|Eh, it’ll hold.|
Human Slaves of An Insect Nation-Just Wing it.
So you fucked up.
Your players missed the roll, the clues, failed to connect the dots and ignored the pleas of NPCs for help. They stabbed the prophet in the throat and one of them ate the sandwhich depicting the GodHead, wherein their true destiny was foretold. They also burned the tavern where they were supposed to meet their contact
|And you prepared all of two things during the entire week: Jack and shit. Also, Jack left town with your wife.|
In short, you got nothing. And your players will be here in three hours, tops (that’s provided that you aren’t watching porn right now, you useless fucking slob, you).
|I can tell because I'm psychic|
So what the shit are you going to do? You can’t have a bunch of people come over so they can enact their elaborate revenge/power fantasies just so you can leave them hanging and you can’t just act like everything’s cool and under control when you sure as hell know it fucking isn’t. So think fast, asshole, whatchoo gonna do?
I’ll tell you what you’re going to do: you’re going to do the single most glorious and tough thing you’ve done in your entire nerdy career. You’re gonna eat thunder and crap lightining. You’re gonna pull of a guitar solo and then you’re gonna get laid with every girl that’s ever rejected you, cause you’re about to FUCKING WING IT.
So close those dozen or so porno tabs and smash your cock against the desk, ‘cause it’s time for…
THE SHAPESCAPES GUIDE ON WINGING IT LIKE A BAWSS
|Wing it, just wing it, just wing it…|
Step One: Get your shit together.
Check your drawer of notes or beneath those discarded pizza boxes from last week’s game. Take a look at that crappy notepad file you’ve abandoned on your desktop (the one title MAH AWESOME CAMPAIGHN IDEUH). Flip that mangy, dog-eared notebook of yours open. Ignore that shit you wrote when you were 14, those suck. Wait, what’s that? Ahahaha, did you honestly think you could pull off an epic-level campaign, you asshole? Oh my God, you’re such a dweeb!
Found them? Good. Now what I need you to do is-
Check for any unresolved threads or half-finished ideas. Oh, I’m sure you have a ton of them. What about that one group of bandits the players beat up and got away, thinking they couldn’t trouble them again? Remember that city from the future that no one ever caught on? How about that hatchling dragon that had its skull bashed in by your players? Don’t you think momma’s gonna be pissed? And hey, did they ever reimburse the high priest of the Lords of Light over that fresco they tore up as they were looking for a way into the catacombs of the faithful?
You may not have pursued those matters because they didn’t seem like much at the time but right now, they’re about to save your bacon! Sure, they appear like weak sauce now, but wait until you add that extra dash of player paranoia into the mix.
But what if something goes wrong? What if you don’t think you can pull of a gaming session with just that? That’s why you need to move on to-
Step Two: Make shit up real quick.
Just in case your players resolve those problems by virtue of their wit or muscle, you need to have something else at the ready. And what’s better than making some plot hooks on the fly! Do they need to be epic, well thought out or carefully crafted?
Well, yeah, they need to but right now they can’t be and it’s all your fault because you wasted your entire goddamn week doing sweet fuck all!
So here’s what you’re going to do: you’re going to make some unrelated stuff up. And I mean random. I’m talking rumors, gossip, random magical items stashed in some ruffian’s backpack, perhaps even a footnote in some obscure text that the players are currently researching. Hell, even use a bad guys’ dying cry, that shit’s gold!
“Dragon Mountain! Drraagonnn Mountaiaia-blergh!”
Srpinkle those in the beginning of the gaming session or add them at random moments. That’ll catch their eye and give them something to occupy themselves with. But make sure that this information is self-contained and does not require further exposition. Remember: you’re racing against time here and you need to rely heavily on the players keeping themselves occupied, instead of presenting them a ready-made, well-organized adventure.
This way, when they start busting out the dice and start rolling Knowledge (Bullshit) rolls, they’ll be pretty much privy to any information that they already know or that you can easily present to them, without muss, fuss or any effort on your part.
WARNING: If you do start shooting the shit in the unlikely event that they do awesome on that knowledge roll, then make sure you write it down. You don’t want them calling you on your bullshit.
