Let me say straight up that as soon as I saw that first advert for Improv for Gamers on Facebook, I was leery. I was skeptical of the value this title would bring to the table, and the fact that it falls in the category of ‘pay-to-play-better’ was doing it no favors. It’s blurb even makes the sensationalist claim – as marketing is wont to do – that the book will “Level up your gaming skills”. The whole thing got my hackles up in a hurry.
For ten bucks though, I decided to put aside my biases and pick up the PDF from DriveThru RPG. What I found inside was a mixed bag of tabletop advice and exercises better suited for an acting club versus the gaming table.
Improv for Gamers comes from Evil Hat, one of my favorite purveyors of tabletop gaming products, and author Karen Twelves. The PDF is 122 pages over nine chapters and four appendixes, the core of which are various exercises to improve group improv skills. It’s a quick read thanks to its length and the snappy ‘let’s-get-to-it’ style I’ve come to expect (and appreciate) from Evil Hat. Black and white art help sell the action of the exercises, and tip boxouts abound to offer additional insights. It’s a slick, well-developed product that clearly demonstrates the author’s passion for improv.
I Guess We’re All Improv Actors Now?
The premise of Improv for Gamers is to directly bring improv acting skills to the table. To transpose the skill set as (presumably) seen on stage to the table. That’s where the book falls down for me. More at home on the shelf of a theater major versus a tabletop gamer, Improv for Gamers seems more apt at producing quick-firing actors than roleplayers.
That said, what advice can be gleaned from this book that isn’t exercises is quite useful. For an experienced gamer used to a more narrative or improvisational style of play, I found myself in many of the pages even if I wasn’t blown away in revelation. A new gamer might find more value within, simply for the fact that these ideas are likely to be new to them.
Reading This Makes Me Want to Get on my Soapbox
Real talk: I rewrote this review a few times now because each time I’ve gone off on one, which is a compliment to the book and where I found real value in it. It’s aroused passions and sparked thoughts that make me want to write more here. For the sake of this review though, and in fairness to its subject, those will have to be topics of later posts. Let’s just say Improv for Gamers has stirred up a lot of thoughts on what the hobby is or isn’t (and what it all means) and one of my favorite GM techniques in ‘Yes, and’.
Improv for Gamers is full of vim, but your mileage with it is likely to vary wildly based on experience and preferences. Even if you aren’t inclined to run the exercises, you and your table will still find it sparking ideas and pointing you in directions you may not have known existed.
On the Ladder I’ll give Improv for Gamers a Fair.