On Improvisation

As I mentioned in my last post, I started a new game — this one a sort of pickup game run by myself, with a single player. With the right pair, this sort of thing can be immense fun, and this one has occupied most of my waking hours not involving my job search or other games that I play in.

This game is being run in a dark fantasy setting, based on Jürgen Hubert’s Doomed Slayers, and then built on that to answer the question of “What do you get if you cross GURPS (Dungeon) Fantasy and GURPS Supers?”. Unusually for both genres, however, the player character for this game started at the zero-point level, and is growing into her power in very dangerous circumstances.

Also unusual, is the fact that most of the circumstances she’s found herself in are of her own creation — if not her own fault. I had nothing planned when we started this game. I drew a couple of random plotlines out of a metaphorical hat to get us started, and we plunged into it with a will — and then, whenever the character (or the player out of context, I’m not terribly picky) expressed a fear or suspicion that something might be happening behind the scenes, I considered the idea, twisted it just enough so that she is not a blatant esper, and placed it in her path for her to discover.

From these suspicions have raised a subtle and insidious plot by a demon-lord to take over the capital city of the Kingdom, an orphanage using mind-control on its wards to mould them into dutiful citizens, and a dozen other minor incidents. Some of what I’ve created has fallen by the wayside, unnoticed, while things I never imagined could be important have been escalated to high tenor.

I have found this technique to be immediately engaging, especially for a single-player game where the attention can otherwise drift easily and become lost. We’ve gamed for a large portion of the past ten days with no sign of slowing down, the player thinks it’s one of the best games he’s played in, and the friends of ours reading the logfiles of the game as we play (all via chat) agree wholeheartedly.

In conclusion — if you’ve ever run yourself into a corner, or reached the end of an adventure and don’t know what to do next, listen to your player’s suspicions. They might have as good an idea of what’s happening in your world as you do.

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