mrs. Sheffield's ability to cope, and declares that the Vicar has arrived for tea.

James Mullen's picture

I should also mention many of the short games on my blog, with particular attention to Tech Support, Tech Support II: Customer Returns, Char. Gen. (though that mostly won't suit complete newbies), Vox Populi, Conspiripedia and Say Something Nice.

I've also played some little warm up games like Cheddar Gorge, where each player takes it in turn to say the next word in a sentence and everybody tries not to be the one to end the sentence.

James Mullen's picture

As the facilitator/Mrs. Sheffield, you use free narration to resolve the obstacles thrown up by the other players, but you are intended (as far as I know) to always keep it grounded in the description of the character. So, for example (yes, I have seen this happen in a game) if Mrs. Sheffield suddenly finds her cottage targeted by one of the big alien spaceships from Independence Day (definitely a problem for the 4th or even 5th round) then she can only react to that as a late middle-aged housewife would: you can't suddenly reveal her secret super-powers or something. When the game reaches that level of insanity though, it's definitely time for the facilitator to announce that the Vicar has arrived for tea.

BeePeeGee's picture

@James: I've used Tech Support many times as a warm-up game for story game/freeform sessikns.

I've also written a German translation/description. as well as German random tables with possible topics, categories being household items/weird/magical.

Emmett's picture

I have a card game about a murder that is the most story gamey thing I've been able to get my player group (and innocent bystanders) to engage with. I'll post a link to it in the Plug section so it's not out of place here.

James Mullen's picture

That's heart-warming to hear @BeePeeGee ; I'm never sure how my games are doing by themselves out in the wild, so I'm glad that one of them has found a good home! :-)