Three ways improv made me better at role-playing (and vice versa)

Angus MacDonald is an instructor at the Improv Embassy and co-creator of Quest Friends Forever: A D&D Improv Show.

Since my first year of college, I have been playing table-top RPGs (role-playing games) like Dungeons & Dragons once a week with the same group of friends. It’s been almost six years now, which is a long time to do anything. Several years into my time playing table top games I got hooked on improv. It was when I was working with Rich Hilborn and Chris Hannay to make an improvised D&D show, Quest Friends Forever, that I noticed improvising and role-playing had a lot of similarities and my experience in one yielded benefits in the other. Here are some of the ways D&D is like improvising.

It turns out the best when you do it with friends

When you play D&D with the same group for a while you get to know them and the kind of choices they make. The same thing happens in improv. When you get comfortable and trust that your party (or teammates) have your back, everything starts to come together. There is a give and take to all this in both role playing and in improv. If I decide that my elf ranger is going to headbutt the town guard who was being mean to him I know my party will have my back. If the paladin in the group does not want to take a quest because of its questionable legality, I should be okay with that — after all, she just stood up to a bunch of guards for me. The same thing applies to improv. If I step out into a scene and I have no idea what I’m doing, I know my team will have my back because I would step into any scene for them.

Embodying a character makes for better scenes and quests

Strong role-playing characters have “wants,” goals that are intrinsic to their character. Throughout their adventures these influence their decisions. When creating a character in D&D, players choose an alignment, ranging from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil. The alignment you choose acts as a kind of guideline for how your character should behave. In improv, deciding on what your character wants can take an average scene and turn it into something greater. Characters are also easier to play when you can filter everything through “What do I want?”

Very rarely does it go according to plan…and that’s when it’s the best!

I don’t think I have ever been in a D&D scenario that has gone exactly how the Dungeon Master thought it would and I know I’ve never been in an improv scene that went how I thought it would.

I think that might be the reason I love D&D and improv so much. You go out there, make a choice and see what happens and whatever it turns into you never do it alone. You have a team of brave heroes with you who may be very different but at the end of the day they all want one thing: to have fun.

Quest Friends Forever will be producing a show in the 2017 Ottawa Fringe Festival from June 8 to 18. Get tickets and showtimes here