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Improv Proficiency 5: Moving from Scene to Scene

Improv Proficiency 5: Moving from Scene to Scene

Roleplaying in a game is one of the most effective ways a player can interface with their character and immerse themselves into the world of the game. A common concern among newer players however, is that they don’t believe they can think on their feet, so they can’t roleplay in what they believe is a meaningful way.

Luckily, it’s easy to cultivate improvisation skills! The dirty secret of improv is that you can practice it. You’re at the table anyway, so try these games and tools to improve your skills.

Catch up on all installments of Improv Proficiency!

With all of the improv tools and strategies presented so far in this series, you have everything you need to improvise funny, effective, and creative scenes with your fellow players.

Remember, a “scene” is any moment of a game in which roleplaying is in the forefront. Once a scene has concluded, what’s next? We’ll discuss GM tools for transitioning players from scene to scene without losing momentum and avoiding the awkward gaps.

Managing Energy

As a GM, you already have a list of responsibilities to facilitate your game. Narrating, being NPCs, and making rules judgements are only three of the many plates you must spin to run your game smoothly. Thankfully, you can use a simple strategy to make all these responsibilities feel less stressful and give more power to your players to carry the game: managing energy.

Assuming your players are attempting to use the roleplaying tips, they are on the lookout for many things to craft a stronger and more fun scene. As a GM, make their and your job easier by establishing the energy present in the scene. Energy is very similar to the particular mood a scene has. Just as scenes can be chaotic, joyful, and cheery, they can also be somber, methodical, and slow.

Establishing the energy before a scene begins helps get players into the correct headspace to roleplay that particular scene and gives them a clear break from the previous scene. Starting a scene is tricky, so by displaying the type of energy present through your GMing, it points players in the right direction to start. They will usually pick up on your energy and mirror it. If you are afraid they won’t, it is fine to tell your players outright what the energy of a particular scene is. Those who are hesitant to jump into a scene and roleplay will appreciate the clear, direct instruction.

For instance, if a scene takes place at a harvest festival in town, it is likely some sort of celebration and a time of fun. Reflect that in your presentation. Use more colorful language to describe the player’s surroundings, sound excited about the things you describe, speak faster as if you can’t wait to tell your players about the wonderful things and people at this festival! Conversely, if a scene should possess a low energy, like a funeral, slow things down and speak somberly.

So They Split the Party

You now have a tool to help move players from one scene to the next more easily, but they’ve gone and done the unthinkable. They split the party. Now two scenes are happening simultaneously, each with potentially different energy and purpose. How do we manage two separate scenes at once? By using a strategy called mirrored action.

Mirrored action is a tool that lets you jump between two simultaneous scenes as seamlessly as possible. A mirrored action is any action a player or NPC does that looks similar or serves a similar purpose in both scenes. A character reaching for a bottle of wine on a high shelf could be a mirrored action to a character stretching up to pull an out of reach lever. A character putting a reassuring hand on someone’s shoulder could be a mirrored action to a character punching someone in the face.

As the GM, look for actions in a scene that could be mirrored in the other one. When an action you consider to be a mirrored action happens, use it as the transition to the other scene and pick up with the mirrored action there.

Player 1: All right, I’m going to carefully step over the tripwires in the hallway to not trigger the alarms.

GM: Very good. As you move lightly, taking care with each step, some careful stepping is also happening downstairs with the party guests. Player 2, you step out onto the dance floor, looking for the host of the party.

Player 2: Yes. I dance my way across the floor looking for him.

In this example, the GM used the careful steps of avoiding a trap and the trained steps of dancing as mirrored actions to jump from one scene to another. Keep a lookout for potential mirrored actions that you can use to jump between scenes while maintaining momentum and energy.

Exercise: Continuation

This exercise gives everyone a good demonstration of what mirrored actions look like and how to use them. It requires four players and a GM.

Split the players into teams of two. Have one team stand, ready to do a scene, and the other team seated nearby watching them. The GM says a word that the first team uses as inspiration. They then begin to roleplay a scene that must include a distinct physical action throughout (such as digging with a shovel, driving a car, or climbing a ladder). Establish LARCH (see Improv Proficiency: Using LARCH) and find the first unusual thing (see Improv Proficiency: Games Within the Game).

At some point, the GM shouts “Switch!” The team performing the scene takes a seat and the seated team stands up and picks up the scene exactly where the first team left off. They must use the same actions, but their scene must be about something completely different.

The GM shouts “Switch!” whenever they like, and the two teams switch places again. The first team must continue their original scene, now with the actions the second team was using.

Continue play for five minutes or until one scene comes to a natural conclusion.

As the GM, use one of these prompts to get your players started, or make up your own:

  • Playing golf
  • Casting an involved spell with many somatic components
  • Building something with tools

For more insight into how the games are played and made, told by the pros, check out Kobold Guides!
The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding gets you inside info on making your world more fun and real.
The Kobold Guide to Gamemastering gives you tips and structure for upping for GM game!
And there are many more, waiting for you!

about Evan Noone

Evan Noone is an independent TTRPG writer and designer. Whether his storytelling prowess is a gift from his infernal patron, The Imp, or he is the fiend itself remains to be seen. You can explore his collection of TTRPG supplements on DMs Guild or follow him on twitter @impgames_.

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