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Rules for Improv, RP, and real life.

xx Rules for Improv, RP, and real life.
May 30, 15, 03:24:36 PM by Nicole
Improv rules have been adapted for just about everything from the workplace to the dating world -- and they're occasionally actually used in improvisational theater, too.

What we do on Blood Rites is, in my opinion, a combination of cooperative storytelling and improv. We plan a lot of storylines and threads in advance, but once your characters are in a scene, they may surprise you. That moment of discovery is part of the fun of telling stories in this way. We work to get those little pieces of magic.

We all want that.

We also want stories to work, thus we need to find a balance. Here are a few rules that I think help, borrowing from some basic tenets of improv:

Say Yes...And yes, and!
In improv, scenes are all about making and accepting offers, which can be as simple as, "It's Tuesday." For our purposes, I see characters as an offer. For example, let's take your garden variety Warlord Prince of any jewel color. We've established on the board that Warlord Princes follow the Anne Bishop model of "violently passionate and passionately violent."

That's why our make-believe world has Protocol, and why a Warlord Prince coming on the scene is reason to be on high alert. Not all Warlord Princes will rip your throat out for looking at them the wrong way, or making a crack about his queen, but there's an assumption about them.

Keeping those assumptions is important to building a character. A few examples from the board:

Elisif Brenden. Glacia turns around the Gray-jeweled Queen who is a triple-gifted messiah of sorts. Even people who would seem to be technically more powerful than she is are afraid to get in her way or run afoul of her. She's not unbeatable or infallible, but even characters who have never interacted with her make decisions informed by what they know of her and her rule. Tal made a huge offer to everyone playing in the Territory by making this character. With everyone accepting Elisif as presented, the conflict and stakes are heightened for every storyline. Sure, Aksel Winterton thinks he's a badass and could try to take her down with his darker jewel. But, she has Otso Oskari -- who even though he's much lighter than Aksel, he's still a Dark-Jeweled Warlord Prince, very strong and very scary. Aksel would feel the smack-down. The fact that he knows this makes the whole story more interesting.

Ranseur Ecthelion. Ranseur isn't the darkest jeweled Warlord Prince lurking around Dea al Mon. He wears an Opal which -- though spatially falls in the middle of the spectrum -- is a seriously formidable amount of power. Beyond his caste and the color of his jewel, Dany has created a guy who has murdered Brood monsters, and killed women and children in their sleep because he believed that's what was necessary. He's big. He doesn't talk much. He's scary, and that's acknowledged by people more and less powerful than he is. Dany does a great job selling Ran as this character -- and she didn't need help, but she got it.

Check out this thread that doesn't even include him except in a flashback (which I wrote with Dany's OK and review) in Persistence is Futile. Saffron struts around showing off her Red jewel, but Ranseur is the one who ultimately saves the day -- because no one wants to mess with him. It served my story, supported Dany's characterization of Ran, and moved the plot forward.

These are great examples of the power of "Yes, and...!" Sif is terrifying. "Yes, and she is the reason our characters must escape/persecute all the Light Jewels/be smart about moving against her." Ranseur is powerful and scary. "Yes, and that's why I want him protecting me/that's why I'm using him to my own ends/that's why I cross the street when I see him coming."

Don't Block.
This is really an extension of saying, "Yes...and.

But wait! What if it is in your character's best interest to block? Say, if someone is trying to murder your Queen or steal your sweet roll. Then, of course you aren't going to say, "Oh, you want to steal my sweet roll? Why, yes, and let me wrap it up for you with some extra sticky icing."

If you've planned out a conflict in your scene, obviously you want to move toward the goal of the scene.

Blocking occurs when you flat out negate the other character and writer's intentions. For example, say we're in Scelt. In Scelt, everyone dislikes and distrusts Black Widows. So, if a Blood Opal Black Widow comes on the scene, keep that in mind when interacting with her. One of the offers on the table in Scelt is their feelings about Black Widows. Unless you have a specific reason built into your character for that character to be contrary, then you're blocking the offer if you decide that you just love all Black Widows.

In other words, if someone offers you, "It's Tuesday," don't say -- "No! It's Wednesday!"

That kills the scene, and puts all the onus and pressure on your partner to create a new reality for the scene you're inhabiting with them.

This all leads up to...

If your partner looks good, you look good.

An old adage of improv is that everyone is a supporting actor. Or, another way to look at it: No one has time to be your back-up dancer.

Selling the strengths and key traits of the characters in a scene with you make your character seem that much stronger. The writing is better and the scene is more powerful. It's easy to get hung up on your own goal in a scene -- and you should always keep those goals in sight. But, it's equally important for us to pay attention to what's happening in a scene. Be in the moment and listen.

An example of screwing this up:

In the first scene phinn and I did with Baelfire and Allure, we had some OOC chatter about the direction we wanted the story to take. I was excited about this, and kept scouring her posts for subtle cues to push the scene in that direction. I unfairly pounced on what amounted to a pause in Baelfire's speech.  Phinn cordially called me on it, and rolled with it -- and was right to. The scene got better once I stopped trying to push it into the future, and focused on what was happening between the two characters in that moment.

On an out of character basis, accept the other character as your writing partner wants them written, and have your in character actions follow accordingly. That doesn't mean they are in complete agreement (your character might not agree with my vain character that she's got the best hair in the land, but your character at least acknowledges that SHE thinks so).

That's what helps make our stories feel more real. We've all contributed pieces to this reality, and our characters have to operate within that complex reality.

Lastly, another rule is there are no mistakes. For our purposes, we can do-over, we can retcon, we can edit, we can check in with each other.

So, go fearlessly have fun and support your fellow storytellers.


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