I was reading through a nice book on experience design the other day when I came across a chapter talking about Improvisational Theater. The author mentioned the importance of something called 'offerings' to the improv process. Apparently an offering is some new fact or prop each actor adds to the scene during their 'turn.' Its then the job of the next actor to take that offering and expand on it to create a new offering for the next actor. Failure to expand on someone else's offering constitutes 'blocking' and is seen as negatively impacting the quality of improv. Now, this idea sounded awfully familiar to what we try to do as roleplayers. I'd even say that one of the defining marks of a good roleplayer is how well they do at integrating and building on previous posts.
With one tie in between rp and improv evident I did some more digging. I found this article
which lists a few other tenants of improv. Its worth the read. Below are my reactions to the larger techniques it brings up, I'm interested in hearing what you opinions are on them or if you'd like to add anything to the list.1.Yes and... (the offering)
Good gravy yes. Its not as easy as saying 'well, that character just said they checked out a book so now I'll say its the necronomicon' but this still goes a long way. When someone references something in my post and expands on it I admit I'm thrilled. It's kind of like they are saying 'I like what you did there now lets kick it up a notch.' After reading this article I went over some of my old roleplays and paid attention to where I might have made offerings like this and where I didn't. It was strikingly obvious how, in posts where I hadn't given anything new for my partner to work with, the follow up poster had struggled to say anything interesting.
Looking for offerings, and providing them for others, is apparently clutch.2. Make everyone else look good
This point kind of makes itself. 3. Allow yourself to be changed by what is said and what happens
At first I had a defensive reaction to this. Maybe this doesn't tie in as since there is more planning in a roleplay and the characters involved. That said, I do find it cool when the plot can provide chances to play sides of my character I hadn't even considered before. A leaf on the wind is still a leaf, it just goes to cooler destinations than most. 4. Co-create a shared "agenda"
Strong plots are nice but I like the idea of playing moment to moment. Instead of trying to railroad yourselves towards an early goal why not just see where each post takes you. My mage academy plot started out with the agenda that we'd torture some prisoners. It ended with the school being blown up by student-demons. Thats a pretty radical shift but it was done because we were just constantly expanding and playing on each other's posts.5. Be fully present and engaged
This doesn't apply to roleplay as neatly since we're in and out of the forums. There is still a lot to be said for being engaged and actively a part of the plot. When you are excited for where the plot might be going it shows in terms of how quickly you try to respond and how much you read over the other's posts for ideas of what could happen next. 6. Keep the energy going
In one of my last blog posts a number of commentors talked about how low energy and plot death went hand in hand. Stay Excited! In the near perfect words of the article "A mistake happens - let it go move on. The unexpected emerges - use it to move on. Someone forgot something important - justify it and move on. Just keep moving."7. Seek the good of the whole
I admit I'm sometimes guilty of thinking to myself "so how awesome should I make my character in this next post." Instead I should be looking out for everyone and let them make me look good as the second bold point above suggested. Are two characters having a great interaction with a high post frequency? Maybe I should decrease my prominence in that scene while still being engaged in it. Are people starting to flounder from inaction? Maybe it's time to stretch myself and temporarily play an npc as well. This point seems like less of a technique and more like a skill that needs to be practiced at and adapted over time.
I think I'll try to keep these points printed out by my monitor for the next couple weeks. They can only help rp as bad as mine