With those two steps taken, move on to-
Step Three: Abuse established material.
|Yes, you can use the shit ones too. Desperate times and all that.|
Take out all six of your Monster Manuals (including the one with the flying squid that emits apathy), flip them open, check Challenge ratings. Use something that you know will give your players some amount of hell. Bookmark the pages that contain ready-made NPCs.
Need names on the fly? Go to a name meaning website and pull a George Lucas (but try not to suck): type a name’s meaning into the search parameters and look for that name in any language. Make sure you also note that down, because this is the point where you might fuck up the most.
Need traps? Check ready-made ones from adventures or Tabletop RPG website generators (most suck, but a 15-minute search will provide you with some awesome stuff). Need fluff? No time. Just make something up as it goes. Fluff is the one thing that will fuck up your presentation, as it requires some effort and will betray you for the phony you are, so make sure it’s simple and short.
Compiled all that ready-made information? Good work, son!
|You’ve earned this one.|
But you’re not out of the woods yet! If anything, you’re getting into the hard part. So I need you to read this next bit, ‘cause I won’t be able to help you from now on.
Step Four: Real-Time Bullshitting
Your players are here and you’re starting up the game. What’s important to successfully pulling off an attempt at winging anything is to make it seem natural, effortless even. Even though you’ve prepared sweet fuck-all, this needs to look like one of those impossibly well-crafted plans you see comic book supervillains pull off.
“You should also know that I am currently under the influence of a considerable amount of PCP. No, I took it after I shot my assistants. BECAUSE IT HELPS ME THINK, LOIS!”
So here’s what you’ll do: you’ll pull off a poker face and act all natural. Players snoop around where they shouldn’t, fucking up your notes? Roll with it. Somebody formulates a tabletop conspiracy theory? Squeeze it in. Someone goes on a rampage? Play that out.
Winging it is, in many ways, the art of manipulating your players’ current responses, building the world around their actions, rather than managing their own actions between scenarios you have set up yourself. This means that the situation that you are currently in is highly unstable. It’s equally possible that you might just pull off your best gaming session ever, just as it is possible that you will royally fuck up and have to call it quits early on, before it spins out of control.
Step Four takes into consideration that you will immediately adjust yourself to your players’ reactions and have a response for their every action at every opportunity. This might sound impossible and downright mad, but it is something that every Storyteller in every game has done at least once and they’re not better than you now, are they?
|If this little bastard can do it, then so can you.|
Winging it also takes into consideration the fact that you know your gaming group and know exactly which buttons to push. If they’re the hacky-slashy type, then just throw monsters at them. If they like to put some thought into their game, then whip up a murder mystery that is essentially based on their paranoia.
Speaking of paranoia…
Step Five: Player Paranoia is a guy’s best friend.
|“Last night a dark man with no face crawled through nine miles|
of sewer to surface in my toilet, listening
for phone calls through the cheap wood with
I tell you, man, I hear.” Stephen King’s Paranoid: A chant.
Players are often wont to go into tangents. Don’t forget that their in-game responsibility is not quite as awesome as yours and will (at times) look for things to occupy themselves with. Sometimes it’s a fixation with enacting revenge on the poor bastard who overcharged them on inn housing. Other times though, it’s something that you can use.
Take for example, a series of adventures I had run for my players a dog’s age ago, wherein they were playing a group of cops in Dungeons and Dragons. During the course of a murder mystery, one of the players (finding himself in an investigative cul-de-sac) had gone off on a tangent on how this murder could not have been committed by a mortal being, nevertheless a humanoid. He had in fact, theorized that this murder had been committed by an automaton, one that could have performed such a gruesome act with such ferocity and efficiency in the first place.
|Thus, the Cast Iron Killer was born.|
From a player rant, I was able to generate a very unique and interesting monster: an Iron Golem, sculpted in a manner that resembles an angel, able to perform its assassinations and then disguise itself as part of the scenery in the crime scene itself.
Needless to say, the guy that formulated the idea shat his pants with joy. Hope he’s reading it now, because that’s the closest I’ll ever get to admitting that to him.
