The Actor’s Advice to the GM

There are two things I do with myself outside ofRPGs: acting and tae kwon do. When I figure out how to apply tae kwon do to RPGs, I’ll write about that. Until then, you’ll just have to be satisfied with this.


What could an actor possibly have to say to a GM?

The answer is, a lot. As someone who does a lot of both, there are several things in common — or at least, enough similarities that you could apply a lot of acting advice to GMing.

Let’s start with a basic one here: always write in pencil. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound like acting or GMing, but there’s a good reason for doing it. In acting, when you “mark up” a script to figure out how to play a character, you always do it in pencil. Why? If you change your mind later, you can go back and change it! It’s easier with campaign notes to just scritch it out and continue — you’re not limited in terms of space like with a script — but it’s a good habit to get into anyway, and will help you remember that your world is dynamic.

Got that? All right then, let’s move on.

When you’re playing a character in a scene, it’s really important that you have something called arc. If you’re playing Othello, and all you do through the whole scene is be angry, I can guarentee you that no one in the audience will be paying attention. You need to have development — your character needs to go somewhere. This is also true of GMing, buti n terms of your story: like a good character, make sure your story goes somewhere. A great example of how NOT to do this is a lot of modern horror movies: it’s just people being killed over and over and over. The Silence of the Lambs, on the other hand, had a progressive story that just gradually got more freaky. If you’ll notice, most people will point to it as having the better story.

This next tidbit is actually similar to an article that was posted on Treasure Tables, and was actually a good deal of inspiration for this article. Over there, Martin defines all adventures as having a Want, a Challenge and a Cool Factor. Us actors, on the other hand, know that characters have to have a Want, an Obstacle, and an Action — if you’re missing any of those things, not only will you not be believable, you’ll be boring. Sound familiar? Your characters need to want something, they need to overcome something to get it, and they need a way of doing it — preferably, a cool way. Keep this in mind when designing adventures, and everything will go much more smoothly.

Speaking of running smoothly: you know what really sucks? Stopping the whole game because of an argument over how somehting should work. This is a game! You’re supposed to have fun! And, as any actor will tell you, suspension of disbelief is your friend! If, in a show, the actor oes something to make the audience realize that he’s just an actor in the show, everyone gets really unsettled, then mad, then bored. This is something you do not want. The moral of the story is: sometimes, you should just overlook unrealistic things in favor of story flow.

Now, a lot of my training has been in improvisation. The next two tips are going to be grounded mostly in that.

I’ve got a secret to tell you: even if you think you can’t improvise, you can. Need to improvise? Rationalize! The first step is to say the most random thing you can think of. In D&D terms, there’s a random adventure idea table on pages 44-45 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Now: rationalize it! For instance, let’s say you rolled a 55: “Adventurers exploring a dungeon haven’t returned in a week.” Well, why haven’t they come back? The easiest explanation is that they died. Well… how? Uhm… a lich? Okay, bucko, what was a lich doing in that dungeon? Recovering an ancient artifact, maybe? Hey, maybe that’s why the adventurers went there in the first place: to stop the lich from getting the artifact!

There you have it, folks: an adventure. The PCs need to stop the evil lich from getting his hands on a powerful magical artifact. Their first clue comes when a random townsperson tells the party that they haven’t seen Group X in a while. That’s a lot more than you knew five minutes ago, huh?

Finally, here’s a tip about DM-PC relationships: give and take. There is nothing more annoying as an actor (and usually as an audience member) than having whoever you’re working just refuse to acknowledge what you’re saying. Exempli gratia: Your parner says something to establish that the two of you are are a bus stop. You remark as to how no bus appears to be in sight. Your partner then boards a bus. (Not the best example, but you get the idea.) This is something that should not be happening in your group. Players (and GMs!) should listen to each other and accept the input — in terms of setting, character, and action — of the game. There’s a rule in acting, taught ot me by one of the best actors I’ve ever known: “Acting is listening and responding appropriately.” You can just replace acting in that sentence and it still reads true: roleplaying is listening and responding appropriately. Trust me, after last night I can tell you: OOC jokes get old really fast.

There you have it. Now, don’t you wish you had payed attention in drama class?

Published in: on October 8, 2006 at 10:29 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

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