In the last article, we talked all about working with others to increase your show’s audience, so now we’re going to talk about how to keep that audience invested with stellar showmanship.
Here goes nothing.
Let’s start with a couple questions. Why put your weekly RPG game show in front of a microphone? What is it that makes you think your best pals and personal brand of play can be enjoyed by a larger audience? These are questions that not enough folks consider before diving into the world of live-play games. The people who do know the answers to these questions are the crafters of the shows loved by many. These folks who take the time to amplify their personal style are masters of a little thing called showmanship. Showmanship is necessary to elevate your biweekly Sunday game to an enjoyable and successful show. There are many pieces to mastering showmanship. Still, for now, I’m going to discuss the two I think are the most immediately useful. First, we’ll discuss the legendary power of “yes and,” and then I’ll wade into the mire of pacing.
If you’ve ever taken an improv class or spent five minutes with an improv kid, you’ve likely heard the phrase “yes and.” The concept is simple: instead of stopping a line of thought by saying “no,” you accept the line of thinking by saying “yes.” After saying yes, you then contribute another piece of information to progress the idea. The practice of “yes and” makes literally every scene/interaction/performance more engaging. This simple tactic in production is absolutely applicable to your games. We’ve all either met or heard stories of horrible game masters who continuously say “no,” who murder characters for fun and kill creativity at the table. Hopefully, it does not surprise you that no one wants to listen to a show with game masters of that variety. Following the principles of “yes and” at your game table allows creativity to flourish in delightful ways. Employing “yes and” truly is a bridge that allows your players and your audience to contribute passion, energy, and thought to the show. A show that does this remarkably well is the actual-play podcast d20 Dames. One of the delightful things about the dames is their dedication to finding non-traditional solutions to encounters. Dungeons & Dragons, most days, feels like a combat rinse-and-repeat cycle. Still, the dames always seem to find a creative alternative to combat. Their tricks, traps, and conversations are incredibly hilarious and poignant in equal measure. You can tell at every moment that they feel safe to try new and exciting options because their GM, Kat Kruger, is a master of the “yes and.” No one wants to hear a controlling tyrant at a gaming table, so borrow from the hilarious improv folks and bring that “yes and” to your table. Both your players and your audience will thank you for it.
My second showmanship highlight is a big one: mastering pacing. Slow pacing is the fastest way to lose an audience. There are a hundred different actual-play shows out there, and yours cannot afford to be boring. You could have the most exciting story in the world. However, if it is hidden between arduous combats, arguments about rules, or heaven forbid, dead air, no one will ever be able to tell how great it is. Learning how to work a crowd is absolutely vital to putting on a good show. Being attuned to when your audience or your players are bored is such a useful skill. Once you know they are bored, you can pull a trick out to save the show. If you are creating an actual-play podcast, the magic of editing allows you to be a little lazier. Still, if your overarching plots stretch out and you spend half your episodes shopping… your fans will abandon ship. I have played with many GMs over the years, and all of my best gaming experiences were because the GM knew where to give time and focus. Mastering pacing for a show can be a hard lesson to learn if you are used to running a casual game with your friends. If good pacing in a home game needs to chug along like a train, good pacing for a live show needs to soar like a jet. Learning to end combat before it’s tiresome and learning to toss the rules away when they become a nuisance are skills of pacing that make one eligible to perform in all settings. I could go on about this vital topic (and likely will in a later installment), but if you take away no other advice, let it just be to hone your pacing like a prized blade.
A showman’s tricks are the way to turn an ordinary game into an extraordinary show. If you want to make the leap to broadcasting your games, you must learn these rules as well as—and perhaps better than—the actual game mechanics. That spice, that flair, that razzle is what makes your story worth hearing.
See you next time adventurers.
Greetings travelers! And welcome to Beyond the Audience where we take a look at tips and tricks for building an RPG show that is loved by both your players and the larger audience beyond your table.