Player paranoia could also generate instances: someone fears that they are about to be ambushed: have them ambushed. Someone else won’t get over the fact that space vampires want to steal his brain. Then space vampires eat his brain.
With that in mind, you should also consider…
Step Six: This is not a long-term solution
|“Duct-tape fixes everything?” “No Dave, duct-tape does not-” “SHUT UP, DAD!”|
Winging shit is not a viable alternatively to planning out a campaign. It’s only a short-term solution that is based on the premise that your players actively contribute to the game, with a very high risk.
Winging it also takes a lot out of you: the fact that you need to run a game based on shit that you make up on the fly is vexing and it will make you give up pretty early on. So what can you do to fix that?
Well, first of all, set up a goddamn schedule. Like I mentioned in part 1 of this article series, nobody has the time or the inclination to invest 4 hours a week into planning out a gaming session. If you’re a working man, then 2 hours is the most you can put into it, tops. There is no way in hell you’re going to have the time, the inclination or the capacity to keep this up, unless you earnestly have nothing better to do.
So here’s what you need to do: after you’re done winging this one, get some rest (God knows you’re gonna need it) and then check your notes or write down the important stuff that happened or were said in-game. Use that stuff to plan out the next session, which will shave off like, 30 minutes off your planning time. Rinse, repeat.
This is, of course, not a viable solution either. But it’s going to cultivate in you the habit of planning out and organizing adventures beforehand so this does not happen again. Repeat enough times and soon enough you will be able to organize adventures and an entire campaign based solely on the premise of certain plot elements or ideas and also adept to any and all circumstances that might come up mid-game.
In short, try to see winging more as a power exercise rather than as an approach. Remember kids:
|Don’t be a dick! Give a shit!|
And you’re going to love what you do for it.
There is however a matter that has not yet been addressed. And that’s one of the boons of winging. Specifically…
Step Seven: Use it to resolve emergencies
“What was that? They all failed their Spot Checks, Knowledge (Nature) rolls AND their Fortitude saves? GET ME KRUSCHEV!”
Remember how, in the beginning of the article I mentioned that something went horribly wrong? (aside from you not preparing dick all week?) Well, we’re about to address that.
You and I, we both know that you’re not an asshole. Sure, you may act the bit to fit your DM cloak and act all alpha in front of the ladies, but you don’t just wanna go around killing dudes unless they’re asking for it. I also know that you try to give people as many chances to pull through any game hazards with the least possible hassle. In fact, you give people maybe two or three rolls just to identify and prepare against the coming threat.
But what happens if you fuck up? What happens when they fail EVERY. SINGLE. ROLL and you have a TPK in your hands, or worse yet, when they don’t pick up any story threads and just end up spending the gaming session twiddling their thumbs?
You wing it. But not in the improvisational manner I said above. You wing it proper. You pull something out of your ass. How?
Well, deus ex machinae are pretty ham-handed attempts at saving a party from annihilation but there are always other approaches. Say, for example, that the alien aquatic monster (which powers your grossly miscalculated during creation) has taken out the team. But who could possibly save them? How about a friendly school of mermen, who rush to the rescue of their unwitting champions!
Let’s say the players have accidentally mucked up the rolls that allow them to follow a path of investigation. Make a non-crucial NPC slip a rumor! Ranger fucked up the tracking roll? Give his animal companion a try! Animal companion fucked up the tracking roll?
Players sitting around, twiddling their thumbs like assholes?
|Sic the fucking Wild Hunt on them.|
Keep them on their toes and train your mental muscles, flex them around, show off to the ladies. Winging it isn’t a panacea, but it sure as hell is goddamn penicillin!
This article came out shorter than I expected, with or without gratuitous amounts of cleavage. The main reason is that, no matter how hard I may try, I cannot teach you the art of improvisation.
Oh sure, I can give you steps and instructions, but most of this stuff (and the most important bit, the actual performance) can only be pulled off by you and you alone.
As I have said before, Storytelling is a tough hobby that requires you doing five things at once. Winging it is that little sixth thing you need to cultivate with love and care, the way you would an orchid or a pack of pit bull terriers.
And that’s by trial and error alone.
|Lots and lots and lots of it.|
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