Originally posted June 2006

“Offer: A question or statement that gives a player an opportunity to respond. A cardinal rule of improv is to accept any offer. If two players are in a scene that takes place on the Titanic and a third enters and says, “What’s that camel doing out there?” the players should accept the offer and may say, “I didn’t realize we’d drifted so far south. Let’s get on it and ride to safety.” This response incorporates the offer into the scene and allows the action to continue. The players may instead block the offer which means denying the offer by rejecting or ignoring what was given. “That can’t be a camel. We’re near the North Pole,” is a blocking answer and stops the action while throwing the players out of alignment with each other.”
Playing Along

I’ve never had any actual improv training, even though I’ve heard tons of people explain LARP to outsiders as “a lot like improv.” I read about the rule of agreement earlier in a book I’m reading, and it made me think that maybe LARPs aren’t as much like improv as we tend to believe. But they could be.

Nobilis the RPG offered something similar to the rule, applied only to GMs, in the Monarda Law. As part of the empowerment of PCs inherent in Nobilis, the GM is never supposed to respond to a player’s “Can I…” with “No.” The GM can turn the question back with “How?,” suggest that it may not work out fully with “You can try!,” add consequences with “Yes, but…,” or qualify the actions in terms that fit the story better with “Yes, and…”

“Can I shoot down the sun with an Aspect 9 miracle?”

  • “How?”
  • “You can try!”
  • “Yes, but it would drive most of the world insane and piss off all of your allies and enemies… do you still want to?”
  • “Yes, and in doing so you’ll set off the prophecy about an unexpected eclipse and accomplish your goals before the other Nobles can fix it.”

I think that this is a fun rule, and worked well when I was running Nobilis, but I think it could go further. What if the players, when in character, expected to never give an unqualified no?

The rule of agreement in improv is designed to keep scenes moving; you never reject an offer because it stalls out the scene as players readjust their idea of what is going on. Yet, in most games we’re both trying to tell an improvised story and trying to get deeply into the mindset of our characters. Often, the reaction we feel is the correct way to roleplay our characters results in an unqualified no and, as in improv, this stalls out the scene. Fun becomes getting what our character wants whether or not it results in a good story. And, since we have so much wrapped up in the character’s success, if the character loses we’re unhappy even if it resulted in a story that was more interesting or more enjoyable for others.

I wonder if there are some concise guidelines that we could use to make LARPing and tabletopping more similar to improv’s method of accepting all offers. These rules would have to account for:

  • Having to interact with other players that we may not fully trust to appreciate our acceptance of offers and reciprocate in kind
  • Not having the full level of narrative control that improv players enjoy; you can’t just say, “look, a camel!”
  • Being true to a character and genre strictures that should be maintained over many sessions.

Does anyone have ideas for what these rules would be?