Yes, and: Improv in Dnd

Hello and welcome to Only On Tuesdays! Today we are going to talk about the improv principle of “yes, and”. This guideline was created for improv actors on the stage, but it is an idea that can expand to all aspects of entertainment including Dnd. Learning how to effectively use “yes, and” is important for player involvement, and to allow for awesome moments in your campaigns.

Saying Yes

If you have looked anywhere for new DM tips, one of the first things you will encounter is the idea of saying yes to the players. This advice is crucial to learning how to become a good DM and is the difference between the players having their own agency of the campaign, or being stuck on a scenic railroad through the world. Out of all the advice that new DM’s receive, I honestly believe that saying yes is one of the most important things that they can learn. Without it, the world becomes boring, and DMing becomes much more difficult.

Why is it important to say yes to the players? Dnd is a conversation between the players and the DM. The players ask questions, and the DM answers them. This conversation is essentially an improv scenario. In improv, you are asking your partner questions about the scene. One of the first things you learn in improv is to never say no. Saying no to your partner brick walls the scene, and makes it much harder to move on from there. The same can be true of dnd. Imagine the following improv sketch:

“We have to go slay the dragon! Sir Mark, will you come with me on this quest?”

“No, it’s too dangerous.”

Image result for knight slaying dragon

Where do you go from here? Perhaps the knight could eventually persuade Mark to come with him, but that would waste a lot of time and energy that could have been better spent detailing the story with the dragon. By saying no, you are refusing to participate in the scene, and you make it much more difficult for your partner. Saying no also makes the scene more difficult for your players:

“Is there a chandelier in this room?”

“No, this room doesn’t have a chandelier.”

If your player was beginning to formulate a plan involving the chandelier and when they finally ask you and all you say is no, they no longer have a chance to do that cool thing they were hoping they could do. This robs the player of a great scene and the campaign of a great story. Now obviously you aren’t going to say yes to everything. There are no chandeliers in the wilderness after all, but if it makes enough sense in the scene, there should be no reason to say no.

The Importance of “And”

Saying yes in improv is more than just saying yes. As a performer, you always want to add onto what your partner had to say. Doing this then gives your partner a chance to respond and add even more to the scene, which then gives you more information and etc., etc. This positive feedback loop leads to great scenes where each performer is making the other’s job easier. Let’s go back to the dragon scene again:

“We have to go slay the dragon! Sir Mark, will you come with me on this quest?”

“Yes, I will help you on this quest!”

This is already significantly better than the previous scene, simply because of saying yes. However, your partner will still have to think of something on the spot, because you gave them very little to work with. Consider the scene again, but this time Sir Mark says the magic word.

“We have to go slay the dragon! Sir Mark, will you come with me on this quest?”

“Yes, and I can bring my magic wand!”

This adds a lot more to the scene and gives the partner something that they can ask questions about. By saying And everyone in the scene has much more to work with. As important as And is in improv, I’d say that And is even more important in Dnd. Without And, you are giving your players much more limited information, and are also missing out on narrative tools that can make the game far more interesting. Let’s go back to the chandelier.

 

Image result for swinging on a chandelier dnd

“Is there a chandelier in this room?”

“Yes, and it’s right above the bad guys.”

Boom. Instant actionable description. But, there is far more to the words, “yes, and” then just Yes and And. The strength of this phrase is due to it’s versatility even when you aern’t saying yes. While I may advise to say yes to everything, oftentimes I will say no just as often. However, saying no never brick walls my players attempt because I always follow up no with but. Sometimes, your players may just ask for something too out there and you will have to say no. But follow up on what they said, and add something that might be of interest. You can also use but after saying yes to further complicate the scene. Take these 2 examples:

“Is there a chandelier in this room?”

“There is no chandelier in this bar, but there are some boards that are jutting out.”

 

“Is there a chandelier in this room?”

“Yes, but the bad guys are about to cut it down!”

Learning how to use these phrases is simply a matter of accepting your player’s ideas, and incorporating them into the game. Dnd is a team based storytelling game, and when you let the players add to that world, awesome things can begin to happen. Sure not every idea is great, but everything has a good seed that can be pulled from. Saying no to your player’s ideas is the quickest way for them to lose enjoyment in a game, and can turn an otherwise interesting game into a slog.

Conclusion

Learning to say yes is one of the most important things a DM can learn. Improv courses have been teaching for years the importance of saying “yes, and” when interacting with another partner. As a DM, you’re role is to incorporate the ideas of the players into the world around them. Whenever you say no, you shut down their ideas and make it much harder to contribute. Saying “yes, and” and “no, but” provides for a far more interactive experience, and makes the game better for everyone. Thank you for reading, I hope you all have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!

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